inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #0 of 60: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 12 Aug 04 09:12
    
Bruce Sterling's new novel, The Zenith Angle, tells the story of Derek
"Van" Vandeveer, a computer wizard pressed into serving the nation as
professional information warrior. As always, Bruce draws on events both real
and virtually so to develop his story. For the first time, he writes a tale
whose characters are aware of the events of September 11, 2001.

Bruce is well known as a journalist and cyberpunk fiction writer, but his
sideline is as a culture hacker, with the Dead Media Project and more
recently Veridian Design.

Jon Lebkowsky is, like Bruce, an Austin, Texas kind of a guy these days. Jon
is an activist who also writes about technoculture and serves as host here
at The Well's inkwell.vue. He recently managed the University of Texas'
Wireless Future project and a national wireless conference within South by
Southwest Interactive.

Glad to have you with us, gents!
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #1 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 12 Aug 04 17:50
    
Thanks, <bumbaugh>!

Bruce, you normally write speculative fiction about possible futures... 
but _The Zenith Angle_ is speculative fiction about a possible present. 
What made you decide to write about the here an now?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #2 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 12 Aug 04 18:44
    
I couldn't resist.  The material was just too good.

Now that I'm all gray-haired, people trust me with stuff
that they shouldn't.  Every time I go to Washington these
days, some spook sidles over and says, "Hey!  Didn't you
write ISLANDS IN THE NET back in the 80s?  I read that
when I was twelve!"  Then they proceed to say something
indiscreet about goings-on in Afghanistan.

Things just get weirder.  The book ends with my hero,
Van the white-hat hacker, agreeing to go to Switzerland.
I'm going to Switzerland tomorrow.  Literally.  Got
a flight to Zurich just after noon.  I hope I can check
in on inkwell from the Zurich central rail station.
They've got wi-fi.

Failing that, I may have to log in on a Treo handheld.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #3 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 12 Aug 04 20:22
    
What's happening in Zurich? Or are you just playing out the White-Hat 
Hacker fantasy?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #4 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 13 Aug 04 06:24
    
Nothing is happening in Zurich, but I got asked to teach for
a few days at an outfit called the European Graduate School,
which is in the shadow of the Matterhorn, or so I'm told.

This is also the year when people asked me to teach.
Thank God they're not asking me to teach creative writing!
No, I'm teaching media and industrial design.

I just delivered a keynote speech at SIGGRAPH, the thesis
of which is that there's really not gonna be all that
much difference between those two fields any more.
I'm working on a little MIT Press book in which I'm
going to try to prove it.

On the flight in about four hours.  Given that it's Friday
the 13th, maybe the seats will be a little less crowded.

This may  be the last broadband I see for a while,
so I'm cramming photos into my blog.

http://blog.wired.com/sterling/
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #5 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 13 Aug 04 09:22
    
When you're back online in Zurich, and getting back to the book, I'm 
wondering about your own September 11, 2001. How did the bombing of the 
World Trade Center strike you at the time, vs the way it strikes the 
characters in the book? (And I guess "strike" is the best word to use 
there.)
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #6 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 17 Aug 04 05:13
    
Well, at the moment it struck me as being a strike against,
not the USA, but World Trade.  I figured it for some group
of extremely committed radicals who were trying to suck
the oxygen out of the anti-WTO crowd.

In the days that followed, it was very touching to see
every society on the planet in tearstained, candle-burning
solidarity with the wounded USA, but boy, that
sure didn't last long.  Now the "Washington
Consensus" of the 1990s is as dead as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

I often wonder what the world would look like 
if Al Qaeda had decided to crash planes into, say,
Copenhagen.  Suppose the atrocity were just
as large and just as wounding, but there was
no military response.  Would we be more secure or
less secure today?

I'm not actually in Zurich; I'm in a small ski-resort
town named Saas-Fee. And the hotel has
wifi.  Swiss wifi, man, I'm livin' large.

The WTO just met in Switzerland and had one
of its least-heralded, most successful meetings
ever.  The Brazilians got pretty much everything
they wanted.  Since the Brazilians also made it
their policy to co-opt the anti-WTO orgs,
this is a remarkable development...  It's kind
of the "Porto Alegre WTO," or the "Brasilia
Consensus."  It's a big deal for the majority
of the planet's populatio, but the US pays
no never mind these days because we're
too busy getting shot at.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #7 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 17 Aug 04 05:36
    
Brazil has the strongest South American economy, they're forward looking, 
they've claimed much of the virtual real estate at Orkut and Multiply, and 
they throw great parties. Brazil is the wave of the future, no?

Back to the book... your protagonist is basically a geek. It's as though 
Hitchcock made North by Northwest with Wally Cox instead of Cary Grant... 
or maybe where Wally Cox *becomes* Cary Grant. Did you base Derek on 
anybody in particular? 
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #8 of 60: smells like (sushi101) Tue 17 Aug 04 06:24
    
Hi Bruce

I am going to Ars Electronica in Linz ( http:www.aec.at ) again this
year and am happy to see you among the speakers.

Reading the synopsis for your panels discussion:

"...The second panel, DISRUPTION, is about error, accident, and
dissent. It is intended to reveal how the value of intent is relative
and how counter-force can dominate in an imperfect world where things
don’t always go as planned."

got me thinking if you are going to use the post 9/11 observations as
an vantage point?

Looking forward to hearing you there.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #9 of 60: Duncan Stewart by way of (bumbaugh) Tue 17 Aug 04 14:01
    
From off-Well:


<< Apologies in advance for my haphazard thought process here >>

 

Bruce, in this latest book, our hero Van moves hither and yon trying
to crack a technical problem (vague, but spoiler free); meanwhile you
re criss-crossing the country (and the pond) yourself with conferences,
presentations and teaching gigs, addressing the problem of the
permanence of impermanence, as it were, of our
buy-it-now-and-toss-it-in-6-months culture.  And blogging it all now.

 

I like to think that I m getting a broader idea of what s happening in
the world through the web and liberal media rather than from the
network news here in the States.  But it s not an inexpensive
proposition; cable television, cable modem, subscriptions & and new
computers like your laptop, my ol trusty(?) home PC went belly-up
(again!) just a couple of weeks ago.  And I recently cancelled the
cable tv, for cost as well as being an attention suck for children and
adults alike.

 

If it weren t for the fact that the household has several other
computers online (plus work&), I d be seriously info deprived.  In
addition to the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest, do you
get a sense that there s also an knowledge gap, between the
techno-savvy and the not-so-much?  On world issues, I mean, not just
which mp3 player has the longest battery life?  Is being connected
necessary in order to be informed?

 

         Duncan Stewart
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #10 of 60: docile (brenner) Tue 17 Aug 04 23:55
    
Doesn't that depend on the meaning of "informed"? 

I ask this because in this new book, Bruce shows us that the work
ethic and the technology make the protagonist and his wife seem very
disconnected from one another and their child.  In this book, the
gizmos are just tools, and the real "information" is that people need
each other. 

(Old school cyberpunk meets metro-sexual fatherhood, eh?)

  
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #11 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 18 Aug 04 00:45
    
Well, there's no question that I'm personally acquainted
with a host of geeks.  

Brilliant people are often
workaholics.  Workaholism is an affliction.
Families pay a price for that.  It's just how things are.

The thing that always intrigued me about technothrillers
was that technicians are support staff rather than
protagonists.  I mean, who makes a worse enemy --
James Bond, with a "license to kill" -- or H. Ross Perot?
Perot's a weedy-looking Wally Cox mainframe
nerd, but he doesn't hesitate to hire ex=Special Forces
types and conduct private black-bag operations
in Iran.

If you're a topflight guy in today's society you
can hire all the James Bonds you want.
Why go on pretending otherwise?

As for cancelling TV to save money, that's
a swell idea.  You ought to just pitch the
thing out of the house like an obsolete
slide projector.

http://www.aiipowmia.com/inter24/in040324perothonor.html
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #12 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 18 Aug 04 14:14
    
What do you think September 11th was about? Are we really seeing a Muslim
fundamentalist jihad here? (Somebody was telling me today that two sets of
fundamentalists are at war, Muslims and Capitalists.)
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #13 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 18 Aug 04 23:22
    
Well, I think what September 11 was about was a calculated
provocation against the "Washington Consensus" by an
extremely violent group of fanatics with no ability
to govern.  Al Qaeda has the relationship to Islam 
that the Khmer Rouge had to Marxism. 

To me the most significant thing about Al Qaeda is
not that they are Muslim but that they are stateless.
Their personnel are almost all diaspora people, exiles.
The most effective ones have Western educations.
So it's not a clash of civilizations, it's a clash
of globalizations.

The ability of the American administration to assert
its will around the world has been very much
hampered.  The US is now bogged down in a ground war
where nationalist resentment rises every day.

By contrast, Al Qaeda, who number at most maybe 30,000
revanchist adventurers, are methodically demonstrating
their ability to wreak bloody havoc pretty much
anywhere on the planet.  Their
loss of so-called "bases" in Sudan or Afghanistan
or the Pakistani tribal lands  never
bothered them much.  They're not a government,
so they don't need "bases." The mere fact that
they exist and have credibility, that's what
makes Al Qaeda the "Base."

Five years after 9/11, the USA is a deeply 
polarized society with alienated allies and
practically zero diplomatic credibility. The least whisper
from the Al Qaeda camp is pored over and
valorized; they're crazy, but they're successful.
The emptyhanded USA with its witch-hunts
for nonexistent WMD looks simply delusional.  
You'd be hard put to find a Mexican, Canadian
or Briton with the least belief that the Bush
Administration means anything it says.

This enormous setback came because
of the loss of two and one-fifth buildings.
We really need a better word for this struggle
than "terrorism."  People in the US
were once pretty frightened about Communist subversives,
but very few Americans are genuinely frightened
about Al Qaeda.  We just resent them furiously,
we lost all sense of perspective.  Americans aren't terrorized
by Al Qaeda, but in 9/11, Americans got jolted into
an unthinking revanchist rage that revealed
the American state's deep political weakness.

Outside the US borders, the US Administration
no longer looks like an outfit that thinks
clearly enough to set a global agenda.
Fundamentalist capitalists are just watching
those oil prices and sweating bullets, while at the WTO,
where the US one strode the stage like a Colossus,
the Chinese and Indians closet themselves
with the Brazilians.  The Washington Consensus
of the 1990s is as dead as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

On the other hand, the clock won't stop ticking.
Ten years ago people just talked about globalization;
now we're really wading in knee-deep.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #14 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 19 Aug 04 08:47
    
What would it take to make the U.S. functional, or at least less 
dysfunctional, in all this? Some people are hopeful that Kerry's election, 
which looks pretty likely, will make a difference, but we seem to be 
seeing manifestations of problems that run much deeper than anything a 
regime change could fix?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #15 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 19 Aug 04 13:24
    
What would it take?  It'll take time. 

 People are always claiming that the American polity
has no historical awareness and has no
patience in struggle, but that's a canard. The US
has outlasted any number of rival regimes.
The US outlasted a "thousand-year Reich."
It contained a rival economic system for
decades on end.

 "War on Terror" is a really goofy formulation, 
and Bush II kicked his dad's supreme New World Order
coalition into pieces. That's too bad, but 
what does *terror* have to offer anybody, in the long run?
If you kiss Al Qaeda right on the lips, 
they'll turn your society into a flaming skeleton.

They're a suicide cult.  How long is suicide gonna
stay romantic?  Even if you're a sincere Jihadist
and you want a faith-based, divinely inspired
Caliphate, you still need a method of governance.
Al Qaeda doesn't have one.  They don't think
that's important.  

They are wrong.  
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #16 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 19 Aug 04 13:50
    
Al Qaeda seems like one kind of entrepreneurial outfit, one that's selling
jihad and destruction of infidels, and Zenith Angle seems to be, in part,
about the resilience of the American entrepreneurial spirit, which is
selling innovation and (at least supposedly) individual liberty. Is this a
war of the entrepreneurs?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #17 of 60: Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 20 Aug 04 16:47
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #18 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 20 Aug 04 16:53
    
No problem, go right ahead!
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #19 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 21 Aug 04 00:00
    
Problems of innovation and tradition are literally older
than the hills.  Especially in the Middle East, where a
lot of the "hills" turn out to be former cities.

If you accept the formulation behind a phrase
like "Electronic Frontier Foundation," it implies
a process of governance. The "frontier" of
high-tech moves on over the horizon
in a fine Vannevar Bush "Science the Endless
Frontier" fashion, but somebody, somewhere,
has got to assimilate and govern the aging innovations.

ZENITH ANGLE pops the question:
is the Bush Administration up to a challenge
like that?   Is anybody? Maybe you can examine the 
maelstrom of Dodge City illegality in your email, and
let the record speak for itself.

Governance may fail.  It's failing in a lot
of places and circumstances. The "electronic frontier"
may turn out to be inherently ungovernable.  In which
case,  the "frontier" may not have much to do with 19C
American notions of statehood and legitimacy,
It may have a whole lot to do with the places on
the planet in 21C that really are ungovernable,
such as Chechnya, Congo, Kashmir, 
Fallujah, Colombia, Afghanistan.

You'd have a hard time disinterring the "Wild West"
in the American West, but the "Wild East"
is as real as a vodka bottle broken over
your head.  Now those guys are a couple
of mouseclicks away instead of at the
far end of a 45minute ICBM launch.
Welcome to modern politics.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #20 of 60: Angus MacDonald (angus) Sat 21 Aug 04 12:44
    

[post above reformatted for legibility]:

        Jon, to me it seems it's not totally about American
"entrepreneurial spirit," but also about how, as Bruce describes above,
longevity requires skills at governance.
        In new industries, there have been and will be plenty of
entrepreneurs who make huge initial successes but can't sustain a business
beyond ten or twenty quarters, just as political revolutionaries are
notorious for failing badly at administration.
        We're lucky that so many of the 1776 gang apparently wanted to go
back to their plantations and shops afterwards and be left alone, rather
than keeping the combat going till they died.
        Also, is it okay to ask questions about or comment on the
novelistic strengths and surprises of the book? [I don't want to drag
things into "creativewritingland" if that's inappropriate.]
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #21 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 22 Aug 04 02:04
    

It's actually kind of fun to drag intractable
governmental-technical issues into
creativewritingland.  When I was in
Washington researching spacewar for WIRED,
I was very aware that I was in the middle
of a right-wing technothriller novel that was struggling
to write itself.

September 11 had some cornball aspects
to it; it really was gaudy, gory and excessive,
like Z-grade Hollywood disaster fare.  The business
with the missing WMD is very Dr Strangelove --
it's like some loon in a wheelchair barks
"coalmine gap with the Russians!" and every
living soul takes that logic at face value. Everybody
buys into the mythical WMDs...  It's an error
in judgment so colossal that it can't even
be whispered aloud.  Why did the world
believe in this?  

Hussein has been in custody for months now.
What's his storyline about the WMDs?  Did
he never have any?  Did he think that he
had some?  Did he order them made and
nobody obeyed?  Did he destroy them
all at the last minute as a political ploy?

Even if he wants to lie about it, why
is there such a haze of obscurantism
about his means and motives?  It doesn't
feel like foreign policy at all; it's like
a thriller movie where the director
died, the screenwriter drank himself
into a fit and then the whole biz was
patched-together by special-effects guys
somewhere in Turkey.

It's as if we're never to get the thread again;
we seem to be waiting patiently for another
disaster so large that it merely elipses
the other one.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #22 of 60: Ted (nukem777) Sun 22 Aug 04 04:39
    
No doubt we have all the techno-toys to play war, but the human errors
that have been made in Iraq have been horrific. There seems to be a
widening gulf between the Pentagon, and their ability to "wage war",
and the policy makers and their ability to do just about anything.

Do you think we are just that stupid, due to blind political agendas,
or is there some kind of gap occuring between technology and all that
it affords and society's ability to integrate it all into the matrix of
policy and planning?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #23 of 60: Uncle Jax (jax) Sun 22 Aug 04 05:39
    
There's a gap between Americans believing that "having it all" is
their birthright and reality.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #24 of 60: Ted (nukem777) Sun 22 Aug 04 07:02
    
I get your point (jax), but I think our policy has lately been shaped
more by the fear of "losing it all". The fat cats all seem to be
running scared to me.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #25 of 60: docile (brenner) Sun 22 Aug 04 07:09
    
Back to the WMD issue, here's another take on that subject, in no less
an authority than the Pasadena Star News: 

"This fear of WMD influenced Franks' military planning. It prompted
him to emphasize speed: Intelligence said Saddam's "troops arrayed
around Baghdad were holding WMD, and we could expect them to use those
weapons as we closed the noose on the capital unless we got there
before the Iraqis were ready.'

Franks didn't mass 500,000 troops on Saddam's border in a rerun of the
first U.S. war on Saddam, partly because he feared such troop
concentrations in Kuwait would be vulnerable to WMD. If Franks
distorted his military plan around a lie as the "Bush lied' true
believers must think he shouldn't have retired with high praise, but
been court-martialed.

The real liar in all this, of course, is Saddam Hussein, who didn't
come clean about his weapons programs in what was likely an effort at
strategic deception to cow his opponents at home and deter his enemies
abroad. Any moral opprobrium about the Iraq War should attach to him,
not the men who tried their best to deal responsibly with him and his
regime even if one of those men happens to be a Republican president of
the United States."


http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/Stories/0,1413,206~11851~2350453,00.html
  

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