Neon Dystopia’s Best of 2018

Say goodbye to a truly dystopian year, cyberpunks, and say hello to the ominous 2019. Since we at Neon Dystopia (and apparently, the rest of the internet) have been occupied with keeping our existential holiday angst at bay, instead of publishing Last Week in Cyberpunk articles that would, frankly, have been a little skimpy, we’ve prepared for you a special treat: our choices for the best releases and most relevant dystopian news of 2018. Here’s to the new solar revolution, and to the revolutions disrupting fascist and megacorporate regimes that we hope to see herein.


Cyberpunk Reality

Steven Matos: French Riots 2018

Yellow vest protesters set ablaze Paris on their seventh day of riots (Image: TWITTER)

Don’t we all just love a good riot? The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the demonstration of our human right to remind our government that, as its citizens, we will burn a motherfucker down if our demands are not met.

We reported previously that France had begun intense riots on Nov. 17 to protest high fuel taxes, President Macrons policies that largely favor the wealthy and well-off, and the lack of public services and infrastructure within rural France. The Yellow Vest protesters (so named for wearing the high visibility vests they must carry in their vehicles by law) feel that the proposed fuel tax would have been the final burden on their already straining lower class wallets.

From what we understand, this riot was going to happen eventually. The fuel tax was just the spark everyone needed to get up and start making change happen. The reason this is my favorite news is that I remember when the Occupy Movement was kicking off, and how disappointed I was when it accomplished absolutely nothing. Seeing people fed up and rioting in the streets, reminding those in power who’s really in charge, always fills with me joy. Here in America, where there are more guns than people and healthcare can put you in debt for the rest of your days, we can’t really be moved to acts of rioting without the knowledge in the back of your mind that the cops aren’t the only ones coming to the party armed with the finest weaponry your own tax dollars can buy. I’m not saying peaceful protests don’t work, but considering the French government has abolished the aforementioned fuel tax we can’t say getting a little intense isn’t a good last ditch solution. Sometimes it’s important that remind the powers that be they serve us, not the other way around.

shadowlink: British Unveil Sibyl System-esque AI

Recently, United Kingdom law enforcement officials have revealed that they are developing an artificial intelligence program known as the National Data Analytics Solution (or NDAS), which will supposedly have the ability to determine whether or not an individual is likely to commit a felony based on nearly 1,400 factors. Ian Donnelly, the project lead, has stated that the creation of NDAS was spurred by slashed UK police budgets in recent years and is designed to prioritize their now-limited resources by intervening and suggesting therapy before a suspected individual commits a violent crime.

The project is required to produce a prototype by the end of this coming March, and while Donnelly has assured that NDAS is aligned with privacy regulations, it has already drawn criticism from the Alan Turing Institute of London and other researchers, who suggest that NDAS will merely further ostracize individuals that fall into marginalized demographics–an issue that has been addressed and explored in the cyberpunk anime series Psycho-Pass.

While on paper this is a system that appears ideal, I’ve chosen this story as my pick of the year not only for my love of the aforementioned series, but due to the likelihood that this is a huge step towards encroaching dystopia. While NDAS may not be run by the salvaged brains of sociopaths, the future Psycho-Pass and its spiritual predecessor, Minority Report, predict may come into play decades sooner than anticipated.


Silicon Sepulchre: Rogue scientist uses CRISPR to create first gene-edited babies

He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. He made his first public comments about his claim to have helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The news of a rogue scientist using CRISPR to edit the genes of embryos was more like the beginning of a cyberpunk thriller than the typical dry science news which requires a bit of imagination and nihilism to frame as cyberpunk. The announcement sent shockwaves through the scientific community, first of doubt, then of condemnation. There is good reason that no scientist has gene-edited human embryos meant for implantation: any changes made, on purpose or by mistake, to embryos will be passed on to future generations. CRIPSR is still a developing technology and is prone to mistakes, which were not adequately checked for in the twin girls according to other scientists in the field. This all assumes that we fully understand the complex role of the gene that has been silenced. The gene plays a role in the way HIV attacks our immune system itself. The goal in silencing it is to prevent HIV from entering immune cells, granting the twin girls resistance to HIV infection. However this gene also plays a role in resisting other illnesses, which these girls may now be more susceptible to.

To add to the cyberpunkness of this news story, the research was conducted in secret, likely without the full understanding of the implications by the parents of these girls. Germ-line editing embryos for implantation is illegal in most of the world, China included, and the scientist, He Jiankui, and his family are now under house arrest with armed guards stationed by the Chinese government outside his university housing. It seems that He was more concerned with being first than he was with doing good research. Cue the Jeff Goldblum gifs.


Cyberpunk Media

Movies

shadowlink: Anon

When Andrew Niccol covers hard sci-fi, he gets it right. Starring Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried, the Netflix-exclusive Anon is the spiritual sequel to the phenomenal retro sci-fi noir Gattaca, taking place in a bleak ’70s-era dystopia where privacy has been rendered obsolete through invasive implants that record a person’s every action. This, of course, can be subverted, provided one has enough resources to hire a hacker, who can rewrite scandalous and criminal records to provide them with an alibi. Sal Frieland (Owen), a detective who specializes in uncovering these reprogrammed memories, comes across a woman (Seyfried) who has no accessible identity and has a connection to a string of murders, soon becomes obsessed with her, falling into in a web of seduction, lies, and hyperreality.

Stylish and relevant, the film features an impressive-yet-minimalistic production value. It really hasn’t been talked about enough and deserves a watch by any fan of hard-boiled science fiction. You can find the DVD here.

M. Christian: Hotel Artemis

Drew Pearce’s directorial debut, Hotel Artemis, is a solid addition to the cyberpunk film catalog, encapsulating and celebrating as it does the classic tropes of an interesting underground culture supported by bleeding edge tech set in a disintegrating LA of 2028.  The titular Hotel Artemis is an elite criminal hospital run by Nurse (Jodie Foster) backed up by the massive Everest (Dave Bautista).  On the eve of city-wide water riots, career criminal Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry) check themselves in after their bank robbery goes bad. Things go from horrific to nightmare then it turns out they’d accidentally lifted data belonging to the gang warlord, The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) — putting them and the Artemis in his crosshairs. Throw in an alluring assassin (Sofia Boutella) and Hotel Artemis is an entertaining near-future watch supported by great acting and a low-key but intriguing technofetishic details. You can get a digital or DVD copy here.

Silicon Sepulchre: Upgrade

Upgrade is a cyberpunk revenge fantasy meets body horror film put out by Blumhouse, the same production company that brought us Get Out, Happy Death Day and The Purge. It follows Grey Trace, played by Logan Marshall-Green, as a mugging leaves his wife murdered and himself paralyzed. Grey is persuaded to have an AI implant installed that restores motor functions, but also speaks to him and becomes the dark companion he cannot escape as he enacts his revenge.

I loved it for all the elements it borrowed from the horror genre. It has a dynamic pace, with slow, touching human moments and fast paced action. The effects are the mix of gross, beautiful and authentically campy you’d expect from Blumhouse. The films dark sense of humor had me laughing and feeling a little guilty about it at the same time.

Upgrade came out first at South by Southwest in March of this year, but was in most theaters in June in the US and Australia.You can get a digital or DVD copy here.


TV Series

shadowlink: Altered Carbon

Though I’ve written about Netflix’s most expensive series to date before, it’s worth reiterating: Altered Carbon is the most essential cyberpunk series of the year. Based on Richard K. Morgan‘s massively influential Takeshi Kovacs trilogy and adapted for television by neo-noir veteran Laeta Kalogridis, Altered Carbon follows the novel’s namesake Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a burned-out ex-rebel whose mind has been implanted into a body that is not his own and is conscripted to solve the murder of a godlike trillionaire (James Purefoy) in order to gain his freedom.

Takeshi then takes to the streets of a twisted megalopolis where virtual reality acts as a drug (or a nightmare, if you’re under interrogation), only the rich can afford tech-based immortality, and death no longer holds any tangible meaning. Blood-soaked to the end, Altered Carbon’s first season slips a bit by the finale but remains a wicked, wild ride.

If you have resolved to read more in 2019 (we certainly have), you can find the book here.

Veritas: Westworld

In its original iteration, Westworld was a proto-cyberpunk film from Michael Crichton that explored our anxieties about becoming overly dependent on technology. In 2017 and 2018, Jonathan Nolan (of Person of Interest and Inception) has reframed this older film for the modern era of transhumanism, where that anxiety has extended to include what happens when we become one with our technology and there is a non-existent line between machine and human intelligence. Nolan’s Westworld captures this philosophical exploration of the human condition in the context of advanced technological development in a way that is both entertaining and cerebral. You can get it here.

Veritas: The Expanse

2018 brought use the third season of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse. This series has so many deep cyberpunk themes that it is hard to not include it with the cyberpunk canon, although many will complain due to the inclusion of space opera elements as well. There are evil mega-corporations pitting governments against each other, while oppressing the population, all in the midst of securing their power by developing weapons from a ‘proto-molecule’ discovered in space. This has some shared elements with Alien and Altered Carbon. There is also the very punk Belters, techno-noir detectives, and Elias Toufexis (who voiced Jensen in Deus Ex) for good measure. Well worth the watch.

You can get the third season here. If you would like to take a dive into the book series that the show is based on, you can find it here.


Music

Veritas: Noire by VNV Nation

VNV Nation is an old-guard in the realm of the synth-pop/industrual world, influenced heavily by industrial acts like Front 242, but also invariably influenced by the 90s cyber-culture that was so heavily influenced in turn by the cyberpunk movement. In 2018, VNV Nation is still going strong with the like of their new album Noire. Their roots are visible in one of the highlights of the album, the track When Is The Future.

 

 

This track explores the philosophical idea that we are living in a dream, that the world is not what it appears, an idea that is deeply ingrained in post-modern philosophy and literature, much like the noir genre (I’m looking at you Maltese Falcon), or the ideas of Phillip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, or Timothy Leary. All of this is cast against the grandest stage of all, time and our place in it. There are a ton of science fiction references in this song:

“Against a static sky,” Sky above the port anyone? Neuromancer.

“A stranger in a strange land,” well, that one speaks for itself, although not cyberpunk it is influential science fiction.

And then there is all the neon, how could I not choose this song to highlight? There are other songs here worthy of the digitally enhanced senses of the cyberpunk, such as Only Satellites, but really all the songs have that VNV Nation charm. Looking for new music from this past year? Noire is an album worthy of a chance, especially if synth-pop/industrial is the kind of music that you enjoy.

Silicon Sepulchre: Re:Volt and Re:Mix//Alpha by Giant Monsters on the Horizon

 

Giant Monsters on the Horizon killed it in 2018 with its Re:Volt album released March 9th and a remix album, Re:Mix//Alpha released October 29th. Describing themselves as electro, industrial and epic, it’s the combination of lyrics and sound that make this cyberpunk music incarnate. The Re:Volt track Disciples of a False Prophet is the anthem to reject your corporate, social media and familial overlords this holiday season while Del Ctrl & Esc will boost your spirit and keep you moving into the new year, with sweet references to the cyberpunk love story between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Re:Mix//Alpha is full of great remixes that had me dancing in my lab coat all November. I am, of course, a sucker for any song that references chemistry, but Carbon vs Dante LaRae, is a great remix for chemists and cyberpunks alike. DEL CTRL & ESC vs ZITH might be my favorite track off either album. It was recently featured on Communion After Dark (which I would shout out as my favorite podcast of 2018 for electro, industrial, dark alternative and synth-pop fans out there). Ring in 2019 with First Sunrise 2033 with the apocryphal lyric “This year will be better than the last. It has to be.”

shadowlink: Year of the Snitch by Death Grips

Though the underground hip-hop outfit Death Grips seems to have received little notoriety among cyberpunk circles as of yet, it’s undeniable that their heavy punk- and industrial-influenced sound falls deep within cyberpunk territory, and this year’s release, Year of the Snitch, is no exception. Brimming with electric, rage-fueled energy, the album features heavy synth beats, digitally-corrupted vocals, and lyrics that express violent, stomach-churning dissatisfaction in our modern era. Don’t pass this up.

Steve Matos: Beastland by Author & Punisher

A lady friend of mine sent me a message: “I think this is really you.” In it was a link to Author & Punisher’s 2015 album Melk En Honing. Oh, this lady knows me well. Skip to October of 2018, and the one man industrial/metal outfit put out the killer album Beastland, which doubled down on his signature harsh sound.

Author & Punisher is unique in that he mixes his background as a mechanical engineer with his music by fabricating custom “Drone Machines”, the sound and operation of which are solely unique to him. Beastland is the perfect blending of industrial noise and screaming metal vocals making the harshest metal albums of 2018 electro. Industrial has a long tradition of musicians creating totally unique machines to create new sounds (or torturing regular ones to see what kind of noise can be wrung from it), going back as far as Throbbing Gristle. The practice had fallen to the wayside for awhile until Author & Punisher brought it back with a sleek, industrialized sound.

Want actual industrial with your Industrial? Pick this up.


Video Games

shadowlink: The Red Strings Club

Taking place in a smooth, jazzy future, Deconstructeam‘s most recent release follows information broker/club owner Donovan and his partner, Brandeis, who find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy by megacorporation Supercontinent, which has plans to “liberate” the world by implanting the world’s population with mandatory emotional modifiers to enhance one’s sense of happiness.

Philosophical questions concerning individuality, transhumanism, and the nature of free will are posed against a backdrop of engaging, unconventional gameplay (although some sequences draw comparisons to the cyberpunk bartending visual novel VA-11 HALL-A), gorgeous pixel graphics, story-based narrative, and an impressive soundtrack that blends noir sensibilities with synths, making it one of the most interesting cyberpunk gaming experiences to be released this year.

M. Christian: Cyberpunk 2077 (the hour-long demo trailer)

Is it appropriate to say that a game that hasn’t been released yet deserves a slot in our Best of 2018 list? Certainly, if this year we got to finally see nearly an hour of gameplay of the eagerly-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt Red. Released back in August, the demo gives us our first real taste of what the final game might look like.  A first-person RPG based on the celebrated tabletop game by Cyberpunk 2020 created by Mike Pondsmith, we previously didn’t know much about the actual mechanics though they were teased by a few tantalizing glimpses since the game was announced way back in 2012. What the demo finally shows is not just how the game could play but also our first real glimpse at the massive open world that is Night City. While some elements may no doubt be tweaked, refined, or even cut altogether what we now know about the game has gamers, especially those into the high-tech/low-life aesthetics of cyberpunk, buzzed out of their damned minds.


Although the news stories in 2018 were truly dystopian, full of riots, refugees and rogue scientists, it was also a great year for art and music. Venture with us into the neon drenched streets of 2019. Will it be the future Blade Runner imagined? What were your favorite news stories and media from 2018? Tell us in the comments down below or on social media.

Lastly, we’d like to thank all of our readers for their support in 2018. It was a tumultuous year for us and we’re still here because of your support. Thanks for reading and sharing our articles, using our amazon links and buying our t-shirts. We’re hoping to launch more ways for you to support us and get involved in 2019, so stay tuned!

Some of the links included in this article are Amazon affiliate links. If you would like to purchase these items, consider using the links provided and help support Neon Dystopia.

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Written by shadowlink
shadowlink is lost in a sea of information. Cyberpunk helps him cope with his constant future shock.
1 Comment
  1. Hey this is Madison from Giant Monsters on the Horizon! Thank you so much for including us on the list. To celebrate we got a discount code on all of our items on bandcamp. Use code NEONDYSTOPIA to get 85% off everything, that brings most of our albums down to about a buck. We really appreciate everyone’s support. And we got a lot of really great stuff coming out very soon!

    https://giantmonstersonthehorizon.bandcamp.com/

    Reply

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