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Jul 29 2012

From Psychedelic Magazine With A Tech Gloss To Tech Magazine With A Psychedelic Gloss (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #23)

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Another segment from the rough draft of Use Your Hallucinations: Mondo 2000 in the 20th Century Cyberculture.  Note that “the total fucking transmutation of everything” is established as a conceit early in the narrative, thus its use here reflects on a major theme.

…Meanwhile, we made a rash decision.  Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 15,000 in sales was a pretty big deal), we decided to change the name of the magazine itself to Reality Hackers. 

It was my idea.

We’d been hipped to cyberpunk SF and I’d read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Mirrorshades collection.  His famous introduction for that book, describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about. Here are some parts of it:

The term, (cyberpunk) captures something crucial to the work of these writers, something crucial to the decade as a whole: a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech, and the modern pop underground.

This integration has become our decade’s crucial source of cultural energy. The work of the cyberpunks is paralleled throughout the Eighties pop culture: in rock video; in the hacker underground; in the jarring street tech of hip hop and scratch music; in the synthesizer rock of London and Tokyo. This phenomenon, this dynamic, has a global range; cyberpunk is its literary incarnation… 

An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy… 

For the cyberpunks… technology is visceral. It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.

Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry — techniques radically redefining — the nature of humanity, the nature of the self.

The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication 

Cyberpunk favors “crammed” loose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overIoad that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock “wall of sound.”  

Well, then…

Also, Jaron Lanier was hanging around some, sharing his lofty goals for virtual reality; and Eric Gullichsen, who was teaming up to do some writing with Timothy Leary — with whom he shared a mutual fascination with drugs, extreme technology and Aleister Crowley — was already even a bit deeper in the mix, while dreaming his own VR schemes.  Various hackers like Bill Me Later and John Draper (Captain Crunch) were popping up with increasing frequency.  Hanging in hacker circles, we were also befriended by John Morgenthaler, who was getting very serious about the exploration of smart drugs.  Something was starting to surface.  Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these, at times, esoteric groupings included men (yes, men) who were creating the next economy.  Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.

Other factors played into this change.  While a strutting, pop-intellectual, irreverent psychedelic magazine (in other words, High Frontiers) could surely build an audience somewhat larger than 15,000, we probably weren’t all that far from our optimum, unless we wanted to stifle our Gonzo-meets-Camp writerly excesses and dumb ourselves down to something more like a High Times for psychedelic drugs.  Also, acid dealers didn’t advertise.  The number of potential advertisers for a magazine that revolved primarily around psychedelics was limited, particularly in this “just say no” period. Hell, dope friendly humor was even voluntarily eliminated by Saturday Night Live, the once-hip show inspired by a Lorne Michaels mescaline trip.    And then, admittedly, by emphasizing technology, we could, in theory, put a bit of a buffer zone between ourselves and “the man” — throw him off our druggy tracks while sneaking sideways into the center of the oncoming digital establishment, all the better to affect the total fucking transmutation of everything (bwahaha)… or maybe even make a livelihood!

Lastly, it had really been my intention from the start to create a magazine that (to slightly detourne the original subhead of High Frontiers) was balanced between psychedelics, science, technology, outrageousness and postmodern pop culture.  The psychedelic impulse had gloriously taken center stage for the first four years.  Now it was time to push into new territory.

To consolidate my thoughts about the Reality Hackers, I wrote a small manifesto (a list, really) titled:

What Are The Reality Hackers Doing

1: Using high technology for a life beyond limits

2: Expanding the effectiveness and enjoyment of the human brain, mind, nervous system and senses

3: Blurring the distinction between science fiction and reality

4: Making big bureaucracy impossible

5: Entertaining any notion — using what works

6: Infusing new energy into postmodern culture

7: Using hardcore anthropology to understand human evolution

8: Using media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)

9: Blurring the distinctions between high technology and magic

10: Replacing nerd mythology with sexy, healthy, aesthetic, & artful techno-magicians of both genders.

With this, I was also aligning the magazine ideologically with a transhumanist agenda.  I’d attended meetings of a nanotechnology interest group hosted by Christine Peterson and, sometimes, Eric Drexler.  I started to see the actual dim outlines of a plausible “total fucking transmutation of everything;” with molecular technology giving us total productive control over matter for unlimited wealth; biotechnology giving us the potential for positive mutations in the human organism; and neurotechnology theoretically allowing us to maximize our intelligence — not too mention cleaner, better highs with no downside.

Of course, we were maybe throwing away four years building a brand but, if we were anything, we were impulsive.

Ken Jopp: Reality Hackers was, to me, inelegantly titled. Still, the cyberpunk thing was revving up.  The weekly tabloid in my town ran a cover story on hackers: teenagers who lugged computers into phone booths, and then, when nobody was looking, they made long-distance calls for free! This was subversive stuff. Off the Establishment! I bought the issue of Reality Hackers and adopted it and its kin as a cultural security blanket.  These proto-Mondo publications, arriving during the Dark Ages of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (666), were a source of what later would become hollowed out to form a tinhorn. I mean, Hope and Change?

Lord Nose: I think it kept getting more and more mainstream in hopes of getting on to the newsstand and getting advertisers. It was being slowly made more palatable — or seemingly palatable — for the corporate interests that had no taste. I mean, it was so different. High Frontiers had a very different thrust.

Jeff Mark: Those of us serious about psychedelic exploration continued. Indeed, there was considerable activity, particularly around Tim Leary and Terence McKenna, but the momentum was spent. People started worrying about making a living.  High Frontiers/Reality Hackers had to get their shit together. 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)

NeoPsychedelia & High Frontiers: Memes Leading To MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #21)

“I’d Never Met A Libertarian Before” (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #22)

 

Jun 17 2012

The John Henry Fallacy

If you are familiar with American Folklore, you probably recall the story of John Henry. He was a steel driver in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. If you don’t know what that means, it basically means he drove steel wedges into rocks to cut through them for railroads. John Henry was supposedly the best of them, and is famous for the tale of his competition against an early steam rock-cutter. He won against this prototype, barely, and it cost him his life. This story is often used as an allegory of the “Man vs Machine” meme, in which we are presented a choice – either Man or Machine – without any other options presented. In these arguments, the author is generally proposing to eliminate the machine in favor of the man, and advocate the abandonment or imposition of limits on technology.

Indeed, even one of the few books which I would consider positive on the subject of technological advancement, Martin Ford’s The Lights In the Tunnel frequently falls into this dualistic view, that man is in competition with machine, and that this competition inevitably will be won by the machine. In a recent blog post he links to numerous articles showing the ongoing replacement of humans in the workplace by machines. In the next most recent blog he shows examples of how many businesses are reaching a point where it is impossible for them to keep human workers and remain competitive. If we accept that the John Henry options, man or machine, are the only two that exist, then it looks very much like man is losing, and losing badly.

Yet I titled this article as I did precisely because this “choice” is a complete falsehood based on an underlying assumption: that the economy will always be one of scarcity. In an economy of scarcity, the assumption that individual humans need to compete against each other for scarce natural resources, and that this requires them to have “jobs” in order to acquire the means to survive, makes such a “choice” seem inevitable. If “machines” win, “humanity” loses.  Everywhere you turn, machines are taking away human jobs, replacing humans in the workforce in ever greater numbers, and invading jobs which once only humans could perform, from doing basic science research, to preparing legal paperwork, to financial trading, and even medical diagnostics. It’s a bleak prospect for the overwhelming majority of humanity about to rendered “obsolete” to the scarcity economy. Looked at from this perspective, it’s a possible future that makes William Gibson’s “cyberpunk future” look positively rosy. For a rather dark and disturbing look at the possibilities, Marshall Brain’s “Manna” is a highly recommended start.

There’s just one huge, gigantic, impossible to overlook flaw in this logic. “The Market” exists only so long as “consumers” exist to “purchase” good and services. Without people to supply a demand, it doesn’t matter how much supply exists.  A completely automated system of production will destroy the economy of scarcity by creating a mode in which supply becomes effectively infinite, and demand becomes so easily met that it can no longer be “sold” and thus becomes essentially “free”. For all the logical errors I could point out in the first part of Manna, Brain’s view of the possibilities full automation could bring about are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

Because the dichotomy presented by the John Henry choice is not merely false, it blinds us to the reality that we want the machines to win. As I pointed out in Adding our way to Abundance the 3d printing revolution is going to force the costs of manufacturing to plunge to below rock bottom. With the addition of robotic “resource gatherers” that can mine, refine, and process natural resources, and robotic drone delivery systems, the need for a human element in the supply chain vanishes, leaving only the demand side left. With supplies able to meet demand at effectively zero cost, the only remaining “jobs” left to humanity will be in creating “new” demand. Because until we create true AI, all of those machines will ultimately have only one single purpose. To give Humanity what it wants, because only humanity can have “desires” for those machines to meet.

So like John Henry, fighting the machines is the worst possible choice. If we “win”, we will only lose.

Jun 12 2012

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

 

The origins of the term “New Edge” may be under contestation.  I recall John Perry Barlow claiming the coinage and I’m sure Mondo Publisher Queen Mu has claimed it as well.   I think maybe Morgan Russell has also claimed it.  I have a fairly strong impression that its first usage was in Mondo 2000 promotional rhetoric, which would give the advantage to Mu.  In an interview for the Mondo book, Joichi Ito indicated that the Japanese professor and media philosopher Mitsuhiro Takemura and he coined the term for a Japanese magazine. But when I mentioned the other people who claimed to have coined it, Joi thought maybe they were just the first to spread it in Japan.

I secretly think I came up with it (yes, irony noted). Not that it matters much.  Changing Age to Edge is not exactly an accomplishment on par with feeding the poor and hungry or writing Crime and Punishment or “The Special Theory of Relativity.”

But what are — or were — the implications of the “New Edge.”   Was it the “new age” plus techno?  Was it the avant garde of the ‘90s?  Was it some Mondo hype that we only intended to feed to potential advertisers before deciding — what the hell — it’d be a good title for the book.  Or was it, as noted by Wikipedia, “a styling theme used by Ford Motor Company for many of its passenger vehicles in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

The audio file below contains a brief talk I gave in 1990 at a Whole Life Expo titled “The New Edge” and gives my take on it at that time.  I opened with an audio collage that was organized by Don Joyce of Negativland, although I don’t remember exactly how that happened.   Those of you who saw the film Cyberpunk will recognize that much of it is appropriated from that blockbuster.  It’s included in the file and is pretty cool and fun.

 

Listen to the audio now:

 
Jun 05 2012

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

Dammit! I’m over here presenting some MONDO 2000 material — some of which has some real content that may be worth chewing over… and meanwhile the net goes gaga for someone publishing the off-the-cuff “R.U. A Cyberpunk” parody from a 1993 edition.

Oh well. Glib amusement and fast attention rules, and I haven’t exactly been striving for deep cultural criticism in these posts… nor am I going to in this one… so I may as well go with it.

When we called the first edition of MONDO 2000 the cyberpunk issue, I don’t think we really had a persona in mind (although Larry Welz did present Cherry Poptart‘s friend Elle Dee as a cyberpunk in that issue).  Rather, I think we saw it as a sort of memeplex that would be pretty well expressed not only by interviewing 4 SF writers who were identified with the C-Punk genre (and I don’t think they actually called themselves cyberpunks… maybe some of them were happy to call themselves cyberpunk writers… John Shirley, maybe?); by interviewing the guys behind Max Headroom, by hipping people to Processed World and the latest from the Subgenius; by having mysterious articles on wicked computer hacks by “Lady Ada Lovelace” and “Michael Synergy.”

But did we really know anybody who would stand up in leather pants and shout, “I am a cyberpunk?” I think maybe Synergy was the only one in our circle who embraced the identity. Outside of Synergy, I don’t remember any of the outlaw type hackers we had the occasion to interview or hang out with adopting the ID.

Later, Chris Hudak, the cool looking dude in the “R.U. A Cyberpunk” thing seemed to embrace it. And a little later, St. Jude, myself and Bart Nagel were hired to create Cyberpunk Handbook, which was a humor book about how other people could get a clue and become cyberpunks. Eric Hughes, sharing the cover with Tiffany Lee Brown, identified as a cypherpunkbut that was a semi-organized group with a definite goal to overthrow everything with encryption technology.

I don’t know. I throw it open. Are you now or have you ever been a cyberpunk?

Here are a few brief and rather random quotes from some of the people interviewed for the upcoming Mondo book saying stuff about cyberpunk.

Mark Heley (started Toon Town, a successful group of “cyber” oriented rave promoters in the early ’90s)

It was the beginning of the period we are still in, pretty much. Nobody really knew what the web was back then or what enormous potential it held, people in the Mondo scene knew and were going at it full force. Emergent technology is still a huge area of cultural change. The cyberpunk people made it a movement and an identity, the scene grew to be a substantial part of a long history of bohemian culture that runs against the grain. This time it was armed with the internet, smart drugs, ubiquitous technology and the ubiquitous interface we still love and live in daily. It both began and predicted the times we live in.

 

Rudy Rucker (SF writer, Math writer/teacher, software developer, coauthor of MONDO 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge)

I couldn’t believe it. February 8, 1993, the book (“New Edge”) was featured in Time magazine! And it was the cover story. And Bart did the cover photo and there was a full page picture of Queen Mu and R.U. The cover said “Cyberpunk.” I thought: YEAH!

The Mondo thing wasn’t as hard. It was softer. Because they weren’t actually learning. Though most of the cyberpunks weren’t either, but I had a feeling like I was learning how to be a C programmer… an assembly language. I was getting into it in a hard machine-edged kind of way. And Mondo was more of a hippie thing. I’d say cyberpunk was a little more punk. In Mondo, there was this flowers and psychedelic thing… taking vitamins to get smarter. It didn’t have exactly the same feel as cyberpunk.

Stephan Ronan (Beat Historian, Mondo writer)

…that was my first visit to the Mondo house in the hills of Northside and in my account I describe it as a “technogothic citadel.”

Don Joyce (of Negativland) and I had done an Over the Edge program a few years earlier entitled “Cyberpunk” with novelist Richard Kadrey and science fiction poet Andrew Joron (and John Shirley on tape). By this point I was being to tire of the term. I had red in FACE magazine a writer predicted “technogothic” would replace it… so I went for it. Around then a letter was published… It said the letter-writer had been to Mondo house and it was hardly the “technogothic citadel” he had been led to expect. Ha! See how myth-making works?

 

Walter Isaacson (Author, former editor of Time)

I saw Wired, when it came out, not as a competitor but as a complement to MONDO 2000. I think some of the cyberpunk spirit has been lost by the commercialization of the web and the desire to get ad revenue.

 

There are also some William Gibson comments on the topic here.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

May 20 2012

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

 

“Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. ‘Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.’ ‘That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.’”

We were honored that William Gibson agreed to talk to us for the upcoming MONDO 2000 History Project book about MONDO… and about the ‘90s cyberculture in general and how it looks today.  The interview was conducted by Simone Lackerbauer (with my kibitzing).  These are a few fragments.

Gibson was incorporated into the first “cyberpunk” edition of the magazine via a somewhat devious route, as discussed here.

 

ABOUT CYBERPUNK, MONDO & UNDERGROUND MAGAZINES

Underground magazines had been very important to me. I started with Mad and Cracked, which may not have been formally underground, but were, initially and in terms of context, decidedly off-center, and I remember buying the issue of The Realist with the pornographic faux-Disney centerfold. MONDO 2000 was clearly an underground magazine, and as such I was definitely glad it was there.

I had never thought that the “cyberpunk” label was particularly a good thing, but it obviously wasn’t going away too quickly, so I’d generally shrug and go along with it. I doubted the immortality hackers were going to live forever, the idea of smart drugs didn’t do anything for me, but the attitude was fun. Just the fact that the thing existed, and popped up on fairly normal magazine stands, was cheering.

I’d say it was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. Could that even happen, today?

Posterity, looking at this, should also consider MONDO 2000 as a focus of something that was happening, rather than  exclusively as a broadcast-point. It was a brave magazine, but it was also a magazine of its day. Stuff was happening all over, with no Internet to pass it instantly around.

 

MONDO & TIME

I wasn’t surprised by the rise of Mondo. Something was clearly afoot, memewise. I wondered about the thing’s durability. Winding up on the cover of Time – what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time? Of course, that was when Time was still Time, sort of, but I also wondered, after that, how seriously one should take Time? It wasn’t as though I ever read it, ordinarily.

 

MONDO & WIRED

Wired never felt like Mondo, to me. It never felt like an underground magazine, but neither did it occur to me that it was MONDO 2000 tuned down for straight people. I’d assume the difference had more to do with the business model. They definitely had one.

 

90S CYBERCULTURE

I think that whole scene in the 90s  was in some ways the cultural equivalent of all the glorious hype of the Space Age. The iconic babe in the VR goggles and gloves! Iconics, heroics… The difference would be that the end result was somehow akin to the invention of habitable space!

 

TIMOTHY LEARY

We’d bump into one another on the VR rubber chicken circuit. Barcelona, Linz, Venice…  He was really great to have at your table. Kept the evening in flux. And people would come up to him and give him drugs, which he’d give to someone else, usually a perfect stranger, as soon as the gifter was gone. He said that this was a win-win proposition, as the first person could now say that he’d given drugs to Timothy Leary, and the second person that Timothy Leary had given him drugs. I never saw him look to see what was in the envelope.

 

THE VR & SMART DRUGS HYPE

Evidently we didn’t need either one, at least not as we (sub)culturally imagined them then. We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of  real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Smart drugs were something I read about. After my time. Had I ever encountered anyone who struck me as 20 IQ points up from where they ordinarily were, I’d have paid it very close attention. (It’s difficult to imagine what that would even look like.) But if it was just a sort of temporary cognitive fine tuning, I didn’t find it that intriguing.

 

ON WRITING THE NEW “CYBER” SF

Whatever I did emerged from the need to find a way to write SF that I could stand to write, that I could live with. That led me to replace outer space with cyberspace, and everything I’ve done since has grown out of that. But I had the advantage of almost accidentally having latched on to the most powerfully emergent technology of my day as a subject.

 

REGARDING THE ’90S UTOPIANISM

I never though that cyborgs and virtual worlds were particularly utopian, so I’ve never been disappointed. The world is always more interesting than some futurist’s vision. If you think it’s not, you’re not really looking.

 

THE SINGULARITY

The Singularity has always sounded to me like a secular version of the Rapture. It seems to fit very neatly into that same God-shaped hole. We’re been there before. I like us better when we aren’t.

 

NOT A FUTURIST

I don’t have thoughts about the future. I probably have fewer than the average person. I’m not a fortune-teller. I construct very large, highly inaccurate models in my head, built from memory and random junk, and run them. Sometimes they seem to have predicted things, in some very vague way, that happen later, but I don’t think of that as prediction. It’s closer to augury, and I can’t do it without, so to speak, pulling the entrails from a real bird. Otherwise, the last thing I am is someone who walks around knowing what the future’s going to be.

 

CYBERPUNK TODAY

Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. “Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.” “That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.” We know what that means. If someone says “her attitude is very cyberpunk”, I don’t think we’re as certain of what’s meant. I’m not sure what this means, but I do think it indicates something. In a cyberworld, there’s no need for the suffix, and ours is a cyberworld. In a cyberworld, cyberpunk is punk. But it’s not punk if you call it “cyberpunk”.

 

WHO WE ARE

Who we are is largely who we meet. Cities are machines that randomize contact. The Internet is a meta-city, meta-randomizing contact. I now “know” more people than I would ever have imagined possible, because of that. It changes who I am and what I can do.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

Apr 29 2012

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

The book project, How To Mutate & Take Over the World, which we were to complete for Ballantine Books in six months was complicated enough — considering that we, at first, took the title seriously — and we were way too young, in terms of technology, to compose a handbook for a victorious fusion of transhuman enhancement with Anonymous revolution.  As St. Jude and I fluxed and floundered and she pinned the entire hope of a hacker revolution on cryptography (see cypherpunk), another branch of our own book company interrupted our flow.

We were contacted by Random House, the very parent company of Ballantine with an offer.  It seemed that Random House had contracted with Penn Jillette and Teller to write a short humor book titled The Cyberpunk Handbook.  They were pretty into this stuff, but they got too busy and dropped the project.  Somehow I was the second choice.  And since  I wasn’t going to be able to just  fill even a short humor book up entirely with bullshit (Penn and Teller will appreciate this), I again invited hacker genius St. Jude to be my partner in this minor crime against decency (both countercultural and mainstream, as you’re surely able to think through for yourselves).

Anyway, after at first trying to force me to get my agent to talk to their own imprint for approval (which would have cost us 15% of the entire $25k on offer), they caved and someone walked down the hallway in Rockefeller Center to make the arrangements.  We would have an extra two months to finish Mutate.  Meanwhile, we would rush to get them The Cyberpunk Handbook. 

I had a doomed feeling about the whole thing. Billy Idol had made his cyberpunk album and a billboard ad had appeared in the BART stations admonishing us all to “Join the Cyberpunks at AT&T.”  Virtually everyone within the culture was saying that the word Cyberpunk was no longer hip.  I was gonna get caught in the backwash… for half of 25k.  

Or less than that.  We got Mondo 2000 Art Director Bart Nagel on board for design, so now the book take would be split in thirds.  I visited Jude and hatched my simple minded scheme.  “Let’s get the advance and then insist on changing the title.”  Jude harrumphed vaguely.  And while I hunkered down still working on Mutate while awaiting the advance, Jude sat down and wrote many thousands of words of hilarious material that embraced the entire cyberpunk handbook concept.  Not only was I defeated, I was happily defeated.  She wrote so much great stuff that I hardly had to write anything!   Bart did a sweet design, the book was turned in, and we went back to making a hash of Mutate.

It took forever for Random House to finally print the book, putting it out barely before the release of Mutate, so that we would practically be competing with ourselves. And then they set up a short three city book tour…

In one appearance, in Northern Virginia just outside of DC, a paparazzi dude showed up, thinking we were celebrities!  “Dude, you took a wrong turn,” said I, while Jude cornered the fellow raving excitedly about the similarities between hacking and taking unapproved photos of famous people. I finally shooed him away, assuring him that nothing more interesting than a book reading to a handful of people was likely to happen.  Actually, something interesting might have happened.  This local couple — long time Mondo fans to be sure — had brought along their young daughter… if I remember correctly she was 14 and, well… I have to be honest, unfairly beautiful.  After we read and spoke and took questions, the three of them approached us.  The daughter, it transpired, identified with cyberpunk and she was going to throw a pie at me for selling out cyberpunk and turning it into a joke for Random House.  But she decided not to. “Damn!  Why not?!”  I asked.  After all, it would have made great theater and this would be about as close as I would ever come (hopefully) to fulfilling the Valerie Solanas part of my Andy Warhol fantasy.

So we had her go out to the car, get the pie and scrunch it in my face.  Bart took photos and I hope I might excavate them in time for the finished Mondo 2000 History Project.

Listen Up

Anyway, the inclusion of these fragments of my own memoir part of the M2K History Project here is all by way of introducing these enjoyable audio segments sent to me by Patrick Di Justo about meeting Jude, Bart and myself while we were in New York City for the tour.  The fact that Patrick thinks it was a long tour and that we were sick of each other is a perfect example of the contradictory memory aspect of the history project… and/or it only took us a few days to get sick of each other.

Anyway, listen up as Patrick Di Justo — who would go on to be a major contributor to Wired and Popular Science and a technology commentator for CNN — talks about his exciting times with us weirdos… and also Bart (nyuk nyuk nyuk).

1PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 1 of 6

2PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 2 of 6

3PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 3 of 6

4PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 4 of 6

5PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 5 of 6

6PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 6 of 6

 

Feb 14 2012

Cyberpunk SF/Mathematics Legend Rudy Rucker’s “Nested Scrolls”: An Interview

Both the funniest and the most scientific of cyberpunk SF’s fab four, Rudy Rucker’s autobiography Nested Scrolls is a laid back groove, in the best sense. It’s funny, real, a bit off center… yet friendly and so thoroughly engaging that I was sorry that it ended.  Maybe Rudy could live another life so that he could take us along, once again.

Aside from being a legendary SF writer and twice-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback SF book of the year, Rucker has authored several seminal books in Mathematics and taught at the SJSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.  If that’s not enough, he’s also worked on several software packages.  Rucker books include Software, The Sex Sphere, Master of Space and Time, Postsingular, The Fourth Dimension and The Lifebox, The Seashell, and the Soul. 

He lives with his wonderful wife, Sylvia and has a bunch of really cool kids doing interesting things out in the world at large.  I interviewed him via email and — in a tradition we began at Mondo 2000  — he had to send me his answers twice before I acknowledged receiving them.

R.U. SIRIUS:  So I just read your autobiography, Nested Scrolls.  This is a pretty laid-back life in the grand scheme of things — no big drama — and yet you manage to make it very entertaining. Do you feel lucky (punk)?

RUDY RUCKER: My life has turned out better than I expected.  As a youth I didn’t know if  I’d be able to publish books; to raise a family; to find a good job, or even to live past forty.  I don’t know if luck is the right word, though.  It’s more a matter of me being a certain kind of person and of fate working out the consequences.

Becoming a writer isn’t like buying an instant-win lottery ticket.  You have to obsess over your writing for years.  But, at a meta level, I guess you could say it’s a matter of luck to have the kind of personality that makes you work that hard.  If you can call that luck!

In her journals, Susan Sontag says that, to be a writer, you need to be a nut and a moron — a nut to have the wit and the endurance, and a moron to persist.

The craft of writing is soothing to me.  When I don’t write for awhile, I’ll start wondering if I actually know how — maybe I’ve been kidding myself and lying to my friends?  But then when I get back into the work, I find that I have a well-honed capability, and it feels good to use it.  It’s almost like making something with my hands.

RU:  How is your life similar to cellular automata?

RR: As I mention in Nested Scrolls, seeing cellular automata in 1986 was a trigger that sent me into a metamorphosis — like a full moon that changes a man into a werewolf or a werepig.  I moved to California and became a computer hacker.

I need to explain that cellular automata are a type of self-generating computer graphics video.  You think of the pixels on your screen as cells.  With each tick of the system clock, the cells look at their nearest neighbors and use their tiny programs to decide what to do next.  Incredibly rich patterns arise: tapestries, spacetime diagrams, bubble chamber photos, mandalas—and they flow and warp like the shapes inside a lava lamp, never stopping, perennially surprising.

But you’re asking me how my life is similar to a cellular automata.  Well, I suppose I could say that my life, and my mental processes, divide up into specialized cell-like zones.  And information flows from zone to zone.  I evolve in gnarly and unpredictable ways.

Why unpredictable?  One of the biggest teachings that I’ve taken from my work with computers is that even a system with a simple rule produces unforeseeable outputs if you let it run for a little while.  This is particularly true for systems that operate in parallel and which repeatedly munch on the same material.  Which is exactly what the human mind does.

It’s folly to imagine that you can know exactly what you’ll be doing a year from now.

RU:  What’s Embry up to? Did he like Nested Scrolls?

RR:  You’re talking about my big brother Embry, who I mention numerous times in my autobio.  He’s five years older than me, and we weren’t all that close when we were little, although we did see a lot of each other, living in the same house.  In later years we became good friends.  The most memorable thing that Embry and I ever did together was to take a month-long scuba diving trip to the remote islands of Micronesia.  It was a landmark event, a once in a lifetime thing.

Embry’s back to living in Louisville, the town where we were born.  It’s interesting for me to go revisit the city from time to time. He read Nested Scrolls, and he didn’t exactly say that he liked it, but he’s not nit-picking me or arguing about details, which is a relief.  I’m sure that I remember some things differently than Embry does, and that I choose to emphasize different events than the ones he would prefer.  But I do think I depict him fondly.  And it seems like we’re still friends.  So I guess I got away with it.

Writing an autobio is kind of risky in terms of how your friends and family members are going to take it.  It’s wise to think ahead and to be a gentle when you’re writing, wise to have some empathy.

RU:  So did you take some stuff out, thinking better of it?  Conversely, as a fiction writer, did you make up part of your life?

RR: Sure, Nested Scrolls is a somewhat cleaned-up version of my life story.  This time I wanted to focus more on my intellectual development and on my relations to the people around me.  I did however write an earlier memoir that’s a more in the “my wild times” mode that you’re looking for.  This earlier book is All the Visions  — I wrote it in 1983, when I was thirty-seven.  It’s a memory dump of tales about wild things I did to seek enlightenment as a younger man, usually in the context of drinking or getting high.  I typed it on a single ninety-foot-long piece of paper, fully emulating Jack Kerouac’s legendary composition methods.  All the Visions appeared from a small press and is out of print now, but I plan to republish it as an ebook fairly soon.

Regarding your second question, I wouldn’t want to say that Nested Scrolls is a tissue of lies.  But I’m a storyteller, and I’ve told many of my anecdotes before.  As you tell and re-tell a story, you polish it, work on it, make it funnier, more succinct, more to the point.  You edit your memories like you’re editing a novel.

Revising my memories felt good.  That’s one of the pleasures of writing an autobiography.  You tweak your life so that things fit — and then the whole thing begins to make sense.

RU:  You wrote about becoming part of a literary scene, cyberpunk, and about how this felt like being a Beat writer.  But as we discussed recently in a conversation, you cyberpunks aren’t really close in the way that Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs and Corso were, and you’re probably less extreme in how you’ve lived.  Do you agree?

RR:  Let’s start with some similarities between the Beats and the cyberpunks as groups.  We got publicity in the wider press; we were reviled by an establishment; stuffy critics continue to minimize our abilities; we advocated revolutionary views of our society; and our writings ushered in widespread cultural changes.  The end of the Eisenhower years in the case of the Beats; the coming of the Web in the case of the cyberpunks.

At one point I got interested in pushing the cyberpunk/Beat analogy as hard I could, and I wrote an essay suggesting these correspondences: William Gibson ~ Jack Kerouac, Bruce Sterling ~ Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Rucker ~ William Burroughs, John Shirley ~ Gregory Corso.  Gibson writes like an angel and has best-seller status.  Sterling is deeply interested in politics and in changing the world.  Rucker, the oldest, has a scientific streak and an antic sense of humor.  Shirley speaks and writes without the interference of socially-prescribed mental filters.  All of us have an implacable and unrelenting desire to shatter the limits of consensus reality.

Despite what I said to you in conversation, I do feel fairly close to Sterling, Gibson, and Shirley.  I’ve collaborated on seven short stories with Sterling, two stories with Shirley, and Gibson helped me develop the first chapter of my quintessential cyberpunk novel Wetware.

I see Shirley a couple of times a year, Sterling about once a year, and Gibson every three or four years.   So we are pretty close, but of course it’s hard to match the legends of Jack and Neal’s visit to Bill Burroughs’s farm, or Jack’s stays with Bill in Tangier and in Mexico City, or Bill’s unrequited crush on Allen, and so on.

And it’s also true that my life hasn’t been as romantic as the lives of the Beats.  Being a heroin addict, hitching back and forth across the country, having hundreds of gay lovers, living in destitution—all these adventures were denied to me. In some ways I wish my life had been that exciting.  But then I might not have written anything.

It’s possible that to someone on the outside, maybe my life does seem exciting.  After all, I got to work with R. U. Sirius and Queen Mu at Mondo 2000!  And one night at the Berzerkistan Mondo house in the 1990s, some people associated with your scene got me so high that I thought I’d been snatched by a time machine and transported to a holographic virtual room in the 2010s to be interviewed by some weird… oh wait, that’s actually happening right now, isn’t it?

Rudy w. Mondoids

 

RU:  I’ve always felt the voice of Philip Dick in your work, more than maybe I’ve ever said before.  There’s a certain whimsy in the way you present your characters reacting to strange situations in ways that are more offbeat than panicky.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, say a bit about Dick’s influence.

RR: Yes, I’ve definitely been influenced by Dick’s voice, his language-with-a-flat-tire quality.  I still think A Scanner Darkly is one of the funniest and saddest books I’ve ever read.  Dark oboes playing behind the stoner grins.  I like Phil’s California vibe, and, living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last twenty-five years, I’ve gotten more and more imbued with his tone.

A few years ago I showed one of my SF novels in manuscript to a younger friend who’s a hot quantum physicist.  I wanted him to check the quality of my pseudoscience, the plausibility of my con.  But he went off on a tangent and started complaining that my characters weren’t surprised enough when weird things happened.  Like a giant cone shell snail would fly in and eat someone, and my characters would be like, “I’m glad the cone shell ate that shithead instead of us,” and then they’d go on with whatever insane task they were busy with.

I told that my friend that it would be boring to have my characters continually going, “I can’t believe this is happening!  Am I dead, drunk or dreaming?  How can this be real?  Blah, blah, blah.”  To me, being inside an SF novel is like being inside a surrealist painting, and you don’t want to waste time pretending to be shocked by the changes coming down.  You want to savor the weirdness and, where possible, keep kicking it up to higher levels.

You want a hero who’s a snickering nihilist, not a defender of the status quo.  At least to start with.  And then of course you put in some routine about coming to terms with your inner demons, finding your sense of empathy, and growing up at last.  You need that part for the book to be a novel.

One of the interesting things about Phil Dick is that you can never really tell when he’s putting you on.  And he doesn’t know either.  He’s working in that gap, where you just say anything—to see how it feels.  Does that make sense?

RU:  Do you have a lifebox?

RR: Okay, you’re talking about my notion that it’s possible to make a software model of yourself — a notion which goes back to my first published novel, Software of 1982.  And then people can have the illusion of talking with you, even after you’re dead.  I see lifeboxes as becoming a very big consumer technology.  A simple design is to have a lot of your personal online as a data base, and to have an interactive search tool for accessing this data base.

My autobiography is a lifebox in an older sense.  Moving beyond that, I’ve set up a primitive but functional lifebox of myself at the Rudy’s Lifebox website.  In principle my lifebox could be answering the questions in this interview, although the interviewer would need to be doing some edit work on the “answers.”

Many people are already producing a lot of online data on blogs and social networks.  If you follow someone’s posts closely enough you can indeed get a feeling of knowing them.  And as searching across blogs and social networks becomes simpler and more fluid, we’ll effectively be getting lifebox representations of many web users.

What’s the appeal of lifeboxes?  They make a weak form of immortality accessible to a wide range of people.  For most of us writing a book is quite hard. A key difficulty is that you somehow have to flatten the great branching fractal of your thoughts into a long line of words. Writing means converting a hypertext structure into a sequential row  it can be hard even to know where to begin.

If you have an effective search tool as the front end, it’s okay if your “memoir” is a disorderly heap of random personal factoids.  With the search working, the database becomes an interactive whole.  That’s really what a living personality is, come to think of it.  A mass of brain data with a so-called mind .

Dec 23 2011

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Here’s a little treat for the Christmas season.

In the process of organizing the MONDO 2000 History Project, I’m gathering up some rich media to post on the website version when it’s all complete.  What you have here is a fragment of a conversation between Timothy Leary and William Gibson.  Warning: You may need to listen to this through headphones to catch it all.

Download the audio file.

Backstory

We were working on our first Mondo 2000 issue. It was going to be the cyberpunk theme issue and we’d gotten interviews with the major cyberpunk SF writers, except Gibson. Gibson’s management wouldn’t put us in touch with him.  And then we heard that he was coming to the Bay Area and we turned up the heat, but his press agent had him set up for interviews with major outlets only and we were nobody and it was just a brick wall.  So somehow, Mu wound up on the phone with Leary complaining about this and Leary offered to let us transcribe a tape of him and Gibson in conversation about ideas for the game spinoff that would accompany the release of the film of Neuromancer — all of this being planned then — back in 1989.  Leary was going to lead the development of the game… at least conceptually. (Well, it was all conceptual, ultimately.)

So, the next day, we all showed up at a Gibson appearance in Berkeley radiating some kind of weird intense energy and Gibson was drinking warm beers and glancing nervously over at us while he signed books. We probably looked to him like some weird cult preparing a kidnapping. And after the line of autograph seekers cleared out, Mu strolled up with this insane bezoomny rictus grin that she has and told him that we were running this interview that Leary had done with him.  And he literally held the side of the desk like waves were making him seasick and shouted, “That was no interview!  That was a drunken business meeting!”

The article ran and Gibson eventually became friendly.  This edit from the tape features Leary and Gibson talking about the characteristics of Case (from Neuromancer) and then they go on to talk about William Burroughs.  I recommend listening through headphones.  Gibson’s voice is rather quiet.  There is also at least one other male voice that you’ll hear and that would be someone from Cabana Boy, the Production Company that had the rights to Neuromancer at the time.  If you hear a female voice, that would be Barbara Leary, who was Timothy’s wife at that time.

I recently interviewed Gibson for the MONDO project and he had this to say about his vague recollection: “I dimly remember being annoyed that that was going to be published. Mainly because I hadn’t been asked, I imagine.”

Edit: Now with cleaned up audio!
Download the audio file.

learyGibsonMP3_cleaned "learyGibsonMP3_cleaned"

 

Nov 23 2011

Of Leather Wasps and the Inevitable Sex Component: Cyberpunk Heroines in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Other Fiction

“Damaged, cyberpunk heroine”, “bisexual cyberpunk avenger”, “horny, cyberpunk hacker”… these are your Google results for Lisbeth + Salander + Cyberpunk, as featured in film reviews courtesy of Movieline, Telegraph, and the increasingly horny and irrelevant Rolling Stone (not a fan of the latter, sue me.)

But I am a fan of la protagonista cyberpunk, that bad ass mutha hacktivist/erotic dynamo, who wields her personal traumas as revolutionary fuel rather than continue breast-feeding a chauvinistic society by posing her pierceless, inkless, and character-bereft/Barbie body type (typically while naked but for elongated reptiles or butchered mammalian follicles) so that the dominant gender of the world might beat off before buying whatever alcoholic beverage the Kardashians are pimping and illegally squander finances that don’t belong to them.

Curiously, only a handful of non-film review, Googleable commentary make the connection that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander is cyberpunk.  So what is a cyberpunk exactly?  Those of you who frequent Acceler8or or have partied with RU would know this already, but another search of ye ol’ engines will find you transhumanism virgins the following definitions:

*  “…hackers, rockers, and other cultural rebels, clinging to a cult of individualism in a culture characterized by corporate control and mass conformity. [Those] adept at appropriating the materials of popular culture and making them speak to alternative needs and interests… [who] also know how to tap into the vast digital database to access information about corporations and their secret conspiracies, or to spread resistant messages despite powerful mechanisms of top-down control.”  

* “…marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life [is]  impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body.”  

*  “[individuals that are] manipulated, placed in situations where they have little or no choice… anti-heroes who call to mind the private eye of detective novels. This emphasis on the misfits and the malcontents is the “punk” component of cyberpunk.”

“[those who embrace and express the] “dark” ideas about human nature, technology and their respective combination in the near future.”  (This particular site goes on to clarify that: “Clearly, Cyberpunk is not an exact concept. Its meanings vary.”)

So from this we might conclude, a cyberpunk is something of a morphable, hacktivist samurai, enhanced by metal for cosmetic effect and/or simply to exist as more efficacious meat in a world controlled by abusive, self-interested CEO’s.  Not entirely dissimilar to the world we already inhabit.  How lurid indeed.

Fortunately, cyberpunks embrace the lurid —  Lisbeth Salander, in particular, with her dark clothing, dark past, and dark hair (though she’s a natural ginger). Her creator, Stieg Larsson, describes Lisbeth as a 24 year old woman with the stunted body of a primal adolescent, who nonetheless moves with the focused speed of a tarantula and who can successfully integrate amongst neurotypicals when necessary.  I could remark on his further description of her as “Asian-looking” as being redundant to having said she resembles a perpetual teenager, but that might make me sound like the racist I sometimes am.

Is it cyberpunk to be racist?  It certainly isn’t progressive.  But neither, necessarily, are the topical projections for a cyberpunk heroine.  An image search for “cyberpunk” will get ‘cha this.  Note, if you will, how many topless, pantsless, or pigtailed schoolgirls you see here.  Of course, Hollywood reckons the concept of cyberpunk be safe enough for middle America (i.e., Trinity from the mutedly palatable Matrix and whoever-the-hell Olivia Wilde played in Disney’s Tron).  Yes, per the little boys running film studios and the other ones coding visuals of steel-enhanced flesh, you’d think all a cyberpunkess offers is an asymmetrical haircut, hard-on promotion, and novel alleys for fashion marketing.

But Lisbeth Salander (in the book, at least) doesn’t stop there- she demands societal accountability.  That’s why Larsson wrote the Millennium series (under the original title: “Men Who Hate Women”), to avenge the rape of a 15 year old girl witnessed in his youth.  Similarly, our protagonist Lisbeth Salander suffered abuse first by her father, then a host of other paternal figures.  Does she really need to be sexualized to the extent aspiring graphic novelists and Hollywood illustrators would have her be?  Will that reclaim the power taken from her by those who only (mis)valued her sexuality to begin with?

Now, the future should definitely be sexy; but it would have to be so through greater individual morphological tolerance, not just fancies of lady robots touching each other, or a uniform of long black trenches with slits up to Lady Gaga’s much-debated vagina.  Which brings me to the unavoidable comparisons between Lisbeth Salander and formative cyberpunk heroine: Molly Millions.

Both Stieg Larsson’s and William Gibson’s progeny work in security, prefer their coffee black, and enjoy sex at their initiation.  Both also have a sense of humor about their often-leather clothing:  Millions sporting cherry red cowboy boots with Mexican silver tips; Salander opting for t-shirts featuring ET and slogans like “Armageddon was yesterday – today we have a serious problem.”  And while Lisbeth isn’t modified for sealed eye sockets with computerized tickers and retractable scalpel blades, she was born to purpose.  Though disparate to Millions, who Gibson writes was born to “tussle” (“guess it’s just the way I’m wired,” Molly explains), Salander was born wired for photographic memory.

Yes, both were also employed as subordinate meatpuppets (albeit, Lisbeth not necessarily electively so).  It’s no wonder the cyberpunkess would employ sex for empowerment, but it’s so much more than being “deadly” and “hot”, as Gibson himself admitted (on tweets, apparently… perhaps the douchiest soap box since douche soap… boxes).  But even if Neuromancer was “the first time we had encountered a woman who was primarily a weapon,”  that’s all he saw Molly as, right?  Fortunately, Larsson didn’t limit Salander as such.  He wasn’t inspired by men in his birthing of Lisbeth, like Gibson seemed to be in how he modeled Molly after Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood.  No, Lisbeth is something fascinating all her own — actually, most like a combination of Millions and Gibson’s Neuromancer hacker protagonist, Case.

So why build characters by just swapping gender roles?  Why not define new genders, where no one’s the weaker because it’s anatomically dickless.  Anything else is luddism, I say — particularly the lingering view of women as legal prey.  And even if luddism is innate (which I’ve sort of already proved by my Asian jab), surely it will be eradicated during enhancement, and rightly so.

Screw labels, Salander effectively communicates.  And so I arrive at this:

* Gibson said it in a short story somewhere.  “Cyberpunk is the stuff that has EDGE written all over it… Now ask me how I’d define EDGE.  Well, EDGE is not about definitions.  To the contrary, things so well known that they provide an exact definition can’t be EDGE.  They probably once were but now they aint.  SO DON’T TRY TO DEFINE IT!!!”

I reckon my cyberpunkess personality would first be modified to maintain a chemical serenity equal to that which occurs prior to falling asleep… which for anxious little me, is unfailingly when I achieve uptmost clarity (and prowess) of being.  I don’t personally care for leather (the wearing of it at least), but I’d probably consider some defensive augmentations, like maybe a kind of concentrated ocular laser that causes the assholes a female unavoidably encounters when walking just about anywhere in human view to suffer acute epididymal hypertension should they voice unsolicited vulgarities.

For further reading on “Formidable Female Protagonists in Science Fiction by Decade” 

Oct 18 2011

“Extreme Futurist Fest” in Los Angeles: Interview With Creator Rachel Haywire

Hank Pellissier: Hi Rachel. Tell me your biography?

Rachel Haywire: I grew up in the Human 1.0 suburbs of Southern Florida. I was kicked out of my home at 16 and sent to a mental institution. From there I went to live on the streets of San Francisco and became a performance artist. This lead to me becoming a writer, blogger, musician, model, social commentator, memetic engineer, and entrepreneur. I’ve traveled across all of the United States and most of Canada. I went to Israel for my Birthright trip and lived in Berlin and Dresden for 3 months to study abroad. I’ve also been to Amsterdam and Brussels while following my favorite band Einstürzende Neubauten. I’d love to go to Paris since this is the capital of Bohemia but I think I would need to learn some French first. My father was a prosecutor for the state of Miami who passed away when I was 18. My mother was a posh social hacker who worked her way into the Jewish MENSA crowd. I always thought Jewish people were too intelligent to be into Creationism. I currently live in Los Angeles.

Hank Pellissier:  How did H+ happen to you?

Rachel Haywire: I started writing Acidexia in 2001… My intro to H+ was Nietzsche, William Gibson, Robert Anton Wilson; then I got into tech and science aspects of H+ due to my desire to improve my body… that had physical problems associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. Then my interest in mind uploading and biohacking developed, since I was already into body modification and radical self alteration. Then Open Source DNA brought everything full circle. I’m a DIY Transhumanist due to my non-conventional approach to the movement.

Hank Pellissier: What do you call your fashion sense?  

Rachel Haywire: Cyberpunk-Glam. Fashion is very important because DIY Transhumanism includes becoming our ideal versions of ourselves. Our Tyler Durdens. Forget about Cosplay. It’s time for us to become our own Superheroes and the first way for us to do this is through fashion.

Hank Pellissier: Would you like it if Natasha Vita-More was your mother?  What if Ray Kurzweil was your father and Aubrey de Grey was your uncle?  

Rachel Haywire: If Natasha Vita-More was my mother I’d ask her to do a photo shoot with me. She would dress up like an angry cyberpunk and I would dress up like a fancy academic. We would parody the stereotypical media images of ourselves through one another and I’d hope for it to be a mother-daughter bonding experience that she wouldn’t kill me for. If Ray Kurzweil was my father and Aubrey de Grey was my uncle we would obviously need a Transhumanist Family BBQ. I would call it the Singularity is Beer.

Hank Pellissier: Are you stepping up to lead a younger generation of H+ers?

Rachel Haywire: I suppose I am… but it is the younger generation of H+ers that allow this movement to exist. I am only one person. Without my friends and supporters there would be no younger H+ generation.

Hank Pellissier: Tell me about the Extreme Future Fest?  

Rachel Haywire: You can check out http://extremefuturistfest.info where we just announced our first list of speakers and the conference venue at Courtyard Los Angeles Marina del Ray. It is taking place from December 16th to 17th. The website was designed by my friend Sniff Code who is also the author of the cyberpunk classic CLONE. We plan to have Scientists discussing all things Transhumanist alongside visual-oriented Futurist bands alongside hackers and philosophers screening their films and displaying their artwork. We wish to bridge the gap between the counterculture and academia and show that what unites us is our intelligence and forward-thinking approach as opposed to our level of economic or social status. I have partnered with Michael Anissimov of the Singularity Institute for the Extreme Futurist Festival and he has been a great person to work with all around. Through working with Michael, I feel like my ideas have finally reached the mainstream. He helped me to get to this point without having to obey or conform.

Hank Pelllissier: You’re also running a Facebook page called “Humanity 2.0.” -What’s that about?

Rachel Haywire: I got the idea for the Human 2.0 Council through leaving Transhuman Separatism.  I was very reactionary during the time I started Transhuman Separatism and quickly realized I was making a fool out of myself with my juvenile idealism.  The Human 2.0 Council was a way for me to continue to connect artists and radical thinkers of the new generation while leaving the baggage of Transhuman Separatism behind. Our discussions range from nanotechnology to the viability of the Singularity to the Anonymous subculture to industrial music. There is a bit of everything in H20 which is why I love it. Our main goal right now is the H20 Ministry of Education which my friend Kim Solez is the leader of. Our idea is to create a real life Xavier’s School for the Gifted. We want an alternative academic institution that caters to the interests of Human 2.0 as opposed to the interests of public education. We have many professors who are already on board and are very excited about what this could mean for the future of education. The main problem right now is our lack of funding. Many of us are struggling artists and we view what I call poverty of the working class intelligenstia as a major obstacle in regards to us achieving our goals.

Hank Pellissier: What are your global goals?  

Rachel Haywire: My dream is for a world in which human suffering is abolished. David Pearce was a big inspiration to me with his Abolitionist movement. I would like to change society by bringing the newer generation of Transhumanists onto the map and showing that a counterculture of intelligent people is not an oxymoron. I want to see technology widely available to the youth. I want to see an end to groupthink and an explosion of free thought. I would like to see the bankers on Wall Street lose their power and be replaced with powerful thinkers and innovators who would be much better equipped to be the 1%.