Sometimes you can have a conversation with a stranger and they’ll tell you the most fascinating things, other times the person who approaches you with a barrage of questions will just be plain weird. Yesterday I had an encounter of the good kind, the kind that makes you glad that you happened to be in that place at that time so that you could learn that interesting new thing.
The weather was beautiful so I went down to the canal to read my book in the sunshine. Benches are few and far between along the canal and within seconds of sitting down I was joined by someone else.
“Looks like we both had the same idea,” he said, pulling a book out of his bag. And that would probably have been it, if I hadn’t at that moment opened my book. “Ooh, what are you reading?”
It was Persepolis, a graphic novel. I think that if I had a copy of Pride and Prejudice open on my lap it wouldn’t have caught his eye in the same way that the bold black and white illustrations of Persepolis did. I told him a bit about the book, about how it is a portrait of a girl growing up in Iran in the midst of war and under a strict Islamic regime. I didn’t tell him that it is both sad and funny and that I frequently have tears in my eyes when I reach the end of a chapter. You just don’t say that kind of thing to a stranger.
He told me about the book he was reading, a cyberpunk novel. I’ve heard of steampunk before, but never cyberpunk. I was intrigued so he explained to me that it was a mix of cybernetics and fantasy. In the book he was reading there was the real world and a virtual world that everyone ‘plugged’ into. The main character was a pizza delivery boy in real life but an expert hacker/street samurai in the virtual world. (I think I’ve got that right. At any rate, the premise he described sounded like a cross between Futurama and The Matrix.)
I was a little bit concerned when he asked me if I’d heard of role-play, but it turned out that he was involved in creating some cyberpunk role-playing games and he was writing the characters for them. At this point, I wish that I had whipped my notebook out and said, “tell me more.” I am so so fascinated by the multitude of ways there are to create through writing. It would have made a great blog post, don’t you think? Q&A With A Cyberpunk Role-Play Writer. But I didn’t quite trust myself to pull off this act of spontaneity so you’ll have to make do with the wikipedia entry on cyberpunk instead.
It turns out the term ‘cyberpunk’ has been around for as long as I have, and it preceeded ‘steampunk‘ by a couple of years. I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of this genre before. Perhaps I don’t read the right magazines or hang out with the right crowd. Or maybe it’s just that when I’ve come across cyberpunk novels in the past, they’ve been categorised under the broader fantasy umbrella.
It’s interesting that when you add ‘punk’ on the end of a word it makes it sound much more edgy and appealing. Cyber fiction just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’m wondering now what will be next? Crimepunk, where ninja-detectives use their computer-hacking, binary-code-cracking skills to track criminals through parallel dimensions? Or Rompunk, where human girls from good families fall in love with androids from the wrong side of the tracks. Remember, you heard it here first.