Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Cyberpunk 1977


A long interest of mine is the Idea of Proto-cyberpunk. Looking at films, tv and books hinting at the future themes of Cyberpunk. These are my suggestions. I welcome more. I guess one of the key differences is that super cutting edge tech is almost always the domain of big government and military rather than plucky loners. Although the protagonists might resist with difficulty. I'd be interested if any readers might add to my list. I'd be tempted to run a game based on this set in 70s spy agency like the OSI or OSO (Office of Strategic Operations in the Six Million Dollar Man).

1970s was a great time for post apoc sf and steampunk films too.
Technological progress should be questioned is a common thread here too.
Spy Fy often enters this territory and cold war fear of nuclear weapons too.

The Six Million Dollar Man 1973 (99+6 tv films)
The Bionic Woman 1976 (58 episodes)
Beyond Westworld 1980 (5 episodes)

The Bionic franchise was huge part of my life in the 70s and I was a huge fan. Possibly too many episodes helping orphans and such but the best episodes have good SF ideas from other media. Westworld androids and Fembots were repeat appearances. Computers threatening to take over the world in control of vast complexes are a thing. One episode of 6Mil$Man had a character who had his brain programmed by computer for various missions a bit like the children's Joe90 series. Androids first used as an espionage tool then for global domination and self-awareness is a thing. Avengers tv series cybernauts touched similar ideas. The visual conception of this as a mask that comes off revealing a circuit board was scary at the time though less convincing at the time. I did like the fact Steve Austin refused to kill early on and wanted to avoid missions but the Agency would con and trick him. The final episode of The Bionic Woman is pretty bleak as when she wants to quit they offer to send her to agency controlled retirement town for people who know too much so she runs away. 

The Tenth Victim 1965 - manhunting murder sports with celeb assassins
Seconds 1966 - corporate surgical mods gone wild
The Forbin Project 1970 - AI take over the world based on book 1 of triliogy
A Clockwork Orange 1971 - gangs, mind control, dystopia
ZPG 1972 - train wreck more like a bunch of ads than a story
Westworld 1973 - the forerunner of recent tv show by Michael Chriton
Soylent Green 1973 - corporate cannibalism dystopia
Rollerball  1975 - corporate gladiatorial sports for global domination 
Stepford Wives 1975 - android wives
Futureworld 1976 - the sequel to Westworld where androids get more purpose
Demon Seed 1977 - Proteus the AI wants a baby
Brainstorm 1983 - mind recording tech changes the world

Themes like evil corporations taking over, social decline, manipulation of the masses and AI all here. Stepford wives Id almost find good for kids English except for the overly sexual last scene. The more recent reinvention of Stepford brides as a comedy was a horrible idea nullifying the originals message (multiple tv film sequels I can't find anything on). Demon seed I saw at the drive-in with no sound while parents in the front seat were watching something else I forgot. Recently re saw and loved it. By Dean Koontz which surprised me. Brainstorm is underrated as it details a new world-changing tech and how it is rapidly misused. 

Colossus 1966
Cyborg 1972 - Martin Caiden
The Shockwave Rider 1975

The first two were books made into films the third is about a Hacker escaped an elite gov school after learning they have been experimenting on genetics and discarding the rejects. John Brunner coined the term worm which was adopted by computer programmers and is still part of the genre. The corporate state is controlled by organised crime which is a nice touch. Lots of ideas and things we see as the hero changes identities. Corp elite can buy private but ordinary people cant. Influenced by Tofflers Future Shock.

Honorary Mentions
Metropolis - 1926 the cyberpunk classic
The Creation of the Humanoids 1962 - stage play like android rights movie
The Prisoner - 1967 village for retired spies
Doomwatch - 1970 UK agency dealing with tech threats
1990 - 1978-9 fascist state UK with edward Woodward (1984+6) 
2000AD Comics - 1977

Metropolis has dystopian class inequality, androids and other elements standard to the genre. The Creation of the humanoids is a 3 part thinkpiece SF film where people question androids rights. Its an old film but the philosophy driving it is interesting (youtube)The Prisoner had lots of SF elements and also utterly failed to answer any of the basic questions of the show and the final episode is surreal and possibly alien. Certain episodes play with consciousness. Doomwatch is an agency who investigate technological problems influenced by books Like The Waste Makers by Vance Packard. Most of the threats are corporate technology misused or with unforeseen consequences. Plastic eating bacteria on a plane, intelligent super rats, chemical mind control in products etc. 1990 one of many UK dystopia tv series we still working to reproduce in reality. 2000AD had many cyberpunk ideas before anyone knew what that was. It sure had the punk and dystopia part down. Even Judge Dredd had many issues part of the genre. Even Rogue Trooper, a genetic engineered soldier with his dead comrade's personalities in AI chips in his equipment. Probably lots of brit boys comics in Eagle and Lion had spy heroes with one tech gimmick. 

Cyberpunk 1977 RPG
So If I was to set up this as an RPG I would feature characters as scientists, spies and military personnel of the OSI dealing with AI, cyborgs, androids and other tech threats. Some characters would be experiment test subjects. Corporations, rogue agents and foreign governments would be the main threats. Rogue scientists and agents using blackballed tech would be frequent enemies. 

Lack of mobile phones, internet and other modern conveniences can make some adventures easier to plot. It would be more like SPyFi with stronger technological themes and gadgets. Id probably use BRP or possibly Top Secret (i prefer SI version). F.R.E.E.lancers setting by TSR was slightly pre cyberpunk and had lots of good motifs. The gamebook includes rules for minor super talents, dead people connected to AI, skill chips and more. A setting book for America was good too with only Tax dept and Military left of government and state vs states post USA. I did get some novels but they disintegrated as I read them as did my Agent13 book. These books echo some of the ideas I have. SpyFi includes James Bond, Avengers and even Man from Uncle and it wouldn't take much to amp the tech elements up more.

I would possibly include some 70s martial arts here too and the idea of hyper trained agents. Don't need to be quite like Destroyer novels (see the Remo film) but a few ideas I liked. In 70s psionics and UFOs and bigfoot might appear but they could also be hoaxes with other events behind them that characters might investigate. Think of some great 70s action disaster movies. Like Poseidon adventure but with cyborgs or androids. Supertrain with a rogue AI. Adventurers wives/husbands all replaced by androids. Experimental uplifted apes escape. Deathrace is a bit over the top but I love it. Inventing an alternate 1980s or year 2000 might be fun. Towering Inferno - who among elites your saving is the killer android who sabotaged building? Misty Knight in 70s Marvel was a CYborg Pam Grier.

Possibly might do a bunch of mission generators. 

Id appreciates any thoughts and suggestions of other works I should consider in this list.


  1. THX 1138 a first feature film from 1971 by a young director. (Some guy named George Lucas). There is a great scene with Donald Pleasance were he runs into a school with no teacher, the kids are being taught through IVs.

  2. 'The War Machines' (1966 Dr Who serial). 1960s computer becomes sentient and tries to conquer the world. Like you do.

    'The Billion Dollar Brain' (1967), maybe? Oil billionaire builds a giant computer to co-ordinate the global battle against communism. It doesn't work very well, though...

    1. i shoulda mentioned billion dollar brain was on an older list - best hacker film ever. Ill just climb inside this computer and move some plugs and drop in some cards into the reader...

    2. green death for dr who was a good evil AI named BOSS. Dr who does a few things I liked back then.

  3. I hadn't necessarily thought of these as proto-cyberpunk but it makes sense, that's an interesting way to think about these.

    I'm always interested in genre, and how we tend to canonize it and categorize it in these discrete ways, when it's likely more so continuous, and also probably there is, in a statistical sense, some kind of hidden genre structure that is probably highly correlated with but distinct from genre as we think of it post-hoc culturally.

    In any case, it would be interesting to think of other proto-genres and what that says about those genres, or culture, more generally.

    And I'm also interested, given how much extreme societal change we're seeing now, to see if there are hints now of new genres to come. Maybe we're already seeing the proto-genre works of tomorrow's new zeitgeist genre.

    1. im not sure if solar punk would be exiting unless like Huxleys Island you have to protect the utopia from foriegn powers and not be too awful about it.

  4. It's from 1981, but Escape from New York might fit.

    And for honorary mentions, maybe Karel Čapek's RUR (1920).

  5. escape from new york I normally put in the post apoc genre but its more in the future prison genre. Death Valley Free Prison by Iron Crown one of my fave setting books and a good way to put post apoc in your cyberpunk. I like Dredd to for having outside cities is a ruined wasteland.

    RUR should be there with metropolis.
    Both part of my Decopunk setting with Things to Come

    War with the newts a fave too

  6. Colossus is a good scifi movie from the 70s.

    1. The Forbin Project is mentioned above
      Collosus is name of the book
      I thought it was called Collussus the Forbidden Project for years due to dyslexia

  7. Gerry Anderson's UFO TV series, at least for the fashion, decor and vehicles.

    1. Yes - the computers predicting everything and cold inhumanism of those in power too (2001 does it too). One of my favorites.

  8. It’s a bit late, and probably “proper” cyberpunk, but the Max Headroom TV show is maybe part of this arc. It was a sort of “happy friendly” dystopia, but the megacorp dominance and AI tech was definitely a part of it’s DNA.

    1. To me it was pure classic 80s Cyberpunk
      A big influence on me

  9. Bug Jack Barron should of been here too
    Song from the stars is Solarpunk
    Go Norman Spinrad!

  10. Shared this texts on a few groups.
    Surprised at ppl who didnt read whole thing but then suggested stuff explicitly mentioned.

    A few shows like UFO have some elements like computers predicting stuff and ppl obeying fatalisticly because they are right plus cool cars but overall im excluding settings with lots of aliens or psionics. Id do Tommorrow ppl if I wanted a 70s persecuted psionics game but for purposes of Cyberpunk1977 psionics or aliens should be rare or more often fake scams for nuclear politics or something.

    Astronauts should be a big deal.

    RUR by Carol Kapek (and war with the newts) are good reads and need a mention but probably belong in my Decopunk setting more. The use of chemical androids that are unhappy with slavery is pretty good.

    Best comments and feedback on anything I have done in a long time.

  11. 1970's Scream and Scream Again would fit in perfectly here. The cast features Vincent Price, Christoper Lee, and Peter Cushing.

    1. nice cast im not sure if its really about tech

    2. Have you seen it? I didn't want to include spoilers, but it's kinda like an evil spin on The Bionic Man, plus one of the SPOILER is a high-ranking official in an authoritarian regime. The movie is largely considered incomprehensible, but a genre-savvy viewer can figure out what's going on.

    3. ive seen a few times very strange i dont think id put it into any genre its so all over the place. Elvira presented it which is a warning sign. Its interesting some cuts have better colour. More gonzo horror thriller than what Im going for but i like some of the hooks


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