Flynne Fisher, Johnny Silverhand, David, and Lucy.

‘The Peripheral’ and the Worlds of Cyberpunk

Hello, and welcome to My Geekology! Amazon Studios’ The Peripheral (2022-) is the latest cyberpunk series to grace a streaming platform. It stars Kick-Ass (2010) and The Equalizer (2014) star Chloë Grace Moretz. The series joins a landscape of shows that explore the subgenre that includes hits like Netflix’s Black Mirror (2011-2019) and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022), HBO Max’s Westworld (2016-), as well as Crunchyroll and Adult Swim’s Blade Runner: Black Lotus (2021-2022).

The show is based on a novel of the same title by one of the most vital voices of cyberpunk: William Gibson. So, what exactly is cyberpunk? Why does it matter? Today we are going to explore the subgenre and figure out where Chloë Grace Moretz’s latest project fits.

What Is Cyberpunk?

Chloë Grace Moretz in The Peripheral
Chloë Grace Moretz in The Peripheral

The traditional quick definition of cyberpunk is “high tech, low life.” It is simple and easy to convey and somewhat encompasses the most important elements of what separates cyberpunk as its own subgenre of science fiction. However, a significant volume of nuance is left out of those four words.

Cyberpunk, I think, is best thought of as a subgenre that portrays a world in which a dream was denied, or a wish was unfulfilled. The world we dream of and hope for has arrived, but it is not as we wished or thought. Neon lights, and glowing billboards of exotic products of tomorrow cast deep, dark shadows on the dingy and dangerous streets beneath. The people in these worlds work feverishly towards answers to questions of incomprehensible complexity. The hyper-wealthy grapple with their legacy and mortality wishing for infinity. The poor wish for sustenance and resources while their eyes linger on the sky above knowing there are worlds out there, but perhaps not wholly convinced they are much different.

The disparities that exist in our world are not gone, they are only heightened and magnified. The future came, technological evolution occurred, and even sexual evolution occurred. However, it did not bring environmental salvation, it did not solve socio-economic disparities, and sexuality does come from the shadows of whispers and shame to a healthy place. The environment is often abandoned for worlds beyond in a cycle of interplanetary colonization, the socio-economic disparities are only more visual and grotesque, and sexuality is hyper-commodified and often portrayed only as a meaningful commodity.

Why Does It Matter?

Cyberpunk landscape image.

The subgenre offers a pessimistic view of the future. It sees the problems of now as intertwined with humanity and therefore very much ingrained with humanity’s continued existence. However, that does not necessarily mean all the ends of these stories are predetermined or even necessarily negative. What the subgenre does, and why it matters, is it provides rich opportunities for storytelling. Much like the monster genre, the subgenre of cyberpunk allows writers to reflect on big questions, giant human questions, under the lens of a “possible future.”

The landscape of cyberpunk media is decorated with people who desperately want things. They want money, immortality, drugs, sex, power, etc. Cyberpunk allows you to take those things and analyze them on the scale of the world. One of the biggest angles of cyberpunk media is analyzing how we negotiate this complex world we have created for ourselves. There is a great amount of value in a tool that provides the opportunity for this type of analysis.

Cyberpunk Essentials

The items listed are not exhaustive but do get you through the starting gate on your journey into the cybernetic and grungy world of cyberpunk.

Essential Authors and Books

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

William Gibson: Neuromancer

This novel helped to establish the types of stories that can exist in a cyberpunk world. The world is dingy and crime-ridden. Gibson describes the environment with lines like, “The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.” The people are desperate. They are mechanically augmented and struggle to maintain control over their corporate-controlled, hyper-electronic world.

Isaac Asimov: I, Robot

This collection of short stories established the famous “Three Laws of Robotics.” These are featured heavily and explored in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot (2004). The first law is that a robot shall not harm a human, or by inaction allow a human to come to harm. The second law is that a robot shall obey any instruction given to it by a human. Finally, the third law is that a robot shall avoid actions or situations that could cause it to harm itself.

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

This novel explores questions pertaining to artificial humans. The most prominent of these is can artificial humans be considered human. It served as a basis for Ridley Scott’s hugely influential film Blade Runner (1982).

Essential Films and Television Series

Harrison Ford on the set of "Blade Runner"
Harrison Ford on the set of “Blade Runner”, directed by Ridley Scott. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

This anime series takes place in the universe of video game Cyberpunk: 2077 (2020). It is highly acclaimed, and demand is out for a second season. At its core, it is a story about survival and the difficulty of negotiating the world established in the video game.  

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s cult classic is one of the most influential pieces of cyberpunk media that currently exists. It is a part of the Alien universe and wonderfully delivers on the polarity that exists in a cyberpunk world. Flying vehicles pass by glowing billboards promising to deliver on dreams of better worlds, mainstream products, and sex. However, the street is where the people live in a seedy, smokey, and dangerous environment.

Cowboy Bebop

This 1998 anime from the brilliant mind of Hajime Yatate is genre-bending. It is technically categorized as a neo-noir, however, many of the ideas explored in the series are commonplace in cyberpunk works. It is a great and particularly entertaining entry point for the ideas of wealth disparity in a super high technological world as well as where morality fits in such a world if it even can.

Akira

Katsuhiro Otomo’s film Akira (1990) is profound in its scope and execution. The film is often featured alongside works like Hayao Miyasaki’s Spirited Away in consideration among the greatest animated films of all time. The film itself is a cyberpunk-action film that explores themes of government distrust and activism.

Essential Games

Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand in 'Cyberpunk 2077'
Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand in ‘Cyberpunk 2077’
Cyberpunk: 2077

This video game did not have the best introduction to the world. The odds are that you are familiar with its difficult launch. However, if you can explore the world that is presented in this game you will experience the collection of influences that the game successfully echoes like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1990) and William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer (1984).

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is a tabletop role-playing game published by R. Talsorian Games. It was designed by Mike Pondsmith and heavily influenced the video game Cyberpunk: 2077 (2020).

The Peripheral

Amazon Studios’ The Peripheral (2022-) revisits the works of William Gibson. The novel the series is based on visits a bleak prospective future and presents challenges to the protagonists that include limited financial opportunities. As such, it fits comfortably into the greater world of the genre.

Thank you for coming on this journey as we explored the world of cyberpunk! We hope you had fun, and we’ll see you here next time at My Geekology!

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