What if we can take Elon Musk’s science fiction high-speed underground vision one step further, and make it work for everyone?

Have you heard about Elon Musk’s idea for an underground system of tunnels that would move cars at superhigh speeds?

Of course you have.

The idea generated a wave of hype for Musk’s brand, but what is this “underground car” concept, really?

Silicon Valley often cannibalizes and reinvents existing services, usually involving an app, in order to turn a profit. In this case, Elon Musk has set his eyes on “disrupting” public transportation using his tech-celebrity cult guru status and the Tesla brand.

His “underground car” concept is a subway for private transportation, combined with the idea of a bus stop where cars arrive to be transported underground (a “car stop”).

Do you notice the weird part of that idea, though?

Yes. The exact reason for a subway is that many people don’t have access to cars. Subways and buses exist for everyone to use, which benefits all of society at an affordable price.

Elon Musk wants to sell more cars. He also probably wouldn’t mind owning an entire private subway system. Beyond hyping his brand now, it makes good future business sense. Public transportation is also “suboptimal” to say the least, so maybe Musk could “disrupt” it and do it better.

What if there could be a public option that works for everyone, and doesn’t require digging a whole new subway just for cars?

Think about it: there are already bus stops in many urban areas around the world. There are also subways in many major cities from São Paulo to Seoul. What if we could create a compelling vision of a future where the two — bus and subway — came together?

On a busy rush hour city street, a bus-sized pod sits at the curb. The pod, however, has no tires (or maybe it does) and sits atop a platform. At scheduled intervals, the platform descends into a city subway tunnel, and is propelled inside a vacuum-sealed tube (or a regular subway track) to the next stop. Behind and ahead of the pod, a regular subway train also runs its route, along with other transport pods.

When the pod reaches the next pod-stop, it slides into the rectangular lift-space and is elevated to the curb, streetside, unloading passengers and making itself available to a new group of riders.

In this idea, you leverage existing subway tunnels to create a public transportation subsystem that’s a hybrid of bus and subway. It can

  • reduce traffic congestion and pollution
  • be mostly automated to fit into subway schedules, and
  • benefits everyone rather than only people who have private cars.

Revenue generated by this system can be used to improve other aspects of public infrastructure — bridges, roads, schools, a functional universal healthcare system, or even funding basic income for when AI and automation overtakes most human jobs.

This idea could change the world. And we — the science fiction writers, artists, tinkerers, hackers and future-fascinated engineers — could be the ones to build the vision so that society can imagine it as real and demand that it be created.

Learn More

1. The Boring Company. (28 Apr 2017). Tunnels. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5V_VzRrSBI.

2. Etherington, Darrell. (28 Apr 2017). Watch how Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels will move cars faster. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/28/watch-how-elon-musks-boring-company-tunnels-will-move-cars-faster/.

3. Oremus, Will. (2017 June 19). Lyft Isn’t Reinventing City Buses. It’s Undermining Them. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2017/06/19/no_lyft_didn_t_accidentally_reinvent_the_city_bus.html.

4. Friedman, Ann. (26 June 2017). Lyft Shuttle: A bus, but without all those pesky poor people. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-lyft-shuttle-bus-perspec-20170626-story.html.

5. Pereira, Alyssa. (19 June 2017). Critics call out Lyft for reinventing the bus with its new ‘Shuttle’ feature. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Critics-call-out-Lyft-for-reinventing-the-bus-11230357.php.

6. Drum, Kevin. (17 Jul 2017). Mass Unemployment Will Start Around 2025. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/07/mass-unemployment-will-start-around-2025/.

The Matrix, Unloaded: Motoko Becomes Mira. Ghost in the Shell Becomes RoboCop. Hollywood Reboots into the Wrong Cyborg Body… Again.

2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell — a gender-switched RoboCop reboot starring whitewashed “Mira Killian” (not Motoko Kusanagi) with ethnically random cast, set in try-hard cyberpunk not-really-Japan?

After reading the reviews of Ghost in the Shell IMAX previews (here and here), the items mentioned in this article’s subtitle became clear.

Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ. https://www.patreon.com/guweiz
Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ. https://www.patreon.com/guweiz.

At least two different people have seen the first fifteen minutes of 2017 Ghost in the Shell and written in-depth reviews that are highly similar. Those fifteen minutes contain more than enough footage to glean a basic idea of the plot — or in this case, what the plot basically is, and definitely isn’t. Reviews confirm that Motoko Kusanagi (oops, “Mira Killian“) is intentionally whitewashed; her backstory is a gender-bent copy of RoboCop, not Kusanagi’s background drawn from 1996 anime Ghost in the Shell.

Known facts:

– the 2017 Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell is designed as a big-budget blockbuster — not a mysterious indie noir thriller with some sort of complex, inscrutable concept and plot;
– the advance screening wasn’t a VFX exhibition; the footage was chosen to give people an idea of what the film is about;
– both reviewers independently agreed on the basic plot and the Motoko Kusanagi (oops, whitewashed “Mira Killian”) character’s strangely RoboCop-like backstory as shown in the footage.

Here is the newest trailer released on 01 March 2017:

This could have been a decent cyberpunk film without needing to:

– “prettify” the gritty Ghost in the Shell anime aesthetic with neon and giant holograms everywhere;
– blatantly whitewash a Japanese anime (Motoko is now “Mira”);
– or, as the reviews also suggest, dumb down and replace the real Ghost in the Shell concept with a blockbuster-friendly Hollywood plot.

Why not just create a female RoboCop starring Scarlett Johansson and the same ethnically random (“diverse”) cast, set in some imaginary future city?

Lessons Lost From The Way of the Matrix

They could have gone the way of the Matrix and lifted eighty percent of the plot from Ghost in the Shell itself, sprinkled in “deep” transhumanist philosophical moral dilemmas, and blended the other twenty percent with Dark City (or in this case, RoboCop).

People who hadn’t seen Ghost in the Shell or Dark City thought that the Matrix was brilliantly original. This 2017 Ghost in the Shell film could have followed a similar formula and at least tried to create something that seemed new.

Dark City Detour

We can’t definitively know what influence Dark City (1998) had on the Matrix (1999) during the intervening year after Dark City was released. It’s entirely possible that the Wachowskis took cues from Dark City in designing the style of the Matrix in post-production and maybe even reshoots. Three hundred and sixtyfive days is a long time, but it’s also true that today’s hype for virtual reality was already a trendy sci-fi trope back then.

All that’s clear is how many eery similarities exist between the two films’ style and subject matter, and the fact that the Matrix was released after Dark City.

The Matrix Was a Smart Blockbuster

It’s also useful to note that the Matrix wasn’t a small-budget indie film by any stretch of the imagination, especially for relative unknown directors as the Wachowskis were at that time.

From IMDB:

The Wachowskis approached Warner with the idea of the Matrix and Warner balked at the budget they had submitted, which was over $80 million. Warner instead agreed to give them $10 million. The Wachowskis took the money and filmed the first ten minutes of the movie (the opening scene with Carrie-Anne Moss) using the entire $10 million. They then showed the executives at Warner the opening scene. They were impressed, and green-lit the original asking budget.

USD$80 million in 1999 would equal $116,609,363.75 in 2017. That’s a fairly massive budget.

The Matrix proved that a sci-fi action blockbuster doesn’t need to dumb itself down in order to excite audiences and succeed at the box office.

How The Matrix Translated Philosophy Into Onscreen Action

What worked so well in the original Matrix (1999) was the abundance of symbolism from philosophy (“welcome to the desert of the real“), folklore (“buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy“) and religion (including Buddhism — “there is no spoon“).

This left the “true” meaning of the imagery up for interpretation.

The actual text itself (i.e. the script) was far less developed than the symbolism; that’s where the Wachowskis were at their weakest. The Matrix 2 and 3 often highlighted their inability to blend dialogue seamlessly with imagery. This culminated in the Architect’s plot-stopping speech, among several other “talking head” moments.

An unfortunate side-effect of “images above all” is that those images could be misinterpreted and twisted in any number of ways. The Wachowskis, two transgender women who (at least at time of writing) embody an inclusive mentality, created the “blue pill” and “red pill” symbol. And we know what happens on Reddit now when you talk about taking the red pill.

(The upside is that we got to see ahead-of-its-time moments like the Battle for Zion (Part 1 and Part 2), which showed us realistic combat exoskeletons over a decade before the Edge of Tomorrow (2014).)

There was literally a lot to see in the Matrix, philosophically speaking. The Architect’s speech was fine as a dramatic, theatrical monologue; it just didn’t work as part of a film script. The Neo-as-messiah myth is also an example of the “chosen one” archetype that you see in most Hollywood films; it’s easy to focus on and identify with a “hero’s journey” plot arc. Remember how ambiguous the ending of Matrix Revolutions was, though; there was more happening than just the sacrifice of Neo. It was a courageous way to end the series, particularly since it didn’t resolve to a typical “happily ever after” conclusion.

Neo Versus Motoko: Different Cultures, Different Challenges

None of this is intended to say that the Matrix was anywhere near as complex as Ghost in the Shell, because they operate in different media, designed to address and challenge different cultural expectations (1999 Hollywood film vs. 1996 Japanese anime).

Ultimately, the Matrix may have tried to do too much philosophically, rather than too little, whereas Ghost in the Shell infused the anime world with a near-perfect blend of non-glamorised futuristic Japan, cyberpunk, hardcore action and transhumanist adventure.

It seems clear now that 2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell won’t be the film that fans want, regardless of what Hollywood is trying to sell us. At least this leaves the door open for an indie production to create a faithful smaller-scale adaptation — without much fear of comparison to the big-budget “authenticity” of this one. Who could create such a faithful adaptation? Stay tuned.

Did Soviet Cosmonauts Take Deadly Laser Pistols to Outer Space — in the 1980s?

Soviet Laser Pistol.

In the 1980s, Russian astronauts (Cosmonauts) may have taken a prototype laser pistol with them into space. What was this retrofuturistic weapon, and how did it work? Was it real, only a prototype, or pure Soviet sci-fi propaganda? Read excerpts from three sources below for images, video and more information.

Soviet Laser Pistol.

Futuristic Pyrotechnics

Yes, these are real handheld laser weapons developed in the 1980s for cosmonauts. These futuristic pistols used pyrotechnic flashbulb ammunition, and their primary function was to disable optical sensors on enemy spacecraft or satellites. Allegedly the laser beams of these recoilless guns were energetic enough to burn through a helmet visor, or to blind anybody from 65 feet.

How did the Soviet laser pistol work?

In 1984, to protect manned orbital stations and long term manned stations, the Soviet Military Academy developed a really fantastic weapon – a fiber laser gun.

Soviet Laser Pistol.

The main requirements to the weapon were: 1) a small size; and 2) ability to destroy the optic systems of an enemy.

The main elements of the laser gun (as any laser) could be the active medium, a pump source and an optical resonator. But it was subsequently decided to replace the active medium with fiber-optic elements. Disposable pyrotechnic electronic flashes were used as a source of light pumping.

The gun’s laser beam maintains a “burning and blinding” effect at a distance of up to twenty meters.

Soviet Laser Pistol.
Soviet Laser Pistol.

Based on the pyrotechnic-flash laser pistol, a laser revolver was designed with a drum magazine. Its creators also announced the ability of the revolver to convert into a medical tool (scalpel) if necessary.

All experimental (i.e. prototyping, research and development) works were done manually. Prior to the start of production for the pistol’s flash elements, however, the conversion of the defence industry (?) put an end to the project.

Today this “wonder weapon” may be seen at the Museum of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Military Academy, named after Peter the Great in Moscow.

Only a prototype?

Soviet Laser Pistol.

A skeptical perspective from TheFirearmBlog:

The pistol may have functioned just like the original ruby laser built by Theodore Maiman in 1960 (photo below). This laser worked by “pumping” a synthetic ruby rod with very bright light from a flashtube. The ruby rod would then emit a short laser pulse.

The original ruby laser, built by Theodore Maiman in 1960.

The Soviet laser gun looks like it had a ruby rod instead of a barrel. It’s fed by cartridges from a magazine. Either those cartridges contain a chemical flash powder, or they were ultra-high discharge batteries/cells that could power the laser for one “shot”, which would be multiple pulses, before having to be disposed of.

The output of this laser would be minimal. A quick glance through Electronic Engineering papers from the 1960s and 1970s report scientists achieving just 6% efficiency with ruby lasers. In other words, there is no way that this laser would burn a hole in a US or British satellite. If cosmonauts really needed to do some damage, they had the nifty Soviet TP-82 Space Pistol on hand.

Bullets Made of Light

Soviet Laser Pistol.

Maybe the laser pistol had a more specific purpose:

Rather than blind an adversary or burn a hole in an opponent’s space suit, Russian cosmonauts may have designed the laser pistol for one sole purpose: shoot out the optics on enemy satellites.

The Russian cosmonauts had some pretty sneaky weaponry. But according to TheFirearmBlog (quoted above), this laser pistol probably didn’t have the oomph required to do any real damage. Its intended purpose was to give the cosmonauts the ability to destroy optical components on enemy satellites that were floating through space.

Soviet Laser Pistol.
Soviet Laser Pistol.

The “bullets” in the magazine are likely ultra-high discharge batteries that would power the laser for a short time, or possibly a form of chemical flash powder to create the same effect.

Even if it can’t burn holes through satellites, the Soviet laser pistol is a pretty sweet piece of gear.

Learn More

1. Nagy, Attila. (02 Apr 2016). The Ultimate List of Weapons Astronauts Have Carried Into Orbit. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/the-ultimate-list-of-weapons-astronauts-have-carried-in-1768199454.

2. Johnson, Steve. (8 Oct 2013). The Soviet Laser Pistol. The Firearms Blog. Retrieved from http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2013/10/08/soviet-laser-pistol/.

3. (5 Oct 2013). Laser Gun For a Soviet Cosmonaut. English/Russia. Retrieved from http://englishrussia.com/2013/10/05/laser-gun-for-a-soviet-cosmonaut/.

4. McCluskey, Brent. (10 Oct 2013). Soviet laser pistol: The secret space weapon of Russian cosmonauts. Guns dot com. Retrieved from http://www.guns.com/2013/10/10/soviet-laser-pistol-secret-weapon-russian-cosmonauts-4-photos/.

Japanese Geisha, American Heroine: Ghost in the Shell Meets Hollywood Mythology

Model and actress Fukushima Rila, cast as a gynoid geisha in Ghost in the Shell (2017), starring Scarlett Johansson.

Model and actress Fukushima Rila, cast as a gynoid geisha in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

On September 21st 2016, five ten-second teaser trailers for the new Ghost in the Shell film debuted as part of prime-time television show Mr. Robot. The teasers can be viewed here.

AltSciFi has focused several blog entries on the spectacle of how Hollywood has systematically whitewashed this classic Japanese cyberpunk anime. We do this partly to highlight an equally perplexing issue: why do so many people in Hollywood’s potential target audience seem to condone and make excuses for it?

Main protagonist Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell.

Main protagonist Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell. (+ link)
Sidebar: white ninja in medieval Japan? Ninja Scroll as ethnic comparison for Ghost in the Shell.

Anime characters depicting Japanese people have always been illustrated with stereotypical “gaijin” features. Everyone has their own pet theory as to why, but ultimately none of those theories matter.

Take another seminal anime from the 1990s, Ninja Scroll. All of the main characters are either ninja warriors or samurai. The story is set in medieval Japan. And nearly all of the characters look like they come from somewhere in Europe. (In fact, the few “Japanese-looking” characters appear as exceptions to the rule, much like Ghost in the Shell’s Chief Aramaki.)

Does a cast of nearly all-white ninja and samurai make any sense at all in medieval Japan? No, of course not, and it doesn’t make any more sense in a future Japan. Japan would rather spend billions to construct robots (that look like photorealistic Japanese people) than invite immigration to ease the looming population crisis.

Roboticist Ishiguro Kazuo poses with lifelike female Kodomoroid android (gynoid) robots in 2014.
Roboticist Ishiguro Kazuo poses with lifelike female Kodomoroid android (gynoid) robots in 2014.

Conveniently, that target audience is also quite vocal on social media sites like Reddit. Below you’ll find the most common excuses for whitewashing Ghost in the Shell, recited ad infinitum on Reddit and decisively refuted here. The real question of this entry is whether or not your own biases are visible to you. Read more and find out.

1. Hollywood is all about money, so of course they cast a popular white actress (Scarlett Johansson) as Motoko Kusanagi. No point complaining about it.

This is like saying “discrimination exists, so it’s fine”. The fundamental attribute of bias is that the biased thinker cannot see their own flawed thinking, and therefore ignores the damage caused by it.

In the case of Ghost in the Shell, the bias simply reinforces Hollywood’s tendency to whitewash as many roles as possible. This leads to a situation where inequality in Hollywood has remained unchanged for almost a decade.

2. All I care about is if it’s a cool action flick.

Congratulations, your bias is showing! Now imagine being Japanese-American. Watch yet another Japanese story appropriated by Hollywood executives as an excuse to cast the hottest white starlet in a “cool action flick”. You would see things a bit differently, because the racial/ethnic bias of being non-Japanese would no longer distort your thinking.

Ghost in the Shell gives Hollywood a perfect excuse to cast within ethnic boundaries. They could have said, “hey, we have this young Japanese actress named Fukushima Rila. She proved herself capable of action in The Wolverine (2013) and she speaks perfect American English. We also have Kikuchi Rinko, who starred in Pacific Rim (2013) and was also great in that action role.” Instead of offering a Japanese actress — already available and accessible to Hollywood — the role, they gave it to yet another white actress.

If you don’t care, then congratulations. Your bias is showing, and you are the reason why Hollywood keeps giving lip service to diversity without taking any real action to change.

3. Kusanagi isn’t really supposed to be Japanese, anyway. Look at her. She’s obviously white (or “non-ethnic”).

Ghost in the Shell is set in Niihama City, Japan. All of the characters are Japanese — particularly Kusanagi (hint: her real name is 草薙素子). Given that the characters are intentionally named, the only white main character in the anime could be Batou (“bateau”, French for “boat”). If anything, GITS should be set in Hong Kong, as that was the model for Niihama City. Considering the characters’ fondness for San Miguel Beer (see images below), the story might even be set in the Philippines.

Image of Ghost in the Shell's Motoko Kusanagi drinking San Miguel Beer, popular in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Image of Ghost in the Shell's  Batou drinking San Miguel Beer, popular in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Images of Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi and Batou drinking San Miguel Beer, popular in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Japan is an extremely ethnocentric place, and that it is unlikely to change. For example, the police blatantly profile members of the Japanese Muslim community of 100,000 people, in some cases following them in plain sight. When confronted, the police simply say that they’re “acting in service of national security” and continue as if nothing is wrong. Police and government surveillance of Muslims has been defended and upheld as constitutional in Japanese court.

Hayashi Junko, Japanese Muslim woman and lawyer.

Hayashi Junko, Japanese Muslim woman and lawyer.

Now ask yourself: is there any likelihood that Japan’s elite anti-terrorism commandos, such as those from Ghost in the Shell, would ever be assigned cybernetic bodies that look like white people? They would stand out like, well, white people in Japan. That would make their jobs (especially for Kusanagi, as she frequently operates undercover) vastly more difficult, if not impossible. Unless you accept the “whiteness” of anime characters as a stylistic quirk and nothing else, it literally makes no sense to cast white people in a Ghost in the Shell film.

4. It’s just fiction! Enjoy it as summer blockbuster escapism.

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

This is undeniably true, and is also the last refuge of someone who couldn’t be bothered to think about racism in popular culture. “It’s just fiction” completely and deliberately misses the point of there being different human cultures around the world, all of whom use fictional stories (religion, mythology) to communicate their historical and cultural values. There is no such thing as “it’s just fiction”, just as there’s no such thing as a human being without culture.

How could Hollywood (or an independent film) accomplish a “real”, non-exploitative live-action Ghost in the Shell?

The only way that Hollywood could have “whitened” Ghost in the Shell in a non-racist way is by setting the story somewhere else entirely. For example, they could have shifted the location to Belgium as a new hub for anti-terror activity around the world, then brought in a few Japanese agents from the NAICHO [2]), the new “Japanese MI6 (or CIA)” agency. In a European context, a predominantly white cast would have made sense.

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

An even better option would be to simply find Japanese actors and create a legitimately Japanese film — or an international production set in Niihama City (i.e. futuristic Japan) that at the very least stars a Japanese actress as Motoko Kusanagi.

With every successive announcement of new images and trailers for Ghost in the Shell (2017), the racial biases of Hollywood become harder to ignore. What is less apparent, however, is the bias of audiences who cheer for whitewashing, or naively make excuses for it. Ghost in the Shell is a perfect opportunity to highlight both Hollywood’s cultural cynicism and the casual blindness of those who endorse such cynicism, paying millions at the box office for yet another whitewashed story appropriated from another culture.

Main protagonist Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell.

草薙素子. (+ link)

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.

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 :).

The All-Too-Brief Life of Arene, and a Possible Future for Indie Science Fiction Short Film.

One downside of many indie sci-fi short films is that they’re too short to tell a complete story. Example: “Arene” by Henrik B. Clausen.

An enigmatic young woman, captured by paramilitary forces in a hostile future city, has no choice but to fight for her life and the survival of her tribe.

Arene (2016), by Henrik B. Clausen [4m 44s].

Arene (2016) has impressive special effects, strong performances and well-designed fight choreography. The filmmakers seem to have done their homework, as the (super)heroine protagonist uses a realistic method for breaking out of handcuffs (in this case, zipties) [1] [2].

The film “Arene” however, is too short to answer vital questions: who is Arene? What happened to the world? Who — and what — are “the tribals”?

One of AltSciFi’s main goals is to attain sufficient influence to meaningfully help crowdfunding projects, and ideally, to finance indie scifi films. Our ultimate achievement, of course, will be a faithful live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. This is part of larger process that is beginning right now.

Arene would have been a perfect trailer or first scene for a fifteen-minute short film. Perhaps it still could be.

See More

1. Brushwood, Brian. (2013, November 6). Six Ways to Escape from Handcuffs, Zip Ties & Duct Tape. Retrieved from URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gr6HX_IKpw

2. Hacker, Crazy Russian. (2016, Jan 16). How to Escape from Zip Ties. Retrieved from URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY1cI6shatc