Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 22 Aug 04 10:20
<scribbled by jonl Sun 22 Aug 04 10:21>
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?
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.
Uncle Jax (jax) Sun 22 Aug 04 12:23
... oh, you mean *financial* ... :-)
Angus MacDonald (angus) Sun 22 Aug 04 15:25
[There'll always be a Pasadena...]
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/
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?
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.
Angus MacDonald (angus) Mon 23 Aug 04 13:09
The facial-implosion part or the unchartable warehouse part?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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."]
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.
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...
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..."
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/
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?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 27 Aug 04 09:30
That's the most Lovecraftian lamp I've ever seen.
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?
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!
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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