Is Cyberpunk Still Fresh and New, or Lovably Obsolete? William Gibson Answered This Question Himself. The Next Steps Are Up To Us.

Take this as a dare: dare to mention that cyberpunk is an “ancient aesthetic” in conversation with certain science fiction lovers. Predictably, someone will take umbrage at the idea, presumably for violating one of their sacred sci-fi cows.

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” itself, and situated many of his concepts within it. Author Bruce Bethke invented the term “cyberpunk”, but even he concedes that Gibson largely invented the genre [1] [2]:

How did I actually create the word? The way any new word comes into being, I guess: through synthesis. I took a handful of roots –cyber, techno, et al– mixed them up with a bunch of terms for socially misdirected youth, and tried out the various combinations until one just plain sounded right.

IMPORTANT POINT! I never claimed to have invented cyberpunk fiction! That honor belongs primarily to William Gibson, whose 1984 novel, Neuromancer, was the real defining work of “The Movement.” (At the time, Mike Swanwick argued that the movement writers should properly be termed neuromantics, since so much of what they were doing was clearly Imitation Neuromancer.)

Then again, Gibson shouldn’t get sole credit either. Pat Cadigan (“Pretty Boy Crossover”), Rudy Rucker (Software), W.T. Quick (Dreams of Flesh and Sand), Greg Bear (Blood Music), Walter Jon Williams (Hardwired), Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers)…the list of early ’80s writers who made important contributions towards defining the trope defies my ability to remember their names. Nor was it an immaculate conception: John Brunner (Shockwave Rider), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), and perhaps even Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination) all were important antecedents of the thing that became known as cyberpunk fiction.

You can also download AltSciFi’s mirror of Bruce Bethke’s 2001 cyberpunk novel, available as shareware (click here).

It seems only natural, then, to commit further sacrilege and open the belly of this beast for everyone to see. This gives rise to the question:

Is cyberpunk still fresh and new, or has it become a lovably obsolete relic that still holds some relevance, if only those who care to find it?

The obviously conciliatory middle-of-the-road answer is “cyberpunk is in a state of continual renewal.” In truth, you can only reboot an aesthetic with a new face but so many times before it morphs into something else entirely. Or, until it burrows so deeply into obscure in-tribe self-references that no one but die-hard members care about or even notice at all.

For context, consider William Gibson’s own perspective. He has described cyberpunk as a byproduct of a simpler time. His answer may be a definitive one, but for the few artists and creators here, we may be the ones to take his ideas in a different direction. The question is whether we can still truly call that direction “cyberpunk”. Maybe we’re verging into something else. Something new. Something made of possible futures rather than infinite regressions to an imaginary future-past.

From William Gibson: I never imagined Facebook:

You’re considered a founder of the cyberpunk genre, which tends to feature digital cowboys — independent operators working on the frontiers of technology. Is the counterculture ethos of cyberpunk still relevant in an era when the best hackers seem to be working for the Chinese and U.S. governments, and our most famous digital outlaw, Edward Snowden, is under the protection of Vladimir Putin?

It’s seemed to me for quite a while now that the most viable use for the term “cyberpunk” is in describing artifacts of popular culture. You can say, “Did you see this movie? No? Well, it’s really cyberpunk.” Or, “Did you see the cyberpunk pants she was wearing last night?”

People know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t work so well describing human roles in the world today. We’re more complicated. I think one of the things I did in my early fiction, more or less for effect, was to depict worlds where there didn’t really seem to be much government. In “Neuromancer,” for example, there’s no government really on the case of these rogue AI experiments that are being done by billionaires in orbit. If I had been depicting a world in which there were governments and law enforcement, I would have depicted hackers on both sides of the fence.

In “Neuromancer,” I don’t think there’s any evidence of anybody who has any parents. It’s kind of a very adolescent book that way.

[…]

So what do you think is a better way to phrase that question today? Or what would have been a better way to phrase it in 1993?

I think you would end with something like “or is this just the new normal?”

Is there anything about “the new normal” in particular that surprises you? What about the Internet today would you have been least likely to foresee?

It’s incredible, the ubiquity. I definitely didn’t foresee the extent to which we would all be connected almost all of the time without needing to be plugged in.

That makes me think of “Neuromancer,” in which the characters are always having to track down a physical jack, which they then use to plug themselves into this hyper-futuristic Internet.

Yes. It’s funny, when the book was first published, when it was just out — and it was not a big deal the first little while it was out, it was just another paperback original — I went to a science fiction convention. There were guys there who were, by the standards of 1984, far more computer-literate than I was. And they very cheerfully told me that I got it completely wrong, and I knew nothing. They kept saying over and over, “There’s never going to be enough bandwidth, you don’t understand. This could never happen.”

So, you know, here I am, this many years later with this little tiny flat thing in my hand that’s got more bandwidth than those guys thought was possible for a personal device to ever have, and the book is still resonant for at least some new readers, even though it’s increasingly hung with the inevitable obsolescence of having been first published in 1984. Now it’s not really in the pale, but in the broader outline.

The headline for this article ends with “the next steps are up to us.” It seems clear that Gibson himself has already fully moved on from cyberpunk to other aspects of science fiction. If cyberpunk is to continue, it may evolve into a new form that requires its own niche separate from that which came before.

The Great Wall Versus Ghost in the Shell: Why Constance Wu is Wrong About Hollywood Whitewashing, And How to Fix It

Blog post by actress Constance Wu. Click to enlarge.

Blog post by actress Constance Wu. Click to enlarge.

Actress Constance Wu wrote a blog entry about whitewashing that seems to have struck a chord on social media. It’s almost too popular to ignore, as the text keeps popping up here and there.

Constance Wu’s blog entry bears similarities to AltSciFi’s reasons for creating an independent live-action Ghost in the Shell film, starring an all-Japanese cast. The main difference is that Wu’s argument doesn’t make any sense beyond self-righteously pleading/shouting for change.

What common mistakes does Constance Wu make, despite her good intentions? How would an all-Japanese live-action Ghost in the Shell take a different approach? Find out below.

Constance Wu writes:

On the Great Wall: We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world. It’s not based in actual fact.

Agreed. So far so good. We can fast-forward two sentences to the first problematic part.

Money is the lamest excuse in the history of being human.

Actually, money is the only reason why _anyone_ makes movies in Hollywood. If you’re going to finance a $135 million film “whose… budget makes it the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China“, yes, money really is the key factor.

By contrast, an independent film — one without a monstrous price tag — could more honestly make the claim that it was made for the fans rather than solely for the box office returns.

So is blaming the Chinese investors. (POC’s choices can be based on unconscious bias, too.)

It may be “lame” to blame Chinese investors, but yes, literally the only reason for investing in a business venture (such as a big-budget film) is to earn a return on the investment. Mind-reading investors’ motivations as “unconscious bias” is tantamount to calling them Asian Uncle Toms because you know them better than they know themselves. Constance Wu may have unconsciously used an underhanded rhetorical tactic (also known as “projection” in some forms of psychojargon), but we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Still wrong, though.

Remember it’s not about blaming individuals, which will only lead to soothing their lame “b-but I had good intentions! But… money!” microaggressive excuses.

Here Wu blames “individuals” for being “microaggressive” and making “lame excuses”, while admonishing the reader not to blame anyone for making lame microaggressive excuses. Note also that she completely misuses the word “microaggressive” here, but it sounds good, as unnecessary jargon often does.

Rather, it’s about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to POC [People of Color] and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength.

Well, yes, that is the end result, but the problem isn’t Matt Damon or inscrutably microaggressive Chinese investors. We’ll see more about what the problem actually is in a moment.

When you consistently make movies like this, you ARE saying that. YOU ARE. Yes, YOU ARE. YES YOU ARE. Yes dude, you fucking ARE.

Digression for unintentional humour? Flawlessly achieved. ;) Skipping a few sentences of repetition…

…we’re rrrreally starting to get sick of you telling us, explicitly or implicitly, that we do [need salvation via “white strength”].

Agreed. This is essentially the moral reason why whitewashing is a problem.

Think only a huge movie star can sell a movie? That has NEVER been a total guarantee.

It’s a question of probability, not guarantees. Anyone financing a $135 million dollar business venture is going to want the odds in their favor. So yes, it’s likely that only a huge movie star can reliably sell a film that needs to earn $135 million before even starting to turn a profit.

Why not TRY to be better?

Unless you can find anyone who wants to throw millions of dollars down the drain for a pop culture experiment, “better” doesn’t have anything to do with this issue at all.

If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can’t a POC sometimes have one?

Because the odds are astronomically higher that a white actor will succeed. If white actors were not seen as “heroes” — due to racism or any other reason — no one would cast them in hero roles.

In the case of Matt Damon’s casting for The Great Wall, the real question is, “why have Asian men been pushed aside for so long?” The answer is definitely not, “let’s give Asian actors more opportunities to fail in big box-office films, thereby confirming the fact that there’s widespread bias against Asian men in American cinema (and for some people, further confirming that Asian men are unfit to be major movie stars).”

For Ghost in the Shell, there’s an ironic twist at work. Japanese people in Japan generally don’t care that a white actress (Scarlett Johansson) has been cast as a Japanese character (Kusanagi Motoko). But Ghost in the Shell has a global fanbase, many thousands of whom are outraged that Kusanagi isn’t being played by a Japanese actress like Kikuchi Rinko or Fukushima Rila. in contrast to The Great Wall, then, there is a well-defined audience for Japanese actors to be chosen as cast members in a live-action Ghost in the Shell.

And how COOL would it be if you were the movie that took the “risk” to make a POC as your hero, and you sold the shit out of it?!

Film studios “sell the shit out of” all of their major blockbuster films. Many of them flop even when headlined by popular, well-known (not always white) actors like Matt Damon. The amount of risk for a studio to push films starring comparatively unknown Asian actors would simply make no financial sense at all.

The whole community would be celebrating!!

Sadly, no one cares unless they can dance their way to the bank.

If nothing else, you’d get some mad respect (which is WAY more valuable than money)

No. Credibility that builds reputation is more important than money, mainly because a strong reputation makes it easier to make money in the future. “Respect” only matters to people who feel disrespected, and in that case, those who are giving the disrespect already don’t care. In the real world, respect is an afterthought for anyone who needs to build a long-lasting reputation.

So MAKE that choice. I know that overcoming your own bias and doing something differently takes balls… well don’t you WANT balls?

The mind-reading psychojargon about “bias” returns here, as well as some cringe-worthy gender-baiting about “wanting balls”. Constance Wu might be trying to say “courage”, but her own gender bias creeps into her choice of words. We can score that as more unintentional humour, perhaps…

Wu then tries to take on the other Uncle-Tom “POCs” who don’t care by positioning herself as a True Believer Who Really, Really Cares. It’s a false dichotomy, of course, because it’s entirely possible to be Asian, to care and to disagree with Constance Wu — all at the same time.

Why do you think it was so nice to see a nerdy white kid have a girl fall in love with him? Because you WERE that nerdy white kid who felt unloved.

This unintentionally describes how marketing demographics work. It’s not based on building mountains of “respect” or possessing a plethora of “balls”. It’s about appealing to a large enough audience to turn a profit.

Hollywood is supposed to be about making great stories. So make them.

The core failure of Constance Wu’s argument comes full circle here. Did you notice it?

Yes — she started out by declaring a false statement as true (“money is a lame excuse” when in fact money is the only reason to make blockbuster films like The Great Wall).

The rest of her argument was an appeal to emotion (“don’t think about whether this makes any sense! Just keep reading and feeling more strongly that I’m right, because it feels right and probably confirms what you already believe!”).

At the end, Constance Wu asserts a starry-eyed ideology about Hollywood that has never been true. Hollywood has never been about making great stories. The purpose of investing millions of dollars into a film is to earn millions more in return. That’s all that Hollywood has ever been about. To believe anything else is nothing more than a pleasant lie. That lie has now gone viral in the form of Constance Wu’s well-intentioned blog post.

How Could an Independent, Live-Action Ghost in the Shell Film Be Different?

The way that an independent Ghost in the Shell film would differ is that we step outside the Hollywood machine entirely. There is an audience for an authentic Ghost in the Shell film, starring Japanese actors. The only question is whether that audience would be willing to pay enough to make the production a success.

White-washing will almost certainly never be solved by blaming, or mind-reading, or sort-of-blaming investors and movie studios. The real problem is that the general population reliably goes to see films starring white actors. So more films starring white actors continue to be made. Why are Asian people, and Asian men specifically, considered by society to be unfit for the role of “hero”? That’s not a problem that Hollywood can, or has any reason to, try to solve. Hollywood is not a morality engine — it’s a cash machine.

The proving ground for Asians and other ethnicities is not in blockbusters at all. Independent films are the only place where relatively modest budgets allow for experimentation. And that is exactly the niche that an indie live-action Ghost in the Shell can fulfill, if the audience is there and the price is right.

Are You A First Class User or Second Class Loser? Hidden Dangers of Social Media De-anonymization.

Hey friends. I’m going to wax geeky and talk about personal online security for Twitter users for a moment, because it’s important.

The following text is derived from a talk given by Shaula Evans, and has been lightly edited for clarity.

Twitter recently announced that everyone can get a blue verified checkmark if you “just” turn over some personal data. Turning over your personal details to Twitter is a Faustian bargain. (Correction: From what I’m reading today, sounds like the change is that everyone can apply for verification, but may not be accepted.)

Twitter wants your government ID in order to verify your account. THIS IS A BAD IDEA. Verified IDs cause two sets of problems.

Verified ID Problem #1: People naively assume removing anonymity solves trolling. It doesn’t.

Trump/Brexit have emboldened people to to stop hiding their bigotry. “Real name” policies provide the illusion of a solution, but it doesn’t work.

Know what DOES address online harassment?

1. Clear guidelines
2. Commitment to enforce them
3. Timely enforcement (Not twelve hours. Or two years.)

I say that speaking from experience. I build and consult on building healthy, inclusive online communities. It is possible, but it takes will and work. Verified ID’s aren’t a solution. They are window dressing. They are shuffling deck chairs.

Verified ID Problem #2: Verified IDs are dangerous for vulnerable people.

Here is a great write up from geekfeminism‘s wiki on who is harmed by real name policies. Read it.…

– You didn’t think about the harm real names can do because you’re not affected? Neither did Twitter. That’s why we need diverse teams.

– You didn’t think about the harm real names can do and you ARE someone who can be harmed? Twitter just endangered you.

Twitter has gamified the verification process (turn over your data to access more features like the big kids!) without disclosing risks. People who aren’t tech- or security minded are going to jump in (we can’t all be experts in everything) and GET HURT. This is awful.

The previous two verification problems create a third: a two-tiered user community.

People with enough social privilege to use verification safely become “first class” users with extra benefits and prestige. Vulnerable people become “second class”.

That is disgusting, offensive, and grotesque. That is terrible product design. That is myopic design from non-diverse teams. If you say “a real name policy doesn’t hurt me, I’ll do it”, you are now part of the further marginalization of vulnerable people on Twitter, too. I don’t know if you have a problem with getting special privileges by supporting systems that hurt others, but I do.

Two more points about specific problems with Twitter’s verification process.

1. Twitter wants us all to use profile and/or header photos that reflect “the person, the corporation’s branding, or the company’s branding.”

Let’s talk about what it’s like to use the Internet while perceived as anyone other than a white male. If you have a “female” avatar, you get more abuse. If you are a woman of color, it’s even worse. These are not state secrets. The data is out there. Anyone who works in tech and knows their arse from their elbow knows this stuff.

Twitter has effectively said: “We want credit for fixing abuse. So we’re going to encourage you to take steps to increase your abuse.”

2. Twitter wants to know your birth date.

Twitter then gives you fancy graphics on your birthday in return (gamification!). Know who else wants your birth date? Identity thieves.

Oh yeah, and doxxers. Your birth date is incredibly helpful to people who want to dox you, too.

Who gets doxed? Oddly enough, the list looks an awful lot like the list of people who are harmed by real name policies. You might want to think about that before you plug your birthday into a site that publicizes it. Or before you send a birthday wish a friend on social media.

In summary: Twitter’s new “soft” real names policy will hurt people, create a two-tiered community, and make trolling worse. Hurray!

Recommendations:

1. Don’t get verified.
If you have verified your account rashly and realize it may put you at risk, contact Twitter right away and get it undone, fast.

2. Don’t let your friends get verified.
If you have friends on Twitter who would be made vulnerable by ID verification, make sure they know the risks. Take care of each other.

3. Tell twitter why you are taking this course of action.

I know: it’s really hard to resist the gamified urge to get the coveted blue check, hard to be skeptical, hard to be a rational adult, hard to be objective, hard to perform due diligence, hard to think of others. So much easier to chase the dopamine rush of gratification.

There are bigger things in life than a blue checkmark, I promise you. Resist the urge, take care of yourself and each other, and stay safe.

P.S. We need to call out the tech press on this. The usual suspects are printing fawning regurgitation of Twitter press release, zero critique. Cutting/pasting press releases (or tweets) does not constitute journalism. We need a robust Fourth Estate more than ever. Pull up your socks.

P.P.S. Read about NYMWARS. No one learned. Deficient knowledge transfer in tech is a huge problem. It astounds me that Google went through the whole Nymwars thing going back to 2011 and the industry seems to have learned nothing. We really shouldn’t be working out these issues from scratch on every single platform.

A World Where Everyone Knows Your Face: Rampant Overuse of Facial Recognition Databases

The U.S. Government Accountability Office just issued a major report on the FBI face recognition programs. It’s startling. And it’s a game changer.

This article is compiled from thoughts written by Alvaro Bedoya. See the original source here (click here).

For years, we’ve focused on the FBI face recognition database, called the NGI Interstate Photo System. The FBI also runs face recognition searches on sixteen states’ drivers license photos: at least 173 million photos.

The FBI has built a national face recognition system — not of criminals, but of many millions of law-abiding Americans. In total, the FBI can run face recognition on +400 million faces, of which at least 173 million are driver’s licenses.

In 4.5 years, the FBI searched these license photos 36,000 times. Without warrants, without any judicial approval.

Context: Between 2010 and 2014, all states and the FBI obtained 16,541 wiretaps. Between 2011 and 2015, the FBI ran 36,430 face recognition searches of drivers licenses.

Face recognition searches are far more common than wiretaps, yet we regulate wiretaps – and don’t regulate face recognition.

It gets worse. For years the FBI has told Congress that audits would block misuse of its face recognition programs, but the FBI has never audited states’ use of its database or its use of state face recognition databases.

Even though the FBI’s own research has shown high error rates among African Americans, women and young people, the FBI has conducted minimal accuracy tests on its own database and no accuracy tests on the 16 states’ databases.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office echoes a letter from forty-five groups and companies: the FBI has been years late on basic, mandatory privacy notices.

The U.S. GAO makes clear: FBI needs more oversight, not less. Yet right now, the FBI is pushing for less transparency.

You can act. You can push for a Face Recognition Act. You can file comments with the FBI to stop secret biometrics.

Bully Repellent: An Open Letter from AltSciFi to Internet Copyright Trolls

From one of the creators of AltSciFi — to the copyright trolls of Reddit and other Concerned Citizens of the Internet:

Backstory

I kept a blog for about a year and a half, updating it somewhat regularly. Then I started a Patreon account, in case anyone wanted to pay for my blog entries. I never marketed the blog as a business, so naturally, I’ve never been paid for blogging. The Patreon account was an experiment; Patreon was newly popular and I was curious to play with it. Then they got hacked and I was glad not to have gotten caught in that debacle.

Fast forward to now.

September 22, 2016

Amazing as it may seem, the Reddit fake-copyright troll called Drackar39 has resumed its attempts at slander. It really is amazing.

Recent research has revealed that it’s quite common for trolls to harbour delusional beliefs that they’re upholding social norms and protecting a larger group against an evil outsider (or in this case, wielding a fictional badge of justice against imaginary enemies). This is also an example of the cognitive distortion called the majority illusion, whereby one person believes (or pretends) that they are the voice of many, when the opposite is true.

A key question to ask yourself: why does the troll act like its opinion matters so much to anyone, including you? And why is the troll so desperate to convince the world that its opinion is right?

For example, a troll can build a false pretext of familiarity by assuming it knows my gender — or anything else about me, for that matter. Or a troll can use comically fake legalistic language in a laughable attempt at threats and/or intimidation. And, after failing to fool people by distorting or fabricating facts, trolls often resort to pretending that facts themselves don’t exist.

Another tactic used by trolls is a pseudo-intellectual move called “sleight-of-mouth”. If you point out that the troll is slandering you, for example, the troll may try to “correct” you by saying, “no, I was committing an act of libel, which is not the same as slander!” The effect probably isn’t quite what the troll intended, but is noteworthy here nonetheless. ;)

Most habitual trolls are simply failed narcissists desperate for attention and will use Machiavellian tactics to distort any set of facts.

Trolls will often try to position themselves as “judges” to be “convinced” when they have earned no credibility whatsoever.

This is why you have to simply stop responding to trolls beyond a certain point; otherwise the meaningless battle against them will waste more and more of your time. A troll will gladly keep pulling you down into a spiral of distorted thinking because he or she has nothing better to do. Consider yourself advised in advance; redirect your energy toward creativity instead.

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for starting a zine. The concept now looks nothing like what you might find on old blog entries from months ago.

So I posted prototypes of the zine to /r/cyberpunk [a community on reddit.com]. Unsurprisingly, a troll appeared, talking about how I was “profiting” from other peoples’ work. (Keep in mind the backstory above.) Meanwhile, the design prototypes had nothing to do with making money. Selling a zine depends on having something to sell. I’m still in the first stages of finding independent sci-fi creators to contribute to our little community. The zine will be created by the community. Old blog entries have nothing to do with this at all.

When it became clear that I’ve never profited from the blog, the troll made a lateral move and started repeating that I was “positioned to profit from the work of others”, even though I never actually did.

The old blog entries consist mainly of headlines and blurbs from news articles that I found interesting or inspiring. There were also various images that I had found on Twitter. I didn’t attribute the images to their owners because they lacked attribution to start with, and I never seriously intended to build the blog into a business — and never made any money from the Patreon account in any case.

Update: in the past, Google Images blocked Tor users with an endless series of Captchas. Now that they seem to have lifted their Tor embargo, it will be easier to attribute images. Bing Image Search is far less effective, so there was no simple way for Tor users to identify images posted online. If you don’t use Tor and/or a VPN to protect your privacy online, now is a good time to start.

The moderators at /r/cyberpunk ignored my repeated attempts at reporting the troll instead of arguing. They then blamed me for “spamming” them with requests for help over two weeks of harassment.

Banning on the Troll’s Side

The mods at /r/cyberpunk banned me for asking them to help fight a troll.

Then, on /r/sciencefiction (a different Reddit community), I announced a new subreddit — an alternative named /r/cyber_punk where the moderators protect users against trolls. Guess what? The troll re-appeared. I angrily responded to the troll in order to protect my reputation and that of the new subreddit. What happened? I was banned from /r/sciencefiction, as I was “self-promoting”, “starting drama” and “violating Reddit’s Content Policy”, which is also completely untrue.

My “self-promotion” consisted of posting an original short story that I had written, starting a new weekly sci-fi writers’ group, and telling people about the new subreddit. None of those violate any rules and only the subreddit notification was “promotional”, but the troll’s rumours had apparently done their work before I could say or demonstrate otherwise.

In other words, the troll won by slandering and harassing me across Reddit, and spreading FUD [Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt] which then became impossible to undo as it became a pervasive rumour.

Starting Fresh

In response, I’ve created a new science fiction subreddit specifically to protect and nurture indie sci-fi: /r/sciencefiction_. And I’ve pre-emptively banned a few people. ;) If the troll shows up again, at least now you know the situation before the rumours and slander begin. This time, I’m not fighting back — I’m taking precautions. From now on, no arguing — just reporting trolls to the moderators and watching what happens next.

Here’s a tip: if you see the troll named “Drackar39” on Reddit, ban it if you moderate a subreddit, and downvote the troll if it appears in the subreddits you visit. Do yourself and everyone else who loves science fiction on Reddit a favor.

Practically speaking, if you look across social media, you’ll see that many for-profit blogs use images without getting sued. Copyright trolls would have to sue practically every Twitter user and blogger on the Web. Tumblr would disappear overnight. The fake Concern Trolling by the Reddit troll named “Drackar39” was just a pretense for pseudo-legalistic trash talk to try to scare away anyone who would have wanted to contribute to the zine. Thankfully, it failed, and now there are more options for science fiction on Reddit than ever. A happy ending, ultimately. ;)

Artists Helping Artists: This Is Why AltSciFi Exists

Unfortunately, the usual “grow a thicker skin” approach doesn’t work when one troll becomes an obsessive stalker who slanders you across multiple subreddits (and when moderators do nothing after you try to avoid “drama” by reporting the troll instead of arguing, or who ban you for defending yourself).

Good moderators ban trolls. If the troll comes back, I can point moderators to this post and let the mods decide for themselves. That was the sole purpose of bothering to write all this in the first place (I obviously wasn’t looking for upvotes). Now I can respond using the “ignore them” approach because there’s a counterpoint to the slanderous garbage that the troll was spewing everywhere I went.

And if you own the copyright for any item found on AltSciFi, we’ll gladly give you proper attribution for your work. As artists, it only make sense to help other artists. That’s what AltSciFi is all about.

In the Face of Reality: An Overlooked-Yet-Obvious Reason Why Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi Should Be Played by a Japanese Actress — not Scarlett Johansson

Ghost in the Shell (1995). Motoko Kusanagi.
Ghost in the Shell (1995). Motoko Kusanagi.

A peculiar idea has been floating around the World Wide Web recently. The idea is that Scarlett Johansson, an American actress of Danish/Ashkenazi descent, should play a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi in a live-action adaptation of 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell.

Some people seem to genuinely not realize that Motoko Kusanagi is Japanese.

The Only Plausible Reason

If we’re honest, Johansson is playing Kusanagi because her brand is stronger than any Japanese actress in Hollywood as of 2016.

The only semi-plausible argument is that Hollywood wanted ScarJo’s name recognition, so they whitewashed the character. That still doesn’t sound politically correct, however (because of obvious racism), so they try to brush ethnicity under the table completely.

Here’s Where It Gets Weird

Anime characters are designed to have anatomically impossible features and abilities that are equally implausible. For example, a human cranium is not anatomically designed to house typically huge anime-like eyeballs, tiny noses and miniscule mouths.

Anime is a stylistic choice suited for Japanese cartoons. It’s not a depiction of real people as they would appear. Ghost in the Shell is relatively realistic, but still not “real”…

…unless you really think that Japanese people would ever, en masse, decide that they’d suddenly rather have the android bodies of white people. In that case, the “Kusanagi is Caucasian” idea would make perfect sense since the whole idea of being Japanese would, for no apparent reason, be the same as being white. Or Japanese people so deeply hate looking Asian that they’d rather body-swap with white people if at all possible.

Fortunately, though, that makes no sense whatsoever in reality.

So Obvious That No One’s Mentioned It Yet

Why are anime characters depicted as Caucasoid? There are various theories. The fact is that Ghost in the Shell’s characters are in Japan, from Japan, portraying a Japanese story. They are Japanese people. In the real world, they would almost certainly not choose to look white, just as most white people would probably not select Japanese bodies. In any case, that’s not explained in the story world, so it’s irrelevant.

Japanese people, as a group who are nationalistic to the point of xenophobia, have no particular fetish for transforming into white people.

Kusanagi and the rest of the cast of Ghost in the Shell are Japanese, so in an authentic live-action film, they should be portrayed by Japanese actors. Japanese people look Japanese (or more honestly, not only Japanese people look that way, since the stereotypical “Japanese” appearance may be strongly descended from Han Chinese ancestry).

One fact is certain: Japanese people definitely don’t look like Scarlett Johansson.

Japan Isn’t White, and Live-Action Isn’t Anime

A real Japanese Motoko Kusanagi would not look like Robot Scarlett Johansson.
A real Japanese Motoko Kusanagi would not look like Robot Scarlett Johansson.

Another aspect of the “Kusanagi isn’t really Japanese” argument states that the Japan of Ghost in the Shell is no longer exclusively Japanese. Kusanagi’s cybernetic body could be white, or any other ethnicity, because ethnicity itself no longer matters.

Here are the facts of real-life Japan that matter for Ghost in the Shell:

Postwar Japan has officially maintained (justified in part by the feel-good pseudoscience of nihonjinron) that Japan is a monocultural, monoethnic and homogeneous society.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the government officially recognized that any kind of minority even exists in Japan (the Ainu), and it took until 2008 before the Diet passed a resolution recognizing the Ainu as an indigenous people “with a distinct language, religion and culture.” [1]

Translation: the Japanese government barely even recognizes that there is such a thing as diversity in Japan.

Ethnicity in Japan [2]:
Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%

Translation: there are practically no non-Japanese living in Japan (~1.5 percent), mainly because of deeply discriminatory immigration policies. It’s not only that Japanese people like being Japanese — Japan actively excludes non-Japanese.

This is where the “white is equivalent to Japanese” logic keeps failing: Japanese people are not white people, do not want to become white, and actively exclude everyone who is not ethnically Japanese (including white people) from participating in Japanese society. That is extremely unlikely to change.

Ironically, Japan spends billions of yen creating robots (that look like Japanese people [3][4] or non-human anime characters — not realistic-looking white people) rather than simply open their doors to immigration.

At no point in time does Ghost in the Shell mention creating a magical “post-racial” society. It’s likely that real Japanese androids would look like Japanese people, extrapolating from the ethnic composition of Japanese society and current developments in robotics. (By the way, the guy who built a Scarlett Johansson robot [5] in 2016 is named Ricky Ma. He’s from Hong Kong, not Japan.)

Ethnicity is a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture. ScarJo apologists mistake “white” for “everybody”. What they’re saying is that “not constrained to ethnicity” actually means “everyone has permission to turn themselves white” — which is racist, wrong, and in light of basic facts about Japanese culture and identity, completely clueless.

Racial bias is made even more obvious by the fact that if “no one was constrained by ethnicity”, there would be people of all ethnicities in Ghost in the Shell — not just white people. The bias for white appearance is a convention of anime, not an idealistically racist appeal for an “ethnically unconstrained future” that has magically turned white. This is compounded by the fact that the world’s population will become less white and more black/yellow/brown (Africa, Asia, Latin America) until at least 2050 [6].

Solution for White-Washing: Open Your Eyes

What if you’re one of the many people afflicted by the “Motoko Kusanagi is white” bias?

Try re-watching Ghost in the Shell as if the characters were actually in Japan, rather than some generic-yet-exotic, futuristic cyberpunk locale.

Or, Ghost in the Shell fans could do something amazingly rare and actually educate themselves about the culture that creates their entertainment.

And here’s another crazy idea: watch the original anime with English subtitles. Beware the ultimate revelation: No one is speaking English in Ghost in the Shell. They’re all speaking Japanese.

Learn More

1. Arudou, Debito. 2010. Census blind to Japan’s true diversity. Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2010/10/05/issues/census-blind-to-japans-true-diversity/#.Umt_AflmhcZ.
2. The World Factbook: Ethnic Groups. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2075.html.
3. Ulanoff, Lance. March 13, 2016. Eerie Geminoid robot can now carry on a conversation. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2016/03/13/geminoid-robot-conversation/#XysVBzP9JSqS.
4. Guizzo, Erico. 23 April 2010. Hiroshi Ishiguro: The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself. Retrieved from http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/humanoids/hiroshi-ishiguro-the-man-who-made-a-copy-of-himself.
5. Kaminski, Margot E. April 2016. What the Scarlett Johansson Robot Says About the Future. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/04/what_the_scarlett_johansson_robot_says_about_the_future.html.
6. World Population Growth, 1950–2050. Population Reference Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/PopulationGrowth.aspx.

An unexpected call from William Gibson: on Eliot Peper’s cyberpunk novel Cumulus.

Cumulus. Front Cover.
The following are excerpts from Eliot Peper’s conversation topic on Reddit. To read the discussion, click here.

How I Wrote Neuromancer

Neuromancer was a commissioned work. I have no idea how many years it might have taken, otherwise, before I produced a novel on spec. Had you asked me at the time of commission, I would have told you 10, but then again, it might never have happened. Careers are odd, that way. (Careers are nothing but odd.)

I was 34, a first-time parent, married, a recent university graduate with a BA in English literature. I had published a few (very few) short stories in Omni, a glossy magazine from the publisher of Penthouse. Omni paid around $2,000 for a short story, a princely sum (particularly when compared with science fiction magazines – digest-sized, the traditional pulps – which paid perhaps a 10th, if that). Omni left me no choice but to write more.

Their first cheque cashed, I’d purchased the cheapest possible ticket to New York, intent on meeting the mysterious human whose editorial decision had resulted in such a windfall. The late Robert Sheckley, a droll and affable man, and a writer whose fiction I admired, took me out to lunch on the Omni tab and gave me two pieces of sage advice: I should never, under any circumstances, sign a multi-book contract, and neither should I “buy that big old house”. I have managed to follow the first to the letter.

William Gibson: how I wrote Neuromancer (click here)

Bill (William Gibson) shared insights and perspective on building a writing career, working with literary agents, and finding a place in the publishing industry. He passed on two tips that he had received as a young writer:

– Never do a multibook deal.

– Don’t buy the big house!

He also said that many of his most successful writer friends are distinguished by the fact that they KEEP WRITING, rather than getting distracted by side projects or celebrity. He’s an incredibly sweet and brilliant human being and I was humbled and honored to talk to him.

Inspiration for Cumulus

Here’s some details about the inspirations behind Cumulus that I shared in the afterward:

I’m really proud of how Cumulus came together. I moved back to Oakland in 2013. It was the city of my birth and where I grew up. Seeing how Oakland has evolved since the ’80s is at once inspiring and harrowing. Cumulus is a kind of twisted love letter to my favorite city in the Bay Area.

Over the course of the past few years, we’ve bonded with many of our incredible neighbors, sated our appetites at countless ethnic food joints, had a triple homicide on our block, installed a free little library for our community, hiked in beautiful Redwood Park, and watched a protest with thousands of people and hundreds trailing police vehicles terminate at the end of our street. We love the birdsong but hate the gunshots. Oakland feels like a special point of confluence for so many critical social issues: the implications of the growing wealth gap in American society, the extraordinary promise of new technologies and diverse world views, our failure to solve persistent social problems like poverty, racism, and homelessness, and the power of fierce, pragmatic optimism.

Writing Cumulus allowed me to explore my enthusiasm for my hometown and my fascination with how new tools like the internet are reshaping our lives in so many ways, big and small. Through years of working with startups and venture capital investors, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how some new technologies come to be and getting to know a few of the people who build and popularize them. I’ve never been more excited about the promise of human ingenuity and there’s no other time in history when I’d rather live. That said, these new developments are changing our social fabric, the texture of our personal lives, and even our geopolitics. Such change is always painful. Times like these require open-mindedness, compassion, critical thinking, resourcefulness, and creativity. I don’t have the answers but I hope that this story might contribute a few questions.

Eliot Peper’s Writing Process

Cumulus is my 4th novel. My first three constitute the Uncommon Series, a trilogy about two college students who found a tech startup and take it from garage to IPO, but get caught up in an international financial conspiracy along the way (think Panama Papers).

I started writing that story because I had spent years working in startups and venture capital and realized there was so much inherent human drama that would be a rich canvas for a novel. But most business books are dry, sterilized nonfiction. I couldn’t find that story to read, so I decided to try my hand at writing it. I just opened up Word and started typing.

Here’s some more context about the book if you’re interested in the backstory.

I wrote the first draft of Cumulus over the course of ~4 months. Revisions and edits took another 3 months or so.

I’ve found that if I write everyday, and make sure that everything I write advances the story, I can keep momentum through the creative process more effectively. The hardest part about writing is actually getting yourself to write!

100% Organic

It went straight to number one in its category, which blew my mind. First six months of proceeds go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Chapter 510, and it’s raised thousands for both organizations over the past five days.

This was 100% organic, I didn’t even post it to Reddit. Friends started texting me screenshots of Reddit front page with the book sitting right up there. Then literary/film/tv agencies and production companies started reaching out about rights and adaptations. All in <24 hours. It was nuts. It was completely unexpected and I'm totally out of my depth.

My perspective on "harnessing the power" of any community is simply to (1) participate (not just about your stuff), (2) find ways to help people (that's what communities do for each other), and (3) make awesome things that you're proud of (why do anything else?). Rinse, repeat. With a little luck, the rest takes care of itself.

I wrote up an article on building an organic fanbase for fiction that you might find useful: How to build an organic fanbase if you write novels: You’ve written a book, but who’s gonna read it?

On Self-Publishing

All thanks for the awesome cover go to Kevin Barrett Kane at The Frontispiece.

He did an incredible job with it and I use him for all of my books. If you can believe it, that was the first design idea for Cumulus! The minute I saw it, I know it was perfect.

Yes, I am self-published. I used to be published by a small press and then the rights reverted so now all my books are indie. I love the creative control and the direct interaction with readers. But there’s not right or wrong path, only the one that works best for you. From my perspective, there’s never been a better time to be a writer. Now we have options!

Cumulus. Book jacket design by Kevin Barrett Kane at The Frontispiece, http://www.thefrontispiece.com.
Digital versions of Cumulus are also available on iBooks.

Digital versions of Cumulus are also available on iBooks.

It might be surprising, but as an indie author, Amazon actually shares as much or more of the royalty share with me than most other retailers. The only way to do better would be to distribute the digital versions directly from my own website, which I don’t have the backend for (although I’d be interested in exploring it in future).

I very much appreciate the sentiment. Making a living with fiction is tough. What really gets me excited to get up and write in the morning is reader enthusiasm for the stories :).