Wednesday, January 08, 2003
posted 1:26 PM
Someone else wonders what I think of pirated copies of my work available as free downloads on the net.

Downloading a novel from the net is not something I’d ever likely do myself, but mainly because reading novels on the screen of a PDA is something I might get into only if I were incarcerated, with no alternative. And I’m sufficiently (and with good reason) aware of the book > royalty > author chain to want to feed those authors whose work feeds me creatively. I make it a point to buy the books of writers whose work and presence I value.

As for other people downloading pirated copies, that’s their business. The business part of my business, currently, is about publishers producing legitimate editions of my work, which they then distribute for sale, a certain predetermined portion of the price returning to me as royalties (against the publisher’s cash advance).

But I think that that has to be looked at in a broader context, today, so I suggest you read this piece by Tim O'Reilly, recommended to me yesterday by Kevin KellY:

You could have sex relatively comfortably on a platform of books, but not on a platform of PDA’s. Hardcover books. Paperbacks might start sliding around. Though I’d still prefer paperbacks to a pile of PDA’s.

I was in a bar in Barcelona, on the Rambla, with Alberto Manguel, just before Christmas, talking, as it happened, about why books, the paper kind, are such a good thing. Neither of us suggested building beds from them, but Alberto did say that he thought the book, like the wheel and the knife, was one of those perfectly and completely evolved inventions, an idea what wasn’t really going to be improved upon.

Alberto, who was once Jorge Luis Borges' personal secretary, is among other things a great anthologist, and, by virtue of that, a sort of meta-librarian, which is a very Borgesian thing to be.

Afterward, walking back to my hotel along one of the safer thoroughfares crossing the heroin-drifted maze of the Barrio Chino (you can tell them because they have lights, Christmas decorations, and policemen) I wished that I had been able to more clearly describe, for Alberto, the level of technology that this book/PDA/download business has always conjured up for me.

The Borgesian meta-library contains a copy of every book ever written, but my dream-artifact is already, and always, every book every written, on demand -- yet feels, looks, and even smells exactly like an ordinary hardcover book. Only the content is protean. That simple. The end of the world as we know it, and a good read every single night.

Shelve the PDA, thanks. I’m holding out for Borges’ library of Babel in one volume, Strindberg or Spillane as the heart desires.

And even a rather bland and limited sort of nanotech, on par with the “paint” now being developed for American combat vehicles, gets us closer…

posted 8:48 AM
Someone wonders whether or not Pattern Recognition might be the start of a new “trilogy”… Someone else allows as how I don’t so much write trilogies as explore the same territory and characters, from different directions, over the course of several books.

There’s an essay entitled “Termite Art”, in Manny Farber’s Negative Space, a book of film criticism. I discovered this essay around the time I was starting to write short fiction, and, though Farber was talking about film, and particularly about films by a certain kind of American director, I found it hugely encouraging. The following, please note, is not Farber’s theory, but what I’ve always remembered it to be. Which is all you need to know for present purposes, as I’m trying to explain something about how I write, and why.

Farber says (in my recollection, anyway) that European (or classical) art, including film, is culturally assumed to be like a monumental slab. It’s about that slab, and how it’s been shaped, or what’s been carved on it. In “termite art”, though, your slab has been wormholed countless times, and its meaning is really taking place in the resulting interstices. The actual art of the piece, in other words, and your enjoyment of it, is taking place in the cracks, and the shape of the slab is coincidental and ultimately meaningless.

That encouraged me, in 1977, because that felt to me like what I actually did when I attempted fiction. And my slabs were truly pathetic, particularly my earliest tries, but I could bore a mean and twisty wormhole from the very start. In another sense, Farber provided an crucial angle of attack, a working attitude: I’d called my slab “science fiction”, but the art I’d cultivate would be the art of interstice, burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface, through the waiting wealth of weirdness I sensed between those surfaces.

But your true trilogy is the epitome of monumental slab: a classical triune form, each third in perfect balance. (As to whether anyone other the Tolkien ever actually managed one, I don’t know; my own favorite three-book fantasy sequence, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, is as termitically gnawed a creation as you could hope to find.)

A secret: that line toward the end of Neuromancer, “He never saw Molly again,” forever sundering Case from the razorgirl, was added very last thing, in a deliberate attempt to prevent myself from ever writing a sequel. And was, I think, a well-intentioned but ultimately pointless gesture, because I must have somehow been under the false assumption, then, that Neuromancer was a slab.

The next book I planned, at that point, would have been, believe it or not, a species of space opera. That was not to be, but not, as some might imagine, because Neuromancer won a bunch of prizes. In real time, that was mighty slow to happen. What really happened was that I started burrowing into the world of Neuromancer from a surface inhabited by a nasty little character who liked to call himself Count Zero. I was discovering my own literary nature: termite. I couldn’t help myself.
The same thing happened with Virtual Light: no intention to write a trilogy, thank you.


With Pattern Recognition… Well, I hope not. Not that I don’t like it. (Though actually, if you want to get into that, my attitude to every book I’ve written was probably best expressed by Vaughan Williams when someone asked him if he liked the symphony he’d just completed; he said that he wasn’t sure, but that it was what he’d intended it to be.) The thing I liked most, and hated most, about writing Pattern Recognition, was the extent to which it required me to stretch.
Were I to bore back into it, tunneling after Win’s childhood in Virginia, say, or Voytek’s life as an artist, or… Well, the stretch factor wouldn’t be quite the same. I seem to have arrived at a place where the one-off stand-alone novel, something I aspired to from the very beginning, is the no-net wire-walk required to keep me entirely (if sometimes resentfully) awake.

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