From Space Opera to Cyberpunk: Influences of 13 Science Fiction Writers

Where do the ideas that populate science fiction originate? Are ideas beamed into writer's heads from a Russian space satellite? Does a divine spirit breathe the Promethean flame into blessed brains? Does genetic material house racial memories and cultural archetypes, the symbolic language of dreams, from which all of our stories find their nascence? Maybe some of that's true for someone, but for the men and women in the trenches, daily penning SF, the more universal experience is that writing takes thought work. Writers ask themselves, what is possible? What ideas haven't been explored? Where is humanity headed? What technology and what kind of societies will the future hold? While SF writers explore new territory, dreaming new dreams, they also revisit past futures, finding inspiration in the pages of SF past. 

Rapid Transmission asked several science fiction writers to talk about what had the greatest impact on their writing and how such works, whether books, movies, or games, reflect on their own work.

Mark Everglade | Twitter

I was mostly inspired by Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, and the ()hole petropunk exhumation of the negative sun that is sentient oil lubricating political narratives to counter the solar hegemonies in pure culinary materialism. But these holes are simultaneously "pimp and prostitute" as ()hole complex undermines the umwelt from within and without, the pseudo-dichotomy of creation and destruction that leads to a post-modern, yet antiquely metaphysical view of Luhmannian second-order cybernetics. Reza describes a world where the fog of war is caused by the dust that warmachines themselves create, where bullets entropically become desert-dwelling citizens seeking out the wetness that ()hole allows through, becoming petrophillic entities. ()hole meanwhile undermines solidus whilst retaining some sense of parallelism in this poroelastic political epic that culminates in subversive holeyness.

See also: Fuckin’ Masterpiece.

His influence on Hemispheres is axiomatic.

Thalassa affirms to herself, I will bring equality! I will exhume this negative sun of everything lying latent and repressed in society. I bear the solar antithesis as my emblem, a uniform nothingness, a lifeless expanse, challenging those who feed off the sun’s hegemony, for I was not born among them, forced into eternal darkness with only fireflies for comfort….Everything they call regress I call progress. I will bring light to all, raging like a dark maelstrom against the system, for this is love.

Let love reign!

N.H. Weber | Twitter

I’ve always held a fascination for outer space, the vastness, the beauty, the possibility out in our universe full of stars for sentient space travelers. My novel XENOCHRIST was influenced by a plethora of “star” related media along with Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell.

While William Gibson steered me towards Cyberpunk, my science fiction journey began with Isaac Asimov's Robot trilogy (Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn). These works influenced my writing style and themes. After reading one page, I was hooked. I don’t generally read “Whodunit?” novels, but there’s a charm to Asimov’s writing and to his characters. From there I graduated to Asimov’s “Foundation” saga, an epic spanning the limitlessness of space and the endless resourcefulness of human beings.

G.S. Jennsen | Twitter

In ninth grade, my French teacher lent me his copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. That teacher went on to open several used bookstores, which seems fitting. Cosmos changed my life overnight, or at least the trajectory of my life.

I followed Cosmos with Contact, and the connection between space and SF took a firm hold in my mind. I searched for more SF and stumbled face-first into Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I wrote my AP English thesis on Asimov: Free Will vs. Determinism in the Foundation Series. My teacher gave me a strange look and an A.

The books that have most influenced my writing are Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy-of-duologies. I’d never before encountered such masterful, deep and expansive worldbuilding. I was in awe. I still am. To the extent you find galaxy-spanning settings, multiple strong points-of-view, and interweaving plots in my books, it’s due to the influence Hamilton’s books had on my notion of SF.

Jon Richter | Twitter

I write books in a number of dark fiction genres, including a recent foray into cyberpunk with Auxiliary: London 2039. Like most writers, I’ve been bombarded with science fiction since a young age, but one of my biggest influences is the video game Flashback.

Long before I saw Blade Runner, Flashback was my first ever experience of the cyberpunk genre. A ten-year-old me was blown away by the game when it appeared on my Sega Mega Drive in 1993. The stunning graphics evoked gritty hyper-realism and a gaudy, entrancing vision of the future. The story about an amnesiac on the run from sinister authorities and alien infiltrators was utterly gripping. Despite the limitations of the 16-bit medium, the game conjured a believable urban cityscape where amazing technology jarred against the drudgery of everyday life. Flashback’s worldbuilding was convincing and fascinating. I sought to replicate Flashback’s worldbuilding in my novel, which imagines a future where humans struggle to find meaning in a society where machines have made them obsolete.

Dawn Ross | Twitter

I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. The idea of people traveling to the stars and meeting strange new beings fascinated me. I wanted more. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and Doctor Who were just the beginning. I’ve been gobbling up anything SF ever since. SF is my escape from reality. It’s my break from a humdrum life into a world of discovery and adventure. Star Trek introduced places where people can get along no matter how different they are. Star Trek showed that no matter how bad things get, people can work out their problems. The show gave confidence to a girl who wanted desperately to believe the good guys could overcome the bad if they persevered. Of all the series and movies, though, Star Trek: The Next Generation has been the most influential in my writing: the deep characters, the drama, and the way it tests the boundaries of ethics. Though my character driven SF series is darker, rest assured the good guys will always win.
Davene Le Grange | Twitter

As a predominantly visual person and a SF writer, my inspiration comes from various sources. Stories about warriors, underdogs, and rebels draw me in. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story inspired my story Broadcast 2220 in the cyberpunk anthology Arc City Stories. In Broadcast 2220, Astari “Sandy” Tekeryi is born into a life of luxury. She gives up her privileges to live among those considered low-class or criminal. Astari struggles with choosing freedom over comfort, living as a woman or as a man (to hide her identity) and ruling or living with those outside of her corporate family. Astari represents those fighting for redemption, forgiveness, and justice, knowing they might fail but remaining determined nonetheless. I often wonder if people will judge Astari’s sacrifices as selfless or selfish regardless of her idealistic intent? Are we forever trapped by our mistakes and the mistakes of our ancestors? Despite the horrible injustices in the world, I prefer to have a hopeful view of the future. The battle for peace continues, and every individual’s choices makes an undeniable difference.

Phoenix Ward | Twitter

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams has had the greatest impact on my writing. Dry wit is my bread and butter. It wasn’t just that Hitchhiker’s Guide was funny, though. It was legitimate SF. It was high concept, full of wild technology like The Babel Fish, Deep Thought the supercomputer, or the improbability drive. As for Adams’ humor, he didn’t rely on punchlines. His concepts were funny, unique, and made you think about situations you’d never encounter in the everyday. Similarly, I write about high concepts with a humorous angle.

Ryan Hyatt | Twitter

Before J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books captivated young readers at the turn of the millennium with their polished, upbeat take on school-age fantasy, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence, published a quarter of a century earlier, had a profound impact on the “least-parented” generation of kids, like me, raised at the end of the Cold War without a blockbuster book franchise anchoring, dictating, and “inspiring” us to assimilate to some globally branded commercial literary reality. As a fifth grader in 1987 whose family moved a lot, teachers told me I was smart but behind in my education, so I needed to read more. Fortunately, Mrs. Vranish had a solution. She introduced me to Cooper’s books. I devoured them and became a lifelong lover of the written word. Steeped in pagan myth, The Dark Is Rising follows an eleven-year-old boy, Will Stanton, who discovers on Christmas he is among the Old Ones, spurring him on a quest just beyond the veneer of day-to-day existence in which he and the forces of Light battle the Dark for the survival of humanity. Unlike Rowlings’ books, Coopers’ are deeply touched with a sense of melancholy, providing a young mind room to ponder beauty and mysticism as well as danger and death. Cooper grappled with a Western heritage losing its relationship to nature. I will never forget the metaphor that resonates throughout the series: the inexorable flow of water, like life itself, is also a way to harness magic.

Alexis Lantgen  | Twitter

The books that most influenced my writing, including Sapience and Saints and Curses, are Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. I read the entire Rendezvous with Rama series by the time I was in high school. I was fascinated with Clarke’s ideas, aliens that communicated via color flashes like deep sea squid, organisms that stored memories in a living web. Hyperion had mystery and pain and a beautiful depiction of pathos and hope for humanity. Simmons imagined human culture spreading across the galaxy and the destructive cost that functional immortality and rigid dogma could create. I still find the images of Hyperion so vivid--spaceships made out of living trees, human beings building life rings around entire planets and flying through space on living wings, or the terrifying and mysterious Shrike that captures and tortures its victims for its own unfathomable reasons.

Elias J. Hurst | Twitter

Distilling my influences down to a single book takes me to The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. For an SF author, it’s a strange a choice, but this book is the reason I transitioned from reading SF to writing SF. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of Rand’s works, but this novel taught me the power of a book—that an ideology could be demonstrated, more so implanted, through story. Rand is divisive and a master of reinforcing ideology with atmosphere and symbolism. That influence shapes the technologies and environments I include in my SF. Here’s an all-time favorite line: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

Matthew A. Goodwin | Twitter

While Philip K. Dick and William Gibson are the reason I fell in love with cyberpunk, my novel series, A Cyberpunk Saga is most informed by J.R.R. Tolkien. Set in a world of rainy neon streets, flying cars, and mega-corporations, my novels tell the story of a contented homebody who sets off into a world he doesn’t know with a friend by his side to fight a great evil. The classic Hero’s Journey has been told since humans began storytelling, but Tolkien’s version inspired me from the moment I discovered cassette tapes of The Hobbit in my school’s library. Middle-earth was so richly designed and its inhabitants so true that reading the series didn't merely leave me wanting to read more, but to write. Frodo, as Bilbo before him, lived happily in the Shire, but carried an internal spark. Neither of the hobbits fully understood what drove them to leave their home and become part of something greater. Like so many authors before me, Tolkien has had a greater impact on my writing than anyone else. When I sat down to write Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga, I crafted a character similar to Frodo with a similar journey.

Anna Mocikat | Twitter

The movie that most inspired my creative work is Ghost in the Shell. I'm aware of the graphic novels, the sequels, the re-designs, but 1995s Mamoru Oshii directed anime is a masterpiece and the apotheosis of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Everything about this anime is a masterpiece. The art is breathtaking, the visuals stunning, the voice acting in the original Japanese full of gravitas, the music unique, stark, otherworldly. Major Motoko Kusanagi, the main character, first appeared as a badass female character at a time when badass female characters were hardly de rigueur in entertainment media. Kusanagi is super strong thanks to her artificial cyborg body. Though Kusanagi is sexy in a dangerous way, she’s also very human, tending to question herself and the world around her. The cyberpunk world of Ghost in the Shell is beautiful but also cold and merciless. And so is Major Kusanagi's “shell,” her robot body.

Oshii's Ghost in the Shell created a cyberpunk archetype through The Puppet Master, a conscious AI inhabiting a “shell,” a cyborg body without a human brain. The Puppet Master echoes the questions Kusanagi raised about her own existence and serves as a catalyst to her ontological shift into pure embodied information in the 'net. The Puppet Master says, “And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?"

Ghost in the Shell doesn't follow the “high-tech low life” aspect of cyberpunk, which is predominant in Western interpretations of the genre. Ghost in the Shell is mostly about what it means to be human, and if, at a certain point, humans will merge with machines to create a new species.

The merging of man and computer is central to my cyberpunk novel Behind Blue Eyes. I don’t know if I would ever have written this book if it weren’t for Ghost in the Shell.

Tyler Olvera - Editor in Chief of Lazy Adventurer Publishing | Twitter

Growing up, I read every science-fiction book I could get my hands on. Of course, books like Ender’s Game and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were favorites, and I was always a big film nerd. I saw Shaun of the Dead when I was in middle school and fell in love. I know it’s silly to say, when a lot of writers might choose Lord of the Rings or a Steven King novel, but the blend of interpersonal conflict with science-fiction elements and comedy? I was hooked. I’m not even a horror fan, either! While I never really got into parody, my writing afterwards tended to focus more on those interpersonal relationships with normal, everyday characters, and I always try to blend tension and comedy. I don’t like stories to stay overly serious for too long.

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