This is a preview my coming serial novella Cyberpunk America (working title) available late 2020 - early 2021.
What to know about this piece before diving in:
  • This piece is in the lyric form. It is written in a series of "clips," some of which may share a collective thematic "thread."
  • The piece is non-linear, but the main thread is chronological.
  • Expect multiple forms of (fictional) media: Prose, essay, ad copy, illustrations/comics, hyperlinks, all creating an immersive and de-centering experience.
Cyberpunk America

 

It’s 3 AM, and Joe stands near the supermarket’s threshold at a dead stop as his aural augment buzzes an error. Simple, backlit letters read “Hillside Orchard,” across the plain, beige exterior of the suburban franchise’s new supermarket. It reminds him of the drab, black suit he’s wearing. Black and white pixelated distortions pop in and out against the supermarket’s muted exterior walls. Joe thinks he hears faint electrical snaps as he stares through the glass doors at the lightless interior.

            A female Australian voice whispers against his eardrum, “Mr. Upland, this site does not yet have an ‘Apolitical’ option, the option which you have chosen as the ‘default’ selection for your augmented retail experience. Would you still like to enter this store?”

            Joe grumbles something.

            “I’m sorry, Mr. Upland, I didn’t recognize your reply. Would you like to—”

            “I still need milk, Ava.”

            After a momentary pause, Ava continues, “Would you prefer the Democratic experience or the Republican experience?”

            Joe glances down to the bright green reusable bag. “Are those the only options?”

            “Yes, Mr. Upland. Would you like me to read the apology post from the store’s owners concerning the lack of political options for your augmented retail experience?”

            “I’m good,” Joe says.

            “Would you prefer the Democratic experience or the Republican experience?” Ava says.

            Joe chews the insides of his lips. He feels small in front of the enormous, beige storefront, as leaky light from the backlit letters gleams over his suddenly sweaty face, and his mouth forms soundless words. He eventually sighs out, “Republican?”

 

Betasoft™ Aural Augment Settings (American Market)

Voice and Name Options:

            Lucy (American Female)

            Mason (American Male)

            Skyler (American Androgynous)

            Ava (Australian Female) (Selected)

            Lucas (Australian Male)

            Ramsey (Australian Androgynous)

            Ivy (British Female)

            Charlie (British Male)

            Austen (British Androgynous)

Mood Options:

            Casual

            Sexy

            Respectful (Selected)

            Cowboy [Promotion by Cowboy Pops™ “A cereal that ain’t so offal.”]

 

The storefront’s exterior shifts to an amalgam of red, white, and blue, with a projection of an animated cartoon eagle shoving his open, brown wing in the direction of the store name, now “Hilltop Orchard.” The lights through the glass doors turn on, and shoppers inside coagulate from colliding pixels. The glass doors open, and a chubby female greeter in a red, floral print blouse rolls toward Joe on a motorized shopping scooter, coming fast enough to cause Joe to step back. She looks him over from under a bundle of tightly wound gray curls on her head before she looks at his reusable bag, now covered in brand name advertisements that shift every five seconds to a new set of ads. The lady croaks out a laugh and sounds like a fifty-year smoker.

            “No reusable bags allowed in the store. We got plenty of plastic bags in there. Give me that bag and get on in. Welcome to Hilltop Orchard, where the—” she pauses, “—milk is fresh, but the politics are stale.”

            Joe’s head cocks.

            “That there’s a joke!” she shouts before laughing wildly and slapping her thigh. “Now, hand it over.” The amusement leaves her face, and she reaches a hand out and opens and closes it into a fist several times.

            “Funny,” Joe says, and he hands her the reusable bag. The advertisements on the bag stop, and it turns bright green again.

            The woman stuffs the bag into the metal shopping basket on the front of the scooter and says, “Enjoy your shopping experience. Keep America Great, you hear?” She offers the Republican salute, thumbs to index fingers with her remaining fingers extended, hands held near each shoulder. She spins the motorized scooter around and drives back towards the supermarket’s automatic glass doors.

            When the doors open and the woman enters, Joe faintly hears the vocal twangs of Bobby Buckley, the American country legend known for kitschy patriotic songs like, “Red, White, and You,” “She Puts Stars in My Eyes and Stripes On My Ass” “An Eagle that Never Lands,” and “My Mexican Senorita is Bonita (and legal),” all number one hits on the Contemporary Conservative Rankings. Joe wonders if he made a mistake.

            “Ava,” Joe says.

            “Yes, Mr. Upland?”

            Joe considers changing the augmented retail experience to what he imagines is an equally insufferable Democratic experience, but before he says anything else, a woman in a comfortable Cornell For-Profit Online University sweater and black yoga pants stops next to him with a reusable bright green shopping bag. He wonders if she’s an AdFace for the university.

            “No Apolitical option, huh?” she says.

            “Guess not.”

            She smirks and says, “Give me the Democratic experience, Skyler.” The woman grins at Joe and waves at him as she walks into the supermarket with her reusable bag swinging in her hand.

            Joe follows a moment later.

 

Apolitical Ad Copy for AdFace™

Music: Energizing electronic drum beat over sporadic electric guitar notes. Occasional solo fills.

Jingle: AdFace™ makes an ad space out of you~

Narration Voiceover: Tired of jobs where you have to do something? Would you rather just hang out and not do anything at all while making money? AdFace™ makes an ad space out of you! Make money when you want to make money. Put on our patented AdFace™ ImpressionSuit™ and start making money today! You get paid based on each observed impression. Have to take public transport? *cha-ching sound* MONEY! Taking the Betasoft™ Pet 2.0™ on a walk? *cha-ching sound* MONEY! Hanging out on a bench reading the newest Karl Marxxx comic? *cha-ching sound three times* MONEY! MONEY! MONEY! Don’t waste your time existing without passively earning income. *womp womp sound* Exist for a reason! MONEY! Join the AdFace™ team today as a temporary contractor. Make money when you want, how you want. Visit “AdFace” today via the JUNG neural net and get started in minutes. (AdFace™ ImpressionSuit™ available for instant delivery through Sierra™ Digital Realization Printer.)

Disclaimer (10x speed): By contracting with AdFace™, you confirm agreement bound by all specified Terms outlined on AdFace’s™ node, navigable by selecting Home Page>About>Preferences>Account>Account Preferences>Terms>Term Season>[Most Recent Term Season]>User Access>Contractor>Terms and Agreements. New terms, updated minute-by-minute in association with governmental Executive Action and bureaucratic reform, expressly supersede prior agreements agreed upon by accessing the terms mentioned above. AdFace™ reserves the right to terminate these terms as AdFace™ deems fit, for instances including, but not limited to, legal proceedings against AdFace™, government-appointed hearings, formal civic complaints, and viral social posts negatively portraying AdFace™. Please read the Arbitration Agreement located at Home Page>About>Preferences>Legal>Legal Requirements>Important Information>Contractor Information>Arbitration>Arbitration Agreement>[Most Recent Arbitration Agreement]. AdFace™ contracts may be revoked at any time. Temporary contractors are not eligible for governmental health benefits otherwise eligible for “full-time employees,” as AdFace™ does not employ “full-time employees” as this employment model does not agree with AdFace’s™ business philosophy. For more information, visit the AdFace™ node. Rejection of the terms mentioned above (please refresh any node to ensure this disclaimer has not been updated by this point in your reading and/or listening) requires an email subscription to AdFaceTrademarkRejectionMailerDaemon@JUNG.nn. Rejection email must include your full name and clearly indicate your intent of rejection. For legal definitions on “clearly” presented in this context, please visit Home Page>About>Preferences>Account>Account Preferences>Terms>Definitions>Legal Definitions>Clearly>[Most Recent Definition for “Clearly”]. Definitions may change at any time, and as AdFace™ sees fit.

Narration Voiceover Wrap-Up Jingle: AdFace™ makes an ad space out of you~

 

Joe holds a cereal box in his hand and turns it from front to back. The front is an illustration of a person in a ghillie suit firing a .50 caliber bullet through a toasty loop. A big red title font reads, “Little Bullseyes.” The back has a box-sized origin story on how Little Bullseyes are “Made in America with American grain and packaged by hard-working American men and women,” before outlining the heritage of the company’s owners. The box lists no nutritional information. Joe scratches his unshaven cheek.

            “Ava,” he says.

            “Yes, Mr. Upland?”

            “Can you tell me if Little Bullseyes are the Republican experience’s Cheerios? They look the same.”

            “Yes, Mr. Upland, Little Bullseyes are the same as the Apolitical experience’s ‘Cheerios,’” Ava says.

            Joe stuffs the box into the basket draped over his arm, and heads to the dairy aisle. As he turns the corner into the aisle, he sees the woman that he saw outside, sticking her hand through a projected AR-15 ad that covers a large section of the dairy shelves. The projection jellifies and warbles like water around her submerged arm. Joe steps to a section near her own, filled with Vitamin D whole milk from top to bottom. The woman pulls two cartons back through the projected ad, each with a pink and black checkerboard texture, which means the products have no assigned Republican experience texture. Joe thinks it’s a waste of ad space.

            “I think the Republican retail experience is keeping me from seeing what you’re holding,” Joe says.

            She raises an eyebrow and lifts her hands a bit higher and says, “Skim milk or almond milk?”

            Joe shakes his head and pulls one of the gallon jugs from the shelves in front of him, “Whole milk or whole milk?”

            They laugh a kind of desperate laugh, one that ends as loftily as it begins. The woman glances down to the cereal box in his basket as he stands it up to make room for the milk.

            “Nature’s Wreaths, huh?” she says.

            Joe wipes away the condensation on his hand and looks down at his cereal. “Oh, no, you mean, 'Little Bullseyes?'" He grins.

            “What?”

            “Oh yeah. They’re Cheerios.”

            “Wow,” she says. She puts one of the untextured cartons back through the gun ad and puts the other in her basket. “Work late?” Her eyes move down over his suit.

            “Yeah. I usually do.”

            “Cop?”

            “Cop. Detective, so I’m a few years past detouring self-driving cars, but it’s all the same,” Joe says. “Do you really look like that?”

            “What?” she says. “What do you mean?”

            “Do you really look like that, or are you an AdFace?”

            The woman blushes and shakes her head. “I really look like this. I guess that’s kind of a compliment, right?”

            Joe shrugs and nods. AdFace™ ImpressionSuit’s™ display people as better-looking versions of themselves, through the most sophisticated beauty filter technology. Though it seems unusual that the only ad displaying is the Cornell For-Profit University impression, he thinks she's pretty, and maybe some kind of ad loyalist, or a part of some sort of dedicated campaign.

            The woman gestures down over herself. “Just me. Lucille. You can call me Lucy if you don’t have your aural augment set to Lucy. It’s the worst name to have ever. Sounds like people are always whispering your name. But they never really are.” Her eyes lose focus, and she seems to look through him.

            “Joe. I’m Joe.” Joe bows, a customary greeting picked up by some Americans from the Japanese since the end of the first coronavirus pandemic.

            She doesn’t bow back, which makes him wonder about her political affiliation. Democrats and Independents usually bow, while Republicans shake hands or bro-hug. She pulls her basket a bit higher and smiles at him—a smile nicer than any ad. Then she waves her fingers at him as she turns away and walks further down the outside aisle of the supermarket. Joe catches her looking back once as he stands there with his sweating gallon of milk and Little Bullseyes.

Joe stands in front of his apartment door with his gallon of whole milk and Cheerios as Ava chimes in his aural augment, indicating she’s unlocked the door. He turns the knob and pushes into the apartment. The door closes behind him, snapping and clicking as Ava locks the door again. Ava turns on the kitchen light and the Annaisha™ ImmersiveDisplay™. The newest I Love Lucy reboot with Cindy Gallagher and Enrique González laughtracks in the background. The show is in old school black and white, but also in hyper-high-ultra-plus 575 MPX resolution, the highest resolution available on the market for anyone that doesn’t have the Betasoft™ 700+ Optical Augment (second generation). Occasionally, when the angles and lighting are right, Joe can see the deep white hairs waving in Enrique’s flaring nose, all the more obvious when he catches Lucy in her hijinx. Joe turns to his refrigerator, and the front face of it lights up, projecting the nutritional breakdown of the items inside it:

            Carbohydrates: 38.8g

            Fats: 13.2g

            Cholesterol: 10mg

            Sodium: 35mg

            Dietary Fiber: 3.4g

            Sugars: 34.4g

            Protein: 3.3g

            Total Calories: 272 (warning: very low)

            System Message: Time to shop! [click here for coupons and ads]

Joe’s mouth twists as he stares at the dietary fiber count, higher than normal. He’s only aware of the lone candy bar on the refrigerator’s top shelf. He jabs a finger against the Dietary Fiber metric, and the refrigerator displays a liquified apple in the back of one of the crisping drawers. Joe gags, opens the mostly empty refrigerator, the drawer, and pulls the oozing bag from the back of it, cupping his hand beneath the bag as he carries it to the trashcan. He waits beside the trashcan as the bag drops globules of rotting jelly into his cupped palm.

            “Ava, open the trashcan!” Joe shouts.

            “I’m sorry, Mr. Upland,” Ava says, “but there appears to be a connection issue between your EasyLife™ Smart Trashcan and The JUNG Neural Net. Would you like me to try and reset your apartment’s connection?”

            “Yes, goddamnit.”

            “One moment, please,” Ava says. A moment later, the entire apartment goes black, and a deep silence ensues, allowing Joe to hear the sloppy plops of goo falling into goo, dribbling between his fingers into rank puddles near his feet. Joe hears his breathing in the silence, the invisible oxygen filling his meaty lungs, the subtle wheeze of poor health, low exercise, a mundane American living—he feels the hastening of his heart, he worries—and then the lights turn on, the Annaisha™ ImmersiveDisplay™ cackles, the refrigerator reminds him that it’s time to shop, and the trashcan opens, but Joe stands there and stares into its abyss.

 

From: The Blindness in our Growing Intellectual Poverty: The Bourgeoisie Social Warfare in Betasoft’s™ Rich-Only 700+ Optical Augment by Tye Winslow Pucklechurch

On Loss of Agency and the Razing of the Proletariat

In our modern technological era, where everything from our trashcans to our surgical tools operates through sophisticated algorithms tied into Betasoft’s™ surveillance engine and monopolistic panopticon, The JUNG Neural Net (so eagerly co-opting and corrupting Jungian philosophy of unconscious connection, while unabashedly promoting conscious division) is an inescapable prison of our own making. Loss of government oversight due to nefarious and unethical capitalistic practices has whittled from our country’s policies the protective structures heralded in the twentieth century as sentinels against the post-human incursions that have repeatedly devolved and diluted our increasingly troubled society. As our lay population flounders in the proverbial swell of misinformation, baited into immersive “political retail experiences,” critical considerations evoked merely by unchoreographed human experiences are perverted to self-soothing ideological hammocks lulling the complicit, naïve mind. I have long attempted to warn about the overreach of anti-intellectual establishments, craven capitalist vampires engorging in the vitae of their victims’ “behavioral surplus,” understanding that such unsophisticated, seemingly innocuous information such as “behavioral surplus,” in the network of Betasoft’s™ AI (artificial intelligence) technologies, threatened to amalgamate into prison ball links rooting provincial progress through the proliferation of predictive software. Where passive urgencies or recommendations pushed through optical HUD (heads-up-display) interfaces might have suggested we try the new corner sandwich shop after crossing the exterior thresholds of our work dwellings around noon, these same wicked technologies now route us to the sandwich shop by molding our behaviors based on their acquired behavioral “raw material.” Now, the incursion imperative, derived from the fledgling world-mapping technologies of the twenty-first century by companies like Google and Facebook (both defunct), impels modern, more robustly-equipped companies like Betasoft™ to remap the human experience, targeting our most primitive and ephemeral senses, such as what we see and what we hear. It begs the questions: What happens to reality when powerful cybernetic augmentations replace every natural sense? At what point is humanity consigned to pure passivity induced by super-stimuli sculpted in the networks of quantum computers? What happens when we cannot say no to the sandwich because the utterances from our mouths, the electrical impulses shaping words on our tongues, are the impulses of a distant machine, garnering capital for their bourgeoisie elite? What happens when the sandwich is autocracy or genocide or apocalypse?

 

Ava’s twangy voice slams in Joe’s ear as he sleeps in his recliner, rattling him awake and causing him to shake a half-eaten candy bar and an empty bottle of Emperor Putin’s Best Vodka from his paunched belly.

            “Well, I’ll be, Mister Upland, I reckon y’all here have a call in-a-comin’ from a one-each Mister Miles, currently yonder ‘bout the Fourth Street station,” Ava says. “If it’s best, I could thwart that there call usin’ one a yer preferred 'busy' messages, as I might any bullsnake or wily ci-yote, you just give the word now.”

            “What the hell did you just say, Ava?” Joe says and pulls himself up. He looks toward the window to the fleeting morning sunlight shining into the apartment.

            “I’ll do a second round ‘bout the barrel, Mister Upland, as it seems I might have crossed my Is when I should have dotted them Ts, you reckon?” Ava says.

            “I do not reckon,” Joe says, confused. “Ava, what mode are you set to?”

            “I’ll be, Mister Upland, if you don’t recognize this rootin’ tootin’ accent to be Cowboy, I better tighten my stirrups and quest the range.”

            “Ava, change your mood-setting back to respectful.”

            A chime rings in Joe’s ear. “Hello, Mr. Upland. Would you like to maintain this mood selection or return to the previous mood selection?”

            “Please keep this selection,” Joe says, and he stands from his recliner and wipes at chocolate stains on his white undershirt. “Why did you even change to Cowboy mode?”

            “I changed to Cowboy mode at 05:23:15 based on your personal request, Mr. Upland. Upon finishing your bottle of Emperor Putin’s Best Vodka and achieving a 0.203 blood alcohol concentration level. Would you like me to show you a recording of the decision?”

            “God, no,” Joe says as he steps across the room and pulls the automatic blinds manually closed. “Is Miles still on the line?”

            “Yes, Mr. Upland,” Ava says. “Would you like me to connect his call?”

            “Yes, put him through.”

***

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© 2020 Joshua Aaron Crook (I probably don't have the money to sue you.)