Author Interview: Corey J. White

Interviews

Hi Corey, thanks so much for doing the interview! I’ve just finished your newest book, Repo Virtual, and absolutely loved it. How have you found the experience of releasing a book this year?

It’s been tough, to be honest. When you spend so much time planning, researching, writing and editing a book, you really hope that it’s going to find its audience – and that can be tough even at the best of times. Obviously 2020 has not been the best of times. The book has still managed to pick up some good reviews, and I’ve had some great responses from readers, but it’s impossible to know how much better things might have gone under different circumstances.

Still, I have my health, and I haven’t lost anyone to COVID-19, so if having a new release book lost in the churn of 2020 is the worst thing that happens to me this year, I’m still luckier than a lot of other people.

I’m celebrating all things cyberpunk this month at Parsecs & Parchment, so could you maybe give us your take on what cyberpunk is, the themes it explores and why you wanted to write a cyberpunk story?

So, a nice easy question, huh?

This is a tough one because what cyberpunk is has changed a lot across the decades. At first I think it was pure future shock and bleeding edge speculation about a fast-approaching digital status quo, but I see it also as a response to neoliberal economic policy – the notion that the state should take a step back and let private companies run things; to leave society and the lives of everyone living in it to the whims of the market.

It’s hard to tell if cyberpunk is to blame for providing such a flashy neon-hued road map to lead us to where we are today, or if it’s our fault for not properly heeding its warnings, but it’s obvious to me that we’re living in a very mundane sort of cyberpunk dystopia (though unevenly distributed, of course). Despite that, so much of the modern cyberpunk you see in films, video games, online art, etc, has been reduced to a pure aesthetic divorced from current issues.

So right from the start, my plan with Repo Virtual was to write a book that could be seen as a continuation of the cyberpunk canon, and which would also recontextualise everything people love about the genre with what’s happening right now technologically, politically, and culturally. I don’t know if I pulled it off, but hopefully I came close.

How would you pitch Repo Virtual to potential readers?

It’s the story of a repoman/thief, his delinquent hacker friend and spiritually adrift sibling, getting deep in the shit after they unknowingly steal the world’s first strong AI. But if heists, shoot-outs, car chases, and reckless arson aren’t enough for you, it’s also a story about the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and our responsibilities to any AI children we might one day create.

It’s about family, found family, love and its struggles, guilt, climate change, and corporate control.

It was great to see a Black, gay protagonist in J.D., the main character of the book. Centering people who aren’t straight white guys isn’t something cyberpunk (or genre fiction in general) has done well in the past. Was this something you consciously wanted to rectify?

I don’t know that it was conscious, it’s more that I’ve read enough science fiction over the years to have become kind of sick of the straight white male default that has plagued the genre for decades. It’s not just sci-fi, and it’s not even just books – all across culture the white male protagonist is everywhere. This means that when I’m sitting down to write a story, the idea of putting yet another straight white guy front and centre feels incredibly boring. So at this point I think it’s entirely subconscious.

But more generally, I’m really excited with the direction of science-fiction and fantasy right now, and the diverse voices that are finally getting better recognised (they’ve always been here, as much as certain editors, writers, and readers would have liked to pretend otherwise). I think my publisher (Tor.com Publishing) is really at the forefront of this movement in terms of long-form genre publishing, but there are also a number of genre fiction magazines doing really great work too – FIYAH Magazine and Anathema being just two examples that come immediately to mind.

Personally I think Repo Virtual would make a great SciFi action film, there are quite a few adrenaline-fueled moments! If it ever got adapted for a movie who would you like to see bring your characters to life on the big screen?

The name at the top of my list would be Bong Joon-ho (SnowpiercerParasiteOkjaMemories of Murder, etc). I consider him an anti-capitalist comrade, he does brilliant work in and out of sci-fi, he does great action and great comedy, and I think a Repo Virtual film could really benefit from having a Korean director bring Neo Songdo to life.

Speaking of action scenes, you do a great job of having your action scenes propel the book forward by advancing the plot or developing aspects of character. How do you make sure your action scenes are adding something to the story when drafting your books?

I think the easiest ‘trick’ is to try and make sure that your action scenes are always doing at least two things. There’ll be the action itself – what’s happening, who’s shooting who – but there also needs to be a second layer beneath that, something that grounds it to the characters as people. Maybe the person doing the shooting is struggling with guilt related to their past acts of violence. Maybe the two characters trying to outrun the police are having a talk about their relationship, something like that.

If you read enough (and write enough) you’ll start to get a feel for it. Maybe you won’t realise right away why the action feels disconnected from the story, but you’ll know that the scene isn’t landing and with any luck, eventually you’ll figure out why.

One of my favourite bits from Repo Virtual never even made it to the third draft. I loved the action that was taking place, but when I took a step back the scene didn’t add anything to the story. Sometimes when that happens, you just need to hit delete and keep moving forward.

Another thing that’s important with action pacing – that again you’ll get a better instinct for the more you read and write – is to remember that you need to let your characters (and your readers) breathe. Sometimes they need to just sit down and eat and talk, or they need to hide out and lick their wounds. Those quiet moments will help the action stand out better than if it was going non-stop.

Do you have any favourite cyberpunk books and recommendations for people looking to explore the genre?

Neuromancer might be considered the primary cyberpunk text, but I think the best introduction to the early days of cyberpunk is William Gibson’s Burning Chrome collection of short stories.

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon could be considered a very literary take on cyberpunk – the framing narrative could be straight out of Black Mirror, but it’s the stories embedded within it that make the book something really special. Each of the stories is beautifully rendered with a totally unique voice.

Malka Older’s Infomocracy is a perfect cyberpunk book for the present politics-obsessed moment in time (though if that sounds too dry, there’s also plenty of espionage and intrigue too).

And Steve Aylett’s Beerlight books are hilarious and weird, and still filled with great SFnal concepts. Read Slaughtermatic and go on from there if it tickles your fancy.

You’ve also got another science fiction series out called The Voidwitch Saga. What’s this series about for readers who want to check out your back catalogue?

The Voidwitch Saga of novellas (Killing GravityVoid Black Shadow, and Static Ruin) follows Mars Xi, an experimental telekinetic supersoldier who’s spent her whole life on the run from the people who created her. When these forces finally catch up to her, she’s forced to reckon with her past, her creation, and all the violence she’s enacted in the name of her freedom. And there is a lot of violence.

It’s ultra-violent, but also heart-felt, oddly personal, and still somewhat political.


The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White

Lastly, what can readers expect from you in the future? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire at the moment. Still waiting on beta reader feedback on the latest novel manuscript, which is cli-fi body-horror about our guilt and responsibilities in the face of anthropocentric climate change and mass extinction. I’ve got ideas for a sequel too, but still need to wait and see how the next draft comes together.

I’m also working on a collaborative space horror novella, and I’m slowly putting aside ideas for a Repo Virtual follow-up. Not a direct sequel, because I’ve told the story of this particular group of characters, but something in the same world, looking at more/different parts of our dystopian now through that cyberpunk lens.

Sounds awesome, I’m looking forward to it! Thanks so much for your time Corey.

No, thank you! I really appreciate it.


You can see more from Corey on his website coreyjwhite.com, where you can also sign up to the Nothing Here Newsletter. Repo Virtual and the Voidwitch Saga novellas are out now from Tor.com. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?

Reading Update 18/11/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
I decided to read this on a whim without really knowing anything about it. Mainly because I’m very interested in reading Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and I have a weird thing where I like to read authors books in order, so I can see how they progress as an author or something? I dunno, my brain just rebels at the idea of consciously skipping a bunch of books in a writer back catalogue. Turns out Shadow and Bone is a YA book about a young war orphan called Alina Starkov, who unexpectedly reveals a dormant magical power that saves her best friends life – a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Honestly I would have hated this book had I actually sat down and read a physical copy, there’s just too much brooding, mopey love triangley nonsense for my taste; as it is I just chewed through the audiobook while I was painting my bedroom so it was decent enough background noise.

Currently Reading: INFOMOCRACY by Malka Older
As regular readers will know I’m celebrating all things cyberpunk this SciFi Month, and after a brief fantasy detour I’m getting back to it. Infomocracy has been on my radar for a while and sounds like a pretty unique book in the cyberpunk canon. Instead of focussing on high-octane heists and adventure this is a book about political intrigue and espionage, which I looooove. The premise is that in the near future a powerful search engine monopoly called Information has pioneered switch from nation states to global micro-democracy and the story follows operatives from the different political and corporate factions as they gear up for the next looming election. It’s a story of corruption, manipulation, political manoeuvring and intrigue. I’m not far in yet but I’m already enjoying it and I’ll have a full review shortly.

Next Read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo
This is the second book in the Shadow and Bone series that I started above. I’ve actually already started this one cos I moved straight on from the first book while I was still painting the bedroom haha. I’m about a quarter of the way through and actually enjoying this one much more than the previous instalment so far. There’s been much less mopey romance which is a big plus, though I’m anticipating it’ll make an unwelcome return at some point. Not particularly interested in actually sitting down to read it in my own ‘spare time’ as it were, so I’ll probs finish it up next time I’ve got some house chores to do.


That’s it for this lil reading update folks. Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

Author Interview: Erica L. Satifka

Interviews

Hi Erica, thanks so much for doing the interview! First of all, congrats on the release of your new book, Busted Synapses. How has it been writing a new book in the hellscape that is 2020?

Despite the book’s similarity to current events, I actually wrote this book a few years before the pandemic. However, it’s definitely affected the book’s release. I had all these plans of readings I could go to and local-ish cons I could attend when the book (which had been in the works for a while) came out, and of course none of it happened. I’m still planning to maybe do a reading or two if/when the pandemic runs its course. Maybe I’ll even have something new out then. Here’s hoping, anyway.

So I’m actually doing a month long celebration of all things cyberpunk at Parsecs & Parchment at the mo. Can you give your own take on what cyberpunk is and why it interests you?

Near-future science fiction that’s concerned with how technological advances sharpen the division between social classes, which tends to focus on outsiders, hackers, and other people who don’t fit into the overarching culture. As someone who’s a bit of an outsider who’s also very pessimistic about the ability of science to improve our lives, it definitely struck a chord. I didn’t really get into science fiction until high school, and cyberpunk (and other modern stuff in general) until even later so I’ve never had the idea that SF/F needed to have uncomplicated, heroic protagonists. That’s pretty boring, actually.

I just finished reading Busted Synapses and thoroughly enjoyed it. What can readers expect going into the story? Give us the elevator pitch every author dreads.

Like the kingdoms of old, cities and the elites inside them have walled themselves off from the peasants, regular people like you and me. Jess Nowicki tried to stay but was kicked out of paradise and into a dead-end job at a call center in her hometown of Wheeling, WV. Resentful, she watches as her friends and family use maladaptive coping devices, including her childhood friend Dale Carter, who makes his living by running drug-fueled gaming competition for the amusement of the neo-aristocracy. When one of the androids who helped reduce the working class to poverty shows up, Jess is even more resentful, worried what little she has will be taken away. But the New Woman’s arrival opens up a small doorway to breaking down the current society, if only Jess, Dale, and the others can figure out how to do it.

What I really liked about the book was how grounded it felt. It’s a world of androids, virtual reality and omnipotent corporations, but the characters struggle with a lot of the same things people struggle with today, like working precarious jobs and worrying about paying the bills. Was that something you consciously set out to write?

Almost all of my characters are working class, because I find normal people much more interesting to write about. The protagonist of my last book, Stay Crazy, worked as a stocker at a Walmart-type store (a job I’ve also done), and the fragile nature of her employment added a stake to the book that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Not only did she have to save the world, she had to do it without getting fired. In Busted Synapses, I focused on the gig economy, because it’s where we’re heading as a society, which is even more true now than when I wrote the first draft in 2017. Basically, a shitty job both provides inherent conflict and lets me inject a lot of politics into my work in a very direct way. (Plus, most of my own jobs have been entry-level or otherwise “menial,” and we write what we know.)



Climate catastrophe also plays a big role in the book, with large parts of the Eastern Seaboard being destroyed by freak storms. Do you think the immanent settings of cyberpunk stories mean that modern writers in the genre are gonna have to pay more attention to climate change? 

Absolutely. Climate change is here, it’s happening, and any book set in a vaguely realistic near future that doesn’t include it as part of the background is as anachronistic as old-timey planetary romances where people could breathe on Mars without spacesuits. We’re not remotely prepared for what’s going to happen as the result of climate change. There could be tens of millions of climate refugees, food shortages, the end of long-distance travel. I’m an anti-alarmist and generally think people freak out too much about things, but when it comes to climate change we’re not freaking out enough.

You have a very unapologetically left wing Twitter presence, which I appreciate a lot. You’ve also said elsewhere you’re a bit of a pessimist (also very cyberpunk). How do you think ‘The Left’ needs to organise irl to prevent the out-of-control capitalist dystopias that cyberpunk depicts. Or do you think we’re already too late to win?

I’d like to believe it isn’t too late, but most signs point to that. California just passed a law ensuring gig workers have no rights going forward. The United States has an incoming president who says he’ll return things to normal, as if millions living on the street, tens of millions without healthcare, and lead-lined water pipes are peachy keen. I think the Left can only win if we start advocating for real economic policies in terms everyone can understand, and then we actually have to go outside the bubble – show people equality isn’t an elitist concept. The end result of hyper-polarization isn’t a world anyone wants to live in, yet refusing to talk to your family members who voted for Trump is treated as a virtue. That absolutely needs to stop if the Left is going to win any real material gains. 

Do you have any favourite cyberpunk books and recommendations for people looking to explore the genre?

Of course there’s the classics: William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan, etc. Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” that begins with Virtual Light is my favorite of his work that I’ve read, which focuses (especially the first one) on a diverse cast of street-dwellers squatting on the Bay Bridge. Philip K. Dick, whose work is kind of a cyberpunk precursor, has been my favorite author since I discovered him right after college, and had his own kind-of rural cyberpunk novel in Dr. Bloodmoney, one of his most underrated works. And I’m not sure if it qualifies as cyberpunk, but I read a highly unique dystopian novel last year called A Short Film About Disappointment (by Joshua Mattson). It’s told via a series of film reviews, through which you learn how the Internet was reduced to bare bones after a hacker takes down the world economy.



And finally, do you have any other story ideas you’re working on right now? Plans for future books or juicy teasers you can give to readers?

I think of Busted Synapses as the first in a series, and I’d like to write a lot more in this world, short stories and longer pieces both, if enough people show interest in my plucky workers of 2020s Appalachia. I’m also finishing up edits on a short novel set in the world of my story “The Big So-So” (originally published in Interzone), a sort-of comedy about a terrible band who fights global ennui caused by aliens. It’s probably a good thing these two worlds are so different from each other, since it keeps me from mixing them up! I’m also working on some stories for unannounced anthology projects.

Thanks so much Erica, and good luck with the book 🙂

Thank you for having me on!


You can follow Erica on Twitter at @ericasatifka. Her novella, Busted Synapses, is available now from Broken Eye Books. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?

Review: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White

Book Reviews

I’ve been impressed by the new cyberpunk I’ve been reading lately. I didn’t know if modern authors would have moved on from the retro-futurist vibes of their older counterparts, or whether they’d have anything worthwhile to say about 21st century capitalism. Honestly it’s about time cyberpunk moved on and had something worth saying again and REPO VIRTUAL does both of these things, and does them pretty darn well.

The opening chapter introduces Julius Dax, aka J.D., a young robotics repairman by day and, by night, an online ‘repoman’ in an online game called VOIDWAR, a kind of all-consuming futuristic version of EVE Online jacked up on crack. J.D. is doing what he can to get by in his shitty, unfulfilling day job and earn a buck or two in the augmented-reality city state of Neo Songdo, when he gets a call from his sibling offering him a job: steal a powerful piece of software from the reclusive tech billionaire whose company, Zero Corporation, effectively rules the territory of Neo Songdo. Turns out the software isn’t any old data cube though, and J.D. soon finds himself on the run, both from Zero Corporation when they blackmail an ex-covert ops spy out of retirement to hunt him down, and from the transhumanist tech-cult who hired him after he reneges on their deal.

Unlike a lot of older cyberpunk, with its grizzled, neo-noir loner protagonists, J.D. is a genuinely likable main character. He has a family he cares deeply about and a rocky on-and-off relationship with a guy you can tell makes him happy, despite their different outlook on how to live life in a world where rampant capitalism has all but crushed the spirit of the everyday inhabitants of Neo Songdo. This was a refreshing take and even though I love those grizzled neo-noir loner protagonists, I really enjoyed the focus on loving character relationships in Repo Virtual. It shows how cyberpunk is actually evolving. What was great about, say, Case and Molly’s relationship in Neuromancer was they clearly had an attachment to each other that went beyond just physical, but they were so alienated from the world and from each other that ultimately it could never work; I liked that and thought it made a powerful statement about how capitalism ultimately alienates us from our fellow humans. Corey J. White is saying something different, that despite that alienation we are still human and woe betide any CEO whose profits supersede our humanity.

This book also has fantastic, adrenaline-pumping action sequences. From arson-assisted burglaries and apartment shoot-outs to car chases through flooded city streets it stays true to enough of that heisty good stuff cyberpunk does so well, while still feeling very updated. One of the chase sequences also features enhanced and fully-functional versions of those terrifying Boston Dynamics dogs which, surprise surprise in a corporate dystopia, have been sold to the police department (but also get hacked and repurposed by computer nerds, which is also just so cyberpunk I love it).

If this book is anything to go by, I feel like the tone of modern cyberpunk may be shifting too? It’s not a coincidence that cyberpunk originally flourished in the age of Reaganomics, the Washington Consensus and the ascendance of neoliberal capitalism as an uncontested power on the world stage. It’s no wonder that in that context the genre was incredibly pessimistic about the potential for effective opposition to that power, but I hope I’m not misplaced in glimpsing a tiny shred, if but a kernel, of hope in the modern genre. Hope is probably the wrong word, perhaps resistance would be more fitting. And I think that development would be also be fitting for our own age, when resistance does seem possible, even if against overwhelming odds sometimes.

The fact that J.D is a Black gay protagonist is also something rarely seen in cyberpunk, which has a reputation for being a bit of a white dudebro kind of genre, sometimes unfairly perhaps, but definitely not without reason. The fact that there are lesbian characters, a trans police officer and J.D’s sibling Soo-hyun is non-binary, all gives me hope that cyberpunk might finally be starting to reach its own potential. For a genre awash with such advanced biotechnology it really shouldn’t have taken this long for it to start exploring ideas around gender identity. Thankfully Corey J. White has dragged cyberpunk kicking and screaming into the year 2020 and with it he’s also consigned a bunch of the shittier stereotypes of the genre to the dustbin of history. In fact, that dustbin is steadily overflowing with the garbage of the past as Corey cheerily throws more scrunched up paper balls of outdated shit over his shoulder. It was delightful to read.



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Review: BUSTED SYNAPSES by Erica L. Satifka

Book Reviews

The last review I wrote was for William Gibson’s Neuromancer, one of the earliest trailblazers of cyberpunk literature. Well, BUSTED SYNAPSES is the newest addition to the canon and I can confidently say this book gives me so much hope for the future of the genre. Where most cyberpunk takes place in massive conurbations of built-up urban sprawl, with towering skyscrapers bathing the city streets in their neon glow, Erica L. Satifka has imagined a near future where the cities have become the sole domain of the 1%. And so Busted Synapses tells the story of Jess and Dale, two working class friends struggling to make ends meet in the small town of Wheeling, rural West Virginia, who become entangled in a corporate conspiracy after they meet a runaway android that decides to whistleblow on the horrors committed by the powerful Solfind Corporation.

What I loved about this story was its focus on the everyday struggles working class people face. Don’t get me wrong, I love old school, adrenaline-pumping cyberpunk action about down-and-out computer hackers and underworld crime rings, but they aren’t always all that relatable, ya know. In Jess and Dale though, we have two main characters you can really understand. They work precarious jobs always under immanent threat of automation, with precious few labour rights and constantly weighed on by the stress of paying off student debt and the prohibitive cost of health insurance. Dale makes a few extra coins by taking part in a virtual reality battle royale simulation, which is ostensibly a kind of recreational video game, but in reality exists for the entertainment of the rich minority and feels very much like a new kind of futuristic gig economy platform job you can take up if you’re struggling to pay the rent.

It also addresses the problem of imminent climate catastrophe, which is gonna be difficult for any modern cyberpunk author to ignore going forward. In the book most of the coastal cities on the Eastern Seaboard have been destroyed by freak storms that killed most of population and displaced the rest, leading the gutted remnants of an overwhelmed neo-liberal government to hand over rescue and reconstruction efforts to Solfind. Honestly this felt very contemporary and very possible. The idea that developed nations will be the last to experience the consequences of climate change has most definitely been put to rest now, after the horrific wildfires we saw recently in Australia and California. And just as in the book, we don’t have to look very far to see how corporations profit from disaster; the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq was largely contracted out to private companies after we bombed it into the ground and here in the UK private companies with no experience of producing medical equipment have been awarded multi-million pound contracts to produce PPE by exploiting corrupt links with government ministers. This is where modern cyberpunk really has the opportunity to grow, by shining a light on the way capitalist economies already function and showing how things might end up if corporate power continues unchecked, and Erica Satifka does this very well.

I do wish the book had been longer though. There were parts of the plot that felt like they unfolded too quickly and some character relationships that I’d like to have seen developed more, which could have made the story hit harder and could have been resolved by having a longer word count. Truth be told though, deep character studies aren’t usually what I’m after when I read cyberpunk, so this wasn’t much of an issue for me, just something to be aware of for those of you who enjoy deep character dives.

Early cyberpunk had inherent criticisms of the corporate dystopias it portrayed (despite the pessimism that any form of collective struggle could overcome them) but as the genre developed it definitely stagnated, becoming more focussed on aesthetics than it was about critiquing the end point of late stage monopoly capitalism. Busted Synapses is the shot in the arm the genre needs. It has that gritty techno-pessimism that’s at the heart of cyberpunk, and it doesn’t offer a rosy picture of the future or indeed offer any solutions, but it has done what modern cyberpunk needs to do in order to have a future, and that’s start critiquing the corporatism of our own society which, in many ways, is manifesting the very dystopia the progenitors of the genre warned us about decades ago. Busted Synapses does that and it makes me very excited that writers like Erica L. Satifka are pulling cyberpunk out of the stagnant ditch it got stuck in for too long. Solidly recommend this book.



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Review: NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

Book Reviews

NEUROMANCER. Probably not the first cyberpunk novel (if it’s even possible to identify such a thing) but arguably the one that had the most influence on the development of the genre and, from a personal perspective, the first one I ever read. There’s so much juicy cyberpunk goodness to dig into here, from cyberspace-faring console cowboys to nihilistic terrorist subcultures, from vat-grown Yakuza assassins to rogue artificial intelligences taking on the ever vigilant Turing Police, this book is pure cyberpunk.

It’s the story of a down-on-his-luck hacker called Case, once the best data-thief in the business who made the mistake of trying to steal from his employer. Now neurologically crippled by his vengeful former boss, he’s no longer capable of jacking in to ‘the matrix’. That is until he’s offered a cutting edge cure by a new, enigmatic employer in return for taking on one last heist. Working alongside a ‘razorgirl’ street samurai and the reconstructed consciousness of his dead mentor, Case must unravel the puzzle of his mysterious employer while pulling off the most daring job of his life.

I love this book. I’ve read it several times now and every time that opening chapter hooks me right in. Straight away we’re drawn into the seedy underbelly of Night City in all its infamy and ill-repute. The dive bars frequented by drug dealers and pimps, the street vendors hawking illegal software and black market weapons beneath the counter, the hustlers and the smugglers and the black market clinics dealing in experimental biotechnology and gene-editing techniques. Gibson sums up the dystopia of his setting and the complete domination of multinational corporations in this world of monopoly capitalism in this opening chapter when he describes Night City as ‘a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast forward button’. That description highlights the lack of control the powerless underclass of the book have to affect any change in the world around them and is really what Case is rebelling against throughout the story.

The weird thing about Neuromancer for me is that it isn’t hyper focussed on character, which is usually a big deal for me. And by that I don’t mean the characters aren’t interesting, they’re very interesting people, I mean this is less a story about diving deep into the inner workings and relationships between individual characters than it is about people fighting systems of power in whatever limited ways they’re able. I realise those things aren’t mutually exclusive, and maybe it could have been a better book if there was more focus on character, but for me it didn’t matter. The star of this show is the setting and the way people interact with technology, and that’s coming from someone who usually thinks character is paramount.

One thing I will say though is don’t necessarily expect to feel comfortable immediately because Gibson does not over-explain anything. You get dropped into this familiar-yet-jarring world and you’re expected to roll with it and do your best to keep up. It’s actually one of the things I love about this book, that the world has its own vernacular that can be quite rattling and unsettling to start with, but which does become second nature after a while. I think its a very clever narrative technique where the fragmented dialogue and disjointed jumps from scene to scene mirror the kind of uncontrolled disintegration of the hyper-globalised, postmodern setting. I’d liken the sensation of reading Neuromancer to somehow being able to watch unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay in real time at an alarming rate.

If you’re new to cyberpunk this is honestly a fantastic place to start and somewhere you quickly become acquainted with all the hallmark trappings of the genre. A fantastic book that changed the direction of science fiction for a generation.



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What Is Cyberpunk?

Updates

Ok, so given I’m gonna be exclusively talking about cyberpunk on the blog during SciFi Month, it’s probably a good idea to talk a bit about what it is. Subgenres are fickle, amorphous things so don’t take this as a comprehensive overview. I’m sure there’ll be many things I leave out and probably some stuff others might disagree with, but this is my take on what cyberpunk is, at it’s core.

Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction set in an immanently near-future, hyper-computerised and data-governed world, a world of obscene wealth for the minority, of powerful warring corporations juxtaposed with atomised subcultures of freelance hackers, criminals and a dispossessed underclass. It usually centres around a post-industrial culture predicated on the melding of biotechnologically-enhanced human bodies, interactive information technology and rampant corporate power. It’s the gritty, hard-edged science fiction of back alleys and overflowing rubbish dumpsters, littered with discarded computer chips and the detritus of the information society. The smokestacks with the fumes of an earlier era of industrial production have yielded to a world in economic and environmental breakdown, a world with a perpetual haze of smoke and filth where constant rain streaks the neon-lit concrete beneath a landscape of corporate skyscrapers, dilapidated tenement blocks and abandoned industrial factories. A fractured world of late stage monopoly capitalism.



At the core of cyberpunk is a hard-edged dystopian realism, an aesthetic that can be seen in its depiction of the collapse of technological, post-industrial utopias. It was a reaction against the antiseptic, relentlessly sanitised vision of much earlier classical science fiction and presents a postmodern backlash against the utopian SF of previous generations, when authors like Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement wrote stories embedded with the modernist confidence that scientific humanism would exert a degree of moral and ethical control over technology. Cyberpunk’s representation of technology marks a sharp departure from that early science fiction, with a distinct nihilism and diminished sense of optimism in technology.

Many stories are particularly focussed on the breakthrough in biotechnologies and the interfaces of humans and computer technologies through cybernetic limbs, implanted circuitry and genetic alterations. Cyberpunk’s most common emblems are the implants that allow people to directly ‘jack in’ to computer networks, or to plug in modules that give them access to additional memory, skills or even personalities. In stark contrast to earlier science fiction, technology is visceral in the cyberpunk aesthetic; “it’s pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside of us, but next to us. Under our skin, often inside our minds”, according to Bruce Stirling, one of the very earliest trailblazers of the genre. One of the archetypal characters that represent this invasive melding of biotechnology and computer implants with human bodies is Johnny Mnemonic, a freelance ‘data courier’ who undergoes cybernetic surgery to implant a data storage system in his head. The system allows him to store digital data too sensitive to risk transmission on computer networks and Johnny makes a modest living physically transporting sensitive information for corporations, underworld crime rings and wealthy individuals.



The authors of cyberpunk have been fascinated by the image of a decrepit post-industrial world governed by huge multinationals and inhabited by rampant subcultures and its themes of urban disintegration are recognisably and painstakingly drawn from the condition of contemporary society, with the intensely visceral prose of William Gibson and other cyberpunk authors capturing the images of uncontrolled urban sprawl and environmental decay. The classic opening line of Gibson’s novel Neuromancer embodies the cyberpunk aesthetic: “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel” and Gibson’s post-industrial landscapes are permeated by physical refuse and ecological decay. Tokyo Bay is a “black expanse where gulls wheel above drifting shoals of white styrofoam”, urban areas in the United States and Japan coalesce into massive ‘sprawls’, pouring rains and fog-blanketed, trash-strewn alleyways, where punk subcultures and data scavengers roam endlessly amidst the seedy, decaying streets.



Cyberpunk is really the first genre of science fiction to grapple with the emerging capability of technology and computer networks to act both as levers of authoritarian control, but also as vehicles that can open up space for social, political and cultural resistance. That’s the dichotomy at the heart of the cyberpunk genre and also, ya know, just provides a lot of really cool opportunities to tell stories about hackers pulling off major heists against giant multinational corporations and mega-rich tech barons and, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love that?



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Cyberpunk SciFi Month is ready for lift off!

Updates

Yesss, I’ve been looking forward to SciFi Month for weeks! As much as I love Halloween and all things spooky season, science fiction is my one true love and I’m strapped in and ready for lift off. Though in all likelihood most of my reading won’t involve much interstellar travel or interaction with alien species, and that’s because I’ll be exclusively reading books set in the near future corporate dystopias of cyberpunk!

What is cyberpunk, you may ask? Well, I’ll be doing a full introduction post before any reviews or discussion posts appear, so if you’re unfamiliar with the genre then don’t fear, I’ve got you covered! But for a very quick and dirty overview, cyberpunk stories are generally set in the very near future where corporations have become more powerful than governments and tend to have settings featuring high levels of economic and cultural displacement, inequality and social unrest. Artificial intelligence, transhumanism and virtual reality feature quite heavily. Think Bladerunner or Ghost in the Shell as some of the most famous representations of cyberpunk in film and you’ll have a good idea of what the genre entails.

I don’t really do plans or set-in-stone TBRs, but I do have a well of potential books I’ll be drawing from, as well as a bunch of short stories, comics and films I might watch and talk about. As far as books go, a non-exhaustive list of some of what I might be reading includes:



So these are a mixture of classic and newer cyberpunk. Neuromancer is actually one of my fave books of all time and I reread it every few years, while Repo Virtual and Busted Synapses are very new. There’s an interesting dichotomy between classic and newer stuff in the genre because a lot of the stuff being written in the 80s was still very much science fiction, whereas now, the internet, biohacking and cyber crime are very real and inequality, social unrest and corporate power have reached fever pitch. In many ways we already live in a warped version of the society the progenitors of cyberpunk were imagining back in the 1980s.

In any case, this is just a small selection of some of the cyberpunk books I’ll be perusing this SciFi Month and please, if you have any fave cyberpunk books I haven’t mentioned here or recommendations you think I should look at, do let me know. In the meantime console cowboys, let’s lay back, relax and jack into cyberspace, we’re in for a wild ride.



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October Reloaded: Monthly Wrap Up

Updates

Happy November bookwyrms! October is over and that means it’s time for the first of my revamped wrap up posts. Looking back, I haven’t done one of these since April (jeez) so I’m excited to dive back in. Funnily enough I didn’t actually do much reading in October cos I spent a good chunk of it playing through The Last Of Us games, which was an unforgettably phenomenal experience. If you’re unfamiliar with these games they’re the absolute pinnacle of character-driven storytelling in video games, just viscerally emotional and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested setting too, which made it a great horror season playthrough. In other news, I also tried my first ever pumpkin spice latte (can confirm I’m now addicted to their syrupy goodness) and went for lots of nice walks along the river and the old colliery near where I live, which has now been converted into a scenic park complete with ducks, swans and a lake.



I read two books in October; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall and The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark. The former was an absolute delight, a queer af Sherlock Holmes reimagining in a chaotic Lovecraftian multiverse that was so unapologetically fun but also incredibly well-written. I loved it so much and will def be doing a full review at some point to sing its praises from the rooftops. The second book didn’t impress me though, it was just ill-conceived and badly-written with largely forgettable characters. I did review it here but the less said about it going forward the better.

I did post a bunch of fun stuff on the blog though, including reviews of Stephen Graham Jones’ new revenge horror The Only Good Indians and Deck Matthews’ epic fantasy novella The First Of Shadows (I also had the honour of interviewing Deck too, so make sure to have a peek at that – links to all this good stuff at the end of the post). I also officially started my project to read the entirety of Stephen King’s back catalogue with mini reviews for Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.

And now that spooky season is coming to an end we’ve got SciFi Month to look forward to! Look out for my announcement post later today where I’ll be talking about my plans for all things cyberpunk!



REVIEWS:
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Carrie, ‘Salems Lot & The Shining by Stephen King
The First Of Shadows by Deck Matthews
The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark

INTERVIEWS:
Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series and The Varkas Chronicles series


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Reading Update 31/10/2020

Updates

Hey bookwyrms, it’s been a few weeks since a good reading update cos I’ve been playing through The Last Of Us parts one and two for a good chunk of October and that had me utterly hooked and absorbed for a good week and a half. Very much back into the reading rhythm now though and this update straddles the gap between the end of Halloween and the beginning of SciFi month.



Recently Finished: THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN by Michael Clark
I read most of my horror in September this year, starting off strong with Mexican Gothic and The Year Of The Witching. I really loved those books so was disappointed to end on such a low note with THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN. This messy, ill-conceived and poorly-executed haunted house horror didn’t impress despite a few spooky scenes that weren’t enough to redeem the rest of the book. I reviewed it yesterday, and while it’s def not gonna be a glowing recommendation if you’re looking for your next horror read, it will at least make you appreciate the things we can often take for granted in the books we do enjoy.

Currently Reading: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White
SciFi month is on the horizon and I’m making the transition from horror to my true love of science fiction in REPO VIRTUAL. I’m specifically focussing on reading a lot of cyberpunk this November. Some of you may be aware that Neuromancer is one of my all time favourite books but I’ve never managed to find another cyberpunk novel that managed to hit the same heights. I find a lot of more recent cyberpunk has abandoned the grimy, high-tech-meets-low-life grittiness in favour of empty aesthetics. Corporate skyscrapers and neon-lit back alleys without the class politics which, despite its flaws in 80s cyberpunk, was still present. Sorry, I have a lot of opinions about cyberpunk and the representation of class struggle, but I’ll park them for now. Suffice to say, I’m only three chapters into REPO VIRTUAL at the mo, but I’m glad to say I think this story about a virtual thief and his contract to steal the world’s first sentient AI is gonna be a good ‘un.

Next Read: GLITCH RAIN by Alex Livingston
You guessed it, more cyberpunk! There’s gonna be a theme this month, gang. GLITCH RAIN is a few years old now, published by Apex back in 2016. It’s a novella about Akuba, a low-level hacker for the wealthy elite, making just enough to keep the bills paid and the booze flowing. Her job is to scrub the social feeds for faces who don’t want to be seen, hanging out at parties to guard the elite from errant social media statuses and incriminating photo posts. But when an old debt comes due early, suddenly she’s the one who needs to keep her face out of the omnipresent eyes of the drones. Thrown into the high-stakes world of international cybercrime, Akuba has to outmanoeuvre unlimited surveillance, high-tech con artists, and an international hacker kingpin if she wants to survive. I’ve not read anything by Alex Livingston before and actually only found this because I was specifically looking through Apex’s backlist for cyberpunk titles because I’ve been so consistently impressed with the fiction they put out and think they deserve a lot more recognition as a small press publisher. Plus this story sounds like it kicks ass.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.