How Cyberpunk Did The World Become?

It’s now 33 years since Neuromancer was published – establishing the cyberpunk timeframe as near-future – and that’s as long as either Alexander the Great or Jesus had in this world. It’s long enough for this essay to look back from the vantage point of 2017 and see how cyberpunk Planet Earth ended up becoming in this timeline.

Where Neuromancer and Snow Crash were half right was in their prediction of a matrix within cyberspace that filled the human need for societal interaction. FaceBook and the other giants of social media certainly led the ordinary citizens of meatspace to spend a lot more time in cyberspace, but we are still limited to the bulletin board model.

Advancements in virtual reality technology have been limited, to a large part, by the need for extreme amounts of processing power. A VR setup must be capable of generating a sufficient rate of frames per second to avoid latency from the perspective of the user, because this leads to simulator sickness, which decreases the level of telepresence.

So nothing really like the eponymous all-encompassing virtual environment in The Matrix, or the metaverse, has yet arisen.

Where all of the cyberpunk classics got it right was in the widespread adoption of novel classes of synthetic drugs.

Humans have always loved to experiment with consciousness – use of magic mushrooms, cannabis and alcohol all predate the use of writing. So it was fairly predictable that new advances in chemistry would lead to new frontiers in the exploration of mental space.

Although most of the chemical enhancement in cyberpunk literature has been for the purposes of increasing martial aptitude, as in Lucifer’s Dragon, most of its use in consensual reality has been psychonautic. In other words, here on Earth people mostly use the new waves of drugs to get high – but that doesn’t make for very good fiction.

Blade Runner didn’t foresee much different in the way of human drug consumption, but it did anticipate how close artificial intelligence came to passing the Turing Test. Many people chat with bots on social media without even knowing it – especially in online poker rooms and on large politics pages.

Certainly this film, based on Philip D Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, accurately captured the uneasiness of being a human and dealing with something that appears entirely human but for subtle differences.

Where the classics tended to get it wrong was politically, especially the diminished role of territorial governments. There seemed to be a glib assumption, perhaps expressed in extremis in Snow Crash, that corporations and the influence of corporations would expand to the point where 20th century-style governments no longer held any power.

In reality, hard iron laws like “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” continue to hold true, and any government capable of raising sufficient taxation to raise an army or secret police will still be a force on the world stage.

In the world of soft power, Transmetropolitan correctly predicted that the political landscape would be as shallow and insane as ever. The absurdity of the various political candidates in Spider Jerusalem’s life are an eerily accurate foretelling of the rise of the Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton circus.

Corporations have started implanting microchips in their employees, which has been a staple of cyberpunk horror for a long time. My own The Verity Key, however, predicted a different path of adoption for microchips under the skin: I figured that people, especially the technophilic, would adopt it themselves for increased access to private space.

It remains to be seen if this will happen – the expense involved in reaching a sustainable critical mass might make private adoption of RFID networks unworkable.

Things didn’t really get as dark and dystopic as cyberpunk predicted. This was always the probable outcome for a literary genre that consciously adopted elements of horror from other genres and from film noir. Things really just became weird. Perhaps the most accurate of all – predicting the current obsession with transgenderism – was Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

If there are new avenues of cyberpunk still to be explored, it’s possible that they will feature characters who are unrepentant rebels with regard to questions of cognitive freedom, in particular characters pushed underground by new technologies that make intrusion into the mind possible.

That’s one way in which the brilliant anime series Psycho-Pass blazes a new path: from the harder, engineering and physics based sciences towards the biological ones. Much like The Verity Key, the Psycho-Pass series raises the question of what life will look like when neuropsychological technology advances to the point where the private thoughts of every individual have become a public matter.

The controllers of the mindreading technology in Psycho-Pass are public entities (or at least government ones), which makes for an oppressive totalitarian atmosphere, as opposed to the nihilistic anarchy of The Verity Key. Probably this timeline became more nihilistic than totalitarian, but who knows what might still happen?

With news that remote-controlled drones and tank-like war machines running off AI might soon become cheap enough for terrorists or rogue states to use every day against enemy targets, the most cyberpunk elements of human history, fictional or otherwise, may be still to come.

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Vince McLeod is the author of cyberpunk novel The Verity Key and of the upcoming cyberpunk novel The Man With A Thousand Fathers, to be serialised here starting from the summer of 2018.

VJM Publishing Launches Range of Premium Trolling Services

International demand for trolling services is one of the Internet’s fastest growing industries, alongside meme construction and paid political shilling. Nothing grows interest and enthusiasm for an internet channel or forum faster than a skilled professional troll. Particularly good ones are guaranteed to get the viewers coming back time and time again.

Alfred Hitchcock once asked “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?” Indeed, once it is understood that one of the major reasons people use the Internet is for entertainment, and that drama is prime entertainment, and that trolls cause drama, it follows that trolls attract people to the Internet, and by implication to any forum that has trolls.

This means traffic, which, of course, means money. So trolls = money.

All of our trolls are effective in the four major trolling areas of causing consternation, bafflement, rage and despair, while avoiding the common troll error of descending into the non-entertaining abuse that lowers the tone of the forum and drives paying customers away.

At 50c/post is the standard ‘Plebian’ package. This will get you a poster who has been hand-selected for their aptitude as a troll but who is not particularly knowledgeable in subjects outside the general forum subject, and there is no guarantee of even this if the forum is niche.

The Plebian does not generally make long posts (average post length c. 30-40 words), but they are crafted to provide particularly infuriating counterpoints to what might otherwise have been a cozy consensus.

If your forum suffers from the kind of groupthink that drives new and interesting posters away, The Plebian is the right sort of package to set the cat among the pigeons.

At $1/post is the choice ‘Shitfighter’ package. This entails a poster who prefers to slug it out in the cybertrenches rather than snipe from a distance. Often they will go into a shitfight with the attitude of a pitbull, and simply won’t ever let go.

They also make slightly longer posts, with an average of 50-60 words.

The major advantage The Shitfighter package affords over the entry-tier one is that The Shitfighter will have a higher level of knowledge about the forum subject matter and of the various forum personalities. They will also be capable of a higher posting volume, as any troll assigned to this package will have fewer other channels in their portfolio to compete for time.

This allows The Shitfighter to focus on the sort of flame war that refuses to die down, often creating drama that the other posters remember for a long time.

At $2/post is the exclusive ‘Psychologist’ package. This entails a hand-selected psychology graduate making posts specifically tailored to wind up the maximum number of your forummers.

Because every troll assigned to this package is a qualified psychology graduate it affords opportunity for truly professional trolling. The average length of a Psychologist post will be 80+ words.

If a poster is a closest homosexual, The Psychologist will figure it out with subtle jibes. If they are insecure about their penis size, The Psychologist will be the first to detect compensatory behaviour. If they are any kind of political or religious fanatic, The Psychologist will troll them about fears they never knew they had.

The Psychologist is the kind of troll who will make posters of your forum lie awake at night ruminating upon existential questions that they are in no way equipped to solve. This package is only for those who wish to craft a genuinely gripping forum experience.

All prices are in USD. Payment by PayPal preferred. Anyone interested can contact us through our Facebook page for details.

The Life Cycle of Internet Forums

As any long-term reader of this magazine can recite by heart: as below, so above. The life-cycles of men and women are well known; those of empires somewhat less so. This essay will examine how the life cycle of Internet forums follows a pattern similar to what can already be observed in Nature.

If one follows the series of 19th century Thomas Cole paintings known as The Course of Empire, one can surmise that, on a much smaller scale, Internet forums follow the same pattern.

The first stage is known as The Savage State. With regard to empires this refers to the state of nature that existed before human civilisation arose. It is therefore an especially feminine time, full of raw potential and untrammelled chaos.

Internet forums begin in a similar state before anyone starts regularly posting. Often there is nothing but forum software to start the process. At this stage the forum has the full potential to go in many directions, as the people running it are yet to make any firm decisions regarding subforums or posting etiquette.

The second stage of an empire is known as the The Arcadian State. This is functionally almost identical to a world run by philosopher-kings. In the Arcadian state, humanity lives at peace with Nature. We might have learned to alter our environment in order to not die as easily, but nothing major has happened.

An Arcadian state exists in Internet forums when the people who have the greatest personal interest in the subject matter naturally find the forum and start to populate it with quality threads. This usually occurs when the name of the forum is spread around by whoever started it and they attract a small, hard-core of highly interested experts.

The third stage of empire is known as The Consummation of Empire. This is represented by glorious buildings at noon on a summer’s day. Everywhere there are marble steps; one can observe a triumphant general crossing the bridge that spans the central river, and all of this in the shadow of the great domed temple.

This is also the best stage of an Internet forum. In this third stage, the excellence established in the second has attracted a huge number of other people. They all want to take part in the glory, and so they flood in and tell their friends. The forum expands, and develops. More rules become necessary to deal with the friction naturally caused by such heavy interaction.

However, in the same way that the seed of decadence present at the height of the glory of empire is also the seed of its destruction, so are the abundance of rules and restrictions that come with the greatest extent of traffic the downfall of Internet forums.

The fourth stage of empire is known as Destruction. In this stage, the empire is collapsing. The painting represents the fall of the Roman Empire as it was sacked by Vandals and Goths, but it could serve as metaphor for the fall of any empire into destruction and ruin. It is hinted that the cause of the destruction may have been a civil war.

Again, the pattern is replicated perfectly in the life of Internet forums. The barbarian invaders are the people who recently joined the forum at its height but who would clearly have not have belonged back in the Arcadian stage. In other words, plebs.

These plebs have the effect of dragging the forum back down, firstly by reducing how willing other posters are to be open and creative, and secondly by provoking whoever is running the forum to bring in more and more rules to crack down on the plebs and to try and restore the glory days.

In this fourth stage of forums, it becomes harder and harder to post anything unorthodox or interesting as true creativity becomes ever more likely to fall foul of censure. Consequently, many of the threads, instead of discussing current events like in the glory times, are just wistful ramblings about old posters and old arguments.

New posters, instead of finding a niche they can feel happy in, are persecuted by older ones, frequently in the manner of high school girls psychologically abusing a victim. This henpecking has the effect of making the forum into a troll’s paradise, which attracts an ever nastier grade of poster, until the stream of new blood dries up completely.

The fifth stage of empire is known as Desolation. This is similar to the first stage, with the exception that the potential of nature, instead of bursting forth with vitality, is exhausted. There are no more human beings – Nature has entirely reclaimed the space on which a glorious capital once stood; weeds and flowers grow from the cracks in the shattered marble.

This is also the natural end stage of all Internet forums. Indeed, 99.9999% of them are already at this stage. Here, there are no more truly human posters, just ghosts of people who used to be funny, back when they were younger and cooler, and before they sold out for a job or became bitter because of a family or or extended period of time without getting laid.

In this stage, there are as many banned users are there are regular ones. Here, no new posters even want to join the forum, because there is no joy in listening to middle-aged washouts droning out about how everything was cooler a decade or more ago. Especially not when these same washouts feel obliged to pack bully anyone who threatens the morgue-like atmosphere.

Because computer software does not need to eat and is therefore cheap to maintain, some forums are capable of lurching along in zombie mode for many years.

And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

Are Establishment Forces About to Collapse Into One Party?

donald-trump-bernie-sanders-debate

In the world of the cyberpunk novel The Verity Key, politics has sunk to such a degenerate level that no-one has any confidence in politicians, no matter who they are or what they promise. In response to this, there is no longer any room for shame in politics. The left and the right have collapsed into the Establishment Party, which doesn’t even pretend to stand for anything other than the naked self-interest of the powerful.

Francis Fukuyama wrote about a ‘Great Pendulum’ that swung back and forth throughout history every half century or so and whose oscillations heralded new ages and epochs. A Taoist might understand this as the dynamic between masculine and feminine, in which the excesses of one kind of energy lead naturally to the rise of the other.

The Great Pendulum may have swung the furthest to the right in the 1940s and 1950s, which were characterised by nationalist wars and widespread acceptance of eugenics and the physical elimination of those considered unworthy of life. The revolution against this way of thinking occurred in 1968, and was marked by student protests, LSD and Woodstock, culminating in the ‘Summer of Love’.

If the pendulum has swung left since then, and if this swinging left has been characterised by gay marriage, liberal immigration laws for people from impoverished countries, and the obesity epidemic, then perhaps it has been half a century since 1968 and the pendulum is about to swing back. The mass sexual assaults and terrorism so far in Europe this year might see 2016 remembered as the ‘Summer of Hate’.

If it does, we may see a revaluation of values that indicates the pendulum will swing to the masculine side once again, as it last did in the Victorian Age that marked the height of the British Empire, one of the most audacious attempts to impose order upon chaos ever devised.

Donald Trump may be a harbinger of this revolution. Then again, the real opposition for Trump may come from within his own party, in the form of the Establishment favourite Ted Cruz. Certainly Donald Trump destroyed his opponents in the Republican primaries by appearing as more of an alpha male, which might suggest a shift away from the consensus politics of the last 50 or so years.

Bernie Sanders might not represent a swing to the right, but his rise in influence could nonetheless reflect a switch to a more rational way of trying to improve the lives of the citizenry, as opposed to the trend-based, emotion-driven, suffocating maternalism represented by Hillary Clinton.

Seen in this way, Clinton and Cruz have more in common with each other than either does with their opponent in their party primary. This might turn out to be the embryo of what will one day become the Establishment Party.

In Europe, a different process might lead to a similar result. Already in some European countries, France and Sweden the foremost, there is an open conspiracy to deny all media time to the growing far-right parties. This conspiracy might turn out to be the last stand of the regressive left as the momentum of the great pendulum proves unstoppable.

If the far-right parties continue to grow, all other parties might come together in some countries to resist them. These new parties will be grand coalitions of conservatives, social democrats and perhaps even Greens, and will be Establishment Parties in all but name.