A Cyberpunk Reanimanifesto

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that there was a book that made them want to be a writer. That’s pretty obvious. It might even be a series of books, or simply a particular period in their reading life when they graduated from consumer to creator, from reader to writer, from being a fan to deciding that you wanted other people to be a fan of you. But we all have an origin story.

For me, there are two origin stories, which is why my body of work is kind of a hash of different influences. The first one, the… shall we say… inciting incident of my writing story was Tolkien. Obviously. And from there I went to Brooks and Saberhagen and McCaffrey, reveling in swords and dragons and the kind of things that heroes do. My writing story is also closely tied to my gaming history, so while I was reading about these fantastical worlds I was also gaming in them (since my particular upbringing forbade D&D, I had to make up my own game systems and worlds and magic, which was pretty good training for what was to come).

But I have a second origin story as well, and it came around high school. Rather than making me want to be a writer, because I already had that going on in spades, this second origin story made me want to be a *good* writer. It made me realize just how much a writer could do with a story, and a world, and the words on the page. It happened in a high school writing elective. The teacher, Mr. Bonner, set down a story I had turned in and said “Oh, you’re a cyberpunk.” And I said “What?” because that word meant nothing to me. So he sent me home with a reading list, and it changed my world.

The first book I could get my hands on was Count Zero, by William Gibson. It’s actually the second book in his Sprawl trilogy, and some would argue the better of the three, but at the time it didn’t matter. As I read that book I could feel my brain changing shape inside my skull. New pathways were burning, new ways of thinking about story and world and character. A whole new narrative landscape was opening for me, and I was hooked. Like, hard man. I was chipping in.

The games I played changed too. R Talsorian had just released the black box edition of Cyberpunk, with three thin manuals and some dice. I absorbed that game whole and inflicted it on my gaming group. Then Cyberpunk 2020 arrived, and I had the game I was going to play for foreseeable future. There followed a whole raft of other games, from Shadowrun to SLA Industries to Cyberspace, but Cyberpunk was the native language of my dice for a long time.

So when I first started talking about being a writer in any professional capacity, of course I said I was a cyberpunk. I wrote stories about netdeckers and samurai and synthpop kids, about invasive technology and neo-capitalist murder squads. Unlike in high school, my college level professors didn’t really know what to do with this stuff, but I could feel it in my bones. I knew what I was writing, and I knew it was good.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry moved on without me. By the time I was sending stories to magazines, cyberpunk was a distant idea that had glimmered and then been snuffed out. The market had changed. Even William Gibson, King Chrome himself, started writing near future technothrillers. Very good ones, mind you, but the neon had died out.

But now it’s coming back. Maybe it’s the resurgence of nostalgia for that era, maybe it’s the realization that the things cyberpunk warned about instead became blueprints for hyper-capitalization, or maybe it’s because fashion is just a mindless beast regurgitating the styles of old, and cyberpunk’s ticket has floated to the top of its vast belly. I don’t care. I want my street samurai. I want my hacking ninjas. I want my punks, and I want them cybered to the bloody teeth.

If you love cyberpunk, be sure to check out my short story Bulletproof Air. I’m going to write an entire series of these, all interconnected, released one chapter at a time. There are also new editions of Cyberpunk and SLA Industries coming out. Let’s reanimate this manifesto! Mirrorshades! Lasers! Dystopia!

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