Dreams of a Cyberpunk Cincinnati

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Cyberpunkdreams is the literary cyberpunk world of Rob Chant, a writer and game designer. This is a cyberpunk project that emphasizes the ‘low-life’ side of the genre, rather than the ‘high-tech’ side. This is refreshing as many modern cyberpunk worlds ditch the ‘low-tech’ elements in favor of the high-concept technology of our rapidly approaching future and forget how those technologies are really going to affect us. There is technologicial development of the science fiction variety in Cyberpunkdreams, but the stories are about the people in the streets, in the badlands, and just trying survive in this ecologically ravaged future.

 

Chant’s Kickstarter for Cyberpunkdreams: Cincinnati Stories is to fund a collection of fifteen short stories set in his vision of our bleak future. He provides a good snippet of description:

Encroaching dust bowl. Environmental degradation. Climate change. Water shortages. Dangerous political polarisation. Class war. Sound familiar?

The United States is broken. Torn apart by wars of secession, ecological disaster and political conflict. The mid-west, poisoned by biological and chemical weapons, has become a barren, infertile wasteland. The cities, straining under the weight of the ensuing refugee crisis, have succumbed to rampant corruption and urban decay. On the border of order and chaos, civilization and barbarism, lies the city of Cincinnati.

This is bleak, uncompromising cyberpunk. This is our future.

If you sign-up for the Cyberpunkdreams newsletter, you can get a glimpse into the pages of Cincinnati Stories with the short story Gangland. It is a vivid, visceral, and violent story that follows Sally Stone, a young photo-journalist that is new to Cincinnati and trying to survive in it’s ruthless, unforgiving streets. It does an excellent job of painting a picture, in blood and viscera mind you, of a city that is driven by serious economic inequality, where gangs are at least as powerful as the local authorities. It is an interesting and unconventional story, and it’s nice to see an archetype like a journalist in a modern cyberpunk story.

All that said, the story is not without its rough patches. The prose is sometimes choppy, this may be intentional to create a rough feeling to the world, but it is very distracting, especially at the beginning of the story. Sally, the protagonist, is a young woman and the story is told from a first-person perspective. There is nothing wrong with this, but the character read, thought, and felt like a man thinking about a woman. This threw me out of the story at points, as it was jarring. I appreciate sexuality in my stories, but it often felt forced in Gangland, especially given the viewpoint. The plot of this 29-page story never really went anywhere, and although we know about the world, the characters, and even some events, there doesn’t seem to be much of an arc. Go into this particular story with the expectation of a setting driven, rather than one that is character driven and you’ll enjoy it more. In the context of the entire Cyberpunkdreams: Cincinnati Stories anthology, perhaps this works well, but stand-alone it left me unsatisfied.

What definitely wasn’t unsatisfying though, was the accompanying artwork. The art that Chant commissioned for this project is spectacular. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself spending as much time appreciating the art as you did reading the story. In the context of the literary art, the visual art really places you in the city reinforcing the already well-implemented setting.

After reading Gangland, I definitely want to read more about the Cincinnati of Cyberpunkdreams. There are two games in the works that will also be set in the Cyberpunkdreams world, unsurprising because Chant is also a game designer. The first, expected in 2018 is a browser-based interactive fiction RPG. The second is a board game currently in development called City Streets which Chant describes on his website as, “a violent, aggressive board game set in the world.” I’m excited about what is to come from the dystopian cyberpunk world of Cyberpunkdreams, in all its forms.

You can back the Kickstarter for Cyberpunkdreams: Cincinnati Stories here or check out the official website here.

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