What Do We Call Their Union: On Reading William Gibson’s Idoru

Continuing with William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, I read Idoru (1996) this past Sunday.

My sense of deja vu was as pronounced as when I read Virtual Light, but I still cannot bring myself to say with absolute certainty that I had read these books before. I tend to believe that my triangulation of these narratives from conference going and secondary literature reading have implanted the seeds of these novels in my memory–with roots long, but stem and leaves stunted–almost translucent.

Idoru circles the entertainment-industrial complex’s creation of celebrity, fandom’s eclipsing of the actual cultural production of celebrity, personal metadata and its uses for surveillance and control, and another trajectory of emergent AI/personality construct–in this case the idoru, Rei Toei.

Rei Toei is like a more advanced version of the vocaloid, Hatsune Miku. Her entrance into the real world might be more aligned today with 3D printing technologies and robotics like Danny Choo’s Smart Doll (though, I’m sure Mr. Choo would do equally interesting and exciting things if he got his hands on a packet of self-assembling nanomachines described in the novel). Or, in 2009, a Japanese man married Nene Anegasaki, a character from the Nintendo DS game Love Plus (Telegraph story, BoingBoing video). These bonds are so strong that in 2012, a Japanese groom and his bridge destroyed his Nintendo DS and Love Plus game cartridge, which held his saved game data with (again) Nene Anegasaki (Kotaku story, Twitter post).

I recalled David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (2008), which explores how humanity’s relationships with its technologies–especially those anthropomorphized or imbued with human qualities–has and continues to change over time.

In regard to Rez’s desire to wed Rei Toei, on the one hand, the union is of celebrity–albeit two forms of it: a human male musician and an AI construct gendered female and given form holographically (machinery and bandwidth permitting). What should we call this sameness?

On the other hand, it is a union of biological and technical, human and computer, human and technology, human and entertainment, human and the Other. What should we call this difference?

However, the wedding of human-AI construct seems pedestrian, a reinscription of heteronormativity. It is a capitulation to heteronormative culture instead of an embrace of the newness, the otherness, the differentness brought about by human-technology co-evolution (thinking of Bruce Mazlish’s The Forth Discontinuity).

Considering its heteronormative trajectory, what is Rez and Rei Toei’s marriage produce? Seems like there’s talk about some kind of becoming or emergence. This brings to mind arguments like Leo Bersani’s in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” or Christine Overall’s in Why Have Children? It should go without saying that a child need not be the result of a union/marriage/partnership, but if we follow the heteronormative logic of Rez and Rei Toei marriage, what might their desire be–merging, emergence, becoming, creating?

Regardless, I welcome these new developments, their possibilities, and how we account for them with language. But, I hope that the new is unshackled from simply repeating what has come before.

Déjà vu or Reality: On Reading William Gibson’s Virtual Light

Over the weekend, I began reading William Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” beginning with his novel, Virtual Light (1993).

Reading the novel, I had a tremendous sense of déjà vu that was impossible to shake. I asked myself these questions in response to this strange feeling that persisted during the hours of reading and after:

Have I read this before? This is entirely possible. I used to have copies of the Bridge Trilogy novels, but I sold them before moving to Liverpool for graduate school. As I look back on my blog–or am reminded of things I have wrote about on my blog when I occasionally receive and respond to a comment on something long forgotten–I have read a number of things that I cannot now recall in my memory.

Have I read so much secondary literature about it that I feel as if I have read it? This is definitely a possibility, because I read through a lot of secondary literature on Gibson’s oeuvre as I was writing my dissertation and in preparing for my research trip to the University of California, Riverside Library in 2012. In academia, I have found myself circling works through the secondary literature. I learn bits and pieces through summary and arguments that I then piece together in my mind as a kind of jigsaw puzzle version of the work in question. You triangulate the narrative and characters from that data that you have. Of course, this is not the same as having read the real thing, but it is akin to how we know about some Greek dramas and ancient philosophies–the surviving references instead of the thing itself.

Are there so many aspects of the present (or recent past) like those we encounter in Virtual Light that I feel as if the novel mirrors the present? Besides the image of the bridge and its bricolage/assemblage/community, Virtual Light has augmented reality, navigation systems, cracking car computer/communication system, SWATTING (of a kind), armed drones, an erased Middle Class, a San Francisco dependent upon the service industry, and a security-industrial complex. I recently read Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown (1992), which seems to figure into the novel by anecdote and theme (differentiating hackers/merry pranksters from hackers/criminalization). The connection between the themes of his over two-decade old novel and the present is strong. Maybe it should be required reading for contemporary security analysts.

So, have I read it before? I’m still not sure, but I’m left with a strange feeling about the novel and the present.

A Note on Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown

Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) is a book that I should have read back when it was first published. In fact, I’m rather let down with myself that I did not know about this book back it was published at the same time that I was beginning high school and transitioning from an Amiga user to a PC/DOS enthusiast (if you can imagine such an animal).

Sterling’s journalistic account of the Hacker Crackdown of 1990 and its immediate aftermath is as enlightening as it is enjoyable to read. He chronicles the passage of the BellSouth E911 document, the targeting of the Legion of Doom, the criminal case against the publisher of Phrack magazine, the  hentanglement of Steve Jackson Games (creator of GURPS Cyberpunk), and the launch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Sterling had my attention from the get-go, but I was really jazzed when he writes about FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) and my hometown, Brunswick, GA. He visited FLETC to speak with Carlton Fitzpatrick about computer crime.

Around that same time, I was delivering auto parts to the FLETC repair shop. I was out there at least every few days–virtually free to roam the facility in my Toyota pickup truck emblazoned with “Ellis Auto Parts” on its sides. Sterling might have been touring the facility when I was dropping off distributor points or a new starter.

Also, around that  time, I was learning about DOS, Windows 3.1, and PC gaming. I had a Commodore Amiga 2000, but I was the only person besides my cousins who owned an Amiga. Of course the Amiga was a more advanced and capable computer than most IBM-compatibles, but I knew many more people with PCs and PC software. So, for a time, I indulged a hobby in PC computers (at least until I discovered the Apple Macintosh SE/30 and the computing universe that represented in Mrs. Ragland’s drafting class).

Had I read this book back then, who knows what I might have done? I imagine myself taking a detour on one of my delivery missions to the auto shop–and its interior office walls emblazoned with centerfold girls–to drop in to meet Mr. Fitzpatrick. A detour taken while driving and learning a little bit more about computers and computer security could have taken my life on its own detour from where it is now.

Had I seen computers and networks as an end in themselves–more than I did building, optimizing, and fixing them–my life would have been detoured.

As it happens, my life detoured in other, unexpected, and interesting ways. At the time, I was focused on learning about plasma physics, and in my off time, the physics of consciousness. I wound up at Georgia Tech, but I quickly learned that I was better at writing about science than doing it full time. During that time, I fell in love with science fiction–especially the New Wave and cyberpunk. I studied how to make art with new media online with HTML and Adobe Flash, and for performance with video production. I worked with James Warbington on two 48-Hour Film Festivals, and I made DVDs for Poetry at Tech (Georgia Tech).

It is own weird way, the detour comes back around so that I study the relationship between computers and the human brain, science fiction and computers, and writing pedagogy and digital media.

While things have worked out remarkably well for me despite the weird turns on my life’s road, I still consider the “what ifs,” and sometimes, I try out the “what ifs” by incorporating the “what ifs” into my daily practices. One way besides creating what I tentatively call City Tech’s Retrocomputing Lab in my humble 64 sq. ft. of office space, I decided to take my enthusiasm with computers into the Linux realm. I’ve used different distros in the past on separate partitions or in virtual machines, but this time I wanted to go all-in–perhaps after getting riled up from reading Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, which isn’t a story about Linux, but it is in large part about the margins and despite Linux’s successes, it is still on the margins when it comes to the personal computer desktop.

To follow through on this, I took Uber rides back and forth from Microcenter in Brooklyn (my first Uber rides–necessitated by the heat more than the distance–when the weather’s nice, I enjoy walking to Microcenter from where I live). I had discovered they had a Dell XPS 12 marked down from about $1000 to $450. I purchased one, created a backup of the Windows 8 installer (yes, it had Windows 8, not 8.1 installed), and nuked-and-paved it with Ubutu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr (now that I’ve fixed my cursor jumping problem initially encountered by simply turning off touchpad taps/clicks, I might venture into one of the newer versions).

Of course, I am no more a hacker than I am a neurosurgeon (this latter point, my dissertation director Mack Hassler enjoyed reminding me of despite the subject matter of my neuroscience-focused literary dissertation), but I enjoy exploring, learning, and playing. Occasionally, I do hack things together. I make things–albeit, usually simple things put together with Deckmate screws and duct tape–and I would like to make things using the computer in ways that I have not really done before. Sure, I’ve taken programming classes before, but I created what I was told to make instead of what I wanted to make. This was a lack of imagination and inspiration on my part, and I do not want to continue making that mistake. So, here we go!

A Brief Note on Steven Lynn’s Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction

When I asked Dr. Courtney L. Werner, a friend and colleague at Kent State University where we earned our PhDs (find her blog here and connect with her on Twitter here), what I should read that captures the theoretical breadth and historical depth of her discipline of study–Rhetoric and Composition–I dutifully wrote down what she told me: Steven Lynn‘s impressive Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction. I think that it has been about three or four years since I jotted down her suggestion, but I’m happy to report that I finally got around to reading it over the past few days and I’m certainly the better for it.

For those of you who might be like me–not really knowing anything about Rhetoric and Composition when going into graduate school, but wanting to learn more about this important discipline after learning of its existence–I recommend Lynn’s book as a thorough starting point.

Lynn begins his book with a chapter on the relationship and interconnectedness of Rhetoric and Composition. He guides his reader through seeing them separately and together while peppering his discussion with an exhaustive and concise (what a balancing act throughout the book) theoretical-historical context.

In the chapters that follow, he designs them around the five canons of rhetoric as an art: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Each chapter combines discussion of the historically relevant development of the canon, its major contributors, its past and present scholarship, and applications for the classroom. The final chapter on delivery has a lot of helpful material for first time composition instructors, too.

During my time at Kent State, I am glad that I taught in the writing program and I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from and share ideas with graduate students and faculty in the Rhetoric and Composition Program, including Brian Huot, Pamela Takayoshi, and Derek Van Ittersum. In retrospect, however, I wish that I had made it a point to join a Rhetoric and Composition seminar (for credit or to audit), because I see now how it would have enriched my scholarship and pedagogy in pivotal ways. If you are like me in this regard or still on your path to a terminal degree, I recommend Lynn’s book for learning Rhetoric and Composition’s ideas, debates, and scale as a student, incorporating its ideas into your daily practices as a teacher, and opening up new possibilities in your thinking as a scholar.

Lynn, Steven. Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Retrocomputing at City Tech: Vintage Computers Organized on New Shelves

My Retrocomputing Office Space

My Retrocomputing Office Space

Thanks to City Tech’s Stanley Kaplan, I now have a substantial new collection of early personal computers including IBM PCs, Radio Shack TRS-80s, a Commodore PET, Texas Instruments TI-99s, ATARI 800, and a number of other computers and peripherals in my office in Namm 520. Some of the smaller items are locked in my filing cabinet, but as you can see from the photos included in this post, I have the larger items arranged around my desk and on a new set of Edsal steel shelves that I purchased on Amazon.com. Now, I have to make some additional room for a large, removable magnetic disk from a TRIAD Computer System (c. late-1970s~early-1980s, the drive that reads this disk was about the size of a washing machine) and an Apple Macintosh Centris 650, which I shipped to myself from Brunswick when I recently visited my parents. In the coming months, I will catalog these machines, see what works, and plan how to use them (research, pedagogy, and exhibits). If you have older computers, disks, or user manuals and would like to donate them for use in my research and teaching, please drop me a line at dynamicsubspace at gmail dot com.

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Radio Shack Color Computer 3s, Zenith Data System, Odyssey, TRS-80, and PET Printer.

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TRS-80, Texas Instruments TI-99s, and Toshiba Laptop.

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Victor Computer and TRS-80.

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Commodore 64s, TRS-80, and Various Floppy Disk Drives.

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IBM PC, IBM PCxt, Kaypro, and AT&T Desktop.

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ATARI 800 and Compaq Portable PC sans case.

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Pentium 233 MHz PC, i7 PC, i7 Dell (office standard issue), and Commodore PET.

2015 Science Fiction Research Association Conference Wrap-Up

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Stony Brook University, Charles Wang Center

The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) held its forty-sixth annual conference on June 25-28, 2015 at Stony Brook University in the Charles B. Wang Center. Our theme this year was, “The SF We Don’t (Usually) See: Suppressed Histories, Liminal Voices, Emerging Media.”

As I detailed in a previous blog post, I presented on the SF that we don’t see (any more) on the Apple Macintosh computing platform and Voyager’s Expanded Books of the early-1990s.

Other voices that stood out in my conference-going experience included keynotes by Vandana Singh on Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Tho Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and climate change, and M. Asli Dukan on “the white fantastic imagination” and “the invisible universe.” Jessica FitzPatrick and Steven Mollmann presented on postcolonial superheroes and SF. Lisa Yaszek, Isiah Lavender III, and Gerry Canavan gave excellent presentations on Afrofuturism. Keren Omry, Alan Lovegreen (my colleague from City Tech), and Hugh Charles O’Connell  questioned the relationship of capitalism and the future. Alexis Lothian (who tweeted much of the conference with me and others with the #sfra2015 hashtag) gave us a compelling view into “Queer World Building, Digital Media, and Speculative Critical Fandom.”Donald “Mack” Hassler chaired a session on gender with compelling papers by Marleen S. Barr and Rosalyn W. Berne.

Doug Davis gave what I thought was the best presentation of the conference on “The SF We (Usually Don’t Talk About but) Always See, or Can We Use Science Fiction Genre Theory to Read Canonical Literary Texts?: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s “The Displaced Person.” Doug’s co-panelist Brad Reina presented a different tact on approaching eBooks in his paper: “Electronic Literature in The Diamond Age: Neal Stephenson and the Present and Future of eBooks.” I learned a lot (and took a lot of pictures of slides/names) in the China SF session on Saturday afternoon featuring interesting papers by Hua Li, Cara Healy, Quiong Yang, and Nathaniel Isaacson.

The SFRA Awards Banquet on Saturday night ended what I consider to be a very successful conference. While some of us encountered challenges to reaching Stony Brook on Long Island (the Long Island Rail Road, Newark/JFK/La Guardia Airports, ferries, car rentals, traffic problems), I think that sharing of ideas and the valuable conversations made the difficulties recede far into the background. The warmth of the camaraderie and the welcoming inclusivity at SFRA overcomes any hurdle. Additionally, Stony Brook–a sprawling campus surrounded by trees and populated by bunny rabbits–has a surprisingly science fictional side in some of its buildings’ architectures, including the Charles Wang Center (pictured above) and the Stony Brook University Hospital (pictured below).

After the conference was over, I caught a ride back to Brooklyn with Mack and Sue Hassler and Adam Frisch. We had lunch together after Y joined us at Wilma Jean’s Restaurant. We all squeezed back into the rental car, dropped Adam off at the airport to fly back to Sioux City, and then, Mack, Sue, Y, and I drove to Coney Island to enjoy walking along the boardwalk and sharing each other’s company.

Next year, we will cross the Atlantic Ocean for the forty-seventh conference and meet to discuss “Systems and Knowledge.” Forming a joint event with the Current Research in Speculative Fictions at the University of Liverpool, we will meet on June 27-30, 2016 in Liverpool, England. For me, it will be like going home, and I can’t wait!

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Stony Brook University Hospital

My SFRA 2015 Conference Presentation: The Cyberspace Deck as a Mechanism: Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy as a Voyager Expanded Book

The presentation that I will be giving tomorrow afternoon at 1:00PM at the annual Science Fiction Research Association Conference (this year at Stony Brook University on June 25-27, 2015) will be nothing like the title and abstract that I submitted earlier this year, but that’s a good thing. Over the past several months, my reading and research has focused on one small corner of that original abstract: The Voyager Company’s Expanded Book Edition of William Gibson’s Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1992). I began to see the cyberspace deck as an important image and mechanism connecting Gibson’s fictional world with our contemporary shift from written to digital culture.

Above,  you can watch a demo video that will accompany my presentation as a backdrop to my talk, and below, you can find my paper’s abstract, useful links, and my works cited list for reference. I will have handouts of this information available at the session tomorrow, too.

Title:

The Cyberspace Deck as a Mechanism: Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy as a Voyager Expanded Book

Abstract:

Instead of focusing on the epistemology or ontology of cyberspace, this paper explores the cyberspace deck in William Gibson’s fictions as a mechanism of inscription. It does this by charting Gibson’s inspiration in the Apple IIc, his comparison of it to the first Apple PowerBooks, and the publication of his cyberspace deck-infused fictions as the Voyager Company Expanded Book edition in 1992. Through discussing these connections, it addresses other issues of importance for the current shift from written culture to digital culture, such as the effect of reading on screens as opposed to print, and the effect of digital culture on the human brain.

Useful Links:

Conference Demo Video (embedded above): http://youtu.be/fU8K2DuTfeE

Google Glass, iPad, PowerBook 145 Demo Video: https://youtu.be/-XrIqLdx3EU

Mini vMac Emulation Software: http://gryphel.com/c/minivmac/index.html

Emaculation Emulation Community: http://www.emaculation.com/doku.php

Works Cited

Casimir, Jon. “Voyager Seeks to Improve Thinking.” Sydney Morning Herald (23 May 1995): n.p. Web. 18 May 2015.

DeStefano, Diana and Jo-Anne LeFebre. “Cognitive Load in Hypertext Reading: A Review.” Computers in Human Behavior 23 (2007): 1616-1641. Web. 22 June 2015.

Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. n.p. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

—. Burning Chrome. New York: EOS, 2003. Print.

—. Count Zero. New York: Ace, 1987. Print.

—. Mona Lisa Overdrive. New York: Bantam, 1989. Print.

—. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.

—. Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

—. Package. Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Markley, Robert. “Boundaries: Mathematics, Alientation, and the Metaphysics of Cyberspace.” Configurations 2.3 (1994): 485-507. Web. 23 June 2015.

Matazzoni, Joe. “Books in a New Light.” Publish (October 1992): 16-21. Print.

Mazlish, Bruce. The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993. Print.

Sellen, Abigail J. and Richard H.R. Harper. The Myth of the Paperless Office. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Print.

Virshup, Amy. “The Teachings of Bob Stein.” Wired (April 2007): n.p. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.

Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.