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 cypherpunk… but 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)

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