Underground organizations and organized crime are often a staple of the cyberpunk genre. With corporate control, often split between several corporations of varying caliber, hackers, thugs, and street scum often unite to boost their operating capacity and potential for illicit gains. With multiple corporations in control of the law, there are inter-corporation politics at play that might reduce the society’s ability to deter the underground from forming and operating. While law enforcement and efforts are taken to mitigate crime in a lot of cyberpunk societies, it’s often overlooked by normal civilians, and they do their best to keep their heads down, especially in lower-class society. While my novel, Absolute Knowledge, has underground organizations, it doesn’t have split corporate control. In fact, a faceless government rules my version of 2146 New York City with brutal efficiency. My new standalone cyberpunk novel, which is a work in process on Wattpad, has the dynamics of split corporate control, however. If you’re writing cyberpunk or creating anything cyberpunk related, it’s important to understand your underground organization’s origins, and how the societal controller views them.
The inter-corporate dynamics of underground organizations
If powers are split between multiple corporations of varying size and influence, it’s likely that underground organizations and crime syndicates will be more prevalent and successful in that specific cyberpunk society. With control pulled in multiple directions and each corporation having their own agenda, it’s easy to see why some corporations might have ulterior motives in play, or the desire to have the problem eradicated without dipping into their own coffers. The problem is compounded for corporations if the underground organizations are decentralized and utilize guerilla tactics for their operations and a high degree of technological innovation. Unaligned agendas, ulterior motives, cost reduction, and the market of corporations will impact their ability to work together to remove the threat of underground organizations. Most corporations would rather have stability than spend the resources to remove a threat entirely. Unless corporate laws are in place which require equal society contribution from each corporation in power, then it’s going to be very difficult for corporations to get rid of organized crime quickly and efficiently. If the society only has a single power in control, then the issue of cost is still a factor that the controller will have to consider.
The resilience of underground organizations
Underground crime organizations in cyberpunk society are often highly decentralized. This means that their operations are split across the cit(y)(ies) of society and the overall organization is broken into small cells that don’t have information relating to the others. If one cell is taken out by the ruler of society, the rest remain in play and the organization can continue to grow. Throw in state of the art encryption and some cool tech toys, and decentralized organized crime represents one of the most dangerous threats against society in the eyes of the rulers.
As stated above, corporations would much rather take stability over complete control. Stability is cheap, control isn’t. Some degree of corporate complacency can lead to underground organizations flourishing, yet remaining in check by unspoken laws of corporations. In these types of relationships, corporations can retain societal stability, thus keeping their costs down, and underground organizations can operate outside of the confines of the law. Relationships between organized crime syndicates and corporations can be complex, and there are plenty of opportunities for corruption within the bureaucratic ranks of corporations to fall victim to the lure of bribery.
In conclusion, underground organizations within cyberpunk society are complex, living things that require a lot of attention to detail and worldbuilding efforts to get right. If you’re writing your own cyberpunk novel (Check out this post, because you can write one), then you’ll need to spend some time building your world from the ground up, creating the complex, multi-tiered dynamics of your society. Have any questions or anything you feel is important that I may have missed for the sake of brevity? Let me know in the comments below!
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Images courtesy of Beeple’s Everydays under Creative Commons.