Author Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) gives a short essay on why he feels cyberpunk was sci-fi’s saviour in the 80’s.
One man’s opinion. Last week Wired posted an essay in its Underwire section by a writer who felt that cyberpunk saved the science fiction genre in the 80s. Paolo Bacigalupi, a science fiction author himself, explains that sci-fi at the time was spinning its wheels in a deep ditch, how it lost touch with humanity and technology, and how it needed a solid bitch-slap. Cyberpunk was that bitch-slap… followed with a nasty pimp-slap:
Cyberpunk felt urgent. It wasn’t the future 15 minutes out—it was the future sideswiping you and leaving you in a full-body cast as it passed by.
It was a desperately needed course correction. Science fiction had lost the thread of reality. Human beings weren’t going to the moon; we were going digital. Someone needed to grab the genre by the lapels and yank it around—force writers to look at the present moment and decipher its implications.
Considering events of the time would help understand why the Rocket-and-Moon-Colony set was a failure when the 80s came around.
May the Force be Irrelevant. As 1979 gave way to 1980, the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) was three years old and wouldn’t be available for home viewing for another two years, while Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back would be released mid-year, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was only one month in theaters. Battlestar Galactica would get new life as Galactica 1980 and would trade laser fire with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It seemed like the 80s would be a golden age of starfighter-space operas.
But the technology wasn’t keeping pace, going in its own direction and taking humanity with it.
Even though the space shuttle was taking flight, humanity wasn’t going to outer space. Only in video games were we able to blast off this planet and live out those Luke Skywalker-wannabe fantasies. Instead of Martians and robots invading our homes, computers were, by invitation, while robots were a couple of decades away. And we forgot about outer space for cyberspace.
The Future calls collect. Who accepted the charges? The space opera fare was starting to become lame. Computers were becoming commonplace while space travel was becoming stale. 80s sci-fi was exactly like grandpa’s sci-fi, and Gen-X was hating it. They wanted it to mirror what technology was like.
Enter: William Gibson. In 1981, he wrote a short story called “The Gernsback Continuum” about a photographer who finds himself in a 1930’s idea of the future… and hating it. The story showed how that idea of the future was obsolete and incompatible with the early 80s reality. Others heard the call and answered.
Blade Runner would be the bitch slap. Ridley Scott’s view of a gritty future of corporate gods lording over imperfect humans would be an inspiration for cyberpunks to come, including Gibson himself. Although when Gibson was writing Neuromancer he saw Blade Runner and almost abandoned it fearing that he would be accused of copying the movie. Instead, the book became the pimp-slap that would chance sci-fi for some time to come.
While the book and movie were considered ground-breaking, they were far from “immaculate conception.” Check out our Proto-Cyberpunk Media category for some examples of pre-1980s inspirations.
A new call for the next “Gernsback Continuum.” Cyberpunk has come a long way since those heady underground days of the 80s, but now the world has changed considerably since and a new call for the next generation sci-fi writer:
Just as when we were on the cusp of cyberpunk and didn’t know it, I’m hoping now for another new breed of writers, people who can craft drive-by speculations that leave us gasping with surprise. Those kinds of writers don’t just see the future; they see the present.
For a sub-genre that gave us such “punk” subsets like steam-, bio-, and dieselpunk, cyberpunk may again rise to the occasion.
Imagine if “Star Wars” was reimagined as cyberpunk instead of space opera. Sillof did it for his custom action figures (click the pic to see more).
A recent paper takes us to a future of robotic sex in Amsterdam and explains how it can change sex tourism.
Remember: It’s only science fiction because it hasn’t happened yet.
Futuristic Sex Robotz. The idea of sex with robots isn’t new, it’s been around since some German boy fapped to the gynoid from Metropolis. Hajime Sorayama’s drawings have been fueling such fantasies since the 1970’s. And all the sci-fi movies, shows, comics, and animations since have given us glimpses into robotic futures. Now, the latest issue of Futures journal (V 44, I 4, May 2012) has an article that describes a fictional club in Amsterdam that caters to robo-fetishists in 2050.
Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars of the University of Wellington’s Victoria Management School create a hypothetical robo-brothel not only to show how it can be possible, but to show how it can alter how the sex trade operates in Amsterdam, and potentially world-wide. The Futures journal is available for download from Science Direct, but it’s behind a paywall. I was hoping it would be shared by now, but fortunately io9 quotes a few paragraphs about the club, its services, and the advantages to meat-based bordellos.
Welcome to the Yub-Yum Club!
(from io9) The Yub-Yum is Amsterdam’s top sex club for business travellers located beside a 17th century canal house on the Singel. It is modern and gleaming with about 100 scantily clad blonde and brunettes parading around in exotic G-strings and lingerie. Entry costs s10,000 for an all inclusive service. The club offers a full range of sexual services from massages, lap dancing and intercourse in plush surroundings. The Yub-Yum is a unique bordello licensed by the city council, staffed not by humans but by androids. This situation came about due to an increase in human trafficking in the sex industry in the 2040s which was becoming unsustainable, combined with an increase in incurable STI’s in the city especially HIV which over the last decade has mutated and is resistant to many vaccines and preventive medicines.
The Yub-Yum offers a range of sexual gods and goddesses of different ethnicities, body shapes, ages, languages and sexual features.
The most popular model is Irina, a tall, blonde, Russian exotic species who is popular with Middle Eastern businessmen. The tourists who use the services of Yub-Yum are guaranteed a wonderful and thrilling experience, as all the androids are programmed to perform every service and satisfy every desire. All androids are made of bacteria resistant fibre and are flushed for human fluids, therefore guaranteeing no Sexual Transmitted Disease’s are transferred between consumers. The impact of Yub-Yum club and similar establishments in Amsterdam has transformed the sex industry alleviating all health and human trafficking problems. The only social issues surrounding the club is the resistance from human sex workers who say they can’t compete on price and quality, therefore forcing many of them to close their shop windows. All in all, the regeneration of Amsterdam’s sex industry has been about the success of the new breed of sex worker. Even clients feel guilt free as they actually haven’t had sex with a real person and therefore don’t have to lie to their partner.
Sounds like fun, but that 10K price tag may force many back to the meat-houses which may sustain the trafficking and diseases, or unlicensed robo-bordellos where the sexbots may not be as “clean” as hoped. And let us not forget about robot rights becoming the new civil-rights battlefield.
The concept is still about forty years away, but sex robots are already here…
I originally blogged this a couple of years ago, only for spammers to ruin it before any mirroring or archiving could be done. So here’s take two…
Roxxxy TrueCompanion is a sex robot that debuted at the 2010 Adult Entertainment Expo by Douglas Hines. She can be purchased at the TrueCompanion website (where a male version, Rocky) for $1,000 US (actually less right now, she’s on sale). She has an articulated skeleton, though it cannot move by itself, the proper “ports,” and even options for skin/hair/eye color. She also comes with five personalities that range from wild to frigid. The idea for the personalities came from the September 11 attacks:
“I had a friend who passed away in 9/11,” Hines said. “I promised myself I would create a program to store his personality, and that became the foundation for Roxxxy True Companion.”
That was two years ago, and this video shows a rather unusual… um, “bug”… that resulted from that personality. Hopefully it’s been corrected since then, otherwise….
The scenario of a mechanized hostile takeover of humanity is a popular theme in sci-fi, but just how plausible is it? LLM’s Adam Hadhazy plays mythbuster.
Hollywood Hype. The nightmare of robots usurping humanity has become a staple of science fiction. But have you ever thought if such a scene is possible? Life’s Little Mysteries, the website dedicated to answering some of the more unusual tech questions, gives their opinion about the possibility of “robopocalypse.”
Even the experts seem divided. They believe man and machine will get along, but that relation can turn sour under the right conditions.
“The technology already exists to build a system that will destroy the whole world, intentionally or unintentionally, if it just detects the right conditions,” said Shlomo Zilberstein, a professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts.
Military (Un)Intelligence. One scenario can be summed up in one word: Skynet. We have the technology to create it, so why not?
Currently, Predator drones in the Middle East have been getting more and more autonomy, more ability to make its own decision to attack a target. Even so, live humans still monitor its operation and can override the drone if needed. When humans tried to shut down Skynet, even the “allies” were determined to be “enemies” and let the nukes fly. The game plan to keep that from happening is to limit what weapons it has access to, and to limit its functionality to specific situations.
“All the systems we’re likely to build in the-near future will have specific abilities,” Zilberstein said. “They will be able to monitor a region and maybe shoot, but they will not replace a [human] general.”
That wouldn’t preclude the possibility of a robotic arms race, leading to both sides loosing control of their machines…
Revolution through evolution. Another scenario of mechanized takeover is not as violent as nuclear war; Humanity simply replaces itself part-by-part, shedding the meat in favor of metal. There would be some resistors (sic), but they’ll be allowed to die out by themselves.
Of course, someone… or something… needs to build those robots. With robots building cars, planes, etc., it won’t be to hard to imagine that robots can build robots, if they’re not doing it already. But when robots not only build robots, but run the whole factory, and possibly the whole infrastructure that humans also rely on, things can get real sticky real fast.
Busted, Plausible, or Confirmed? It would seem that humanity is teetering on the edge of robopocalypse, yet it is something that is easily avoidable:
Overall, a bit of wisdom would prevent humankind from falling into the traps dreamed up by Hollywood screenwriters. But the profit motive at companies has certainly engendered more automation, and the Cold War’s predication on the threat of mutually assured destruction points out that rationality does not always win.
LMM gives a score of 2 out of 4 “rocketboys.” If it was MythBusters, this would be called “Plausible.”
Military leaders and corporations probably will not be so stupid as to add high levels of programmed autonomy to catastrophically strong weapon systems and critical industrial sectors.
Given the levels of stupidity that military and corporations like to show, I’d say this is more than plausible.
Damn, two and a half months without posting… not good, especially for controlling spam. Well, to let you know that I haven’t totally forgotten what I’m supposed to be doing here (despite my growing laziness), here’s a video for the latest Christmas jingle originally found on The Huffington Post.
Since we’re being so festive(us), here’s another holiday classic from Johnathan “Code Monkey” Coulton.
io9’s Charlie Jane Anders is looking for the most cyberpunk places in the USA. Think you know of a place that qualifies?
Cyberpunk is no longer the future. We’re living in an age in which many of the visions of creators like Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Pat Cadigan and Ridley Scott are invading our world today. (Opening paragraph from io9 article)
But you already knew that. Right?
We’ve been following the technologies and events that show how we are rapidly advancing to a cyberpunk world, even if some of it is by accident. Hacker wars, cybernetics, the Internet, megacorps, … these are now part of everyday life. And io9 is looking for places in America that show the country hasn’t devolved into an ultra-conservative tea-fag-party run by brainless rape magnets. There are people who do read Gibson and Sterling, opting to use Ayn Rand for kindling for their oil-barrel fires. While other cities of the world have already made such the conversion, and inspired the cyberpunk vision, io9 wants America to join the party, whether it’s a private hackspace or a major metropolitan sprawl fulfilling the cyberpunk prophecy.
From theory to practice. The sudden interest in finding cyberpunk places can be traced to an essay, Cyberpunk Cities: Science Fiction Meets Urban Theory by Carl Abott that was published in 2007. You can download the essay from here via the Pasta & Vinegar blog. P&V found the essay interesting, but this particular paragraph caught his attention:
Because the cyberpunk subgenre draws on ideas that ascribe power to technological change and global capitalism as all-encompassing forces, it offers relatively little direct guidance for planners. However, it does suggest the need for flexibility, for seeing plans as reflexive processes intended as frameworks for responding to inherent instability. It also suggests the value of creating opportunities for spontaneous and informal social institutions by loosening building codes, preserving low-rent commercial spaces, and making information infrastructures as ubiquitous and cheap as possible.
In other words, planning should be less like “planning” and more like “adapting”. Are there any places that are like that in America?
Vegas, baby! You want to focus on the underground? Las Vegas would be the place to start. Beneath the glitz and glamor of the strip…
… lies a very different reality of Vegas.
More pics like these can be found on the Place Hacking urban exploration blog, where they find not only a moment of clarity regarding their activities, but an underground economy that could very well be the definition of cyberpunkness:
Given that our crew has now started squatting space in London, are we really all that different? And if we are bridging the gap between urban explorers and hobos, tramps and bums, following Anderson, what are we? Does that dreaded monstrosity the prohobo – the hobo that chooses to be homeless yet retains the ability to photograph, blog and scam the internet for money as well as picking pockets and robbing Liddle for fixtures to BBQ vegetables looted from the skip actually exist? Is this Donna Haraway’s cyborg, neither nature nor culture, human nor computer, neither employed nor homeless? Are we becoming as liminal as the spaces we increasingly reside in? Are we finally getting close to the meld? I hope so, cause I can’t wait to pop.
OmniCorp Detroit. (Official OCD website/blog) The former Motor City has been one of the U.S.A.’s most cyberpunk cities for some time now.
Just a couple of minor details to make it complete.
OCD is best described as a group of artisans and tinkerers who are into, as they put it, making, breaking, reshaping and hacking all sorts of things! They hold events like Maker Faires and Open Hack Nights. Sound like the kind of group that could be helpful in an urban wasteland.
Microsoft’s House of the Future. Touch-top tables? Refrigerators that can order food when you run low? A hot tub with an underwater music system?
A full-size model already exists, complete with digital devices for walls and tabletops in the kitchen and living room. It’s the kind of pad that only corporate-type cyberpunks - like Bill Gates - can afford. Dare to dream.
Other points of interest. Some other spots include a hackerspace in New York City, a latino art gallery in San Francisco, and a converted Los Angeles warehouse.
Think you know of a place that qualifies? Shoot an email to email@example.com, and if it does, it just might appear in io9’s next issue of The Most Cyberpunk Places in the U.S.A.
Overview: Billed as a “Tribute to the cyberpunk genre,” Perspective gives us a rather unique… perspective… of a cyberpunked future, where VR is the drug of choice to escape the harsh reality of… well, reality. Mehmet Can Koçak shows us one person’s escape to a VR fantasy by not just following him with a camera, but with the person AS the camera as we look through the hobo’s eyes. It’s perfectly understandable if you suddenly feel like hunting shamblers, cyberdemons, or zombies with roast-turkey headgear…
After all, it’s called “Perspective” for a reason.
We “watch” as the hobo purchases a cartridge from a shady dealer then heads into a wreck of a building where he jacks into his Commodore 64T…
64 Terabytes of RAM… on a Commodore 64… it can happen.
… and dives into a fantasy encounter with a redhead girl. Until an apparent glitch causes more than a program crash.
There once was a girl named Alice… At a running length of only ten minutes, Perspective doesn’t have much time to present in-depth themes. The one main theme is the mirror; How we see ourselves in reality and fantasy, and how the two can suddenly become fused together to cause no end of confusion. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Conclusion: Short-n-sweet. ‘Bout all I can really say. Koçak’s piece shows some potential for something more like, let’s say, a whole series of first-person movies; Short, interwoven films showing life in this future, and the viewer gets to choose what character’s eyes they would like to experience it. Might be a challenge to make, but it would a radical new way to “watch” movies.
The “Bill” is currently “in committee,” meaning that some congressional members are reviewing the “Bill” to see if it is something that can easily pass, if some tweaking is necessary, or if it should be dumped altogether. If you want to see this “Bill” for yourself (you need some bathroom material or a cure for insomnia) you can find the full text on GovTrack.us where you can also track its progress.
Many bills do die in committee, so the odds are against this one surviving. But if it does survive and becomes law…
The bill creates two blacklists of Internet domain names. The first can be added to by a court, the second by the Attorney General. Internet service providers (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the government’s gratitude) for blocking domains on the second list.
Which sites would be tagets? Anyone “dedicated to infringing activity.” But read on…
Well, it means sites like YouTube could get censored in the US. Copyright holders like Viacom argue that copyrighted material is central to activity of YouTube. But under current US law, YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they’re informed about it — which is why Viacom lost their case in court. If this bill passes, Viacom doesn’t even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal — as long as they can persuade a court that enough other people are using it for copyright infringement, that’s enough to get the whole site censored.
And even without a court order, sites can get blacklisted just by order of the Attorney General — and the bill encourages ISPs to block those sites as well. ISPs have plenty of reason to obey a government blacklist even when they’re not legally required.
The US Constitution says that we’re supposed to have “due process” in the courts before a site gets its plug pulled, but in our post-9/11 security-surveillance state, due process can now be bypassed and a site can be shut down even though it never did anything wrong. If a person has a problem with a website, all they need to do is complain and … 404: Site not found. Imagine WikiLeaks, or even our own Cyberpunk Review site, being on someone’s shit-list. WikiLeaks can be considered a site “dedicated to infringing activity,” and Cyberpunk Review’s media and news about a genre that is inherently anarchistic and criminal in nature…
History Never Repeats… unless they didn’t study. I remember hearing something about Australia’s attempt at blacklist censorship failing. If someone down under can let us know what the status of that attempt. In the mean time, US citizens can sign an online petition to help stop S.3804.
Better still, let’s try this: Find out the congress-critters supporting this “bill” and the members of the MPAA and follow them around in speaker-packed cars or large boom-boxes set to continuously play FSR’s “Fuck the MPAA” to get our message across.
To be honest, I don’t think any of those corporate whores will ever get the message unless they’re raped in public.
“I ACTUALLY think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” said the search giant’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
“G” as in God? Whether you found it online yesterday (31-Aug-2010) or in today’s dead tree edition (or just hearing about it now), cyberpunk’s godfather William Gibson gives his op-ed about Google’s want of playing god in telling us what to do.
OK, it’s not because of Google’s want of telling us what to do, but the apparent need of anyone who uses the big “G” to decide what they want to do. Those who use G’s services actually contribute to the search giant’s ability to make decisions for us. Gibson likens G to a genie that can grant our wishes:
We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world.
Of course, the “everyone accessible to the world” part is what some balk at as we find our personal information being more and more exposed online.
The inmates run the prison. The idea of Google being a sort of panopticon prison, with G as the proverbial omnipotent warden and us as the inmates, but Gibson argues that is only half-true:
In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.
As said before, it’s the people who use Google’s services who actually contribute to the building of the panopticon, and the real problem comes in when those people (over)expose themselves on social network sites. Gibson sees possibilities in a fake identity industry for such carelessness since Google doesn’t seem interested in protecting users from their own stupidity.
Don’t blame the government. It would be easy to do so IF the advances in technology wasn’t so quick. But when the only law Google follows is Moore’s Law, technology will always stomp a mud hole in legislation’s face and walk it dry:
We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.
Then again, Google is “a very large and powerful corporation to boot.” Too big to fail, and far too big to give a fuck.
Paul Buchheit is the mastermind behind Google’s Gmail and AdSense, and founder of FriendFeed (now part of Facebook). Click the pic to read the post being described.
A familiar storyline? Computer programming genius Paul Buchheit has his own blog (who doesn’t these days?), and while most of his posts have been geared to the techno-geeks, a post from last week has a certain, eerily familiar ring to it:
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the truth, and discover the actual rules of a system. Once the actual rules are known, it may be possible to perform “miracles” — things which violate the perceived rules.
Shortcuts and Loopholes. Paul describes how he feels that hacking fits this description of violating perceived rules, and gives his work with AdSense as an example. Hacking these days goes beyond the computer:
Hacking isn’t limited to computers though. Wherever there are systems, there is the potential for hacking, and there are systems everywhere. Our entire reality is systems of systems, all the way down.
This hacking of systems results from a certain mindset… the “hacker mindset”… that breaks from the “straight and narrow” path in favor of “shortcuts and loopholes”; That there are always undiscovered areas of opportunity, and those who can exploit them become incredibly successful at the expense of others (an old obsolete system or innocent victims). Of course, these hacks can result in a vast improvement of something (Google’s rise as the predominant search engine) or an apocalyptic failure (bailouts).
Hack the future. Most don’t bother about finding the truth or even care if someone else does. Some people are content with just finding the truth about reality, but hackers try to bend that truth to see if it breaks or if it holds up. Those are the people, Paul says, who will make the future for us:
To discover great hacks, we must always be searching for the true nature of our reality, while acknowledging that we do not currently possess the truth, and never will. Hacking is much bigger and more important than clever bits of code in a computer — it’s how we create the future.
If you’re into Tetsuo and Machine Girl, have I got a treat for you; A trailer for the upcoming movie RoboGeisha, due to hit theaters this fall… at least in Japan… hopefully for the rest of the world as well. There’s already a RoboGeisha website to browse. Not much there for now, but bookmark it as new info will become available in the near future.
I’m not going to try to explain this, as there’s not much info available for now. All I can say is, watch at your own peril… and use some eye bleach if needed. Meanwhile, I’m going to look for Machine Girl and Tetsuo 2 to review. Enjoy!
DISCLAIMER: Cyberpunk Review is showing this trailer for your personal information only. We cannot be held responsible for your welfare if what you see cannot be unseen. Viewer discretion is HIGHLY advised.
Not safe for work, church, school, families, PTA meetings, governments, children, pets, prudes, conservatives, Republicans, religious zealots, right-wing nutcases, robophobes, or weak stomachs, hearts, or minds.