This post is part of the State of Cyberpunk series.
I met Garrett Calcaterra at Fog Con, a writer’s convention he was paneling at and where I was working a table in the vendor’s hall. He’d just gotten out of the panel, but he graciously agreed to do an on-the-spot interview with me. Here’s what he had to say about cyberpunk.
The Human Touch
The dystopian elements of the works of Philip K. Dick and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash were what first drew Garrett into the world of cyberpunk. He liked that they weren’t simply remakes of 1984.
“It’s a world of our own making,” Garrett explained, one that was both descriptive and exploratory.
As a long-time author, Garrett appreciates the laboratory-like nature of writing as a medium.
“Writing is a way to balance the entertainment with the explorative aspect of stories,” he said. “Especially science fiction… It’s fun to explore the what-ifs.”
Garrett also pointed out that such writing is an experiment that takes humanity into account as a variable. Writing science fiction, be it cyberpunk or any of the other subgenres, requires that readers consider the problem of tech on a social level. To tell a story, we must necessarily look through the eyes of a protagonist, usually a human one. It naturally draws the attention to how technology affects interactions between people, and society as a whole.
“It lets us test things out at a very human level,” said Garrett.
Cyberpunk in particular plays with that intersection of tech and human relationship in its digital worlds. Garrett believes this is one of the keys elements of the genre as a whole. It’s not enough to assert that these digital and virtual realities exist in the cyberpunk future – their impact must be felt on a societal level.
It’s that digital impact in particular that makes cyberpunk so highly relevant today, Garrett pointed out. The deep interconnectedness brought about through the internet is bringing us quickly into a cyberworld.
People are looking to the genre because they want to know what the ramifications might be. There are an abundance of questions to explore when it comes to any new piece of technology. What are the dangers? How should we think about and deal with surveillance? Who owns the means of production in a digital age, and how are they using that power? The effects of social conditioning through ads alone is still something researchers are working to understand, and the average person scrolls through more a day than ever before in history.
Society has certainly entered a cyber era but, Garrett added, “Whether the punk is still there is debatable.”
Cyberpunk, Not Dystopia
Garrett sees the present age as an exciting time for cyberpunk because the millennial generation has reached a point where they’re ready to tell their own stories.
“They’re the first native generation to the cyberworld,” said Garrett. “What stories will they tell now that the tech is already available to us?”
Just as science-fiction-past has helped to create the tech of the present, Garrett
predicts the new generation of cyberpunk will be formative to our future. He also thinks that this is an opportunity for a fundamental change in the genre as a whole.
Garrett said he hopes to see cyberpunk move away from its dystopian tendencies. Instead, he hopes new authors will not only work to predict new tech, but also to look at the productive ways that tech could be put to use.
“We want tales of warning, like tales of Asimov and his AI,” he pointed out. “But we also want to see cyberpunk move into a direction where we say, ‘how could we make our lives better?’ How could our tech make the underserved lives’ better? Can we turn this world into something closer to a Utopia?”
Garrett’s vision for the future raises the interesting question of whether or not a story is still cyberpunk if it does away with its classic, dystopian elements. It’s an idea that deserves an article in its own right, possibly several. It is, unfortunately, beyond the purview of this write-up, so instead I’ll simply close with this thought: I find the discussion of who’s in and who’s out of a genre’s clubhouse to be generally unproductive. In this case though, I might make an exception.
If cyberpunk is writing the future, then whether or not that future must be fundamentally dystopian is a question not of genre, but of what we believe about the world, ourselves, and our ability to change, before it’s too late.
Thoughts? Leave ‘em in the comments section below, or catch up with me on Twitter at @rachelthebeck.
Garrett Calcaterra is author of the epic fantasy series The Dreamwielder Chronicles. His other books include Dreamrush, The Roads to Baldairn Motte, and Umbral Visions. His short work has appeared in numerous anthologies, speculative-fiction magazines, and literary journals, including Confrontation, Writers’ Journal, Black Gate, Wet Ink, Membrane SF, Arkham Tales, and Fracas: a collection of short friction.
Garrett works as a freelance copywriter in San Francisco and previously taught creative writing at Chapman University and the Orange County School of the Arts. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in applied science from Pacific University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Chapman University. When not writing, he enjoys playing guitar in his band Wheel House, drinking craft beer, and enjoying life with his wife and daughter.