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Interview thread
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October 2007
Locus Magazine
Bruce Sterling: Globalhead
Bruce Sterling was born in Brownsville TX and got a BA in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. His first story appeared in 1976, his first two novels, Involution Ocean and The Artificial Kid, in 1977 and 1978.

Sterling is one of the creators of the cyberpunk movement; he edited landmark cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades (1986), and his near-future thriller Islands in the Net (1988) won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His future history novel Schismatrix (1985) introduced his Shaper/Mechanist universe, about the struggle between bioengineered and prosthetically-enhanced beings, which is also the setting of some stories in collection Crystal Express (1989).

His next few novels were near-future SF: Heavy Weather (1994), Holy Fire (1996), and Distraction (1998), which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Satirical Zeigeist (2000) was set in the near-past; The Zenith Angle (2004)
Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Blog: Beyond the Beyond
was near-future SF. He collaborated with William Gibson on steampunk novel The Difference Engine (1990).

He won a Hugo for "Bicycle Repairman" (1996), a Locus Award for "Maneki Neko" (1998), and both awards for novella "Taklamakan" (1998). In addition to Crystal Express, his stories have been collected in Globalhead (1992), A Good Old-Fashioned Future (1999), Visionary in Residence (2006), and retrospective Ascendancies (2007).

Sterling's non-fiction work The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) concerned computer crime. Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2002) ponders the future of humanity in the 21st century, and Shaping Things (2005) explores the future of Industrial Design.

Sterling founded the Dead Media Project in the 1990s, devoted to the problem of preserving media created with obsolete technology; began the Viridian Design movement in 1999 to raise awareness of climate change. In 2005 he was "visionary in residence" at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena CA.
Excerpts from the interview:

“These days I'm like a gypsy scholar figure. I do a lot of junkets -- to a digital preservation conference, then to a big Munich event that has a lot of digital high muckety-mucks, then to Turin for a counterculture/ cyberculture thing. I like the life of a futurist techno-pundit, and I do a lot of work along that line. I'm a technologist and a blogger, and my job is to 'bring the noise.' I tell people in San Francisco what's happening in Europe, tell people in Italy what's happening in San Francisco.

“The 21st-century aspect of it is that if you tell someone what's going on in Munich, they write down the Web address immediately. It's like you're living in somebody's lap. If he's a Munich electronic artist who works in cellular automata and you're working in cellular automata but you're in San Jose, it used to be like, 'He's far away, my path's never going to cross his, we're not going to have the same audience.' That's not true anymore. You don't even have to meet, because it's just there and electronically available. He blogs, you can follow his Google trail, there's a mailing list.... A world that was formerly divided geographically is now being chopped up into these digital 'long-tail'-style cults of little cyberculture people.”


“America used to get more of a free ride, because not only did they have more radical ideas but they had the more advanced infrastructure, so things could be done in America for ten or fifteen years before they got picked up anywhere else. Now they can be picked up in ten or fifteen days. But as long as inventive people with an American temperament can come to America and get a job, I think America's OK. It would go into a pretty steep decline if they decided to go into a 'tight little England' mode and slam all the gates shut and put an iron boundary around the country in order to protect the privileges they imagine they have. It's a tough struggle; I'm not saying it's gonna be easy. But it wasn't that easy before, really.

“China's got catastrophic demographics (there aren't many young people, so they'll be the geezer power of the 2050s), and Japan also has bad demographics -- they're an elderly, conservative society. According to the cyberpunk schedule, Japan ought to be running cyberspace by now, and on paper they looked unbeatable: they've got unbelievable technical skills, a fantastically high literacy rate, a really good industrial management system, terrific engineering schools. But somewhere in there they got snakebit. Maybe they never recovered from that real estate bubble thing. Every once in a while, you just need a new broom, and they didn't get one.”


“Bush is a great science fiction president. The guy is completely detached from reality, and he sort of made up a sword & sorcery novel where he goes out and overthrows ancient civilizations with his own brawny arms. Actually, the same goes for Saddam -- his art collection had a bunch of fake Rowena paintings. It's not a good sign when your science fiction writers are really pragmatic and politically oriented and your politicians are lunatic visionaries who are making it up as they go along 'cause it looks good on TV. That's the sign of a serious inversion in the social order!”


“You see a lot of text distribution on the Internet, but an ink-and-paper book is not like that. Ink-on-paper is a canonical fixed thing, whereas on YouTube the user is contributing all the effort. The closest thing to capturing that may be something I'm involved in, Worldchanging: The User's Guide to the 21st Century. It's the book of a blog -- -- devoted to literally creating a better future. It's like, 'We've got a ton of cool stuff here, we've got 40 guys all over the world and they're throwing new ideas and coming up with all this fresh stuff. Now we're going to stop, freeze it, put it in print....' And they've got a book. I wrote the introduction, Al Gore wrote the preface, and it's an intensely visionary piece of cutting-edge technoculture cyber-green masterwork.”

© 2007 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.