What is Cyberpunk? Books, Games, Movies, Warnings.
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Cyberpunk is a dystopian vision our far future. Rogue AI, bodies of steel, corporate overlords and more rule these grim universes. The Cyberpunk genre is one plagued by questions of identity, of oppression, and of the thousand ways our constant search for bigger and shinier things could come back to bite us in the ass.
If you're interested in cyberpunk books, games, movies, or the warnings behind them; then this is for you.
Cyberpunk Books, The Start Of It All
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - William Gibson, Neuromancer.
The most famous example of early Cyberpunk and the book that started it all, Neuromancer by William Gibson is a gritty piece that throws us into the near future. The currency is Yuyuan, the governments' mere puppets controlled by Arasaka and other Megacorps, while lone netrunners fight a losing battle.
This dystopian vision was very well received by readers and spawned a whole collection of following works from both Gibson and authors entering the genre. The stylish approach to storytelling woven with the misery of the setting captivated audiences, and perfectly paired the release of Blade Runner, to movie we'll get back to in the Movie section.
Yet after the first wave of Cyberpunk books, with Snowcrash (Neal Stephenson), Mirrorshades (Bruce Sterling), and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (Phillip K Dick), came a lull. While the genre peaked its literary roots on the 1990's, there have been few new additions that have shaken things up as much as these first works.
Yet after nearly two decades of hibernation, the Cyberpunk genre is picking up again with new interpretations of the old scripts for a modern audience. Cyberpunk 2077 is leading the charge alone, with a series of new books and movies taking part in the second wave of Cyberpunk.
Drugs & Wires is an excellent free webcomic series set in a cyberpunk world, with techno-pagans, razorgirls, and VR junkies. If you're a fan of good characters, humour in the face of misery, and beautifully drawn imagery, then Drugs & Wires is right up your alley.
Cyberblade: The City Of Five Skies, take place in a cyberpunk world where humanity lives in giant engine cities, while elite cyborgs known as 'cyberblades' attempt to out-augment themselves in a cybernetics arms-race. If you'd ever wondered what it's like to have Terminator style cyborgs walking around a crime ridden city inside a giant engine, then Cyberblade: The City Of Five Skies is 100% worth your time.
Cyberpunk Games, Revolutionising The Genre.
While Cyberpunk books & comics have let us see inside out cyberpunk future, it is the games that have really emersed us in the misery. With Cyberpunk 2077 right around the corner, it has never been a better time to be a fan of Cyberpunk games, but if you're just getting started, here are the best of the best.
Cyberpunk 2077 is the greatest addition to the Cyberpunk genre in nearly two decades.
Not only has CD Project Red claimed many times now that they are taking their own twist on the source material (Cyberpunk 2020) but the game studio has beautifully adapted the game for a new audience. Gaming is currently the flagship medium for Cyberpunk, and with all the awesome games coming out in this category if late, it's easy to think that Cyberpunk is making a long-awaited comeback.
Cloudpunk is a beautifully created taxi-game, where the player delivers goods with their hovercar and 'doesn't ask too many questions.' If you're interested in the murky interactions with cyborgs from out future underworld, then give it a shot.
Shadowrun (the game, not the awesome pen & paper RPG) is another notable addition to the series. Shadowrun blends the classic tenants of Cyberpunk with the Tolkien-fantasy races. Have you ever wanted to be an elf with an oxygen mask? An orc with an auto-gun? A shaman IT guy who can banish both ghosts and viruses from your PC? Then this a game to try, and the story is fairly well-weaved too.
Cyberpunk Movies, A Welcome Suprise.
When it comes to Cyberpunk movies, you may be surprised to learn you've already watched a few. The movie game has really picked up of late, with the newly rebooted Ghost in the Shell, Ready Player One, and Upgrade movies all becoming box-office hits. Each of these universes explores our grim future to some extent, with the mixture of VR and cybernetics we have come to know and love.
As for older Cyberpunk movies, there's Blade Runner, The Matrix, Total Recall, and Tron. Of that list, Blade Runner can be credited to have helped to start the genre. Released in the same year as Neuromancer, Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and was one of the pioneering works of Cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk A Genre, Warning Us Of Our Future.
As a story, Cyberpunk often grips us with it's gritty, dystopian, LA Noir, no-nonsense feeling. But what is the Cyberpunk Genre trying to say?
First, that technological improvement will change how humanity sees ourselves. For while these snippets of our future are usually extreme, with gripping storylines, and fantastic characters—it is the fundamental alteration to the human experience that makes it such a chilling vision. The trans-humanist tenants of adapting our bodies, augmenting our minds, and altering the world around us into a steel garden is an attempt to show that the current system of endless innovation, productivity growth, and expansion of our senses will have consequences.
In Cyberblade: The City Of Five Skies, Lex explores what it means to be human in a world when arms, eyes, and even genetics can be swapped out for artificial constructs. In The Matrix, Neo comes to terms with a present where human reality has been so twisted, that he must 'escape' from his world and to the 'real world'. In Cyberpunk 2077, V must search for an 'immortality chip' that would break the wheel of life and death for whoever has control over it.
But while these stories question their present, we as an audience should question how our present affects our future. For these depicted worlds had a past, where people (often from our own timeline) made the decisions that ended with such dystopias. Fundamentally, Cyberpunk is about showing us what could go wrong, and giving us as thorough a warning as can be made, that now is the time for humanity to start getting things right.
If you'd like to see a future where humanity is bright instead of dark, have a look at the growing solarpunk genre, where our future societies are based on clean, renewable energy. (Think Mad Max with solar panels.)