Is Cinders of the Cataclysm Cyberpunk?

Written by Toblin

It's often been asked "what is cyberpunk?" and it's a broad topic. Me and Janet Forbes discussed it at length in an interview on Twitch, for instance. Cyberpunk is at the same time a very broad, and exceedingly narrow, genre.

So, with that in mind; Is Cinders of the Cataclysm really cyberpunk?

 

Probably not

In the most distilled, narrow and pure definition, cyberpunk is a societal criticism set on Earth in the near future. It's an extrapolation of capitalism and technology to its extreme and the resulting society. How economic philosophy and technology leads humanity down a very dark and dystopian path. It's dark, it's grim and full of hopelessness, corporate overlords and little to no regard for human life. Due to its birth in the mid 1970's and 1980's, Japan's influence on industry and world culture also plays a huge part of the cyberpunk setting.   By that definition, CotC doesn't come close to being cyberpunk. It's not Earth, there are no humans and there are sparks of hope and light in the world. There's also no looming technological and cultural overlord, like Japan in traditional cyberpunk.  

Another World

One of the most vital parts where CotC diverges from traditional cyberpunk is that it forgoes Earth entirely and even gets rid of the core, defining thing of cyberpunk: Humans.   CotC does not have any humans and in fact depicts a multi-species society with little to no racism present. The world is a flatworld, covered by an energy dome, set in an endless Abyss of water. It's about as far from cyberpunk as you get at that point.

Probably yes

In a wider spectrum, cyberpunk is an aesthetic and tone. Neon-ridden, super-metropolitan cities, hovercars, rain and trenchcoats. It's like noir PI novels mixed with scifi. There's also a strong sense of "stick it to the man". Of the little man rising up against the corporate oppression. Technology is used to magnificent marvel and in many cases to make people's lives better.   In that sense, CotC does qualify as cyberpunk.
 

In essence

What cyberpunk is or isn't is up for debate. Me, I tend towards the stricter definition. CotC evokes cyberpunk, but isn't strict cyberpunk. I'd like to define CotC as cyberpunk with a dash of hopepunk.   It embraces the rad 80's and revels in the neon-ridden, corporate dystopia but refuses to stick to all its grimdark themes. There is hope for a better future, people aren't all downtrodden in a gray mass. Everyone strives and fights for their future, their dreams. It's by no means a utopia, it's very much "dystopian". But it's not that oppressive, hopeless world that cyberpunk often depicts.   CotC also readily embraces action movies of the 1980's. The heroes of the story, while being normal people, do possess the potential to change the world. They can, and often will, tempt fate by surviving impossible odds. Cool action sequences take precedance over realistic combat and gunplay. Sure, it's grounded in reality. But let's be honest, if it was real life, John McClane would be dead as a doornail. Not a Nakatomi Plaza hero.   That is the essence of CotC.  

Conclusion

People put too much weight on genres and subgenres. They're a handy tool for quickly evoking a theme, but quickly become a crutch and tool for gatekeeping. Cyberpunk and scifantasy are the prevailing genres of CotC, but those two words only do a good job of evoking a feel and idea, but a poor job of defining what CotC really is.   Don't think too hard on your genres! Use them as overall sorting tools, but don't try too hard to "stick" to the genre. Be you! Be creative and make your own thing!



Cover image: Neos City by Jordan Grimmer

Comments

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7 Jul, 2020 09:11

The question is too simple for a subject that requires a complex answer, especially in the field of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is a genre with many, very different currents and genre-blends. This makes it generally difficult to find a generally valid definition for cyberpunk.

Calyria and Celenia in direct comparison are a good example. While you prefer the neon synth cyberpunk style, I am a friend of the leather coat faction. Both currents in the genre have their right to exist and both are cyberpunk. So the question doesn't have to be, is Celenia Cyberpunk, but "What kind of Cyberpunk is it, and what genre might have been added".

The question, as it was asked, only allows the answer: Yes. Many tropes that are common in cyberpunk can also be found in this world. That's why it is easy to assign them to the genre. And we all know: Breaking with the tropes is the true art. So that doesn't make the world less cyberpunk but makes you a better writer.

With love
The Cybervampiress

7 Jul, 2020 09:15

Wholeheartedly agree. A "purist" will only accept the traditional definition, in which basically only "Neuromancer" and "Blade Runner" fits, and while I to some degree agree that this is where cyberpunk was born, cyberpunk overall has evolved to encompass more themes and tropes. As handidly proven by Calyria and Celenia. :)   Trenchcoatpunk is freaking badass though. ;)

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
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