And Hosaka's helicopter is back, no lights at all, hunting on infrared, feeling for body heat. A muffled whine as it turns, a kilometer away, swinging back toward us, toward New Rose. Too fast a shadow, against the glow of Narita.
-William Gibson, "New Rose Hotel"It struck me today, as two unidentified helicopters hovered fairly low, in close proximity, over my neighbourhood, that you don't get a much more cyberpunk technology than the chopper.
Helicopters are about great inequality: inequality of military power (the Huey in Vietnam, the Hind in Afghanistan), inequality of wealth (the super-rich sky commuters in Sao Paulo, Jakarta, Mumbai, heading for their weekend haunts through the crowded sky on a Friday evening), and even at some level sheer inequality of physical geography (I can see you, and I am above you; you don't get much more of an unequal relationship than that).
Helicopters are about surveillance. From up there, they can see everything below. And it ain't hidden. You don't spy on somebody by helicopter. You openly watch them. You tell them: I have you in my sights, so watch out.
Helicopters are about intimidation. They are loud, powerful, and almost omnipotent when they are in the sky. They can move at will. Something about them makes you freeze, and look up. They make you feel like an Amazonian tribesman confronting the awesome force of modern technology for the first time.
Helicopters are about assassination, abduction, and carefully deployed force at a personal level. Helicopters don't drop nuclear bombs. They carry Navy SEALS teams to covertly kill Osama Bin Laden.
The internet and cyberware might be the technologies we think of when we think of cyberpunk. For me the chopper trumps them.
The helicopter's forward tilt is pure menaceReplyDelete
The forward tilt is pure menace. That instant turn-and-sweep thing is pure predation. That's the move of a thing that can kill you as soon as look at you.Delete
This idea fills me with wonder and excitement which is odd, as we're talking cyberpunk here and the right emotion for that is uneasiness.ReplyDelete
Plus, being a child of the '80s, helicopters always make me think of Blue Thunder and Air Wolf, both concepts with cyberpunk overtones.ReplyDelete
In my longest running playtest of Cry Dark Future, one of my players ran a troll pilot with a gunship which acted as transport, surveillance, and fire support for the other operators. It got its guns off at least once or twice in fairly terrifying fashion. You don't see that type of action in many RPGs (at least not on the players' side of the table)!
I loved Air Wolf when I was a kid.Delete
I love using helicopters in my Shadowrun game, because they're perfect for city distribution of forces in a quick manner. I never thought about them being so menacing and intimidating though. I'll have to use them more. Thanks for the article.
So dragon fear was potentially (partially) inspired by watching helicopters?ReplyDelete
I'm sure that the approach/lurk of a helicopter can trigger something in our deep lizard brains of an airborne predator - time to run, get under cover...Delete
There is a popular science book, Deadly Powers, that posits that dragons are actually an instinctual fear of three major predators of ancient humans- venomous snakes, big cats and large raptors (obviously venomous snakes do not eat people, but they kill many and the birds only ate small children).Delete
There is probably something to that, although there are benevolent dragons in other cultures too.Delete
Oh helicopters can drop nuclear bombs they just got to get out of dodge before the device detonates.ReplyDelete
The helicopter is a device of political oppression alongside military might. There are elements on the internet that joke about giving (one-way) "helicopter rides" to political opposition.
Yeah, Pinochet and all that - didn't occur to me.Delete
From my window, I can see passenger planes cross the sky at an acute enough angle that makes them seem like they are just casually browsing the shops, smoothly sliding through the grey sky towards the airport beyond the horizon. And 20 minutes walk away, paramedic helicopters raise up from the pad on the local hospital, and move off level with the tops of the high rise buildings. For wind perhaps, or to incorporate themselves into the fabric of the city. We are not those high overseers, roaring away as police clash with demonstrators, we wasp-coloured but friendly, returning slowly and carefully with our frail cargo, or moving out determinedly to find those who are beyond normal reach, head forwards to our mapped and marked destinations, motor tutting along, battling forwards against gravity like you do the wind.ReplyDelete
And so I hear them pass, their rumble mixing to be heard as well as I do the trucks of the big road to the south. One day those trucks will be silent, electric, and these tutting droning ambulances will cut through the quiet air. Until then, they have made themselves just small enough to fit in a world of great fume pumping square fronted charging road trains, hands on wheels and minds distant, in old music or memory, or the stopping starting people cells around them.
In that world, they are like an umbrella or a falling leaf, struggling by some miracle to stay aloft, moving slowly but determinedly to their goal, as if tied to a line in the sky.