Richard K Morgan: Cyberpunk influencer of our time

Today’s post centers around my new personal inspiration for Cyberpunk, Richard K Morgan. Most of you may know him as the guy who wrote the source material for the Netflix hit TV series Altered Carbon. Some may know him as the write of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, of which Altered Carbon is the first book (and you should definitely read the other two, since Season 2 will be based on the other 2 books!).

But Richard is a very interesting guy, and I think it’s worth delving into this talented writer’s past to get to know him better, and also to help us understand what we might be able to expect from him in the future, as well as gauge what kind of influence he might have on the Cyberpunk genre.

Early Years

So let’s start at the beginning. Richard was born in London and was brought up in the village of Hethersett, near Norwich. He went to good schools, buried himself in reading and music, was rather solitary with few friends, and had no interest in drinking or girls.

He then started his first year at Queens college in Cambridge, and all that changed. He discovered alcohol and drugs, but most importantly, he experienced a heart-breaking first love relationship that wrecked his first year at the university.

So as a result, he shifted his studies to history, scraped by as he struggled with putting actual effort in his studies, and finally finished college disillusioned with no purpose or direction.

Being a writer isn’t easy.

He always knew he wanted to be a writer, but in a comfortable middle-class upbringing, he was sure that it would eventually just happen. “I just assumed I’d wander out into the world and be discovered as a brilliant novelist.”

So with that in mind, he moved to London, planning to become a writer immediately get published with the snap of his fingers, and then travel the world with his royalty checks.

But that didn’t happen. London made sure of that. Everyone wanted to be a writer there, and no one encouraged you to write since it was so common.  Morgan had wanted to do two things, to travel and to become a writer, and the latter clearly wasn’t happening.

Fortunately, becoming an ESL teacher is quite easy in comparison.

So he signed up for a 4 week intensive CELTA course in Istanbul to become an ESL teacher, and then easily got a job teaching and being paid at a local salary that was higher than a hospital doctor.

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And he ended up staying in the English Language Teaching (ELT) field for 14 years, the field that he fell into to make a living while traveling. He started as a novice, read the literature, joined professional associations, signed up for further training, and before he knew it he became a director of studies, a seasoned ELT pro, and finally a teacher trainer.

As he taught English, he continued writing, as much as he could. Short stories, articles, a screenplay that no one took seriously, a bad first novel, letters to editorial staff, and so on.

Until the day came when he got Altered Carbon published.

And then, in 8 months, Hollywood bought it and he gave up his day job.

Just like that.

The Hollywood figure who came to him? Joel Silver, who produced the Matrix.

Warner Brothers wrote him a seven-figure check to buy film rights for the book.

And then Richard Morgan waited and waited, for seven years every 18 months they paid him more. It eventually fell out of option, and then Laeta Kalogridis snatched it up. After another film option fell through, Netflix stepped up and took it on as a series.

The rest is history.

Between publishing his first book Altered Carbon in 2001 and the series being released on Netflix in 2018, however, Richard kept busy. He finished the 2nd and 3rd book in the series, and then continued writing full time.

Then he wrote two 6-issue miniseries for Marvel about Black Widow.

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His screenplay became a novel (Market Forces), and was optioned as a film and won the John Campbell memorial award.

Another novel of his, Black man, won the Arthur C Clark award.

And then he wrote a fantasy trilogy between 2008 and 2014.

Finally, alongside all this work, he had the great opportunity of being brought on board as main writer for both the 2008 cyberpunk video game Syndicate, and for Crytek’s 2011 video game Crysis 2.

What an incredible career, right? And it’s not even close to being finished!

Morgan is now 52 years old, with a wife and a young son. He moved back to the town that he grew up in. He was in his mid-30s when Altered Carbon got published.

When he was asked what was one writing tip he would recommend, he said the following:

“Have your protagonist do something unacceptable early on. You need to step away from him, so he’s not an insert or a wank fantasy. You can take the hero ride, but you’ve got to distance yourself. This is not me, this is not you, this is a man you might enjoy being in some ways, but there’s always a price to be paid. He’s morally compromised, I guess.”

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Sources:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/interview-richard-morgan-on-rebooting-syndicate-7581320.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_K._Morgan

About the Author

 

Altered Carbon: Netflix Series and Book Review

Altered Carbon is a 2018 Netflix television series from Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Shutter Island) based on the 2002 novel of the same name by author Richard K Morgan. The first season of the series and first novel of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy are about a dystopian future set in 2384 where consciousness and memories are kept on small metal discs, called cortical stacks, that are implanted into the stem of the vertebrae in humans when they are young. When any human dies, their cortical stack can be put into another body such that the human consciousness can live on, but if their stack is also destroyed, this would result in a permanent death. However, this also means that certain humans with enough wealth can effectively live forever, through the use of human clones and uploading their consciousness to a cloud server via satellite. These elite god-like humans are called Meths, in reference to Methuselah who according to the myth lived 1000 years.

The series centers around Takeshi Kovacs, the last remaining elite soldier of the envoys, a rebel group who were defeated in trying to rise up against the new world order. The  the story starts when one particularly wealthy meth, Laurens Bancroft, decides to take Takeshi’s stack out of prison storage and put it into a new body 250 years after the uprising, so that Takeshi may solve the mystery of Laurens’ own (body) death.

Fortunately, Morgan was very active in the creative process of making the Netflix series a reality, as he worked very closely with Kalogridis. Morgan was actually an ESL teacher for over a decade before he wrote and published his novel, and upon its success he quit to become a full time writer. This kind of life experience is something that I aspire to have one day as well, and is indeed quite inspiring since I’m currently an ESL teacher myself.

I should start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the series, and I would recommend reading the book first before watching the movie, as there are some significant differences in both and I feel like the original should be what gives you the first impression of the story. I also feel like it’s always better to create an image of a story with your own imagination, before having someone dictate that vision for you with a visual medium.

Morgan writes very well, with a great handle on pacing and with excellent action and story line to keep you hooked. Be warned, however, because the plot will be a little confusing (at least, it was for me) as the mystery slowly unfolds itself and will keep you guessing who murdered Laurens. I should also mention that this is definitely an adult book, with some surprisingly graphic sexual scenes written in, which is something new for me in reading a science fiction novel.

The TV series is also very good, but I felt personally that it leaned a little too hard on violence and sexually explicit scenes. It also chose to critically change some main characters which leads to a significantly different ending, one that I felt wasn’t as strong as the novel, but also that somehow was more fleshed out if that makes sense. In some ways the TV series feels like 1.5 books, compared to the 1st book by Morgan, which actually makes sense since Kalogridis decided to put more content in the first season out of fear that the series wouldn’t be renewed, and because she felt there was too much good content to ignore in books 2 and 3 from Morgan.

If you’re a fan of this genre, but feel like you only want to either read it or watch it, I would urge you to reconsider and do both for one main reason: the influence of Netflix on our society is undeniable, and that influence shouldn’t be underestimated when a big series such as Altered Carbon ends up being the big hit that it has been. The series has already gotten a myriad excellent reviews (although not being perfect), and the greenlit second season and subsequent seasons will naturally be drawing from its source material, the books, as well.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Netflix has made Altered Carbon a culturally relevant modern TV series, and subsequently also is bringing Cyberpunk into social awareness and consciousness. The stylistic choices, colors, setting, and film noir feel of Altered Carbon (both the series and the books now) are creating a new modern perception of the Cyberpunk genre for our society in real time. I would venture to say it even has more of an effect than standalone movies such as Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell, although the recent increase in Cyberpunk movies just further points to the growing trend that Cyberpunk is quickly becoming mainstream, something that industry favorite Neon Dystopia is quick to mention here and here.

So take the time to enjoy a great series and a great book. I am still trying to get my hands on book 2 and 3 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. Altered Carbon tackles some great existential themes, such as the effect of money on society and the meaning of identity in a world where bodies are expendable sleeves, consciousness can be copied and downloaded, and laws grapple with religion and justice (such as it being illegal to put a stack of a Christian into a new body, even if the previous body was murdered and only that stack can pinpoint who the murderer was in a court of law).

Futuristic weapons, culture, and society, confused senses of identity and self as they relate to new technology, cyber enhancements, neurochemical stimulants, drugs, gangs, Artificial Intelligence and immoral business practices, Altered Carbon is the modern Cyberpunk series that our world needs. I give the novel 10/10, and the TV series 9/10, notching it one point for its gratuitous sexual scenes and violence.

If you’ve read or watched them, please let me know what you thought in the comments below!

 

Cyberpunk 2077: Gameplay review

Alright, fine. Since 45 minutes of Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay has been released, I guess I have to join the bandwagon and give some of my thoughts. I mean, considering how fast Neon Dystopia wrote their review of the gameplay despite their usually very slow write-ups of current Cyberpunk news (they take time to write their content because of the high quality and extensive write-ups, an understandable limitation), I can understand how this is breaking news and indeed very exciting.

I should preface this review, however, by stating that I am very cautious to write about Cyberpunk 2077. The reason for this is that the hype over this game is, honestly, quite exhausting. It seems in the cyberpunk community that every day there’s a new story with gossip about news-that-isn’t-news, from the night/day cycle, featured car that can be driven, characters and their costumes, lighting, if you can imagine an element about the game there’s probably been some write-up about it hyped up in the lack of concrete news about the game. This is why I’ve been hesitant to comment about the game. Hell, if you google “Cyberpunk” and click the news section, all you’ll find will be news about this videogame. I shouldn’t have to tell you, dear reader, that Cyberpunk is a lot more than just one upcoming videogame. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, so people can know about synthwave music, Neon music and video festivals, and upcoming movies and news. You know, things other than just Cyberpunk 2077.

It’s my suspicion that Cyberpunk is currently experiencing a revival, facilitated in part by Altered Carbon and the sci-fi push in Netflix, as well as a series of recent box office hits these past couple of years with movies such as Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, and this year’s Ready Player One movie adaptation with none other than the great Stephen Spielberg.

If you ask a common person what cyberpunk is, however, I bet they won’t know exactly what it is. That will soon change once this game finally comes out, because it’s in the name of the game itself.

What comes after that is anyone’s guess.

Anyways, on to the review of the gameplay footage.

I think whether or not you’re excited by this game depends a lot on the type of gamer you are. Do you like sinking hours upon hours into a videogame, or do you like having a simple storyline to start and finish because you have a job and responsibilities? Do you prefer stealth games, fighting games, racing games, or first person shooters?

Well, regardless of what you like, it sure seems like Cyberpunk 2077 will have a bit for everyone.

It seems like it has equal parts Grand Theft Auto, Deus Ex, Fallout, and Mass Effect. You can get into cars and drive around, and complete missions, but there are main missions and side missions, and all your choices matter. There is no right or wrong, only grey areas. The game is visually similar to Deus Ex or Mass Effect, with the ability to go a bit into stealth, but an interesting choice is to have the game be exclusively in first person (except for the car racing parts). I personally love this choice, and the fighting gameplay style looks so smooth and fluid that I could mistake it for a cyberpunk-y version of Halo mixed with Gears of War in its cover system (plus it has bullettime!). I’ve always felt that first person games will always make the game more immersive, which is why I played almost all of Skyrim and Fallout in first person when I had the choice.

The dialogue in this game at first glance looks extensive, which is great. The voice acting also looks like it’ll be pretty good. I’m of the impression that too many choices and paths can be overwhelming–I’d rather only have a few options and I usually stick to the main stories before I play through the game again completing more side quests. So I’m concerned the amount of side missions in this game might be too much.

I must say, though, the visuals in this game look absolutely gorgeous. If you’ve read my review for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you’ll note how much of a missed opportunity I felt it had by making literally everything everywhere orange and yellow (something they remedied in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided). Not so with this game, it seems. I’ve seen in some cyberpunk boards that people wanted night all the time, with even more neon and less bright-harsh-natural sunlight, but I’m perfectly happy with the natural sunlight. There will be plenty of places to go inside that will hide the sunlight, and I think living in a constantly dark world would seem a bit unrealistic anyways.

What are your thoughts on the gameplay reveal? Are you excited for this game as well? Let me know below.

48 minute gameplay video can be found here.

Next Gen: Review

This movie came up on my radar about a month ago, thanks to Netflix’s advertising on their own website since it’s a Netflix original. Somehow I knew that I would like this movie, and had been eagerly awaiting its release. Well, folks, it finally came out yesterday, and I must say, it didn’t disappoint. Next Gen is a charming children’s cyberpunk tale about humanity and adolescence woven through the narrative of robots and machines.

The story is about a young girl called Mai who was part of a happy family until one day her father gets into an argument with her mother and decides to leave. This causes a lot of anger and angst in the young girl, who grows up to become a rebellious teen. Her mother decides to get a robot to fill the space that her father left, but this results in her mother loving robots while Mai despises them because of how they can never replace a proper human.

In case you’re worried this is ruining the movie, have no fear. Mai’s entire backstory is told wordlessly at the beginning of the movie alongside the movie credits, which was an interesting artistic touch but personally I’m never in favor of a movie needing to explain its world to you before it even starts. Some of my favorite movies have always been ones where they never held your hand or helped explain their world to you, where instead you as a viewer have to make it out as you go along.

Anyways, a friendless Mai meets a new robot, 7723, who might make her change her mind about the value of robots. Together they then band together to help save the world from a nefarious plot that I will not reveal, but being a true cyberpunk movie, you can probably guess what might happen well into the movie.

I personally loved this movie. There is a good amount of action, and the direction and scenes are incredibly creative and felt akin to the visuals I might see in a high-quality anime or intense big-budget video game.

The soundtrack was quite good, the characters were believable and relatable (especially Mai), and the visuals were beautiful as well.

Considering that this is a children’s movie and I wasn’t their target audience, I thought it was still a very enjoyable movie. I look forward to more cyberpunk movies like it, especially because for me, the cyberpunk tropes can get a bit too violent (like Altered Carbon), too slow (like Blade Runner), or too dark and depressing (like Black Mirror). To watch a neon high-tech movie where humanity is slipping away with an excess of robots in their false utopia was highly refreshing when considering how light and fun all the robots were. For instance, the robot toothbrush fighting to get into Mai’s mouth so it could fight her tartar was a laugh-out-loud fun moment. You don’t get a lot of those these days with Cyberpunk.

In summation, I would give this movie a 10/10 taken as it is, unless you don’t like kids movies or expect to have your mind blown, in which case it’s probably not for you. I can’t seem to find any faults in it really.

Let me know what you think below!