M a r k   E v e r g l a d e

Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology - Review

Neo Cyberpunk cover of android cyborg girl

"Glowing eyes peered at him from dark alleys like hungry vultures,
smiles of gleaming metal teeth reflecting the corporate manufactured neon of their own cybernetics."
-Eric Malikyte
Neo Cyberpunk cover of android cyborg girl

The Cyberpunk Coalition was founded in early 2020 by Matthew A. Goodwin to bring cyberpunk authors together, to create awareness for the genre, to create and promote Cyberpunk Day (October 10th), and to cultivate a fellowship in the science fiction community between authors and readers. The group meets formally and informally throughout the year to work on projects that benefit the indie community and solidify the meaning of cyberpunk in the 21st century for new generations, keeping community engagement at the forefront of our collective efforts. The group is a grassroots movement and resists corporate sponsorship, keeping true to cyberpunk values.

Although Coalition members have been featured in numerous anthologies before, Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology is the first to be composed exclusively from group members, featuring fifteen authors’ previously unpublished short stories. I review select pieces.


Requiem - Nik Whittaker

Overview:
Nik brings us a story about a DJ who uses a synth-rig that connects right to his brain, letting his emotions and unconscious thoughts flow into the music in a seamless unity of one’s self, and one’s artistic creation. The party’s soon crashed when he discovers an A.I. at play and a unique weaponization that causes a sonic catastrophe as the manipulated maestro conducts a piece no one will forget.

Commentary: A remarkably creative story which shows that technological devices in cyberpunk don’t have to be limited to brain implants and augmentations. There’s thousands of pieces of technology out there that could be corrupted with Malevolent intent, and I hope this encourages cyberpunk authors to branch out to reference a greater range of tech. Being a musician, like Nik, I found it quite memorable.

Sample:
The bassline pulsated through the club like the electronic heartbeat of a dying mecha, a virus that infected the crowd across the dancefloor and imbued them with deep primal desires. The Synth Weaver, known as Shinobi, wore his hooded skull mask as he filled the room with music. The mask consisted of a dark metallic-rimmed hood with a bone half-skull beneath it, which obscured his eyes. His nose and mouth were covered with a breathing unit linking directly to his synth-rig through a series of pipes emitting smoke and illuminating in time with the beat.


Vice Grip - Matthew A. Goodwin

Overview:
Vinny is a power-hungry man who is obsessed with augmenting himself with cybernetic enhancements to create the perfect machine capable of destroying anyone in the underground society who opposes him. It’s not the machinery that corrupts his mind, however; it’s power itself, as he crushes those around him, becoming emotionally disconnected until finally making the ultimate sacrifice to increase his power further. How hard can you push against the world until you become powerless once more?

Commentary: The double play on the word “vice” is a powerful symbol throughout this mafia-toned tale of a man whose cybernetic arm empowers him at his own expense, power being its own “vice.” This is the classic short story formula played out well as a man becomes his own worst enemy.

Sample:
“He catches you, they’ll find you belly up in the river,” the hacker warned a few months later when Vinny had positioned himself to make his move. “I know that,” he hissed. “Just get it done clean and we’ll both be richer for it.”
She nodded, her face illuminated by the glow of the monitors. Streams of words and numbers cascaded over the screen. Hacking Carcer datafortresses was no easy task, and Vinny had promised the young hacker who had gained a reputation as being the best in the city a huge sum of money he didn’t possess for the job."

Good Guys - Anna Mocikat

Overview:
Set in the same universe as Behind Blue Eyes, Good Guys is about a man whose medical condition forced him to have to augment his body, right down to his kidneys. Trouble is, he can’t pay off the debt, and now the corp has come for collections. Entering into a shady agreement in the underground doesn’t help matters (does it ever?) and he’s soon stuck between the devil he knows, and an angel who might be more terrifying yet.

Commentary: A powerful action-packed cyberpunk story that accomplishes a lot within a limited space, keeping consistency within her larger universe. Anna takes time to develop the plot and give us a slice of the protagonist’s life before the action sets in. The skybridge scene was the most memorable, the setting increasing the tension of the final encounter. The overall theme here is the commodification of the human being, due to both debt-ridden implants, and the industrialized system that forces them to continually seek progress, even if it amplifies inequality. Ultimately, are the augmentations self-actualization, or self-mutilation?

Sample:
She extended her hand, and a smile appeared on her face that almost looked genuine. A strong gust of wind blew over the roof and made her shiny, latex-like coat flutter behind her, revealing the firearms she was carrying under it. Kay backed off. Mesmerized by the black-clad angel of death, he didn’t even notice that his heels were almost touching the rim. The cyborg tilted her head.
“Help me, and I help you, Kay.”
He hesitated. But then slowly shook his head. This was like making a pact with the devil. And the devil always won
.

Thirst of Machines - Benjamin Fisher-Merritt

Overview:
A sliced throat without any blood leads Xan on an investigation to find out who’s draining the victims, and why. Xan must navigate a world where body parts sputter ads, where a whole medical team can be kept in a compartment in your leg, and cyborgs work to improve themselves by copying human anatomy – even if they have to rip it off them.

Commentary:
Cyberpunk sometimes has a grave tone, like William Gibson, Jon Richter, and Elias Hurst, and other times it has a lighter tone like Phoenix Ward and Austin Dragon. This story balances both styles with a tone that says, “take me seriously as a writer” while being playful and kick-ass enough to provide a sheer sense of enjoyment. One of my favorites of the anthology. Those who like John Brunner’s tone in his later work will enjoy it, complete with commercial interruptions. Street surfing’s just cool, period.

Sample:
The board’s antigrav controls shrieked in protest, and Xan’s leg cramped at the g-force, but he managed to keep control and screamed over the sidewalk and into the street. He exited the range of the EMP and his mods began to come back online, the modded controls that connected him to his bots first. At his command, they zipped to the Squiddy, giving him a better look at the thing than anyone had likely ever seen of one before they clamped onto its prehensile limbs and exploded.

Xan’s leg came back next, followed closely by his Occulux, which began flashing warnings about speed, damage, and pursuit. Sparks, his bots must not have done enough damage to do more than slow the Squiddy down. More warnings about possible collisions forced him to focus solely on surfing. The slight lip of the curb became a ramp, he launched off it and ground across the wall of a building, hearing the windows fracture from the force and speed of his passage.

The Volunteer – A. W. Wang

Overview:
In this Lit-RPG styled story, the main character must play out a series of virtual war games to prove his worth to a society that values military might above human life, but is the end prize worth the conflict, or would he be leaving one prison just to enter another?

Sample:
A total of eighty people shoved into a do-or-die situation. One of my heavy boots sinks into muck as I place the other on a revetment and peer through a gap in the sandbags. The battleground is a one-hundred by one-hundred meter stretch of browns and beiges boxed by unscalable ten-meter high walls. Claw marks of trenches cut into the dirt as far as I can see. Here and there, glints come from clumps of barbed wire, restricting free movement outside the trench network. It’s World War I warfare. But instead of two sides in fortifications hundreds of meters apart, these trenches have connected paths, crawling along the forbidding walls and into a central redoubt dominating the map.

The Modern Panoptes - Patrick Tillet

Overview:
Demo became a Carrier for the HERMES company at only fifteen to help out her mom, and now she's taken the hardest job yet. How much can she give without losing herself to an unforgiving system?

Sample:
The blue light pulsed as power and information was fed through the servers like blood through the veins of a great animal. This was where every scrap of data collected by the ARGUS Company was sent, and Demo was left alone in this critical position with nothing but a Blade and body and a choice...When she ran, she was poetry in motion, and the lights of the city reflected off of her running suit to trace neon lines down the length of her body.

Wires poured out of nodes in their head and back into various other parts of their body, typically down the arms for when sensory investigation was required. In place of eyes, Trigger had a gaping maw in the hollowed out section of their face, and an oscillating blue light raced from one side of their head to the other. Several tablets were arranged in a semi-circle before them, running code at a rate that dizzied Demo.
“Sup, girl? Got something for me?”..."Better be good.”

train with neon glow

Pay-To-Play – Mark Everglade

Overview:
My own humble contribution (illustrated above). Ocelot wants a new game. Bad. Trouble is, it’s not out yet, and only a fool would hack a company with ties to the police state just to steal a pre-release copy. Of course, that’s what he does, but he downloads more than he bargained for as he stumbles upon the blueprints for an experimental weapon.

Silica’s life is a mess. It’s supposed to be the best day of the year, but she feels nothing until hundreds of people’s lives suddenly depend on her. Armed with nothing but a connection into Hype, the metabridge between all communications, and her favorite dubstep album, the unlikely hero puts herself in harm’s way, fighting both organized crime and her own apathy as she takes on a city to rewire her life.

Sample (excerpted):
The sunset’s pay-to-play. You wanna see it, you pay the fee. Silica adjusts the calibration of her vHUD, but it’s no use. Soon, night engulfs the censored sun, wraps itself around the city to shade the horizon, and smudges the clouds with charcoal. The city flares alive, a blur of electric blue neon. The full moon loiters over its skyscrapers but its beauty is ruined by the message running across it – Ad space available.

Silica perches atop an old tollbooth. Suspended highways weave like Celtic knotwork swallowed in smog. Gyroscopic two-wheeled cars speed by, lights blurring like a laser show. Zooming her occipts, two groups of men change direction. Hunched shoulders, duffle bags, nothing good...A vortex compresses as a ripping noise shatters thousands of windows, shooting their shards into the night. The city snaps like a rubber band, shaking vehemently with an earthquake's prowess. Her palms sizzle with fractal burns. Someone's gonna pay."

Many more great stories await. Check out the collection today on Amazon!