Science Fiction & Fantasy

Beren & Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Author Spotlight: Bruce Sterling

In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Bruce Sterling to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “Maneki Neko.”

Bruce SterlingThis is the first truly cyberpunk story we’ve had up on Lightspeed. Will you tell us a little about the origins of it?

Well, since I’m a cyberpunk writer, and that story’s got rather a lot of cyber going on in it, I guess it is indeed “truly cyberpunk.”  I wasn’t sitting there looking and acting all truly-cyberpunk while I was typing it, however.

You chose to write this story from the point of view of a Japanese man. Was there a reason for choosing that particular nationality?

Yeah. This story was originally written for Hayakawa’s SF Magazine in Tokyo, and its original appearance was in the Japanese language. Hayakawa’s was reprinting rather a lot of my stuff at the time, and I thought I’d amuse the readers of the mag by writing the kind of story Bruce Sterling would have written if he was a Japanese SF writer.

“Maneki Neko” may be the first story I’ve ever read when a dominant network turns out to be a good thing, rather than a bad (at least in Tsuyoshi’s opinion). It’s original even for 2011. Back when you wrote this, was it a unique idea as well? Were people afraid that they’d end up a victim of conspiracy (like Louise)?

I frankly didn’t care if it was a unique idea. Unique ideas are overrated. The idea that the Internet has a “gift economy” aspect is an obvious idea. It’s a truism, and even a cliche.

It’s not a moral sermon about how some situation is a “good thing rather than a bad thing,” but a detailed speculation on how it might look and feel.

It has turned out to be a rather popular story, but mostly among Internet gift-economy enthusiasts instead of Japanese science fiction readers. I wrote a second piece for Hayakawa’s called “Edo no Hana,” and while steampunks kind of like that story, the Japanese were like: “What gives with that?”

People are always paranoid about being victimized by dominant networks and conspiracies. These guys are just projecting their own anxieties. If you take the trouble to go hang out with the conspirators who are in the dominant networks, you’ll find they’re just some bunch of goons and goofballs, pretty much like everybody else.

It’s especially interesting to go find people who think that YOU are a conspirator in a dominant network. If you’re a white American guy who travels the world, that’ll happen all the time.

You’re known as one of the “founders” of the cyberpunk movement. What appeals to you the most about this sub-genre, and why should we all read it more?

I used to carry on rather a lot about the many good reasons to read cyberpunk, and people actually DID read it more. Nowadays the bookstores are closing, and people read Google searches and Facebook pages. If you’d read some cyberpunk back in 1985, you might have been a bit more up-to-speed with this development.

What are you working on now?

I’m about to go out to a squat in Rome to talk about “design fiction” and “augmented reality” to student radicals and European leftists. My wife, the former-Yugoslav feminist revolutionary dissident, is coming along.

It’s pretty much always like this for me, nowadays. I don’t know if that is “work” or more just some kind of “activism,” but I sure do a lot of it. A lot of my friends say that, nowadays, I live in a Bruce Sterling novel.

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Erin Stocks

Erin Stocks Lightspeed Assistant Editor Erin Stocks’ fiction can be found in the Coeur de Lion anthology Anywhere but EarthFlash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and most recently in Polluto Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ErinStocks or at www.erinstocks.com.