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Bruce Sterling

of the human race?

Bruce: I don’t think that every human being will be gone in the next hundred years. It would be difficult to exterminate a broadly spread species. It’s like asking, do you think that every rat will be gone in the next hundred years? I mean, we’re at least as inventive as they are. (laughs) It’s possible that through some superb act of biological extermination we could wipe out every rat, but as long as there’s breathable air and sunlight, there’s bound to be a last few human beings left on, say, remote islands or whatever. Unless there’s a catastrophe so huge that it kills off every large mammal, there’s going to be some of us.

Now, I’m not saying there can’t be catastrophes so huge that they kill off every large mammal. Like, if the sun explodes, and fries the Earth, well, we’re goners. But I’m pretty sure that a hundred years from now there will be some humans. They may not look or think much like us. I would expect there to be a pretty wide variety of them. The thing that worries me is that there might be just a few hundred thousand of them in a world that’s so severely ruined that they’re sliding into some kind of post-history. Civilizations do crumble. Civilizations have been known to fall. Most of them have, always. And if you have one global civilization that’s everywhere, all over the place, and it makes one really big mistake, you could have one very large barbarism in pretty short order. And yeah, I find that prospect worrisome. But I don’t really think in terms of complete apocalypse, because I just don’t think that’s very realistic.

David:  Have you ever had a psychedelic experience, and if so, how has it influenced your writing and your perspective on life?

Bruce: I’m very interested in drugs, and I’m even more interested in neurochemistry. There has been a lot of skull sweat wasted in this line of work. My feeling about psychedelics is that it’s a serious blunder in judgment to imagine that a psychedelic substance is actually “psychedelic” just because it makes you feel psychedelic. In other words, LSD is not a mystical substance. Basically, it’s a poison. And if you take this poison, you’ll have certain very remarkable mental effects. But it’s wrong to think that you’ve been granted some spiritual source of mystical insight there. It’s a toxin and you’ve been intoxicated.

I’ve noticed some wacky developments quite recently. There are some new genetic knockout mice who are immune to LSD. In other words, they simply don’t have the neural pathway in the brain that responds to this particular narcotic. (laughter) So you could feed these lab rats LSD by the handful and it doesn’t even slow them down. (laughter) I find that hugely amusing.

David:  What kind of an effect do you think psychedelics have had on science fiction in general?

Bruce: Well, there were guys like Philip K. Dick, who was a notorious pill head. I haven’t really seen many writers destroyed by psychedelics. That’s one of the least harmful drug problems a writer could have. The drugs that are really dangerous for writers are definitely alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol just reaps writers by the the hecatomb. Writers tend to be kind of melancholic, and when it’s your business to talk a lot, or write a lot, alcohol tends to make you very loquacious. So it’s easy to get a big substance dependency on alcohol in my line of work–and I’ve seen booze destroy a lot of my colleagues, or really hurt them. I never knew a writer who took a whole lot of LSD, or other psychedelics, and became a genuine psychedelic casualty. I’ve seen plenty of musicians who were psychedelic casualties. With writers, that’s a little rarer.
David:  What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Bruce: There isn’t any. It’s like going to sleep and not waking up.

David:  What is your perspective on the concept of God, and do you see any teleology in evolution?

Bruce: No. I’m an atheist, and I think teleology is just a mistaken idea.

David:  Does it seem to you that anything is accelerating in the evolutionary or historical process?

Bruce: Well, we’re about to become the first species who ever got their mitts directly on their own germ plasm. That doesn’t really have anything to do with evolution as we know it–that’s just an ability to go and screw around with our own DNA. But we’re doing that right now–those glow fish there. Those babies are the thin edge of the wedge. (laughs) I just wonder how many of those glowing DNA-altered fish sold this holiday season. I keep track of a lot of stuff like that, and that trend’s definitely accelerating. I mean, when you see DNA technology hitting the toy market, that’s a classic S-ramp curve about to blow there.

But it’s a mistake to get all teleological and Lamarckian about it, and heap a lot of cosmological importance on it, as if to say, oh, now we’re really accelerating evolution. No, you’re not, okay?  It’s like saying, oh, now we’re running really fast because, look, I just bought this Cadillac. In a Cadillac, you could go a lot faster than any prehominid did, because you’ve got this artificial device here, but that doesn’t mean you’re out-evolving them. It merely means you’ve come up with this mechanical hack. So yeah, there’s all kinds of accelerations. It’s just that you need to be very careful not to conflate different categories and read mystical overtones into them.

David:  Can you talk about the Viridian project, and what are your thoughts on the environmental crisis that we’re facing on this planet?

Bruce: I started doing this for much the same reason I wrote Hacker Crackdown, when the cops were showing up at the doors of friends of mine. Climate change is really starting to hit the fan. I’m from Texas, and I have family in the oil industry, so fossil fuels really paid for my education, home, shelter, and so forth. I’m somebody who’s really profited a lot personally by the fossil fuel industry over the years, and now I see that this machine which fed me has lasted too long. It’s lasted way too long, and it’s getting more and more desperate, antidemocratic and malignant. So technologies are not permanent installations.  In the case of fossil fuel businesses, really, you’re much better off with them in a state of disequilibrium than you are with them as permanent, corrupted institutions trying to reshape society in their own image.

So I got very interested in combating fossil fuel industries, and combating the green house effect–not really though politics, although I think that’s an interesting line of work. I wanted to talk about it from an industrial design perspective, because I just think my own energies are better invested that way. I’m very interested in industrial design, and I have a lot friends who are designers. So there’s a lot of design work to be done here, and a lot of design criticism to be done here. My feeling is, we really need a better understanding of what it is we’re doing to ourselves and our society through continuing to rely on this fossil fuel for the industrial revolution–this two hundred year old, filth-spewing, smoke stack technology. We really need to look at it very clearly and critically, and understand that, even if it looks cheap, we can’t buy another planet if we wreck this one.

So I’ve been working on that since 1998 or so, and I’ve had a few setbacks, but I’m also happy to report some good news. Like, for instance, Austin, Texas, which is my home base, has recently declared itself to be the Clean Energy Capital of the World. I’m really excited–just thrilled, frankly–to be an industrial design critic, and science fiction writer, living in the Clean Energy Capital of the World. That was a fulfilling thing for me to hear, and it was a political victory in a lot of ways. I feel like I’m living and working in just the area where I want to be living and working. So that’s very satisfying.

David:  What are you currently working on?

Bruce: I’ve got my daily Web log (blog.wired.com/sterling) which has kind of taken a lot of my time, and I’m trying to get another science fiction novel under steam here. I write a monthly opinion column for Wired magazine. The Web log is called “Beyond the Beyond”, and that’s actually what I enjoy more than anything else. Web logging is so little like real writing that (laughter)– I’m just having a lot of fun with that. It’s pleasurable and really

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