A Cyberpunk Of The Here And Now

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-05-20 17:00:00-04:00 No comments

An old joke in computing goes like this: the two hardest problems in computer science are cache expiry, naming things, and off-by-one errors. I think the "naming things" part definitely applies to writing, as two of the hard problems in fiction are titling your work, and — sometimes — figuring out what genre label to apply to it.

For lack of any more precise and useful term, I call my work fantasy, or SF, or just speculative fiction. But I do try to find more precise labels when I can. There's an argument to be made Unmortal is "gaslamp fantasy" or "steampunk". I won't cringe if someone uses the terms, although I never thought to apply them myself. I came up with the term "yokai-punk", but god knows if most folks recognize the first term in that combination, so it wasn't very useful for marketing.

With Charisma, I find myself calling it "cyberpunk" even though it does not have a lot of the theoretical hallmarks of that label. But it does make use of the William Gibson idea that "the street has its own uses for things". The question is, which street, what things, what uses? Those things are typically some kind of technology, but the other two terms are totally open-ended as far as I see.

I know that we tend to think that we're living in a dystopian SF novel, but to me that just means our notion of what a term like "cyberpunk" could be has just shifted further to something else. Not forward, but sideways. So the the other term I was mulling for Charisma was "cyberpunk of the here-and-now" — the way our culture and our ways of life can be hacked. That term has expanded far past its original information-technology container, although I didn't want to use it in a way that would dilute its street-smart meaning.

But again, the more I mulled it, the more "cyberpunk" made sense, at least in the most general sense. People discover, and exploit, weaknesses in a system that allow them to undermine it, to get away with things, to avoid having to stand in line. This they do with the ramshackle, cobbled-together, found-object skills they have. Some do it to line their pockets; some do it for survival; some do it as an act of resistance. And now, as Charisma comes into shape, I see how it has all of those elements in it, if not quite originally in the way I had anticipated.

Tags: Charisma genres