Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..


Well, I’d originally planned to make a “reading list” of books, comics, films, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre for people who want inspiration for making stuff in this amazing genre, but who don’t know much about it.

But, since many of the things I could think of were commercial products (eg: games like the original “Deus Ex” and films like “Blade Runner”), I was worried that this article would sound like a giant advert. Likewise, not everyone has a large enough budget to instantly buy lots of films, games etc.. just because they saw them on an online list.

So, instead, I thought that I’d challenge myself to create a list of inspirational cyberpunk things that can be legally viewed for free, legally read for free and/or have been released as freeware by their developers. Although all of the things on this list are still copyrighted (the genre isn’t nearly old enough to have any public domain works), their creators have made them freely available to anyone who wants to look.

Before I go any further, if you’re not sure what the difference between taking inspiration from something and copying something is, then check out this article which might enlighten you, and help you to avoid plagiarism.

Oh, and one more thing – I originally wrote this article a couple of weeks before I discovered an amazing free cyberpunk flash game called “The Last Night[Note: The page will start playing music as soon as it loads]. It’s a really short, but astonishingly atmospheric, “Blade Runner”-style game and it’s well worth playing if you like the cyberpunk genre. But, I found it too late to “officially” add it to the list in this article.

Likewise, I also forgot to mention a freeware cyberpunk first-person shooter game called “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill” despite writing a review of it last year (you’ll also need a free Doom engine source port – like “ZDoom” – to play this game).

Anyway, here’s the list……

1) “Cyberpunk” By Bruce Bethke: This is the short story that started it all and it can be read for free on the author’s site. Yes, although the genre was only really popularised and defined by films like “Blade Runner” and novels like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in the early-mid 1980s, it technically began with this short story that was written in 1980.

The story itself doesn’t contain all of the features that would later come to characterise the genre, but it provides a slightly more comprehensible example of the cyberpunk narrative style/ visual style (which usually includes a lot of information overload and/or sensory overload ) and an early example of the futuristic computer hacker protagonists of cyberpunk fiction.

2) Valenburg’s Art Gallery: All of the awesome cyberpunk art and animations in this amazing online gallery can legally be viewed for free. And, if you’re an artist, then this gallery is well worth checking out if you want to learn some general things about how to make cyberpunk art.

For example, pay close attention to the artist’s use of colours in many of the pictures. There are many possible cyberpunk colour schemes (in fact, any complimentary colour scheme, or combination of complimentary colour schemes, will work), but the blue/purple/pink/black one here gives the art in Valenburg’s gallery a very “modern” look.

Likewise, his artwork also contains many great examples of how lighting should be handled in the cyberpunk genre – namely that it should come from things like computer screens, neon signs, windows etc… and that the lighting should be emphasised by setting cyberpunk art and comics at night.

3) Dreamweb:Dreamweb” is an old cyberpunk computer game from 1994 that was later released as freeware by it’s developers. In order to get it running, you’ll probably have to use another free program called “DOSBox“, which emulates an old MS DOS computer.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played any of this game but, although the game uses a fairly minimalist top-down perspective, it isn’t short on atmosphere. If you want to see an example of a grimy, gritty, dystopian cyberpunk story then this game might be a good place to start.

This game might also give you some inspiration for creating cyberpunk characters, as well as giving you an interactive example of the well-used “high tech low lives” quote that is used to define the cyberpunk genre.

4) “Vurt” Partial Comic Adaptation by Leo Connor: This intense, nightmarish cyberpunk comic by Leo Connor [NSFW] is an adaptation of the early chapters of an old cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon, and it can be viewed for free.

Although it is quite far from some of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it provides a great example of how the cyberpunk attitude, narrative style and atmosphere can be applied to stories that don’t actually involve computer hacking or high technology. It also provides a good example of how to incorporate elements from the horror genre into the cyberpunk genre too.

The story focuses on a group of stoners who access an alternate dimension, similar to cyberspace, through the use of hallucinogenic feathers. It’s strange, it’s bizarre, it’s disturbing, but it’s still cyberpunk. Somehow.

5) Beneath A Steel Sky:Beneath A Steel Sky” is another freeware game from the 1990s that you’ll probably have to use DOSBox to run. If you can’t be bothered with setting up DOSBox, then it is also available for free (with a pre-made DOSBox launcher) from an online game shop called GoG, although you’ll have to create an account there in order to download this version.

Although I go into more detail about the game in my review of it, it’s a slightly unusual example of a cyberpunk game. Although it still contains all of the classic features of 1990s cyberpunk (eg: cyberspace, mega-cities etc..) a lot of the artwork in the game is significantly brighter than most things in the cyberpunk genre. Likewise, the tone of the game is slightly more comedic than you might expect from the cyberpunk genre, even if the humour can be slightly dark.

Still, as an example of something that is both within and outside of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it’s well worth playing. Although you might need to find an online guide for some of the puzzles though!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

10 comments on “Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..

  1. Cool! Especially looking forward to reading 1)

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 Yeah, it’s a fairly interesting short story, which contains hints of the kind of jargon-filled rapid-fire narration that William Gibson would later use in “Neuromancer”.

      • I read the “Neuromancer” fairly recently, so it’ll be interesting to compare. To be honest, though, I felt that towards the end, Gibson was trying too hard and the descriptions were becoming meaningless jargon. I much preferred how Richard Morgan handled the tech and the level of detail in “Altered Carbon”, for example.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Ah, it’s been about 8-10 years since I read all of “Neuromancer” (although I re-read some of the early parts a few months ago, but never got round to re-reading the rest). However, although the ending gets slightly confusing, I’d argue that the meaningless jargon is an essential part of the story because it’s designed to create a sense of “information overload” that makes the reader feel like they’ve travelled into a heavily technology-based future.
        Although I’ve vaguely heard of “Altered Carbon” before, I haven’t actually read it (although I’ve seen and played a fair number of things in the cyberpunk genre, I’m probably not that well-read when it comes to cyberpunk literature though).

      • I agree with you: it does create a sense of “information overload” and as an “experiment” of how that would feel, it’s good. However, when it comes to enjoying books, I prefer to not be tempted to skim read because the text meaning-to-jargon ratio is becoming low. That’s just a personal preference, though.

        “Altered Carbon” is definitely worth a read. If found the lead character, Takeshi Kovacs, sufficiently interesting (hardcore ex policeman, think Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer of the future) that I went and read the other two books in the trilogy even though they were more straight sci-fi then cyberpunk murder mystery. And in all those books I felt less of the information overload than in “Neuromancer”, even though the setting was convincingly futuristic. That’s possibly related to how writing style has evolved in general, as well as, individual differences between authors.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Good point, I can see how it might possibly get in the way of the story slightly. Although I didn’t really have that much of an issue with it in “Neuromancer” (except for during the ending, if I remember rightly) or it’s two sequels, I have tried to read other novels with ‘experimental’/unusual narration styles (eg: “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban, “Trainspotting” by Irvine Welsh and, to a lesser extent , “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess) and – with some of these novels- had to stop reading since the narration just got in the way of the story too much. So, yes, I can see how the narration might possibly do the same thing in “Neuromancer”, depending on your perspective.

        Cool 🙂 Aside from [two of] K.W.Jeter’s spin-off novels based on “Blade Runner” (and the original Philip K.Dick novel the film is based on), the closest thing to a cyberpunk detective story I’ve read is probably Eric Brown’s “Bengal Station” trilogy, although this is probably closer to classic sci-fi than cyberpunk. It’s basically about a private detective who works on a large space station and, thanks to technology, has the ability to read minds.
        “Altered Carbon” sounds really interesting, although I don’t know when I’d get round to buying it or reading it, since I already have a few books on my “to read” list and I don’t seem to read anywhere near as often as I used to.

      • I’ve got “A Clockwork Orange” high on my to-read list, so it’ll be interesting if I get put off as well (I knew from before that there’ll be some linguistic challenges in that one). I enjoyed “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” but haven’t seen the film! (I’ll have to though, I heard Blade Runner is getting a sequel…) “Bengal Station” sounds fun, so I’ll mark it on Goodreads for later — thanks for the recommendation!

      • pekoeblaze says:

        It’s been quite a while since I read “A Clockwork Orange”, but you can usually work out the meaning of the “futuristic” words from the context. Still, it depends on which edition you read, since I remember reading somewhere that, unlike the UK edition, the US edition includes a glossary (and a slightly different ending).

        “Blade Runner” is an absolute masterpiece 🙂 However, there are some fairly significant differences between the book and the film. Surprisingly, I actually prefer the film – given it’s amazing visual style, complexity, philosophical depth etc.. although it lacks some of the endearing 60s-style eccentricity of the original novel (eg: the penfold mood organ, kipple, Mercerism etc..).
        Still, if you like the novel, there’s a really cool two-part prequel graphic novel called “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Dust To Dust” that is kind of an interesting mix of both the film and the book. The first part is probably better than the second one though (the second volume is good, but it contains more action scenes and less storytelling, if this makes sense. The background art looks cooler in the second volume though.)

        No probs 🙂 One interesting thing about the Bengal Station books is that, aside from mild spoilers in the introduction to later books in the series, they’re all relatively self-contained. If I remember rightly, I think that I read the second one first, then the first one and then the third one, or something like that.

      • Are you serious about the edition differences with “Clockwork Orange”? Wow, that I’d completely missed, I have to make sure I get … er, which one would you recommend? (Default would be UK for me.) I don’t particularly care for the glossary, but I don’t get the “different ending” [insert polite expletive]! I mean, what’s the deal with that? You don’t have to answer if it’s a bother (or if you don’t remember), I’ll research the issue now that I know … it just took my by surprise.

        Oh, I’d forgotten the mood organ. Ha. So it’s not in the film? A shame, that would have been fun to see.

        And you’ve got me interested in the graphic novel … I’m not sure how to best read them (find a library that has them?), but I’ll keep an eye out. I’m in the middle of the Valerian and Laureline series at the moment, which French 70’s sci-fi, ok story, but with gorgeous, luscious illustrations (another interest of mine).

        I can’t promise I’ll get to the Bengal Station books any time soon, but it’s good to know that if I pick up the wrong one, it’s not a problem. (I think the same applies to the Takeshi Kovacs novels, although I’d say the third one has a definitiveness about it that wouldn’t be as satisfying if you then went and read the others afterwards. Also, the first one is the best intro to the tech … fine, fine, it probably doesn’t apply to that trilogy then 😛 ).

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Ah, looking online quickly, I can’t find any mention of a glossary (I can’t remember where I read about that). But, the UK edition is definitely better from what I can remember. This Wikipedia article [SPOILERS] explains more, but basically the US edition of the book ends where the film adaptation ends. The UK edition has an extra chapter afterwards.

        Yeah, it would have been fun – although it probably wouldn’t have fit in with the tone and style of the film. But, yeah, other omissions include the android police station, lead codpieces, Deckard’s wife Iran, the titular electric sheep [although there’s an artificial owl in one scene] etc.. Surprisingly, despite reading the book after seeing the film, I actually imagine the setting of the novel as looking completely different to the setting of the film (eg: I tend to imagine it as being a lot dustier, with lots of crumbling buildings etc..). The book and the film are almost two entirely different things, but they’re both brilliant.

        Cool 🙂 I don’t know if they’re in libraries or not (I ended up buying the two halves of the prequel comic several years apart from each other), but they’re worth reading if you find them. Interestingly, there’s also apparently a graphic novel adaptation of the original novel.. which is apparently an absolutely gigantic tome.
        I haven’t heard of Valerian and Laureline before though, but it’s cool that it has illustrations though (I don’t know, the only illustrated novels I can think of at the moment that I’ve read within the past decade or so are probably Alex Garland’s “The Coma” [in 2008?] and about half of the hardback edition of “Abarat: Absolute Midnight” by Clive Barker [in 2010/11 2011/12, I think].. it was so good that I actually stopped reading halfway through because I didn’t want it to end LOL! [Surprisingly though, only the hardback editions of the Abarat novels contain illustrations, I think – I read the previous two Abarat novels in paperback and they weren’t really illustrated])

        No probs 🙂 There are probably loads of books I should read, but need to get round to finding and/or reading at some point. But, yeah, the “Bengal Station” books are fairly self-contained (although, like with some self-contained series, later books may contain mild-moderate spoilers for earlier books).
        But, yeah, I think that the thing about satisfying endings applies to pretty much any series (kind of like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” graphic novels – most of which can pretty much be read in any order, but parts of the final volume [“The Wake”] won’t make that much sense if you haven’t read the others first).

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