This blog post is part of the State of Cyberpunk series.
Fraser Simons has read more cyberpunk than anyone I have ever met or interviewed to date. His introduction to the genre was Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, which has also been made into a popular Netflix show. Drawn by noir-detective feel of the piece, Simons went on to explore a wide range of works within the genre, and eventually, added his own contribution: The Veil, a tabletop RPG designed to give players the tools to build cyberpunk worlds and stories tailored to their interests.
Behind The Veil
Simons built The Veil partially because he wanted a powered-by-the-apocalypse (PbtA) style cyberpunk game, and also because he wanted to craft a game that was literary-driven in nature, proving that cyberpunk wasn’t just its aesthetic. His goal was to help generate interest in cyberpunk that went beyond the genre’s first wave of stories and hook people on later works and lesser known creators. In effect, he is using his own work to amplify the voices of others – an admirable goal that was a recurring theme throughout our conversation.
Beyond the First Wave
To Simons, an essential element of cyberpunk as a genre is that it asks questions about humanity posed through technology, but also primarily does it under a lens of trying to look at the human condition. Themes of resistance and fighting against oppression are key elements, and highly applicable to today’s world, which is part of what drives Simons’ desire to ensure more voices are heard within the genre. “I take issue with people who think that in order to be punk, you have to conform to this dead era,” said Simons, referencing gatekeeping behavior sometimes found among cyberpunk fans who insist only the first wave of cyberpunk is “true cyberpunk”. Instead, Simons believes firmly that the messages and themes of cyberpunk are highly relevant to modern life.
“I want people to realize that there are people still resisting, now and previously,” he stated. “I think it’s problematic that people decided cyberpunk was dead when women and people of color started making it.” He added that cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk as labels only matter when contrasting them to one another. In any other conversation, the attempt to draw a line between them is a moot point.
The Future of Cyberpunk
As cyberpunk gains more and more popularity with highly-publicity works such as Blade Runner 2049 and the Netflix Altered Carbon series, Simons hopes to see an increasing diversity of works among creators. He wants more anthologies with POCs and women showing how good fiction is with an alternate lens, instead of rehashing old territory.
“All of science fiction has only gotten better with time,” Simons said. “We can’t chain ourselves to the first wave by insisting that cyberpunk is only that.”
And his desire to hear and read a wider diversity of perspectives isn’t just a wish for better stories.
“More awareness of the genre will make us more aware of how we are now,” Simons explained. “If people would stop looking at cyberpunk as a niche sub-genre, it would benefit them to understand the world as it is now.”
Given Simons’ extensive reading across the genre, I would have been remiss not to ask him for recommendations at the end of the interview. Here’s a few recommendations he had for people looking to expand their cyberpunk experience beyond the works of Gibson, and Philip K. Dick:
Storming the Reality Studio
Rewired: Post-Cyberpunk Sensibilities
Cyberworld: Tales of Humanity
Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott
The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter
The Summer Prince by Alaya Johnson
Rosewater by Tad Thompson
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Red Spider White Web by Misha Nogha
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy
Simons is also running a kickstarter right now for a new cyberpunk/climate tabletop game. You can learn more about it, and order your own copy here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/samjokopublishing/hack-the-planet