Steampunk vs Cyberpunk

So, I'm more than a bit worried that (to twist a phrase from the brilliant Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw (AKA Zero Punctuation) that Watchmen will become nothing more than an
Objectivist (the worst thing you could to to Watchmen)
As a side point, if you have not watched any of Zero Puncutation's reviews, and have any interest in hearing a smart, literary dissection of modern gaming philosophy couched in funny rants about current games, get over there right now. Now, now, now, so I have people to laugh with.

Anyway, Watchmen has got me thinking about the differences between Cyberpunk and Steampunk. That said, I'm not an expert on either, so don't get all pissy if you've found I'm wrong by reading K.W. Jeter's original manuscripts. I'm engaging in creative philosophizing here.

It seems to me that one of the main differences between Steampunk and Cyberpunk is housed in the way that each becomes a running metaphor for the transformation of its protagonist. To wit: Steampunk is constantly obsessed with machinery that is never completely understandable, but always thinly veiled. There is always a sense that this machinery is understandable, even that the hero can understand it, and the hero is always trying to - be he H.G. Well's Time Traveler (or even more so Dr. Moreau) or Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan. (Watchmen, it seems to me, combines elements of each, and heroes from each), or for that matter, Tesla in the Prestige.
What is constistent with all these, however, is that once they get behind the thin veil (A reference to Dostoevsky's the Idiot and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, NOT to Wizard of Oz - that was a curtain) they discover a world that not only challenges their expectations, but their expectations of what to expect - the world behind the veil is categorically different from the world not behind the veil, and is not understandable on the first layer's terms. Furthermore, behind the veil are more veils. In this way, G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" is a work of Cyberpunk - besides having it's obvious dystopian, anarchic, Victorian, and philosophical themes, it is a group of men continually moving beyond various ignorance, and always feeling that "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front —" but when they get round in front, while there is a change for the better, perhaps, there is still little certainty or vindication.
The cyberpunk hero, on the other hand, is often just forced to stand in awe of what arises before him, jutting up, as it were, through the veil, being the right way round, while still being entirely veiled. This is Blade Runner - at least, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (and to a large extent, Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream, as well) insofar as Blade Runner presents us with a hero who is not a geek - he isn't trying to get round to the other side. He is merely trying to do his job on this side while the other side keeps stabbing at him. This is also carried in the metaphors of the computer- none of us can see to get around the other side of the internet. Wires and transistors make invisible the very methods of the machine, so that we do not feel we can comprehend it. There is no other side to get around to, and the world is flat.

That's about all I have time for right now.

No comments: