Choose a cyberpunk story. Compare the economic and social world it conjures with the real world today. How close this is imagined world to our world and are we moving towards the imagined world or away from it?
Today’s economic and social world is in a constant state of flux due to the demand in advancement of technology. As a result, environmentalists are concerned with the future stability of our mother host and psychologists are cautiously observing human survival. In relation to this, the specific genre in the writing industry is science fiction. A most recent and unique sub-genre within science fiction is cyberpunk (Montecalvo, 2010). The creative settings used in Julie Kawaga’s iron fey series are an idealistic representation of the current concerns our world has with global climate change due to our pursuit of technological innovation.
New York Times bestselling author Julie Kawaga is the creator of the – so far – iron fey hexalogy. Kawaga has entwined the human world with the mythical world called the NeverNever, where faery realms of Summer Seelie fey and Winter Unseelie fey are in a constant clash for power. Their saviour, is Meghan Chase – a young girl from the human realm who soon discovers she’s not so human after all as she enters the NeverNever in search of her kidnapped brother. The use of fey characters from mythical legends such as William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream symbolises the notion of tradition and creates a time setting before the industrial revolution. Kawaga’s introduction of modern fey, creates an understanding of a clash between old and new; tradition and contemporary. Their lives become chaotic with the emergence of a new modern faery breed; the Iron fey, created as a result of mans desire for technological advancement. ‘I was the first, you see, born of the forges, when mankind first began to experiment with iron. I rose from their imagination, from their ambition to conquer the world with a metal that could slice through bronze like paper. I was there when the world started to shift, when humans took their first steps out of the Dark Ages into civilization’ (p902, Iron King). The destructive iron threatens the traditional faeries environments and lives like a fast spreading disease. As technology advances in the human realm, the iron fey grow exponentially and the traditional fey begin to ‘fade’. ‘All things fade eventually, even one as long-lived as Puck. People will forget his stories, forget he ever was, and he will cease to be. It is the way of things’ (p754, Iron King). The cyberpunk setting juxtaposes reality; whereby the insurgence of technology is causing detrimental effects on our social skills and surrounding environment. Cyberpunk, in relation to novels is considered to be located in a modern city where degenerates conduct illegalities, the leaking of technologies from behind closed doors and where high technology meets low society (Montecalovo, 2010). In a unique way, Kawaga has created a series that encapsulates the idea of cyberpunk through interlacing human and faery realms. The technological advancement of the human realm has a huge impact on the faery realm; something they do not foresee and struggle to combat.
As the novels develop, you enter deeper into the NeverNever and into the realm of the iron fey, discovering that the world is a technological waste land – a dump site. A place full of old, broken and unused technology, burning away at the natural world as the piles grow. ‘Mountains of rubble dominated the land: ancient computers, rusty cars, televisions, dial phones, radios, all piled into huge mounds that loomed over everything’ (p814, Iron King). This correlates with the reality of the speed technology advances at and its impact on humanity (Buttepatil, 2007).
The desire to progress onto greater things is a habit that is weaved throughout humanity. Our knowledge and understanding of invention transmogrification means each creation is annexed for the benefit and advancement of society (Buttepatil, 2007). Technology is in a constant state of flux. From products to updates, large scale companies such as Apple are advancing at such a rate that it seems from the moment you buy your ‘new’ Smartphone and set it up, the release plans for the next version are up and running. Old products are upgraded and thus, tossed aside. This is creating a technological wasteland that Kawaga chose to represent as the iron fey’s realm. Kawaga’s use of iron as a destructive connotation gives the readers the understanding of how humans sudden engulfment of technology is destroying our ecosystem. ‘Mankind is never satisfied – he is always reaching, always trying for something better. With the invention of computers, the gremlins came, and the bugs. Given life by the fear of monsters lurking in machines, these were more chaotic than the other fey, violent and destructive. They spread to every part of the world. As technology became a driving force in every country, powerful new fey rose into existence’ (p904, Iron King).
In an attempt to contain our ecological footprint through sustainability, ecologist Kim Hill believes that maintaining our comfortable lifestyles has become more important than protecting our environment (Hill, 2012). When referring to the word sustainability, Hill interprets it as the desire to sustain an industrial civilisation, instead of a living planet because the two notions cannot survive together in harmony (Hill, 2012). This is seen throughout Kawaga’s iron fey series, until the fourth installment. The expanding growth of industrial civilisation in the human realm slowly destroys the faery realm, with the understanding that the development of technology severely impacted on the outcome of survival for those traditional fey. Hills rhetorical question is a concern for the main character in Kawaga’s novels; Meghan Chase, ‘What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations? (Hills, 2012)’ Kawaga’s novels hold true to such a statement, as the characters and settings become more involved with the effect of technology growth and eventually their fight for survival becomes a key element. The fourth installment of Kawaga’s iron fey series The Iron Knight invites readers to a different perspective of the damning effects of the expansion of the iron fey as Meghan Chase takes place as ruler of the iron realm. Kawaga’s intentions were to attempt to unify the realms, to create a sense of survival through acceptance. ‘Another gathering of the courts, coming together to pretend they got along, when all they wanted was to rip each other into bloody shreds’ (p891, Iron Knight). As Hill mentions, our attempts to create sustainable living is similar to that of Kawaga’s ideology of endurance (Hill, 2012). When Meghan Chase entered the NeverNever, Kawaga chose for the character to take an iPod with her. Subtle mentions of how the iPod ceases to work in the faery realm throughout the first novel become a major symbol. The traditional fey could not understand how Meghan, the daughter of the Summer King fey, could come into contact with metal. Through this, Kawaga enables the readers to realise the detrimental effects man made products are having on our natural environment. Kawaga created the ideology of iron fey through the advancement of technology and in accordance the creation of fey characters such as gremlins, bugs, viruses and glitches. Like a computer, Kawaga gave the essence that they are dangerous and a threat to the survival of the NeverNever in which we understand due to their threatening presence amongst our own technology.
Theorist Emily Auger discusses the development of the popular genre cyberpunk noting that the fundamental narrative in science fiction is based on the survival of a species (Auger, 2011). Michigan State University Professor Gary Hoppenstand commends Auger on her analysis of Tech-noir, otherwise known as cyberpunk (Hoppenstand, 2011). Augers view is perfectly represented in the iron fey series, as technologically advanced fey seek not only to destroy the life of Meghan Chase but the fey population itself. Auger describes cyberpunk as differing to science-fiction, suggesting that it is a subgenre associated with computers and cyberspace, while science-fiction emphasises the discourse of science with plots developing around social forms arising in technological development (Auger, 2011).
Julie Kawaga’s cyberpunk iron fey series are a sensational representation of the negative challenges our environment faces with the advancement of an industrial civilisation. The creative settings used are an idealistic representation of the current environmental issues we face as well as harmonic survival issues due to our pursuit of technological innovation.
Auger, E., 2011. Tech-noir film: A theory of the development of popular genres. s.l.:Intellect Books.
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Hill, K., 2012. Sustainability is destroying the earth. [Online]
Available at: http://storiesofcreativeecology.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/sustainability-is-destroying-the-earth/
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Hoppenstand, G., 2011. Gary Hoppenstand. [Online]
Available at: https://www.msu.edu/~hoppens2/
[Accessed 17 September 2014].
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Available at: http://www.academia.edu/636469/The_Cyberpunk_Genre_in_Japanese_Anime_and_Manga_by_Rufus_Montecalvo
[Accessed 17 September 2014].