Exchange with Pat Cadigan: Queen of Cyberpunk
[The material below is an edited version of a
Yos Bonsun: I am interested in your view of the virtual reality medium. Two things were brought up in your story: one was the possibility of a person's physical action having some sort of tangible effect on them in real life -- it was unclear whether a punch would actually have an impact -- and the second was when the person was locked into a space and couldn't get out. Can you describe what you meant in those two cases and in general, give us a feel for your view on how this medium will be?
Cadigan: Well there is some important information missing from that particular segment that you get when you read up to that point, so read carefully because there will be a quiz. In this particular artificial reality, you have a suit which enables you to experience sensations. If you touch a table and run your hand along it, your suit will generate that sensation for you so that you really believe you are touching a table. If you want to, you can get a hot suit with full coverage including the genital area and coverage also includes any violence that you might also want to do. But if you do violence to somebody in virtual reality you are going to feel it because the sensation is hyper-real. So if you punch someone in virtual reality you are going to hurt yourself because you are going to feel it. You can disable the pain option in your suit, but if you do violence to somebody else the pain option override comes back. You can hurt them, but you will hurt yourself just as much. And it all gets decided at lightning computer speed.
As for the room being locked, this is the other part of the story that isn't in that section, the girl is simply more clever than the protagonist and faster at manipulating the reality. It's a puzzle that the protagonist can't solve: she is in the girl's room and the girl can keep her in it by fooling her into believing that the girl can keep her in it. So if she can't figure out how the locks work, she is stuck in the room until she logs out of her suit or until she figures out how the locks work, which may cost her $40 extra.
The other thing you don't get in this part of the story is that she is logging in from a parlor, and not from her home. The parlors have the most elaborate, most detailed suits. So you rent a suit. The parlors have full AR access, which means that it gets a hundred times more channels than you could legally afford at home. You go in there and you take your chances. If you happen to step into a trap where somebody keeps you locked up in a room for thirty extra minutes and you run up a big tab well, you could have just logged out of your suit and logged back in again. It's caveat emptor.
Just off the top of my head it is hard for me to say what other interesting characteristics there may be in my view of virtual reality because I am too close to it. I don't even notice half the stuff anymore. That is why God made editors, to make sure that I'm simply not blind to whatever it is.
Question (Male): Some other authors have mentioned that they haven't used nano-technology in their stories because if you allow it, anything is possible and then you lose a lot of the narrative tension because your hero can always escape. It seems that the way you are portraying virtual reality has the same problem, how do you avoid that?
Cadigan: Well, I think that I dealt with that in the section that I read in that she can do anything, and she's certainly open to doing anything, but she can't reconcile herself with the idea of hitting a child even if she knows that it isn't a child, even if she is absolutely certain, even if someone beamed a picture in of a 260 LB guy, she still couldn't do it. She couldn't do it because she'd have to live with that image. It's that image that hits us and it's the image that we have to deal with.
In this book, image and sensation are what keep people in check in artificial reality. They can't do anything they want because of the way I have rigged the game; there are certain levels accessible only to people who are using certain drugs. They can do more, but they can't do anything unless they can figure it out. So anything can't happen.
If you think about it we could say, "anything can happen, you can do anything in your life," and yes, you can physically do anything in your life -- well, OK, you can't fly. But there are things that act as inhibitors on us. And quite often what will inhibit our behavior has less to do with what's legal and more to do with what's acceptable to the people around us who are judging us as being cool or uncool, well-mannered or rude. Quite often people are held in check, not by the government, but by literal big brother -- which is to say the people around us, the people we want to appeal to, or the people that we want to offend. This becomes more and more important in this particular artificial reality because there are things that people collect.
When the girl asks Constantin in artificial reality, "What have you got?" What Constantin has are tokens and tickets and things that will allow her into the exclusive areas or give her a quick form of transportation so that she doesn't have to eat up 15 minutes of bill-able time when she can travel instantaneously. There are lots of technical things like that.
There is also the fact that some people, I'm willing to bet, will hit virtual reality and they will think real fast and it will be real easy for them and they will just kind of flash through it. I'll be the person wandering around trying to figure out how not to get vertigo. I'll just be figuring out what country I'm in when the whole adventure has happened. And I'll be running after everyone yelling "Hey wait, what happened?" We have that out here so we are going to have there in there. Virtual reality does not confer super human powers on people who just aren't up to using them. It may make some people less inhibited, it may make other people more inhibited because they may be thinking more about what their particular image or actions say about them rather than what they can accomplish with them.
See, in the end I think that humans are their own worst enemies and biggest obstacles as well as their own best friends. While there may not be anything to stop us from doing whatever, we'll find some way to stop ourselves. We'll find some way to outwit ourselves; we'll outwit each other. Virtual reality is not going to raise us up any levels at all. We're people out here and we're going to be people in there.
Virtual Reality and Ethics
Henry Jenkins: One theme running through that piece you just read us is an ongoing discussion about truth and lying in the context of virtual reality. It seems to me that virtual reality poses some questions about the reliability of our senses. What is the nature of truth in the virtual world? I wonder if you would elaborate on that for us.
Cadigan: One of the things that I wanted to deal with when I was writing the book was what people can and can't do legally in artificial reality. Every time someone takes a step in artificial reality, five thousand people are going to sue him. Or he's going to sue everybody else. So I decided to codify certain things about artificial or virtual reality for the sake of the particular future in this book.
I decided that it had all been legally settled that anything you say in virtual reality cannot be held against you at all. Whether you are telling the truth or lying, you can say and do anything you want in virtual reality and you are not culpable in any legal way. If somebody believes you when you say you are a child or somebody's grandmother, that is their look-out. In that way, virtual reality is kind of wild and wooly.
Everybody knows upon going in there that these are the ground rules or that there are no rules. And you can't hold anybody to anything they do or say in virtual reality. That was the best way to settle it, or at least the simplest way for the sake of writing a book, since I did not want it to be a courtroom drama. I did not want people to have to stop and argue points of law with each other every time they wanted to do something. That kind of thing doesn't interest me: "I've seen the future and it's full of lawyers." So I decided to make it as simple as I knew how by making it so that people could get away with murder. And if you can't stand the heat in virtual reality, don't put on the suit.
Jenkins: It reminds me of the much celebrated case of the rape in Lambdan Mu, which you probably know of.
Cadigan: Well, I don't know very much about it. I've come across mentions of it but have never been able to lay hands on detailed accounts of the case.
Jenkins: To summarize what I know of it, it was a case where one of the mugs on-line, a female player, had someone do things to her body by taking control of her persona against her will. He made a voodoo doll of her and seemed to give the illusion of having had humiliating sexual acts with her. It was either a mode of sexual harrassment or it was classed in this world as an example of rape.
Clearly one of the implications of this is if Mugs are our consensual fanstasy what are the lines of consent? Or what is the nature of that agreement between people? Now your story easily gets rid of that by saying it is a free zone where anything goes.
Cadigan: But it doesn't say that if people do things to you in this free zone that it's OK and you'll just shrug it off because that is not true. If you have ever woken up from a particularly unpleasant nightmare, you are not unaffected by it just because it was just a dream. At the very least there is a bad taste left in your mind. And if you have two or three nightmares in a row you'll find that you will not do too well during the day, either. The things that we do that are not real do effect us. There are thoughts and pictures that you really don't want in your mind. Everyone has at least one sore spot and I could describe something that would gore somebody's socks. So that is the way it is.
In Tea From An Empty Cup, people are not just manipulated in virtual reality, they are being manipulated in virtual reality from the outside. There was a very broad hint in the original title for the book, "Bunraku," which is a type of Japanese puppet theater which takes three puppeteers and one puppet. I think I deal a lot with themes that range from smudging of boundaries to outright violation of boundaries. So I don't think that I have actually settled questions of what happens in cases like Lambdan Mu. I've only settled it in such a way that you couldn't have somebody prosecuted for rape, but you might be able to get them for copyright infringement. If you make a copy of someone else's body and they've licensed it, obviously that's a bootleg and you can get them. I have noticed that a lot of people who commit rape will back away from copyright infringement. It is like "Scarface" -- Al Capone -- they couldn't get him on anything but tax evasion. Guys who will commit murder will tremble in fear of the IRS.
Virtual Reality and Physical Reality
Angela Nadelianus: One of the things that really fascinated me while reading Tea From An Empty Cup was how the fixity of the body changed when these characters entered artificial reality. I wonder if you could say a few things about how you imagine computer technology transforms the body -- the racial body, the cultural body, and so on -- because you play around a lot with those sorts of boundaries by collapsing them.
Cadigan: When I think in terms of computers and in terms of artificial reality or virtual reality, I am reminded of dreaming. The way I dream I find it quite easy to accept shape-shifting in a way that I wouldn't normally accept it in real life. Or maybe I would, depending on what diet I am on.
One of the things about artificial reality or virtual reality is that the idea of the body you have becomes less important than your imagination or your ingenuity. It is not that I think that we will, or that we should, completely abandon our physical lives, it's just that that's not all there is to being alive. That's apparent in the fact that we do dream and we often dream ourselves into different forms. If we can do it in our sleep, I think that indicates a certain capacity to learn how to re-imagine ourselves in various ways, either for the sake of entertainment or for something more practical, whatever that might be.
Angela Nadelianus: Do you envision one future possibility as the replacement of physical reality with virtual reality?
Cadigan: Not the replacement. I think of it as something added on.
Angela Nadelianus: As a positive thing?
Cadigan: Oh I think like anything, it has its positive and negative elements. There may be a time in the future when we will be engrossed in our virtual reality theme parks and we'll go to the Museum of Dead Technology, where there will be a big screen TV running a football game as part of the exhibit, and we'll wonder, "Gee, how did people ever keep their attention from wandering away from that. There is certainly nothing very engrossing about launching a flat picture."
We adapt to things as they come along. One of the most interesting developments I have discovered is "Pop-Up MTV." I get a big kick out of that. I think this was thought up by a generation who did their homework while watching MTV. I would have been one of them but I had to settle for Dick Clark. And I find it fascinating that now it isn't interesting enough. Once you have watched a half hour of Pop-Up MTV, regular MTV with just the videos is not that interesting. I'd rather read the snide comments and funny jokes about whoever is on the screen and they are often very droll. The first time I saw this I didn't realize that they were doing this to a number of videos. I thought it was just that one video I was watching and I remember thinking, "Isn't that clever! They have really made up for the fact that they've created this banal video by putting in these interesting comments." Then everyone wanted to be popped-up. This may be apocryphal and not true, but I read that even Oprah wanted her show to be popped-up and then she did not like the comments.
And that's the other really weird thing about living in these days. Nine times out of ten when I read something in the paper or see it on the news or hear it on the radio, I'll check three or four other sources to see if they agree. It can be as harmless or as inane as whether Ginger Spice has left the Spice Girls, or as disturbing as finding out whether Pierre Salinger was right about TWA Flight #800 being fired on by a bazooka -- that was on the Internet for a while. This kind of thing goes beyond urban legend; it leads us to the question: exactly how reliable are our news sources? Are they getting more unreliable?
The more sources we have, the more pipelines we put into current events, the less reliable they are. And they are not even consistently reliable or unreliable. They will be reliable for a long time and then they will screw up or they will be unreliable for a long time and really make a mess of things for a while and then they will straighten themselves out and get back on track. I suspect that it is closely related to hirings, promotions, firings, things like that. And it is a terrifying thing to think that perhaps all of CNN hinges on an employee who's deciding whether he is disgruntled or not.
Cyberpunk and Popular Culture
Jenkins: To pick up on your puppetry metaphor from your original title of this book, one of the things that is clear from reading your work and the work by some of the other Cyberpunk writers is that on one hand there is an enormous passion for popular culture -- you seem interested in forms of popular culture, popular music especially -- on the other hand there is also this image of popular culture as social control, as manipulation, as corporate product that potentially regulates people's behavior in one way or another. And I am wondering how you think of those two sides of your attitude towards popular culture?
Cadigan: Well, part of the control that popular culture exerts over us requires our cooperation. It is not just that we make things a success or not; fashion comes from the grass roots up. Versace and Armani don't come in and say, "All right everybody, you will now wear this." It comes up from wherever it comes and Versace and Armani pay attention. Then they make it out of ridiculously expensive material, put it on creatures that look like stick insects and say, "There it is." Then we look at those creatures that look like stick insects or famine victims and think, "That's what I'm supposed to look like? No, I think you're taking it a little too far. That is not what I'm supposed to look like." In the end you are going to look however you want to look. There is a certain amount of social control though, in that we are so suggestible. Commercials have gone from selling product to selling dreams, image, identity.
There was a movie several years ago called "Crazy People" with Dudley Moore. He gets committed to an insane asylum and he has them do real ads. So someone does an ad for a car that says, "If you drive this car then strange, beautiful women will give you blow jobs." And there was an ad for a telephone company that said, "We are the telephone company and we're tired of taking your shit." That was the high point of the movie, the crazy people showing their ads. But the fact is that, nine times out of ten, car ads do suggest that if you buy this car you will be really cool and really sexually appealing and everyone will want to fulfill your needs. What's really funny is when you see them bumper to bumper on the interstate during rush hour -- all those sex cars with really tired people in them. You say to yourself, "So it's not happening now, no strange, beautiful women are coming up to give anybody anything right now." At the same time there are lots of things that are kind of pretty and fun. It's like junk food: you know it is bad for you and if there wasn't anything else to eat you could stay alive on it at least for a limited period of time and you may have a craving for it. Try as I might, I will never be able to give up French Fries. They will have to take my French Fries by prying them from my cold, dead fingers.
Popular culture is also a very telling barometer: what we are like, what we think we are and what we really are. In the 70s for instance, during the disco years, just take one part of it: Disco. Disco was music for people who believed that everything was all right, at least for tonight and who cares? And then there was punk. Punk music was for people for whom things were definitely not all right. The fact that a lot of it was produced just so people could get rich from it only underscores my point -- that everything was certainly not all right. The fact that one of the Sex Pistols did not even last two years after the Sex Pistols broke through is indicative that it wasn't that people were elevating guys like Sid Vicious to hero stature because at no time was he ever really a hero. There is a picture of Sid Vicious standing on stage wearing a button that says, "I'm a mess." And a lot of people felt that way at the time.
Cyberpunk's Fascination with Japanese Culture
Question (Male): You mentioned "Bunraku" and I wondered why Cyberpunk, and maybe even Science Fiction in general, has such a fascination with Japan and Japanese popular culture.
Cadigan: Because of all the technology that's come out of Japan. Just about everything is made in Japan. Sony, Mitsubishi, there's a lot of stuff. I think it was a sort of synchronicity. The Japanese were rising to prominence in a lot of ways at the time as well. And one of the things that I noticed when we went to Science Fiction conventions is that there would be a whole contingent of Japanese people there. And they'd have all of the latest gadgets. They'd be incredible and they'd let us play with them and we'd have a great time. But I don't know. I suppose it's because Japan is probably the most technological exotic country that any of us have ever encountered.
Question (Female): I was sort of wondering about that too. For a while there was a fascination with Japanese popular culture penetrating into mainstream American culture to the point of backlash. And that seems to be on the wane now with the Asian economic crisis, the mystique has somehow crumbled. The animé fans are still rabid animé fans and I think that will only grow, but what I was wondering was a large Japanese presence seems to have become de rigeur in Science Fiction since Neuromancer. You would just assume that half the characters would have Japanese names and Japanese toys and that Japanese pop culture would be mixed in there everywhere. If this is no longer the case and I don't see how it could continue to be the case in perpetuity, do you have any idea as to what is going to rush in to fill the cultural vacuum? Or are we just kind of lost in limbo? Does nobody else have a more interesting pop culture than America right now? which actually would be a really scary thing!
Cadigan: I know and they are really mad at us. I'll tell you the truth -- how I happened to write this book was because I had a request from Keith Ferrell who was the editor in chief of Omni at the time for a novella for an anthology he was editing of future Japan stories. So I wrote him a novella and he said, "Oh, this is a great novella. I have to use it for Omni Online. Could you write me another novella?" So I wrote him another novella and when I got done with that I realized that I had most of a book. So I made a lot of changes and added a lot of new material and ended up with Tea From An Empty Cup. And that's why there is so much Japanese stuff in Tea From An Empty Cup.
As to what's going to rush in and replace Japanese stuff -- just because Asia's having an economic crisis now, I don't see that Japanese stuff has withered or disappeared. It's there. I'd have to be a lot more savvy about economics and current events and everything else to even make a guess as to what's next. I think Japan fascinates us for a lot of reasons. China is bigger and has more people, but Japan's got more influence and there are a lot of reasons for that. I was going to say Russia's bigger and has more people but which Russia? I don't know. A lot of people have picked on different kinds of culture. George Alec Effinger has written about an Arab influenced future in kind of Cyberpunk-ish type novels so I don't know.
Alternative Realities and the Origins of Cyberpunk
Russell: When I was listening I was reminded of Alice in Wonderland and I wondered how you see your version of virtual reality in the history of other literary alternate spaces like Alfred Bester or Alice in Wonderland?
My second question is, is Science Fiction renewing itself in terms of writers? Twenty years ago Cyberpunk was sort of the new, up and coming...
Cadigan: Twenty? Has it been that long?!
Russell: Do you see a new Ribofunk or whatever? Are there new hot young Kirks running around out there? The same way Gibson, et al did in 1984?
Cadigan: I don't know and I don't know.
I will start with the alternative reality question first. I had not thought about it that way at all. The idea of alternate realities whether its alternative history, alternative future history, dreams, other dimensions, fantasy realms, middle earth -- there's a long and respectable tradition and the way I look at mine is that it is really for people to act out. I think that may be because I see more acting out in the world today than I ever have at any other time in my life. Granted, even though I am older than God, I have not actually been around for that long. So I don't have a long, long time from which I could chart my own personal observations.
When I was sitting down to think about this, I wasn't thinking, "Well, in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland and Alfred Bester and everybody else I think I'll invent an alternative reality space. I was just fooling around doing some thought experiments with the idea of television on steroids. I'd really like it if somebody mentioned it in the same breath with Alice in Wonderland and Alfred Bester, that would just really make my millennium, if you know what I mean. I don't know that anyone will. Just cross your fingers and hope for the best. But I'm intensely flattered that you thought of it.
Now, Cyberpunk was one of those things that happened because of what was happening not in Science Fiction but in the world. Cyberpunk had been trying to happen for years in the form of Alfred Bester and tried again with Samuel Delaney, but there was something missing. The holy trinity was not complete yet. We had the telephone, we had television, and only when the personal computer hit the desktop could we then have Cyberpunk. And right around that time we got the affordable "everyone-can-have-a-computer" type of computer and we got Cyberpunk and Bill Gibson to give us Cyberspace.
Those two things had to happen at the same time. That's why we did not have Cyberpunk thirty or forty years earlier than we did. Certainly we had computers, and we even had Asimov, for one, conceiving of a pocket computer that you could hold in your hand, press buttons and get answers from. We had walking computers and robots in Science Fiction but not in real life. Cyberpunk was the type of Science Fiction that was very tuned in not only to the Science Fiction influences, but to the technology, the music, the culture, the people, the circumstances, the events, everything. That is why Cyberpunk hit as hard as it did; that is why it was such a big deal.
In response to your question about whether Science Fiction will renew itself, I see more writers coming, but whether you'll have something like Cyberpunk again is hard to say. That was a conjunction of the stars kind of thing; it was one of synchronicity's finest hours, I'd say. I didn't see anyone jumping up to say, "OK, now this is the movement, let's go!" Things like that happen as they will happen. They will happen by accident, they will happen by the way, or they will happen only in retrospect when someone turns around and says, "Hey look what happened back there!" (The old 20-20 hindsight type of thing.) There are lots of great writers coming along and I have taught a number of them myself. They may not necessarily be the type of people that you would qualify as Cyberpunk, on the other hand, I think that many of them have absorbed a good deal of influence from Cyberpunk to a greater or lesser degree. Let's just say that I personally feel the world is a lot better because Bill Gibson was in it. One woman's opinion.
Jenkins: Part of what happened to Cyberpunk is a shift from thinking of computers as technology to thinking of computers as the culture -- something that impacts every aspect of everyday life. In some sense Cyberpunk was ahead of the national consciousness because of that shift. That's why Cyberspace became the operative word to talk about this phenomenon. Science Fiction gave people a vocabulary to grasp what was taking place their own lives. That's one of Science Fiction's highest moments because it did frame that question.
Cadigan: The other thing too was the fact that Cyberpunk quite often dealt with the near future so that when you read the stories you could see elements of the stories in the egg, as it were, around you. So that made it more real and a lot of people started reading that work who normally would not have picked up Asimov or Heinlein or anyone else. Because it became more directly, dare I say it, relevant to them. And I am not saying that Cyberpunk is more relevant than any other literature. This is just the way I see it. This is not to say that other Science Fiction or other kinds of literature isn't worth reading because certainly that is not true. None of us would have started writing without that. I pick up a lot of influence from stuff that seems to have nothing to do with stuff that I write.
Angela Nadelianus: Where do you go in the egg to do your own research? Are there any particular libraries or influences that affect you the most when you are writing?
Cadigan: Well, I take a lot of inspiration from music. At this point on-line stuff is still so unreliable that if you want any hard information you best go find a book and look it up. We haven't worked out all the bugs in on-line research. For instance, when I was researching stuff for Tea From An Empty Cup, I found out a lot of stuff on Kabuki theater and then I found out a lot on Bunraku which I had never heard of. Of course, I felt like a dope when I told people that the working title of the book is "Bunraku" and they would jump up and say, "Bunraku! I love Bunraku! I went to Tokyo last year and I saw lots of Bunraku!" I felt like, "Geez, I better not tell them that I didn't even know what it was 15 minutes ago." But then I wanted to research some of the other stuff from Japanese popular culture -- Cyberpunk-ish types of things -- and there was only one place for me to go: I had to go to my 12 year old son who has every animated video. And he likes the subtitled ones because he wants to hear the original voices and try to translate to the subtitles. So I had to vet a lot of things past him. So you can see, like inspiration, research is where you find it. You just use all your available resources.
Question (Female): I have two questions: first, I am curious about what your literary influences are both inside and outside Science Fiction and also what you meant when you said that Cyberpunk was trying to be born in Bester and Delaney.
My second question is, since you refer to Cyberpunk in the past tense as I guess many people do these days, then what are you writing now?
Cadigan: That's what my editor wants to know, "What the hell are you writing now?!" My literary influences? Boy, I have a hell of time with this question. I will tell you actually, I read all the classic Science Fiction and the first book that really had a deep impact on me was Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. I was overwhelmed by that book. I read it when I was pubescent. It was the first inkling that I ever had that Science Fiction was for mature grown-up people and that it meant something other than a little rocket ship on the spine of a library book.
Judith Merrill's anthologies were in my public library when I was in school and I used to check those out over and over again because the range of short fiction in those was exquisite. She had John Cheever next to Mac Reynolds next to Theodore Sturgeon next to Bernard Malamud. It was like the woman had scoured every available periodical every year and she brought a lot of things to my attention. And when I read those anthologies I thought, "Well this is the pinnacle for me. I want to be as versatile and as agile intellectually, and just as outright good as all of these people so that I can write anything and have it be in a Judith Merrill anthology. And it was because of Judith Merrill that I discovered Cordwainer Smith. I was just flabbergasted when I came across Cordwainer Smith. I couldn't figure out what it was that made his stories so unique. Finally, as I found out about his background and how he had adapted Chinese verbal story-telling to the English language, I put on my to do list, "Learn Chinese."
So I learned Chinese, but one of the problems when you learn a really exotic language and you live in a place like Kansas, is that eventually you don't have anyone to talk to. But for a while I got heavily into Mandarin. I had a job waiting tables at a restaurant and at the time there was a very large Chinese student population at KU. I had gotten to a point where the Chinese students would sit at my tables because I could take their orders in Chinese and then I could take them out to the cook who was also Chinese so I could give him the orders in Chinese and he'd give me the food in Chinese and I began to think in Chinese and that was a great moment. Because up to that point, I had never understood what my friends meant when they'd say that they had begun to think in whatever language they were studying and that it was so cool. So I loved that and I picked up an awful lot from Chinese that I can't even explain.
Learning other languages is really a great way to get out of your own perspective. And I did this for a while. I took Russian and German for a while when I was in High School. My grandmother was Polish and I remember that she used to talk to me in Polish and I used to answer her in English. I probably can't do this now. So there's an awful lot that I like to pull out from somebody else's tongue, if that makes any sense.
I read Alice in Wonderland and Tolkien. I'm at the point where I'm not mad at Tolkien anymore. And I am willing to say that it isn't his fault, because it really isn't. That buzzing sound you hear is Tolkien twirling in his crypt. I took a look at The Lord of the Rings the other day and I remembered just how beautiful that language is and how affecting that story is. And I have this real fondness for Stephen King, for a number of reasons. Whenever I get stuck on something or whenever I want to read something I really like, I get out a copy of Salem's Lot, because that is an example of someone working at the height of his powers. It was his first peak and he just loved what he was doing, loved the creating, and he had no thought in his mind that he was going to be successful or that he was writing for anybody. He was just doing the best job that he possibly could on that book and it is still a jewel of a book.
And now outside the genre: I am just crammed to the brim with mysteries. For a while they couldn't put out an 87th precinct mystery without me jumping on it. For a while I used to know the entire precinct gang by heart and I could tell you how Meyer Meyer lost his hair. I love police procedurals. I really like those a lot. I am trying to think which ones I especially liked, but it's hard to say. I could more easily tell you the ones that I didn't like because there were fewer of those. I like mysteries a lot because you have to be real smart to write a mystery. That's why I keep walking around telling people that this is a Science Fiction mystery, because I want them to think I'm real smart. But the fact is, to write a good mystery you have to have more than half a brain in your head. And when a mystery works, oh man, is there anything better than reading a really good mystery and having the whole thing come together for you? Well, there probably is, but I won't go into it.
And Cyberpunk in the past tense; what am I writing now? I am writing what I always wrote. I always wrote this. I didn't start writing Cyberpunk because someone called me a Cyberpunk. And I didn't stop writing Cyberpunk when everyone decided that they were tired of Cyberpunk. And people keep saying to me, "Is Cyberpunk dead?" And I say, "Well, if it were, you wouldn't have asked me that question." It isn't new; it isn't an innovation anymore. You can't write Cyberpunk and say, "Oh, I'm innovating now!" I can't write Cyberpunk, I can only write what I write. I've had people tell me, "Well, don't worry Pat, you're a Cyberpunk." And I've had other people tell me, "Don't worry Pat, you're not a Cyberpunk." Both are meant to be reassuring so I take it in the spirit in which it is given. I set out to write something that I would find intelligent. Something that people would think, " Oh this isn't just something that I would read and then blow my nose on and throw away." Maybe they do, but at least I did my part.
I set out to raise questions. That's really what I want to do. When I am working on a story or a novel or anything at all I'm not looking to answer any questions or to say this is how it should be, or this is what is, or this is what's gonna be, or this is what it better be. Mainly I'm trying to raise questions. And rather than invent something that no one has invented before, I'd rather ask a question that no one has thought of before. Maybe I can't come up with the answer, but if you don't ask the question then there can't be an answer at all.
As for Bester and Delaney, I said that because when Cyberpunk was first taking its lumps, we were all getting a lot of grief from people. People would come up and say to me, "There's nothing new about Cyberpunk, Bester was doing it and then Delaney was doing it." And I'd say, "Yes, but, they're not doing it now." And then someone, I think it was Gardenois, told me that when Delaney had been at his peak he said that he was trying to do Bester for the 60s. And then Bill Gibson came along and said that he was trying to do Delaney for the 80s. No one else has come along because we don't know what to call the 00s, I guess.
Feminist Literary Influences?
Question (Male): I noticed that in addressing the question of literary influences, that you very conspicuously didn't mention the various feminist Science Fiction writers of the 1970s. I wonder how you see what your relationship in the generation of Cyberpunk female writers has been to that earlier generation which tended to write more pastoral utopias rather than high tech stories. What are your thoughts on those two generations of female Science Fiction writers?
Cadigan: I don't think of Ursula K. LeGuin as being a terribly pastoral type of writer. The Left-Hand of Darkness is not a pastoral novel. Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm -- people like that opened a lot of doors for people of my generation and the generation immediately following them. They fought and won a lot of battles that we no longer have to be as concerned with. Occasionally, well, there are assholes everywhere you go, but for the most part....
The fact is that when I think of female Science Fiction writers, the first people I think of are Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, and Kate Wilhelm. The quality of their work is absolutely stunning. This is definitely not a case of somebody saying, "Let's find some girl writers." It is not tokenism. Anyone who can write a book as good as Picnic on Paradise or Left-Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed or Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. Yeah, you go for it, you try and get that good. Maybe you can after a couple of lifetimes.
They had a major effect on me, but by the time I was writing seriously a lot of those battles had been fought or were already in progress and I was certainly cheering them on from the sidelines and it opened it up such that female Science Fiction writers are not the oddity that they were at one time.
Connie Willis argued in a guest editorial for Asimov that there had always been a lot of female Science Fiction writers and yes, there were more than people remember, but the fact is they had very little in the way of influence. These days you don't really have to think about that so much. You have a field that will encompass the work of Connie Willis and Shari Ann Lewett, Maureen McCoom, Patricia Sullivan and all of these writers are not pastoral, they are tough, really tough. I don't see their writing as female writing. As for pastoral fantasy, I think that is an illusion brought on by bad book design. If you pick up one of Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasies and you look at the cover, you might think it was pastoral, but if you open it up you'll get a nasty surprise. There is not as much pastoral stuff around as most people think.
Science Fiction and Cinema
Angela Nadelianus: Pat, I was just wondering whether you are influenced at all by Science Fiction cinema of the last couple of decades since the technology it uses to construct its special effects is as Science Fictional as many of the narratives it deals with.
Cadigan: Part of the influence is feeling that my visuals have to compete with cinematic visuals. It is not so much that I draw from those as I try to find ways to make my visuals as vivid as theirs and they do it the easy way and I have to do it the hard way. It's a good thing actually because lots of writers like myself tend to get caught up in doing dialogue and we tend to not want to bother with that description stuff and that's not good because then your readers don't have a sense of place. And I find that I really enjoy creating a set, a reality, whatever it is. So when I think of it, I visualize it the way I'd remember something in a movie and try to work around it verbally that way.
Regulating the Internet?
Question (Male): In the section you read, you made it clear that most of artificial reality, if not all, was completely off limits to children. I was wondering what you thought about regulating children's access to the Internet or regulating the Internet to make it safe for children -- say a 12 year old.
Cadigan: Well, I should explain that actually artificial reality is not off limits to children. It's this particular section of virtual reality which is called "Post-Apocalyptic New York City" that is adults only.
As far as regulating the Internet for children, I did mention my 12 year old. My 12 year old is 13. And I have never restricted his access to the Internet. Now it depends on the child. I know some people whose kids can't resist going into chat rooms and giving other people their address and phone number and a map to their house. You have to know your kid. And one rule isn't going to protect every kid.
How would you react if you woke up one morning and they said now the government is going to restrict children's access to areas outside their home? -- where they can go and who they can see? My 13 year old has been doing stuff on-line since he was 6 or 7. At first he had trouble typing so he would just talk to my friends' children when I would conference on-line with some people. We used to have a regular conference on Wednesday nights on the Delphi network. Jack Chaulker and Eva Whitley had a son just a few years older than my son, so after a while I would give up the keyboard to Bob and then he and Dave would chat together. Bob got accustomed to that, but he was talking to another kid and we all knew the people in there. We had all been meeting regularly so there wasn't any worry about who he was meeting on-line. If someone weird came on-line there were always lots of other people on there who could look out for the kids and the kids could also go into their own private chat room and talk together.
Later on, I talked to Bob and warned him, "Don't go onto those porn sites because I'll know," and I didn't tell him about that history folder. And so he went on the porn sites and I knew and I explained to him that because he had been going on the porn sites we were getting lots of porn spam and that more than anything else cured him. "Oh no, not more porn spam!" So as far as pedophiles coming and getting my son, I don't think so. I have yet to stumble into any kiddie porn places. I'm not saying that they don't exist because people are getting rounded up in Belgium and in England, but I don't think that restricting my son's access to the Internet or anything else is going to teach him how to cope. I don't think it's going to show him how to conduct himself or what to do. Sometimes he would be on-line on my account and some of my friends or some readers would get on-line and think he was me, so I taught him how to respond to those things and he would respond politely and effectively.
So I have a well-mannered kid who knows how to take phone messages and will never, never visit another porn site while his mother is reading his history file. I have to inform his dad how to do it though, because I'm not sure his dad knows. On the other hand, I'm not sure that his dad wouldn't enjoy it too much.
Anyway, I don't think kids should be restricted. I think that kids should be taken care of. And I don't think that any restrictions that you put on the Internet are going to make people become better parents.
Regulating Science Fiction?
Question (Male): I used to read Science Fiction in an attempt to figure out what the human future is going to be and now I read about different technologies. And it looks like the technologies are posing lots of questions that Science Fiction somehow doesn't want to discuss. For example, instead of artificial reality you can look at the real reality and have it morph into anything to your liking or create mutual realities. You can wire your senses to anything in the world at the same time and have completely distributed system of actuators and sensors and distribute your personality. And there are lots of identity hacks that can be done: you can upload your consciousness into computers and can have continuous personality back-up and rewind yourself if you do something wrong and you can have completely good functional global intelligence which goes far beyond what we are used to in our normal life and which would challenge all of our concepts of identity.
At the same time the government and Science Fiction are still discussing whether 12 year olds can see someone naked. This is not a problem for any other species. I have never seen puppies being deeply psychologically disturbed from seeing dogs naked. That has been resolved in all other species except those burdened by the puritanical heritage of some nations.
So is Science Fiction unable to see the future as it is being prepared by technology? Or is it the demand of the Science Fiction readers, who only want to hear about their little problems and just don't want to see anything that would challenge their world?
Cadigan: Well there's also a third element. Yes, yes, and blame the marketing people who got control of publishing companies not just of Science Fiction, but of every genre. Because right now publishing is in a state where it is product and it is not just product it is... well, I had one editor in England, who shall remain nameless, who said that this book was unpublishable because it wasn't long enough, thick enough. You need a fat book. It doesn't matter what it says. It just has to be big enough. My book is just long enough. It goes from the beginning to the end. It's somewhere between 60 and 70 thousand words which is quite short for a book these days. But I do have a previous novel that is fat. I've been on a diet.
Yes, yes, and somewhat. To a certain extent Science Fiction doesn't want to deal with some things. There was a lot of resistance to Cyberpunk, I think, for those very reasons. It challenged the very cozy type of traditional Science Fiction, and for a literature that was supposed to do wild experiments thought-wise and make speculations about the future, it was terribly hidebound and still is in a lot of ways and one of the things that I talked about with Bruce Sterling was that we be very careful about becoming establishment. Every good movement no matter how well-intentioned tends to breed storm troopers.
The other thing is that there is Science Fiction that does deal with this. You would have liked my previous two novels, but it's not just me. There are other books that deal with more things than just worrying about who is seeing what naked. And to be fair I don't think that that's all it is. May I ask, do you have kids?
Question (Same Male): One. It's enough.
Cadigan: Yeah, I know. I just have one. I talk about him for a while and people say, "How many kids do you have?" One, but it's full. My concerns for my son are really quite different than my mother's concerns for me when I was at the same age. I suppose that sounds really retro- and old-fashioned and sexist and everything, but the fact is, that's the way it is. I would probably be a lot more nervous if I had a daughter than if I had a son.
Lots of people don't understand exactly how the Web works. They hear that there are porn sites out there and they think that the porn can come in through the computer somehow and grab them. They don't understand that really most of the time you have to go looking for it. Unless of course you have an account with America Online and then you will get tons of great spam with title lines like "Re: The information you wanted" and then when you click on it you will have a Web site offering you a free Porn Passport. Now that pisses me off. But a lot of people are concerned, not knowing how it works and thinking that if their kid logs onto the Web, pedophiles or perverts will come and find him somehow by capturing his signal from the computer and honing in on him to show him even more dirty pictures or whatever.
Part of it is just ignorance and part of it is just honestly trying to figure out what's going on and not being able to. Eventually I think that people will come to understand first of all how to protect themselves and how to keep themselves confidential on the Web -- if they really don't want to be giving out or taking in cookies. But also they will come to understand that the porn sites on the Web can't come and get you anymore than the Playboy channel on Cable TV can. At first there is always a lot of anxiety and apprehension about a new technology and it is easy to get kind of impatient with that.
Then there are those people who will never like the Internet and they will die without the Internet. I'm not sure how they're going to live though because we have gotten to the point where I see Web addresses on grocery bags and on the sides of buses. So it's here; get used to it.
Jenkins: Would you like to make a closing statement Pat?
Cadigan: (Sigh) Let's see, something pithy yet profound: thanks for holding still for this. That's it.