Sci-fi or cyberpunk? Genre wars with the web comic.

Since the beginning, I have been referring to The Lightstream Chronicles as a science fiction crime thriller, but a more accomplished comic artist than myself referred to the work as a cyberpunk crime thriller. Admittedly, through my own ignorance, this term seemed off-base. I thought of Tank Girl as cyberpunk. So, I did more research. It would appear that there are more genres of science fiction than I was aware of. I think it is fair to say that for the purposes of my thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?” that I did exhaustive research on comics and graphic novels, as well as the topic of design fiction, but science fiction is this enormous thing that encompasses a vast array of genres and sub-genres that I frankly did not have the ability to explore within the context of the thesis proper. Now, however, that the thesis is complete and submitted to the Internet database as one of a gazillion theses, I can begin to explore those areas that time and scope did not permit. Hence, cyberpunk has caught my attention and beckoned me to further examination.

As in design fiction, there does not seem to be any one authority on the subject and it has morphed in its collective understanding over the years. The combination of “cyber” from cybernetics and “punk” most commonly associated with the early 70’s and 80’s rock music genre could literally be interpreted as thinking machines with attitude. But over the years, the term now confers a sort of uber-technological society where people are not just human and machines are not just machines; there is a shared reality, or virtual reality. An explanation from the Cyberpunk Project website offers an elucidation that I like:

“This technology is visceral. It extends itself into people via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned organs. It is not outside us but under our skin, inside our minds. Technology pervades the human self; the goal is the merging of man and machine.”

"...under our skin..."
“…under our skin…”

And if you want more, Lawrence Person gives an in-depth description in his Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto. I particularly like this snip:

” It may have been Isaac Asimov (though I first heard it via Howard Waldrop) who said there were three orders of science fiction, using the automobile as an example. Man invents the automobile and uses it to chase down the villain: adventure fiction. Man invents the automobile, and a few years later there are traffic jams: social problem fiction. In the third type, man invents the automobile, and another man invents moving pictures: fifty years later, people go to drive-in movies. It is this third order of fiction, social fabric fiction, that was at the heart of cyberpunk‚ĶThe best postcyberpunk moves further into third-order science fiction, the plot arising organically from the world it’s set in.”


To me, that is what drives the plot of The Lightstream Chronicles. If you’ve read the backstory on the web site or on pages 3 and 4 of the web comic, then you can see the social fabric fiction at work. It is interesting to note that the godfather of cyberpunk is the same guy who coined the term design fiction: Bruce Sterling. Person (from the same manifesto), paraphrases Sterling’s assessment that, “cyberpunk carried technological extrapolation into the fabric of everyday life.”

That makes for an even more interesting topic: perhaps real design fiction is also cyberpunk. Either way, and even if it’s all really just another flavor of SF, I’m convinced that TLSC play in the cyberpunk sandbox.

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