Category Archives: Books

Cyberpunk Matrix Books and Graphic Novels

Review: Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga

Into neon cover

Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga

Into Neon is the first in the ThutoCo Cyberpunk Saga trilogy by author Matthew A. Goodwin, available on Amazon in paperback for $10 or on Kindle for less than $2.

Goodwin’s own moniker for his book, a Cyberpunk Saga, is a pretty good description of this book in and of itself. Into Neon feels like a perfect match for the genre that it markets itself in. With a simple, straightforward story filled with a giant evil corporation, a rag-tag team of dissenting punks trying to bring it down, neon lights and body augmentations, Into Neon fits right in.

The Premise

Moss lives a fairly simple life in Burb 2152. He has a couple friends, works with his drudge — an automaton with advanced AI that can be controlled remotely while still have a programmable personality — and is happy living under the benevolent watch of ThutoCo. That is, until one day a stranger walks into his hex and changes his life forever. He learns that ThutoCo is not as it seems, and that his help is needed. What comes next is a tale of discovery, adventure, and courage. All with a shiny Neon sheen.

Characters

Moss has two friends who live in his burb, Gibbs, a colorful yet friendly character always lusting after women that pass by, and Issy, a flirty yet hard working police officer. Goodwin creates a fun interaction between these three friends. Next we have the crew outside the burb, with many characters including Ynna and Burn. Both competent, dedicated characters with very colorful descriptions, these characters I felt were well written as well.While Gibbs and Moss have a more youthful, naive air about them (since they both come from the pampered, isolated corporate burb) Burn and Ynna have a much harder, grittier edge to them. However, sometimes I felt like they missed a bit of depth, and couple have been fleshed out a little more. Which very well might be possible in the subsequent novels.

Complexity

Into Neon’s story is incredibly straightforward, which is a huge contrast to novels from the likes of, say, William Gibson. It depends on your reading style, but for me personally this resulted in an easy, page-turning read that I quite enjoyed. With language or a plot that’s too complicated, or no clear goal in the story as is sometimes the case of other writers, Goodwin’s novel is like a breath of fresh, cyberpunk-processed air. No nonsense, just a simple, fun, straightforward Cyberpunk tale.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Goodwin kept a good pace in his novel, and both the action and emotion in the story were good, but again, nothing extraordinary here. Into Neon is a solid cyberpunk novel that checks all the boxes. Goodwin has crafted a fun new world with interesting new technology. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of transhumanism (body augmentations), the way people in this world are so readily willing to give up human limbs in favor of artificial ones, and the process of getting such an augmentation was one that felt real enough that I could see it happen in the non-too-distant future. This novel was a solid, fun cyberpunk novel, and although nothing in particular stands out it’s a great cyberpunk saga and an easy read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to spend a fun neon-filled evening with an exciting page-turner. You can also check out more from Matthew Goodwin on his blog, ThutoWorld.com.

 

Review: Minority Report (and other Cyberpunk short stories)

Minority Report short stories book

Minority Report: A Review

Although this book is technically called Minority Report, it should really be called Minority Report (and other Cyberpunk short stories) by Philip K. Dick. Indeed, nowhere on the back of the book nor on the cover does the book reveal that Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is in fact only a short story of 45 pages. The contents of this book are actually as follows:

  1. Minority Report
  2. Imposter
  3. Second Variety
  4. War Game
  5. What the Dead Men Say
  6. Oh, to Be a Blobel!
  7. The Electric Ant
  8. Faith of Our Fathers
  9. We Can Remember it for You Wholesale

This book has no less than nine short stories! And of particular note is the last short story, We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, is none other than the short story that inspired the famous Cyberpunk 1990 flick Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger (and its subsequent 2012 reboot).

Reviewing each Cyberpunk / Alternate Reality Story

So how good are these short stories? Are they worth your time? Absolutely. But, like anything else, some are much better than others, both in excitement level and in mind-bending ideas. So without further ado, here’s my review for Minority Report (and other short stories by Philip K Dick).

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Minority Report: 8/10

John Anderton is the commissioner of Precrime, a futuristic division of the police that prevents crimes before they happen with the help of three precogs. Unlike the film with Tom Cruise, the source material is a lot more tame–the short story reads more like a detective mystery novel, as Anderton must race against time to solve the mystery of how he is supposed to kill a man he has never heard of before in the next 48 hours. As the story develops and Anderton goes to different places to piece together the clues, the story’s message is a lot more about political power than it is about broken families or Anderton surviving. Indeed, Anderton’s survival almost seems to take a back seat to his ascertaining if the system itself suddenly has a flaw or not, which would put into question everything he had done before that moment. Still, with a short but exciting moment when Anderton is on the run, this story was one of my favorites of the nine, as it is different enough from the film that it kept me guessing until the very end.

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Imposter: 8.5/10

Imposter apparently got the movie treatment as well, but the film is obscure enough that I’m fairly sure no one has heard of it. This story is about Spence Olham, a man who is suddenly arrested and taken in because the police claim that he is an unwitting spy of the enemy, an android who replaced the real Spence Olham without knowing it, for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack. As he is taken back to HQ Olham must try to escape and solve the mystery of who, or what, he is before it is too late. This felt like a real sci-fi thriller as Olham questions whether he is human or not, and how he would even know. It was exciting and fast-paced from beginning to end, and is another one of my favorite stories of the nine.

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Second Variety: 9/10

Second Variety is about a group of American soldiers sitting in the trenches on Earch fighting a long, drawn-out war against the Russians in a dystopian future. In this story, the Americans were able to develop a technologically advanced set of robots called Claws that burrow into the ground and attack any living flesh they can. The Americans, who apparently developed the line of robots, are protected from the claws by radioactive “tabs” signalling that they aren’t the enemy.

As one Russian soldier tries to cross no-man’s land and inevitably dies to the Claws, the Americans recover a message from the soldier asking for a chance for negotiating a cease-fire. This leads to the American leader deciding to cross no-man’s land to the Russian trenches in order to negotiate a cease-fire, when he discovers that the robots the Americans had developed have learned to self-develop, resulting in a Second Variety of robots that take on a human appearance in order to kills their prey. What happens next is an incredibly exciting tale of a dystopian future as the humans fight against the robots, and themselves, as they try to determine who the threats really are.

Second Variety was my personal favorite of the nine stories, because of its dystopian setting and truly anxiety and fear-inducing story. It was perhaps the most dystopian and thrilling story of the nine.

War Game: 6/10

War Game is basically a story about quality assurance testers, who are testing kits of technologically-advanced toys for children. It was perhaps my least favorite story, and is very curious. The toy they are testing in question is a castle that is defending itself from toy soldiers who are trying to get into the castle to conquer it. As the toy soldiers slowly get in one by one as the game resets, the testers ponder what will happen when they eventually all get in. It’s a loose reflection on the values that we teach our children, done in a dystopian sci-fi form.

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What the Dead Men Say: 6.5/10

What the Dead Men Say is basically the short story that led to Ubik, so if you’ve read Ubik, then this story will look very familiar. It actually has a couple pages that were copied directly into the book. This story is about a world where people can go into cryo-sleep called half-life when they die. When they do, they can have their consciousness connected to a telephone to the outside world, so that the dead may communicate their wishes to the living. Things go awry, however, when the famous head of enterprise Louis Sarapis dies and can’t be reached in his cryo-sleep to determine what his wishes are. Instead, his consciousness starts invading all media sources–newspapers, TV, telephone lines, etc. This complicates things as a major election is about to occur. I personally much preferred Ubik to this short story, as Ubik relates more to the nature of reality, whereas What the Dead Men Say is more of a mystery of what is happening.

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Oh, to Be a Blobel!: 6.5/10

This story is about George Munster and his struggle with Blobels, who are an alien blob-like race that humanity fought decades ago.  Munster fought in the war against the Blobels, and was genetically altered to spend half a day each day in the form of a Blobel in order to infiltrate their ranks as a spy. Nowadays, however, he is simply a war veteran, and Humans and Blobels live in relative peace with each other (although both humans and Blobels still live on their respective planets, for the most part). Munster must learn how to live a normal, happy life, despite the fact that he keeps on turning into a Blobel every day. The message here seems to be pretty clear that Blobel is just another word for Communist or Soviet, as PKD lived in the time of McCarthyism and spies hiding their true nature was a serious concern of the times.

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The Electric Ant: 7.5/10

The Electric Ant is a fun little story about a man that learns that he is in fact an android, and decides to tinker with the mechanical systems within himself that process reality. This story felt like what would happen if a robot tried mind-altering drugs and it actually worked. Very interesting thought experiment once again about the nature of reality.

Faith of Our Fathers: 6/10

This is perhaps one of the oddest of all the stories, and that’s saying a lot for PKD novels. Set in Hanoi, Vietnam, Comrade Chien lives in a 1984-style society where the TV must be on at all times and citizens’ viewing times are recorded, to ensure they watch and listen to enough of the party propaganda. Chien is looking to rise up the ranks in the government when he is given a test of two papers, one a fake and one real, and the party values. This leads to him meeting a member of the resistance and then a later invitation to meet the party leader, but in the process he starts to question reality once again when he is told to take a drug to counteract drugs that are supposed in the water supply, keeping all citizens doped to a certain party level. The meeting of the party leader felt very surreal in this story and its ending felt very open and unfinished, which is why I gave it a lower score compared to other stories on this list.

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We Can Remember it for You Wholesale: 7/10

If you’ve seen the beginning of either Total Recalls, then you know the gist of this story. We Can Remember it for You Wholesale is about a man called Douglas Quail who wants to pay for a memory to be implanted in his brain of him having been a spy on Mars, in order to escape his boring life and because he can’t afford an actual trip to Mars. Except things start to go wrong when the implanting process is halted due to previous subconscious memories that indicate that he already went to Mars as a spy. This results in him trying to figure out what he is, as his previous employers race to find him and contain the threat of him learning too much about who he is and what the did. Unlike the movies, however, PKD takes this a couple more levels and then leaves it at that, which was a fun way to once again question reality as the reader is left trying to figure out what truly was real and what wasn’t in

So to review, here’s my aggregate rating of each short story:

  1. Minority Report: 8/10
  2. Imposter: 8.5/10
  3. Second Variety: 9/10
  4. War Game: 6/10
  5. What the Dead Men Say: 6.5/10
  6. Oh, to Be a Blobel!: 6.5/10
  7. The Electric Ant: 7.5/10
  8. Faith of Our Fathers: 6/10
  9. We Can Remember it For you Wholesale: 7.5/10

So that’s my list! Have you read any of the stories on this list? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

The Influence of Philip K. Dick on Film

The Grandfather of Cyberpunk

If William Gibson is the father of Cyberpunk, then Philip K Dick is undoubtedly its Grandfather. Although Gibson might not want it characterized as such.

PKD

Philip K Dick was a prolific science fiction writer who was born during the great depression in 1928 and died in March 1982 from a stroke. He wrote 44 novels in his lifetime and 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines like Science Fiction Quarterly. He constantly struggled with finances, had five wives, and at the end of his life attempted suicide multiple times. He struggled with drug addiction, an overwhelming sense of paranoia that became worse later on in life, and paranormal religious experiences that both shaped and confirmed his science fiction writing. If you had to identify a central theme to Dick’s writing, it was the uncertainty of reality.

His influence on Cyberpunk, Dystopian, and Alternate-Reality Movies

I keep on having my mind blown by how influential Philip K Dick was, and still is, on film. I thought he was simply the writer behind the novel that inspired Blade Runner, and maybe a couple other things like Total Recall, but that was it.

Nope. I was wrong.

Philip K Dick has in fact had a huge influence on the movies that have been released. You’ve probably seen many a PKD-inspired movie and didn’t even know it!

Don’t believe me? Allow me to give you a primer on everything he has done with the following list of nine novels or short stories that inspired major film productions.

Nine PKD-Inspired Films

The beginning of my tumble down the proverbial rabbit hole was with What the Dead Men Say, a short story that PKD used as inspiration for his novel Ubik. This is the only short story to inspire a novel in our list.

UbikUbik

PKD’s work has led to a whopping thirteen films inspired by his work (s). The first one on our list is undoubtedly one you are already familiar with.

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep CoverBlade Runner poster

We start off our list with nothing less than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which of course led to one of the leading works that founded the Cyberpunk genre, Blade Runner. In the book, the world has experienced a global crisis where animal life has died to such an extent that people own pets as symbols of wealth, since they are incredibly expensive. Those who can’t afford bona-fide animals (which are listed in catalogs with current prices much like stocks nowadays) have to settle for electric animals that mimic real animals. Of course the movie blade runner has none of this, but there is also a significant plot of androids being hunted and questioning their place in the world.

2. We Can Remember it For You Wholesale and Total Recall

Total recallTotalRecall2012Poster

The second adaptation on our list is We can remember it for you wholesale, which was a short story adapted into a more famous movie called Total Recall played by Arnold Schwarzenegger that came out in 1990, and then later remade in 2012 with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and John Cho. While the original Total Recall takes place partially on Mars, and has surprising things like mutants, the remake settles on basic action and a world with an elevator that goes through the core to connect a poor and rich world. All three stories play with the meaning of memory and how it can shape what you think is your identity and reality, but in different ways.

3. The Minority Report and Minority Report

Third on our list is the short story The Minority Report, which inspired Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report with Tom Cruise, a tale about free will and controlling the future. While PKD’s short story is obviously more straightforward, it focuses less on action and more on political intrigue and pitting free will versus determinism. While Spielberg’s Minority Report is similar, the theme of political plotting is almost non-existent, replaced instead by a fast-paced game of cat and mouse as main character John Anderton (Cruise) tries to escape his old division of pre-crime to solve the mystery of the murder he is supposed to commit but hasn’t yet. There is a strong focus here on broken families again, which is a theme that seems somewhat common in Spielberg’s work.

4. A Scanner Darkly (same name)

The novel A Scanner Darkly resulted in the brilliantly-imagined, drug-addled roteroscope film called A Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic), Robert Downey Jr., Woodly Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. I have not read the novel yet, but it is said to be semi-autobiographical, and is set in Orange County, California, in the then-future of 1994 (it was published in 1977). Apparently the director Richard Linklater worked closely with the PKD estate to adapt the movie faithfully from the novel, since it was one of PKD’s favorite and most personal ones.

5. Adjustment Team and The Adjustment Bureau

Next on our list is the short story Adjustment Team, later adapted into The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon (Elysium) and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow). Originally an insurance salesman in the short story, the screenplay writer George Nolfi wanted a character that would have consequences to his life choices past himself, and thus settled on Damon playing an up-and-coming politician. The story revolves around the idea that fate is actually a certain group of everyday people that decide your fate for you, modifying your reality in subtle ways in order to fit their own party agenda.

6. The Golden Man and Next

Next we have, well, Next, which was adapted from PKD’s short story The Golden Man about someone who could predict the future. The short story was in a science fiction novelette set in a post-apocalyptic future where mutants exist as a smaller demographic of normal humans. As a result they are hunted, but when the government catches the main character Cris, it finds it difficult to kill him due to his powers of precognition. Meanwhile, Next starred Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel. Cris Johnson can see the immediate future in Las Vegas but as a result is the target of a terrorist group, and then becomes wanted by the FBI to fight that same terrorist group.  

7. Paycheck (same name)

and Paycheck, with Ben Affleck, Paul Giamatti, Uma Thurman, and Aaron Eckhart.

Paycheck was another science fiction novelette where the main character, Jennings, completes a secret 2-year contract and then has his memory wiped in return for being paid a lot of money. Upon waking up after his memory wipe, however, he finds that he had asked to be paid with a bag of trinkets instead of the money. He then gets arrested by the police, but the bag of trinkets helps him escape, because during his tenure he had been able to see the future so the bag of trinkets are a carefully-chose set to allow him to escape the police. The film adaptation is actually surprisingly similar to the novelette.

This last one was especially interesting because it was directed by John Woo, who was one of the Wachowski’s favorite directors. They liked his films so much that for the Matrix sequel video game, The Path of Neo, the player plays Neo in an exact replica of the Teahouse shootout scene from Woo’s Hardboiled. The other interesting thing I noted about Paycheck is that the trailer for Paycheck features the same song that was written for a scene in Matrix Reloaded, called Zion by Fluke (the rave scene in Zion). Matrix Reloaded came out in May of 2003, but Paycheck came out in December of the same year. 

8. Second Variety and Screamers

Second Variety is next on our list, a short story about a future war in the trenches between American and Russian forces. Autonomous robots with rotary blades called Claws live in the sand and attack anyone designated as a target, before they start developing the second variety, which are androids that look like humans. The movie Screamers follows the same premise, except for the added aspect that the android can only be properly identified as such when it screams.

9. Impostor (same name)

There was also a film adaptation of the short story Impostor, with the film using the same name, starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Impostor was a story about a man who thinks he is human, until his colleagues intercept him and insist he is actually an android impostor, that his real human self was killed and replaced with his android counterpart in order to carry out a terrorist act sometime in the future without knowing it. The movie very much follows the same story and stays faithful to the short story.

An Excellent Source of Inspiration for Hollywood

So how many of these movies have you seen? How about the books and short stories? Have you read them all?

If you’ve seen all the movies and read all the works, then you can truly consider yourself a die-hard PKD fan, and you probably question your reality. So make sure to get a can of Ubik in a store near you!

 

 

Review: Woken Furies

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The Story

Woken Furies is the third novel in the loosely-interconnected Altered Carbon Series, or more accurately the Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy. This time we find Takeshi Kovacs on his home planet of Harlan’s World, a curious planet where orbitals left behind by the Martians will fire automated hellfire laser blasts on any ships that go too high in the atmosphere, except for certain small areas in the atmosphere. It’s been like that for as long as the residents can remember, and even though the Martians are long gone now, no one knows how the alien technology works or why it’s there at all.

Kovacs is on Harlan’s world because he is seeking to administer retribution to an extremist religious group known as the Knights of the New Revelation due to them killing a long-lost love of his and her daughter.

While trying to secure an escape after one of his attacks, he decides to help save a woman named Sylvie from a group of such religious zealots. It turns out she’s part of a mercenary group called deCom. Kovacs joins this group for a little bit, until Kovacs finds out he’s being hunted by a deadly killer. Sylvie then becomes captured and Kovacs hatches a plan to help her escape. The story also involves an AI entity that may or may not be Quellcrist Falconer, the long-dead revolutionary leader of the envoys.

Quellcrist Falconer

Not exactly straightforward

While this plot may seem pretty straightforward, I was only able to piece it together with the help of Wikipedia. Unlike Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, the novel doesn’t feel like one story, but rather two or three, possibly even four, separate stories loosely connected with the common thread of Sylvie and the assassin hunting Kovacs. This really hurts the story a lot, and I found this novel the most difficult book to read of the three of them by far. Unlike the first and second, which felt very much like page-turners at times, I found it hard to follow what was happening in Woken Furies because of how many different characters there were. This is because there are different stages of the book where Kovacs teams up with different groups. With each group he either has a mission, or hatches a plan to do something, that involves all members of the team, not unlike a mission Ethan Hunt might carry out in Mission Impossible. So not only are the steps of the missions complicated, the actors and targets keep on changing as well, as do the teams Kovacs is with. It also hurt the pacing of the story, and this is the most important detractor to this novel.

No overarching goal

Unlike Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, there is no clear end goal for Woken Furies. With Altered Carbon the book was set up from the beginning: Laurens Bancroft hired Kovacs to solve his own murder, and the readers go along for a ride with that overarching goal clearly set: we want to know what happened, why, and how.

With Broken Angels, again the goal is very clear: a mysterious Alien artifact has been uncovered, a portal that leads to who knows where, and Kovacs and his (one, non-changing) team work together to try to open the portal and find out what’s on the other side.

With Woken Furies, however, things just…happen. Kovacs saves Sylvie on a whim, because he doesn’t like the religious zealots and he wants to save an innocent woman. When he gets roped into her deCom group, he goes along with them because it’s convenient, but again, there’s no overarching goal or mission when he’s with them. As I read this, I thought this would be the group that Kovacs would stick with until the end of the book.

Envoys

Revolving door of groups to team up with

So it was confusing when something happened that caused him to leave that group, find another group in another location, and have the same thing happen. This time his second group is acquired because he is looking for a place to hide from the deadly assassin that is pursuing him. Again, he goes along with the group because it’s convenient. There is still no overarching goal at this point.

Despite all this, it’s still a good book

Richard Morgan is an excellent storyteller. He writes as if the world is real and it’s up to us to figure out what is going on, much like William Gibson did with Neuromancer (which was also very confusing for me to read). The action scenes are gripping, there is some mystery, but nothing like the Film Noir style we saw in Altered Carbon. There is also none of the space opera-esque nature that we saw in Broken Angels. Rather, it feels more like a series of heists, a bit like Ocean’s Eleven. If you go into this book knowing there are different groups with different stories that will all be tied up eventually in the end, that might help. But when I went into reading this book, I had no idea, and the difference between Morgan’s 1st and 2nd book is striking. Other than the main character being the same, this book bears very little relation or connection to the others, and doesn’t feel much like a sequel at all.

Final Verdict: 6.5/10

Good action, dialogue, and intrigue, but the discombobulation of the different stories makes the plot confusing enough to lose most readers, like myself. As a result I felt it easy to put the book down because I didn’t know where it was going, and therefore lost interest relatively easily. There were some very interesting new concepts to think about in the book which I appreciated, however, such as double-sleeving or the nature of AI consciousness. Still worth reading, just not as good as the other two, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

Killtopia: A Fresh Neon-Splattered Cyberpunk Comic

Have you sold your ballsack to attend Wreck-Fest X yet? Not to worry, reading Killtopia is the next best thing.

 

Killtopiais the new upcoming graphic novel by Dave Cook and Craig Paton, published in Glasgow by BHP Comics and under Cook’s own brand of Card Shark Comics. It’s currently still in the crowdfunding stages, but their kickstarter has at least allowed them to publish their first chapter.

Killtopia has all the fun tropes that one might expect or hope for in a cyberpunk comic. Robots, bounty hunters, future tech, Japanese culture, and vivid dystopian futures. It checks all the boxes you want. The authors’ inspirations include Blade Runner, Battle Royale, Pacific Rim, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Borderlands, andMetal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

If any of the above made your mouth water, then you’ll probably love this graphic novel. My first impression of the cover and first few pages of Killtopia was that it felt very reminiscent to Josan Gonzalez, the cyberpunk illustrator and publisher from Spain whose artbooks and prints are similar in their high levels of detail.

It was also fun to see little easter egg items, like the glasses from Transmetropolitan prominently featured on one punk’s face in the beginning pages. This is no coincidence, as the titular cyberpunk comic was what apparently got Cook interested in comics in the first place. They went the extra mile to ask the author Darick Robertson if he would be willing to get involved, and much to their surprise, he agreed to provide art prints to backers of their fledgling comic!

As part of their stretch goals that they would later “wreck”, Cook and Paton ended up giving out to fans who helped back their project a variety of different artwork including a Judge Dredd/Tom Foster art print, retro game cover art postcards, and a Killtopia Original Soundtrack. This was the first time I had ever heard a comic selling a soundtrack along with the comic itself.

Since there’s a lot of discussion and controversy over what constitutes official “Cyberpunk Music” I was excited to hear what type of music they chose to produce. The music itself is atmospheric, relatively simple, and a little reminiscent of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner, if it were all done on an electric keyboard. While not being the best Cyberpunk music I’ve heard, the YouTube video conveniently features a lot of the artwork from the comic itself, so it serves a dual purpose.

Synopsis

Chapter 1 takes place in a futuristic dystopian Japanese metropolis called Killtopia and its surrounding areas. The city is being overrun and terraformed by violent robots that are called “mechs”. As a result, corporations, the military and gangsters hire bounty hunters called “Wreckers” to go into the city, kill the rogue mechs, and then bring back their precious tech in exchange for money and fame. The main character, Shinji, is a poor wrecker who risks his life to obtain and sell tech in order to pay his sister’s medical bills without her knowledge. She has a common disease without a cure called The Rot, which is a mech-caused Nano-Virus that breaks down human cells from the inside out. The other main characters are Crash, a sentient robot who teams up with Shinji, and Stiletto, the #1 wrecker of the city.  Shinji believes Crash can help his sister and countless others be cured from The Rot, whereas Stiletto is just looking for more fame, but her character may develop within the comic.

Analysis

I took my time reading this comic because of all the details there were to enjoy in each panel. It felt a bit like a comic version of Ready Player One, in that there were so many references on each page. I mentioned above the nod to Transmetropolitan with Spider’s glasses, but I also noticed eye implants similar to Batou from Ghost in the Shell, and the out-of-panel introductions to each secondary character felt like the introductions a player sees when playing Borderlands and meets a big boss or assisting NPC. The fashion sense of the people in the comic also deserves its own consideration, as it runs the gamut of punk style in very fun, different cyberpunk ways. Capitalistic marketing of Killtopia’s own-world products are front and center, which was very reminiscent of Blade Runner. For instance, we see marketing for “Kaiju Cola” all over the city on billboards and walls, but also slapped on the characters themselves.

Kaiju of course is a nod to Godzillaand the more recent Pacific Rim. There are also Japanese Kanji characters all over the comic, which I wish I could read, but according to the authors they’ve checked the Japanese and Japanese culture elements already by family members and friends living in Japan.

I could also see some budding philosophical issues being raised. In the middle of the first chapter Shinji decides to protect Crash from another wrecker, which raised the age-old question of whether AI life should be spared if it’s not human.

Although this comic is very graphic in some of the deaths of non-important characters, which makes the comic that much more memorable, it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were several scenes in the first chapter where something is happening in the background as characters are talking (such as an overpowered robot misbehaving with an interrogation victim, unbeknownst to its owner) which I found very comical and well done. Sure it’s a common humor device, but it’s ubiquitous because it works, and works well.

The cyberpunk visuals are detailed, intricate, and neon-soaked beauties. It’s filled to the brim with cyberpunk themes and references, which makes reading the comic fun if you can catch them all. It’s also clear that the producers of this comic have experience drawing comics—the way the narrator and speech bubbles are drawn, the flow from one box to the next, and the interlinking panels is all done in a very professional way. This of course is for a reason, with Cook and Paton both having experience creating other comics before this one. Cook is actually the founder of Card Shark Comics (under which Killtopia is produced), and backers actually get his previous work (a post-apocalyptic series called Bustand a dark fantasy series called Vessels) along with Killtopia if they support the Kickstarter. It’s too early to tell how well the story will be, but by the end of Chapter one I was drawn in, left on a modest cliffhanger and wanting to read what comes next. The only fault I could give to this comic is the soundtrack that comes with it, being somewhat underwhelming and unoriginal, feeling like a creative reimagining of things we’ve heard before. To learn more about the Kickstarter, check out their extensive page here.

Killtopia #1 – 9/10

(Note: This is a re-post of a piece I wrote for Cyberpunk website Neon Dystopia, where I am a regular contributor.)