On Altered Carbon
Wrapping up the first series of Netflix’s Altered Carbon left me wanting more. From what I’ve managed to dig up, there is good hope for a second season. Though it seems unlikely Joel Kinnaman, who played Kovacs, will be back. Considering that Kovacs gave Ryker’s sleeve back at the end of the first season, this makes sense. Hopefully we will get to see the further adventures of Takeshi Kovacs as he searches for Quell. The series brought up some really good thinking points that are actually relevant today.
The first is that of immortality and what happens when a group of people achieve it. Altered Carbon illustrates this perfectly in the meths, short for Methuselah. Methuselah was the oldest person in the Bible who lived to be over 900 years old. So you can see the connection. The meths had achieved immortality and in doing so lost their humanity. They were literally no longer human. One point that was stressed throughout the season was that humans were born and eventually died. Having escaped this cycle, the meths became something godlike. This fact was also referenced frequently. They wielded their power to selfish ends and countless innocent people suffered for it. The whole idea reminded me of a scifi book I read a few years ago called Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. And if you enjoyed these elements of Altered Carbon then I recommend it for a good read.
Another great theme is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The meths used their power to fulfill their own perverted and twisted desires and to turn the world into their personal playground. They considered themselves above the people who lived below and their lack of empathy for human life was sociopathic. Quell saw the inevitability of it coming and tried to limit the ability to resleeve. She, of course, failed.
On All Things Cyberpunk
I love cyberpunk. I’m a huge fan of the genre. As a matter of fact, several of my upcoming releases are cyberpunk stories. As such, I spend quite a bit of time in cyberpunk communities and one prevalent question seems to resound throughout: What is cyberpunk? It seems in our postmodern, deconstructed world, things kept getting divided, broken down in to smaller and smaller pieces until they don’t resemble the whole at all. With that in mind, let’s find the simplest definition of cyberpunk: “High tech, low life.” And in postmodern fashion, let’s break down that saying and get to the heart of what cyberpunk really is.
You can’t get away from high technology in a cyberpunk world, but the technology is always distorted. All the wonderful ideas about transhumanism are cast in the harsh light of the reality of what would happen if people actually achieved it. Cybernetics. Genetic Engineering. Consciousness transference. Advanced robotics and/ or artificial intelligence.
Vast digital landscapes filled with hackers. Any or all of these may be included in a cyberpunk setting. The existence of this technology always creates a disparity between people in a cyberpunk world. The ‘elites’ which are almost always part of some megacorporation, have unrestricted access to this technology and use it to manipulate and control the world around them. This technology sets them apart from the lower classes which characterize the ‘low life’ half of the axiom.
Cyberpunk heroes are famously antihero. They are punks, degenerates, thugs, addicts and thieves. They strive to exist under the looming shadow of the megacorporations that rule their world. Theirs is life in a perpetual slum fighting over the corporate scraps or finding ways to sneak morsels off their masters’ tables. Their access to the high technology is almost always restricted or limited and a good cyberpunk hero always finds a way around this limitation. This is usually done by merging with the technology in some way either through cybernetics or via the digital world of various ‘Matrix’ type worlds where hackers project their individual consciousness.
Another characteristic of the low life is the dystopia that cyberpunk megacorporations create. A cyberpunk city is a vast megacity that decays as fast as it is created. As a result, the urban landscapes are inundated with holograms, neon and flashing lights to distract from the decomposing world around them. Like one massive Potemkin village. Characters deal with this depressing and oft rain-drenched world by immersing themselves in the technology afforded to them. As such, the Matrix is used as an escape from the real world that is only rivaled by drug addiction. Escapism is everything in a corporate dystopia.
Cyberpunk is compelling because it is so close to truth. We live in a world that is seemingly run by megacorporations and the ever so spooky 1%. Technology becomes more immersive every day and we increasingly become lost in the vastly expanding digital landscape of the internet. Artificial Intelligence is hotly debated right now and there are actually people getting robotic limbs. Look around and you will see the dystopia creeping in, the fiction becoming the reality. The dizzying technological highs and the crushing dystopic lows. High tech, low life. It’s a thing.