London Lost

Stories in a Changing City

London is the city of Shakespeare’s Globe and the birthplace of grime. It is a city of divisions and a city of inequality. It is a city of strangers meeting like marbles in a machine. It is a city packed with pointless jobs at the end of long, cramped commutes. A city stuffed with box rooms, damp and draughty shared accommodations, where strangers share meals standing shoulder-to-shoulder in tight kitchens. London is also the most visited English-language tourist destination. London is a city of millions of long-term and short-term Londoners. A city of royalty, of Lords and Ladies, and a city of landowners and squatters. But London is ever changing.

London Lost features stories, poetry, and art about London and Londoners by Liam Hogan, Morgan Parks, Natasha Bonfield, Rob McClure Smith, Maroula Blades, Alex Zalben, SA MacLeod, Ethan O’Connor, Robin Cantwell, Madeleine McDonald, Janina Aza Karpinska, Barbara Saunders, Susie Aybar, Ruth Holzer, Maija Haavisto, Maximilian Damico, Nick Sweeney, David Winston, Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier, Sasha Saben Callaghan, and Mark Anthony Jarman. In addition Ashley Hickson-Lovence, author of The 392, speaks about capturing a city in fiction.

This volume of the London Reader is our complicated love note to the city we call home: to our packed commutes, to our thin walls and our neighbours on the other side, and yes, even to the tourists standing on Oxford Street, or on the wrong side of the escalator. This volume, like London itself, is more than the sum of its parts. London is a complex mess of tube lines and interconnected stories, but it’s also so much more than that.

London is anyone. London is everyone.

Print and electronic subscriptions
available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

a skyline in greyscale with a ufo floating overhead

Open Call: UFOs, Cover-ups, & Conspiracies

Deadline May 13, 2022

What were those neon lights in the night sky? What is hidden at Area 51? Have we been visited by aliens? And, more importantly, what do these questions tell us about ourselves?

The London Reader is looking for stories featuring UFOs, government conspiracies, and our relationship with the extraterrestrial. Poetry and art that feature the same are also welcome. Stories should focus on compelling characters with elements of science fiction or the unexplained while remaining firmly grounded in our world; however, any interpretation on these themes can be submitted.

 👽

The cold war saw the proliferation of nuclear arms and the space race as former allies turned rivals sought the edge in escalating rocket technology. Against this incendiary backdrop came an explosion in strange happenings: sightings of unexplained flying objects over the night sky as well as theories of government conspiracies, cover-ups, and aliens at secret facilities in the Nevada desert. Such headlines shaped the image of extraterrestrials in our imagination.

These stories were seldom what they seemed. Reports released by the US government since then have disclosed that in the cold war, the US Air Force knowingly misled the public about unidentified objects flying over America. In a misinformation campaign, the Air Force spread stories of aliens to conceal sightings of their own high altitude surveillance planes. No matter the cause, these stories illuminate how throughout the nerve-racking cold war decades—from the buzz-cut 1950s, through the psychedelic swinging 60s and 70s, to the 8-bit 80s—people terrified by the threat of nuclear war struggled to find meaning in stories that helped explain the unexplainable.

👽

Possible story prompts:

  • A group of Ham radio enthusiasts in the 50s discover an unexplained Numbers Station that they’re sure is relaying information about extraterrestrials.
  • A woman finds top-secret smart glasses that contain classified government information
  • In the heady days of the psychedelic 60s, a “ufologist” in California attempts to make sense of the lights they see sinking into the Pacific.
  • A rural homesteader is contacted by a renegade pilot who has evidence of UFOs, but years later the pilot is revealed to be a CIA agent spreading UFO disinformation.
  • An astronaut scientist is asked by their commander to lie to the media and say they saw a UFO.
  • A black box discovered in the desert somehow contains the answer to the Fermi paradox.
  • A conspiracy-theorist teen tries to track down the alien autopsy tapes he’s sure must exist.
  • A hacker manages to penetrate the computer systems at NASA in an attempt to expose evidence of UFOs only to find themselves under criminal investigation and facing deportation.
  • A low-wage worker who thinks he saw a UFO is now being followed by Men in Black from the CIA.
  • 80s ravers in rural England have a close encounter with an extraterrestrial object.
  • The pilot of the first helmed Soviet satellite orbit discovers he’s not alone.
  • A private contractor is entrusted with scanning government data for UFOs but finds something else.
  • A man receives instant messages from someone claiming to be an alien lifeform.
  • A picnicking family in the 60s sees lights in the sky that turn out to be a government mind-control experiment.
  • Satellite radio broadcasts from Earth are received by hidden aliens.
  • Students out for a drive beyond the light pollution of the city spot something unexplainable in the sky.
  • A group of internet addicts camp at the fence of Area 51 hoping to spot proof of extraterrestrials.

How to submit: The London Reader submission portal for this call.

The above form requires a Google account, but if you cannot use the form, you can also submit by email. If you have any questions or difficulty submitting, email coordinator@LondonReader.uk

What to submit: Creative works can be stand-alone pieces or collections, but should generally be fewer than 5,000 words or no more than three poems per submission. Multiple submissions, simultaneous submissions, and previously published submissions are welcome. Artwork should be favourably viewed on a tablet or single A5 page.

The deadline for submitting on this theme is May 13th, 2022.

Photo credit: Bill Brussard

Stories of Storms and Survival cover

BAD WEATHER

As we were compiling this issue, the West Coast of North America was hit by record-breaking floods wiping out all road access to one of Canada’s largest cities and the country’s largest port, the fourth largest in North America. Just months before, the same part of Canada saw forest fires and record-breaking hot temperatures under a deadly heat dome that killed over 1,400 people and more than a billion marine animals. As extreme weather comes with increasing frequency, more communities are finding themselves struggling for survival. 

The bad weather is here. And it’s only getting worse.

Bad Weather: Stories of Storms and Survival

The stories, poetry, and art in this volume take us head-first into the bad weather that has torn apart towns, submerged cities, scorched mountains, thawed new lands, and left us wondering where home really is.

Inspired by evacuating five times during the Black Summer bushfires in Australia, Elizabeth Walton tells the story of a woman finding hope after escaping the fires. An outsider meteorologist is ostracised when her weather reports don’t bring the weather her community wants in a short story by Tamar Weiss-Gabbay (translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, the winner of the 2017 Booker Prize); and Richard Leise takes us to the bottom of a deep-sea trench where submarine explorers find more than expected.

This volume also turns toward a future to strive for with a story by the award-winning founders of the burgeoning solarpunk movement, Andrew Dana Hudson and Adam Flynn, where a wild community threatened by state forces and a catastrophic hurricane forges a new path of resistance. A survivor helo pilot searches for the origins of mysterious stones on a thawed Antarctica in a story by Paul McAuley—the Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke, John W Campbell, and British Fantasy Award-winning author of Fairyland, featured in the SF Masterworks imprint.

In their flash nonfiction, Amy Bee recounts her own experiences with recent California wildfires, and Karin Hedetniemi describes her life-long encounters with lightning at times of distress. Pinny Bulman, Annalise Torcson, Tom Daley, Rebecca Dunn, and Aishwarya Suresh Khale navigate us through stormy weather with poetry exposing our inner lives as the rains beat down outside. This volume also features striking art of the brewing storm by Clari Netzer, Mike Edwards, and Cynthia Young.

This collection features an interview with David Suzuki, the long-established science broadcaster, academic, and author, as well as an interview with Susan Conley, the award-winning author of Elsey Come Home and Landslide. 

The bad weather is here. And it’s only getting worse. The authors within offer us visions of a flooded world and of a world on fire, but also of a better future. Where do we go from here? The choice is yours.

Print and electronic subscriptions
available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

Murder or Mystery?

Stories of Life and Death

The human mind has always tried to make sense of life and its mysteries.

This is perhaps no more true than when we’re surrounded by clickbait and news bites. In a chaotic world of disasters and pandemics, we long to read a story that comes to a conclusion, where the hidden danger is revealed, and where we can finally rest easy knowing how to avoid it—until the next body turns up

This volume of murder and mystery will pull you in, have you asking who did it, and leave you an ending to ponder. The collection features the moving story of a missing boy by Mark Hood, where the old ways of a rural community reach out to the magic of the bees; a crime story by Lee Conrad of a small lake-side community struck by a years-long drought and the deadly secrets hidden just below the surface; a story by the award-winning Tristan Marajh where a trophy hunter has gone missing following internet outrage; and Paulene Turner takes us on a search through Edwardian London, from Baker Street to the East End, as Dr Watson and one Irene Adler track down the missing detective in her original novella,Too Many Sherlocks.

This volume also includes an interview with Deepa Anappara, the award-winning author whose novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, was named as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times and the Washington Post; as well as an interview with Elly Griffiths, the award-winning author of twenty-seven books who has appeared in the Sunday Times Bestsellers chart 19 times. 

Throughout the short stories and interviews, this volume also presents flash mysteries in just a page or two that includes the story of a mind-bending search for missing characters after the mysterious death of an author by Jeff Noon, the award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed and cult-classic novel Vurt and the metafictional Nyquist Mysteries series; a death in the workplace where words are both stolen and have the power to kill by Liam Hogan, who’s been previously included in Best of British Science Fiction and Best of British Fantasy collections; next, the horror-podcast author featured on both Creepy and The Other Stories, Georgia Cook, takes us to a dinner party hosted by a mystery aficionado who goes too far; Jennifer Shneiderman entraps us with a psychic who may be the only way to connect with a lost loved one; and finally, Jessie Seigel sends us a “Message in a Bottle” from a most notorious inmate of a historic quarantine island.

Alongside the short fiction, this volume also features the enigmatic artwork of Margriet Pronk, Rufus Krieger, Oleksandr Balbyshev, and Chris Aerfeldt—artists from across Europe who’ve been exhibited around the world and featured in collections by Saatchi

With the cover closed, you’ve earned a moment’s peace, knowing you’ve maybe made sense of the mysteries around us, until 

The next story begins…

Print and electronic subscriptions
available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

Dreams of the Moon Cover

Dreams of the Moon

Lunar stories of our past and future

Since before even the first words were written, the cosmic pull of the Moon has captivated humanity. It has shaped our myths, our night lives, our songs, our symbols, and indeed, our stories.

Arrive on a Moon colony under revolt against its corporate owners. Befriend a strange, yellow-eyed hound. Witness the divine meeting of Beninese celestial spirits. Uncover a suspicious murder following the 1969 Moon landing. Take a weightless tourist trip to the lunar surface. Feel the call of the tides under the Moon’s spectral glow.

This issue of the London Reader explores the Moon—both its effect on our lives and our longing for it—through short stories of our past and future from Paulene Turner, Matt Slaybaugh, Amy B Moreno, Maria Donovan, Nathan Alling Long, Sarah Oluwatomi Michaels, Pippa Gladhill, Emma Raymond, and Magdalena Stefanni.

The collection includes a special extended interview with Chris Hadfield—the former commander of the International Space Station, YouTube sensation, and author of the forthcoming novel The Apollo Murders. It also features an interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer, the New York Times bestselling author of Life as We Knew It.

Rounding out the issue is poetry and art exploring our intimate relationship with the Moon by Alison Burns, Dominic Weston, Finola Scott, Ruswa Fatehpuri, S Rupsha Mitra, Sait Mingü, Felicia Simion, Roger Leege, Gemma Campbell, and Susan diRende—including a poem by Lisa Rosenberg, the former space program engineer and poet laureate, and poems by one of Italy’s most celebrated contemporary poets, Chandra Livia Candiani, translated to English for the first time by Roy Duffield and Elisabetta Taboga.

Dreams of the Moon seeks to find the place that the Moon holds in our imaginations, in our hopes, and in our fears. The Moon has shaped our past and continues to shape our future. What now does the Moon mean to us, and how will the stories we tell about the Moon today shape our future on its surface?

Print and electronic subscriptions available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

Raves & Resistance Cover Image

Raves & Resistance

Counterculture Stories

High in a volcano mountain-crater, a woman emerges from her clothes and slips into a festival lake and into a new moment. A punk show brings together the pierced bodies and studded minds of young radicals in a slam dance of social rejection and self discovery. A former revolutionary bomber is exposed by a more recent tragedy. An artist from 1960s Moscow looks for an audience outside the legacy of East and West. A student of the protests against the Vietnam War remembers the National Guard helicopter dropping tear gas as her final exam.

All culture begins first as counterculture. The new always arises as a rejection of the old. What is known, what is possible, is always discovered by people who push at its limits. Revelry and rebellion explore new social territory and leave cultural paths for others to follow.

This issue of the London Reader features counterculture stories by award-winning author Ewan Morrison; the Arthur C Clarke and Philip K Dick Award-winner Gwyneth Jones; the notable Patty Somlo; Peter Gallagher; the famed Russian and Hollywood filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky; Vicki Derderian; and Stephen O’Donnell. Its pages are also filled with words, poetry, and art by Kathryn Paulsen, Mark Kirkbride, Roy Duffield, Allison Whittenberg, Bryon MacWilliams, Lucia Galloway, Lorette C Luzajic, Tim Fowler, Montina Guiry, Sean Christopher Ward, Calvin Lai, and Bertone Studio, by Michiyo & Eduardo. Finally, the creative work in this volume is joined by interviews with James St. James, iconic television personality and author of Party Monster; Cat Marnell, former party-girl and New York Times bestselling-author of the memoir, How to Murder Your Life; and Ayelet Waldman, respected essayist and author of A Really Good Day. They open up about pushing back, setting trends, and seeing the world change around them.

The revolution is in every party, every festival, every political rally, every protest, and indeed, every place where people come together and connect outside the old architecture of state and capital. The stories in this volume of the London Reader are about people finding those moments of rebellion—whether small and personal in music and festivals, or big and revolutionary—and forging brave new paths into the future.

Print and electronic subscriptions available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

Over the Cliff

Travel Stories from Europe Beyond Brexit

“There is no need for a passport when you arrive in Melilla from Spain. This is Spain!” says the officer. 
“And when I go through the fence?”
“That would be a different matter,” he says, looking uncomfortable. As an afterthought, he adds, “You cannot use euros beyond the fence!”

Over the white cliffs of Dover, Europe is moving on without the United Kingdom. This volume visits the continent’s high mountain roads, small city streets, and new borders through travel writing, short fiction, and poetry. These travel stories from Europe beyond Brexit will make you sigh with content, gasp with surprise, pause with reflection, and laugh with delight.

This collection includes stories by Mark Anthony Jarman, Coreen Grant, Ewan Morrison, Andriana Minou, Billy Letford, Alex Russell, Renee C Winter, Kieron Blake, and Ian McKenzie. They are joined by the poetry of Katrina Dybzynska, Timothy Dodd, VC McCabe, Susanna Lang, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, and Peter David Goodwin as well as artwork from Monsie, Christopher McColl, and Ann Marie Sekeres. This volume also features interviews with the editor of the Wild Women anthology, Open Book’s Mariella Frostrup; the international-bestseller travel author, Sara Wheeler; and one of most respected travel writers, Pico Iyer.

With Brexit, the borderless map of Europe has become a little bit smaller. But for Brits, their backyard is now a whole lot smaller. Yet travel too is changing with increasing emissions and the climate crisis. Jet planes are out; trains and electric vehicles are in. Novelty international holidays are going; longer exchanges are here to stay. And “that is the essence of travel writing,” explains Mariella Frostrup. The travel stories in this volume take us out our front door, over the cliffs of Dover, and into a new day.

Print and electronic subscriptions available now on Patreon!

How to read the latest issue FREE
Sign up to Patreon to check out the latest issue in PDF.

If you prefer a mobile reader, like Kindle, first, get the Kindle app:

Once you have the app, or if you already have a Kindle device, check out the free trial of the London Reader with one click in the Amazon store:

Do you live outside of these areas? Get the PDF of the latest issue free on Patreon.

To read a previous issue, donate an amount of your choice, and receive a download link to the PDF:

The London Reader is a cooperative magazine. Your donation supports the writers, artists, and collaborators who made the issue.

Cyberpunknow Cover

#cyberpunkNOW Available in Print!

Put down your phone and sync in.

If you’ve been waiting to hold a print copy of the London Reader, the first standalone Anthology Edition is here in time for the holidays!

Introducing #cyberpunkNOW and the Dystopian Moment, The London Reader Volume One! Available now from Amazon in paperback as well as on kindle.

Alongside cyberpunk stories from the present and near future, #cyberpunkNOW and the Dystopian Moment features interviews with the founders of cyberpunk and sci-fi greats, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Volume One also includes a brand-new dystopian tech-thriller story from Lena Ng, author of Under an Autumn Moon.

The London Reader is cooperatively produced, so #cyberpunkNOW is owned by its contributors. When you buy a copy, you get a great collection of stories, poetry, and interviews, and the authors inside share the purchase price.

Read great writers. Support great writing. 

Check out #cyberpunkNOW…

Cyberpunk in 2020 Cover

Cyberpunk 2077: What does the game say about the world today?

Interview with Jakub Szamałek, Lead Writer for Cyberpunk 2077

JAKUB SZAMAŁEK is a Polish novelist and video game writer. He has written six books in his native polish and now works as a writer for the game company CD Projekt RED, which produced The Witcher series and recently Cyberpunk 2077. He is a graduate of Oxford University and holds a doctorate from the University of Cambridge. We reached out to Szamałek to ask him about the influence of cyberpunk fiction on the game, the shape of game narratives, and how he sees the cyberpunk genre now.


The London Reader: Your first crime novels were informed by history, but since then you’ve turned to exploring the impact of new technologies on our lives. What led you from history into writing novels (and games) that explore the near and coming future?

Jakub Szamałek: For a long time, I had very little interest in new technologies. Whenever I’d hear anything about megabytes, megabits, or megahertzes, I’d just zone out of the conversation. I assumed, naïvely, that if I don’t concern myself with new technologies, they won’t play a big part in my life. This was flat out wrong, of course; the internet has spilled out of the computers and permeated every aspect of our everyday existence.

I remember the very moment I realized this, the end of my sweet ignorance. I was on parental leave, pushing the pram with my sleeping seven-month-old daughter, and listening to the radio. A soft-spoken cybersecurity researcher told the shocked interviewer how paedophiles use new technologies to share pictures and videos of abused children or to find and groom their next victim. I felt my skin crawl; the contrast between what I saw in front of me, my sleeping daughter, and what I heard, was harrowing. I realized that I can no longer afford to be ignorant, that I need to know more about the net that surrounds us, ever more tightly, if not for my own sake, then for the sake of my daughter.

When I got back, I emailed a few friends of mine—programmers, white hat hackers, cryptographers—and asked them how can I catch up, what should I watch and read. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Since then, I’ve trained with open intelligence gurus, consulted malware analysts and gone to an academic conference on AI at one of the world’s top universities. Though I’m no expert, I’ve grasped enough to realize that new technologies have, in a very short span of time, deeply affected our society, and most of us don’t even realize it. Most people still think—just like I did, a few years back—that new technologies are a niche interest, a hobby for nerds. I felt that we need a wake-up call, but one that would be as accessible as possible, with a wide reach. And so I started writing Hidden Web, a series which combines deep research with a fast-paced tech-thriller.

LR: Hidden Web tracks the jarring impact of technology through shocking scenes like a live-streamed murder and through immediate issues such as fake news, troll-farms, and the influence of money and social media on political campaigns. What drew you to these themes? Are you concerned about the impact technology will have on democracy? Have any of these pressing subjects made their way into your work on Cyberpunk 2077?

Jakub Szamałek: Well, after 2016 it’s hard not to be concerned about the impact of technology on democracy. Its influence is multifaceted: it changed how news stories are written, shared and consumed, completely redefined political campaigning and made outside meddling in electoral processes shockingly easy and cheap. And all the while, Silicon Valley behemoths pretend that they don’t see the problem and are powerless to fix it. Worryingly, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve any time soon. I agree wholeheartedly with Carole Cadwalladr that in the current internet landscape, liberal democracies cannot function normally.

But what I’m personally most worried about is the death of privacy. It’s already happened; we just haven’t realized it. In the era of Big Data and AI, even the most innocuous data can be used to uncover our secrets and decipher our most intimate thoughts. Just a few data points from social media are enough to determine our sexual orientation; a few hundred—a data trail generated over just a few days of activity—is sufficient to create a detailed psychological profile. Purportedly “anonymous” data collected by internet providers and mobile advertisers can be deanonymized with shocking ease and then used to follow our every move online—and in the real world too. Pictures of our faces, taken by omnipresent cameras, can be effortlessly tied to our identities, as demonstrated by the Clearview AI scandal. We’re creating an infrastructure for automated mass surveillance, assuming it will not be put to use. I very much hope we will not be proven wrong.

We covered some of these topics in Cyberpunk 2077—but the game universe is not an attempted extrapolation of our own world. It has its own, unique feel. Some of the topics we tackle in the game will definitely feel familiar, though—like environmental degradation or extreme social stratification and its consequences. At first glance, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is colourful and exciting, but it has a grim, disturbing undercurrent. It’s a future I hope will never materialize.

LR: You’ve written fiction for both novels and for popular video games, like The Witcher and now Cyberpunk 2077, both originally inspired by novelized fiction. Which kind of story do you prefer to tell? And what do you find the most engaging with each medium?

Jakub Szamałek: I love working in both! What I enjoy the most in crafting narratives in video games is the nonlinearity. The player isn’t a passive consumer; she’s given agency to change the course of the story. Figuring out how to split the storyline—and where each of the branches should lead—is not unlike solving a hard puzzle: challenging, but uniquely satisfying. The best thing about writing novels, in my experience, is having total control over the story. There are no budget constraints to consider, no technical difficulties to overcome; anything is possible.

LR: The novel is an art form that is just a few centuries older than video games, and we see games such as Cyberpunk 2077 pushing narrative into collaborative spaces responding to player choices. The medium has now come full circle and there’s a whole genre of novels based around the game experience (LitRPG). Aside from the obvious reader interaction, what do you find are the main differences between telling a story in a novel and in a video game? What do the two media have in common?

Jakub Szamałek: In video games, players identify very deeply with the protagonist they control—much more so, I think, than in linear narratives, like books or movies. And no wonder: after all, they are drawn in, given the reins. Players feel like they star in the story; the boundary between them and the character on the screen dissipates almost completely. This has tremendous consequences for storytelling. For example, most readers will get through a scene in which the main character does something ethically questionable, eg tortures his antagonist, without moral qualms; they might feel disturbed or even disgusted, but they don’t assume personal responsibility for the hero’s actions. But if you put the pad in the player’s hands and ask her to actively do the same, she will feel extreme discomfort and might prefer to quit the game than to continue the story. To give another example, a book might feature a confused protagonist, who lost his or her memory, doesn’t know what to do next, and stumbles from one event to another, largely by chance. Video game players would likely find this extremely annoying since they assume the role of the protagonist; they need to know what they have to do and why.

Of course, there are many commonalities. The building blocks are the same. Irrespective of the medium, characters need to be relatable, dialogue lines must evoke emotional reactions, and plotlines have to be resolved by the end of the story.

LR: Cyberpunk is often defined as ‘high tech; low life’ and by William Gibson, the grand-father of cyberpunk’s famous quote, “The street finds its own uses for things.” Cyberpunk in part grew out of rising inequality in the 1980s that saw punk culture rebel against corporate influence. Inequality and the influence of corporations have only grown worse since then. In many ways, we’ve come to live in the world envisioned by the early cyberpunk authors, as your own novels explore. So in 2020, what is cyberpunk? What does cyberpunk represent to you? And what is cyberpunk in 2077?

Jakub Szamałek: If I were to define cyberpunk as a genre, I’d say it explores what a sudden technological advance does to a broken society. It imagines a world where the social contract has been torn to pieces and everyone—regular people, governments, corporations—fights for themselves with cutting edge technology at their disposal. The results are rarely pretty.

For me, a cyberpunk in 2020 is someone who looks beyond the cutesy logos and user friendly interfaces of modern tech giants and tries to identify their real goals and actions. It’s someone who understands that we have a civic obligation to understand how the digital sphere is run and object to injustices therein. It’s someone who knows the value of their privacy and takes steps to protect it.

In 2077, people are given a false choice: you either sell your soul to one of the giant corporations, or choose a life of crime. Without the protection of powerful businesses or gangs, sooner or later you will perish in the merciless streets of Night City. Cyberpunks are people who reject this dichotomy and try to carve out their own path. Technology, which often is a tool of oppression, also offers a way out. Cyberpunks know how to harness it to break free of the constraints of an unjust society.

LR: There is already something a little bit cyberpunk about bringing a story to life in an immersive 3D environment, but Cyberpunk 2077 is also full scale envisioning of the classic fiction genre. What familiar elements of cyberpunk show up in the game? Does it bring anything new to the genre?

Jakub Szamałek: Fans of the genre will surely recognize many familiar themes and topics: what does it mean to be human in a world where our bodies and minds can be fully mechanized and digitized? What happens when the elites have access to life-changing inventions, but others don’t? How do we function in a world where the boundary between the real and virtual is blurred?

But we also hope that Cyberpunk 2077 brings something new to the table. Most importantly, we tried to update the genre for the modern audience. Cyberpunk always explored our fears about the future, but some of these fears changed from the 1980s and 1990s, when some of the genre-defining novels were first published. For example, we’re less worried about an atomic apocalypse (perhaps wrongly…) and gang violence, but more concerned about privacy issues and the unfettered rise of tech giants. Our game attempts to explore these fears, make them the cornerstone of the story we’re telling.


The above is an excerpt from our full interview with Jakub Szamałek in the Cyberpunk in 2020 issue of the London Reader. Read it here!

Subscribe to either the Print or PDF edition of the London Reader to receive four great issues per year

Cyberpunk in 2020

Science Fiction from Dystopian Moment to Sustainable Future

Check out Cyberpunk in 2020…

Subscribe to either the Print or PDF edition of the London Reader to receive four great issues per year

It’s 2020—now where’s my flying car?

Pat Cadigan, a founder of the cyberpunk literary movement who is interviewed in this volume, famously answered, “That’s not the future we promised you. We promised you a dark technological dystopia. How do you like it?” It’s 2020, and the dark technological dystopia has arrived. 

//

The fiction in this volume takes a look at the dystopian state of the world and dares to imagine an optimistic alternative, planting seeds of hope and drawing on solarpunk themes of a habitable future powered by renewable energy, networked-collaboration, and repaired technology. Like us, these stories stand at a crossroads between climate collapse and a radically reshaped sustainable future. The dystopia envisioned by 1980s cyberpunk authors has arrived. Will we continue down this path to self destruction, or do we dare envision a better future?

This volume features a collection of multi-award-winning cyberpunk authors who move the genre away from the 80s action movie aesthetic of bakelite guns and neon-lit street races and into our increasingly networked existence facing ecological collapse.

Stories from Nebula Award-winning authors Ken Liu, James Patrick Kelly, and Cat Rambo expose the pervasiveness of the internet as it intrudes into our most private and tragic moments. Arthur C Clarke Award-winners Gwyneth Jones and Lauren Beukes offer optimistic visions of the ways technology can connect us. This volume also features stories, minifiction, and poetry from Matt Bryden, Katie Harrison, Anthony Lapwood, Rebecca Lee, Rosaleen Lynch, Syd Shaw, and Paige Elizabeth Wajda who shine the light of their screens on this dark moment, looking for the loose strands that connect us together. Art by Pavlo Baiandin, Janusz Orzechowski, Sergey Osipov, and Harry Purnama display views of the dark street-scapes of the 21st century and glimpses of how our imagination and connections to each other can offer us a way out.

This volume also includes interviews with visionary author and Hugo, Arthur C Clarke, Locus, and Seiun Award-winner, Pat Cadigan and the novelist and principal writer for the upcoming and long-awaited game Cyberpunk 2077, Jakub Szamałek. They reflect on our dystopian moment and provide their views of where we go from here while Szamałek also answers what is cyberpunk in 2077.

The writing in this volume brings us up to date from the cyberpunk of the past. It attempts to debug the interconnected nature of the internet-driven world we now live in. It springs from our fears of a climate catastrophe while at the same time offers us an alternative vision. The future that the cyberpunk authors of the 80s warned us of is here. The dark technological dystopia is only getting worse. Social media is disrupting democracies, and the climate is collapsing. If we don’t act now, there will be no future. But it’s not too late; there is still hope. The choice is ours.

Check out Cyberpunk in 2020…

Part of the proceeds from this issue supports GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a charitable organization that sends donations immediately and directly to those most in need. Find out more at givedirectly.org