The story of Cybernetic Punk takes place in the year 2138. Because of natural disasters and nuclear war, mankind lives in dome protected cities all across the globe. They have colonized some of the planets and moons in the solar system, but colonist permission is granted to few and is sought after by many. However, humanity has continued to evolve in their domed cities and thus the cyberpunk element of our story.
In the future world of Cybernetic Punk, cybernetics have become as common as cosmetic surgery in our time. Everything from cybernetic limbs to chip implants that enhance vision or connect the user to the global network. Because of the rise in cybernetic associated crime a special task force, Cybersquad, was started.
Billed as Blade Runner meets Elysium by way of every Raymond Chandler novel, "Cybernetic Punk tells the story of Gabriel Kane, a down on his luck police officer in Cybersquad, a division of the police force that investigates crimes committed by or against cyborgs. When an old flame turns up murdered with her cybernetic legs destroyed, Gabriel is flung into an investigation that takes him deep into the underbelly of Dome City."
The panels are gorgeous, the flow is excellent. Details pop, facial expressions are great. The aesthetic is fantastic. The story is a clear homage to the aforementioned touchstones. And, true to hard-boiled noir stories Gabriel gets his ass handed to him; frequently. From drastic measures to preserve his undercover persona, to the beatings he's constantly taking as he navigates his ex-lover's life, his progress is marked by his scars, so to speak. He's a thorn in the side of his superior officer, he's got a past that's being unearthed as he continues down his path despite the danger; and there is a huge stratification of class (the rich doing as they please, of course).
A key difference though, is that Katie, or KD 583, the Android and best friend and partner of Gabriel is introduced as sentient and human; discarding the somewhat tired question, "but would androids be human?" is welcome. Their financial situation precludes Katie's ability for "maintenance"... such as artificial skin to allow for her to navigate socially, apparently. On this, I would have liked to learn more for some nuance.
I got the feeling that there may be more stories set in this universe (if it does well enough), as a lot of the questions I had about the characters themselves were more interesting than the actual plot unfolding simply because it followed the plot beats of a noir detective style story through and through; and, while there was some satisfaction in the inevitable plot twist, it did feel like a familiar dance instead of a new one. I also felt that the twist I knew was coming was problematic.
As noir stories tend to do, the women are often used as vehicles to express the terrible things in society, leading to terrible outcomes for them while repercussions ultimately escape others—the rich, the protagonist, etc. When women are only vectors for showcasing something in the setting the result is somewhat the opposite. They feel unimportant despite the initial intention because they are two-dimensional; existing to suite a purpose of the narrative rather than feeling like living, breathing characters. Something many noir stories struggle with and attempt to justify with the characters being centralized in the fiction.
I did like that beyond the noir aesthetic technology is ingrained in the setting, culture, and story. The "cyber" part of the cyberpunk, along with cybernetics (obviously), was there and aided the story.
The punk aspect, however, is difficult to find rooted in this story. He doesn't like his boss, clearly; abandoned the "good life" as a cop in the upper tiers to the slums...sure. But there doesn't seem like there are subversive elements in the fiction represented anywhere beyond maybe sexual deviancy, and we never get the impression the main character is particularly interested in that. Plus it's not framed as something positive or overly central to the story, anyways, nor is drug use. It also has doesn't have a nuanced take on mental health issues. In a noir story that isn't surprising.
A lot of cyberpunk media doesn't make use of the style as substance, attempting to be transgressive in it's stark depictions of the environments. The world building reflects more than a typical cyberpunk aesthetic and that is when the narrative is at its best. In these moments the homage to Blade Runner becomes clear. The off-world colonies being desirable to the junk, domed cities across the globe like this one, serving as microcosms for the display of human nature at its worst, for instance.
As mentioned before, the twist ending is problematic—in its attempt to complicate the natural assumptions of the reader during the unfolding narrative and subsequent clues it also further paints the victim in an even more unflattering light with some other connotations going on that I didn't dig. While it also featured the reveal of things gestating on the peripheral of the story, which was nice, I couldn't help but wonder if a subversion of these tropes would be more satisfying to read.
In the end, Cybernetic Punk exudes style. Like all noir stories, I have more questions than answers at the end and I like that. It feels like this is supposed to be the start of a larger narrative that makes use of arbitrary, interesting details mentioned casually that may have big implications for society and the main characters but I don't know if that's true or not. It has the earlier trope of a world taken over by Asia but it's never explained why. Katie refuses to go out in public without artificial skin apparently, but we don't learn where that comes from. It is implied cybernetics are fairly ubiquitous, but is that privilege bound by the stratification of class? It seems like a lot of the world is implied via use of call backs to Blade Runner but there are divergences; how large a roll is technophobia in this cyberpunk story?
The noir tropes are, at both times, a cozy blanket you can wrap yourself up in as the plot unfolds—as well as a stone that trips up the unfolding tale. In such a beautiful world leaping off the page, billed specifically as a Raymond Chandler-esk story, it is no doubt worth reading; if such a story is your jam.
Cybernetic Punk is out digitally to backers of the Indiegogo project and is currently being printed. Find and follow the Facebook page for more information and where to buy the finished project here.