For any outside readers, please check out our post introducing the universe or WARS by clicking HERE.
Its July 1st 1984, and William Gibson is sure people are going to hate his book. He's rewritten parts of it over and over, he's struggled over it, he's even added a line at the end to try to prevent himself from writing a sequel, and of course its one of the most influential science fiction novels of its time, no big surprise there. Neuromancer, along with other seminal works like Snow Crash and ghost in the shell defined (though didn't invent) the Cyberpunk genre, which is a pretty obvious influence on the Mavericks of WARS. While some of the technological similarities are obvious: such as the heavy use of body modification, for instance, its the parallels in tone and setting that are really striking between the two.
Though the tone of the technology is important to begin with. Whats really noticeable is the way in which body modification is treated as no big deal. People in Neuromancer as well as the Mavericks hold the same blasé attitude to getting replacement body parts or organs. Its not really a big deal, and if it improves your body all the better for you! There are of course some similar “upgrades” present in both Neuromancer and WARS: retractable nails that can be used as weapons, heavily upgraded livers that can process toxins... But its the attitude that is most poignant. After all, we live in a world right now where people still freak out that people use their cell phones a lot more than they did not too long ago. Our attachment to technology is growing, and the way we use it and treat it in our own lives is becoming more integral and important, but there is still a mistrust of it. This is the same society that grew up seeing endless movies warning of the nature of technology growing too fast, and one where innovations that intrude on nature are still seen as somehow dangerous and wrong.
The pace of these advancements has quickened certainly, even though the principles behind them are ancient. You'd be hard pressed to see a person who thought breeding animals for desirable traits was immoral (though they certainly exist), but finding a person who thought genetically modifying an animal to bring those traits about was immoral is much easier. There is a squeamishness about technological progress, a nagging feeling that says the way its always been done was fine, so why speed it up? That bio-modification is so easily perceivable for many of those who have undergone it, it makes it even easier to judge. While some minor body modifications have been basically accepted into our society: biotic limbs, breast implants, etc, they are still in many ways stigmatized, and people are likely to stare in the case of very visible ones that have been made out of necessity like replacement limbs, and are likely to be judgmental about ones that are purely optional, like breast implants. Even medication is needlessly suspect, as shown by the plethora of people who have taken it upon themselves to put children at needless risk by campaigning against vaccines. If in the future we are all Mavericks though, replacing parts of our bodies not because it is necessary but because it is useful, how will we look back on all of this?
Of course, in WARS the society is stratified: the Earthers and Gongen aren't particularly fond of biotic limbs, and while we presume some use them, they seem to be hidden ones used out of necessity rather than out of desire. Neuromancer however shows a society where body modification is everywhere, and people's bodies are essentially tools to be wielded by larger powers. Which leads to the most glaring comparison between the two: the corporations.
You'd be hard pressed to say a version of Earth where there are no governments and everything is run by massive companies that often have shady motives isn't a really cyberpunk idea, it clearly is. Of course, in Neuromancer the companies have a decidedly Asian flair to them, being fairly clearly Chinese or Japanese corporations, something that is decided out of the realm of WARS to put out there.
Regardless, the influence is clear. Starhawk has a fairly clear analogue in Case, the hacker hero of Neuromancer, even though he isn't a hacker he's still a snarky disrespectful guy who is full of himself, and Torako is a sort of “more lawful” rendition of Molly, the razor girl assassin. Its not that the characters are carbon copies, or even actually very similar characters, but the aesthetic of them was borrowed, and if you're borrowing anything from a Cyberpunk novel, you're borrowing an aesthetic.
Lets clarify exactly what I mean here: where WARS had to borrow its bones from Star Wars do to being built out of the Star Wars TCG, it used primarily other inspirations to fill out its insides. One of these was Neuromancer, but whats interesting about this is that so much of what is drawn from Neuromancer is the outer layer, the aesthetic. Things look cool like they do in Cyberpunk: WARS has gone out of its way to have Space Samurai, femme fatales with needles in their fingers, attractively grungy settings, neon holograms on dingy street corners.... The universes of Neuromancer and WARS are actually very different. There are no aliens in Neuromancer, there is no massive communist power to rival Earth's corporate one. Together though, they share the coolness, and that is what is most important in Cyberpunk.
The other seminal Cyberpunk Book, Snow Crash, takes the aesthetic to ridiculous extremes, ripping apart its own structure and setting to the point where any attempt at a sequel to that book would not only be ill advised, but somehow gratuitous in a way that’s hard to explain, because the novel itself is already the pinnacle of gratuity. Neuromancer takes itself more seriously, but there's till plenty in it that is really playing with the boundaries of what the author can get away with in terms of effective writing. The strange jokes about raiding with the Rastafarian Navy, the heinous hedonism of the people who are in charge, the time jumps and introductions of characters with ridiculously complex back-stories we suddenly need to learn into the middle of the narrative... Its all very experimental, and somehow all fits together fairly well.
By design or not, the WARS fiction involves a lot of similar story telling techniques. Very often we get dropped into characters with little time to understand them, but lots of need to do so quickly, while the world itself. This leads to a lot of explanarritives, and Neuromancer does quite a bit of this itself, abet chapter to chapter rather than on a story to story basis.
The shocking this is not that WARS borrowed all this, but that its called WARS and holds so much in common with a story about a bunch of grungy people pulling off a small operation. Even though we will see a giant battle story in this set of short stories, and we'll see an even bigger one later on when we get to the novellas, we have to confront the odd truth that WARS holds more in common with stories about small groups of people doing random jobs here or there than it does with the epic space operas it is supposed to be emulating. This isn't Star Wars, oddly, its something else entirely different, and that's okay, even if it makes the name somewhat jarring.
Outside Mavericks though, is Wintermute, the Artificial Intelligence that is going both rogue and beyond its programming. The Shochoness of Wintermute is palpable here, as its hard to imagine Shocho without it, and its easy enough to imagine that Shocho would inspire the kind of operation to infiltrate it that goes on within Neuromancer. Wintermute's military background, and the way Shocho manipulated events on Gongen to build defenses for the battle of Phobos, are also to be noted together. But this is a vision of a future of intelligent technology that views it as possible, even if grungy, and that's something to be admired with how our technology is progressing to create such coded beings in reality.
It is kind of sad though, that in both WARS and Neuromancer we are given a future where people making choices to do what they want with their bodies is only given approval because it can churn a profit, or because people are ridiculously outside of society, rather than just because people respect other's choices, and the march of technology is feared. Its also notable that a corpratocracy is inevitable in both worlds in the end.
What comes together from all this unwieldy borrowing is the equivalent of not taking someone's whole coat, but bits of it that you like. WARS isn't actually a Cyberpunk story, but it is part of a Cyberpunk story, one that happened to get blended in with a western, a space opera, a samurai tale, a Gundam story, and a cold war era thriller. There isn't anything quite like it, because like the disparate elements in Neuromancer that blend together aesthetically, these elements blend together in WARS as well. WARS may have set out to re-create itself far from Star Wars, but it may have ended up far farther than it intended. The Universe just doesn't support massive constant space battles the way Star Wars does, and these little infiltrations by weirdos are sometimes much more fun anyways. We don't need the Death Star to blow up to have a good time, what we need are some people we care enough about to follow their adventures. Neuromancer got two sequels, which is strange for a book where no sequels was the goal at the end of its writing, and its a pity WARS couldn't get that much traction. Still, they live on in each other, each mulling over the aesthetic of cool.
Next though, we're going to shift writers of WARS all over again!