Daily Archives: August 15, 2012

Neuromancer: Cyborgs and Prosthetics

Hello everyone, and welcome to the third installment of my series on Neuromancer, William Gibson’s premier novel and what many (including myself) consider to be the catalyst that brought Science Fiction into the main stream. We’ve already touched on the novel’s general influence on Sci-Fi and its near inspiration of the Internet itself, but today we’ll be looking at the bread and butter of cyberpunk, cyborgs and prosthetics.

**Warning: Book Contains Graphic Content. Reader Discression is Advised.**

Cyberpunks: The Man and Machine

I am a huge fan of cybernetics. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed my nerding out on multiple occasions about new ways science is learning to replace and enhance the human body with mechanical and electrical gizmos.

Science fiction is full of them. People who have anything from hands to hearts to their entire bodies replaced with plastic and metal and circuitry, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a war vet getting a replacement limb, but more often the allure of super-human strength and efficiency motivates sci-fi characters to shed the mortal form for a machine.

Gibson’s Neuromancer may have been the birthplace for this “technofetishism,” as he describes it. This idea goes hand-in-hand with his vision of the internet as cyberspace, a prediction of the culture of memes and viral content that we see so often today, all wrapped up in the counter-culture youth of his generation.

The Panther Moderns: Gibson’s Anonymous

ghost in the shell 2nd gig laughing man

My favorite cyberpunk hacker from my favorite cyberpunk anime series.

Cyberpunk  is a  manifestation of the gritty, anti-authoritarian, post-modern subculture of the hacker youth generation, the projection of a world dominated by private superpowers being fought back in a geurilla war by valiant teenage keyboard jockeys. It’s a sort of romanticism that struck a chord with the emerging techno-centric cultur of the 80’s and early 90’s, a movement that took up Gibson’s imagined struggle as the new heroic ideal.

Interestingly, Gibson defines the movement behind cyberpunk very succinctly in Neuromancer itself, through the characters of the Panther Moderns, a terrorist hacker group that aids in the main characters’ heist of an important memory module from a corporate stronghold. His protagonist Case, thinking back on his own youth, compares the Panther Moderns to another now defunct gang called the Big Scientists, remarking that:

There was a kind of ghostly teenage DNA at work in the Sprawl, something that carried the coded precepts of various short-lived sub cults and replicated them at odd intervals… It was the style that mattered and thestyle was the same. The Moderns were mercenaries, practical jokers,

nihilistic technofetishists (Gibson 58-59)

Now, let me ask you something: Doesn’t that sound familiar? If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the last five years or so, you might have noticed a new trend. Hactivism, the application of cyber warfare by civilians against individuals, corporations, or governments for various causes, or in some cases, just for fun. Groups calling themselves things like “The Anonymous Collective”, “Lulzsec”, and “The Legion of Doom” have been popping up since the 80’s that have essentially recreated Gibson’s Panther Moderns and Big Scientists… sans the cybernetics, of course. But then, like Gibson’s Big Scientists lacking the Panther Moderns’ memory module cybernetics, if the technology was available, these groups would be all over it.

There’s a bit more to cyborgs than “people with cybernetics,” though. Gibson’s cyborgs

ghost in the shell major and tachikoma

I can’t resist bringing up Ghost in the Shell when talking about cyborgs… Just the TV show, though. The movies have inexplicable nudity.

have a variety of motivations. Some want to extend their lives simply to live better and longer by replacing and refreshing their bodies. Some, like Gibson’s other main character Molly Millions, modify themselves to be “street samurai,” mercenaries and assassins with implants like retractible two inch razor blades in their fingertips.

There were robotic people before Gibson’s novel, but until Neuromancer, there were no cyborgs. The culture, all blended with the metascience of cyberspace and the philosophy of man melded with machine, did not exist in this state before Molly Milions and the Panther Moderns. We may never see people like these in reality (I certainly hope not to), but the dream is there, just like with cyberspace, and we are edging closer with each new technology that comes to the mainstream.

That’s it for now! Next week I’ll wrap this up. Until then, what do you think of cyborgs in science fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

Advertisements