Tag Archives: William Gibson

Privacy is dead. Is the cyberpunk future already here?

This week, a brief thought to provoke thought. Surprisingly it has been 30 years since William Gibson released his groundbreaking work Neuromancer, that ushered in a decade of artistry inspired by the genre known as cyberpunk. Just a few days ago Paste Magazine ran an article, “Somebody’s Watching Me; Cyberpunk 30 Years On, and the Warnings We Didn’t Heed.” Therein, writer Brian Chidester delineates the fascinating influence of Gibson’s work on the music of the day as well as the ripples it continues to send into the present.

With my futurist, sci-fi, cyberpunk leanings, I was caught up with the observation of how much of Gibson’s, “…near-future where computer technology was woven into our DNA—where a virtual data sphere played the dominate role in the human interface,” is already here—and we didn’t notice—or as Chidester notes, “…quietly came to pass.”

The music connection is deep and profound but it is also intertwined with the events of the days and the decades to follow. From DARPA’s creation of the internet, to post-9/11 paranoia, the Patriot Act, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Google, Twitter and Facebook, to the ubiquitous storage of cookies and individual user preferences (most of which are freely—even blithely—given), we, “…have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.”

Yet perhaps more chilling than where we are, is how we got here.

“Google, Twitter and Facebook, lauded as broadening the scope of human potential, in fact, built algorithms to drive us to predictable results. Cookies store information on individual user preferences. They have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.

Facebook has nearly a billion users, with tons of personal data on each one, proving that plenty of individuals are willing to provide private information to get something that is free and fun. Simply put: We’ve allowed ourselves to be smitten. The computer is now miniaturized, or, as Bruce Sterling predicted, ‘adorable.’ Christopher Shin, the engineer of Cellebrite, a device that aids the U.S. government in collecting information from cellular users, contends that the iPhone holds more personal information than any other device on the market.”

So if we can go from cyberpunk, science fiction, to present day future in 30 years, given the exponential growth of technology, were will be be smitten next: genetic engineering, transhumanism, synthetic biology?

Chidester concludes:

“If we stop to ask how we got here, we may look back and find the signs embedded in cyberpunk literature of 20-30 years prior. We may then wonder how we might better have heeded its warnings. But it is too late. Privacy, under the current paradigm, is essentially dead.”

What other cherished possession will be the next to fall?  Or have they all already fallen?

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Science fiction: Near, distant or far? Why is The Lightstream Chronicles set in 2159?

Science fiction author William Gibson said,

“Personally I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more…I have to figure out what it means to try to write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least half a dozen wildly science fiction scenarios.”1

I am not of this opinion. I think it is still possible to write compelling near, distant and far future fiction. The frustrating part is often the off-the-cuff critiques, and quick dismissals that any trope such as robotics, or immortality immediately render the work a rehash. I’ve heard this many times. So, it was an conscious decision when writing the original script to make this a distant future fiction.

I follow Robert Heinlein’s definition of science fiction:

“Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the scientific method.”

With that it is incumbent upon the author to hold those realistic speculations in one hand and with the other, threads of the present that could stretch far into the future.

One of my primary thematic motivations is speculating on human and transhuman futures. To me, based on present day facts, seminal aspects of transhumanism are already in place. We already have cochlear implants, artificial hearts, robotic limbs, transmitting health monitors, and other technological improvements built into our bodies. Without some sort of wild card devastation (which could derail any speculative future) here is no reason to consider a decline in the sophistication and amplification of health-assisting technologies. As with most technologies that, over time, etch themselves into our culture, these will become progressively more accepted as logical improvements to our natural bodies. Based on the current rate of technological advancement and the propensity for technology to grow exponentially, it is not unreasonable to consider a neart future—say 10 to 15 years—where our natural human bodies are significantly enhanced by multiple technologies from retinal implants, to augmented reality, in the form of organs, genetic adjustments, replacements, and interventions designed to keep us younger, sharper, and better in some demonstrable way.

This 10 to 15 year future could easily be the premise of a “near future” design fiction (and perhaps my next book will take that track), but I wanted to follow the threads deeper for two primary reasons. First, is the pragmatic reason that it takes a long time to write and produce a graphic novel of this complexity and I did not want to embark upon a race with technology to complete my story before the speculative future was either no longer speculative or was simply wrong. The second reason, is that small changes, to me, are not disruptive enough to provoke discussion and debate. An incremental change, one that seems like the logical next step, runs the danger of appearing too rational and “on course” to disrupt our present day thought processes (i.e., Her). If we only observe incremental trajectories, we cease to contemplate the long term.

The argument against long-term, future speculation is that it ceases to be plausible because, by then,  “anything can happen”. But this is merely a truism. The fact is, anything usually does not happen. There is an enormous amount of logical speculation that can be derived from what usually does happen given the human condition. If you combine the human factor with plausible advancements in technology—given reasonable trajectories of scientific focus—then we are, in fact, dealing with realistic speculative futures.

This brings me to the narrative itself. If you want to take the next few steps, and look beyond incremental change, to the logical next steps of viable AI, and synthetic humans, fully realistic and indiscernible virtual reality, functioning telepathy, ubiquitous surveillance and indefinite life-pans, then to exert a firm grasp on the science and the current gaps that exist, the only responsible thing to do is move your story into the distant future. To accomplish this you don’t need a 300 year Star Trek future but rather two or three generations from where we are now. This places us in a distant future of approximately 150 years. In my estimation, you just can’t plausibly get there any sooner.

If we want to talk about these logical trajectories we have to place ourselves in a setting that permits them to exist. Then we can look back on how they came to be. To me, this is the crux of design fiction. You may not like it, but the idea is provocation and examination of the futures we incrementally build. If you may think it passé and stereotypical, then you might also find yourself quickly bored of stories that also include tropes such as life, death, love and redemption.

1.http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/07/us-books-authors-gibson-idUSN2535896520070807?pageNumber=2&sp=true

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The Lightstream Chronicles Glossary Part 1: Design Fiction Definitions from the 22nd Century.

Page 57

Happy New Year, 2014. I thought I would pull some excerpts from a glossary of terms that I have been working on for several months. There is a lot of terminology that gets thrown around in The Lightstream Chronicles, online graphic novel/web comic. As mentioned, the science fiction that I use in the story is based on threads of current technology that are teased out and extrapolated to some possible outcome a hundred and forty years from now. The glossary is a work in process and will likely not be fully complete until the story eventually ends in chapter/season 6. Nevertheless, much of this is at the heart of my design fiction explorations. I always wished I’d had something like this for books like Neuromancer and so many other cyberpunk epics. Comments are welcome.

Active surface – the evolution of ubiquitous computing. Active surfaces can receive or transmit data and images through via the Lightstream (see Lightstream). Nano receptors, transmitters and emitters serve to receive, send and display images directly from their surfaces. Virtually any surface can be made active.

Lightstream – The evolved Internet. Through nano photonics, large amounts of data can be transmitted without circuitry or wires. Nano receptors are implanted into everything from surfaces (see active surfaces) to skin implants and even beamed directly into the retina.

Synth – Slang for synthetic. A synthetic is an artificial humanoid form. Synthetics may take many forms of appearance from mechanized to indiscernible from actual humans.

Headjacking – The unauthorized recording and/or removal of memories from a human. Unlike selected erasure, which is, a medical procedure to remove unwanted or traumatic memories from patients, Downtown gangs have used headjacking technology. Human gang lords use roving bands of synths that have been twisted to rape and/or torture their victims while recording everything from the victim’s perspective; a process called head-jacking. A small device, called a jack, clamps itself to the invisible port behind the victim’s right ear that connects directly to the chipset and the memories of the incident—complete with all five senses—are recorded. The experience is then sold on the black market. Depending on the quality of the device and trauma the victim is subjected to, if the victim survives the crime, headjacking can result in partial or total memory erasure, and in some cases, death. Headjacking is a capital offense.

Swig – A medically sanctioned device (under medical supervision) designed for patient authorized erasure of selected memories and/or transfer to another recipient. Swigging first appeared in 2157 and is still a relatively new diversion. Selective erasure between 2130 and 2157 was sanctioned only as medical procedure. Memories—complete with their accompanying sensory experiences are recorded and extracted directly via the port (see brain port) to the swig and then can be transferred to another person in the same manner. Though participants swear by the “rush” of reliving someone else’s experience and claim that it far exceeds virtual simulations (which are readily available), the procedure is fraught with danger. Since the technology is relatively new and heavily regulated, quality swigs are hard to find and quite expensive. Unlike the illegal version known as a jack, (see headjacking) a swig under proper protocols can safely remove or transfer selected memories. Large-scale erasures are considered a medical procedure with serious risks.

Virtual Immersions – A fully engrossing experience that overtakes all senses and consciousness. Immersions are a form of regulated entertainment and are available in two types, programmed and retrieved. These highly realistic virtual experiences are known in street vernacular, as The V. Programmed immersions are detailed environmental simulations. Participation can occur with the users identity, or by assuming another from limitless combinations of gender, race, and species, and may entail a full range of experiences from a simple day on the beach to the aberrant and perverse. Immersions are highly regulated by the New Asia government. Certain immersive programs are required to have timeout algorithms to prevent a condition known as OB state in which the mind is unable to re-adjust to reality and surface from the immersion, a side effect for individuals who are immersed for more than 24 hours. Certain content is age-restricted and users must receive annual mental and bio statistical fitness assessments to renew their access — all of which is monitored by the government.

Mesh (The) – the massive proliferation of electronic image receivers, recorders, and active surface technology provides the ability to triangulate and decode a 3-dimensional image within virtually any modern environment. Using GPS coordinates, an active technology produces a field, which interprets the surrounding environment. Correlating data fields from multiple active technologies within contiguous environments creates a mesh, which generates a detailed 3-dimensional image of anything or anyone without the need for optical recording devices. The encryptions and addressing of millions of devices requires highly sophisticated decoding technology and is authorized for government use only. Because the resulting visual information has no regard for privacy, it is highly controversial. The government claims that mesh imagery, (of non-suspect activity) is not archived. All mesh imagery, by law, is decoded and parsed using “impartial” synthetics that evaluate activity on a strictly legal, amoral basis.

Saming – Slang for the purchase of an identical synthetic version of one’s self for the purposes of companionship or a sexual relationship.

Is there something you want to know more about? Comment here.

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Grappling with sci-fi jargon

A friend and I were discussing the phenomena of sci-fi jargon that so many books and stories use. Personally, I find that it can tedious when it’s overdone. My guess is that it started somewhere around the time of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s deemed to be something of a classic. It certainly has the accolades. Wikipedia gives this description, “Neuromancer is a 1984 novel by William Gibson, a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre and the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.[1] It was Gibson’s debut novel and the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy. The novel tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack.” That’s a good synopsis. As I recall, the book is set far into the future but no exact date is given. Neuromancer is one of those sci-fi books that are fraught with pseudo jargon. Check out this passage,

“The gate blurred past. He laughed. The Sense/Net ice had accepted his entry as a routine transfer from the consortium’s Los Angeles complex. He was inside. Behind him, viral sub-programs peeled off, meshing with the gate’s code fabric, ready to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it arrived.”

That’s actually a mild example, and you find yourself wishing you had a glossary to help you figure out what he’s talking about. But it is highly imaginative stuff and was clearly the seed for a lot of science fiction that followed, including The Matrix.

When you are creating a work of future fiction a certain amount of new lingo is an imperative. Look how language alone has change in just the last ten years. Twenty years ago, terminology like GPS, GSM, and iTunes were unheard of, and street slang was a completely different animal. So, to some degree, newspeak is required. Don’t look for my graphic novel to contain a Gibsonian level of verbal texturing however. It’s too much work for the reader and me. While I’ve invented a few words, some slang and such, most of them have some conjunctive grounding in present tense origins, so the reader can figure it out without a glossary.

I welcome more examples of sci-fi speak. Send them along.

 

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Refining the setting for the graphic novel

If you’ve read some of my past posts you might recognize a wee bit of angst about the locale of my graphic novel. Originally intended to be Hong Kong 150 years from now, I toyed some with Tokyo, then finally settled on Manhattan. No less than two days later I read that the new screen adaptation, live-action redux of Akira will not be set in New Tokyo as in the original story was conceived in manga form in 1982 (the anime film was released in 1988), but rather in “New Manhattan”? Weird but probably to be expected from Hollywood. There’s all sorts of controversy on this already in that George Takei (of StarTrek fame) is lobbying against Warner Bros. casting a white guy in the lead role. (I wholly agree. How lame.) And… even though all this takes us off point, I have to throw in the very cool poster from the original 1988 fick.

Anyway, to add further complications, Akira’s release date is probably 2013 which is precariously close to my own launch date. Now, I am not being oh-so-arrogant to assume that my meager GN will make any impact in the market place or will run the risk of competing in any way with the movie, but it’s the principle of the thing. I mean, how can my book be set in New Manhattan, too?  Thinking about this, it seems I am putting way too much import on whether the physical locale needs to have a specific 21st century counterpart. By establishing a specific city I am inviting the audience to scrutinize the environments for telltale 20th century remnants or landmarks, which is not the point and could even be distracting. The solution? I’ve settled on a large North American metroplex, probably east coast which will probably be more like William Gibson’s sprawl from Neuromancer. The fact that it’s New Asia, and it’s in North America is plenty to swallow… so hopefully this little hurdle is behind me.

Other news and graphic novel status report

This week I’m taking some Mudbox classes. We’ll see if this can become another tool in the toolbox.

I have partially designed seven characters. Two are complete and I am satisfied with their clothing and gear. I have set an aggressive schedule to complete the detailing on the other five by end of August when I hope to introduce my main cast. There are about a dozen more characters, but they are more or less, extras so they shouldn’t require as much effort.

 

Stay tuned.

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 1.

The Urban Dictionary describes otherly as “Different in a specified manner or in the manner of that or those implied or specified.” We might suffice to say, particularly different. This comes up as discussion for today’s blogging as I am ankle-deep in the 356 pages of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. After just completing my screenplay and not yet ready to hit the “convert to screenplay” button in Celtx, I am feeling envious of the traditional novelist’s ability to wax on about the way things look or the clothes people wear. In the prose novel, the author can call attention to these things overtly and more easily. In effect the author can say, “Pay attention to this. This is what it looks like. It has meaning.” In my effort, the graphic novel, while I do not  have the advantage of the same deliberate and unavoidable syntax of pure prose, I have the decided advantage of showing what it looks like. Because I intend on adding, strategically vivid detail, I can be as obsessive about the visual as the author is about the description, limited only by my command of the visual language. Of course, even in a graphic novel, I am afforded the opportunity to add words. There is nothing stopping me. Indeed, you will find pages of pure prose exposition or backstory in some of the most renowned graphic books. In my mind, however, if you have to apply a belt and suspenders either one is overkill or something is not functioning properly. So, if I’m not careful, I run in the danger of having the audience miss it entirely.

Ah, but therein lies the challenge. In the aforementioned Gibson novel, the presentation case of a particularly snobbish and, well, bitchy designer, Dorotea, is described thus, “On the table in front of her, perhaps a millimeter too carefully aligned, is an elegant gray cardboard envelope, fifteen inches on a side, bearing the austere yet whimsical logo of Heinzi & Pfaff. It is closed with one of those archaic fasteners consisting of a length of cord and two small brown cardboard buttons” (10). I see it clearly. So, how would I show it? Exactly as it looks, of course, and then close up, maybe, camera low to the table with Dorotea’s slightly out of focus knees in the background. Maybe if it is of particular importance, it could be a separate panel absent of words and any other possible distraction.

Therein lies a specifically different, otherly aspect of the graphic novel (there are more for another day). In Robert C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book- An Aesthetic History, he states, “Only in comics can the field of vision be so manipulated: the size and arrangement of images control our perception of the events depicted, contributing dramatically to the narrative effects produced” (162). Just one of the differences, I thought I’d mention today, an advantage perhaps for for a visual artist, and serving to separate the medium from the prose novel; not necessarily superior to, but particularly different.

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