People always ask me what genre the Guillotine trilogy falls under and I used to give answers as varied and as unhelpful as “spy fiction sans the spies” or “not your typical thriller”. Nowadays, I’m pretty sure that Guillotine can be considered both Post-Cyberpunk and Cypherpunk. This post will cover Post-Cyberpunk (I will discuss the latter in the next post).
What is Post-Cyberpunk?
To quote the TV Tropes entry:
Post-Cyberpunk picks up where Cyberpunk left off. Whereas cyberpunk is/was a Darker and Edgier riposte to older Science Fiction, intended to portray what might happen if we don’t all destroy ourselves, Post-Cyberpunk is intended to present a less pessimistic, more realistic vision. Where Cyberpunk is anti-corporate and anti-government, Post-Cyberpunk is willing to give both parties redeeming features. Where Cyberpunk portrays the future as a Crapsack World, Post-Cyberpunk posits society will probably be about the same, just with cooler gadgets and Crapsaccharine World aspects. Where Cyberpunk is futuristic, forward-thinking and on the cutting edge… so is Post-Cyberpunk.
Basically, Post-Cyberpunk is a work with a Cyberpunk setting but with a much more optimistic attitude to technology.
To quote the wonderful article Optimism and Access: The Line Between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk from Tor.com:
Our heroes are young but not that young, and they have skills and dreams but also cynicism and supervisors. Technology has made the world better in some ways and worse in others, and there’s an uneasy sense of fighting desperately for tiny changes that may be mere band-aids that reinforce existing, unequal power structures. One of the key tensions is whether to pursue these incremental improvements or to burn it all down, as the heroes of cyberpunk past often did or tried to do. But in this later world, that path seems both more difficult to accomplish and fraught with its own dangers. Fears of destroying a fragile peace compete with concern over corruption and resurgent nationalism, and there’s no guarantee what would come next. Our protagonists wrestle with the compromises of the current system and the violent unknowns of outright revolution.
Fits Guillotine to a tee!
Quoting from the TV Tropes analysis entry:
The progression of the genre mirrors how society in Real Life viewed technology. In the 1980s, some people argued that the dystopian future of Cyberpunk was probable, that technology was not going to improve life; instead it was going to help ‘The Man’ institute a world similar to that feared by the likes of George Orwell, only with more consumerism, mindless hedonism and porn advertising. Surveillance and computer networks would create Big Brother and make privacy obsolete. Megacorporations were going to stomp out individual rights and enslave creativity for the sake of Profit. And Japan was going to take over the world. In the 1990s and 2000s Real Life, the Internet averted its expansion into Big Brother, on the contrary becoming the manifestation of the First Amendment, allowing free press and ordinary people the freedom and resources to express themselves and share ideas like never before. Giant corporations were still extremely powerful, but they didn’t become the big bad guys, and the Internet essentially allowed the masses to watch over Big Brother. Additionally, the open-source movement provided a grassroots technological base to ordinary people, who in turn embraced some key open software.
Additionally, the Internet fostered the development of small businesses and firms by lowering barriers to market entry. International commerce became a matter of having an Ebay account. Instead of collapsing back to the anti-entrepreneurial centralized model of economic organization, technological change became a decentralizing force that encouraged entrepreneurial, venture-capital-based innovative firms rather than management-based stagnant corporate behemoths.
Meanwhile, the Asian economic crisis turned the highly-regimented code-bound economic steamroller that was Cyberpunk Japan into the cuteness-saturated neophile anime Japan of Post-Cyberpunk. Further in the economic realm, the advance of technology and continued lowering of manufacturing costs meant that ownership of capital became much more decentralized. For instance, the means of production of music became much cheaper.