I wrote this new book, The Memory Hunter. It’s an absurdist cyberpunk book, a retro thing, and to make it absurd, I borrowed heavily from every imaginable trope in the cyberpunk genre. (You should go buy it.)
But to be honest, I haven’t read much cyberpunk. I mean, I love Snow Crash, and I’ve read a fair amount of Philip K. Dick’s work, which is sort of “granddaddy-of-cyberpunk” and predated the big 80s/90s movement headed by Gibson and others. What really moved me during the writing of this book was film. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which was a time rich with high-concept science fiction blockbusters, the pre-CGI era of big-budget films about our inevitable near-future, which of course never happened. But I loved that stuff, the action stars of the day, in a sound stage in Burbank done up to look like the surface of Mars. I’d rent those movies from Blockbuster, and watch the VHS over and over in late-night marathons with my college buddies.
And I dreamed of a cyberpunk future, because I lived in what I thought was the start of it. I used the Internet before there was a web, telnetting into BBSes and FTPing text zines like Phrack, reading all of the tales of hacking and connecting to faraway mainframes. I lusted after X Terminal workstations, and saw the GUI unix computers as the next step. Soon, these graphical displays would become 3D, turn into headsets, and we’d all jack into this total immersion virtual reality. The game Doom came out, and I knew it would happen soon. And then it didn’t. The Web came out, and became commercial and dumb, and here we are, looking at stupid articles about 5 Ways To Lose Weight For The Holidays By Eating Blue Foods.
That’s why I wrote this book, so the dream would not be dead; it would be in an alternate reality. And that reality is based on my memories of these old VHS classics. Here’s my list. I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so when you go buy my book the plot won’t be spoiled.
- Blade Runner – The gold standard of noir-inspired cyberpunk. I honestly didn’t get into this PKD-based classic until much later. When I bought my first not-family-shared VCR right after college, this was one of the first VHS videos I purchased. I’ve read endless books on the making of it (Future Noir is the best one) and you can get wrapped up in the “Deckard is a replicant” thing.In this book, I borrowed a lot of the imagery of this movie, the futuristic yet beaten-up city, the constant rain, the neon lights and Japanese-inspired architecture.
One of the tropes that Blade Runner used that I remember from the 80s was this idea that the Japanese were taking over the world, that they were flooding us with technology and buying up all of our real estate and would eventually run the planet. It’s something prevalent in many 80s movies like Gung Ho, and almost every 80s comedy had a geeky Japanese guy who could barely speak English for humorous effect. (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, etc.)There’s also a lot of plot borrowed from this movie, but in an indirect way. Most noir movies follow a very similar Chandler-esque three-act plot, and use tropes like the fallen protagonist with a troubled past, the female love interest, the big switcharoo, and so on.Oh, and spinnercars. You’ve gotta love a good hovercar.
- Total Recall – “GET YOUR ASS TO MARS!” Man, I loved this movie when it came out. I didn’t see it in theaters, but a friend had a copy recorded off of HBO, and after watching it once, I rented it and watched it constantly. I popped in the DVD recently and wrote about it, and it didn’t hold up at all. The technology was all wrong, the miniature models looked really bad, and the acting was super-corny. But, I love all of that. I remember every little line that Ahnold said, the way the secondary characters acted. And you’ve got the PKD mojo again, with the script being (loosely) based on a story of his.I borrowed heavily from this movie. The concept of memory implants is there, along with the idea of mining colonies on other planets worked by indentured servants who end up getting screwed up by their mega-corporate overlords. I also stole the common PKD trope of robot-controlled cabs, and the evil Big Boss. I also wanted to use some of the outdated technology in this movie, like video phones, CRT monitors, and dot matrix printers.
- Johnny Mnemonic- This movie is so bad it’s good, even though it flopped so badly, it was the beginning of the end of the cyberpunk genre. There were some capable actors that did poorly, some stunt-casting that didn’t work out (Henry Rollins, Ice T) and a bleak look at 2021 that’s now incredibly dated.The big trope I swiped from this movie was the visual look of The Net, the idea of putting on a headset and swiping your arms in the air to move around blocks of “data” or whatever, or travel down an Information Superhighway of vector graphics and neon grids. I also borrowed the concept of memory couriering, carrying around data in an implant for later retrieval. And my book has IDES, a degenerative disease that slowly rots away implants, something similar to nerve attenuation syndrome in this movie.
- Sneakers – I lovethis movie. It’s probably one of my favorite films of all time, and I remember seeing it at least a half-dozen times in the theater. It’s not a cyberpunk movie, but it’s a good thriller with enough high-tech stuff in it that it really hit hard when I saw it back in 1992.I borrowed a lot of plot-based tropes from this. There’s once again the fallen hero scraping by in a bad job. (“It’s a living” / “Not much of one”) There’s the weirdo expert in the field. The “calling the CIA and tracing the trace” bit, or at least the pacing and tension of that scene, is something I use in act three (and don’t want to spoil – go read the book.) I also used a big switcheroo like they did. And the concept of “who is the enemy, really?” is one I loved to use.
- Honorable mentions – here are a few that either don’t have to do with cyberpunk or that weren’t something I watched back in the day, but that also inspired my plot:
- The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep – I’m not a noir guy. But after reading about Blade Runner, I knew I had to get back to the source, so I read and watched The Big Sleep, and then to figure out what Chandler ripped off, I read and watched The Maltese Falcon. My plot outline is so similar to Sleep, I probably shouldn’t publicly admit it. But almost any noir is. I borrowed a lot of tropes here: detective in a crappy office, fallen from his old job; wise-ass secretary (but in my case, it’s an intelligent AI program); the case that’s too good to be true; the employer that turns on you; the damsel in distress; getting captured and beat up at the end of Act 2; it’s all there. I prefer Chandler’s work because it’s a little more fuzzy around the edges and has some complexity. (And don’t worry, this is the last genre book like this I’m writing, unless someone shows up with a huge check for the sequel.)
- UHF – this Weird Al vehicle is a parody itself, but the evil boss is something I cribbed a bit.
- RoboCop – A lot of people are going to see this one, and it’s a minor influence in the Prometheus story plot, which is totally different from what I’m doing. Its near future is also a little more near than mine. But the overarching OCP and a lot of the little sayings and slogans (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”) got their stink all over my novel.
Anyway, that’s a good starting list. Hope you get a chance to check out the book – I need to go fall down a rabbit hole of old movies.