Barbara from the Reading Experience blogged about the power of voice and how it can make all the difference for a reader. She goes through and mentions some of her favorite “voice” authors (and you know, might have mentioned somebody we both know. *cough cough* just sayin’). Barbara is a crazy avid reader, so if you’re looking to find some new awesome authors, go check out that blog post.
Curious to know one of my personal voice/style writers of all time? The answer is simple, and one I give often in interviews: Chuck Wendig. Chuck Wendig has a flashy, smack you in the face with a wet fish and leave you wanting more, type of style. I love it. It’s sharp and visceral and, occasionally, beautiful…you know, in a beauty queen covered in mud sort of way. As an author he, more so than anybody else, gave me the confidence to own my own quirky voice/style.
Never read anything by Chuck? Check out Blackbirds (Miriam Black series) for an object lesson in style and bad-ass female leads.
Now, reading that blog got me thinking about voice and style and everything that goes into the two. Voice is a huge topic and we could easily go into a week’s worth of blog posts just on that singular topic. It’s that highly sought after holy grail of writing, and, like anything worth tromping through magical swamps to find, it is incredibly elusive.
Most writing books talk about the power of finding your own voice, but rarely do they provide replicateable steps you can follow to track down your voice. This isn’t a fault of those books, mind you. Voice is highly personal and defining good style is a Sisyphean task by every definition of the phrase.
But, but, but…there are some things you can do to start inching closer to your one true voice. And I promise to give you those steps in a blog post later this week. So keep your ears to sky and eyes to ground, I’ll be back! In the meantime, go check out Barbara’s blogpost over at the Reading Experience and find yourself a new author to love.
If you’ve ever read one of my stories, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m pretty in love with cyberpunk. The interplay between society, individual freedom, and technology is a source of infinite material. A playground I could romp around in, shoving small children into the sandbox, all day long.
But there’s a problem. Namely, cyberpunk is dead. Or so was claimed a couple decades back by Bruce Sterling (a guy no stranger to cyberpunk himself). For a long time this made me really sad because I thought, “Man, I’m in love with a corpse.” Which, ya know, is frowned on in 45 of the lower states.
Nobody wants to be that guy who likes a thing that has suddenly gone out of vogue. It’s like being a reverse hipster (not as bad as a regular hipster, just sadder). Or showing up to a party that’s already over. All that remains is to clean up the leaked fluids, gather what remains of your pride, and shamble on home.
It nags at me, though. The question: Why is cyberpunk dead? Can it be revived? Perhaps it was just really, really tired and needed a long, couple decade long nap?
This, of course, coming from a guy who plays liberally with a host of cyberpunk tropes in every single one of his stories. Which just means I’m a hopeless optimist for the genre to make a resurgence.
Here’s the thing: Cyberpunk ain’t coming back. Not like it was back in the 80’s and 90’s at least, when masters like Gibson and Stephenson and Sterling were doing their things. No more leather dusters and mohawks cruising the Tokyo slums looking to jack in.
But that’s okay, ‘cause here’s the good thing: Cyberpunk never really left. (Ha, plot twist. How’s that for being entirely contradictory? That’s just me trying to keep you on your toes!)
Cyberpunk has evolved. Into something better? Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly different if nothing else. But here’s the awesome part: It’s been hiding right under our noses the entire time.
One of the attractive qualities of science fiction is that it deals with the future in a way that allows us to process our reconceptualize our present. Extrapolating technological innovations and the inevitable social ramifications is, at it’s heart, what science fiction is all about. Whether we’re dealing with laser wielding aliens, or mega-AI-driven-corporations, or even post-apocalyptic mutant wastelands, we’re always looking forward.
The problem with cyberpunk is that it wasn’t looking far enough forward. It projected the world a few decades out which meant that as soon as the present caught up to the future, the genre as an archetype was done. All the predictions either came true or they didn’t. Suddenly, cyberpunk was dated.
Whoops. Talk about writing yourself into a corner.
Want some examples? Of course you do!
Let’s pick apart some examples from Neuromancer (which you should definitely read, if you haven’t already, because it is one of the all-time classics of the genre), and show what happens when the future becomes now.
Cyberspace/Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” – William Gibson (Neuromancer)
Alright, so already way back in the 80’s, this was the working definition of cyberspace as given to us by Gibson. Now, in his world, “console cowboys” navigated a virtual cyberspace in a very real sense. It was a physical environment made tangible by powerful computers, electrodes, and a healthy amount of induced hallucination.
Now, perhaps we as an internet using people have not progressed quite to that point, but the rise of personal computers, the world wide web, smart-phones, and every other piece of technology that keeps us connected 24/7 isn’t so terribly far off. Compound that with some of the consumer grade tech (think Google Glass and Oculus Rift) flowing down the pipeline later this year, and bam… we’re jacking into the network in ways predicted way back in the 80’s.
Next Big Thing in Augmented Reality
Interestingly, the biggest hitter in the cyberpunk genre in the past decade was successful precisely because it capitalized on that 1980’s nostalgia while also ladling in a healthy amount of immersive tech.
What story is that?
Ready Player One came on the scene in a huge way and it wouldn’t be too hyperbolic to claim it sort of redefined the genre. But, though it tapped into gamer culture, and tinkered with the idea of an immersive 3 dimensional virtual reality somewhat similar to the old guard (think Snow Crash and Neuromancer) it doesn’t really resemble traditional cyberpunk in any sort of meaningful way.
That’s not a bad thing of course, just different. Genres grow. They expand. They evolve. They have to, otherwise they stagnate and die. Epic Fantasy went through a similar period back in the early 2000’s as people grew tired of the same old good-vs-evil, farmer boy with a quest storyline. But now look at Epic Fantasy, it’s healthy and vibrant and flourishing.
One of the interesting cultural things about Ready Player One is that there is already a huge community of gamers (Second Life is the big hitter) already angling for that precise reality. So, like its forefathers, Ready Player One has already dated itself. Then again, it sort of did that by default by relying so heavily on 1980’s references, so whatever.
“Booths lined a central hall. The clientele were young…They all seemed to have carbon sockets planted behind the left ear…Behind the counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of Microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.” – Gibson (Neuromancer)
Cyberpunk as a genre always took wearable tech to its logical extreme, whether that be portable decks, goggles, electrodes, or what Gibson termed microsofts (which incidentally has nothing to do with the company Microsoft). We as a culture are still lagging behind cortical stacks as seen in Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, but we’ve definitely arrived at a place where at any given moment you’re within arm’s reach of a smart-phone. Shit, that’s literally true if you’re wearing a smart-watch.
Wearable tech on the whole, however, hasn’t really taken off yet. Google Glass’s attempt at augmented reality didn’t really work out?
This is just opinion, but I think it has to do with the fact that we as a culture aren’t quite ready to be tied that intricately to our technology. Sure, we absolutely, totally are reliant and addicted to our tech, but we prefer the illusion of freedom. At any point, I can put my phone down and pretend I don’t need it. That becomes a different story when I have a port implanted behind my ear.
Then again, there’s the question of infrastructure and digital lag. Unfortunately (again as witnessed by Google Glass) our software just isn’t sophisticated enough to create a seamless transition to augmented reality via wearable tech. Sure, we’re definitely getting there (likely within the next decade), but at the moment, wearable tech just ain’t quite there yet.
I hear you clucking over there, “Well, Anthony, doesn’t that mean there is still space for the exploration of wearable tech within cyberpunk?”
Yes, absolutely there is. But, as we inch closer and closer to that reality, people become less and less comfortable exploring what might come of it. We like to think of the ramifications in terms of the far future, not near. There are lots of people out there right now who would be psyched on a cortical stack, but there are many, many more absolutely horrified by the concept.
This in a nutshell is why cyberpunk is such a hard sell now adays.
Prosthetics and Plastic Surgery
In Neuromancer there’s a character named Molly who has mirrored cybernetic eyes built into her sockets. It displays the time, random data, and allows her to see in the dark. There’s a bartender with cybernetic arms that whirr gently as he moves. Joe-boys are fellas with huge vat grown muscles.
Unfortunately, none of this is science fiction anymore. Plastic surgeons have recently performed the first face transplant, and enhancing biceps, breasts, butts, and calves are so routine that they’re practically outpatient procedures.
The most interesting part of all this is the application of prosthetics, in my opinion. Today we are seeing individuals with degenerative muscular disorders, paraplegics, and individuals who’ve suffered catastrophic brain damage, navigating their world via neurally linked prosthetics.
For now the technology is mostly reserved for individuals with pressing medical need, but it won’t be too far out in the future that we begin seeing cosmetic/commercial applications of this tech.
But again, this is bad news for cyberpunk, because as these technologies become more and more integrated and feasible, they lose that edge of wonder and freshness that once categorized the genre. Yes, we will see individuals in the future with bionic arms. No, that isn’t terribly imaginative anymore.
Good science fiction has always been defined by its ability to innovate and surprise and predict. And sure, cyberpunk predicted these things, but now what’s it going to pull out of its hat?
This is the idea that you could record and upload experiences/emotions from one individual to another. A sort of shared, collaborative experience. This is one of those areas of cyberpunk that is unfortunately a ways away, though there has been significant work done in recent years.
Problem is, the human brain is crazy complex. The Human Connectome Project is in the process of mapping every neuronal juncture in the brain, but at the end of the day, there are just a shit ton of connections.
Don’t believe me? Check out The Connectome’s Website and see some pictures that will absolutely blow your mind.
Perhaps it’s because how far out this concept still is, but it’s actually a fairly popular one in modern culture. I myself riffed heavily on it in my short story Purgatory where we follow through the eyes of Jarek, an Imagineer for ImagineNation, who’s job it is to daydream experiences for others to experience.
Though this would be mega-cool, and would totally revolutionize how we interact with art and media, it’s not going to be happening any time soon.
The idea that we can dump a person’s memories, skills, and personality onto a hard-drive. This is my most favoritest trope within the cyberpunk genre and I deal heavily with it in Time Heist and Mind Breach.
The reason this concept fascinates me so, is that we are getting to a place within the digital age that so much of our lives is out there on the interweb. Eventually, a sophisticated enough computer system, able to mind the data deep enough, could theoretically reconstruct any one of us based on a personality metric. It could not replicate memories, of course, but that’s where the idea of copying the connectome, retracing each individual neural pathway to create a comprehensive neural map, comes into play.
This chain of thought opens up countless possibilities. Each avenue of consequence forking into a thousand others. What’s it mean to be alive within this context? If you separate the mind from the body, what is left over? Are you still living? Is a replica of you still you?
I explore this idea in a short story On the Protean Shore which is due out in an anthology revolving around the them of Afterlife sometime later this year.
A lot of ethical, philosophical, legal, and spiritual ramifications to this sort of technology arise. Thankfully, it is still a ways out, but that is precisely why this is one of the hottest tropes to emerge from modern day cyberpunk.
Alright, my beautiful readers, by now you’re saying to yourself, “Boy howdee, I want to read some cyberpunk!” No sweat, I got your back. Below are three of my favorite cyberpunk novels to come out in the past 10 years. Check them out and let me know what you like, or what you don’t like.
Then again, maybe you’re done with cyberpunk. If that’s the case, get down to the comments and let me know why? What happened? Where’d the love go? Or maybe you’ve never been into the genre. That’s cool, why is that?
Oh, and do me a solid, get down to the comments and leave a recommendation for any awesome cyberpunk you’ve stumbled upon recently.
Hey Everybody!! It’s the day you’ve all been awaiting with eager anticipation, sweaty palms, and trembling knees: EXTANT re-release day has finally arrived!!!
Wait, what do you mean those aren’t sweaty palms? Their just wet because you forgot to dry them after using the restroom? Oh… well, that doesn’t explain the trembly knees. You must be pretty darn excited if you have trembly–
–Really? Yesterday was leg day and you squatted the equivalent of a small Buick?
Huh… okay, so none of those physiological responses were in reaction to today’s release? Very well. Let’s BLINK back in time and start over (don’t understand this reference? Don’t worry, you will by the end of the blog post. Give it time):
Hey Everybody!! It’s the day after yesterday! Which is great because it’s Friday, the weekend is imminent, AND I come bearing (baring? Homonyms are hard) very special news: It’s EXTANT’s re-release day!!
What is Extant, you ask?
Good question. Extant is a short story I wrote last year for the master of anthologies himself, Samuel Peralta. Extant was featured in The Time Travel Chronicles along with a slew of other crazy talented authors. Seriously, my story was rubbing shoulders with Hugo Award winners like Robert J. Sawyer, YA megastars Rysa Walker, along with a stable of hot up-and-coming Indie’s like Lucas Bale, Ernie Luis, and Stefan Bolz. Needles to say, being invited to join the ranks of such storytelling elite was quite the honor.
Extant’s origin story is sort of interesting, and one I haven’t really discussed much, so why don’t you snuggle up the arms of a loved one (or a hateful enemy, both can be lovely if done correctly), and I’ll tell you a little story.
Last May I was working tirelessly on a series of novellas (The Watchmaker’s Daughter, Homebody, and Nemesis) which comprise The Transhuman Series known as Augment when I get a message from Samuel Peralta It’s the sort of message every young Indie author checks their email roughly 32,003 times per day for. Ya know, just to make sure it doesn’t slip past. The sort of message that says, “Hey, you… I see you over there… and I like what you’re doing. Why don’t you come join me over here and we’ll make some magic.”
Actually, maybe it’s just me, but the way I worded that has some sexual undertones. I can assure you, Sam’s message came with absolutely zero sexual undertones.
*Re-reads email just to be certain*
Yes. Definitely no sexual undertones.
What was there, was an invitation to join The Time Travel Chronicles. But there was a catch… a twist. A complication. An escalation of events leading to an inevitable climactic decision on the part of our hero (aka: me). That complication went something like this:
Sam: “Another author dropped out of The TT Chronicles at the last minute, can you fill in?”
Me: “Absolutely. When do you need the story?”
Sam: “June 13th.”
Me: “Hey, that’s my birthday! Also, that’s only 14 days away.”
Now, the first ideas that bubbled up to the surface were absolutely nothing like the finished product. All I really knew was that I wanted to avoid a time travel story with paradoxes, which, is sort of an uphill battle from the word go. Because I’m a cyberpunk sort of fella, I toyed with the idea of digital time travel. Which is to say, reliving (and altering) memories through a computer program that can extrapolate new life events as you change them. I had the vague concept of a character, some sad-sack research scientist who’d fallen so deeply into the system, addicted to the control he could exert over his digital life, that the line would inevitably blur between reality and digital projection.
Well, I still really dig this idea. In particular, I think the short story format lends itself to the sort of “what’s real/what’s imagined” mind-warp I was going for. Unfortunately, by the time I had this idea all nailed down, I only had about 10 days left to write the story and one thing became immediately clear: This story would have a lot of moving parts that would have to fit together seamlessly to pull of the climactic, head spinning finish. Sadly, I didn’t like my chances of pulling it off in the time allotted, so having wasted 4 of my 14 days to write this story, I did something really scary…
I scrapped everything and started from scratch.
This was a difficult decision to make at the time because writing for The Future Chronicles is sort of a big deal and I really didn’t want to blow it. Staring down the short barrel of the deadline gun, I needed to brush myself off and start again.
At this point it became obvious I couldn’t commit to an overly complicated story, which is a shame, because I like crafting short-stories that revolve around surprising plot-twists. Problem is, plot twists are surprisingly time intensive (for me they are at least).
So, I started anew with a single kernel of an idea: What if time-travel was a sort of superpower?
Okay, I can dig that. Superhero stories don’t have to be terribly complex and, as a plus, they are very engaging when done correctly.
In sketching out ideas I had to come up with the rules of time travel for this world. What I landed on were three classes of time manipulators: Blinkers, Pausers, and Blitzers.
Blinkers can rewind time. Pausers can stop time. Blitzers can accelerate time.
Now, having those classes somewhat loosely defined in my head was helpful, but I still didn’t really have a story. I had a plot device, but that’s not much on its own. To find the story itself, I needed to dig deeper into the relationships between those three classes of time manipulators and think really hard about their strengths and weaknesses.
As is often the case, it was in their weaknesses that I discovered the story.
See, that’s what makes a good superhero story in my book. Weaknesses (and how our characters ultimately deal with them in the face of adversity) go much further in defining them than anything else.
What are these weaknesses? Well, Blitzers, for example, accelerate forward through time which takes a physical toll on them in the form of premature aging. Pausers have an interesting weakness that I never actually discuss in the story so I’m going to keep it to myself for future use. But really, the story revolves around two Blinkers named Abigail and Kaelyn. Blinkers can rewind time, but in doing so they are trapped with the memories of everything they are undoing. Since the only reason to rewind time (and try again) is if something has gone wrong, Blinkers are saddled with a lot of emotional baggage. A baggage they can’t necessarily share.
Though Extant is, on the surface, an action adventure/military SF story, there were some deeper themes emerging about loss and memory and PTSD. I didn’t want to be heavy handed in how I dealt with these issues, but it’s been rewarding to hear from a bunch of reviewers that these themes were particular meaningful to them.
From reviewer Jas P:
“This was a very good story, one that being an ex-Police Officer, I resonated deeply with. The Author uses the time travel experience to look at how some people in life can have a greater burden than others from an emotional sense, the impact of the past and what has happened.”
In the end, I got the story into Sam on time (for which I was very proud). Extant has a couple things about it that I wish I could have taken a bit longer to nail down perfectly, but ultimately I am satisfied by how it turned out. I think there’s a good blend of humor, action, and emotional resonance. But above all that, I believe there’s an important story lurking beneath, and for that, this is a story I am very proud of.
Okay, so today is re-release day of Extant. If you have 99 pennies to spare, I’d love it if you’d head over to Amazon and grab a copy. If you’ve read the story already, maybe consider leaving an honest review. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story!
Before you go, I want you to get down to the comments and tell me the last story you read that really resonated with you. Go on, don’t be shy. Do it now. I’m waiting to hear what you have to say!
CLICK HERE for Time Heist Audiobok!
Rejoice, people! The long awaited Time Heist audiobook is finally here! Thanks to everybody for their patience, I know I’ve been saying “It’s coming, it’s coming,” for awhile now. But alas it’s here, and I’m really excited to share it with ya’ll. Adam Verner, the narrator, did a fantastic job; I think you’re gonna like it.
So how do you get your hands on a copy? Good question! The audiobook will be available on Amazon and Itunes in the coming days, but for now you can go grab a copy at Audible.com. CLICK HERE!
Now, I know audiobooks can be a bit pricey, so I want to share with you two ways you can get a FREE copy of the audiobook.
First, sign up for a FREE 30 day membership at Audible.com and you’ll get a FREE download. Might I recommend using said download on Time Heist? Yes, yes, I might.
Second, sign up for my NEWSLETTER where I’ll be giving away 10 FREE copies in the coming weeks.
Alright, enough out of me. Go grab a copy of Time Heist!