The talk of Cyberpunk 2077 from Austin and Patrick has left me tremendously excited to see more of the game in the future, as well as a little anxious about where it might falter. Time and time again stories told in the cyberpunk genre fail to reconcile the East Asian (particularly from the 80s) inspired aesthetic with the “punk” part of the equation, that sees dystopic futures full of systemic oppression and class divides as the core of the message. Mike Pondsmith’s connection to the project as well as all the good things Austin and Patrick had to say about their demo gives me some hope that 2077 will side step those pitfalls and not be afraid to wear its politics on its sleeve, though time will tell if the corporate, AAA nature of the project ends up diluting the themes that are so integral to the genre.
All this is to say that I’ve had cyberpunk on the brain these past few days. It’s led me to think about other recent explorations into the genre. Last year I was wowed by Blade Runner 2049’s cinematography and the visual direction that tried to envision how a cyberpunk dystopia changes over time, but was ultimately disappointed by its whiteness and failure to depict how minorities survive in a cyberpunk society (instead opting to use robots as allegory for the oppression of the marginalised). Similarly, Detroit: Become Human by Quantic Dreams enjoys using oppression as a pillar of its narrative, appropriating the iconography of oppression throughout history without ever interrogating how their version of society was able to move past the prejudices and marginalisation that are already rampant in the present world. The white-washing was also fully apparent in the recent Western adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which opted to cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead rather than an actress of colour. The framing of cyberpunk seems ripe for showcasing minorities surviving in an oppressive world and the ways in which we resist the systems that are responsible, and yet too often we’re nowhere to be found on the silver screen, in the AAA games, or more generally the mainstream versions of these stories.
Which is why I wanted to make this thread, to allow folks to shout-out their favourite cyberpunk fiction. Whether it’s books, films, games or something else entirely, I’m interested to hear what y’all consider to be some of the best in the genre, or simply those that resonated with you personally. The cyberpunk fiction I’ve outlined are all mainstream productions and I’m sure, like most things, there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on in the indie and experimental scenes. It doesn’t have to be related to what I’ve been rambling about, maybe your cyberpunk fav is entirely to do with its aesthetic, but I’m definitely looking for more stories that are focused on a diverse cast and/or ones in which their idea of gender is a little less cisnormative. I’ve heard good things about the Shadowrun series so that might be where I look first.