Light trails in Hong Kong

Cyberpunk’s Asian Influences

Blade Runner 2049‘s official US release is this Friday, October 6. As not all of us can see the movie in its opening weekend, I’m offering a distraction from the wait.

Director Denis Villeneuve said the Blade Runner sequel “definitely has its roots in the first movie.” Nerdist agrees:

Blade Runner 2049 seems to take the look of the original and expand upon it.

What was the look?

Film set for BLADE RUNNER (1982)

The future version of Los Angeles in the original Blade Runner movie was a big part of its aesthetic. Rumor is that the mix of Chinese and Western design elements was inspired by Hong Kong’s former Kowloon Walled City.

From Wong Kin Yuen’s “On the Edge of Spaces” essay:

It is now widely acknowledged that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982/ 1992) initiated a whole tradition of cult movies later grouped under the label “cyberpunk.” Blade Runner‘s style draws its images from urban spaces all over the world, including such Asian cities as Tokyo and Hong Kong.

While the label is relatively old these days, new works continue to develop from the most iconic examples of cyberpunk. That got me thinking about how common Asian influences are in the English-speaking areas of the genre.

Here are several other works I’ve noticed mixing Western and Asian cultures in their near future worlds.

Novels by William Gibson

NEUROMANCER hardcoverMany of the American-Canadian author’s novels from the 1980s to today blend Western and Asian cultures, with Japanese elements the most common in the background.

For example, Gibson‘s well-known Neuromancer opens in an expatriates bar in an real-life Japanese prefecture, and it quickly drops a reference to Kirin (the Japanese beer), compares fictional Japanese and Chinese technology, then introduces New Yen as “the old paper currency that circulated endlessly through the closed circuit of the world’s black markets”.

The Kowloon Walled City that influenced LA’s appearance in Blade Runner? It also appears as a virtual reality environment in Gibson’s Bridge trilogy.

Johnny Mnemonic

The Canadian-American movie is based on William Gibson’s short story of the same name. What sticks out to me the most is that the bad guys are Yakuza against a title character played by Keanu Reeves of mixed ethnicity (Chinese and Hawaiian on his father’s side).

SNOW CRASH hardcoverSnow Crash (novel)

This novel by American author Neal Stephenson is what I first think of whenever the genre is mentioned.

Hiro Protagonist (whose role is exactly you’d assume from a name like that) is a Japanese-American hacker who fights with katanas in both Real Life and virtual reality. His family’s war history, representing the clash of Japan and The Allied Nations, plays a part in the main storyline, as well.

Much of the story takes place in Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong–within former Los Angeles, because apparently, LA survives earthquakes but not government buyouts in this genre.

The Matrix seriesTHE MATRIX theaterical poster © 1999 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though Neuromancer features The Matrix, the movies followed another hacker in a different system–but not the same hacker Keanu Reeves played in 1995.

The Wachowskis famously stated their directing intentions for the first movie of The Matrix series by showing the producer Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell animated movie (see below) and saying,

We wanna do that for real.

Predictably, The Wachowskis’ movies blended cultures and genre tropes to make their gritty mindbenders.

SERENITY movie posterSerenity

“Can’t stop the signal,” said the hacker with an android lover to a rebel fighter.

The culture of this cyberpunk-esque movie sequel to the Space Western show, Firefly, is based on the believable premise that China dominated space development in our future. When the characters have cause to swear, they do it in Chinese. The psychic warrior fights with kung fu. Meanwhile, the urban backgrounds and costume incorporate pan-Asian elements.

Popular works originating from Japan

Western creators have obviously been inspired by something other than real human cultures these past forty years. The most popular cyberpunk works from Japan are nearly impossible to summarize here, so you get a simple list for illustration.

What else?

While I’ve seen mention of French science fiction that might belong here as mentions, I’m not familiar enough with any of them to include with any confidence. What am I missing? Go ahead and comment below.

Not Done Reading About These Influences?

Choose your white rabbit:

When Did Japan Stop Being the Future? (2009) on io9
Why is the future LA full of chinese in Blade Runner? (2011) on SciFi & Fantasy Stack Exchange
Why are so many ‘cyberpunk cities’ Asian? (2012) on reddit
Also, Cyberpunk Reddit members answered, Why is cyberpunk so heavily influenced by Japanese culture? (2015)
Art of Kowloon Walled City on Hong Kong Free Press

Fight for the Future logo

The Battle for the ‘Net Continues

Yep, here’s another post about the FCC push against net neutrality. I’ve written about other topics and will post them in the following weeks. Promise. It’s just that, as a writer who needs access to a wide range of websites for research and a US citizen who as witness the deepening class system in my country, this is important enough to me to repeat.

More than two months ago, I blogged about the Day of Action for Net Neutrality (see my “Message to Americans: The Future of the Net“) and how that battle for fair access to the Internet is part of what makes our current world feel like a part of dystopian science fiction (in “Cyberpunk Net Neutrality“).

A request I made to Americans in both posts was to officially comment on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Docket 17-108 to help protect net neutrality.

On August 1, several long-standing organizations filed a motion requesting an eight-week extension of the FCC’s deadline for replies. These organizations included the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), international Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Consumers Union, National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) “on behalf of its low-income clients”, World Wide Web Foundation, and Writers Guide of America West (Movants).

The FCC considered the motion for ten days later before extending the deadline for comments until August 30. (You can read the FCC’s response on their website or see Engadget‘s summary.)

On the day of the extended deadline, over 500 small businesses signed an open letter to the FCC and US Congress, urging them to preserve Title II net neutrality protections.

Without making any publicized response I can find, the FCC continues to accept comments on the issue. Perhaps until September 30, 2017? That’s unclear.

Much of this issue is clouded by government misdirection. However, despite Chairman Ajit Pai’s reluctance to consider legitimate feedback, the comments to the FCC matter. They are a public record that are and will continue to be read. Your voice matters.

To reply to Docket 17-108 while the option remains, visit the proceeding’s page and click on “+ Express” for a brief comment or “+ New Filing” to upload supporting documents.

Another option is to tell your representatives in the US Congress to fight for net neutrality. An free, easy tool for cellphone users to contact the appropriate members of Congress is Resistbot.

Additional Reading:

The FCC’s Myths vs. Facts Sheet, Annotated by TechCrunch

Part of the timeline: “House Net Neutrality Meeting Cancelled” by Engadget on August 31, 2017

Fight for the Future (for news updates)

Within the 'Net

Cyberpunk Net Neutrality

I’ve learned in the last week I’m not only one thinking we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopia.

Fans of cyberpunk have been discussing if attacks on net neutrality are a sign of this. Apparently, the possibility has taken one of the biggest online groups by surprise. The most recent push by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to favor the old cable companies over preservation of Internet freedom is causing “a bit of an existential crisis” for r/cyberpunk on reddit.

We’re not all flying around in our personal cars under neon lights, but politically, we are living within a cyberpunk world. Private IT and government agencies are catching up to threats instead of troubleshooting well in advance.

One of the risks is that people can die from malware. Everyone who’s paying attention is worried about governments giving apathetic corporations power over who lives and dies.

Like Ciemnika wrote,

Our world is becoming increasingly digital, and I doubt that’s a trend that’s going to reverse any time soon without a calamity. It’s well past time for us to wrest control of our destiny before its entirely bought and sold out from under us. It’s not too late.

The message concluding on this post is great, so I’m pasting it here.

Winning the fight to preserve net neutrality is very possible, but people have to get involved. You can’t assume someone else will do it. You have to roll up your sleeves and do the work. We can push back against the tide of overreaching government and corporate influence, and this is a great place to start. I’m not saying we can swing the pendulum from the seeds of Blade Runner to a utopia in a week, but the opportunity for humanity’s future to be the best part of its history is still very real.

American readers, all you need is a moment to give Chairman Pai your opinion directly on the FCC filing site (see how), or use the Battle for the Net form for your representatives in Congress to also receive your comment. Don’t wait for heroes straight out of fiction to save our world for you.

The FCC is accepting comments through today, July 17. (Sept. 22, 2017: See my update, The Battle for the ‘Net Continues.)

If the net neutrality in the US will impact you, please go comment. Right now. Thanks.

Message for Americans: The Future of the Net

This is an issue you need to know about today.

Maybe you like spending money on whatever corporations tell you to. You wouldn’t mind paying to access all of the Internet at high speeds.

But I’m going to assume you don’t believe that people deserve more freedom online based on where they live within the United States or how wealthy they are. In my mind, a child in a poor, rural home deserves to visit the same websites as a child with access to more municipal or household resources.


Right now, new FCC [Federal Communications Commission] Chairman and former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai has a plan to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies immense control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, the FCC will give companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T control over what we can see and do on the Internet, with the power to slow down or block websites and charge apps and sites extra fees to reach an audience.

If we lose net neutrality, we could soon face an Internet where some of your favorite websites are forced into a slow lane online, while deep-pocketed companies who can afford expensive new “prioritization” fees have special fast lane access to Internet users – tilting the playing field in their favor.

Today, Internet users are coming together to stop them. Websites and online communities are sounding the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality. We all have until July 17 to tell the FCC and Congress how we feel about this issue.

Learn more and join the action here:

The Young Protectors © Alex Woolfson

When Your Favorite Character Is Gone

It happens.

You’re reading along, maybe taking breaks to daydream about side-stories and what the author might show you next, when BAM! Your favorite character is dead. Or they leave for an unknown amount of time. Maybe they’re put into a sleep that will last the remainder of the story. Their mind is wiped. In the worst cases, the author no longer publishes the character’s story.

However it happens, the character you know is gone.

In the best stories, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise; however, it’s hard to accept clues that you’re going to lose a character you love. You don’t want to grieve, and you know you will.

This happens too often to me.

It’s because I fall in love with the shady characters.

See, I like the cynics. The outcasts. The bad guys trying their hardest to do good. My favorites are the sassy anti-heroes, the thoughtful antagonists, and the main characters who’s role defies comparison with the standard concepts of heroism.

These characters are more relatable. (I didn’t grow up around the most helpful, kind, loving people, and my luck isn’t the best.) For the broader audience, they’re usually more unique than the obvious good guys. Ultimately, though, I want to see these characters do good and become more likeable.

But when they aren’t the primary character moving the plot, writers won’t risk upsetting their critics by keeping them along longer than needed to punish them or to prove the hero’s strength.

That’s fair. People read to see rewards and punishment to fit their world view. That’s, probably, the number one reason fiction is popular.

It’s just hard on some of us, okay?

Of course, heroes die, too. Side characters with little development are cast aside. Whatever the character’s role, accepting their discontinuation in the story can be hard. It doesn’t feel much different than losing a person.

In the end, grief is grief.

As fans, the best we can do is give ourselves time to recover (see “How to Get Over the Death of a Fictional Character” for great tips).

Of course, as the author, the best you can do is celebrate. No one grieves for bad characterization and a boring plot.

Inspiration for this post: a plot twist in The Young Protectors, which I’ve blogged about before in “Protecting the Heart”. It’s not yet clear if my favorite character is even really gone.

Turn Me On: Musical Mood

Today’s prompt for the monthly Twitter game #AuthorConfession asked about my main character’s favorite song. Honestly, Lexington Amis doesn’t have one, because it would fall into a retro-modern trend that doesn’t yet exist.

He could relate to any version of “Hello, Darkness” given the opportunity to hear it. But, then, who doesn’t?

Since no one can predict music in our near future, here’s what I’ve used to develop characters in my current project.

I mentioned in “Music for Writing” that one song useful for characterization is “Everytime We Touch” .

The novel actually two main characters. Not everything is romance between them.

For when the theme is more cyberpunk:

Bonus: Here’s a song I played on repeat for a short story about one character’s backstory.

Another Bonus: The song for Aaron and Lexi’s first meeting is “Watch Out” by Glovibes & Gary Caos.

Do you like any of these? What are your favorite songs?

Banner featuring "Recenter" cover

Thursday Thoughts: Thank You for Covering Me!

I’m not the most modest person in the world. This is not a post about having to cover up with clothing. Just getting that out there.

This post is about another type of exposure.

For the first time, I played a Twitter hashtag game called #GuessWrite. It’s a monthly game that incorporates other hashtag games for writers. Each game’s prompt through one week shows a clue to the month’s theme. The challenge is to correctly guess the theme.

The winners receive a bunch of prizes, some of which I’m figuring out.

One offer is for a critique and another for attention on Instagram. (I know almost nothing about Instagram! Here’s to a new learning experience.) Cori Lynn Arnold gave me a e-version of the crime thriller Thin Luck. Author Lexi Miles will spotlight me on her website with an interview, so please watch for it. [Update: Read the interview now.]

Getting all of this attention is fun. Thank you, #GuessWrite hosts!

Speaking as if a new connection can weave one tighter to the creative community…

I was poking around my writing critique site and noticed that Tina Chan was giving away pre-made book covers. Here’s one that I nabbed for a short story associated with Changing Sides.

"Recenter" short story cover

Isn’t it exciting? I’m in love with it.

Tina was amazing about tweaks–fast and easygoing. You can see this and more free pre-made covers at Thanks, Tina!


Near Future Tech: Home Printing in a Day’s Work

The big news last month in home construction was of the 400 square-foot (38 m²) house built by a 3D printer in Russia. The companies Apis Cor and PIK say the house was meant “to demonstrate the flexibility of equipment and diversity of available forms”.

What this means is that it could help not only the typical builder but also builders off-planet and the tiny house movement.

Surprisingly (to me), using 3D printers to quickly construct buildings is years old. Yingchuang New Materials Inc in China printed ten buildings in a single day, and they used recycled materials, inspiring an extra boost of optimism that our descendants won’t all live within giant trash heaps.

I totally missed that news in 2014.

That same year, a British company was in the news talking about 3D printing concrete buildings. The Russian house is concrete. This is how fast developments happen.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) movie poster

GitS Live Action: A Pretty Shell Lacking Heart and Smarts

Hollywood has a reputation for taking a well-loved franchise, digesting it, and vomiting out a movie that their confused producers think will look close enough to the original to appease audiences.

They did it again with the latest Ghost in the Shell movie.

In this particular take on one of the most influential fiction franchises* to come out of any country, Hollywood made a movie whose storyline I’ll summarize as:

Zombie kids rebel against a disorganized police force and an evil businessman.

This summary, however, might make the movie sound better than it was. This movie wasn’t only a huge disappointment, it made me feel ill similarly to how I felt in November. I felt the theater wondering how the producers were fine with taking an intelligent, well-loved collection of stories and making into a work that (as far as I can tell) could only appeal to fans of mindless action.

Here were a few of the big issues with the live action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS):

  • The violence necessary in previous versions of GitS* went unjustified and even glorified by the emotionless action scenes. Even as characters talked about the importance of retaining their humanity, they demonstrated no concern for other humans outside of they could be used to serve individual goals.
  • While it looks like a mashup of cyberpunk tropes, it become a copy of copies that can replace none of the originals. Nothing in the setting surprised me.
  • Technology and culture presented as far-future at times appeared outdated. The text introduction read like something out of the 1980s.
  • The story failed to take advantage of the medium.
    • We’re supposed to care about memories that are never shown. A few flashes of Major’s family could have established an emotional connection.
    • The lack of people in public places is never explained, is counter to the crowded city in the animated versions, and contributed to the sense that humanity is absent in the movie. A seconds-long explanation could have taken the form of clips of average-looking people hooked up to their homes.
    • The settings too often looked fake–especially the vehicles, which looked like moving stage props. Again, the absence of people in the background contributed to this. So did the inexplicably clean home interiors.
  • Characters, who are supposed to be a part of an elite policing team, repeatedly made rash decisions that unnecessarily endanger their lives. Section 9 often feels disjointed, unprofessional, and dangerous to the general public, especially in light of Major’s tendency to disobey orders without any negative consequences.

The praise I can give this movie:

  • most of the actors did a good job,
  • the writers pulled together elements from previous versions with their own twist in the second half, and
  • the directing allowed me to focus on the prettier shots.

In particular, Michael Pitt as a broken cyborg was lovely enough that I cringed when his character complained of being ugly, and all of the closeups of Scar-Jo provided welcome distractions from the story.

*For a relatively brief overview of the GitS franchise:

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Robot with a flower

People: Loved to Pieces

The lines between human and machine continue to blur, perhaps at a faster rate than during any time in the evolution of Homo sapiens. While technological developments make androids and algorithms more humanlike, they’re also bringing more artificial parts into humans.

Here’s an intimate look at some recent developments.

What do you notice about someone close to you?

Their smile?

F.A.C.E. is an expressive android, used as”an emotion conveying system” with a perfect smile.

Their eyes?

Not everyone can return your gaze (if you’re able-sighted), but that might change in the near future with the help of bionic eyes.

The feel of their skin?

Soft, robotic skin developed by Georgia Tech gives “a sense of touch that is at least somewhat analogous to” what healthy human skin feels. (There are those who might still prefer bioprinted skin for replacements.)

Is it the reassuring sound of their heart?

Whether they have an artificial heart, one needing the assistance of a robot, or one that has pumped in time to emotions since birth, does the heartbeat remind you that they live?

What about their mind?

Would it bother you to discover that they had once changed their mind–really, changed their mind’s home–with a mind transfer into an artificial brain?

We are going to be embracing a future when the game of “Would You Still Love Me If” steps up to another level, don’t you think?