Throughout the years, the world has always been interested in science fiction and today is no different. Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction focused on challenging corporations and dealing with a technology-dominated world. It usually has a main character who is destined to save it. The genre has become increasingly more popular with video game titles like Watch Dogs 3, Cyberpunk 2077, and adaptations to classics like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley are dominating the market.
While Cyberpunk might be one of the most well-known sub-genres of science fiction, I would also like to add some other genres that do not view the future through a traditional western lens. The genres I wanted to include today are Afrofuturism, Ultra-Unreal, and Cyberpunk-influenced Japanese Animation.
Afrofuturism is a cultural movement challenging the western foundation and envisioning the future from the eyes of black culture. With the release of Black Panther(2018), Afrofuturism has seen a resurgence of popularity within literature, film, and even music. A great resource that goes more into detail about Afrofuturism is Afrofuturism : The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture By Ytasha Womack.
Another genre that we will be taking a look into is The Ultra-Unreal. Coined by Ning Ken, the genre Ultra-unreal comes from the word “chaohuan” which directly translates to surpassing reality. As a genre Ultra-Unreal deals with China’s vast history, the sudden shift to fast-paced development, corrupt governments, and the internet. While this genre is fairly limited in America, more and more Ultra-Unreal books are being translated due to the genre’s increasing popularity.
Japanese Animation, also known as Anime, has been around for a long time. As leaps and bounds were made in the medium it was no surprise that the genre would also tackle Cyberpunk, but with a twist. Being one of the technological heads in the 80s, Japan’s progress was seen as villainous from Western Cyberpunk media. In anime, they offered cyberpunk but from the eyes of the producers and often struggled with the question of how far is too far?
All of these genres challenge who is in charge and asks the question “where do we go from here?” Here are some examples of media from these genres that Kirkwood Public Library and the MLC has to offer!
Neuromancer By William Gibson
There is no way that one could talk about Cyberpunk and NOT bring up the father of the genre, William Gibson. Neuromancer, a triple crown winner of the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award, is about a hacker down on his luck in Chiba City, Japan. After stealing from his last employer and being punished by stripping away his ability to enter the virtual database coined “the matrix” the main character is hired for his biggest job yet.
Parable of the Sower By Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler is a legend when it comes to science fiction. Her works such as Kindred and the Bloodchild anthology have cemented her as a legend and she is revered as the mother of Afrofuturism. Parable of the Sower follows Lauren, who, after an incident that shakes her foundations, becomes a traveler through dystopian lands. Through her experiences she comes up with a potential way to save all of humanity.
Invisible planets : Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation Translated by Ken Lui
This is a beautiful ultra unreal anthology translated by the one and only Ken Lui. Known for his translation of The Three-Body Problem, Lui brings the words of these authors to English. The Hugo award winning “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jinfang was a personal favorite of mine and a must read. If you enjoy this, check out Lui’s second translated anthology Brokenstars : Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation as well as Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan, one of the writers featured in this book!
The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae
Inspired by the aesthetics of the film Metropolis, Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady is a funky album about an android named Cindy who escapes an oppressive society, starts a revolution, and becomes a figurehead of self love, identity, and introspection. This whole album is a golden experience that elicits good vibes and creates a celebratory atmosphere. Some highlights from this album are Electric Lady, Queen, and Primetime. This is a part of Monae’s seven part Metropolis series. Other installations in this series include Metropolis: The Chase Suite (Hoopla), The Archandroid : Suites II & III, and Dirty Computer.
Is reality really what you think it is? This film is about a brilliant hacker named Neo who has to make a decision either to continue accepting the status quo or embrace his calling to be the chosen one! This is a film with a twist that I would hate to spoil, so I won’t describe the plot here in any more detail. It has been referenced all across pop culture and its special effects and soundtrack have solidified its place as a classic.
Paprika is about a scientist who turns into a dream warrior at night. When the state of the world is threatened it will take both versions to save reality as we know it. This trippy adventure will have you questioning the world around you. Did you like Inception? This fluid animation from legendary director Satoshi Kon directly influenced Inception’s director, Christopher Nolan.
Best Friend (On Kanopy!)
This film is about how far a young man will go to stay connected. While this film is only 6 minutes long it leaves a lasting impression. It is not only beautifully animated but it asks the question “How far will we go for companionship?”
Blade Runner, adapted from Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is about an ex police officer who tracks down four android convicts who desperately want to meet their creator. The set design, musical score, and overall ambience is absolutely beautiful. If you enjoyed Blade Runner, check out Blade Runner 2049 a sequel to the original Blade Runner. I didn’t think that the original film’s visuals could be topped, but 2049 is a sight worth seeing.
(Anime & Manga)
Follow Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang, as he tries to get his friend Tetsuo back from an elusive government agency. Akira tackles friendship, war, and what it really means to be human. Whether it is the fast paced action of the animation or the beautifully drawn manga, Akira is a classic that you cannot pass up.
If you like Romantic Comedies and science fiction then I suggest The Fifth Element. With a look inspired by Blade Runner, this fun look at the future has earned its place as a cult classic.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
In Nalo Hopkinson’s debut novel Brown Girl in the Ring, the rich have abandoned Downtown Toronto leaving the poor to fend for themselves. When the rich start harvesting the poor for organs, the past must be reconciled with the present to save the future. Brown Girl in the Ring is a perfect mix of Science Fiction and Caribbean Magic Realism. The main character Ti-Jeanne’s desire for freedom and change are relatable. This story is unlike any I have encountered before.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
In a world where people neurally log into the net and cyborgs are integrated into society, a hacker known as The Puppet is threatening the world as we know it. Ghost in the Shell is a must watch for anyone who loves Cyberpunk. I cannot stress this highly enough but the original animated version is the best version of Ghost in the Shell to watch. Like Akira mentioned above it changed how people approached animation and science fiction as a whole.
Dark City starts when John Murdoch wakes up and has no recollection of the night before. All he has is a suitcase, a dead body, and countless questions. While Dark City lacks the initial high tech representation found in other mentions on this list, I feel like this film is best experienced when you go into it knowing close to nothing.
Enjoy Science Fiction?
I would also like to shout out The Book Club at the End of the Universe here at Kirkwood Public Library. They have been reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, and This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. The Space Between Two Worlds even has a review up on our KPL Blog so go give that a read!
Thanks for stopping by and reading the Pop Culture Dive! Did you find anything new? If you have any other related media that you would like to shout out or something that you enjoyed please feel free to leave a comment!