Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction set in the future, which is characterized by the development of technology and the decline in living standards. Cyberpunk novels and movies often have a dark and depressive tone: the action takes place only at night, there are rarely any positive heroes. Cyberpunk is always associated with advanced technologies, namely, virtual reality, cyber implants, androids. However, this progress does not contribute much to the prosperity of people. The world lives by laisses-faire Capitalist laws, and inequality there has an enormous scale. People either are wealthy and enjoy all the benefits of the future or are very poor and live in slums and can afford only the cheapest technologies, if they are lucky. Thus, they always experience loneliness in crowded multi-million cities with large skyscrapers and neon signboards. Only the hi-tech and entertainment industry gives people an opportunity to relax and have fun and distract from the meaninglessness of their lives.
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William Gibson’s short story Burning Chrome and Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner belong to the cyberpunk genre and share its main characteristics. Both of them appeared in 1982, at the dawn of the genre. Burning Chrome and Blade Runner can be called pioneering works because they invented, reflected, and visualized the main topics of cyberpunk.
The action in Blade Runner and Burning Chrome takes place in large megacities. In Blade Runner, it is Los Angeles of the future; in Burning Chrome, it is a large city in the US. Police officer Rick Deckard, the protagonist of Blade Runner, and Automatic Jack, Burning Chrome’s main character, live in simple flats in apartment buildings. In the case of Automatic Jack, who is a hacker, the flat is also the main workplace because he conducts all operations from his home computer. When hungry, they eat fast food: Rick Deckard eats noodles at the Chinese street restaurant under a big coca-cola signboard, and Automatic Jack eats sandwiches lying on a bed in his flat. When the characters do not work, they go somewhere out, like clubs, bars, or brothels, with “bugs […] at the neon and the air […] smelling of perfume and fast food”. These details help to describe the world the characters live in.
The omnipresent neon is one of the most common things when it comes to the cities of cyberpunk. It is mentioned seven times throughout the short story, and it appears in numerous scenes of Blade Runner. Neon was trendy in Asian cities like Tokyo or Hong Kong, which served as an inspiration for Gibson and Scott. Gibson himself said that Japan was already a cyberpunk state in the 1980s when the term first appeared. Cities in these two artworks have a lot of elements of Asian culture. In Blade Runner, Deckard eats at a Chinese restaurant, a Chinese designer Chew makes replicant eyes, and there is a giant visual signboard with a Japanese geisha. In Burning Chrome, characters travel to Hong Kong and Macau to gain equipment and find influential business partners and to Chiba City in Japan, which is the capital of body implants. Thus, the portrayal of cities in Blade Runner and Burning Chrome is inspired by Asian cities, and neon is one of its elements.
Tough Guy in a Hostile World
Characters in Blade Runner and Burning Chrome share many similarities. They live in a world that is not friendly to them, and they have to survive in it. They are men of action who do not reflect much on the things they do. They are good at their work, but they are not satisfied with their lives and try to get distracted.
Deckard drinks whiskey and browses through the old photographs, while Jack watches some kind of virtual reality videos called simstim. It causes people to experience a wide range of emotions, from having sex to feeling completely alone. Bobby Quine, Jack’s partner, spends all of his time sitting in a bar and chasing women, but they always leave him in the end. The characters encounter women and do what they do for their sake. Deckard falls in love with Rachel and cannot bear the thought of her being executed for being a runaway android, so he flees with her in the final. Jack and Bobby, who love the same woman named Rikki, decide to commit a very dangerous crime, but after the success, she leaves both of them, pursuing her dreams.
Bobby and Jack are criminals and hackers, but instead of leaving all the money to themselves, they donate most of it to charity. Deckard is a police officer, but throughout the film, he does not do much except kill unarmed androids, who were guilty of willing to live. The cyberpunk world is a world with twisted morality, and it is difficult for readers to decide who is good and who is bad. The characters do not find the answer to this question and just go with the flow.
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Burning Chrome and Blade Runner share a very similar tone and setting. The description of cities and characters’ personalities allows readers to understand the story better and comprehend the concept. William Gibson and Ridley Scott managed to create sophisticated and original worlds with their rules and laws that are hard not to fall in love with. Both of these works are very interesting and have a high value for the cyberpunk genre.