[GUEST POST] Jeff LaSala and Brian W. Matthews Look at Your Cyberpunk Future


Between one breath and the next they had ended the world. Maybe they had even ended the war.

— Ruth Lampi and Jessica Van Oort, in “Unto the Interface” from Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

What happens when society begins to fracture—not along political fault lines, but through seismic shifts in technology compounded by corporate malfeasance? What happens when incompetent governments stumble in the chaos, and disillusioned citizens give their loyalty to their employers instead? In the upheaval, will rampant libertarianism bleed into anarchy?

Is this the future? Can this be our future?

Dystopia is, of course, the foundation of cyberpunk. This neglected stepson of science fiction is often misunderstood by mainstream readers, tangentially recognized as “like that Blade Runner movie.” Yet it still has a certain resonance with contemporary culture. Take a step back from the Earth and turn an eye at our civilization. What do you see? A world where mobs of people line up for the latest iGadget, yet ignore the fact that the individuals making them live in poverty. Where civility in politics has degenerated to men and women pointing fingers at one another like children in a school yard. Where money flows in the wrong direction, making the rich richer, while the poor get yesterday’s leftover Spam.

This is progress?

When you get down to what really makes the world spin, it’s the almighty dollar. With governments choking on debt, cutting off the flow of funds to the people, corporations are stepping in to fill the void, sponsoring everything from sports stadiums to railroad stations to city fire hydrants. Where does it stop? When do people actually start to lose faith in government and turn to the corporate spigot for gratification? For survival? And when even the paymasters can’t or won’t provide, what is the cost for that survival? Art and human expression? Perhaps knowledge itself.

…Bradbury’s rebels lived in easier fictional times. After all, they only fought against book burning and mind control. It’s far harder to mount an insurrection against good intentions. Who could be so heartless as to argue that access to a sonnet was more important than feeding a hungry child? Or heating a shelter for the homeless?

— Rosemary Jones, in “Deep in the Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight”

Visionaries like Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling all planted seeds in this fertile ground. We’re still harvesting the fruit. Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero — an illustrated science fiction anthology and soundtrack album — offers a supposal of one such future. In the harsh light of day, it’s a visceral, damaged place, where cracks in the landscape and in society itself are all too apparent. Up close, the overgrown, overcrowded cities appear glaring and artificial; from afar they are constellations of light and beauty. Each is a microcosm where life has become more synthetic and slavish to corporate ideals. But life endures. And in the shadows something stirs, watching civilization play out: the very zeitgeist of a mechanized world.

Recently, Patrick Hester and his cohorts wondered if optimism is gone from science fiction. In fact, our authors and musicians submit that not all dystopias are without hope. Foreshadows is 19 tales set in a cyberpunkish future, each one zooming in on a particular character—surviving, suffering, or thriving in the high-tech dystopia the world has become. The stories aren’t political per se, but they observe the progression of today’s societal trends, and its hopes. There is always some light in the gloom. But to appreciate it, you have to begin with darkness.

Foreshadows opens with a prologue titled The Ghosts of Zero, a transcript from one of the anthology’s characters, and it helps set up this darkened stage. Here are the first few paragraphs, but the entire prologue may be read online at foreshadows.net/gozprologue.

Is it the future yet?

In my grandfather’s day, the future was going to be a place where robots were in charge. Or, if not, everyone would at least be walking around with chips in their brains, linked to the net or to some hive-mind of all humanity. Perhaps we would become the robots, forerunners of some Singularity event. At the very least, we were supposed to all be driving flying cars and colonizing Mars, right?

No such luck. Sure, we’ve got decent flightcraft, actual 3D holovids, and pyra-plays more immersive than any virtual reality thought possible in the twentieth century. We’ve made advances like you wouldn’t believe. Medical, especially. Malaria, AIDS, Torger syndrome: all quite curable. Paralysis, loss of limb, organ failure: they can build you a new anything, if you can pay, of course. But cancer? Schizophrenia? The goddamn flu? Still out of luck, no matter who you know or how deep your pockets.

Hell, we do have androids: simulacra, human in just about every way except where it matters. But our robots just don’t have the impetus to become Skynet.

No, this isn’t the future. The future is always another day; you never reach it. That’s its nature. And it’s probably better that way, because the future is always brighter. Today…things aren’t so bright. Not for most. The world is—spoiler alert!—pretty screwed up.

To give you a better idea of what’s contained in Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero, here is the table of contents, along with a sample of the music from each tale.

01  Geist Anthropic 1:4
A former pyra-addict leaves all jobs behind to pursue the world’s most notorious cryptid.
written by Jeff LaSala, John LaSala, and Jeremy L.C. Jones
music by Michelangelo and Dylan Leeds

02  Too Much Is Never Enough
Rebuilt by the company that gunned him down, a fighter must decide whose interests he will serve.
written by Don Bassingthwaite
music and lyrics by Bilian

03  Cenotaph, or We’ve Been Reduced To Lo-Fi
A young woman tries to escape her past. All of them.
written by Mike Ferguson
music and lyrics by Alternate Modes of Underwater Consciousness and Colin Garvey, plus remix production by Dylan Leeds

04  Graveduggery
A singular Old World family strives to overcome humanity’s oldest enemy.
written by Brian W. Matthews and Jeff LaSala
music by Michelangelo

05  Love Simulacra
For a private investigator and his AI assistant, even loyalty can be compromised.
written by Joe Rixman
music by Bilian

06  Cold As The Gun
In Orleans City, some things need to be done the old-fashioned way.
written by Robert J. Randisi
music and lyrics by Joshua Wentz

07  …And Weave The Spider’s Web
There are worse things than malware in the Worldnet.
written by Keith Baker
music and lyrics by Joshua Wentz

08  Geist Threnodic 2:4
A creature of destructive reputation is hunted by its sworn enemy.
written by Jeff LaSala and John LaSala
music by Dylan Leeds and Ali Kilpatrick

09  Best Served Flash-Frozen
Everything you should have always feared—only smaller.
written by Ed Greenwood
music by Michelangelo plus Thee Crumb

10  Geist Eidetic 3:4
A thief-of-all-trades faces down an old addiction to ensnare his most elusive quarry.
written by Jeff LaSala and John LaSala
music by Dylan Leeds plus Alternate Modes of Underwater Consciousness, Thee Crumb, and Ali Kilpatrick

11  All The Good Things You Are
In the war-torn Rockies, an object of great value is guarded by an eccentric overlord.
written by Robert Velarde
music and lyrics by Bilian

12  Twenty-One-Oh
Time is running out for a first-rate courier of precious cargo.
written by Ari Marmell
music by Michelangelo

13  Made In Brazil | Living In Japan
An artist and a detective take a plunge into the heart of a holy mountain.
written by Jaleigh Johnson
music by Gene Pritsker and Bilian

Read the prequel to this story in Webshadows.

14  Crossed Swords
The ancient past may hold the key to the world’s salvation—or one man’s oblivion.
written by Ken Hart
music by Michelangelo

15  Geist Intrinsic 4:4
The hunter and the hunted go head-to-head beneath the grave.
written by Jeff LaSala and John LaSala
music by Dylan Leeds plus remix production by Bilian

16  Anodyne Fading: The Wolf Without
Lycanthropy is no longer the stuff of legend.
written by Christopher Dinkins
music by Thee Crumb plus Michelangelo and another cultural landslide

17  Lament
A cold-hearted killer faces the unkillable.
written by Brian W. Matthews
music and lyrics by another cultural landslide

18  Deep In The Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight
A young librarian must find a savior before the ice melts.
written by Rosemary Jones
music by Jeremy Simmons

19  Unto The Interface
Potent technology lies hidden in the unlikeliest of places.
written by Ruth Lampi and Jessica Van Oort
music by Ali Kilpatrick


Jeff LaSala is a writer and editor of speculative fiction and a sometime game designer. Living in NYC, he edited Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero and wrote some fantasy and RPG books (including the Scribe Award-nominated Eberron novel, The Darkwood Mask). He also co-wrote the short story Graveduggery with friend and colleague Brian W. Matthews. Brian is a financial planner by day and a writer by night—particularly in the deep, dark night. His first short story, Lament, appears in Foreshadows and his horror novel, Forever Man, will be released in February 2013 through JournalStone.