A Conversation for The Dystopian Novel

Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 1

Mr. Cogito

Very interesting and well-written article.

I just felt like mentioning Cyberpunk fiction (a branch of Sci-fi), which presents a different version of the classic dystopian fiction. In this genre, exemplified by the books "Neuromancer" and "Snow Crash" and the movie "Blade Runner", these dystopias are usually economic and anarchic instead of totalitarian.

Generalizing wildly, you'll often see dystopian futures where national governments have broken down and large corporations dominate much of life. Often, there is often significant environmental damage and extremely wide gulfs between the rich and poor. Characters usually find themselves drawn into struggles between the corporations for power or economic advantage (eg, kidnapping another company's top researcher). Sometimes things work out for the better, but many times the system also wins.

If conventional dystopias warn against the dangers of too much government, most cyberpunk fiction seems to warn against the effects of completely unfettered capitalism and population growth. None of them advocate socialism or communism, it's just the flip side of libertarian idealism.

Yours,
Jake


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 2

Lear (the Unready)

True enough. Another writer who has a fairly dim view of America is Thomas Pynchon, whose take on the US runs something like "What went wrong here, when the chances were so good for diversity?" Or something like that. (This is a vaguely remembered quote from The Crying of Lot 49, a novel from the mid '60s.) Most of his characters dream of living in some sort of libertarian / anarchist paradise, but generally end up having to make to with a patch of wasteland somewhere in the middle of a war zone, or suchlike.

His black comedy is a little like that of Vonnegut and Heller, but blacker, more paranoid, more detailed in its research and more uncompromising in its obsession that 'They' are out there somewhere... smiley - yikes

There's some good stuff on Pynchon here, by the way... (URL removed by moderator)


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 3

Lear (the Unready)

True enough. Another writer who takes a fairly dim view of America is Thomas Pynchon, whose take on the US runs something like "What went wrong here, when the chances were so good for diversity?" Or something like that. (This is a vaguely remembered quote from The Crying of Lot 49, a novel from the mid '60s.) Most of his characters dream of living in some sort of libertarian / anarchist paradise, but generally end up having to make to with a patch of wasteland somewhere in the middle of a war zone, or suchlike.

His black comedy is a little like that of Vonnegut and Heller, but blacker, more paranoid, more detailed in its research and more uncompromising in its obsession that 'They' are out there somewhere... smiley - yikes


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 4

Lear (the Unready)

Ack. What a dork.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 5

Imaldris

Neuromancer...Gibson is a bit tiring. ::draws out her razor nails:: Prostitutes seem to be the models for any type of female cyberpunk main character. Hmm...I must go pierce myself now...Give myself a healthy dose of tribalism.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 6

Emily 'Twa Bui' Ultramarine

Pardon?


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 7

Imaldris

Oh nevermind.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 8

Emily 'Twa Bui' Ultramarine

No, please explain. You've piqued my interest now.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 9

Mr. Cogito

Near as I can tell, he's saying a big problem with Cyberpunk (as with regular sci-fi) is that it often has female characters that basically just embody male sexual fantasies of danger and excitement.

So you have the character of Molly Millions in "Neuromancer" who is equipped with mirror shades and retractable razors under her finger nails. Similarly, the "Idoru" of the book of the same name is a virtual reality construct that just exudes desire (it's what she was programmed for though), which she covertly works to get her way. And let's not mention the horrible character of the TV show "Dark Angel." Similarly, does Trinity in the "Matrix" really have to wear PVC corsets? Films really seem to amp up the sex and reduce the brains.

Of course, I can think of some counterpoints. YT the courier from "Snow Crash", the girl from "Diamond Age", the girl from the Lo Rez fan club in "Idoru". (I'm not good with names). I could think of more, but I have to go back to work now.

At least I've never seen a character in a cyberpunk book as ludicrous as Star Trek Voyager's 7 of 9...


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 10

manolan


Nothing wrong with 7 of 9. It is absolutely mandatory for certain Star Fleet personnel to wear figure hugging outfits while others get to wear something more plausible - if anything in ST is plausible. smiley - winkeye

Troi wore something similar in most of ST-TNG. Surprisingly, the writers must be aware of what they're doing as she was ordered to change to an official uniform in one episode when another officer took command of the Enterprise.

I think Rei Toei is a much more complicated character than you imply. The (fictional) reason she was created seems like a reasonable projection from the Japanese TV obsession with nubile women and the current popularity of reality programming (or whatever the buzz phrase for shows like 'Big Brother' is). She may have been created for these reasons, but she has her own agenda and I think Gibson's (structural) reason for creating her in 'Idoru' is more to do with his interest in AI and its ramifications than with male sexual fantasy. I could be wrong, though, as I've never analysed any of his fiction in that much detail.

Similarly, I could be wrong, but I would question whether these are really dystopian novels. Sure, things aren't great and bad stuff happens to the lead characters, but there's no sense of menace, no overarching power seeking to subdue the individual. In fact, if anything, the individual matters even more than normal. There are warnings of the power of mega-corporations, but they don't seek to control in the way I associate with dystopia, they seek to achieve global dominance, but they still use words like 'market share'. Overall, the environment is more chaotic than uniform. Of course, you could argue that they achieve domination through chaos and this is just a more modern (?) view of dystopia than the traditional rigid structure. I think I've just confused myself.

Emily. Help!


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 11

Mr. Cogito

Hello,

You're right. I am overly simplifying Rei Toei (the Idoru). It's true it's a bit of a meditation of AI, entertainment, and a Japanese fascination with young nubile women (okay, we have it too). But it is true that on the surface, some of these characters could be seen as male fantasy, and in the movie treatments, that's unfortunately what they're often reduced to.

Interesting points about the dystopia. It's true that in most cases, the hero wins in these books (as opposed to the case in 1984 or Brave New World), although there may be much hardship. But there is usually a sense of menace, a notion that death comes quickly, and the law will not protect you. It's somewhat of a flip side to the libertarian utopias we hear these days where free markets are supposed to be synonymous with liberty. In the Cyberpunk world, you don't have to worry about a big centralized government, you have to worry about multiple power-hungy corporations, violent street gangs, provincial local authorities, and aggressive computer security. It's a dystopia through anarchy not excessive order, since any notion of a national government in control is laughable (before cyberpunk, there was Mad Max).

Oh, I thought of an excellent example of the hero not winning. Gibson's short story "New Rose Hotel". Check it out of the library (in his "Burning Chrome" collection). Just don't see the movie based on the story.

Yours,
Jake


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 12

Emily 'Twa Bui' Ultramarine

On the Star Trek theme - in some respects, you could argue that Starfleet is in fact the equivalent of the establishment force in the typical dystopia, only the facet we are given is their point of view only - propaganda, if you will. What is it about the Cardassians/Klingons/Jem Had'aar that gives Starfleet the authority to destroy them? True, the Cardassians enslave the Bajorans, but the Bajorans would dothe same to them from what we gather. In the case of the Jem Had'aar, it's not actually their fault that they behave as they do, and yet they still suffer at the hands of Starfleet.

So maybe all that was a rather weak argument, but their are distinct parallels between Starfleet and the Party in "1984", with a case of the 'haves' ans 'have-nots'. Those in Starfleet have their glittering phasers and funky medical equipment, and yet everyone else in the universe seems to be trapped in the neolithic era. Hmmmm...

Sorry about that. Idon't know what came over me.

As for the costumes - purey and simply to titillate male viewers. Distinct exploitation of women there. Even Janeway - as she holds a position of authority, she initially had her stern chignon and suit (notably without much emphasis of chest/silhouette, as there as with Kira Nerys, for example), and yet as a romantic interest, she becomes all willowy and helpless.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 13

manolan


I've always found Janeway's romantic side out of character. If she isn't willowy and helpless then she's forced to make a hard choice: very 2d.

On the subject of costumes, I remember reading an interview with Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) in which she said that she had to have three different bras: the normal one, one for when she was running and one for when she was lying down. Clearly reality just won't do. Perhaps this is to emulate some dramatic advances in support technology by the 24th (?) Century!


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 14

Emily 'Twa Bui' Ultramarine

Went bra shopping today. None of them fitted - none of them ever do.

I need to write a bra related entry, and how one can never, ever find one in 36DD.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 15

NexusSeven

Crikey! Seeking nothing more than a bit of a waffle about dystopian futures, it seems that topic drift has set in somewhat; I'm not quite as familiar with bras and ladies who have... generous d├ęcolletages, unfortunately. smiley - winkeye

Carry on... smiley - bigeyes


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 16

Emily 'Twa Bui' Ultramarine

Hey - I wrote the article. Surely I can talk about bras if I want.

Alright, then - let us talk about the literary structure of dystopias. Personally, I think "The Handmaid's Tale" to be one of the best established societies in terms of how believeable the society is from the very outset - "Brave New World" and "Facial Justice", whilst still excellent works, do take some time before we really connect with this presentation of reality - eg. the guided tour at the beginning of "BNW" - yes, it's necessary to introduce us to the premise, but "THT" and "1984" achieve this in a far more subtle manner.

Discuss.


More highbrow, NexusSeven? smiley - winkeye

The generous decolletage is a bugger, it must be said. Confined to old ladies' lingerie...


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 17

NexusSeven

Nah, I was just kidding. smiley - winkeye I could waffle for hours about how Gibson's Neuromancer introduces the reader to not merely one 'Brave New World' but two - one being the real world, the other the literally 'new' frontier of the virtual. And so on. smiley - online2long

Still, bras'll do me fine as a conversation point. smiley - bigeyes


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 18

Mr. Cogito

Hello,

And then there's the cheekiness of "Snow Crash", following and yet deconstructing the stereotypes of the genre. For instance, the hero-protagonist is named Hiro Protagonist, cyberspace always involves motorcycle chases for some reason, and any story somehow involves both tribal elements and advanced technologies. The ending doesn't quite work (his endings never do), but it's funny nonetheless.

I actually have a joke book called the "Cyberpunk Handbook," which skewers a lot of the tropes and norms of the genre. It's a bit scary how accurate it gets. Still, it's not Star Trek. smiley - smiley

I've always felt that way about the Federation. For all their spoutings of peace and love, there's probably a sinister totalitarian side to them, which we never get (except only obliquely in the Star Trek VI movie). And those poor planets that get visited. Not only do they not get any goodies, but they also have to deal with Shatner. The pain, the pain!

I don't know anything about bras, but I can sympathize. Women's clothing seems to be for 12 year olds lately, while Men's clothing seems to be designed for 6-2, 250 pound behemoths. It makes for some frustrating shopping experiences.

Yours,
Jake


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 19

manolan

Somehow, I never quite believed in Gilead. I don't know what it was and it's sometime since I read THT. I think it was something to do with how this state was formed without any international intervention. But now I look at what's happening in Afghanistan and I wonder! Well, not really, I still don't believe it could happen in a western democracy (perhaps I'm naive). However, it is interesting to see a dystopian society at transition, as you said.

I certainly agree that the introduction in BNW is very artificial (perhaps Huxley is playing a literary joke and modelling the structure on the society, or perhaps that's too deep for a novel written that long ago - seems more like a modernist trick). I haven't read Facial Justice and I'm not all that inspired by your description of it as not one of his most celebrated works. I mush prefer the subtle introduction. That said, many Sci-Fi/fantasy novels have a subtle introduction to a new world, often so subtle that I lose patience and put them down. On first reading of 'Consider Phlebas', my brain shut down under strain from too many new concepts that weren't really explained until later!

Have you read "We" by Zamyatin? All this talk has made me decide I must re-read it.

36DD, Emily, for some reason, that surprises me. Am obviously happy to talk bras, but it has been a long time since I had any detailed conversations. All the larger breasted women I've discussed this with have commented on the same problems. By complete coincidence, someone pointed me to [URL removed by moderator]the other day, which might interest.


Cyberpunk Dystopias

Post 20

Mr. Cogito

Hello,

While we're talking about absurd female characters in Cyberpunk or Sci-Fi situations, Japanese anime deserves a first place. Case in point: "Ghost in the Shell", while a great looking film mostly (and a huge influence on The Matrix), involves a main character who gets invisible by taking her clothes off completely. She's an android with electronics in her skin, but for some reason, other people have clothes that can do the same trick. And there are a lot of other anime films with trashier writing that are worse.

Yours,
Jake


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