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Bruce Sterling

Bruce: Well, there are a number of reasons to do this, and a number of reasons not to do it. I’m a critic, so I’m very interested in people’s compositional processes. I find it quite easy to collaborate with people, because I tend to park my ego at the door when I’m writing something with another writer. What I really want to do there is get inside his thought processes, and maybe learn a few chops I could use someday as my own. It’s like sitting in on a band jamming.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of writer who is really struggling with an interior message, and trying to get your own thoughts clear on the page, you really want to shy away from that kind of collaborative work–because it’ll likely end up feeling very painful, and even kind of humiliating.

So, as somebody who’s a critic, and spends a lot time trend-spotting, and is very interested in  the process of creative work, I have very little problem with collaboration. I’m so interested in writerly background activity that that I will frequently buy books of letters by writers whose novels I’m not willing to read. I like to read writers’ letters and notebooks. It’s an intellectual habit of mine, to get behind the curtain, and to see what’s going on with the stage lighting and the sandbags there.

David:  But how do you actually do it? Do you write part of the story, and then your collaborator adds to it, and you switch back and forth? Or do you write a draft, and then the other person extrapolates from that? Do you edit one another’s work?

Bruce: You know, people who aren’t writers tend to obsess about this, whereas real writers (laughter) don’t.

David:  Well, as a writer who does sometimes collaborate with other writers, I’m curious to hear how you do it.

Bruce: There’s no particular set program there. You can do all those things, or any of those things, that you mentioned.

David:  So you’ve experimented with a lot of different types of collaborative writing?

Bruce: Yeah, I’ve done it pretty much anyway. I’ve had stories rewritten completely. I’ve worked on people’s abandoned work. I’ve discussed basic ideas with people and developed that one way or the other. I’ve switched manuscripts back and forth. I’ve emailed things back and forth, revived dead projects, created new projects. It’s a lot less technically difficult than you would think.

David:  You mentioned before that you have an interest in subcultures. What are your thoughts on how the counterculture of the 60’s influenced what became the digital subcultures of the 80’s, 90’s, and today?

Bruce: I’m interested in all forms of subculture, but I’m more interested in sociology than I am a committed believer of any kind of subcultural pitch. People that were very involved in a counterculture in the 1960’s think they were inventing all that. The 1960’s counterculture was just one of the larger ones, due to its generational cohort. But I’ve always been more interested in 70’s, 80’s, 90’s counterculture than I was in that of the ‘60s. Actually, I’m more interested in the countercultures of tomorrow, than I am in the subculture of any particular time and place. I’ve found that there are subcultural splits that go through every society. The question is not whether society is going to be segmented in subcultural ways, but exactly how those social divisions are going to manifest themselves.

David:  In 1990 the U.S. Secret Service began raiding people’s homes and offices as part of a nationwide “hacker crackdown”, which became the subject of your first nonfiction book. What inspired you to write The Hacker Crackdown, and why did you decide to give the book away in its electronic form for free?

Bruce: I’ve always been very interested in computers, computation, and telecommunication. This was as exciting to my generation as hot-air balloons were to Jules Verne. But I was a fiction writer. I wasn’t really that interested in doing journalism. Although I have a journalism degree, I had never gotten around to working as a nonfiction writer. But then some friends of mine, people I knew personally, had gotten involved in this Secret Service investigation. I guess it’s best described as a scandal. But the ongoing controversy, let us say, was pitched on my doorstep, and as I was comparing notes with other people who were involved in covering this effort as journalists, it became clear to me that if I did not write this particular book, this particular episode would never be memorialized. It would simply fall off the edge of the table, and no one would ever know what was going on.

I have a principle that if some crisis actually shows up on my doorstep, I will not simply write a novel about it. If a problem becomes that personal and immediate, then I will try and go out there and tackle the problem in some more direct way than through fiction. It’s an act of citizenship on my part, or at least I’d like to think so. So, having done that, and having successfully completed the book, I then released it on to the internet for a political reason. I did it as an act of citizenship, to try to help people out who were confused and poorly informed as to what was going on in that particular area of cultural, legal, economic, and political activity. It just seemed to me that the book would do much more good for society and the population in general if it were made freely available on the Internet, than it were if it were simply another true crime book. So I did it make the text available, but the book has also remained in print for a long time.

David:  What are your thoughts on the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, and our vanishing constitutional rights in America?

Bruce: Well, the war is not mostly in America. I don’t really think about this problem in a very America-centric way. I mean, America’s got the best bombers, but that’s not going to put an end to the war. America does consume a lot of the drugs. You know, if you had told people during the start of the Nixon War on Drugs, or I don’t know, even in Harry Anslinger’s day, that you would have a globalist situation where, say, the government of Bolivia would be overthrown by angry cocaine-growing peasants, people would have considered that a very science fictional scenario. But, point of fact, it happened just a few months ago, and it scarcely got any press coverage at all. People just take it for granted now that the government of a South American nation can’t stand up against dope growers.

The overlap between narcotics trafficking and terrorism is complete and utter right now. The dope trade finances the mayhem, and, basically, it’s the need of drug consumers, which is being laundered, and then sold back–at the point of a rifle–by these narcotics war lords. It’s a very grim, very ugly situation. Americans like to think they’re really suffering from this because we’ve got, I don’t know, two million people in our prison system, and at least half of them are there for drugs. It really doesn’t compare to the utter mayhem and degradation that happens in central Asia, the Andean nations, or any of these other places were this tidal wave of globalist money is coming through in pursuit of drugs, and just completely distorting these economies and societies.

David:  All previous forms of media–television, radio, newspapers, etc.–have been monopolized by corporations. It seems that they can’t monopolize the internet. Do you think that this will make a difference sociologically?

Bruce: I’ve got about fifteen different problems with that entire set of formulations there. (laughter)

If you mean that, people who are using the internet for noncommercial reasons are likely dominate, yeah, I think there’s a pretty good chance of that actually–because the internet was not invented by corporations. It was basically invented by the military and science–basic science and computer scientists. A few DARPA grants here and there kind of got that whole thing steamrolling. And when the internet was first invented–ARPAnet, Milnet, and so forth–there was never an idea that it was ever going to become a commercial operation.

So it’s a very 1990’s kind of rhetoric to say, well, everything is going to be privatized and commercialized by large companies–until you look at areas where this commercialization isn’t happening, and those areas are frequently a lot worse: they are criminalized or militarized. After awhile you may plead for your kindly corporate dominance–after you’ve seen the nature of paramilitary warlord regime.

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