Chaos vs. Order

I came across another interesting review of TRON: Legacy today over at Terra Nova, an academic site that covers online games. The article is Blizzard is CLU, and goes into some interesting detail about the nature of MMOs and how the “living parts” were driven out, reminiscent of the plot of the movie. (Warning, there are some mild spoilers in that article and this. But, if you’ve read my review you probably already know the plot points covered.)

This brought up some thoughts about the classic themes of chaos and order. Read on for my take.
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Review of TRON: Legacy

I recently went to see the new movie TRON: Legacy, the biggest cyberpunk-related movies this year. It’s the sequel some of us have waited decades for. I’m sure all the hard-core fans here have already seen it, but in case you haven’t I’ll be including a few spoilers. Go see the movie if that’s a big deal for you. Otherwise, read on and then leave a comment with your thoughts.
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Has this site failed?

I’m taking a long hard look here. Posting has fallen off for various reasons. As I’ve mentioned before, most of the original 6 writers I lined up for this site have left. The last remaining one hasn’t talked to me in a few weeks now. I’ve been busy with a project that I’m hoping will keep rent paid, so I haven’t had the time to consider an interesting cyberpunk topic to post.

Part of the motivation for creating this site was to gauge interest in cyberpunk as a theme, particularly one to explore for a future game. The lack of interest in contributing writing and the lack of interest in participating in comments (currently 0 comments on the cyberpunk-themed game post I wrote a few weeks ago) seems to indicate that the interest isn’t as great as I had hoped.

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A reader sent a link to the game Sp.A.I, a cyberpunk themed “third-person puzzle platformer”. I had already downloaded the game, but it’s taken me a bit to actually sit down and play it. The game was developed by // No comment, a team of 5 students from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Fairly interesting for a student project.

You can download the game at

So, what’s it like? Read on for a small review.
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Fear and New Orientalism in Cyberpunk

Fellow cyberpunk enthusiast End_User send in this though-provoking article. Enjoy!

‘Modern Japan simply was cyberpunk.’ – William Gibson

‘The Orient […] seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe.’ – Edward Wadie Said, in Orientalism

Cyberpunk is a genre obsessed with the other, the outsider, the strange and the foreign. Whether it be foreign objects that penetrate and augment the human body, foreign beings represented by AI constructs or simply the seemingly eternal concept of the foreigner as ‘that man from elsewhere,’ cyberpunk is saturated with them. Leaving aside for the moment works that actually originate from South East Asian countries, Western cyberpunk is obsessed, just as the citizens of the European empires were during the age of exploration, with the concept of the East as a faraway place where magic resides. In cyberpunk, of course, that magic is technology, but it remains the same.

The East becomes a mysterious place, Gibson’s ‘black clinics of Chiba’ attaining a foreign and horrible resonance in the mind of the Western audience. The Triads and the Yakuza are conglomerated and deliberately blurred together, ‘the Sons of the Neon Chrysthanthemum,’ and become a dominant force in world affairs through their corporate interests. Is this demonstrative of a fear, peculiarly Western, of the growing economic and political power of South-East Asian nations? Or is it merely fetishism, the attraction of this foreign and magical land that was felt by French artists in the 19th Century?

Outside of Gibson’s works, we see indicators that it is fear that dominates this new Orientalism: in Blade Runner we see not the empty and decaying L.A. that Dick had assumed, but an overpopulated, multi-racial, multi-lingual city. And the races portrayed delineate American paranoias that have only been expanded upon since the end of the Cold War; non-integrating Hispanics and Asians flood the screen and the streets in Blade Runner, speaking pidgin languages and bringing their own cultures. Yet, they never ascend beyond the streets, because as Said highlights, Orientalism is ‘a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient [rather than] a veridic discourse about the Orient.’ By implanting this fearful racial dystopia, there is a forced realisation of the dominance and therefore superiority of Western cultures.

But what of cyberpunk works that arrive in the East? Japan undoubtedly has produced some of the genres greatest works, and they cannot be accused of fetishising their own culture. Observe, though, the concept of ‘other’ applied through a Japanese scope: in Ghost in the Shell it is always America that is the foreign invading ‘other’ politically, while visual representation of the other comes through blond hair/blue eyes, or in the filmic versions, a stereotyped China (Ghost in the Shell, 1995, is set in New Port based on Hong Kong, characters on signs are Chinese). Indeed, in Stand Alone Complex we see America, China and Russia as the invading outsider multiple times, while films such as Akira and Appleseed doubtless have grounding in memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Visually, Eastern cyberpunk does not rob from other cultures, so why does Western? It rests on a widespread assumption, not entirely unfounded, that Japan is ‘the technology place,’ because of its past record of producing and adopting new technologies at a rate greater than the West. But as the West moves ahead in technological terms, might we not question the reasoning behind always thinking of Japan thusly? It mirrors all too uncomfortably the concept of the East being ‘the spice place,’ and Said’s criticism that there is ‘a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts.’

Interview: Jess C. Scott

Jess contacted us with news about her new book, The Other Side of Life which combines Urban Fantasy and Cyberpunk. She offered to do an interview, so we took her up on the offer before she changed her mind. ;) This is her first book in a series, and she’s offering free copies to people willing to do advance reviews. Read to the end if you’re interested.

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The Cyberpunk Soundtrack

And he woke again, thinking he dreamed, to a wide white smile framed with old incisors, Aerol strapping him into a g-web in Babylon Rocker.
And then the long pulse of Zion dub.

~ Neuromancer by William Gibson

What does cyberpunk sound like?

We’ve discussed what it feels like, and what it may look like at times, but the cyberpunk soundscape is transient and varied.

Dub reggae plays a big part in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Music speaks for the book’s Zionite characters, forming the soundtrack of their orbital colonies and even providing Case with audio cues to wake him from brain-death. Music is also acknowledged in the Lo/Rez rock group of Idoru (Gibson) and voice of the refugees, cyber-brain rapper Densetsu (Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd GIG), to name but two.

"Densetsu", a cyber-brain rapper and target of the Individual Eleven assassins.

Cyberpunk is usually associated with techno, but this is often down to the influence of cybergoth culture. While there are electronic artists making cyber-friendly tracks like Return of the Machines (Oforia), Red Shift (Ayria) and Elektrobank (Chemical Brothers), do they represent the sum total of a cyberpunk soundtrack?

I wonder if, for example, you associate certain rock tunes with cyberpunk. Reggae seems at first glance to be quite an organic genre, but its echo-effect dub remixes speak to a certain sub-culture in Case’s world, of people who pursue Zionite ideals in face of a depressed Babylon. That in itself suggests the cyberpunk condition; a willingness to escape the ‘meat’ reality and embrace something other. Perhaps you eschew electronic music for jazz when contemplating the ordered chaos of our own ‘matrix’? It may be that there are lyrics which speak to you of a cyberpunk reality, or that techno beats really do transport you to the neon, computerised matrix.

Dystopia in the near future

I stumbled across an interesting article recently, A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years by Douglas Coupland. Perhaps a bit much on the “pessimist” side, but what struck me is how this list mentioned some cyberpunk-like concepts.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.
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For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.

~ Extract from “Neuromancer” by William Gibson.

Walls, be they physical or metaphorical, are common in all walks of fiction. They enclose whole worlds, trapping hero and villain alike so that they must escape, or else breed conflict. It’s common for a hero to break through these walls and achieve a ‘happy ending’, freeing society and themselves in the process – but not often in cyberpunk. I can’t help but notice some of these boundaries as I take in cyberpunk old and new, and wonder as to their role in the ‘real world’ too.

A Combine tripod strides behind a blockade in "Half-Life 2"'s City 17.

"Move along."

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Journalists often have a prominent place in cyberpunk. A lot of times the story in a cyberpunk setting is told as being a news story. It can be a reminder of how much corporations control everything if the newscast is missing information that the reader/viewer knows, or it can be an affirmation of how an independent can break through the control to report the “real truth”.

So, let’s take a look at journalists in cyberpunk, and how our future is likely to head compared to the previous concept.
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