Feeling the cyberpunk mood in Vancouver B.C..
Feeling the cyberpunk mood in Vancouver B.C.. Charles Mudede

On Saturday, May 1, Forbes reported the Polish video game developer CD Projekt had split the "spoils" of its very popular game, Cyberpunk 2077, in this divisive way: 5 Execs share $28 million; 865 workers share $29.8 million.

And so, even here, in the realm of a massively successful 21st century tech company, what Marx called primitive accumulation, which is supposed to be the first and most aggressive/exploitative stage in capitalist development, is alive and thriving.

Forbes' games reporter, Paul Tassi:

[The] explanation for the big bonuses being 'deserved' was addressed in the recent investor call:

'We earned this money and the company earned this money, of course, but more net profits, more bonuses,' Kiciński said. “'o well, we have results, we get bonuses, and that’s the contract we have.'

Those who fear that the rest of this post will amount to an arcane analysis of the persistence of ursprünglich Akkumulation, with the brazen greed of CD Projekt's executives serving as a backdrop, will be relieved to learn that, at least for today, I have other fish to fry.

The thing I'm interested in is the hodology and substance of the word "cyberpunk," which achieved fame through the science fiction novels and short stories of William Gibson. That author gave the world the word "cyberspace" to describe what is now called the internet or the web. But way of cyberspace ended even before its entered the present century. Cyberpunk, on the other hand (a word whose origins and ways are complicated, but certainly became established in the second part of the 1980s), is still very much with us.

Cyberpunk is simply science fiction that's fully detached from the triumphant narrative of progress. In this state, it registers a capitalism that's defined by what the geographer David Harvey called "uneven development."

What this means is that the paradigm of mid-century science fiction was of societies whose technological transformation was total. The mode of production was in step with the mode of distribution and consumption. The image-program and structure of feeling that dominated this form of speculative fiction was a future way of doing all things. The past was nowhere to be found. For the purpose of providing an image that captures this state of affairs, we call the total technologically advanced society a "Star-Trek world." The clothes are just different, the means of transportation are totally different, communication systems are all different. Indeed, the Starship Enterprise is so advanced, so far into the future that it has no need for plants, the primary producers of life on Earth.

This kind of fictional society reinforced a feeling that capitalist development broke with the past and advanced human sociality in its entirety. Even Marx was not free of this feeling. The pages of his early work, Communist Manifesto, express nothing but wonder at capitalist progress. It is indeed an unquestioned commitment to the narrative of technological progress that made the Soviet project a bust from the get-go. Communists were under the impression that they could do capitalist progress better than capitalism itself. The Soviet catastrophe was weaved into cyberpunk by William Gibson even before Chernobyl and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall.

Cyberpunk is post-Marxist in the sense that it smashes this notion of total improvement and presents a world that looks very much like the one we are in now. Some parts of it are in the future, some are in the present, others are in the recent past, and yet others are in the deep past. The future can no longer claim to be universal. The latest gadgets can be found in a hut. A hut can have solar panels on its thatched roof. Solar panels can power an old radio and recharge a brand new smartphone.

The novel that first fully expressed this mode of science fiction—one whose future is not far ahead in time and also not total but layered with past times—is Neuromancer. Though published nearly 40 years ago (1984), the book has yet to escape its influence. In fact, Neuromancer is no longer science fiction in the strictest sense because we live in its world—minus the Rasta spaceship, the fully Cartesian download of consciousness, and so on.

But here is the thing. Though he was born in the U.S., Gibson is based out of Vancouver B.C., and that's where he wrote his groundbreaking novel. That city also gave the world Generation X by way of a 1991 novel by Douglass Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

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The thing that's not considered enough, if at all, is that cyberpunk and Generation X are Vancouver BC's world-historical cultural exports. But why did this particular city—Seattle's beautiful sister city—produce these particular cultural products? What made the city ideal for the transition from cheesy Star Trek-isms to a future that has cold caught up with itself?

The consumer tech that defined Generation X is very much still in the world that has entered the third decade of the 21st century. We have not really left the shadow of the Walkman, the beeper, Apple computers, Microsoft software, Atari Corporation, videotapes, cyberspace, and hiphop. And speculation about the direction much of this Gen X tech would take was dreamed up by the father of cyberpunk in Vancouver B.C.

Is this a coincidence? Maybe. But keep in mind that Vancouver is a city whose past and future are squeezed into a tight present because the city is still very new.