inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #26 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 22 Aug 04 10:20
    <scribbled by jonl Sun 22 Aug 04 10:21>
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #27 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 22 Aug 04 10:21
    
"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."

Does the technothriller have a right wing author? What are your politics?
Do you have partisan leanings or a rock-hard impenetrable objectivity?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #28 of 60: nape fest (zorca) Sun 22 Aug 04 11:04
    
i'd still like to see a chart showing the personal net worth of bush,
cheney, et cronies since the war was declared.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #29 of 60: Uncle Jax (jax) Sun 22 Aug 04 12:23
    
... oh, you mean *financial* ... :-)
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #30 of 60: Angus MacDonald (angus) Sun 22 Aug 04 15:25
    

[There'll always be a Pasadena...]
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #31 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 23 Aug 04 01:36
    

Well, technothrillers are a genre, not a political conviction.
I can remember when people assumed that cyberpunks
were Reaganites merely because we took an interest
in computers, which, as everyone knew, were invented
by the military-industrial complex in order to fold, 
spindle and mutilate the working class.

The thing about inside-the-Beltway spacewar
enthusiasts is that they're not merely studying spacewar;
they're studying spacewar in order to get Congress
to distribute more money to the likes of Northrop-Grumman,
who then endow think-tanks to study spacewar.
If you study spacewar and logically conclude, "well,
there's just not a lot here," or, "Well, this may
become a serious military issue somewhere in a
thirty-year timeframe," you are basically kicking
a leg out of the iron tripod of contractors, 
congressmen and cold-warrior consultants.

So the consultants end up sounding more
and more like novelists.  The congressmen
are supposed to be the ones frugally tightening
the purse-strings, but, well, they basically
got captured by the contractors somewhere
in the Eisenhower Administration.  As the
three-way handoff accelerates in speed, the
intellectual justification becomes ever thinner,
weirder, gaudier and more science-fictional.

When it comes to efforts like "Star Wars,"
it really is Hollywood spectacle as military policy.
It never required the least adherence to
the laws of physics.

However, it's not like left-wing societies
have ever lacked a sense of intoxicating thrill
when it comes to storming the cosmos.

http://www.cast.cn/en/
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #32 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 23 Aug 04 05:28
    
Interesting that they named their first satellite "East is Red."

Sounds like the spacewar consultants are salesmen, and salesmen have
something in common with authors of science (and other) fiction - they 
both tell a story and demand a suspension of disbelief. Politicians do 
that, too. I guess the difference is that with fiction, you have a 
*willing* suspension of disbelief.

They all want to control the narrative.

Some of _Zenith Angle_ is set at an observatory in Colorado. Did you base 
that on some real place that you've visited?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #33 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 23 Aug 04 08:16
    
More or less.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology
has a weird redoubt in Colorado.  I've been there.

http://www.boulder.nist.gov/

They do worthy stuff like "assisting NASA with gamma ray
calibration."  Nobody outside the NIST outfit seems to
notice much or care.  Don't get me wrong, I think
that NIST guys are swell people who provide many
invaluable public services, but it's getting
harder for everyday journalists and vaguely interested
snoops to go interrupt the reality-bubble around
multimillion-dollar federal installations.

I was standing there and it occurred to me -- you
know, what if somebody just *ENRONed ALL of
this?*  What if some private subcontractors got it
together to build a NIST gamma ray that could scorch
the surface of the moon?

Who would ever really think to check that? And if
they were good at checking, shouldn't they
be looking for Al Qaeda, and WMDs, and
the guy who poisoned the Senate with
anthrax... and, who knows, maybe the guys
who gave the orders at Guantanamo
and Abu Ghraib, and what Ollie North's
old pals are up to in Venezuela, and the
thirty or forty other pressing contemporary
issues that have kind of fallen off the edge
of the universe, while we're supposed to
worry about Paris Hilton?   Does *anybody*
really bother to check this stuff out,
any more?

And it turns out, y'know, they kinda
just don't.  They don't have to, so
they don't bother.  Nobody makes sense
of it, everybody just spins it.  They're
not gonna suffer for it any more than
a Soviet nomenklatura guy did when
he pulled fake figures for booming production
right out of his hat.

http://www.nti.org/d_newswire/issues/2004_8_17.html#22F6E1D

And if you think that's something, you should
read James Bamford's book about the NSA,
BODY OF SECRETS.
This thing is the Bible of unwritten technothrillers.
There is stuff in there that boggles the imagination.
It's like the closing scenes in RAIDERS OF THE
LOST ARK.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #34 of 60: Angus MacDonald (angus) Mon 23 Aug 04 13:09
    

The facial-implosion part or the unchartable warehouse part?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #35 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 23 Aug 04 15:06
    
Funny you should mention NIST. When I lived in Boulder for a couple of 
years recently, my house backed up to NIST's back yard, which was defined 
as Open Space - so we spent a lot of time wandering around back there, and 
hiking up the mountain to the Mesa Trail. There were a few mighty odd 
looking trailers, buildings, and gadgets back there, as well as a friendly 
coyote, an occasional bear, and whole colonies of rabbits. We lived there 
on 9/11, a surreal day, deadly quiet with no airplanes in the air and the 
people all sitting shocked, jaws wide, staring in disbelief at the 
heavy-rotation images of death. Outside the sky was stark blue and the sun 
was shining. It was a beautiful day in Boulder. The rabbits paid no 
attention.

It was great living behind NIST. It was like having a leftover 50s SF film 
set in your back yard.

Maybe your next book should be set in Chernobyl?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #36 of 60: Willard Uncapher (willard) Mon 23 Aug 04 23:50
    
Was, is more like it. In the spirit of 9/11 the Dept. of Commerce
which runs NIST in Boulder is in fact beginning to put up fences,
concrete blocks, etc., in the name of National Security, even as the
complicates the Open Spaces initiatives in Boulder. Cf.
<http://www.dailycamera.com/bdc/news_columnists/article/0,1713,BDC_2421_2250530
,00.html>,
an article written on the 9/11 anniversary. So now if a secret
operative in NIST wants to research the Effect of Gamma Rays on
Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, it will have a freer reign to do so.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #37 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 24 Aug 04 02:12
    
*I mean the unchartable warehouse part.  Secret federal
enterprises are all about unchartable warehouses.
Exploding faces are a relative rarity, except in
technothrillers.

*The secret of the success of this Bamford book
is that all these aging NSA hounds realized that
they had nobody else to talk to.  Because of need-to-know
guidelines, there were whole areas of NSA techie
expertise that were simply going to vanish without
leaving any human trace.  They'd just wither
and die unremembered, like aboriginal languages.
The sorrow of it finally drove them to unburden
themselves to Bamford; he knew more about
them than they knew about themselves.
He was their poet laureate.

The upshot is a book that is really the GULAG ARCHIPELAGO
of the American Cold War apparat... a monument cobbled
together out of fading memories of the unspeakable.  Most of the
NSA guys who were willing to talk to Bamford seemed
to have some kind of mortal grudge against Bobby Ray
Inman, so Inman comes across as the heavy of the
narrative.  What seems to be the real grudge against
Inman was that he was way too good at publicity to
be a real NSA underground geek -- they resented
him the way astrophysicists resented Carl Sagan.

The other monumental work in this vein is
SPYCATCHER, the drunken, lachrymose memoirs
of Peter Wright.  It turns out that Peter is a
techie geek first and an MI-5 team player second,
and the result is the most convincing portrayal
of the gray daily life of electronic espionage
that I ever saw.  My copy is just crammed with
exclamation marks.  Boy is it something.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #38 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 24 Aug 04 13:12
    
Is there a difference in the kinds of people who do espionage now, vs 
during the cold war?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #39 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 25 Aug 04 04:04
    

Yeah, there is; I kind of doubt that Al Qaeda has any
high-ranking informants inside the US intelligence
apparatus, while the Soviets pretty much had
the run of the place.  Not that that ever helped
them much.


WELL ENGAGED doesn't want me to post;
I had to telnet this.  With real live
line commands.  It sure feels hakerly!
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #40 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Aug 04 06:21
    
I suppose we should extend the interview a few days, since we got a late 
start and have been hampered by travel and technology.

You're doing new stuff that's more focused on design - are you putting 
fiction aside for a bit? Could you say a bit about your fascination with 
industrial design and where you think it's going?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #41 of 60: docile (brenner) Wed 25 Aug 04 07:29
    
Also, Bruce, could you elaborate on  why the Soviets could not make
better use of their moles? ["the Soviets pretty much had the run of the
place.  Not that that ever helped them much."]
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #42 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 26 Aug 04 11:56
    
The Soviets couldn't make much use of their moles because
their paranoid, totalitarian society was too dysfunctional
to compete.  I think that's Al Qaeda's major weakness, too.
What do you get if they win?  Consider the best theocratic
Islamic state available.  Iran, maybe?  You see anybody
much flocking to Iran?  Afghans flock to Iran.  Afghans
flock to Iran because they're running away from the
Taliban and Al Qaeda.  The louder the muezzins yell,
the faster people scamper over the border.

Just because something is secret doesn't make it important.
The racketeering moguls and mafia oligarchs who are
running Russia now have all kinds of secrets.  They
have so many plots and counterplots that they make
the Byzantines look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
They still can't run an economy or a society. What do
spies add to the GNP?

I got very interested in design.  I got well-nigh
fatally interested in design.  I started writing about
it, lecturing about it and hanging out with design teachers.
Just recently I got asked to sit in for a couple of semesters
at the Art Center College in Pasadena, to teach.

Nobody has ever asked me to teach before.  I always
lived in mortal terror that somebody would ask
me to teach creative writing.  Teaching design,
by contrast, sounds terrific.  I'll learn a lot.
I think it's time for me to stop being a dilettante
in this arena and really understand what
I'm talking about.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #43 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 26 Aug 04 12:04
    

That's been simply astonishing to watch, by the way, both in terms of your
terrific newsletter with the attention conservation ratings and your
creation of yourself as a design expert, over about as many years as it
would have taken you to get an advanced degree.   Very nice collective
action and meme-wrangling.

What's the Viridian website again...
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #44 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 26 Aug 04 14:09
    
http://viridiandesign.org

Bruce, do you expect to actually design anything? Is that the next thing, 
after teaching? 

"See that building over there? The green one? The guy who designed it used 
to be a science fiction novelist, of all things..."
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #45 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 27 Aug 04 01:53
    
I don't want to be a "used to be" science fiction novelist.
After a dozen fiction books and thirty years, a hiatus
in my vast production probably isn't gonna kill anybody,
but that enterprise is still my heart's darling.  I'm a
lot better at science fiction  than I'm ever
going to be at industrial design.

In point of fact I did design something recently.
I designed a lamp.  It's supposed to go into
limited production as a Parisian art objet,
sold in galleries at a thousand euros a pop.

http://wiredblogs.tripod.com/sterling/index.blog?from=20040616

"See that lamp, mon frere?  A science fiction writer
made it!"

*Tres bien, that explains it, then..."

It did not escape my attention that the Art Center College
has a terrific fabrication lab. So I may make 
other things, too.  But this is a left-handed enterprise
for me, like photography; design is never going to
be my metier, because I lack a gift for form.
I'm no photographer, either, but when I carry
a camera, it makes me more observant.
My photographs are mediocre, but the practice
keeps me on my toes.

You'll notice that my lamp is an extrapolation
of found elements. It's basically a collage.
Not that collage isn't a noble effort on its own,
but collage frequently means that the artist can't draw.

You know, design does
not so much beckon as envelop.  It's
not like I *asked* for a job like that;
I got offered it, and I couldn't resist.
With any kind of luck, when it's done
I'll be writing better-informed fiction.
The developments that are happening now
in prototyping and "3D-printing" are
important and significant' they're
likely to do for small-scale manufacturing
what word-processing did for prose.
It's time to go stand closer to the fire.

I've got to leave Milan soon.  Not sure
about access on the road here in Italy.
Might be patchy, bear with me.

http://blog.wired.com/sterling/
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #46 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 27 Aug 04 05:52
    
Based on this sustained proximity to the design world, are you having new 
thoughts about Viridian Design?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #47 of 60: Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 27 Aug 04 09:30
    

That's the most Lovecraftian lamp I've ever seen.
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #48 of 60: Ted (nukem777) Fri 27 Aug 04 12:31
    
Marvelous lamp Bruce. Thanks for the reality check brought on by
Zenith Angle. I sort of forgot where the web came from and what is
always going on in the background. Fell into the naive belief that the
web might actually belong to the people. Oops.

What sort of things are smoldering in your creative brain re: another
book?
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #49 of 60: David Gans (tnf) Fri 27 Aug 04 13:22
    

Our next interview has been hauled into the center ring, but that doesn't
mean this one has to stop.

Thanks to all who have participated!
  
inkwell.vue.221 : Bruce Sterling: The Zenith Angle
permalink #50 of 60: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 27 Aug 04 14:29
    
It doesn't have to stop, but if I were you, I'd pay
plenty of attention to those Worldchanging guys.

Back in 1998, I said that if we didn't come up
with a consumer solution to climate change, we'd
face a military solution:  "Khaki Green."  

Since we Americans have a government that
denies climate change, we're a whole lot closer to
a military solution.  And I don't mean an
American military solution.  The American
military is exhausting itself trying to surround
the oil wells with bayonets.

On the other hand, nothing concentrates
a military mind like getting shot at.

http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/607/1/1/

That development means plenty.  Read it twice,
if you have to.


When I get downhearted about the challenges we
face, I remember the Nuclear Arms Race.  That seemed
so all-encompassing, so relentlessly logical, so
unchallengeable.  Mutual Assured Destruction,
cruise missiles in a divided Germany, the useless
dithering blither of cynical disarmament talks...
and now it's all just plain gone.  Not even an issue.
That whole Dr Strangelove enterprise is deader
than Hammurabi.

We're gonna see that happen to OPEC and Exxon-Mobil.
The world's biggest industry -- the most ruthless --
the foulest and the most corrupting. They have
dragged a superpower in their own direction for
their own supposed convenience, but,
well, "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin."

I know this sounds a bit wild-eyed now, but this is
the heat of the moment.  Give it five years.
Give it ten.  They will be dragged dead past
our doors.  Dead, and universally loathed.


Thanks for the kind words about my lamp.
It's a funny thing about creative people and
their hobbies.  You can meet a world-class
violinist who paints on weekends, and if you're
smart, you won't tell him: "Wow!  You sure can
fiddle!"  Look at his dismal paintings and tell him:
"Oooh yeah!  Manet and Monet had nothing on you!"

You'll make a friend forever, even though that
violinist's paintings are no better in any way
than the weekend paintings of a plumber, a lawyer
or a dentist.  He stinks at painting -- but he's
a loving amateur.  Fiddling, that's his career.

Human creativity is probably the weirdest thing
in the world.
  

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