Don’t Cyberpunk Too Close to Home

You know, I write a great deal of science fiction, and in particular, I have a love for Cyberpunk with all its gory body horror and ill-advised implants. As I’ve analyzed my own writing, I’ve realized that I must have some kind of weird hatred for the human body. It goes back to the proverbial ghost in the shell, but with all of our humanity nestled within our fragile craniums, our frail and vulnerable bodies do nothing but get in the way. Bodies feel pain. Bodies break down. Bodies die. What would it be like to exist without these problems? What if we were perfect machines, capable of either modifying or entirely freeing ourselves from our fleshy prisons?

Okay, I sound like some crazy cyborg junky here, but this isn’t really the case—we all think about this in some way. Modern medicine is essentially in the business of shoving metaphorical (and sometimes actual) formaldehyde into the human body in an attempt to stave off the inevitable decay. Very few people enjoy being sick, and if you look at existential psychology, the knowledge that our time on earth is finite becomes something that profoundly influences our life choices and provokes some of our deepest fears as humans.

I’m fascinated by this oft-tortured relationship with the slowly dying hunk of flesh and blood and bone that we all call home (I know, I made a rhyme, I’m poetic like that. Danny Elfman, eat your heart out). When I’m writing about cyborgs or biomedical implants, I’m only speculating about what it might be like to enhance or modify my body, but many people are already living with an assortment of elective or necessary augments. My best friend has a cochlear implant, and I enjoy yelling at her via this distinctly futuristic conduit. Every day medical science is bringing us closer to realizing our Cyberpunk dreams (or nightmares).

And for me, I must say, it’s been more of a nightmare. I should consider changing genres because the Cyberpunk has gotten way too close to home. As I type this, I’m struggling to hit the right keys, and my fingers are burning with nerve pain. Thanks to being a passenger in a rather gnarly car accident, I’ve experienced an unfortunate neural trauma—my spinal cord is being compressed along with some important spinal nerves in my neck. This sends horrible pain down my arms along the nerve tracts and makes all the muscles in my upper body twist into one giant spasm. My fingers are alternately numb, tingling, or on fire from the nerve compression. The spinal cord compression weakens the muscles in my arms and hands and makes me clumsy—it’s hard to type, hold a pen, use a fork. I drop things (like water all over the table when I was having dinner with my friends the other night). You get the idea. If I left it this way, eventually I would develop problems with walking. Yeah. Paralysis is not a fun thing, it turns out.

The solution? Well, there are a few ways to resolve this (like fusing my spine into one giant hunk of bone). That’s the old way. The new way is to shove an implant made out of some combination of metals and plastics in there. All I want for Christmas is a cybernetic spine. Cool, right? Actually, I find it rather terrifying, and I’d prefer to leave my Cyberpunk where it belongs: on the page, not in my spine. That being said, I’m grateful that there’s an alternative to inevitable quadriplegia, and there’s a certain bizarre satisfaction in shopping for your own body parts—even with a simple artificial disc device, there are a lot of options. Would you like the upgraded stereo system or rust protection package with that spine implant? Even though I write about this stuff, it’s patently weird to scavenge the Internet for the right spare parts and an agreeable neurosurgeon. Man, sometimes I hate it when William Gibson is right.

I’m not really sure what I’m concluding here, but all I can say is that if you’re a writer, quit following all those guidelines about how to write a structurally sound story. All those horrible things you’re supposed to have happen to your protagonist? Forget it. The last novel I drafted was about a woman with a bunch of failing neural implants that cause her extreme pain and fluctuating paralysis. To help solve her problem, she hunts down a neurosurgeon that tries and ultimately fails to fix her issues with a series of painful spine injections. I can tell you now, when I revise this book, I’ll have a much better idea of what this might feel like. Hint: spine injections do NOT feel good! I learned that the hard way.

Next time, let’s all just write stories about authors that win the lottery and live happily ever after. Or, if you insist on writing Cyberpunk, make sure you come up with some seriously cool implants, and be careful what you wish for…

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