Category Archives: cyberpunk

News – Novella GLITCH RAIN Due out 2/16 with Apex!

Very happy to announce that I have signed a contract with Apex Publications for my cyberpunk nouveau novella GLITCH RAIN. Come February 2016, get ready for some drones, container homes, hackers, and heavy, heavy drinking*!

Apex Publications is pleased to announce that we have acquired Alex Livingston’s GLITCH RAIN.

GLITCH RAIN is a post-cyberpunk novella set in the same world as the short story “Proximity” that appeared in Apex Magazine. The novella will be the fourth book in our Apex Voices series!

Alex Livingston’s short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Bastion Magazine, among others. He self-published the novel Rhymer, an Irish wonder myth told as an exciting sci-fi space opera.

GLITCH RAIN is set to be released in February, 2016.

http://www.apexbookcompany.com/blogs/frontpage/79933057-novella-acquisition-glitch-rain-by-alex-livingston

*By the characters. And me, let’s be honest here.

 

Black Mirror: Writing Stakes

If there’s anything cyberpunk nouveau Twilight Zone TV show Black Mirror is good for, it’s tension. I binged the first two seasons yesterday, having intended to just watch one episode. Edge of my seat, standing and shouting, creeped the hell out.

So how did they do it?

The first episode hits you with major life-and-death-and-the-crown stakes in the first minute and doesn’t let you go. Seriously tense. The conceit is so wild it’s almost gimmicky, so how to keep this going in future episodes? Raise them stakes.

[SPOILERS]

The Entire History of You: In a world where you can play back any memory, what happens when you suspect your wife of having feelings for an old friend? Higher – maybe they slept together when you stormed out for a week. Higher – And doesn’t the timing match the conception of your child?

Be Right Back: Your husband dies in a car accident. Higher – you just moved into his family’s old farmhouse, miles from anywhere. Higher – Oh, and you’re pregnant.

Brian Staveley lays out three kinds of literary tension as psychological, social, and environmental in this post (A LOVER, A PIGLET, AND A DEEP HOLE; OR, THREE TYPES OF TENSION), and they can certainly be applied to these episodes.

The Entire History of You:

Psychological: The main character has trust and jealousy issues. This has led his wife to be less than honest about her past relationships.

Environmental: And memories can be played back. Harder to lie now.

Social: Throw his wife’s rakish former lover in the mix.

Be Right Back:

Psychological: Martha is a social person. She prefers to be actually present in her life, rather than sinking into social media and her phone.

Environmental: She is utterly alone out in the countryside, and soon to be a single mum. A friendly voice in the dark sure helps….

Social: And now she can talk with an AI that talks just like her dead husband. She reminds herself he’s not real, and eventually hates “him” for it,.

These are episodes which mainly feature people sitting around and talking, and they shook the hell out of me. Every new layer of tension got a verbal “oh shit”. Good stuff.

New Game Gets Post-Cyberpunk Storytelling Right – Transistor

It took me two tries to really get into Supergiant’s action RPG Transistor , and boy am I glad I did.

I wasn’t in the right mood when I first loaded it up is the thing. I wanted fast and mindless. So I dumped a bunch more hours into the hamster wheel of Destiny, then returned when I was ready for the real stuff.

I’ve written about new cyberpunk here before, so no surprise that a new and unique treatment of the genre would attract my attention. But… nowhere on the game’s site is the word ‘cyberpunk’ mentioned. Why? I mean, your powers have names like Crash() and Ping().

Here’s my guess. It’s the pantone thing. As soon as you say the ‘C’ word, it’s all twitching data junkies in alleys and wraparound sunglasses with stark color gradients. Green and black. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) The visual aesthetic of the genre’s origins has come to define it.

And along comes Transistor, closer to noir than anything else. You play as a famous singer, not a leather-clad street samurai.  It’s fashion and high art, not jackers and addicts. But the tropes are there — AI, technology and identity, personality as software. It’s cyberpunk without the trappings. A new take.

Four story-telling elements of note:

  • Each new power is the… mind? soul? program?… of a human being involved in the back story. You want the full tale? You need to use the power in different ways to unlock it. A great way to blend a rewards system with world-building.
  • The MC’s voice has been taken, and the sword-thing she’s carrying around won’t shut up. The voice of the transistor sets the tone of each scene and drives the emotional response without ever getting annoying. It’s very well done.
  • Speaking of the transistor’s voice, on the PS4 it comes through the controller’s speaker. The guiding voice is coming from what you’re holding, just as it’s coming from what the MC is holding. It seems a small thing, but it really packs some emotional punch.
  • So how does the MC (Red) communicate? How do we get a sense of who she is? News terminals are set throughout the city (classic cyberpunk there), and Red adds comments to the public feed. You see her type something, then change her mind. What does this mean? Is she impulsive, with just enough sense to keep her from saying anything too crazy? Is she a strategist, arguing with herself over the best play?
    • One particularly fine moment is the first Red uses one of these terminals something for the transistor to read. It’s the first actual interaction we see between them, and it comes unexpectedly. A cool, surprising use of the tech — which is what cyberpunk is really about, right? The street, and the protagonist, finds its own uses for things.

Gameplay is varied and fun as well. So go play it!

‘Proximity’ in Apex

I’m proud to announce that my story Proximity is in this month’s Apex Magazine. (link) It’s one of the pieces they make available online for free, so it’s out there for all the world. Many thanks to Sigrid Ellis et al. for working with me!

This story marks my first foray into the cyberpunk-nouveau thing I’ve been riffing on for a while. It’s been about a year since I first wrote it, and I’ve used the same setting for a couple of other pieces now. One was a 3d-printing chase story for J. M. McDermott’s March Flash Madness, (which was a blast and everyone should participate in next year so get ready), and will be available in the e-book collection of the same.  The other is a novella which is currently out on the far shores of submission land. So if you dig Proximity, keep your eyes open!

The New Cyberpunk: The End of Going In

I came to cyberpunk late, really. I read Snow Crash in ’98. The Matrix came shortly after, prompting some very obsessive behavior on my part. (I suppose I did watch Max Headroom back in the day, but the previous two mentions were the biggies for me). Etc. Etc.

Traditional cyberpunk, with all its pantone trappings, started a strong tech archetype: going in. The Metaverse is separate from the real world, and as blurred as the lines may get, they’re still lines. It’s a personality in the cable network, a terrorist in a shared dream. You jack in, log on, get inside.

The new cyberpunk doesn’t work this way, nor should it. The Verge posted a great article recently on “Tumblr’s cyberpunk renaissance”, in which the author cleverly points out that

Our Matrix is so much more diffuse, and our enemies so omnipresent — it’s the NSA tapping the iPhone in your pocket, the webcam in your shiny new MacBook Air. There really is no pulling out the jack.

Gone is the mighty edifice and the slick decker slicing his way in. It’s damn everywhere. Take out the main data warehouse? Please. It’s all redundant systems now, chirping to each other like a flock of birds. Kill one bird, the flock still lives.

And if that weren’t enough, we’re willing participants. We live online, knowing full well data on everything we do, everywhere we go, everyone we speak to is up for grabs.

So, what does this mean for cyberpunk now?

From a stylistic standpoint, the Verge article is the place to go. “…a hyper-refined and expensive sense of taste, favoring clean lines, baller outfits, powerful matte-black weapons, and the kind of opulence telegraphed by machines without visible seams.” Cyberpunk is as much about style as it is about tech, and the new stuff will follow suit. Check the Verge article for visual reference.

I’ve come across a two touchpoint characters and works which resonate with where the genre is headed.

Ken Liu’s The Perfect Match gives us Centillion, or ‘Tilly’, the omnipresent Google-like voice which serves as a personal assistant, recommendation engine, and Jiminy Cricket to everyone. This is our world now. It’s not some evil government — it’s a convenient service we all sign up for.

The story even gives us one of these new cyberpunks in Jenny, who wears “a thick winter coat, ski goggles, and a long, dark scarf that covered her hair and the rest of her face” in order to muddle the perpetual identity detection. Forget black jackets and mirrored glasses; it’s all ugly T-shirts and facial asymmetry.

After that, it’s Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs. Sitting at a screen is so 2000’s, as is hacking some static mainframe. Let’s talk about controlling traffic lights and city electric grids from your phone. Today’s tech rogues are on the move, and they can see everything about you in a little box floating over your head.

This is how the new cyberpunk works. The distinction between on the grid and off the grid is gone. There is no “going in”. And, perhaps more importantly, there is no getting out.

 

 

A First-time MUD Experience in 2014

I have spent a notable amount of my life in virtual worlds. One of my games, and my upcoming novel, are set in one, in fact. The big ones:

  • I dallied a year in World of Warcraft, which was essentially running around in a fantasy world and wondering when my friends were jumping on. Meh.
  • I spent many moons in Second Life, which allowed me to actually make stuff.  I built a few airships, and a little brass orb that followed me around and talked to people. This was fun.

Fun, but limited. At a certain point in WoW, I had done everything that didn’t require a three-hour minimum play time. I didn’t want to start paying for space in Second Life, and most of places I went were pretty barren.

This is what I want — to jump in as I see fit, be able to get together with friends, and see a ton of content, preferably user-made.

I recently read this article on MicroMUSE, a 1990-era text-based MUD which allowed users to build their own environment. Come on, now. Green-on-black text and freedom to create? This sounds perfect.

Having never played on a MUD (“played a MUD”? “been in a MUD”?), I figured it was time. I found a list and got to it.

I set up a character and played about fifteen minutes on a Tolkien MUD, right up until the NPC Numenorean who was showing me around ordered a beer and it came in a bottle. Napes.

Then I came across a cyberpunk-themed thing. Oh, why not.

So, this MUD, which I choose not to name, starts you off on a street filled with strip clubs, prostitution, and sex acts right out in the open. Fine. Sure. Dark streets, seedy underbellies, glowing neon. Straight pantone. But, the very first area you enter is the sex industry neighborhood?

Before long, an admin pulled me out of the game and put me in some sort of holding center until I wrote a history for my character. I did. Ah, but it was not good enough.

So I fleshed it out. And then received revision notes. This process took two days.

Finally, having passed this enforced-character-background barrier, I got back to it. Where “it” was wandering around from street to street watching kidnappings and harassment I could do nothing to stop. Just background text, apparently; the same way you might see “there is a tapestry on the wall”.

And here’s the kicker — the in-character chat was lame at best. Discussion of how fat a character is. Claims of sexual prowess. When I asked in the out-of -character help chat where I could buy a sword (this is cyberpunk, after all), I was told to look in stores. Oh, and anything can be a weapon in this game. And that’s an in-character question and should be asked somewhere else and here’s a link to the rules.

This is my problem with virtual worlds. The internet is other people, just like Hell.

I hear good things about Minecraft, but I don’t particularly want to play shared Legos. Something text-based seems perfect, or even something with basic graphics. Something we can jump in on from a handheld or phone. Where I don’t have to interface with anyone I don’t want to, but can easily join groups etc. Second Life without the graphics engine.

Wait, did I just describe Facebook?