Monday, March 13, 2023

The Merging of Cyberpunk and Horror


When you think about it, cyberpunk and horror share much in common.

Cyberpunk was a reaction to the perceived excesses of capitalism and globalisation. The erosion of identity and community, leaving behind a profound sense of alienation and isolation. The domination of corporations and governments, creating a world that elevates power and profits over people. The commodification of the body, in which flesh and blood can be replaced by artificial—and superior—components. Or the commingling of man and machine, to make something more. The latter two, depending on the plot, leads either to mankind directing its own destiny, or the disintegration of what it means to be human.

Horror is a warning against evil. It draws a line in the sand, and depicts the consequences of crossing that line. Those who violate the taboo are destroyed, those who preserve it are not. The taboos come in many forms: thou shalt not consort with demons, thou shalt not meddle with the designs of the Creator, thou shalt preserve the sanctity of the human form.

Who would violate such taboos? Corporations and governments that chase power and profits. Who would have the means to commodify the people and make it mainstream? The wealthy who seek to exploit those beneath them—or the wealthy who sincerely believe that they are helping humanity overcome the weaknesses of the flesh. What would emerge from such efforts? Horrors beyond human comprehension—man-made or otherwise.

In the world of Babylon, the horror is magnified and made explicit. The New Gods reign over the world entire, and no longer have any reason to hide themselves. Every day they shout from the rooftops what was once whispered from the gutters. They promise riches and power to those who sign up with them, at the small, small price of your soul.

The typical cyberpunk dystopia has a megacorporation ruling the world. A more sophisticated dystopia has a group of megacorporations ruling the world, or competing to rule the world. Though it’s a well-established trope, it’s not something I would use.

Corporations are interested in profit—and, lately, shaping public opinion. They don’t want to rule the world directly. They’ll have to be responsible for utilities, public infrastructure, housing, emergency management, and so on. In corporate speak, they will have to take on cost centres that will generate little to no profit, especially if those cost centres are in fields outside their area of expertise. These are traditionally the duties of government: they handle the things no one else has the financial motivation or the resources to handle.

It's not plausible for any one megacorporation to assume all the duties of state. Any megacorporation that tries effectively becomes a government that happens to have a business arm. Usually the opposite occurs: after dominating politics, the government develops a business arm to grow its income. Indonesia, China, Norway and other countries have engaged in state capitalism in similar ways.

The closest history saw to a megacorporation becoming a government is the East India Company. The EIC governed its holdings in India through local vassals and British officials appointed by the Crown. The EIC itself came under increasing regulation by the British Empire, and its annexed territories became the British Raj. In the end, the EIC became an extension of the Empire, as far as political control over India was concerned.

What about an oligopoly of megacorporations? We are seeing something similar unfold today. Big Tech, Big News, Big Pharma, Big Finance, Hollywood and other big businesses all march to the same tune, following the same radical leftist agenda. But, again, when you look at the core services of government, they are not interested in touching them. They do not seek to provide sewer maintenance services, forestry management, emergency services, and so on.  They leave all that to the government.

The megacorps want dominion in their respective fields. They want to be the only ones who can provide you services in certain sectors. They want to integrate their products and services into your life so that you have no choice but to use them. They need government support to do that. They punish those who oppose the politicians so that the government will continue to support them, and so that their customers will be afraid of unhooking from the system.

What do you call such behaviour?


With Babylon, I simply made the evil visible—and added one extra component.

The megacorps want profit. The governments want control. The New Gods want both—and your soul.

They dazzle the world with supertech and magical powers, promising capabilities beyond the reach of flesh and blood. You, too, can enjoy these superhuman abilities. Hospitals and clinics offer cybernetic augmentations. Temples and shrines give you the opportunity to devote yourself to the New Gods—and for them to grant you their favour. All you have to do is to sign up with them.

But once you sign up with the New Gods, they will enlist you in their endless wars against civilization, and each other. Your tithes are their income streams. Your labour props up their war machine. Should you be blessed with powers and cybernetics, you will be expected to fight in their wars. And after they have planted hooks in your soul, be it through a microchip or possession or simple manipulation, you will not be able to say no.

As for those who cannot withstand the touch of the New Gods, they are deemed failures and tossed aside as casually as used tissue.

What is the endgame of the New Gods? Complete and total dominion. Dominion over every aspect of your life, over every corner of the world—or what is left of it. They promise a glorious utopia in the end, a utopia of eternal servitude to the dark rulers of the world. And anyone who falls out of line will be obliterated.

Sounds familiar?

Cyberpunk and horror flow from the same source: a reaction to perceived evil. The tropes of one genre can inform the other. The result of this mingling is Babylon: evil and horror incarnate in a cyberpunk dystopia.

How can you hold on to your soul? How do you resist overwhelming power? In the following blog posts, we will explore these questions and how they fit into the world of Babylon. In the meantime, back Babylon Blues on IndieGoGo here!

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