Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Comments on Bruce Sterling's Slashdot Interview

I love how reliably down to earth Sterling always gets around to being over the long-term. I suspect the ecstatic bursts of hyperbole and overgeneralization that happen in between moments like this are really performance parodies of the public-relations discourse futurism always is and science fiction itself is always threatened/seduced by. Such moments are Sterling's way of being a Twain for today. Read the whole thing, as always, but I do have my favorite bits:

Speaking of the presumably "prophetic" Orwell, Sterling makes the crucial point:
[S]cience fiction... [is] derived from events... genuinely going on in real life. Only people didn't talk about them much in polite society. The readers hadn't caught on yet. Then readers come along, periodically, some decades later, and they're like: "Hey! This comprehensive police-state surveillance is just like George Orwell's 1984!" It is, pretty much, except that "1984" is based on the real police state surveillance that George Orwell knew a lot about in 1948. In 1948, there was tons of surveillance and torture and doublethink going on. In Russia, mostly, but, well, not only.
No end of nonsense derives from the misconception that Science Fiction is a pseudo-scientific predictive exercise in anticipating "The Future" rather than, like all literature, a powerful commentary on the present. When it is great literature, it might be taken up by subsequent presents than the present it derives from, sure, and come in being taken up by them to comment on those presents as well, but that is exactly as true of great literature that isn't science fiction. It is worth noting that in my accounting of it, even the future, strictly speaking isn't reall about "The Future," that is to say, I believe that futurity properly so-called is the quality of openness in the present that is sustained by the diversity of stakeholders who share and make it. Frankly, I have always regarded "The Future" is always pronounced from a rather impoverished and parochial vantage within that present-diversity and then projected and amplified in an aggressive and cowardly and mean projection way the better to prevail over that diversity and foreclose futurity. That's why I say that every futurism is always a retro-futurism.

In answer to the question "[w]hat film best represents your vision of a cyberpunk or high-tech dystopian future?" Sterling seemed to me to be pretty withering:
[F]orget about "the movies." Abstract motion-graphics coded in Processing and posted on Vimeo, that's "cyberpunk." You don't wanna make movies that are about guys with computers. You want to use digital composition to seize control of the means of producing cinema. And then do it all yourself! That's "punk." Hollywood product is commerce, it's about fanboy culture.
I do not think his reiterated emphasis on specifically patriarchal distraction/derangement from useful critical technoscience practice/theory in his identification of "fanboy culture" about "movies... about guys with computers" is the least bit accidental. By the way, I don't think Sterling means to denigrate the pleasures of cultural and literary fandoms any more than I do in making this sort of point, it is just that he doesn't confuse mass consumption as organized politics or political analysis and this simply can't be said enough if you care about the latter. Anyway, the patriarchal point recurs later on when he deflects a question premised on the eclipse of "hard SF towards science fiction focused on relationships and societies" by being rather plainly right-on-with-his-right-on:
We've gone away from science because our whole society's gone away from science. We're in a science-hostile society now, it's politically dominated by Creationists and climate denialists... The other stuff, about "focused on relationships and societies," that's a code term for noticing that women are the major creative figures in fantastic print fiction nowadays. Dude, you bet they are. Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, man, that stuff made an absolute mint. Those huge commercial successes by women writers are practically the only things keeping bookstores open nowadays.
Apart from Bruce Sterling himself, I'll admit I rarely read science fiction that isn't by women these days, and I'm clearly not the only one. I mean, I do read and enjoy some guys who are writing now, don't get me wrong, but there is definitely a different mix now than when I became a passionate reader of sf in high school, in the early 80s, say. I don't want to start putting words in Sterling's mouth, or anything, so go read the interview yourself. In closing I'll just say that my own fanboy news item takeaway from the interview was Sterling saying that my favorite of his novels Holy Fire has been optioned by a movie company. Doesn't mean it'll happen, of course, but that's a movie I'd like to see even if it sucks.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> In answer to the question "[w]hat film best represents your
> vision of a cyberpunk or high-tech dystopian future?"
> Sterling seemed to me to be pretty withering:
> > [F]orget about "the movies."

On the other hand, Sterling's pal and sometime
co-author William Gibson said (someplace) that when he
(Gibson) watched _Blade Runner_, his reaction was,
in effect, "That's my world!" (i.e., the world of
Burning Chrome, Neuromancer, etc.)

I'd have to go along with that, and give Ridley Scott
the credit he deserves.

It's been a long, long time (half my life!), but
_Blade Runner_ made a pretty big splash back in the
80s -- there'd never been anything like it.