Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

Discussing AGENCY with William Gibson + Excerpts

This post is excerpted from an email thread I had with Bill in January, 2020. I put in some photos from the SF Women’s March this month, also a couple of my recent paintings. And I included some quotes from Agency to convey the flavor and attitude of the book. Spoilers alert.

RR===

They returned to her car, where it awaited them invisibly, a few dead leaves clinging to its roof, as though magically suspended.

The Agency advance reading copy is here and I’m reading it, trying to take it slow, as it’ll be a while till the next fix of Gibson. I’m often in that Valencia Street, San Francisco, neighborhood that you write about, as our son Rudy Jr lives near there. And now I’m reading about your squat robot-like peripheral in Oakland. A couple of months ago Rudy Jr. bought an old empty warehouse in Oakland, huge, a city block, using part of it for his ISP, Monkeybrains.net, but most of the building is empty, way too much space, it’s almost like a joke , we were all roller skating in it. Kind of spooky and fun to be seeing our local scene through your virtual eyes. And your emails are feeling like Eunice messages coming in. Synchronicity all over the place. Total immersion.

I adore the “soft grunge girls in pastel plaid flannel” And the plot is picking up speed.

WG===

You’ll see that the pace changes in the Verity thread after a certain point, like time starts moving more slowly. I’m worried I’ll lose any really straight thriller readers then, but it was like something was really trying to tell me something.

RR===

It’s fine with me if the thriller pace slows down. I like your meditative stuff. so nice to have you doing real SF again! “Slash is electric once more.”

I like how Netherton is expecting to be in a superhero Iron-Man-type peripheral, and then it’s squat and small, like part of an oil filled radiator. He’s a good anti hero, and you have fun tormenting him. He still works as a character being sober, still has the same outside attitude. When I had my character Sta-Hi be sober in Realware, some of my older fans were mad about it, grumbled that “Rucker has gone religious, he’s no fun anymore, etc.” But if they’d notice, Sta-Hi stays exactly as crazy as before, as does Netherton.

Extreme close-up of gray tweed. The high-resolution texture of an alternate universe.

WG===

For me, what took over for Netherton in this book was his co-parenting! My first POV character with a baby to take care of! When I discovered how different that felt to write, I guess I decided to roll with it, getting some perverse satisfaction out of imagining poor fuckers who bought the book in an airport, just before jumping on an 8-hour flight, expecting to get the generic thriller hand-job, and bang, they’re parenting!

“Don’t forget the milk.” [said Netherton’s wife.] As her sigil dimmed, a sliding shadow eclipsed the road. Looking up, he saw the segmented ventral surfaces of a particularly large moby [blimp], quite low, a flock of gulls wheeling behind it. He stopped, to stand beneath it as it passed, wishing [son] Thomas were here, who might make a sound perhaps, reaching out to touch it, not understanding how high it was. The city so quiet, in that moment, that he could hear the gulls. Then a car passed, an antique Rolls, unoccupied, its driver a dash-top homunculus, in what he took to be a tiny chauffeur’s uniform.

[At home, Netherton was] drawing one of the [milk] bottles from the carrying bag. Sensing this, the bag crinkled, trying to origami itself into the butterfly it needed to become in order to fly back to the newsagent. … Netherton, fumbling to return the bottle to the bag, almost dropped both bottles, the bag escaping, fluttering clumsily away.

RR===

I finished Agency in a final two-day swoop. Very engaging, and studded with your usual gems. And a heavy take on current events. Nice to end with a cool, happy party.

As you were telling me in advance, the thing you did with Verity is non-standard. She has almost no agency, and little real effect on the story arc. It’s almost like she never gets a decisive turnaround moment. And you seem to say this a deliberate move, meant to emulate our individual helplessness before the firehose of global history as generated by criminals and assholes.

I’m getting tired,” [Verity] said, “of nobody telling me where I’m going.”

Another surprising move is that, in the end, the nuke-war avoidance is achieved basically by Hillary alone, with only a light, unseen nudge from Eunice. Maybe this is a bit of a twist of the knife on your part, as it’s pretty clear that our man T would be certain to eff up a delicate nuclear stand-off negotiation, and in the worst possible way.

Even so, I’d been counting on Eunice to stop the war. But then, re. Eunice, you do a subtler meta-move. Eunice is going to open up the internet and global AI to everyone. Universal agency! Product support by a benevolent god. A ray of hope that the “good internet” represented by Eunice can save stubs from kleptdom. Love it.

“My mother,” Netherton said, “held that everything would invariably collapse, if the klept [the perennial ultra-one-percenter cabal of biz / crime / government] were left to their own resources. Do you believe that?”

“But for the occasional pruning,” [Lowbeer] said, “[with the pruning] under the auspices of an impartial eye, yes [the klept would destroy the world]. Their tedious ambition and contempt for rule of law would bring everything down, around their ears and ours. They managed to do that with the previous world order, after all, though then it was effectively their goal. They welcomed the jackpot [social/environmental collapse], the chaos it brought. The results of our species’ insults to nature did much of their work for them. No brakes magically appeared then, and I don’t see them appearing now, absent someone free to act, with sufficient agency, against their worst impulses. The biosphere only survives, today, by virtue of what prosthetic assistance we can afford it. The assemblers might keep that going, were the klept to founder. But I don’t trust that some last convulsive urge to short-term profit, some terminal shortsightedness, mightn’t bring an end to everything.”

I’m intrigued by your Guardian interview remark to the effect that you’re setting the stage for something like a multiversal 3rd vol. Multiverse stories are hard, I think, due to the “if everything happens, then nothing matters” problem. I notice you’re trying damp down this prob by saying only the “big stub” can spawn stubs, and when you return to a spawned stub you don’t spawn a substub, so may there are only, like, a few hundred or thousand stubs, including those to be initiated from big stub futurians down the line. A whisk-broom of timelines. Tricky to get overarching plot in that. Will be interesting to see.

WG===

I think what’s going on with Agency is that it fucks with the reader’s expectations. Part of that is me, and deliberate, and part of it is packaging, the publisher having gone with “thriller” as a substitute genre label for SF.

Verity isn’t a protagonist in the sense of the genre universe of the thriller, but a witness. She doesn’t become the possessor of personal agency to a degree that so few of us ever do, to do so being the key fantasy we go to thrillers (and often SF) for, but someone who has about as much real agency as we ourselves generally do.

There is a bit of a turnaround when Verity she sees the girl from Followrs being dragged into the truck, she endangers herself to try to rescue her, which you or I might do, the baddy getting instantly taken out by Conner’s drone. I hope I’d do that, anyway, but I’d have no Conner to back me up, so the guy might well kill or cripple me. But that withholds the genre candy from a reader expecting it. All of the ins and out, the meets and greets, are a depiction of quotidian life, albeit in various levels of crisis, as is the plethora of characters, life presenting us with much the same.

In the park below, hunched on a bench, one of two skater boys released a startlingly opaque puff of white vape, like a winter locomotive in an old movie.

Meanwhile, though, the text is going other places, and I’m definitely getting some readers picking up on those. The grown-up stuff is violently antithetical to a genre thriller, and, in my opinion, amounts, paradoxically, to a punk move. If you’ve never read Blood Meridian, say, and you start it thinking it’s a western, it seems to me you could experience it as the worst western ever written. Not that I think any comparison whatever is deserved, but just for example.

I think of Verity, who I believe in very differently than I believe in Flynne, as some kind of breakthrough for me, though not necessarily one a lot readers will welcome. Flynne is much more a fantasy figure, out of genre. Verity’s more like someone your son might know, say. Less like a character in a book.

“Rush Hour” acrylic on canvas, November, 2019, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

RR===

Re. Verity, that’s pretty much what I thought. She’s a witness. I have a local California friend who was at the Altamont concert, and I’m always asking him to tell me his account again, even though he basically did nothing. He was there! Verity met Eunice! Muse of the good Internet.

And it is indeed a cool move to have the good grown-ups refraining from killing people. Overall the book fascinated me—the cool tech, the wonderful dialog, the keen observations, the flattened out who-gives-a-fuck punkness of the adults.

A woman in surgical gloves … arrived for Conner’s rifle. Picking it and its magazine and the lone cartridge up, with what Netherton thought of as a full-nappy [full diaper] expression, she exited.

I saw in the paper this morning they found some seven billion year old stardust in meteor frags retrieved from manure pile in Australia. I was thinking these are analogous to the “good bits” in what I write…

And then I saw your NY Times Sunday Book Review interview. Cracked up over your remark about the young and the old versions of imposter syndrome. Young: I never had it. Old: I’ve lost it.

WG===

I probably spent longer inside Agency than with any other book. Like I feel like Joe-Eddy’s apartment is a major character, to the point that I’m worried about what’ll happen to it. The British SF historian John Clute once told me that I tended to put characters inside “Cornell boxes” that were more carefully drawn than my characters, and proceeded to rattle off half a dozen or so, so after that I consciously tried not to do that, but with this book that really came back, and I just let it.

[Looking at Ash’s table,] Verity glanced over decorated gourds, bundles of feathers, basketry, ethnic musical instruments both stringed and wind, ceramics, rolled tapestries, candlesticks, a tall samovar, and, most distinctively, what appeared to her to be a completely rusted submachine gun, covered with the dingy yellow plastic letters of fridge-magnet alphabets, spelling nothing Verity recognized.

I think there are other ways I just let it all hang out with this one, like that whole “landscape” sequence on the way to Coalinga, where I’ve never been, but a friend who I was sending pages to happened to drive past that field and tree and water tank, photographed it, emailed it to me from her phone, and I just expanded out into it, this uncharacteristic sense (for me) of nature and space. And because the whole world seems to be doing some weird new thing now, I relaxed and gave myself permission. So I fucking love that whole part, but I’m sure a lot of readers will be going what the fucking fuck is this shit? And I actually can’t decide whether that was irresponsible of me, or extremely responsible.

“Where are we?” Peering through the tint at an expanse of sere autumn pastureland, the odd grazing cow, scattered stunted oaks standing leafless and bleakly hieroglyphic. Another planet. Earth.

When I was an English major, I read this essay by the novelist E.M. Forster (still the only thing of his I’ve read) called “Aspects Of The Novel,” and in it he says that if your characters aren’t entirely in control of the narrative, you simply aren’t doing the work. This idea is still utter heresy in most SF-writing circles, I imagine, but it sort of blew my mind, then when I started trying to write fiction, I discovered that that was literally the only way I could get it to happen at all. And if I’d pull out of the character and let my non-writing mind make practical narrative decisions, the really intense dreaming thing was suddenly gone. So I’ve always tried to cover up the fact that I do it that way, and just keep my fingers crossed.

RR===

I hear you. For sure I miss my milieus and characters when I’m done.

I now have a contact hypnagogic flash of your field and tank scene , having driven in that area, and it overlaps with a thing I saw around there, a man in a field, dark clothes, white gloves, waving his hands high to herd a cow up the hill, me seeing this going by at fifty miles per hour and never forgetting it for the rest of my life, the springiness in the guy’s step, the yokel bounce, me intuiting his pleasure at being under the open sky. The moment frozen like an Andrew Wyeth image.

Funny thought about all those dumpster-crate-hideouts of Verity’s being Cornell boxes. And of course there’s an Airstream trailer in both Agency and The Peripheral. Do you own one yet? I’ve wanted one ever since reading about them in the Last Whole Earth Catalog a hundred years ago.

And, yeah, I totally go for having my characters wake up and become autonomous and I “just” watch them and write down what they say and do. Even laughing in delight at some of the shit they come up with. Although it’s risky confessing this to interviewers who somehow interpret it in a way that makes the author sound crazy or stupid. “Hail, ennyone could do thayut.”

I have a whole computation-theoretic argument about why it’s in fact impossible to predict how a seriously-written novel will end up—because you’re in fact computing at your max possible flop when you write, and therefore, by the unsolvability of Turing’s Halting Problem, it’s literally impossible for you to perform in advance a quick little side-computation to determine where you’ll terminate.

[His remark] felt like a category error, as if the moon were to inquire after the cantaloupe you’d bought the day before, both being spherical.

Dancing with the Muse. Only way to go.

“Dinosaur Balloon” acrylic on canvas, January, 2020, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

RR===

And, on the on the occasion of launching a book, here’s a passage I always take comfort from, which maybe you know, from a John Updike piece, “Henry Bech Redux” in a 1971 NY Times Sunday Review.

“It isn’t merely that the reviewers are so much cleverer than I, and could write such superior fictions if they deigned to; it’s that even the on-cheering ones have read a different book than the one you wrote. All the little congruences and arabesques you prepared with such delicate anticipatory pleasure are gobbled up as if by pigs at a pastry cart.”

Podcast # 112. “Fat Stream” from Space Cowboy Books

January 15, 2020.Repost of an enjoyable podcast by Space Cowboy Books in Joushua Tree, near the Mohave Desert, performing my story “Fat Stream.” Cast: Jean-Paul Garnier, Zara Kand, Patricia Thomson, Tamara Good, RedBlueBlackSilver, and music by Phog Masheeen. Great show. Thanks to all. Here’s the Space Cowboy “Simultaneous Times” podcast site. And they’re on Bandcamp as well. Their full podcast also includes “Mandela” by Brent A. Harris.
Press the arrow below to play “Fat Stream.”

Play

And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.


Rereading Gibson’s THE PERIPHERAL. Thoughts on Writing.

I just spent a week rereading William Gibson’s 2014 novel The Peripheral. Third time through. Mellowed out, lying on the couch, reading it on my Kindle, and highlighting passages that I liked…a nice thing about the Kindle, because then you can have the Kindle email you your highlighted passages in a single text file.

Sometimes I like to take one of these excerpts files and make it into a blog post, separating the quotes with photos from my stash, knowing that the photos will always, in a surrealist sense, go with the words.

I had quite a few old unposted photos, and I used almost all of them here. I put italicized captions on a very few of the photos. And I block-quoted the passages from The Peripheral. And I have comments after the quotes.

Worth reading The Peripheral now if you haven’t yet…the sequel, Agency, comes out in mid-Jan!

By the way I posted a little about the novel before, in 2017.

“It’s like wearing your cock ring to meet the pope, and making sure he sees it.”

A lot of the people in the novel are country, and they talk to each other in a funny way. This line is apropos of someone about to do something socially inappropriate.

Her head was perfectly still, eyes unblinking. He imagined her ego swimming up behind them, to peer at him suspiciously, something eel-like, larval, transparently boned.

This guy Netherton is observing a woman artist who he’s trying to scam. Her name is Daedra.

Classic anime robot babes, white china faces almost featureless.

The in-fact-horrific Michi assistant bots. Kind of perfect (ignorance) to call them babes.

Homes were all grinning and shit, after.

The “Homes” are “Homeland security cops”. And this guy Burton has attacked some people that none of them like, but the Homes have to arrest him, but… That’s a very Southern usage, “all grinning and shit,” and I love how Bill doles out this kind of dialog. I happened to meet our shared translator Daniele Brolli in Pisa, Italy, lately, and he was talking about how hard it had been for him to translate The Peripheral into Italian. It’s that writing-degree-zero, bare-bones, language-with-a-flat-tire slangy dialog.

Shaylene had big hair without actually having it, Flynne’s mother had once said.

Love this kind of subtle class distinction.

On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves.

These are Daedra’s skins. She gets tattoos. There’s an echo of Marc Laidlaw’s novel The Thirty-Seventh Mandala. And Bill has another woman with moving tattoos, also a new SF trope used by a few others. But Bill tends to kick things up a notch.

“So what have you been doing?”
“Fucking the dog. Shot a bunch of pool, slept in the car, kept my ass off the street.”

That great flat-tire Southern style of talk.

It overtook and passed her as she reached the thirty-seventh floor. Moving that way, it no longer reminded her of a backpack, but of the black egg case of an almost-extinct animal called a skate, that she’d seen on a beach in South Carolina, an alien-looking rectangle with a single twisted horn at each corner. Tumbling straight up the building now, in a smooth sequence of sticky-footed somersaults. Caught itself with the two tips of whichever pair of horns, or legs, was leading, flipped over, then propelled itself higher with the pair it had just used to grip the surface.

So our heroine Flynne is observing, via a VR-like interface, a high-rise in some version of London. I love this thing she sees…our family used to find them on the beach in South Carolina.

“That’s why we can’t have anything nice,” she heard herself say, in the trailer.

This is such the classic thing a worn-down mother might say. Why even try, with kids like you.

Gloriously pre-posthuman. In a state of nature.

Netherton lives 70 years in the future, and he gets to see our legendary “Frontierland” days of, say, the 2020s.

The polt had told Lev that he was not, as it happened, a particularly easy target for a hired assassin.

The people in the future have an interface for talking to us. They even have us control “peripheral” bots of their own time. Peripheral meaning a device that you run. And the kicker here is that you might control a peripheral in the future, or a peripheral in the past, and in this fashion you achieve something like time travel. “Polt” is short for “poltergeist,” that is a spirit that makes noises and rattles things, so this is kind of a fit for an agent in the past who’s running a peripheral in your house. The polt in question is Flynne’s Marine vet Burton who is one very hardened guy. And this sentence is funny because it is such a vast understatement… “not, as it happened, a particularly easy target for a hired assassin.” And I love this sentence so much because by now I’m really rooting for Burton, and the people who will try to assassinate him are baddie whom I’m rooting against. Bill has the ability to conscript you and get you to buy into the morality tales in his books.

[Lady on a Cuba Day float in Manhattan, posing for selfies she’s taking before the parade…”selfies” in the sense that the has a friend who she’s using as a peripheral to run the phone.  She’s from Jersey City.]

But since Lev had only touched her continuum for the first time a few months earlier, this Flynne would still be very like the real Flynne, the now old or dead Flynne, who’d been this young woman before the jackpot, then lived into it, or died in it as so many had. She wouldn’t yet have been changed by Lev’s intervention and whatever that would bring her.

Netherton the (good) scammer in the future is kind of in love with Flynne, the tough and intelligent country girl. They’re interacting via taking turns being in peripherals in the future or in the past. And Netherton is wondering how the “real” Flynne in his own timeline compares to the Flynne in the (inevitably forked off by now) timeline he’s changing. Lev is the guy Netherton works for. The “jackpot” is Gibson’s word for something like a really bad climate-change-crisis, somewhat alleviated by last-minute tech fixes.


[A bunch of drawings of our clan, done by the assembled grandchildren at a big family reunion this year. Versions of our timeline.]

“When we [first changed Flynne and Burton’s timeline] we entered into a fixed ratio of duration with their continuum: one to one. A given interval in the stub is the same interval here, from first instant of contact. We can no more know their future than we can know our own, except to assume that it ultimately isn’t going to be history as we know it. And, no, we don’t know why. It’s simply the way the server works, as far as we know.”

The timelines and the branched off “stub” timelines are called continuums, or rather, conitnua. Bill has really done his SF homework for this outing. This is where SF has an advantage over fantasy. If you go nailing down and bullshit-proofing and McGuffinizing all your rubber science, then it gives you ideas for more things to do and more probs to solve.

…the car cloaked itself, jigsaw pixels of reflected streetscape scrawling swiftly up the subdued gloss of its bodywork. Cloaked, it pulled away, seeming to bend the street around it as it went, and then was gone.

There’s this old woman in the future scene, like over a hundred, very wise, she’s called Lowbeer (a name somehow like that of Bill’s character Bigend). Bill gets you to buy into the idea that lowbeer is wonderful, heroic, infinitely cool. Somehow Bill is very good at this kind of thing, that is, enlisting the reader’s sympathyies. Lowbeer has a car that you can’t see, it “cloaks” itself by imitating the background. Another well-used SF trope, but done very nicely here.

There was Queen Anne’s lace grown up flat and level, a carpet of flowers, from the bottom of the roadside ditch, hiding the fact that there was a ditch at all. She must have walked past this spot hundreds of times, going to school, then coming back, but it hadn’t been a place.

Nice country landscape description. Bill grew up in a small town near Roanoke, Virginia, not so different from the environs of Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up. “Got a silo fulla that country-boy corn,” as Burroughs might say. I love this stuff.  As I boy, my friends and I used to pull up dried stalks of Queen Anne’s lace and hurl them, root end first, like spears. The twist in the passage here is this was just a spot like many others, but now that a quadruple killing (of bad guys) has taken place here, it’s a place. Nice distinction.

[Daughter Isabel in Mendocino; a shop where they sell gnarly hunks of wood.]

“It would be better to tell her the truth,” [said Netherton.]
Ash said nothing. Simply looked at him.
“What are you looking at?” [said Netherton.]
“I was wondering if you’ve ever said that before,” she said.

Ash is a Goth-type future woman who works with Netherton, the professional bullshit artist, osr PR man, whose job is conning people into doing things. He’s a lovable type, a heavy alcoholic who schemes constantly (and mostly unsuccessfully) to get a chance to drink as much as he wants to. This stuff is amusing and sypathetic for a former heavy drinker to read. Funny, mild put-down of Netherton here by Ash.

[This is an amazing time-related scene in the woods near where I live. Shadows of trees, more or less static, although slightly trembling with wind-chaos. Underneath them the steadily flowing of a waterfall. Like time, flowing under the matter that is the shadow. The last time I hiked in here, a Homes stopped me and gave me a ticket.]

And as he ran he screamed, maybe how he hadn’t screamed when what had happened to him had torn so much of his body off, but between the screams he whooped hoarsely, she guessed out of some unbearable joy or relief, just to run that way, have fingers, and that was harder to hear than the screams.

Okay, this is totally heartbreaking. Conner is another of the good guys, he’s also a Marines vet, but he has hardly any of his body remaining. One arm, one leg, and some fingers missing from the single remaining hand. And he gets to run a peripheral in the future, a very physically fit human-clone-type peripheral, it’s a boxing coach, and Connor gets in it and he starts running around in, like, huge underground concrete garage. And, dig it, the unbearable joy is harder to hear than the screams.

“Were you hearing voices?”
“Sort of trying to, you know? Just for something different to do?”
“Shit, Conner. Don’t be like that.”

Conner is grudgingly telling his friend Flynne about how fucked-up in the head is from being so physically damaged.

People were so fantastically boring.

Netherton the alkie, hip, sensitive bullshit artist in the future, summing up his world as he sees it from within his disease. If you’ve ever been like him, you know this feeling well. Actually you can even get this feeling when you’re sober…but there are ways out.  Walk in the woods, do soemething creative, have empathy for someone, share love.

He was looking out at the peripherals in Impostor Syndrome again. Their fretful animatronic diorama…

Netherton has this gig where he has to hire a humanoid peripheral. The offline peripherals have low-level AI that lets them do things like hang out in a bar without talking much. Kind of there on display to be hired for use. The bar is called “Impostor Syndrome,” a condition which a lot of us writers and artists suffer from…the sense that we’re faking it, and we aren’t really writers and artists at all, we’re only pretending, and we’re scamming people, and in fact we don’t know how to write or make art, and it’s a miracle we’ve gotten by this long, but pretty damn soon the jig is going to be up. And here’s Netherton in the Impostor Syndrome, about to phone Daedra about a scam he’s running. Daedra, who really is more or less an imposter artist does not herself suffer from Imposter Syndrome.  One supposes that the true imposters never do. The lower your abilities, the greater your confidence.

[These patterns were generated by something like rotating magnetic fields. Magnetohydrodynamics.  I randomly saw them a journal, and then I copied them in color for a diptych painting.]

Ash produced the Medici. She pressed it against the black fabric of his jacket, above the injured shoulder, and released it. It stayed there, quickly ballooning, then sagging, worryingly scrotal, unevenly translucent, and doing whatever it was doing through the black jacket, which somehow made Netherton particularly queasy. He could see blood and perhaps tissue whirling dimly within it. It was larger than Ossian’s head now. He looked away.

Dig this future medicine. It’s full of nanobots called “assemblers” that can move your molecules around one at a time. Love the phrase “worryingly scrotal.” In the presence of that adjective, the adverb almost goes without saying, but it’s so funny to say it.

“We carve history from totalities beyond our grasp. Bolt labels on the result. Handles. Then speak of the handles as though they were things in themselves.”

Yeah. Like the Sixties, the Eighties, Cyberpunk, Gen X, World War II, the Elightenment, the Dark Ages, Ancient Egyt, the Trump Years.

…a state Netherton found unimaginable. The world seemed to consist increasingly of such states.

Love Netherton’s anomie and his despair over his inability to exprience whatever state he’s talking about. He is so terminally other.

“My hairy arse,” said Ossian, as if naming the root precept of a long-held philosophy…

The joy of lower-class vulgarity. Nostalgie de la boue. Relishing lower companions. And the elevation to long-held philosophy.

“No hot synthetic bods, back here in Frontierland,” she said, “but we got Wheelie Boy.”
Her room, rotating the cam as far as he could, was like the interior of some nomadic yurt. Nondescript furniture, tumuli of clothing, printed matter. This actual moment in the past, decades before his birth. A world he’d imagined, but now, somehow, in its reality, unimaginable.

Wheelie Boy is this toy that Netherton uses as his peripheral back in our approximate era. So funny to that word Frontierland, a riff off Disneyland. Such a corny word. And here we are, in Frontierland, but feeling it as real and not a jape.  Like the twisted peasants in a Bruegel painting. And our present is a subject for Netherton’s future nostalgia for the unreachable past of his elders. I yearn for the 1940s (decade of my birth) in just this way. The bouncy swing music, the women’s waterfall hair, the tough-talking, the down home Norman Rockwell of it all. I’m a salmon looking to swim up time’s river to my birth. Gibson’s passage also evokes that flash you get, now and then, possibly while on powerful drugs,  that this, your daily life, is really going on.  And it takes so much effort to simply wake up and see this. D’oh!

Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.

Summary of how the “jackpot” trashed the world and killed most of the people. And this horrible, growing realization that it may be actually in store.

But science, he said, had been the wild card, the twist. With everything stumbling deeper into a ditch of shit, history itself become a slaughterhouse, science had started popping. Not all at once, no one big heroic thing, but there were cleaner, cheaper energy sources, more effective ways to get carbon out of the air, new drugs that did what antibiotics had done before, nanotechnology that was more than just car paint that healed itself or camo crawling on a ball cap. Ways to print food that required much less in the way of actual food to begin with. So everything, however deeply fucked in general, was lit increasingly by the new, by things that made people blink and sit up, but then the rest of it would just go on, deeper into the ditch. A progress accompanied by constant violence, he said, by sufferings unimaginable. She felt him stretch past that, to the future where he lived, then pull himself there, quick, unwilling to describe the worst of what had happened, would happen.

But we can hope that science will save our asses yet again. That’s the bright side of SF. Dreaming a sunny tomorrow. And why shouldn’t it be possible. There’s so much stuff we haven’t discovered yet. Look how far we’ve come already.

“It is,” said Lowbeer, “as people used to say, to my unending annoyance, what it is.”

When I first heard a hip friend of mine say “It is what it is,” back in 1986, I thought—Wow, what a cool way to put it, what a philosophy, how deep is the acceptance, the jaded wisdom. But the hundredth or thousandth time you hear it, the thrill is gone. And the stilted way this character is making that point is a gas.

“I’ve seldom found the results particularly useful, myself, as thematically interesting as primary oneirics can be. Though mainly in how visually banal they generally are, as opposed to the considerable glamor we all seem to imagine they had, as we remember them.”

This is Lowbeer talking about the usefulness (or not) of using their near-telepathic mind monitoring techniques to see people’s dreams. “Primary oneirics” being the study of raw dreams. And I think it’s a good point that the visuals of our dreams are not in fact very elaborate. You’re moved more by the emotional weight that you put onto a dream object.

The spidery figure, she guessed, would be close to ten feet tall. “A peripheral,” he said. The tall thing’s round pink head was fronted with a sort of squared-off trumpet, that same pink, through which it blared down, incomprehensibly, at the small crowd of figures surrounding it, at least one of which seemed to be a penguin, though as tall as she was.

Pure artistic license here, sketching surreal imagery. Eyeball kicks.

But the water in the region of the battle had scaled waves, and miniature cloud,…

One of the big probs in making movies in the past was that, if you want to show a ship in a storm and you faked it by showing a one-foot model ship in a sloshing laundry tub, then the waves wouldn’t…look right. There are complex issue about the way that smaller hydrodynamic systems fail to emulate larger-sized ones. The turbulence only looks the same of the two systems have the same Reynolds number, and I barely understand what the Reynolds number is. Thomas Pynchon name-drops it in Gravity’s Rainbow, and that’s how poeple like Bill and me know about it. I think maybe you could make a tub of liquid have a Reynolds number like an ocean bay if you did something funky like make the wash tub be full of a really dense or less viscous fluid…I need to read up on it some day. But, as an SF writer, Bill, who knows all this, just punts on the problem, and presents the solution as a fait accompli in the special toy pond in this London park.

There were, for instance, Ash said, continua enthusiasts who’d been at it for several years longer than Lev, some of whom had conducted deliberate experiments on multiple continua, testing them sometimes to destruction, insofar as their human populations were concerned. One of these early enthusiasts, in Berlin, known to the community only as “Vespasian,” was a weapons fetishist, famously sadistic in his treatment of the inhabitants of his continua, whom he set against one another in grinding, interminable, essentially pointless combat, harvesting the weaponry evolved, though some too specialized to be of use outside whatever baroque scenario had produced it.

These kinky futurians are reaching back in time and stubbing off timelines (or continua) and effin with them. Kind of like a whole Stan Lem A Perfect Vacuum imaginary novel in this paragraph.

[Flynne:]“You don’t hang out a lot with artists?”
[Netherton:] “I don’t, no.”
[Flynne:] “I would, if I could.

Flynne’s touching, heartfelt yearning to be a part of an art scene, and to mix with interesting people. The country mouse’s longing to be in the city. And Netherton, who could do it, doesn’t bother or, knowing the natures of artists better than Flynne, doesn’t want to.

It was like the pictures in a box at a yard sale, nobody remembering who those people were, or even whose family, let alone how they came to be there. It gave her a sense of things falling, down some hole that had no bottom. Whole worlds falling, and maybe hers too…

Those photos of ancestors that your parents had, you’re looking through them while cleaning out the parents’ houses after they die, all these layers of time, like compost on a forest floor, no end to it.

“The aunties, continually mulling it over. A process akin to repetitious dreaming, or the protracted spinning of a given fiction. Not that they’re invariably correct, but over a sufficient course they do tend to find the likely suspects….A process akin to repetitious dreaming, or the protracted spinning of a given fiction.”

So much of the writing process is unconscious. That’s what we mean by waiting for the muse. Too many possible plot branches to logically explore. The thicket too dense. You dream the story while you’re awake.

“I’m in the future that would result from my not being there. But since I am, it isn’t your future.

Time Paradox solved. I discuss this with some diagrams in another 2017 post of mine that mentions The Peripheral.

He turned the camera, studying the shabby, shadowy tableau of lost domestic calm.

Endless nostalgia for the past. That’s one of the things time travel stories are about.

“Playing soldier?”
“They were all in the service, before.”
“Think they’d’ve got their fill of it,” her mother said.

Burton and his old Corps buddies are protecting their family. The mother has the female POV on this.

“You’re someone who only pretends to be unintelligent,” Netherton said. “It serves you simultaneously as protective coloration and a medium for passive aggression. It won’t work with me.”

I’ve known a number of people like this. They play the diamond in the rough, the last honest one, the plain-spoken sage. Interesting to see Netherton directly call someone on it. Not that the call is likely to work.

[Two or three years ago my hip was really screwed up, and I could hardly walk, even with crutches, and I’d take a fifty-yard outing-walk every few days, a walk along a level path to this big fat log, and I’d sit on it, and be happy to be outside, and not in the hospital. My leg’s better now.]

“West’s oeuvre obliquely propels the viewer through an elaborately finite set of iterations, skeins of carnal memory manifesting an exquisite tenderness, but delimited by our mythologies of the real, of body. It isn’t about who we are now, but about who we would be, the other.”

This passage is some robo-BS generated by a bundle implanted in Flynne’s future peripheral. It’s supposed to impress the artist Daedra, the woman who tattoos her skin, then has herself peeled, and sells the skin. She’s done it more than a dozen times. Bill is having fun emulating high mandarin lit crit here. I’m sure they’ve written things like this about his work.

Records, during the deeper jackpot, are incomplete to nonexistent, and more so in the United States. There was a military government there, briefly, that erased huge swathes of data, seemingly at random, no one seems to know why.

Why did I assemble this blog post? No real reason. Just for fun.  And wanting to formulate and share some thoughts provoked by G’s masterpiece. Hope you enjoyed! Happy holidays.

Italy 4. Genoa.

This is my final post about our trip to Italy this fall. Here we’re mostly in Genoa or Genova. Post #1 was Pisa, #2 was mostly Lucca (plus an intro to The Matrix), #3 was Florence, and this last one is #4.

Love all these people in their stone caskets with stone skulls underneath. That’s a good night’s sleep!

Love the live people even more, like this classic woman selling fish in the mazy little streets of central Genova.

There’s a fancy street in Genoa called Via Garibaldi, and around 1600, all the rich merchants and financiers built themselves serious palazzos there, one after another, cheek to jowl, just amazing. Here we’re in a palazzo courtyard, seeing out to the Via down there.

Obviously a palazzo is gonna have a serious knocker.

We ended up in an odd indie hotel near the town center…all along we just reserved our lodgings the night before we needed them, as it was too hard to plan in advance. The hotel was near some really wonderful churches, like the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. I love the striped stone thing they were doing.

Awesome lion outside San Lorenzo, much more richly modeled than the NYC Public Library lions. That wonderful penchant for turning stone into dough.

This was the view from our hotel room window. So Kafkaesque. One of these buildings was the stock exchange. A zillion motorcycles and scooters parked down there, but we never seemed to see any of them arrive or depart. The hotel was pretty shabby, but they’d painted the room in festive you’re-on-vacation colors, like lime green and mauve. It was called Hotel Christoforo Colombo. The price was right.

The remains of an actual house where our man Columbus grew up in the 1400s was nearby. It was barely marked…I had the feeling that the Italians don’t especially care about Columbus. But we do! I loved how shabby and whipped-to-shit it was.

Amazing little churches tucked into squares all over the place. And always those warm, human, echoes of the city sounds amid the squares’ stone walls.

I tried using my Google maps app in Genoa…I’d knuckled under and agreed to pay $10 a day or whatever for wireless. I actually have a lot of trouble with Google maps in a city…like which way is what, and what is which way, and how do these pixels relate to what I’m looking at, and why does the suggested route seem to go in the wrong direction. Long story short, I was lost a lot of the time, and eventually stuck to my sketchy old school paper map I’d gotten from the hotel desk.

Of course when exploring an unknown city on foot, the notion of “lost” is kind of relative. If you don’t know what you’re looking for or where you’re going, what does “lost” even mean? In a meta sense I was looking for surprises, and the image above is one of them…an unexpected alley from the street-maze into a square by that San Lorenzo church.

So here’s David and Goliath. Goliath looks crass, but David doesn’t. Might this be called “Agent Bests Producer”?

Saw this one in, I think, the Palazzo Rosso, or maybe it was the Piazza Bianco. The two palaces were across the Via Garibaldi from each other, and functioned something like museums, with lots of paintings and statues on the upper floors—although really the buildings’ architecture and views were the real sight to see.

The museum guards in here were curiously pushy, like no guards I’ve ever seen, sternly refusing to let us deviate from the decreed route through the rooms, arbitrarily declaring certain rooms off limits, and at times lecturing us quite harshly. Like really mean grade-school teachers.

Anyway, dig Jesus driving the money changers from the temple! So much color.

Awesome, Escheresque levels and stairs in the courtyard of the Palazzo Rosso (or Bianco).

Hopping back to Florence, here’s a wonderfully peaceful courtyard near the Sante Croce (Santa Cruz ( Holy Cross)) cathedral. We saw a nice concert in a hall here.

And here we are in the round or elliptical central square of Lucca, photographed in a mirror with some smears on it. Vacation time goes slow, that is, it’s so full of incidents that the days and weeks feel longer. In my mind, the two weeks in Italy are longer than the seven weeks we’ve been back home . Here, in my routine live, every time I turn around, it’s Sunday again. More than that, every time I look up, Christmas is here again. Galling how fast the time goes, here in my dotage, when I can least spare the scant remaining colander pages that are flying off the wall in fast-forward. I guess that’s one reason we like to travel, or at least to do new things. To slow time down.

The best church in Genova was the Church of the Gesù, which is, I think, a mother church of the Jesuits, thus its name. Every surface is painted, embossed, besculpted, inlaid, tiled, curved, and lit. Like the inside of a mind.

Cool spiral staircase in the Palazzo Bianco. One of the push guards made me take a picture of it, but doing so was actually a pretty good idea. Sometimes the obvious shots are worth having.

Keep in mind that the Italians are world champs at design. A deluxe marbled kilometers long shopping arcade ran down a street near our hotel, and on the street was a very cool coffee shop with these kicky light fixtures. Given my interests what I liked about them was that the shape of an edges-only cube is to some extent ambiguous, that is, you can mentally flip it if you stare at one of the inner corners and “push” or “pull” on the corner. This is the Necker cube effect, in which a cube is actually turning over in the fourth dimension to become its mirror image. I discuss this effect at length in the “Through the Looking Glass” section of my non-fiction book The Fourth Dimensionn.

Another wonderfully bizarre, over-designed, and impractical light fixture, consisting of a line and a circle, as seen in Via Garibaldi 12, which is probably the most lavish, bizarre, museum-like, and mind-expanding housewares shop in the world. They’re in a palazzo on the ultra-deluxe Via Garibaldi, natch, and they hardly even have a sign outside. You just kind of have to know where they are. You walk into a courtyard, and there’s some weird electronic sounds, and you figure out that you need to go up some five hundred year old marble stairs to get to the store itself, on the second floor.

And who doesn’t want an exquisito cupboard of polyhedra in their salon?

And the pastry shops…ah. Serious pushing and shoving among the slavering clients in here. But a life offered for a perfect cream puff is a life well lost.

One of Genoa’s main squares near our hotel had a big circular fountain in front of that stock exchange we could see from our window. Hard, these days, to even imagine people physically going into a stock exchange, but I gather they still do. Those photos of brokers yelling and waving slips of paper. There was a lot of that in Antonioni’s movie L’Eclisse, featuring the monumental, unreadable, and divinely static Monica Vitti.

Naturally it occurred to that if you turn the stock exchange on its side, the tower looks like the tip of a  three-dimensional, stone Mandelbrot set…

Viva l’Italia!

And salutations to Our Lady of the Holy Web.


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