Traditional Science FictionEdit
Pre-cyberpunk, most science fiction looked something like this, except for military science fiction which we don't really deal with. It has it's roots in the speculative fiction of Jules Vernes and HG Wells, particularly in Wells' more satirical works. This is the sort of thing the Allies, Chinese, and Protectorate are built on.
In traditional science fiction...
- The main character is a government agent, an upstanding citizen, or a soldier. He seeks to advance the cause of Justice and Goodness and so forth.
- Villains include evil dictators, evil empires, powerful supervillains, consequences of "bad" technology like robots, alien invaders, and traditional crime. The hero has the upper hand, and the villain must be guile and dastardly to level the playing field.
- Society is usually utopian.
- Technology is presented as being the solution to all problems, and any problems it causes are isolated occurrences or grave misuse, not systematic.
- It is highly idealistic.
In Paradox, the Allies represent the traditional science fiction hero, with the Chinese and Protectorate as the "Foreign/Alien Enemy" and "Science Gone Wrong" respectively.
Examples : Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Flash Gordon, Star Trek
Social Science FictionEdit
Though explored by HG Wells with works like The Sleeper Awakes, Social Science Fiction was kicked off by Aldous Huxley with Brave New World and popularized by George Orwell's 1984. Basically, Social SF is SF where the science is political science rather than technology. Social SF is usually discussed as "Utopian" and "Dystopian" fiction, but those labels are rather inflexible. The Soviets are based on this.
In Social Science Fiction...
- The main character is usually either an outsider or a member of the society who has the most freedom, allowing him to experience the full range of the society.
- Villains are almost always the society itself.
- Society is often, but not always, dystopian; the opposite can occasionally be the case. Either way, it's very extreme.
- Technology plays a minimal part in the story itself, except to enable to political theory being explored.
- These works tend to be cynical, even the utopian fiction.
Examples: Utopia, Gulliver's Travels, The Sleeper Awakes, Brave New World, 1984, The Protomen Act One
Cyberpunk is a deconstructive form of speculative science fiction; it generally refers to a setting where transhumanistic (technology that improves the abilities of individuals) technology is used as a tool of repression or otherwise is the major cause or tool of social issues. It was developed by William Gibson in the early 80s as a response to the rise of commercialism at the time. In essence, it takes the "bad" uses of technology in traditional science fiction and makes it systematic rather than isolated, thus achieving the tone of social SF within the playing field of traditional SF. The Syndicate is cyberpunk.
- The main character is a rebel, a criminal, or otherwise at the bottom of the social ladder. He rages against those above him, but is usually little better morally than those he opposes.
- Villains include repressive governments, immoral corporations, and the apathy of society itself. They are always vastly more powerful than the hero.
- Society is almost always dystopian or at the very least crappy.
- Technology is presented as having become an unsettling or horrific thing. AIs are malicious or amoral, cybernetics are terrifying and the people using them have lost their humanity. Social ills are present due to or worsened because of this technology.
- Cyberpunk is highly cynical, and everyone is morally dark.
Examples; The Sprawl Trilogy, Blade Runner, the Matrix, the Protomen Act Two
Post-Cyberpunk is a reconstructive movement that occurred after Cyberpunk; incorporating the themes of Cyperpunk while fitting the more hopeful tone of traditional science fiction. It was primarily developed by Masamune Shirow as a direct response to William Gibson's work. It tends to focus a great deal on philosophy and politics due to it's amalgimated nature. The Empire is post-cyberpunk.
- The main character is a detective, police officer, or other force for social stabilization. He seeks to better society.
- Villains include incompetent government, amoral corporations, foreign enemies, and technological crime or error. Usually, the hero works on behalf of authority and faces these evils on a more equal footing.
- Society has it's ups and downs; some things have gotten worse, but others improved.
- Technology is both the cause of, and the solution to, the problems of the world.
- Post-Cyberpunk runs the full gauntlet of idealism vs cynicism.
Examples : Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis, Patlabour, Deus Ex
Situation: Oh no, robots are rampaging about! Hero does something about it.
- Traditional SF: Oh no! The evil Lord Dastardly has unleashed a robotic menace! These machines are a terrifying example of what happens when technology is misused. Doc Smith, professional hero-type, arrives to sort out the situation; though he finds himself outgunned, he manages to confuse the machines with a logical paradox and then takes down the master control computer in Lord Dastardly's lair!
- Social SF: The robots are government killbots, roving the streets looking to kill anyone out past curfew. The hero has just realized how evil this is, and makes a valiant stand against the mechanical monster... and is immediately gunned down. Nothing changes, the system is perfect.
- Cyberpunk: The robots are construction machines with faulty AI, and every so often they go crazy and destroy a hab-block! The hero disables one to steal it's internal parts, but that sets the corporation (who fakes the rampages to drive down property values so they can buy up large areas of land, while a shell company gets hit with the lawsuit) after him, forcing him to make a stand; if he can get the truth out, the resulting lawsuit will destroy the company and let him fence the parts to another corporation.
- Post-Cyberpunk: The robots are construction machines with faulty AI, and every so often they go crazy and destroy a hab-block! Fortunately, the Cyber Police are on the case; they're own robots let them fight the machines on an equal footing, while their AI enhanced brains let them figure out the real culprit; a corrupt businessman trying to lower property values so he can buy them up! Good thing we brought him to justice, but there was an uncomfortable level of government corruption surrounding the case. And was killing the insane AIs the right thing to do, considering their sentience and inability to understand why they were doing it?