Observations about a recurring motif in Cyberpunk media
“You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad, didn’t you?”; part of the dialogue delivered by Police Commissioner Bob Hauk in 1981’s Escape from New York by John Carpenter. It’s just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line and the event is not given any more exposition or explanation (in the movie, that is; the novel details this “noodle incident” further). However, for William Gibson, this particular line was to have a profound impact:
“I was intrigued by the exchange in one of the opening scenes where the Warden says to Snake ‘You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad, didn’t you?’ It turns out to be just a throwaway line, but for a moment it worked like the best SF where a casual reference can imply a lot.” – William Gibson
But first, let’s stay in the dystopian future of Escape. The novelization of the movie describes how Snake lost his eye in World War III’s Battle of Leningrad, and while I haven’t read the novel, I speculate that Snake was a member of some Black Ops outfit whose mission it was to fly over Leningrad to bomb an installation or maybe drop paratroops. The “Gullfire” was probably either a stealth plane or a glider, which would help to explain why Snake was chosen for the Escape mission; since he would be a crack glider pilot, he could take the aircraft to the top of the World Trade Center, not an easy task as evidenced by the fact that in the movie, he just barely manages to land it.
Either way, Gibson finished writing Neuromancer a few years later and what do we find in this “Cyberpunk Bible”? The character of Armitage alias Colonel Willis Corto, the former member of a Special Forces team who were to fly ultralight aircraft deep into Russian territory during World War III to disable important enemy computer systems. However, they were shot down but a surviving Corto managed to escape over the heavily fortified Finnish border, which would imply a mission theatre far in the northwestern part of Russia, next to Finland, and the general region where Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg) is located.
Sounds familiar? Wait, there’s more…
In 1989’s Pen & Paper roleplaying game Shadowrun, the timeline that leads to the game universe’s future 2053 includes a decade-long conflict in middle and eastern Europe called the “Euro-Wars”, involving most nations of that region including Russia, Germany and Poland. The conflict was ended rather apruptly when one night Swedish airspace monitors picked up what they believed were British “Nightwraith” bombers flying across the conflict zone and successfully destroying vital command centers of the warring factions, while at the same time unknown assassins killed key generals from both sides, forcing the belligerents to sign an armistice.
I found no sources that directly state if these occurences in literature were directly influenced by the Gullfire line from Escape, but I would think that it’s not a coincidence, especially since it’s all in the Cyberpunk subgenre (if you want to call Shadowrun Cyberpunk, that is!).
Another plot module that crosses over different Cyberpunk universes are the the “Tychon Colony Massdrivers” from Cyberpunk 2020‘s backstory, which the Eurospace agency installed in space to enforce their will on earth by letting asteroids fall on or near U.S. cities (Colorado Springs and Washington, D.C. in this case). This concept was found earlier in Walter Jon Williams’ 1986’s novel Hardwired, where the earth’s wealthy elites live in luxurious space stations that can drop rocks onto the planet’s surface without any viable defence possible. Of course, Williams was one of the playtesters of the original Cyberpunk RPG and R. Talsorian Games also later published a sourcebook for Cyberpunk detailing the world of Hardwired.
Originally published by Cherno over on the CCC Cyberpunk Forums here.