Wednesday, September 2, 2015

[FROM THE ARCHIVES] Cyberpunk Pulp

With the upcoming premiere of KAT AND MOUSE Season 3 on Monday 9/7, I thought I'd repost a guest post I did last year for ClarksonPunk in which I talk a little about what I like to call "cyberpunk pulp."

Here ya go, Gang...

What Is "Cyberpunk Pulp" And How Can I Get Some?

When I tell people I'm a writer, inevitably I get asked "What do you write?"

The answer isn't as straightforward as it should be.

Other folks can probably say something like "I write historical fiction," "I write cozy mysteries," or "I write techno-thrillers." Even something as easy as "I write romance novels."

Only problem is the genre I write doesn't exist.

Not exactly.

So I tend to tell people "I write sci-fi action-adventure" and that seems to get the idea across.

But it's not quite that either. I want to say it's a genre of its own. Better yet, it's a sub genre of a sub genre.

So I propose calling it "cyberpunk pulp" and make it a sub-set of New Pulp.

First, New Pulp: What is it?

According to AJ's definition (taken from New Pulp, the website) New Pulp is
"fiction written with the same sensibilities, linear storytelling, pattern of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original Pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists, and publishers."
Furthermore, according to New Pulp, the website:
"New Pulp is Pulp written today."
I'm a modern writer. I write fiction with the same sensibilities, linear storytelling, pattern of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original Pulp.

I appear to fit the definition of New Pulp.

Now, cyberpunk pulp.

Let me break it down.

Cyberpunk is, according to Wikipedia:
science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on "high tech and low life," it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations...
Let's look at my fiction and see if it fits.

I write a series of stories about Kat and Mouse, a pair of female mercenaries who operate in the city of Bay City in the California Free State in the year 2042. As mercenaries, they take jobs from a variety of clients--some from individuals, others from megacorporations looking for a third party. Since they deal and operate outside the law, Kat and Mouse often encounter heavily armed opponents and must equip themselves properly. To that end, they are each fitted with biomodifications such as optical implants for night vision, infrared, and computerized targeting, and implanted body armor to defeat standard handgun rounds.

Down the cyberpunk checklist.

Near-future setting? Check.

Focus of "high tech and low life"? Check.

Features advanced science such as information technology and cybernectics? Check.

Degree of breakdown/radical change in the social order? Check.

Plots center on a conflict among hackers, AI, and megacorporations? Two out of those three but check.

The Kat and Mouse stories fit the cyberpunk definition.

Add to that the definition of New Pulp and we get something like this:
Cyberpunk Pulp is science fiction in a near-future setting with a focus on "high tech and low life," featuring advanced science coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order, with plots often centering on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations written with the same sensibilities, linear storytelling, pattern of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original Pulp.
Now some of you might be scratching your head, saying, "Abner, ol' buddy--that's a mouthful."

You might also be saying, "Abner, ol' buddy--why go through all that? Why not just call it 'cyberpunk' and be done with it? Or better still, go with your original description. Sci-fi action-adventure."

A couple of problems with that.

If I go with "sci-fi action-adventure," there are some who would immediately think of Star Wars or Star Trek.

But it's not that.

If I just call it "cyberpunk," there are some who would expect some exploration of transhumanism or the impact of technology, positive or negative, on society.

But I don't do that.

I write cyberpunk but with a pulp flavor.

The closest other subgenre I could compare it to would be sword and sorcery with its tales of high adventure and swashbuckling derring-do set against a backdrop of kings, queens, warlords, sorcerers, shining cities, and magic.

And that's exactly what I'm trying to do with this. Tales of high adventure and swashbuckling derring-do set against a backdrop of noir cities, high tech gadetry, Orwellian governments, world-spanning megacorporations, and the underbelly of society.

In fact, Conan and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser were among the early influencers for the Kat and Mouse stories. After reading pages and pages of their adventures to get the right feel for those types of stories, I then took a tip from S&S writer Darrell Schweitzer. In his essay, "Sword and Sorcery, Dragon and Princess," (from How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by J.N. Williamson), Schweitzer advises:
You need an action plot. Sword and sorcery is not a field of deep psychological introspection. This is not what the readership comes to sword and sorcery stories for. Try for overt conflicts, plenty of physical action, and rapid plot movement. That is, if they're plotting to overthrow the barbarian king in chapter one, by chapter two, the palace should be invaded by Serpent Men of Valusia, and in chapter three, the hero is magically whisked away to the Black Crypt of N'Kai. You get the idea.
That's the underlying style I'm going for.

Overt conflicts. Plenty of physical action. Rapid plot movement.

No time to ponder the implications of implanted optical night vision. Kat sees the megacorporation's gun-toting mook coming around the corner of a darkened corridor, she lets fly with a hail of .45-caliber slugs in a spray of fire and thunder, the mook's chest craters six times, and he crumples.

That's the idea.

That's cyberpunk pulp.

Now--strap on your semi-autos, boot up your optical implants, and let's get cyberpunk pulping.

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On Friday, I'll repost another guest post looking at cyberpunk as a dead genre.

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