Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ANCIENT ART

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This 2m-tall cream-coloured limestone effigy with obsidian eyes, is the oldest human statue in the world, dated at 10,000 BC. It was officially named the 'Balıklıgöl Statue' (nicknamed the 'Snowman' by the press) and had been neglectfully displayed on a out-of-the-way shelf in a local museum for some years before its full importance was recently recognised.

It was first discovered in 1993 in the ancient Kurdish city of Sanliurfa in central southern Turkey, when foundations were 166369040_32bd408814_o being laid for a new bank, right next to an historic city attraction - the Balikli Gol, a beautiful fishpond surrounded by mosques and gardens.

The statue, which was found in the ruins of an undiscovered Neolithic temple (also dated at 10,000BC), is believed to represent the God of Eroticism or the God of Reproduction.

gobekli-tepe-lady

Above: The statue in situ Left: A small female figurine from the same site.

Sanliurfa is close by to the extraordinary archaeological dig at Gobekli Tepe where a fascinating neolithic temple complex has been uncovered in the last fifteen years, consisting of an estimated 20 stone circles (of which four have so far been excavated) that are dated at around 9,500 BC.

The stones are covered with remarkable carving of boars, 061017edenfoxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. They are not on the same scale as Stonehenge (the largest are no more than 30m across), but they are 7,000 years older!

Sources: Red Ice Creations The First Post Mathilda's Anthropology Blog www.bibliotecapleyades.net/arqueologia/gobekli_tepe05.htm

The 'Snowman' may be the oldest 'statue' and the oldest known carving of a man but it is certainly not the the oldest carving of a human figure. That honour currently lies within another recent discovery.

earliest-statue

Discovered in 2008, the 'Venus of Hohle Fels' is believed to be at least 35,000-40,000 years old). It is currently considered the world's oldest known depiction of a woman - of any human being. Just over two inches long, carved from a woolly mammoth tusk by early Homo sapiens, it is named after the cave in southwestern Germany in which it was found.

Photo: H. Jensen/University of Tubingen

Sources: 'Pornographic' Statue Could be World's Oldest Piece of Figurative Art.' [Discover]

'A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany' by Nicholas J. Conard [Nature]

Incidentally, in the same cave was discovered the world's 1224249576797_1 oldest musical instrument - a primitive flute, 20cm long, with five finger holes, made from a vulture's wing-bone. Three other flutes made from mammoth ivory were also found. The previous oldest musical instruments were a group of 22 flutes found in the French Pyrenees and estimated to be 30,000 years old.

Source: Irish Times 26 June 2009

Previous Oldest:

Venus_of_Brassempouy

The Venus of Brassempouy is a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Paleolithic which was discovered at Brassempouy, France in 1892. About 25,000 years old, it is one of the earliest known realistic representations of a human face.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Brassempouy

The Venus of Willendorf, also known as the Woman of 319px-Venus_von_Willendorf_01Willendorf, is an 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 24,000 BCE – 22,000 BCE. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf in Lower Austria. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. Since this figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines, although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by millennia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf

Another ancient figurine:

lionman The Lion man is a 30cm-high lion-headed ivory sculpture, carved out of ivory with a flint knife. It is the oldest human-animal sculpture known.

Its pieces were found in 1939 in a cave in the Swabian Alb, Germany. Due to the beginning of the second world war, it was forgotten and only rediscovered 30 years later.

In 1997/98 it was reassembled and restored. It was determined to be about 32,000 years old. It was originally classified as a male, later as female.

Sources: http://ristorantemystica.wordpress.com/2008/10/

THE OLDEST PORTRAIT OF A HUMAN FACE cave372

The cave painting from Angoulême, France is dated c. 25000BC. Photograph: AP

Source: 'Old Masters' by Jonathan Jones [The Guardian. 6 June 2006]

Read this fantastic New Yorker piece on cave art.

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'A frieze of horses and rhinos near the Chauvet cave’s Megaloceros Gallery, where artists may have gathered to make charcoal for drawing. Chauvet contains the earliest known paintings, from at least thirty-two thousand years ago.'

'First Impressions: What does the world’s oldest art say about us?' by Judith Thurman

UPDATE:

A woman's touch: Prehistoric cave paintings were made by women as well as men, scientists discover

SEE ALSO: ANCIENT ART 2

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TOM PAINE IN LEWES

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Copy of Paine09b556

Above: Latest issue of our excellent monthly Viva Lewes. Cover art: Neil Gower. (Right): Logo of the Thomas Paine in Lewes festival.

Tom Paine in Lewes makes the Washington Post today (and the Dallas Morning News) in an article by freelancer Matthew Hampton entitled ' Revolutionary Road: Thomas Paine's Path to American Activism Began in a Free-Spirited British Town', for which I was interviewed.

Article links Tom Paine and the spirit of Lewes with the Lewes Arms campaign, detailed in my blog: http://lewesarms.blogspot.com

For extensive Previous Postings on Paine, the Lewes Arms, use Search function.

The Lewes Tom Paine Festival runs from July4-12th: music, theatre, debates, lectures, dances, movies. Check out all the details.

Paine09b556

The Lewes pound note has had a redesign, courtesy of two local schools, and there will be three new denominations, a fiver, a tenner, and a twenty-one pound note (which has yet to be given a demotic nickname). To be launched July 3rd.

v3_note_00162

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NAKED LUNCH@50

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(Left) Multiple exposure photo of Burroughs from The Generalist Archive. Photographer unknown.

The 50th Anniversary of the first publication of  'The Naked Lunch' will be celebrated by a series of events on the Left Bank of Paris, near to the Beat Hotel, where Burroughs completed writing his  book.

The Naked Lunch@50 site has all the details and much more on this fascinating and seminal novel.

Burroughs2553 Burroughs3554

See Previous Posts on Burroughs:

ARCHIVE: MEETING WITH BURROUGHS AT THE CHELSEA 

W illiam Burroughs & T.S. Eliot Fighting in the Captain's Tower

PHOTOGRAPHIC FUTURES 2

Florian KapsFlorian Kaps /The Impossible Project:

A Polaroid Revival. sounds unlikely doesn't it but that's just the plan of  The Impossible Project, established in January2009 by a group of businessmen and polaroidformer employees who have bought a Polaroid factory at Enschede in the Netherlands,  in the hope of resuming production of instant film for the existing ownership base of Polaroid owners, by 2010.  The name of the company comes from a quote from Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography and the founder of Polaroid: 'Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.'

See: Paper chase the next stage of Polaroid revival

Florian Kaps, the company's Executive Director/Marketing & uodiana Business Development, has a great track record in this kind of enterprise. His official company bio says: 'Since his childhood attracted by the exercise of running into the opposite direction, he reacted to the digital revolution by founding a strictly analog company.

 

This was the Lomographic Society, whose website is awesome. Its an enterprise  built around the Russian analog camera - the LOMO LC-A, first launched in 1984.

about.timeline

The site says: Take one good look at a Lomograph and you’ll see that it holds a charm all of its own. Somehow everything is amplified and ordinary objects stand out, enhancing details that would normally go unnoticed. How can this be? We’ve narrowed it down to an ever-changing formula of certain variables like… shadowy vignetting that mysteriously frames the shot, light leaks, grain you could chip a tooth on, the magic of a great lens, deep saturation, just the right amount of contrast... to name but a few. A combination these factors and a healthy touch of the unexpected go into making each Lomograph unique. Essentially, Lomography embraces the element of surprise that only analogue film photography can bring and wholeheartedly celebrates the outcome.'

30f960c1873f15cb5488f6ff6de522feafced0

d65ac7e9078658b682008c8720aa7deba7a35b This multi-exposure lomograph was taken in Singapore by maxpinchers

 

 
Finally, Kodak will be discontinuing the production  of Kodachrome film later this year, as it now account for less than 1 per cent of the company's sales of still-picture films.  Kodak says that 70 per cent of its revenue comes from its retail and commercial digital businesses.

america-kodachrome Its most famous colour film, Kodachrome was first introduced in 1935. This new technology made it possible to capture action photography in color on 35mm film, a previously impossible feat.

Paul Simon immortalised it in a song in 1973.

Vintage Kodachrome from the Daily Kos via Neatorama

See Previous Post: PHOTOGRAPHIC FUTURES

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

IRAN: TECHNOLOGICAL DEJA VU

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Photo: Flickr

More than 70 per cent of the Iranian nation are under 30

Having spent part of the day helping my friend Bill celebrate his 65th birthday, I then spent a couple of hours following the latest news and watching every video I could find on the net about the democracy demonstrations in Iran

Tonight on the radio, the BBC announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to ban foreign correspondents and is engaged in a widespread clampdown on broadcast, mobile phone and internet communications in response to the country's contested election results.

Reuters reported today that the U.S. State Department  had contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Twitter upgraded successfully today in half the time expected.

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Here's  a post by Nancy Johnson on the Baltimore Sun's Second Opinion site headed Iran's Twitter Revolution: Just when you thought that social networking had been successfully dismissed as a fad and a frivolity, the elections in Iran show the world exactly how powerful sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be. Since the disputed election results were announced, Iranians have taken to the streets -- and the Internet.

'They're using Facebook to organize marches, they're posting videos on YouTube to show the world the violence used to quell the demonstrations, and the discussion is so active on Twitter that you can find more than 1,500 messages detailing the actions and reactions from around the globe. Huffington Post has a live blogger who updates his reports on a nearly minute-by-minute basis.

'People on both sides of the dispute are mobilizing their supporters and organizing their protests on a vast scale. "Twitter" doesn't seem like such a funny word anymore.'

*4600_550316858539_9806998_32671754_4979129_n1-150x150

Source: Tehran Bureau

This all rang a large bell with me and, after some searching, I found the article I was looking for.

The author is Anthony Sampson, a great journalist now sadly gone, who is perhaps best known for his official biography of Nelson Mandela, his various books on the 'Anatomy of Britain', for his investigative work on ITT's involvement with the CIA-plotted coup in Chile that overthrew the Allende regime.

On the 13th January 1980, he wrote this column for The Observer'  entitled 'Coups by Cassette and Cathode-Ray' The main theme was about tv diplomacy and focused on the then stand-off between President Carter and the Ayatollah Khomeini, an eerie echo of the current situation.

Sampson comments: The Iranian 'students'....were able to present their case direct to American viewers...[they] like many hijackers before them, were able to use their hostages to make hostages of the television networks too.'

j7807 According to Wikipedia: 'The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American embassy in support of the Iranian Revolution.'

But even more relevant to our current times, is his analysis of the communication revolution of the day - the video cassette. He wrote:

'The technology of communications is itself changing, and undermining the old assumption that radio and television will strengthen the power of centralised despotism...

'In Iran, two years ago, while the Shah seemed confident that his control of the press and television gave him a monopoly of communications, thousands of cassettes were circulating in the bazaars, carrying the voice of the exiled Ayatollah (abetted by that other revolutionary instrument, the Xerox machine, which multiplies  copies of seditious 'night letters'). The Iranian revolution was the first cassette revolution, but it is unlikely to be the last.'

*

In recent years Iran has become the third biggest blogging nation in the world with an estimated 700,000 blogs recorded in 2005, of which 40,000-110,000 are believed to be still active (says Wikipedia, which has an Iranian blogging chronology)

646 According to this, the first blog was sent on the 7th September 2001. It was written by Hossein Derakhshan who is frequently called 'the father of Persian blogs.' This Canadian/ Iranian was arrested on 1st November 2008 and is still under detention. He has still not been officially charged with any offence.

See the video: Speech by Hossein (9the Feb 2006) on 'Reform, Youth and Technology in Iran '

Please read my Previous Post on WE ARE IRAN, the title of a most moving book (published in the UK in 2006), containing  extracts from Iranian  blogs of all kinds, like the one below.

                                               17 November 2004

I keep a web log so that I can breathe in this suffocating air... In a society where one is taken to history's abbatoir for the mere crime of thinking. I write so as not to be lost in my despair...so that I feel that I am somewhere where my calls for justice can be uttered...I write a weblog so that I can shout, cry and laugh, and do the things that they have taken away from me in Iran. www.lolivashaneh.blogspot.com

The book claims that:

Farsi (Persian) is the fourth most used language in the world for keeping blogs.

There are 64,000 bloggers writing in Farsi in Iran; some would put the figure nearer a million.

One of the great books on Iran is Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shah of Shahs. You can read my interview with him, KAPUŚCIŃSKI 2: THE FACE and listen to it on the Audio Generalist.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CHINA KICKS OFF THE GREEN ENERGY LOW-CARBON ENERGY EFFICIENCY - GREEN TRANSPORT REVOLUTION

alternative_energy_revolution

 ALTERNATIVE ENERGY REVOLUTION

xkcd.com logo


A webcomic of romance,
sarcasm, math, and language.

http://xkcd.com/556/

Since around 1997, when I first met energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins I've  been a cheerleader for this new industrial revolution. I've badgered some of the best editors in the business about it. As the years passed, as things evolved the picture became clearer. The Generalist is full of posts on the subject.  The revolution is on.

The sums of money involved are colossal, trillions over an extended period - amounts equal to their defence budget.

They are going for green cars and will dominate the faltering car market in the west. There already building them.

Their leading the world in solar which will drive the price right down.

The Chinese have a massive population and massive pollution problems. Everything is on a grand scale.

The giant is moving and is going to drive the rest of the world along a similar path.

Now its a race against time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/jun/10/china-clean-energy

 

Previous Posts :

  • EARTHED; THE NEW ENERGY REVOLUTION
  • EARTHED: THE RETAIL REVOLUTION
  • EARTHED: BIOFUELS & BRANSON
  • EARTHED: GREEN CAR GUIDE
  • EARTHED: E-WASTE
  • EARTHED: GREEN CARS 2008
  • Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    BHOPAL MEDICAL CENTRE

    may06_agent_orange_bhopal Down the Lewes Arms for a quick ginger beer (literally) earlier this evening and bumped into my friend Pete Finnigan who has just started working with The Bhopal Medical Appeal in Brighton, which raises funds and awareness for the Bhopal Medical Centre.

    For those who do not know or remember, Bhopal was the site of one of the world's worst chemical accidents, the consequences of which are still causing tremendous damage to the environment and the local inhabitants.

    On the night of Dec. 2nd and 3rd, 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate. None of the six safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal.  Half a million people were exposed to the gas and 20,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site.

    It is the 25th anniversary of the disaster this coming December and a big push is on to make people aware of the ongoing crisis there and the suffering of Bhopal's people.

    Please support them: The Bhopal Medical Appeal

    CAMPAIGN: MALLING BROOKS/GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE


    Currently campaigning with our group, the Lewes Coalition, to try and stop a Planning Application to build an industrial estate on an untouched (neglected) part of our local flood plain. Our town Lewes was heavily damaged in the floods of 2000 (the memories still linger) and we consider building on what's left of the floodplain does not make common sense to say the least.
    In fact common sense has, we have found, generally being excluded from the planning system.
    To find out more about our campaign see our brand new website: www.lewescoalition.org.uk

    Have been interested for some years now in natural approaches to flood control, which we are arguing this site should be used for.

    The planning situation in Britain is changing. Previously planning was simply to do with buildings with the environment being a marginal issue. Now, in our era of climate change and
    sustainable development, such issues are now coming to the forefront.

    Recommended is this important document: The Green Infrastructure Planning Guide from which these extract are taken.

    ‘Green infrastructure is the physical environment within and between our cities, towns and villages. It is a network of multi-functional open spaces, including formal parks, gardens, woodlands, green corridors, waterways, street trees and open countryside. It comprises all environmental resources, and thus a green infrastructure approach also contributes towards sustainable resource management.’

    ‘In general level five broad sets of interests in GI can be identified:

    1. Sustainable resource management – particularly relating to the role of GI in the sustainable management of land and water resources, including production (e.g. energy and food crops), pollution control, climatic amelioration and increased porosity of land cover.

    2. Biodiversity – particularly relating to the importance of connectivity of habitats at a variety of landscape scales;

    3. Recreation – particularly relating to greenways and the use of non-car routes to address public health and quality of life issues;

    4. Landscape – examining resources such as green spaces and corridors from aesthetic, experiential and functional points of view;

    5. Regional development and promotion – particularly relating to sustainable communities issues relating to overall environmental quality and quality of life.

    Figure 1 : The Green/Grey Continuum

    'One of the problems encountered in considering green infrastructure planning is that it is often hard to visualise and therefore may not be accounted for properly. The green-grey continuum concept may help to overcome the lack of obviousness of green infrastructure compared to grey infrastructure, which is well understood in the planning process.'

    We believe that Malling Brooks is a perfect example of an area of land that should be developed to serve these ends and that this offers best value use of this land.

    See Previous Post: THE NEW BATTLE OF LEWES

    Green Infrastructure is big thing in the US. See this interesting blog Landscape+Urbanism
    Check out also this EU project, the Adaptive Land Use for Flood Alleviation [ALFA]



    Monday, June 08, 2009

    TOM PAINE BICENTENARY

    On this day, 200 years ago, on an overcast morning, Tom Paine died in his sleep at 59 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York. he was 72.

    Two days later, he was buried on his small farm in New Rochell, twenty miles north of the city. Only six mourners came to his funeral, two of whom were black, most likely freedmen. An eyewitnes write: 'This interment was a scene to affect and to wound any sensible heart. Contemplating who it was, what man it was, that we were committing to an obscure grave on an open and disregarded bit of land, I could not help but feel most acutely.”

    According to Mike Marquesee, writing in The Hindu: 'Not long before, New Rochelle’s bigwigs had barred Paine from voting, claiming he was not a U.S. citizen. Paine, who had virtually invented the idea of U.S. citizenship, was furious. But this was not the end of his indignities. When he sought a place to be buried, even the Quakers would not oblige him. Hence the muted funeral of the man who had inspired and guided revolutions in north America and France, and equally important, the revolution that did not happen, in Britain.'

    'If we look back to the riots and tumults which at various times have happened in England, we shall find, that they did not proceed from the want of a government, but that government was itself the generating cause; instead of consolidating society, it divided it; it deprived it of its natural cohesion, and engendered discontents and disorders, which otherwise would not have existed. In those associations which men promiscuously form for the purpose of trade or of any concern, in which government is totally out of the question, and in which they act merely on the principles of society, we see how naturally the various parties unite; and this shows, by comparison, that governments, so far from always being the cause or means of order, are often the destruction of it.'

    Society is a Blessing, But Government is Evil
    by Thomas Paine

    Read the longer text at the Tenth Amendment Center

    Who Was Thomas Paine? by Brendan O'Neill

    'Thomas Paine festival opens in Thetford' by Adam Gretton

    Citizen of the world: a brief survey of the life and times of Thomas Paine (1737-1809) by Anne Talbot

    Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane (one of Paine's greatest biographers)




    Sunday, June 07, 2009

    MY WEEKEND; STATUS QUO / TOM PAINE TV

    On Saturday night I went to see Status Quo in a field on the edge of Bedgebury Pinetum, nr Tunbridge Wells in southern England. It was freebie. I admit it. I drank and danced like a man who'd been let out of a locked room. The Quo do what they do best. Rock out. The best-known anthems are big crowd pleasers but mostly just sound samey after the first two. They played some really cool tracks, a Canned Heat type number and some of their 60s singles. Whatever. It was fun. Most common crowd acessory: inflatable pink plastic guitars. Spotted: one demin jacket entirely covered with Quo patches. Excellent.

    The following morning, still feeling slightly 'spaced', with an 'I'm-at-peace-with-my-world' sort of mood on me, I find myself sitting squeezed between Richard Whatmore, Acting Director of the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History, and Ian somebody, a Conservative blogger, going out live on the BBC Politics Show (South-East version), talking about Tom Paine. It was 7 minutes of questions and chat. When asked who in modern times resembles Tom Paine I said Hunter S. Thompson, whose name just came to me in a flash. When asked to explain why, I think I was less than articulate. Who knows. The web version of the programme doesn't have the segment we did in there, although there is a brief online article about Tom Paine.

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    THE GENERALIST IS 4 YEARS OLD

    'Many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to. Just as someday. if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful, reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry' - J.D. Salinger
    It was four years ago this month that, with great excitement, I sat down and wrote my first blog post, entitled 'Memory Exercise' [June 1 2005], which included the above quote, and began the long ongoing process of documenting my working life and reporting on issues and ideas of interest.

    It has been one of the most exciting periods of my journalistic life, like starting again in a fresh medium full of new possibilities, which I am still uncovering. Thanks to all my readers out there, many of whom have been kind enough to contact me personally with encouraging words. It helps. My output is consistently inconsistent. At the moment I'm on a roll; othertimes, presssure of paying work make it hard to find the time and energy to keep it going. Yet everytime I come back to it again, the excitement returns. Global traffic continues to expand steadily, year on year, and the blog itself becomes a richer resource with every new entry. I'm in this for the long term. Hope you will stay with me on the journey and pass the word about the site to friends and colleagues. 'These are times that try men's souls' as Tom Paine memorably put it. Its also time to make the world anew. Let's do it.

    Friday, June 05, 2009

    THE GENERALIST MEETS WILLIAM GIBSON

    gIBSON1548 Just finished reading William Gibson's 'Pattern Recognition' and it's brought back a flood a memories of those glorious days of the early '90s - of cyberpunk, the launch of Wired and the wonderful Mondo 2000,

    Gibson, of course, the man who coined the term 'cyberspace' in his first book of short stories Burning Chrome, a title which brilliantly captures his obsession with textures and surfaces, and popularised in Neuromancer (1984) - a keynote classic. Gibson is now credited with imagineering many aspects of the digital culture we now all swim in.

    Reading Gibson again (I'm moving straight on to his newest book Spook County), coming back to his work after a long break, confirms Gibson's impressive achievement. Writers who he might be compared with include J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs in the sense that the worlds he imagined have proved to be prescient, fertile, stimulating and enduring. His works have seeped into the imaginations of creatives in many fields across the planet.

    I met him on two most memorable occasions: the first coinciding with the publication of 'The Difference Engine', the second with the publication of 'Virtual Light' The two posts that follow document these encounters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gibson

    http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/

    THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE: WILLIAM GIBSON & BRUCE STERLING -THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE (1990)

     385px-TheDifferenceEngine(1stEd)                                                                                                              This is the first publication of a first draft of an article I wrote in late 1990 for some magazine or other, at the time of the publication, by Gollancz in the UK, of the hardback edition of 'The Difference Engine', a joint work by Gibson and Sterling. I prefer it to the final edit.

               

        VICTORIAN CYBERPUNK

    'Imagine a Victorian London in which Charles Babbage's babbage brass and steam prototype computer has transformed society into a Dickensian form of 'Brazil', a polluted capital ruled over by savants. The Rads led by Lord Byron are in power whilst New York has been captured by a Marxist Commune. People this with secret agents and societies, post-Luddite anarchists, and you have some conception of the steam-heated world created by the imaginative fusion of leading cyberpunk writers William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in their tour de force novel 'The Difference Engine'.

    As the self-styled 'Bill and Bruce show' roared through London, Manchester and Birmingham, your correspondent raced to keep pace, snatching time at a Groucho club reception, at their London publishers and at Andromeda in Birmingham, which Gibson dubs "a sf speciality shop with intense sub-culture vibes", to capture as much of their rich conversation as possible before they headed back to Vancouver and Austin respectively to channel their fearsome imaginations into yet more tense and fevered prose.

    Science fiction has always been powered by adolescent intensity and to outsiders remains an arcane and tropical jungle of strange beasts, mutated sensibilities and private languages.

    Cyberpunk blossomed from fertile soil: the left-liberal pole of American sf (Theodore Sturgeon/Fritz Leiber), the British New Wave (Ballard, Moorcock and Aldiss), William Burroughs and French underground comics to name just some of the key elements. Out of this grew a sensibility shared by a generation of writers and artists which was first labelled in an eponymous short story by Bruce Bethke and by the critical anthologist Gardner Dozois, the Italian editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, in the early 80s.

    Bill Gibson and Bruce Sterling are amongst the movement's leading lights and have complementary views on the terms meaning and value.

    images Gibson, expounding in his wry, rural Virginian accent that seems little affected affected by his long sojourn in Canada, sees it as a broad tendency in popular culture, citing his conversations with Ridley Scott over 'Blade Runner' as another example of the Zeitgeist.

    Whilst admitting to be initially quite unhappy with the label "because it was a label and because my experience with sub­cultures and bohemian trends is that once they have been labelled by the press they've had it." When pressed to define what he drily calls " a neologism that's rather long in the tooth" he refers back to C.P.Snow's classic analysis, claiming global media cyberpunks are scientist/artists, operating from the slash between the two cultures.

    Sterling's yee-ha machine-gun delivery would defeat thebruce-sterling nimblest of stenographers but in simple terms he opines that if one is to have a label, he'd much prefer to have just one.

    Aged 36, he's the author of highly prized short fiction and n9514 four previous novels, Involution Ocean, The Artificial Kid, Schismatrix (1985) and Islands In The Net (1988).

    Pre-cyberpunk his "knitting circle of revolutionaries" were branded under such assorted tags as "dark futurists", "outlaw technologists" and "punk-sf" to name just a few. To underline that things have now got well out of hand, he recalls his recent meeting with the Cyberpunk Front from Milan, a sub-Red Brigade group completed with a semiotic guru and identical jackets emblazoned with their emblem - a winged brain with lightning bolts.

    His intro the seminal cyberpunk anthology 'Mirrorshades' describes their stance as 'the point where hacker and rocker overlap' which leads him into a long tirade against the New York Times categorisation of hackers as computer criminals.

    This is dear to his heart and close to home as Austin has recently been the centre of a major bust - 'Operation Sun Devil* - by the US Secret Service, whose two main functions are to protect the President and prosecute counterfeiters. Their current aim is to set themselves up as the computer police and their recent raid on Steve Jackson Games, siezing all manuscript copies of a new game book entitled 'GURPS Cyberpunk', has set the stage for the first major civil liberties battle on the new electronic frontier.

    The interconnections between what Sterling describes as "the high-level hackers and the old San Francisco underground, Tim Leary and the Virtual Reality people" has led to the establishment of the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Mitch Kapor (originator of the software Lotus 1,2,3), Steve Wozniak and John Perry Barlow ("the Grateful Dead lyricist whose in the net a lot") to mediate between the two sides. Such fascinating digressions are hard to ignore.

    In retrospect Gibson, now in his early 40s, sees the organic progression that has led him through his short story collection (Burning Chrome)  and the brilliant trilogy of novels (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive) and clearly defines his major obsessions and themes:

    "The attempt to come to terms with being human in an information society; the real politics and economics of the media world; the obsessive pursuit of the trauma zone of new technology, the point where you are genuinely shocked and frightened; the focus at which the novel seems monstrous, like the moment the drawer first slides out of your CD machine; ecstasy and dread, the post-modern sublime1.

    This Victorian novel span out of a bar-room fantasy about a world in which Babbage's engine has worked and developed through a reading of Babbage's "express political philosophy, which is both startlingly modern and sinister" and which heavily influenced Marx, one of his great admirers.

    The contemporary nature of the period fascinates Gibson. "I don't think there's another time in history that we can look to to see so closely the same tremors and turmoil, the same feelings of wonder and dismay."

    His readings of the tabloid journalism and pulp fiction of the period startled him. "It is full of extremely peculiar, hallucinogenic writing, wonderfully resonant, full of vertigo and nausea, as if their notions of time and space had been yanked out of alignment."

    The collaboration between the the tall, rangy Gibson and 450px-Apple-II the short, intense and bespectacled Sterling, began in the early 80s and their joint novel was produced entirely by correspondence on obsolete Apple IIs, with discs being sent back and forth by FedEx couriers. "We agreed any given version would supercede the previous version," says Gibson " and that we could only ever go forward." He likens it to tunnelling with a lot of regrouting along the way.

    Gibson lived in the Victorian section of Toronto called The Annexe during the "high hippy days" whilst Sterling spent three years living in Madras, with its "phantom after-image of the Raj".

    A self-styled research freak, who loves "pursuing minutiae ot no particular end", this book provided him with the opportunity of frolicking through the Humanities Research Centre at the University of Texas, which contains more than $60 million worth of literary manuscripts and ephemera including Edgar Allen Poe's writing desk. He tells me "Its installations are protected by argon gas. If fire breaks out you have 45 seconds to leave before its flooded with noble gases and your history."

    Whilst in London they were taken to see the BabbageDifferenceEngine reconstruction of Babbage's engine that the Science Musuem are building, using a combination of period manufacturing techniques and advanced computer-aided design. "We had to put on white gloves", says Sterling, " just like the 'clackers' (Victorian hackers) in our book." He was obviously delighted at life's imitation of art, what he terms a "genuine second-generation effect".

    By our third conversation, madness and throat exhaustion was taking over. Time only to learn that Gibson has written the first screenplay for 'Alien 3' ("your readers may not realise that 'Total Recall' went through 30 full screenplays"), that his script based on his own short story 'New Rose Hotel' is drifting around in Hollywood and that 'Burning Chrome' sits with Carolco with James Cameron slated to direct it after 'Terminator 2'. There were sounds of screeching in the background. We agreed to meet in Vancouver next year to celebrate Greenpeace's 20th anniversary. The line went silent except for the words 'ecstasy and dread' that kept ringing in my ears. '

    scribbled underneath the typescript is the following note:

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     mantellADDITIONAL:

     I first met Gibson and Sterling at the cramped upstairs publishers party at the Groucho Club in London's Soho.

    Weirdly, one of the main characters in 'The Difference Engine' is geologist Gideon Mantell, one of the earliest dinosaur hunters, who with his wife discovered and identified the fossil remains of a creature they called iguanodon. He went on the conceptualise the idea of the 'Age of Reptiles' and can now be seen as the Godfather of Dinosaur Culture.

    Weird because Gideon Mantell lived in my town, Lewes. His magnificent house still stands proud in the High Street, a double-fronted mansion with columns topped with Ammonites (and built, coincidentally or not) by a builder named Amon Wilds.

    As chance would have it, there had just been a centenary MANTELL2549 celebration of his life, bringing together academics from across the world, including Mantell's biographer Dennis R. Dean. A beautiful Victorian-style poster (above) was produced for the event and I arrived that night holding one, which I gave to Sterling and Gibson. Their jaws dropped.

     

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    FOOTNOTES

    • In 1992 Bruce Sterling's  first nonfiction book was published: 'The Hacker Crackdown: Law And Disorder On The Electronic Frontier', a work of investigative journalism exploring issues in computer crime and civil liberties. Sterling released the entire text of the book on the Internet as non-commercial "literary freeware," and maintains a long term interest in electronic user rights and free expression.
    • Steve Jackson Games v. Secret Service Case Archive: On March 1 1990, the offices of Steve Jackson Games, in Austin, Texas, were raided by the U.S. Secret Service as part of a nationwide investigation of data piracy. The initial news stories simply reported that the Secret Service had raided a suspected ring of hackers. Gradually, the true story emerged. More than three years later, a federal court awarded damages and attorneys' fees to the game company, ruling that the raid had been careless, illegal, and completely unjustified. Electronic civil-liberties advocates hailed the case as a landmark. It was the first step toward establishing that online speech IS speech, and entitled to Constitutional protection... and, specifically, that law-enforcement agents can't seize and hold a BBS with impunity. See: Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
    • For some great examples of 'steampunk' see Metachronicles. On their entry on this book, Eric Orchard writes: 'The Difference Engine ...definitely changed the course of science fiction by popularizing the idea of an altered Victorian world. It ushered in the era of re-imagined pasts. The Difference Engine is considered by many to define the subgenre of Steampunk.'
    • Gibson's Alien III filmscript is on the net