The Verge: Where does science fiction publishing stand now?
Bruce Sterling: I think it’s basically dissolving, really. It’s like asking what about journalism? There’s a lot of stuff going on right now that calls itself journalism but that doesn’t really fit into the old-school definition of journalism at all. It’s like advertising, it’s quite like what happened to pop music. I mean there’s pop music around, but it’s not the same animal that it was in the 1970s. I would say the same is true about science fiction. I happen to be writing a lot of stuff that would classify as science fiction but it just has a very different audience and it’s just not written on the page … it reads more like internet intervention than it does like genre-fiction. I wrote this piece that I thought was one of my better [recent] efforts, “From Beyond the Coming Age of Network Matter.” So that’s a piece of cyberpunk social satire, and it’s really intended to get at people who are reading it. It’s really humiliating its readership, and has some really sharp political barbs in it, it’s very confrontational. But, it’s not published in a magazine, it’s published on a website, and then distributed through Boing Boing, which is part of Federated Media. It was commissioned by a group of futurists who are working for sponsors who are guys involved in ubiquitous computing, basically. In a way that’s a little bit similar to the old-school days of science fiction writers who would be writing about rocket ships and then they also have a cousin who worked at the jet propulsion laboratory — there have always been ties between science and science fiction, but in a networked society they’re just sort of weirdly more intimate, right? You’re not actually acting as a writer of fiction in the old way that it was. This thing that I wrote is a lot like some kind of satirical blog post, or it’s even more like some kind of political intervention. It’s like making a fake video. It’s like The Onion almost. And it’s something you can do within contemporary culture and the media circumstances that actually works very successfully. When people like it, they kind of understand that it’s contemporary, that it’s funny. It knows who it’s talking to, it’s making its points very effectively. If you were to print it out on a page, it almost certainly wouldn’t work at all. You would really look quite odd.
The Verge: Cyberpunk can be a dark genre, but William Gibson has said Neuromancer isn’t a dystopia compared to lots of places in the real world.
Bruce Sterling: It’s a left-handed compliment to us cyberpunks. We always had this reputation of being guys whose work was really tough and dystopian. Then time passes, and now the world looks exactly like a Bruce Sterling novel. What it means is that we were realists. People were taking it as a dystopian thing because they were living in a freakin’ dream world. They had no idea what was actually happening, and they just weren’t clued in. No one gets it right, but at least our sensibility [was] vastly closer than many of our contemporaries.