month Behind Blown Eyes features random
ideation on computers and the Internet and my thoughts
on the future prompted by Sabine Schmidt a German
interviewer. Only relevant portions of the interview
What attitude do you have towards computers? Do
you consider yourself "just" a PC or Mac user, a
fan, a reluctant convert, or something else?
I am a fan of some of their applications. I like
the ease of word processing; of making quick changes
in a text. I can appreciate graphics in a computer
game. But I'm not a computer oriented person, despite
having written "seminal cyberpunk." I simply recognize
its cultural importance. Some of that importance
has a positive spin, some not so positive, especially
on the Internet side. I worry that people absorb
information from the Internet indiscriminately,
without filtering it for validity, without cross
checking. Recently, the Prime Minister of South
Africa rejected an AIDS drug his country sorely
needed solely on the basis of alarming and incorrect
information which was casually posted on the Internet
by unscrupulous persons. There are probably South
African infants in the womb who will get AIDS when
they otherwise wouldn't have because of this misinformation.
use a PC, and Windows, for convenience. I am one
of those people who leans toward convenience, always,
in using a technological tool. If it doesn't have
a simple, low-arching learning curve, if it isn't
easy to learn, I discard it. I have other priorities.
But I'm not saying that everyone should do the same.
When did you start working with one?
Around 1985 perhaps? I had a computer, don't remember
the kind, in which the monitor was built into the
mainframe body. It had a very industrial look, like
something you'd see on a submarine, an oscilloscope
or something like that. The screen was no bigger
than a piece of sliced bread. I used wordstar word
processing software originally. Learning a new word
processing program is a pain in the ass; the necessity
seems thrust upon me from time to time. I do think
that we can become too caught up in new technologies,
that we are sold some that we don't need, that we
waste mental energy there. It's a matter of balance.
We need new technologies but we shouldn't get fixated
Assuming you write on a computer, has this changed
the way you work?
Yes it makes things faster, hence I can try more
and different approaches to a story. Perhaps when
one picks up speed one tends toward a momentum that
may induce haste. Hasty writing is usually not good
writing (though some people are better at writing
rapidly than others). It seems to me that it may
be possible to discern from reading a printed text
whether or not it was written directly on a word
processor--word processor prose may have a sort
of fluidity or some other qualities (which I have
not yet identified for certain) distinguishing it
from prose written on a notebook or typewriter.
Presumably Marshal Mcluhan would agree. Would word
processor prose tend to lead to longer sentences,
more free association? I think that prose written
specifically for the Internet tends to be more and
more telegraphic, choppy, with information-packed
sentences, because people read less on the Internet,
so information has to be more bitesized and compacted.
I only put short samples of my prose up on Internet
sites now because Internet readers have such short
attention spans. And the tendency --for some people
an ideologically based tendency--to put up numerous
links in a site encourages that shortness of attention
span. One must adapt. One of the most pernicious
Internet features, one seemingly designed to facilitate
attrition of the attention span, is the chat room.
I've done scheduled appearances in them, and people
seem unable to sustain attention for more than two
or three lines; whereas in a printed interview it's
possible to expand one's point, to clarify. Chat
rooms endorse fragmentation. Everything is choppy,
and reduced to the most common denominator of sound
bite simplemindedness. You can't have a long (or
even medium length) thought in a chat room.
You paint a grim political and social picture in
this novel [Silicon Embrace], and you once
referred to the "incipient fascism" in Europe in
an interview. How much of a social pessimist are
you, and do you see differences between the U.S.
and Europe? (e.g. religious fundamentalism here,
nationalism/fascism over there) Have your views
changed since you wrote Silicon Embrace?
I am not entirely a pessimist. I think that there
will be rough patches for the world to forge through
in the 21st century; I think we will lose some major
cities to plague or terrorism or both; that we will
suffer greatly from ecological damage and overpopulation.
But I think we'll survive as a civilization, and
we'll learn from those disasters-- millions may
die from these things, in pockets, but it will not
amount to a holocaust, not on a global scale. I'm
afraid people have to suffer from their environmental
mistakes before they learn, even though the warnings
are all around us. You'll see this on a vast scale
in the third world. People have yet to realize what
a big mistake we've made poisoning our ground water
and our biosphere with pesticides and herbicides--they'll
for fascism--it tends to sprout up wherever social
chaos reigns. There is a danger of fascism in Russia,
where the infrastructure is already mostly collapsed;
the whole country is like a Turkish building right
after an earthquake, still standing--but wait till
the aftershock. When things collapse, people will
turn to the man on the white horse. We'll see whole
new global criminal organizations arise in the wake
of such chaos, just as the Albanian mafia thrives
in the chaos of Kosovo--Serbian criminal organizations
in their own zones. There has been cooperation in
the past between organized criminals and fascists:
the Bolivian fascists, including your own Klaus
Barbie, made a deal with cocaine cartels --financing
in exchange for allowing the drug dealers to operate
freely after the takeover. That government is gone
but the scars remain. More and more evidence emerges
that President Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy
of mafioso and crypto-fascists in the government.
The CIA made deals with drug smugglers to help finance
the crypto-fascist contras in Nicaragua. Beware
of more of that unholy alliance in the 21st century.
Look for more balkanism, more fragmentation along
ethnic lines--these are the 'weak points' at which
societies under stress break up; societies stressed
by ecologically induced famine, for example, as
in Silicon Embrace. Other scenarios of this
sort are found in my novel ECLIPSE which
has just been reissued here in a rewritten, updated
form by Babbage Press (www.babbagepress.com). There
is a great danger of theocratic confrontation between
Fundamentalist Muslims and Fundamentalist Christians,
both sets of people trapped in very narrow, tragically
non-objective mindsets. Hopefully moderate Christians
and Moderate Muslims will unite to prevent war.
How important do you think the Internet/the Web/some
yet-to-be-devised electronic form of communication
will be in the future?
We're already dependent on it; it will continue
to be important as long as civilization has unbroken
wires from one community to the next. It is in its
infancy--people will learn how to use it skeptically
and intelligently and how to avoid addiction to
it. Or they will sink into cultural fugue, miasma,
and group psychosis. I think that Internet misinformation
about the Hale Bopp comet and UFO myths promulgated
as "facts" on the Internet were factors that led
to the Heaven's Gate ufo-cult suicides. The Internet
is valuable--and so is wood, but do not try to build
a hundred-story building purely out of wood, it
Will it preserve an element of anarchy, be an empowerment
tool, or become strictly commercial, for instance?
If the multinationals who want to "fence in" the
Internet's free ranges and make it their own ranchlands
(for sheep?) succeed, then I believe there will
be "outlaw" Internets somehow constructed, perhaps
sent via wireless transmission, perhaps encoded
in big fiber-optic trunk lines, hidden amidst other
data. People will create free cyberspace places.
It can be an empowerment tool, but beware of accepting
on face value information, from such places, that
comes from so-called conspiracy experts, who're
mostly caught up in an exercise in "rorschach inkblot"
free association, connecting dots that are not actually
connectable, seeing false patterns--there are conspiracies,
of course. There is a book called Lost History
that details some real ones. But conspiracy theorists,
who are widespread on the Web, exaggerate, even
fabricate facts. Sometimes they're not better than
the multinationals they denounce because the theorists
too merely want to sell you things: books or videos.
However, I do believe that society--even organized
society--needs anarchists. It may drive anarchists
mad to realize it but they perform an important
social function; they are like the imaginative faculty
in the brain of civilization. They try this and
that social model out; they are the real world equivalent
of computer models. And they will thrive online.
I have recently had it confirmed that Internet access
has been very useful to progressive groups, like
the Green Party and the Sierra Club and consumer
groups and anti-war groups, it's a marvelous organizing
tool for radical politics and will be even more
so. But the same applies to conservative politics,
to Christian Fundamentalists--don't forget that.
Including works written under pen names, just how
prolific are you and what are you working on now?
I've written fifteen books under my name, maybe
a dozen or so under pseudonyms, but let us forget
those. I have several books of short stories, most
recently Really Really Really Really Weird Stories
which is in four sections--each section, if I arranged
them right, weirder than the last, in order to really
assault the reader's sense of reality cumulatively
as you read the book. I'm working on that Dali biography
and a fantasy/horror/science fiction hybrid short
novel for Cemetary Dance publications about an invasion
of demons (why and from where? You have to read
the story) in the 21st century. I'm afraid it's
a political metaphor but I don't think the reader
will find it didactically intrusive.
Myra said she listens to music when she writes.
Do you? What works? What doesn't? Are you interested
in electronica? Have you written lyrics for bands
in addition to your own and Blue Oyster Cult? Anyone
you'd like to write for?
I've written for the punk band DC Moon. I'd
like to write for more bands. I listen to different
sorts of things for different kinds of writing.
I listened to Monster Magnet (one of my favorite
bands) and the Pixies when writing the new
novel. I sometimes listen to "dark" classical music,
e.g. Stravinski. The rhythms of the music, especially
rock and roll, affect my writing, and in some earlier
writings I tried to press them from the very air
right onto the page, like a leaf, trying to make
the reader "hear" them in their imaginations. William
Gibson has said he can hear the music in my writing,
of that sort, so maybe I succeeded, but I don't
think most science fiction fans were interested;
they were more into Larry Niven or Orson Card, and
that's a different sensibility. It was something
I had to try. Nowadays I try to transpose a sense
of real life verisimilitude into my writing; I'm
concerned less with subliminal rhythms and more
with symbols dancing in the texture of what I hope
feels like real life. Because I feel that real life
is always dancing with symbols; that we're in a
tarot deck, a surrealist painting, and we don't
know it. If we get over the illusion that we're
awake, and then awaken ourselves for real, we'll
be able to read those symbols in real life.
© 2000 John Shirley All Rights Reserved
Shirley is the award winning author of Black Butterflies,
Wetbones, "Really Really Really Really Weird Stories",
and Eclipse, among many others. Eclipse, the first
book of his cyberpunk trilogy, has just been reissued,
revised and updated, by Babbage Press, www.babbagepress.com
out the official authorized John Shirley Website