Thursday, March 13, 2003
posted 8:24 AM

I’d forgotten what it was like. That weird, ugly, green abduction-scenario glare from inside, the sheer slowness of it (this is, mind you, a Sanyo close to a decade old, an antique in its own right). The various sounds it makes, once so familiar. I keep it around for those odd times when I absolutely need to send a fax, when there’s no other way, and I did, today.

Then I remembered the first time I ever saw a fax machine.

I can remember when we got our first television, in the Fifties. It had a wooden cabinet. I’m not entirely certain it was the first one I ever saw, though. I can remember receiving my first-ever transistor radio, and my first-ever stereophonic phonograph, but I’d probably seen others before I got my own. I do remember seeing, and instantly buying, my first-ever Sony Walkman; until I saw it, in the spring of 1981, I had had no idea such a thing existed. (And shortly thereafter, I saw my first personal computer, a Sinclair ZX like the ones Voytek is after in PATTERN RECOGNITION, though probably it was the Timex version. It was hooked up to a black-and-white tv purchased for this express purpose from the Salvation Army. It was as unexciting, to me, as the Walkman had been exciting.)

I saw my first fax machine in the Tokyo home of Katsuhiro Otomo, who was completing (I think) AKIRA at the time. He had at least two of these things, and from them were scrolling what may have been in-betweens. I’m not even sure what year that was, now, but I remember that he was quietly proud of this new technology, and that he told me (perhaps through a translator) that they loved these machines, in Japan, because, for the first time, it was possible to send hand-written notes. And, of course, images.

I was impressed, though not as impressed as I was by the images on those scrolls. I think I had heard, vaguely, about these things, in some business context, in Canada, but I’m sure I never imagined I’d live with one for a decade or so, and go through, probably, several miles of that horrible slippery paper.

I don’t remember whether Otomo had a PC. If he did, he didn’t show it to me. Somehow I doubt he did. The home computer I remember hearing most about in Japan, that trip, was the Nintendo Famicom, and those didn’t sound particularly exciting either. (Famicon: "family computer". ) I’d written NEUROMANCER, it had been translated and published in Japan, and here I was in Tokyo: seeing my very first…fax machine.

At some point on that trip I also saw half a dozen really boring checked sports-jackets, in a department-store window, in front of a large banner that said “CYBER-SUMMER!”.

Damn, I thought, this is getting weird.

And of course it continued to.


Someone asks about this, having been puzzled for years: at the end of NEUROMANCER (p. 252, current Ace trade paper) 3Janes says “Take you word, thief.” Case then does whatever it is he does (you tell me) to penetrate the final membrane of…whatever:

And his voice the cry of a bird
3Jane answering in song, three
notes, high and pure.
A true name.

Anyone daydreaming of a feature film of NEUROMANCER might want to pause to ponder just how the hell one might go about depicting this climax (and it is the climax) on the screen.

As to what the word is, well, I never considered it to be a word, really, though 3Jane, teasingly, calls it one. It is in fact three “notes”, something akin to birdcall. The key to the cipher, that is, is revealed as being purely tonal, musical, rather than linguistic. Case’s “cry”, a species of primal scream, the voicing of the emotionality he’s been walled off from throughout the narrative (and his life), torn finally from the core of his being, is what actually forces 3Jane to give up the key. Call and response, of some kind. Hearing him, she can’t help herself. When she taunts him (“Take your word, thief.”) she’s in fact daring him, and assuming he can’t -- just as she was, a moment before, daring Molly to kill her.


Re the new thread about Australia, I’m certainly not alone among North Americans in my awareness of that part of the world. Very much a mirror-world, for us, and for residents of Canada there seems to be another mirroring as well, with Australia seeming to reflect the US while New Zealand reflects Canada. As no doubt many have said, these are places I’d visit more frequently if they weren’t so far away! I’ve only been twice, and very briefly: to Wellington for a literary festival and Melbourne for a science fiction convention. But Vancouver has visible pockets of Australians in a way that one probably doesn’t encounter in the States. One of my local anti-Starbucks, for instance, seems to be staffed exclusively by what I take to be Australian exchange students. (Australia and Canada share consular facilities now, in many countries, out of old friendship and common needs.)

As to why I don’t (“The Winter Market” is the one exception so far) set fiction in Vancouver… That’s complicated. Something like: because I need a place in which I’m not doing that with my immediate surroundings, in order to continue doing it with other places. If I were to incorporate Vancouver into my fictive universe, I fear that in some sense I’d be “writing” all the time. As it is, in Vancouver, I get to be a civilian, that way. I just live here. I don't have to write fiction about it.

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