Writing Excuses 6.7: Brainstorming a Cyberpunk Story

Here’s a brainstorming episode in which Brandon throws random concepts from a textbook of his on gods and goddesses, and we attempt to brainstorm a cyberpunk story from these elements.

The elements thrown at us include clay, Sanskrit, fire god, and Buddhism.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch professionals wrestle with story genesis, this is the episode for you.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: A Scanner Darkly, by Phillip K. Dick, narrated by Paul Giamatti.

Writing Prompt: Come up with a cyberpunk world using the seed “penguins.”

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40 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.7: Brainstorming a Cyberpunk Story”

  1. No one believed that the end of the world started with Howard Tayler’s poop jokes. Right up until the electric penguins started crashing through datanets, monitors, and disks everywhere. And they all repeated his tweets, retweeting, retweeting, retweeting everywhere.

    Yes, that was the beginning of the end.

  2. This episode gave me some great tech ideas for my cyberpunk story! Thanks!

    P.S. I too would watch a cyberpunk Happy Feet. Few things are more interesting than the tap shoes of the cyberpocalypse.

  3. Thanks, I always enjoy listening to you guys do one of these brainstorming podcasts; they help refresh my memory in addition to helping me better understand the writing process and how stories elements fit together. Plus, the ideas of a Cyberpunk Happy Feet and the faie working in big box stores never fail to crack me up at six o’ clock in the morning.(Roughly the time I get these podcasts.)

  4. Won’t be near my desktop for a few hours yet, but I just wanted to share the first thought that came to mind seeing the writing prompt:

    The interface hardware runs on Linux.

  5. Tattoos and eating clay sound interesting. I’m not sure how cyberpunk such a story would be, but I think it would be a very surprising world to read about.

  6. Penguins would be an interesting twist, especially if they were a slang term for a secret police force. Those in the Penguins wear tuxedos, showing they have more than enough wealth to eat a normal human diet and thus have no need for the solar tats. Not that they can be tatted anyway, since the microtech used tends to mess with the horrific experiments performed on them in order to augment their bodies. The experiments are another reason they wear tuxedos, since almost the entire body’s covered to hide the scarring.

  7. How about this for the writing prompt:

    Elements of Cyberpunk: evil corporations, control of information, cyberspace

    add “penguin(s)”

    Result: a certain publishing house that we all know and love suddenly and mysteriously gets a new CEO who develops technology that allows readers of e-books to experience the story in virtual reality. The problem? The patented technology secretly hijacks the pleasure centers in your brain so that you become addicted to the publishing company’s products and you only want your information from them, thus they control the information.

    ~shiver~ that IS nefarious!

    Hero: an intern who notices things are getting strange. The arc is the semi-timid intern learning to become an amazing writer who’s work can break the addiction and dissemble truth.

  8. Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-European language used in India…which actually matched up with Buddhism pretty well. Hammurabi’s stuff was cuneiform. Old languages are awesome.

    Cool ‘cast, as always!

  9. Kernel Update

    No one batted an eye when the latest Linux Kernel update happened. It went largely unreported, only systems admins typing away in their cubicles even gave the update a passing glance before hitting enter. Over ninety five percent of Nano Tattoos, implants and other devices applied it silently. Life continued as normal for a while, until the updated devices, commonly referred as Penguins became self-aware.

    That’s when the Master Root, hidden within the source code, took control.

    Nano Tattoos had been heralded as the greatest technological advancement since the hard drive. Granting their wearers increased health, vitality, connectivity, and uptime. Best of all they were hands free.

    Unfortunately for those of us who survived the initial Penguin attack, there were more people with Nano Tattoos than televisions in the developed world. The Master Root through a software update created an instant army of controllable human drones.

    The takeover by the Penguins was swift and brutal. Anyone not wearing Nano Tattoos were hunted down and beaten, or shot. Those who survived were forcibly Nano inked, joining the ranks of the drones.

    The Third world didn’t stand a chance against the Master Root and its Penguins. Any country with less than seventy percent Penguins was nuked, without warning, or remorse. Most of the southern hemisphere was scrubbed clean of human life.

    We the Unmarked hide knowing that one day we will run the doomsday command on every last Penguin.

    rm -rf /

    If only we knew the Master Root password.

  10. This episode was great! Though I have to say that having my subconscious invent details of a distopia where functional tattoos evolve from symbiotes to parasites did NOTHING to improve my Monday morning.

  11. About us is missing Mary? Just asking…

    Sanskrit was one of the ancient languages of India. (Prakrit was another ancient one). Hinduism and Buddhism most likely were first written in Sanskrit. English shares some words with Sanskrit too.

    Cuneiform isn’t related to that branch.

  12. That’s what I’m saying. I swear the About Us section is the same one the site had when I first came here in Season 1.

    Unless the website’s become self aware… on the cyberpunk podcast…


    You did mean to put it back, right guys?



  13. You know, within the first two minutes of brainstorming, you guys came really close to writing Snow Crash.

  14. The Corp has a new McGuffin Widget that needs to be manufactured in the Antarctic. But, just like in modern times, they cannot run undersea Internet cables, due to the extreme temperatures and pressure from the ice. So they augment penguins with implants that turn them into living wireless routers. Together, the rookery forms a mesh network across the entire continent. The implants are highly redundant, self-maintaining and can propagate through the eggs.

    Time goes on, and a newer, cheaper communication method comes around. The Corp is ready to shut down Penguinet.

    But the penguins, who have gained a herd intelligence, are not happy about being exploited workers– or about losing their jobs.

    The Cyber Penguins rebel…

  15. Life was pretty good until I died and woke up as a penguin.

    Okay, I knew scientists had developed technology capable of capturing 97 percent of human brainwaves. I also knew I’d gotten drunk one night and sat in a helmet booth while a man in black goggles fiddled with my chinstrap. The wacky street corner monks with their feisty orange do-rags claimed I was selling my soul to the cyberdevil, but what did they know?

    What I didn’t know was that I’d wake up after being run over by a banana truck with my thoughts downloaded into a giant penguin brain.

    Waking up to find out I had flippers made me angry. Waking up to find out I was being charged for bandwidth by Happifeet Inc. made me furious.

    ‘Ah hell,’ I thought. ‘Guess I shouldn’t have donated my soul to science after all.’

  16. Just wondering — Mary, Brandon, and Howard, we’re supposed to buy books, but for Dan, we’re still supposed to buy bacon? Didn’t I hear that he had some books out? Might point his “bacon” at a book list, too?

  17. Good podcast, always helpful for beginning authors to get a glimpse of the brainstorming process. Haha, there was some flailing around in the beginning, but you guys really brought it around. Just curious, @ Howard/whoever, do you consider the movie Surrogates with Bruce Willis to be Cyberpunk?

  18. @Mike Maybe were supposed to buy him a book about bacon? Or, maybe he’s written one about bacon, a harrowing tale of one man’s fight with possessed pork products and then lengths he has to go to in order to get a balanced breakfast.

    Or maybe he just really likes bacon. At least he isn’t trying to tape it to a cat, unlike some people.

  19. FINALLY caught up! It would be an interesting assignment to take a Disney movie or fairy tale and convert it to Cyber-Punk. Robin hood and Beauty and the beast. Yeah.

  20. The ‘plug-in’ thing you guys were talking about reminded me a bit of Surrogates. Not /quite/ the same, but close.

  21. From what I hear, Dan really does like bacon. But he also has three books out now. ANd he probably would prefer that people buy his books.

    Now that the site has been updated to include MRK, you might want to update everyone else’s bios and whatnot. And maybe it would be a good idea to do this again periodically, or at least look them over to see if you need to. The start of each new season of Writing Excuses would be a good time…

  22. The tattoos are like trans-reality barcodes, neurally connecting the gamer/user to whatever they’re doing in cyberspace, gaming/social networking more than likely. They’re called neuro-toos. It’d be ideal for wi-fi connections as well, the neuro-toos acting as wi-fii connectors to your (Vinge’s Rainbow) smart clothing. Smart clothing is corporate, the neuro-toos haven’t been incorporated yet because its too grungy, too cyberpunk. No self-respecting corporate clone with ink up their skin for the sake of stranding out on a social networking site. The n-toos will be an extension of myspace, really. One of the cool things about myspace back in the mid 00s was how unique everyone’s homepage was, from graphic background to underground music piping in. Facebook took this sense of identity away from us and made us corporate again, incorporated our identities into one one-fits-all Gap sweater. So, the n-toos are identity markers, like grungy punk rockers back in the late 70s with their torn clothing and piercings. Buddhism: the tattoos could be buddha markers, like special coding to open gateways in specific domains, like backdoors . . . anyway . . . writing in the dark on a Macbook here in Asia . . . great podcast. And Diamond Age is my favorite cyberpunk novel.

  23. so the n-toos are like circuit boards, umbilically connecting your body and Buddhist soul to cyberspace. the upper classes wouldn’t dare ink up their skin, preferring to purchase corporate smart clothing and/or underwear. maybe a Dune/Rainbows end type suit. But the hardcore cyberpunks are anti-establishment. Their skin and organs because nothing more than a vehicle to walk/exist in cyberspace like the buddha, or
    bodhisattva. N-toos are noticeable, though, easy for security guards (Sprawl Series) to identify. So they need special neuroware to hide their toos from the plugged-in-tuned-out guards. Tower. Throw in a tower, a new construction site somewhere with a new kind of hardware, think buildings upgrading to optical fiber cables back in the 90s. in the near future buildings are upgrading (or in this case, starting from scratch) a new kind of transmission wi-fi thingy. Perhaps buildings in the future will be equipped with hardware to read n-toos or n-clothing/underclothing, so security can scan everyone as they enter the building. Perhaps the cyberpunks are rebelling against this . . . Big Brother circa 1984. And the book will be called Bodhisattva Upgrade.

  24. Gotta be honest the mishmashing of Sanskrit and Sumerian here really ruined this cast for me. I’m such a gosh-darn nerd.

  25. Just an interesting news story involving animated tattoos and electric skin I came across after listening to this podcast –


  26. From Charles Stross;s Iron Sunrise (Hardcover July 2004), page 1

    “. . . the last ship supposed to have undocked from bay green fourteen minutes ago — an icon tattooed on the inside of her left eye showed her this, time counting negative .. heading out

    Smart tattoos are everywhere in sff guys. . .

  27. Hmm, I dunno. That might be meant figuratively. Like what she’s seeing is some sort of virtual-reality display projected onto her optic nerve, or something like that,
    and it’s just described as ‘tattooed’ to give a sense of how it looks.

    Not sure tho.

  28. Diane gripped the snub-nosed revolver in her jacket pocket as she went down the stairs to the train platform. With every step she recounted how she got to this point; the body count, the recriminations, the fact that she had been lied to all this time, and all the while being guided by digital penguins.

    She stopped midway down the flight of stairs and she started to think.
    It all started with penguins.
    They first cropped up in her email box which she regarded as spam and treated them as such. Then they started appearing in her phones message box, and then into her cyberbrain. They had led her and what friends she could gather and followed the cryptic clues they kept sending.

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