A less talked about and common characteristic of cyberpunk is it’s calm yet distressing portrayal of the environment. Sunny blue skies, clear diamond starlit nights, sunrises and sunsets beaming with colorful harvests of sunshine are replaced by thick dreary overcasts, soft rain penetrating dense smog, and monotone daylight. At night, the subtlety of the climate crisis is overshadowed by exuberant city lights and holography. Perhaps it’s a euphemism of our current outlook, where glamour captures our attention at the expense of our immediate earthly concerns. Moreover, cybercities seem alive at night instead of at day. Perhaps the denizens of the cyberworld prefer the warm nightly glow of corporate advertisement to the daytime simulacrum of hell on earth.
Dystopian imagery need not be appear so bleak. The youth in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner lived an idyllic setting of sorts; if you don’t mind roughing it. A rustic life outlined by greenery, plows, and hammocks seems lovely compared to soul crushing urban decay. But the horrific and humongous roaches beyond the moss-covered walls belies the lack of freedom for Dashner’s characters. Cyber-cacotopias, in contrast, typically unveil soul-crushing imagery both inside and outside the megacity. The contrast is chromatic, where energetic shades of blues, purples, pinks, and reds emanating from 3-D billboards imprint character onto teeming, and yet dead, city landscapes that share the same drudging black and grey hues of its urban fashion. The colors in life come from profit while the environment itself is greyed. It’s as if corporations monopolized life itself. Although cyberpunk urbanity has a unique radiance, it’s still a visual assault on the spirit.
Why I think cyberpunk is able to slightly sprinkle hints of dread is through its display of climate crisis and urban decay. It’s something many people feel as something that is real, happening know, and only getting worse.
The air quality and color reminds me of Gattaca and several scenes from Blade Runner 2049. BBC News Caption (Bambang. When the particulate index reaches the level of 2,900. Photo by Bjorn Vaughn).
I wonder, as our civilization accumulates more data as a function of the information age (and beyond), then the capacity of what I call meta-vision comes into being? It may be similar to Dune’s idea of Prescience or the less useful stock-market predictions, in that “knowing the future” is a skill that has major advantages. The ability to predict future events based on an insane amount of information is not science fiction. Statisticians do it all the time. In fact, I remember my college poly sci days learning about how statisticians can be so accurate I actually felt an existential threat from that type of power. It’s not 100% accurate of course, but the craft is accurate enough that tens of millions of dollars can be spent on one project. Statistics used to predict future events is part of every industry today, especially politics, and every decade the practice gets better and better.
As corporations accumulate more capital, I think their potential for information dominance throughout society becomes more likely. They would have the money to pay for anything they wish to know. Didn’t Google just announce “quantum supremacy” (whatever that means) a few weeks ago? Aside from strong governments that can counterbalance mega-corporations, the only equalizer that I think could possibly compete with such power disparity is civil society, for a lack of a cyberpunk moniker. I refuse to use the phrase “the people” as if people who are apathetic, or co-opted, or belong to an opposing tribe don’t exist. Wikipedia, underground hackers, quality journalism, corporate activism, your USB device, are all examples of possible resistance to such over-whelming power. It’s not to say none of that can’t be compromised, but to be recognized. In politics you learn, people power can compete against monetary power.
INFORMATION IS POWER. What a simultaneously liberating yet horrifying maxim. Any rational actor would value more of it and the more powerful an entity becomes, there’s no less reason to limit the capacity for acquiring it. I think dystopian futures involve actors, probably mega-corporations, having such power disparity over the common man as to be no different that a totalitarian state. Can civil society prepare itself if or when, the state won’t act?
Preferably in the sub-genres of cyberpunk and biopunk.