Sterling Speaks to Minneapolitans

Trekked to the Har Mare Barnes and Noble this afternoon to see Bruce Sterling in personal performance. He’s on tour promoting his new book The Zenith Angle. I decided to go because he’s one of my favorite science fiction authors, part of the cyberpunk wave that broke in the 1980s and presaged a lot of the craziness that is the internet and computer technology.

Bruce (notice how the weblog medium makes it almost impossible to refer to people by anything other than their first name, Mr. Sterling seems way too formal) began talking about the genesis of The Zenith Angle in an article he did for Wired magazine about missile defense. Apparently the people who work on missile defense are a lot like science fiction writers, constanly dreaming up plausible sounding threats and then selling them to the politicians. I particularly liked the descrpition of the Iron Triangle between defense company funded think tanks which come up with the threats, Congress which gives the money to defense companies to fight the threats, and the compainies that send the money back into the think tanks to come up with new threats. The best quote about spooks “You can tell the extroverts at the NSA because they’re the one’s looking at the other person’s shoes instead of their own.”

Sterling (broke my own observation, maybe it’s just the missing title) described his new novel as a technothriller and then went into a bit of a discussion about the difference between technothrillers and science fiction, the gist of which seems to be the difference between keeping the weapon-cum-McGuiffin safe from the public versus celebrating the new technology and its potential for good and harm. He read a short story he was asked to write for Amazing SF magazine, which is apparently launching yet again for the dozenth time or so since it first began. Naturally the story was about resurrection. Mostly it reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode in which a couple of criminals hide out in hibernation chambers inside of a cave and then come out to try and take over the world. In Sterling’s take he pushed the time out further into Stapledonian scales until the loop from first to ultimate man became some strange kind of parodic trope. It kept me smiling throughout.

During the question period two people, out of an audience of 15-20, asked about intellectual property. I think this means that the issue of IP has reached saturation inside the geek intelligentsia. Bruce basically said that it’s trench warfare now in the intellectual property, where the issue has moved on from being like Bosnia to being like Iraq, actual blood is on the ground. He didn’t seem to be very optimistic that any great triumphs would be won by the Linux open sourch geeks over the armies of lawyers likely to be deployed in the name of putting Mickey Mouse into thousand year hyperbaric protection chamber. He admitted that most writers borrow ideas from other sources, The Zenith Angle being a perfect example. He also threw out a neologism he credited to Brian Eno “scenius,” which seemed to be a term for the genius of a scene. In music he said the good ideas came from small groups misreading the performances of others, and then taking that misreading and putting it into their own form, thus creating a new scene. Harold Bloom and the other anxious mavens of deconstruction would be proud to hear their ideas beating on.