Staring Into The Depths Of A Cyberpunk's Carbon Fiber Soul

April 12, 1992


Christopher T. Shields speaks about the creation, the conception,
and the tedious writing of Maishin as well as his eternal search
for a pair of chrome mirrored contact lenses.

"The palest of inks is stronger than the mightiest of memories ..."

							-Ancient Chinese proverb

"These are all hot young verbal pilots who think nothing of taking forty thousand tons of screaming heavy metal prose and throwing it straight at the ground in a forced power dive shedding sparks and literary chaos only to pull up at the last possible instant shy of total grammatical implosion just to see the horrified looks on the pale upturned faces of the civilians as the afterburners cut in."

-Michael Swanwick, author of Vacuum Flowers,
Speaking of the Cyberpunk style


"As radical reformers of hard SF (these writers) take their inspiration from contemporary state-of-the-art tech; from
 cybernetics, genetics, neurochemistry, ecology. They are fascinated by the trademark collision of high-tech and pop
 culture, and by the strange enclaves where 'the street finds its own use for things.' The SF they write belongs to a
 decade marked by satellite rock concerts, Sony Walkmans, and home computer networks- a decade which is converting
 the ivory tower of science into snazzy condominiums. " 
							-Bruce Sterling, also speaking of the Cyberpunk genre.


"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams ."


Why did I start to write? Why did I chose to follow the cyberpunk style of literary prose? It's a long story and I guess the story really has to be told. Where to begin but the beginning of course. Well, that's a long time ago, years, decades, maybe longer. I was still in high school at the time, eleventh grade and a junior to be exact. I was instructed in English that I would have to write a short story to be graded for a test grade. It was an assignment that I couldn't begin to thank for coming around. I didn't know what I was going to write, but for years I had wanted to write a story, write a book but to little avail.

I remember that my English teacher had this picture of a flat tailed brown beaver with big white teeth up on the wall and the beaver had a twig in it's mouth, chewing on it. Under the picture of the animal was the caption "If something's gnawing at you, write it out." I would turn that phrase over and over in my head for several years to come.

Yeah. Okay, let's write it out. At the same time, I was shoulder deep in self pity over a relationship gone bad. The short story was due soon and I was pressed for an idea when I went cruising out to Oak Grove one night and found a girl that I had once known. I met the girl at this little convenience store and asked her if she knew the number of another girl whom I really needed to talk to but had lost her number. To make a long story short, I got in a quick fight with the girl's boyfriend who was nothing but a country hick looking for trouble on a Saturday night. I obliged him and left, leaving him with less than fond memories laying there on the sidewalk. The rest of the story was part fiction and part truth.

A nice mix.

I wrote my first really good short story four days after my last major relationship went spiraling down the porcelain urinal. The complete short story, minus some misspelled words, took all of four hours of non-stop writing. That's how much I had to let out. Judas Priest's 'Turbo' album also helped a lot that day. I probably listened to that whole album ten times just that day alone. Writing is the only good thing that ever came out of that failed relationship.

I now want to talk about how I really got started, so be patient with me. It's a long story. After I got an A+ on the first short story that I wrote, I started to think about how I could make a good thing better. I did lots of artwork for the series, mainly doodles and line drawings with catchy cut lines done in boring high school classes, and I spent most of my time doing parts of the story in notebooks. A little bit here, a little bit there. I would be letting a good part of my story go untold if I told you that the music that I listened to didn't influence me a great deal. I bought Metal Massacre VII in October of '86 and the tracks of Kranks' 'Rented Heat' and Heretic's 'Impulse' were the two songs that most influenced me to write a sequel. I used to write my stories in spiral bound notebooks. I took a computer course in high school and realized that I had a word processor sitting at home gathering dust.

No longer.

Suddenly, writing became a hundred times easier.

Thomas Malthus was also a guiding factor in my writing and with a stint in Sociology at the local university, he influenced me heavily. Thomas Malthus was an English economist who lived from 1766 to 1834. If you study Sociology, or history, you will probably run across his name sometime. Malthus wrote the famous Essay on the Principle of Population. He stated simply that the world's population would always outgrow the world's food supply. He pointed to the rapidly increasing population of the world as an insurmountable obstacle to progress.

"The power of population," he wrote, "is indefinitely greater than the power in earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio."

Malthus believed that poverty rather than progress was the normal state of society. Thomas Robert Malthus also believed in two constants, which he called Positive checks and Preventive checks.

Positive checks increased the death rate to make up for the balance between food and people. Positive checks included blight, disease, war, and other factors that resulted in death. Preventive checks increased the birth rate to make up for the balance between food and the people. As Adam Smith once told government to keep its hands out of business, so Malthus urged a laissez faire in regard to the world's social reforms.

There are many objections that can be brought to light concerning the dire prophesies of Malthus. Even in his own time, improvements in agriculture and the opening of vast tracts of land in America and around the world to cultivation were increasing the food supply. Today, and since the time of Malthus, there has been many scientific farming advances and the advent of birth control to try and keep a balance between food supply and population growth. Today, even with all the advances, Malthusian principles tend to shadow our lives as once again, overpopulation has become a fearful and possible reality.

Just suppose that the world's population boomed in the late eighties and early nineties to where the food supply was jeopardized. Now put several of Malthus' Positive checks to work and you have the setting for a pretty bleak background. Malthus' Essay suggested to Charles Darwin the relationship between advancing progress and the law of the survival of the fittest which was a basic idea of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Welcome to the very possible, very bleak near future. The general population boom followed the good years of the late nineties and the early part of the twenty-first century. More people than ever and mandatory birth control in over twenty countries. The Great Quake of '13 halfway submerged California into the ocean. The shock that immeaditly followed. The people became more and more concerned and wide spread panic broke out. The rape of the Earth by man had continued on into early '14. The factories and industrial centers had long divulged their wastes and bi-products into the streams and rivers of the world despite so called government intervention. Out of the pollution and toxic wastes came the virulent strain.

The virulent strain was a mutated dioxinate turned living cell. It wiped out three in ten of everything and produced several branch-offs like the Blight which attacked the world crops. Many areas withered and died within weeks, reducing the worlds food supply by nearly half. The 'creeping death', it was called as it slowly traversed the globe and there was nothing that man could do about either. The Food Riots broke out across the North American continent in the winter of '17. People were starving now as the virulent strain continued its work. New food substitutes were rapidly developed but transportation was a problem as was rapid growth of the substitutes and distribution. Scientists worked on the problem night and day but to no avail.

Holy men had just as much clout when they said that the strain was an act of God and that mankind was being punished for his sins. Others said that the strain was the result of biotoxin warfare that had backfired but no one wanted to say who it had backfired on for fear of nuclear escalation.

The cities withered and shrank. High technology abounded as nature began to reassert itself. The Earth dried up and withered. Once lush areas became stark dessert. Cities collapsed in upon themselves and grew upwards and downwards instead of outwards. Large areas of ruins were inhabited by the lawless and the abandoned. Dustbowl areas appeared again where once there was green pastures. Crime and unemployment were steadily increasing within the cities while rural real estate steadily dropped in value. People flocked to the larger cities which collapsed upon themselves and built inwards and upwards.

Less cities, more moving people.

The near future, a vision of techno hell. And one man who survived and called it home ...

A man who just happened to see life differently than others.

A man named Quinn DiArdo.

What would it be like to live in a world that was right out of Thomas Malthus' own mind. Positive and Preventive checks. The famous 'Essay on Population.' A lot of writers pick far more famous and familiar faces to color their backgrounds with such as Einstein and Newton to name two. I didn't. I see life differently and I think Malthus might just have smiled at the grim world that I painted. It's pretty damn close to the world he lived in and the one he envisioned. I wanted to add high technology to an area that I knew fairly well.

Cybernetics, interfacing, and a host of other modern dreams that are most likely to become reality. Computerized drive by wire systems, and a host of interfaces, organic modifications. Hardware, software, wetware, hardwiring. I was heavily influenced by the works of William Gibson, Ridley Scott, Walter John Williams, the other great host of cyberpunks, and the Japanese Manga artists. They wrote about such metropolis as Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and so on. I wanted to write about some place a little more bleak. The rise of the Pacific Rim gave a good setting for the stories.

I know I've enjoyed writing these stories and I hope you enjoy reading them. Some people consider Cyberpunk to be dead, but I don't think that you can kill a genre once it's established. There may be no new work in the field, but that doesn't mean that the genre has ceased to exist. As long as copies of Gibson's and William's work is floating around the local used book stores and the internet, there will always be Cyberpunk.

Only the stories in the Stereodyssey series are linked together in the same 'world'. The other cyberpunk stories that I have written all take place in different, future 'worlds' with a common background in Malthusian darkness. The problems are the same, but the technology, the history, and the people are different between, say, "The Means-End Inversion" and those present in "White Line, Black Road."

John Quinn DiArdo was just such a neat character to write about, that the Stereodyssey series just kind of grew. I wrote my first DiArdo story in early '88. It was originally going to be a short story geared for publication by Steve Jackson Games, in their Autoduel publication, and it was going to be about a autoduelist who was sent on a corporate mission to rescue some VIP's daughter. The whole idea came from the song "Madelaine" by Winger. The whole idea revolved around a piece of technology that existed in Car Wars, the 'brain tape' and an Organization called "Gold Cross". In Car Wars, you could die, and if you were rich enough, you could have a contract with Gold Cross. This provided you with a clone body on standby and monthly updates to a 'brain tape' which stored all of your memories. In the event of death, Gold Cross could load your brain tape into the 'blank' clone body, and you would live again. This made for some interesting situations and that got me to thinking....

What would happen if, say, you died, and you hadn't updated your brain tape in a while? Well, your clone wouldn't have any memory past the last brain tape, which meant that anything that happened since the brain tape was last updated would not be on this brain tape! And I started to think, what if I got in a fight with my girlfriend after her brain tape session, and it was such a horrendous fight, that we broke up. Well, what if we're both really unhappy, we've both made some bad mistakes, and true to life, if I could go back and undo things, I would. Well, suppose that my girlfriend dies in an auto accident, and since she's rich and has a clone body ready, they program it with the last tape. The problem is, the tape was of memories before our big last fight, and she's been so mad since then, that she hasn't gone in for another brain taping session. What happens? She wakes up in her new body still loving me like we never had the fight! Why? Because, to her, and her pre-recorded and reloaded memories, the fight never existed! She has no memory of something that she never did! Me? I'm not going to tell her, because due to a glitch in the use of technology, I've just rewound life and I get a second chance. See the irony of the whole thing? I did, and just one simple question, taken from a rule book for a 'beer and pretzels' style table top game, and I was off writing the first installment of the Stereodyssey series.

See how much it's changed? Well, I never sent the original draft off to SJG, and I decided to change things from the history of the SJG "Car Wars" future to my own. I liked my character too much to just ship it off for some other people to have their way with it. I don't know where all the ideas came from, or the time table as to when, but by 1991, the story was so well written, that it won major awards at a local Science Fiction Convention.

I read Jerry Ahern's "Survivalist" series when I was a teenager, and I remember really liking the no-nonsense, 'real man' survival nut kind of guy who managed to always come through in the end. However, when Mr. Ahern kept bringing his character back time after time, in the future, after the Russians, etc. I lost interest. I mean, how many times can one man save the world? That went out with Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the 1940's pulp comics. That and the Survivalist never did really get hurt bad.

No, my character was going to be different. And he was. I wasn't afraid to have my character die. My character wasn't going to be a serial hero, he was going to be a tragic hero, an anti-hero that does good to others just because it's a byproduct of his own greed.

In my very first story, I had written the story so that my character couldn't go anywhere else! He had achieved everything in the world, everything he was looking for, and there was no room for forward advancement!


How do I write more adventures about a guy who can't move forward due to my own wish to limit his adventures for realism's sake?

How about ... backwards?


Yeah, write new stories and adventures, but these will take place BEFORE the first story and flesh out the history of the character. It was a difficult task, but it was intriguing as well. Imagine what situation George Lucas would have been in if the very first Star Wars movie that he ever wrote and released to the public had been "Return Of The Jedi"? See? There was no place to go beyond that? You couldn't have a sequel to ROTJ with Darth Vader in it, because Darth Vader had died in the movie. The Emperor was gone, as was the evil Galactic Empire. Where would you go from there?

Just where George Lucas is taking us now.


So, my character wasn't going to save the world, he was only interested in where his next meal came from, he was good with guns, when he had to be, he had access to exotic technology only because exotic technology existed in his age and was such common place, that everyone had exotic technology.

I wanted to throw some really neat curves into the story, so I started off with a female character and ended up with a male character. Or rather, since the first story was really the last, I 'started' off with a male character, and 'ended' the beginning of the series with a female character. I mean, in the future, anything is possible and I thought that if someone got into so much trouble, if other people wanted them dead bad enough, well, maybe you could go into hiding, and if you went into hiding deep enough to avoid being killed, you would probably have to change everything about how you lived.

Including your DNA.

In order to keep things as safe as possible, Quinn's friends ship him off to the far side of the moon, and using his natural skills and intelligence, Quinn slowly works his way back to Earth and dirtside. From there, he goes on to find some very difficult times on his road to fame and fortune as the lover and head of security for one of the most popular sim-stars on Earth.

End of story, in a nutshell.

Try the other stories as well. I've tried science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, poetry, and modern horror (coming soon), but my favorite genre above all others is still cyberpunk.

These stories are here for your enjoyment. If you feel like sharing your thoughts on any of the stories, or you have ideas for a co-writing adventure, I'd love to hear from you. I have several stories that I would like to do, and maybe, if I find a 'pen pal', a co-authoring venture is something I'd look forward to.