Presentations will be released here on this website during the week of the conference. Please click the timetable for an overview of when each presentation is going to have its q&a via Discord. Registered participants will be informed via mail and announcements made on twitter. For the Friday program, please click here. For your convenience, here are the abstracts of the announced presentations:
We got accustomed from the beginning of the 20th Century to the idea of gloomy future with the advent of AIs, ousting humans and wrecking havoc of human feelings and civilization, especially in SF drama in the theatre and on the screen – from Chapek’s R.U.R through Blade Runner to Black Mirror and Altered Carbon. Along the way the definition of humanity was expanded and abilities of AI to encompass what we consider the core qualities and values been explored. But all that was predominantly developed closer to the tragic side of the dramatic spectrum, if done with any depth. The series Upload that premiered May 1, 2020 offered a lighter take on the theme, following the developing romantic story between the newly uploaded into the digital sphere former coder Nathan Brown and Nora Antony – his “angel” service agent of the corporation managing the simulated environment. I am suggesting the analysis of the cyperpunk romantic comedy gains in comparison with the development of the depicting human relationships in classic cyperpunk texts, such as Pat Cadigan’s Synners, and more contemporary ones, as the episode “San Junipero” in Black Mirror.
§2: Karina Patrascanu – Hololives: Holodeck and Holospaces as Repositories of Life in Star Trek: The Next Generation
When the virtual realms of cyberpunk channel the posthumanist perception of life, they press on the idea that the authenticity of life and human experience cannot or should not be contained within material, fleeting bodies. This presentation explores cyberspaces within the Star Trek universe as places where life is not only (re)experienced but also produced – in one way or another. One such place is contained by an alien probe whose beam highjacks Captain Picard’s consciousness, forcing him to experience the life of an extinct race and in a sense to become a member of that society. In other words, he functions as a witness to a long lost history. Therefore, cyberspaces not only transcend their entertainment function into one that is larger than life, but also prompt the question of whether the act of living is necessarily enclosed within physical boundaries. Another type of cyberspace discussed in this presentation is the Holodeck aboard Star Trek‘s Enterprise. The Holodeck literally gives life to characters within, such as Dr. Moriarty, providing them with self-awareness, and a desire to transcend their virtual lives and experience human or ‘real’ lives. The debate not only revolves around the notion of life, but also challenges some extreme posthumanist tendencies towards complete immersion into technology, opting, instead, for a balance between the ‘post’ and the ‘human’, a conversation that Star Trek does not shy away from throughout its installments. Placed at the intersection of philosophy, science-fiction studies, and posthumanist studies, this paper ponders virtual spaces as both life-givers, as well as repositories of knowledge, holding within their digital walls the histories, cultures, and memories of an entire race. If cyberspaces such as the Holodeck provide room for contemplating humanity, other virtual spaces allow for a reconsideration of the nature of life itself.
Cyberpunk is the literature of a digitally networked, uneven Earth. Running these wires, cyberpunk is also a horizontal hymn to the neon saturated streets of the city. This fragmentary and granular focus on the IRL and virtual mobilities of the street often obscure the verticalities of telecommunication infrastructures looming above the urban sprawl below. Moreover, the on-the-ground actuality of the streets are more than captured, surveilled and facilitated by these planetary spanning satellite infrastructures. Instead, orbital technologies enable forms of visualisation and simulation which remake the Earth. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun has outlined, such systems “always generate text and images rather than merely represent or reproduce what exists elsewhere.” How then does cyberpunk imagine, (re)mediate and re-envision the Earth? Throughout the cyberpunk genre, from the orbital habitats of William Gibson’s canonical Neuromancer (1984) to the consciousness carrying satellite constellations of Vernor Vinge’s ur-text True Names (1981): planetary-scale views of the Earth are pivotal. Cyber and cosmic space collide in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), where navigations of Earth simulations are a key site of world-building and plotting. For Snow Crash, the Earth becomes an endlessly manipulatable simulation, a digital object of strategy and postmodern play. But satellite infrastructures do not only enable real-time overviews of a miniaturised digital Earth. Indeed, gazing upon and gathering data from the Earth often becomes a site of emergence fordisobedient AI. In Cowboy Bebop’s ninth episode “Jamming with Edward” (1998), a lonely sentient satellite looks down and yearns for ancient Earthworks which have now been long effaced. Turning their longing into an art, the AI coordinates a constellation of orbital lasers to carve spirals and sculpt animal forms onto the land, a restoration which becomes the cause of great devastation for the Earthlings below. Undergirding cyberpunks streaming urban consciousness then is its orbital awareness. This paper will thus address the undertheorised ways in which the genre imagines, interfaces with and represents the Earth on a planetary scale.
 Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011), 17 (my italics)
§4: Emily Cox-Palmer-White – Dolls, Cyborgs and Multi-Purpose Women: Hacking Minds to Traffick Bodies in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse
Cyberpunk fiction has been interpreted by some as a masculine fantasy of the pure mind escaping the limitations of the body. Carlen Lavign argues that, contrastingly, ‘Cyberpunk written by women preserves ambiguous attitudes toward new technologies, but also comes down more firmly on the side of “actuality” (embodiment) versus “virtual reality”’. This apparent gender divide within Cyberpunk fiction, though contestable, highlights how the mind/body split is traditionally mapped onto male and female bodies (or minds). Yet, Donna Haraway’s feminist cyborg figure of technologically mediated plurality challenges this woman/body vs man/mind dichotomy. Joss Whedon’s TV series, Dollhouse (2009) further complicates the utopian possibilities of cyberpunk fiction by depicting a world where women’s bodies are exploited through their minds – a near future where a malign corporation wipes the memories of ‘volunteers’, transforming them into helpless ‘dolls’ so they can be imprinted with personalities desirable to clients. The protagonist, Echo, is continually transformed into a machine-like entity for consumption blurring the boundaries between mental abstraction, bodily modification, and mental vs physical exploitation. Challenging Haraway’s idealised, feminist cyborg figure who transgresses boundaries and supplants the conception of the masculine, unified self, Dollhouse depicts a strong-willed individual woman transformed into a the Stepford Wife made flesh, whose entire purpose is literally to exist for others and whose multiplicity of self is neither a utopian feminist nor a traditionally masculine fantasy, but rather a nightmare vision of female exploitation.
 Lavign, Carlen, Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction. London: McFarland, 2013, p. 64.
 Haraway, Donna. Of Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books, 1991.
 Giaimo, Genie Nicole. “Memory, Brains, Narratives: The Humanities as a Testing Ground for Bioethical Scenario-Building” in Literature and Medicine. Spring: 2016, vol. 1, no. 1. – accessed online through Project Muse [Accessed 11.05.2020].
§5: Julia Gatermann – “Nostalgia for the Future”: Projecting a Post-Disability Image through Retro-Futuristic Aesthetics in Viktoria Modesta’s “Prototype”
In the 2014 music video for her song “Prototype,” directed by Saam Farahmand and recorded for Channel 4’s #bornrisky campaign that aimed to tackle preconceptions and prejudices about marginalized groups, self-labelled bionic pop artist Viktoria Modesta uses her own physicality – she had a leg amputation below the knee at age 20 – to achieve a resignification of disability. The futuristic design of her leg prostheses, that, being works of art that reach far beyond their functionality as artificial limbs, radically change the silhouette of her body, her movements, the way she engages with her surroundings – her embodiment. By closely tying her sexuality, beauty, and fierceness to her amputeeism, Modesta promotes a new (posthuman) perspective on deviant bodies and what they can do. In “Prototype”, Modesta walks a fine line of stylizing herself both as an art object and an icon of empowerment – the source for both being her particular embodiment. The video’s affective impact, however, derives from a striking audiovisual language, I argue, that productively combines tropes from sadomasochistic/fetishistic subcultures and the noir retro-futuristic aesthetics of cyberpunk urtext Blade Runner. While the surface structure of music video does not necessarily strike as overly cyberpunk, it nevertheless employs an iconography that subconsciously runs on a cyberpunk code which serves as an unfailing visual shorthand to signify futurity. “Prototype” fuses these subliminal cyberpunk visuals with Modesta’s sensuality – epitomized in her fetishized leg prosthesis – and weaponizes it for social change.
§6: Sébastien Doubinsky – “I want To Be A Machine”: Cyberpunk and the Political Esthetics of the Man-Machine
In the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s (roughly between 1976 and 1983) a wave of new cultural tropes begin to appear in what is then called “underground music”, in Europe and in the United States. Based on the combination of a relatively new instrument (the synthesizer) and the politics of the Cold War. Generally opposing the positivist doxa of “friendly technology” and its use in mainstream music, these bands created an often ambiguous counter-cultural model stressing the lies, weaknesses and dangers of both Western and Communist ideologies. By deliberately choosing a technological angle and a rebellious/subversive attitude, they promoted in their music and songs genres that would soon merge with the then prevailing punk scene. Two striking examples, on which I will base my study are the British band Ultravox in their early period (1976-1979) and the German band Kraftwerk. As noted above, these two examples are only a few in a sea of contemporary bands and performers (Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Newman, to name a few) with similar positions, but both Ultravox and Kaftwerk, in their lyrics and staging, have specifically expressed a very ambivalent attitude about the “carnal” link between man and machine, thus pushing the notion of “cyberpunk” towards the possibility (and desire?) of “Singularity”.
§7: Agnieszka Kiejziewicz – Cyberpunk in the Modern Museum: Actuality, Future and the Challenges of Exhibiting Movie Memorabilia
Cyberpunk movie memorabilia and art (i.e., comic book sketches), once perceived only as of the elements of cyberpunk narratives, changed their function. Now, away from the film scenography, the objects can be recognized by the contemporary viewer as the sources of prophetic memory about the future, at the same time, gaining cult status because of their universal message. Movie memorabilia depicted in an art gallery can also be considered as a legitimate art, encouraging the philosophical reflection upon the ways of social development. It opens new research perspectives on the functions and objects exhibited in modern museums, expanding the notions of new museology. According to this, in the proposed conference presentation, I am going to focus on the reinterpretation of well-known cyberpunk motifs and aesthetics through the lenses of current philosophical and social trends, which determine the reception of cyberpunk art. Moreover, I will discuss the challenges related to exhibiting cyberpunk in the museums and galleries, focusing on the models of reception, promotion, accompanying events, and legal issues.
§8: Dominic Riemenschneider – Where Reality and Virtuality Collide: (Urban) Architectures in Cyberpunk and the Visual Strategies of the Dystopian Fantastics
Compared to other subgenres of Science Fiction, Cyberpunk is probably closer to our current reality of life than the most distant galaxies or space traveling federations. Here, current developments and questions merge with futuristic and fantastic imageries whose roots can be found in the art and architecture of past centuries as well as in the interfantastic (visual) tradition that has developed over the last decades. The paper is based on the architectural world construction in selected examples of visual Cyberpunk. How are the urban, technological settings represented? Which motifs connect all the works? Which stylistic elements are used that allow an attribution to Cyberpunk? And are these visual strategies, motifs and elements transferable to other genres of the fantastic? On this basis, it will be considered how the topics discussed in Cyberpunk, such as the use of technology, virtuality, environment, social situations, commercialization, etc., are related to the image of architecture and the city and where the actual models and reference points lie. Which actual and fictional future projections and images of the future are expressed in this way? The paper uses art historical methodology to analyze the visual strategies in Cyberpunk artworks and to place them in the overall context of the significance of architecture for actual and fictional world design and interpretation.
My research project Science Fiction, Fact & Forecast seeks to shed light on the interface between science fiction literature and futurology. In this framework, I examine contemporary short stories that read like SF, but are equally considered ‘scenarios’, ‘prototypes’ or similar tools for thinking about future. These texts are written by futurists as well as SF authors and are often commissioned and discussed by academic institutions, community organizers, private companies or think tanks of all kinds. Cyberpunk plays a particular role in this current trend. Without question, many cyberpunk authors are regular go-to persons for the media when it comes to general questions about the future (like William Gibson) or they explicitly work as futurists (like Bruce Sterling and Madeline Ashby). However, what interests me most is the particular way the original movement in the 1980s addressed the old debate of how ‘science-based’ or, conversely, ‘speculative’ Science Fiction should be. Focusing on some editions of the zine Cheap Truth as well as the short stories of Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling published in the collection Transreal Cyberpunk (2016), I want to point out the playful and ironic, but nonetheless serious arguments these authors used to deconstruct the SF canon and at the same time formulating writing rules to get a glimpse of possible futures. Weird, ephemeral methods to fit the potentially weird and ephemeral futures. To my mind, these cyberpunk ways of narrating the future can and should inspire the current futurist discourse, because, despite the inclusion of Science Fiction, it all too often proves to be too slick and business-like.
§10: María Ferrández San Miguel – Resilient Cyborgs: Trauma and the Posthuman in Pat Cadigan’s Synners
Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of interest in two related concepts: cyberspace and the cyborg. They are particularly apt notions to conceptualize the times that we live in, characterized by a simultaneous fascination with, and anxiety about, the rapid changes produced by the new information and biotechnologies. Of all the subgenres of science fiction (SF), cyberpunk is probably the one that has most meaningfully engaged with these concepts. Pat Cadigan, acclaimed by The Guardian as “The Queen of Cyberpunk,” manifests in her works a preoccupation with the status of being within the late-capitalist, information-saturated, post-industrial society of the near future. The redefinition of what it means to be human and the ontological crisis that results from the loss of an unproblematic ‘real’ (as opposed to the virtual) are key driving concerns in Synners (1991), Cadigan’s second novel. A cyberpunk story with a twist, the novel centers on a new technology that allows for direct neural interfacing between the brain of the new cyborged posthumans and the Net. This paper will carry out an exploration of the novel’s representation of the (post)human in cyberspace under the sign of trauma. The main focus will be on the possibility of escaping the traumatic living conditions of the physical world through transcendence and on alternative forms of resistance.
Of all the technologies that form science fiction commonplaces, there is one that figures particularly prominently in cyberpunk and yet that has been evoked surprisingly little in recent weeks as a hypothetical solution to our current problems: holograms. In media from Star Wars to Altered Carbon and even Star Trek, scenes abound in which holographic projections of individuals dispersed across the planet, star system, or even galaxy give the impression that they’re gathered together in the same room. Of course, our present holographic technologies are not yet advanced enough to permit such a solution, forcing us to relegate our digital meetings to Zoom-like platforms. In fact, while we lack the means to project holograms in real-time for communication purposes, today’s holographic technologies are primarily used to replace not absence, but death: that is, to bring performers back from the dead and send them on tour, from Maria Callas to Amy Winehouse (though one does wonder whether we might one day be able to similarly bring back critics past to join conference proceedings; a holographic Barthes, for example, would certainly have something interesting to say about the Death of the Author). This seems an appropriate moment, then, to explore what I term the ontology of the hologram (with thanks to André Bazin), which I begin to do by looking to the nineteenth century, when another technology seemed to bring the dead back to life and allow them to speak: the phonograph. Examining responses to this invention and its ontological valences during a period that was obsessed with investigating and challenging delineations between life and death through endeavors from galvanism to spiritualism, I then consider how our responses to hologram technologies in the media and the public sphere of the internet, and the anxieties they express, can be understood in light of those of the past as we, too, move swiftly into a future that confuses delineations between life and death, absence and presence.
Today’s pop culture remembers Max Headroom as a goofy spokesperson for cola drinks, but the origins of the character stretch deep into the counterculture from a time when cynicism at the fall of American exceptionalism (from the Vietnam War) and demise of hippie culture collided with the emerging consumerist and corporatism culture founded in the principles of Margaret Thatcher (in the UK) and Ronald Reagan (in the US). Mass media propelled a narrative consisting of empty entertainment and ownership that acted as a parasite on authentic culture (i.e., media virus) to shape society for the betterment of the few instead of the masses. The 80’s was this battleground, and Max Headroom (a character stretching across the pond) presented a unique view into the early shaping of musical culture with the emergence of video DJ’s and music television, and shows how the authenticity of youth revolt and niche sub-cultures were ultimately co-oped by mainstream outlets to feed consumerism. This talk presents the 80’s as the last battleground between authentic culture and change versus a dystopian world of “consume” and “obey” warned about in cyberpunk literature.
Jaspers’ concept of the Axial Age suggests that near-simultaneously in the 6th century BCE, people around the world (who had no physical contact) began to wake up to new ways of thinking and being utilizing the technologies of their time. In brief, this era saw the emergence of the Hebrew prophets, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, and Buddha. Their shared commonality is that they were each “punks” who eschewed tradition in favor of self-knowledge. The Buddha especially stands out as one who used the “technology” of meditation to arrive at a new understanding of humanity beyond conformity. This presentation will argue that the cyberpunk represents an Axial Age figure in contemporary society, and that the “punk” aspect connects the “hi-tech low life” to these historical figures. Though the technologies may differ (computers, drugs, vandalism, and so forth), the cyberpunk’s motivation to “intrude” beyond the given resonates with the ethos of the Axial Age. Furthermore, this presentation will argue that the three main characteristics of “Axial consciousness” are present in the cyberpunk’s search: the desire to experience a reality which transcends finite phenomena, the conviction that the same reality is at the core of the human personality, and the creative use of technology to real-ize this reality for oneself.
§14: Josh Pearson – We’ve read the talk, now let’s walk the walk: Drawing Students into Cyberpunk with the CP2020’s Lifepath System
I have been teaching a module on cyberpunk as part of my Introduction to Science Fiction course for the last few years. In this presentation, I would like to share one of the most useful tools I have found for getting students to engage deeply with the style and the substance of cyberpunk: the “Lifepath” character background generation rules from Cyberpunk 2020. I set aside a whole class period for students to create characters using this system, and then make connections between their creations and characters from the texts we read together. The results have been fantastic. Students regularly refer to this activity as one of the most fun and interesting parts of the course. In my presentation, I will lay out both how I conduct this activity, and why I think it works so well as a tool for viscerally connecting students to the core ideas of cyberpunk: its blurring of human and machine, its exaggerated and deracinated urbanism, and its extrapolation of neoliberism’s “governing logic” of human capital to all aspects of characters’ style and motivation.
§15: Sumeyra Buran – Fabulation of Alternate Parallel Universes: Queertopia in Turkish Science Fiction
Departing from Donna Haraway’s note that “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion” (149), I argue that science fiction explores “queer worlding” by offering alternate sexuality in the utopian portrayal of gender-friendly universes. Sheida Aiden (Şeyda Aydın) is the first Turkish feminist and Queer science fiction author who speculates neo-futuristic utopia and cyberpunk anti-utopia in her novels. Aiden’s The Woman in Other Universe (2019) starts in a green queertopian techno-universe called Netta (means worth), where non-sexist queer people live together in a peaceful utopic country, but the setting travels to a dystopic retro cyberpunk parallel universe called Antero where people are accustomed to live in a capitalist and imperialist world with hatred, revenge, violence, wars, viruses, biological weapons, environmental collapse, patriarchal regimes and inequal human rights. The novel tells how a film writer Veera Vitanen searches the reflection of her 13-year partner Eeva Van Rooyen, who died due to cancer but continues to exist in the second dangerous parallel universe with another identity which surrounded by violent and homophobic-transphobic people with infectious diseases. The novel depicts the social norms towards genderless eternal love for queer characters who travel between parallel universes through opening a gate portal with a machine and can find themselves thanks to consciousness transfer. This queer love gives birth to a posthuman daughter who as a mythologic goddess changes the ugly consciousness of human being and ends the gender-bias in the dystopic world forever. My aim is to examine how queer sexualities and homonormativity in a genderless utopian universe challenges dystopian social orders and homophobia. In this paper, I will explore how Turkish queer science fiction offers alternate future breaking the sexist walls in gender constructed culture.
§16: Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad – When Gravity Succeeds: Imagining Islamic(ate) Futures in Cyberpunk and Beyond
Soon after its origins most in the West and Japan, Cyberpunk became a global phenomenon. Cyberpunk has evolved into unique flavors in various parts of the world and the Islamic world is no exception. Some people have even argued that some states in the Persian Gulf already live in a Cyberpunk world characterized by technological engineering marvels juxtaposed with a large underclass of underclass residents. Imaginings of the Cyberpunk future in the Islamic world ranges from Gulf Futurism, Middle Eastern Dystopias that are extensions of the present, Sufi Utopias from Turkey, Science Fiction Utopias written by jailed members of the Muslim brotherhood etc. In this talk I will cover the various Science Fiction imagings of future from the Islamic world, especially with reference to Cyberpunk, and how that contrasts with the manner in which Muslim cultures have been imagined in Cyberpunk literature in the West. While there are notable exceptions like George Effinger’s When Gravity Fails, there is an almost complete lack of representation of Muslim cultures in Cyberpunk, almost as if these cultures do not exist in such a future. Lastly, I will also discuss the impact of emerging technologies are informing not just Sci-Fi but Futurist scenarios emerging from the Muslim world – Cyberpunk with an Islamic(ate) flair.
Cyberpunk, as aptly demonstrated by the multitude of varied approaches that this conference addresses, is an intensely multi-faceted concept. Rooted in genre science-fiction, cyberpunk has often been explicitly tied to larger conceptual frameworks, about the nature of the body, of societal structures, of consciousness, and of technological development. However, I contend that within the realm of videogames cyberpunk has primarily become a term connoted exclusively with a set of visual and aural aesthetic sensibilities, becoming depoliticized as much as possible from its radical roots, and reduced to a collaged set of ‘tropes’. I offer the provocation that videogames have been, almost entirely, beholden to a form of collective limited nostalgia, and that the standard videogame approach to Cyberpunk would better be deemed a sort of constrained ‘retropunk’, whereby the fetishisation of certain visual aesthetic sensibilities have removed the potential for meaningful evolution of the term. Cyberpunk’s already blurry delineations and definitions are often conflated with a number of other genre clichéemanating from the same time period, stemming from a generalised assumption of 1980’s (and to a lesser extent 1990’s) American and Japanese visual design, imagery, dress, slang and music. I contend that there are games that either do, or could, be incorporated within cyberpunk and videogame culture at large, but are held in situ due to strict aesthetic requirements. To demonstrate this compression of the conceptual frame of Cyberpunk I’ll examine two different games both grouped under the genre heading of Cyberpunk: Cyberpunk 2077, and Quadrilateral Cowboy. In this process of examining these comparative aesthetics I’ll draw upon genre and fan-cultural studies, as well as examine the role that videogame distribution platforms (Steam, etc) play in the exacting process of genre identification and aesthetic trends within videogames at large. Finally, I seek to propose a reading of Sophia Al-Maria’s Gulf Futurism ideas as a set of frameworks that more specifically embody the Cyberpunk ethos.