Conspiracy theories and the occult comfort us because they present models of the world that more easily make sense than the world itself, and, regardless of how dark or threatening, are inherently less frightening.
(Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer 2001)
[Molly Millions was a slim] girl with mirrored glasses, her dark hair cut in a rough shag. …
White sodium glare washed her features, stark monochrome, shadows cleaving from her cheekbones. …
She was wearing leather jeans the color of dried blood. …
Her T-shirt was sleeveless, faint telltales of Chiba City circuitry traced along her thin arms. …
Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. …
Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses, beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel. …
[It was then that] I saw … that the mirrored lenses were surgical inlays, the silver rising smoothly from her high cheekbones, sealing her eyes in their sockets.
(Johnny Mnemonic, Omni, May 1981)
Zero History (2010)
The room phone began to ring.
It was a collage, its massive nautical-looking handset of rubber-coated bronze resting in a leather-padded cradle atop a cubical box of brass-cornered rosewood.
Its ring was mechanical, tiny, as though you were hearing an old fashioned bicycle bell far off down a quiet street.
She stared hard, willing it to silence. …
She pictured herself driving the handset, [heavy as a hammer,] through brittle antique rosewood, crushing the aged electro-mechanical cricket within.
[He] watched harshly tonsured child-soldiers, clad in skateboarding outfits still showing factory creases, ogling Chinese-made orc-killing blades, spiked and serrated like the jaws of extinct predators.
The sellers stand had been hung with Mardi Gras beads, Confederate-flag beach towels, [and] unauthorized Harley-Davidson memorabilia.
Addictions, he thought, … started out like magical pets, pocket monsters.
They did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn't seen, were fun.
But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you.
Eventually, they were making your most crucial life-decisions.
And they were, his therapist … had said, less intelligent than goldfish.
The [space] they entered now was like one of those educational display corners in a Ralph Lauren flagship meant to suggest how some semimythical other half had lived, but cranked up, here, into something else entirely, metastasized, spookily hyper-real.
[He] saw, however briefly but with peculiar clarity, an aerial penguin cross the intersection ahead of him.
Something wholly penguin-shaped, apparently four or five feet long, from beat-tip to trailing feet, and made, it seemed, of mercury.
A penguin wrapped in a fluid mirror, reflecting a bit of neon from the street below,
Moving as a penguin moves underwater, but through the Latin Quarter air, at just above the height of second-story windows.
Rausch, his translucently short black hair looking like something sprayed from a nozzle, … held a magazine above his head, to ward off the drizzle.
He looked characteristically disheveled, but in his own peculiar way.
Everything about his personal presentation was intended to convey an effortless concision, but nothing quite did.
His tight black suit was wrinkled, bagged at the knees, and in extending his arm above his head … he'd untucked one side of his white shirt.
His glasses, whose frames came equipped with their own squint, would be in need of cleaning.
[She'd listen to her father] talk about his work, arbitrage engines shuttling back and forth through the world's markets like invisible dragons, fast as light, shaving fragments of advantage for traders …
When Chia [was] small, her mother had worn her hair in a long braid, its tip skewered with turquoise and abalone and carved bits of bone, like the magical tail of some mythical animal, swaying there for [her] to grab.
[Her] mother's "now" was such a narrow and literal thing.
News governed …
Chia's "now" was digital, effortlessly elastic, instant recall supported by global systems she'd never have to bother comprehending.
- "Your father's a big tax lawyer!"
- "I know," Kelsey said.
"And he flies back and forth, all over the world, making money.
But you what else he earns, Chia?"
- "Frequent-flyer points.
Big-ass frequent flyer points.
On Air Magellan."
- "Interesting," said the Aztec skull.
- "Tokyo," said the mean nymph.
The sky was like mother-of-pearl when Chia emerged from [Shinjuku] station.
Gray buildings, pastel neon, a streetscape dotted with vaguely unfamiliar shapes.
Dozens of bicycles were parked everywhere, the fragile-looking kind with paper-tube frames spun with carbon fiber.
Chia took a step back as an enormous turquoise garbage truck rumbled past, its driver's white-gloved hands visible on the high wheel.
As it cleared her field of vision, she saw a Japanese girl wearing a short plaid skirt and black biker jacket.
The girl smiled.
The Sandbenders system software looked like an old-fashioned canvas water bag, a sort of canteen …
It was worn and spectacularly organic, with tiny beads of water bulging through the tight weave of fabric.
If you got super close you saw things reflected in the individual droplets:
- circuitry that was like beadwork or the skin on a lizard's throat,
- a long empty beach under a gray sky,
- mountains in the rain,
- creek water over different-colored stones.
Something at the core of things moved simultaneously in mutually impossible directions. …
Faint impression of light through a fluttering of rags. …
[Then a] building or biomass or cliff face looming there, in countless unplanned strata, nothing about it even or regular.
Accreted patchwork of shallow random balconies, thousands of small windows throwing back blank silver rectangles of fog.
Stretching either way to the periphery of vision, and on the high, uneven crest of that ragged facade, a black fur of twisted pipe, antennas sagging under vine growth of cable.
And past this scribbled border a sky where colors crawled like gasoline on water. …
[A city] of darkness.
Between the walls of the world. …
They were inside now, smoothly accelerating, and the squirming density of the thing was continual visual impact, an optical drumming. …
Walls scrawled and crawling with scrolling messages, spectral doorways passing like cards in a shuffled deck.
[There were] others there, ghost-figures whipping past, and everywhere the sense of eyes …
Fractal filth, bit-rot, the corridor of their passage tented with crazy swoops of faintly flickering lines of some kind.
[The] rooftops of the Walled City were its dumping ground, but the things abandoned there were like objects out of a dream, bit-mapped fantasies discarded by their creators, their jumbled shapes and textures baffling the eye, the attempt to sort and decipher them inducing a kind of vertigo.
Some were moving.
- "Immediate identification as Rodel-van Erp primary biomolecular programming module C-slash-7A.
This is a lab prototype.
We are unable to determine its exact legal status, but the production model, C-slash-9E, is Class 1 nanotechnology, proscribed under international law.
Japanese law, conviction of illegal possession of Class 1 device carries automatic life sentence."
- "Life?" Chia said.
- "Same for thermonuclear device," he said, apologetically, "poison gas, biological weapon."
A man wider than the doorway seemed to flow into the room.
[He] was wearing a coat the color of dull metal.
[One] huge, scarred hand slipped into his coat [only to emerge] holding something that looked to Chia like a very large pair of chrome-plated scissors, but then unfolded, with a series of small sharp clicks, and apparently of its own accord, into a kind of glittering, skeletal axe, its leading edge hawk-like and lethal, the head behind it tapering like an icepick.
Zona Rosa took a knife from her jacket pocket and squatted on a shelf of pinkish rock.
Golden dragons swirled in the shallow depths of the knife's pink plastic handles.
She thumbed a button of plated tin and the dragon-etched blade snapped out, its spine sawtoothed and merciless.
An aura bristled around Zona, who grew taller as the spikey cloud of light increased in resolution.
Shifting, overlapping planes like ghosts of broken glass.
Iridescent insects whirling there. …
Zona's aura bristled with gathering menace, a thunderhead of flickering darkness forming above the shattered sheets of light.
There was a sound that reminded Chia of one of those blue-light bug-zappers popping a particularly juicy one, and then vast wings cut the air, so close: Zona's Colombian condors, things from the data-havens.
And gone. …
Zona's switchblade seemed the size of a chainsaw now, its toothed spine rippling, alive.
The golden dragons from the plastic handles chased their fire-maned double tails around her brown fist, through miniature clouds of Chinese embroidery.
In the very structure of her face, in the geometries of underlying bone, lay coded histories of dynastic flight, privation, terrible migrations.
[Laney] saw stone tombs in steep alpine meadows, their lintels traced with snow.
A line of shaggy pack ponies, their breath white with cold, followed a trail above a canyon.
The curves of the river below were strokes of distant silver.
Iron harness bells clanked in the blue dusk. …
In his mouth a taste of rotten metal. …
Something generated, animated, projected … an architecture of articulated longing …
(pp 176 & 178)
[He sat in the lobby] until dawn came edging in through the tall, arched windows, and Taiwanese stainless could be heard to rattle, but gently, from the darkened cave of the breakfast room. …
Echoes woke from the tiled floor [and the] high beams …
Immigrant voices, in some High Steppe dialect the Great Khans might well have understood.
[Beyond] a framing rectangle of glass that filtered out every tint of pollution, the sky … was perfectly blank, like a sky-blue paint chip submitted by the contractor of the universe. …
The Natashas were everywhere, working girls shipped in from Vladivostok by the Kombinat.
Routine plastic surgery lent them a hard assembly-line beauty.
The ceiling [of the parking level] was very low, and flocked with something drab and wooly, to reduce noise.
Lines of bioluminescent cable were bracketed to it, and the unmoving air was heavy with the sugary smell of exhausted gasohol.
Spotless ranks of small Japanese cars glittered like bright wet candy.
… Slitscan's business was a ritual letting of blood, and the blood it let was an alchemical fluid: celebrity in its rawest, purest form.
Palest of pale blonds.
A pallor bordering on translucence, certain angles of light suggesting not blood but some fluid the shade of summer straw.
On her left thigh the absolute indigo imprint of something twisted and multibarbed, an expensively savage pictoglyph. …
The tattoo looked like something from another planet, a sign or message burned in from the depths of space, left there for mankind to interpret.
[Our audience, she said,] is best visualized as a vicious, lazy profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed.
[Imagine] something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka.
It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. …
It has no mouth … no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.
Or by voting in presidential elections.
He could hold [her digital] history in his mind like a single object, like a perfectly detailed scale model of something ordinary but miraculous, made luminous by the intensity of his focus.
He'd never met her, or spoken to her, but he'd come to know her, he supposed, in more ways that anyone ever had or would.
[She] knew, somehow, that he was there, watching.
As though she felt him gazing down, into the pool of data that reflected her life, its surface made of all the bits that were the daily record of her life as it registered on the digital fabric of the world.
[As he] watched, a nodal point [began] to form over [her reflection …]
She was going to kill herself.
He thought of coral, of reefs that grew around sunken aircraft carriers; perhaps, [in death,] she'd become something like that: the buried mystery beneath some exfoliating superstructure of supposition, or even myth.
It seemed to him … that that might be a slightly less dead way of being dead.
And he wished her that.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange …
(The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2, 1611)
WILLIAM GIBSON (1948)
- Distrust That Particular Flavour, 2012.
The Street Finds its own uses for things …
(Rocket Radio, Rolling Stone, June 1989)
I suspect [Millenials] inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.
(Talk For Book Expo: New York, May 2010)
[Dorodango are 3 inch] balls of mud compressed with the hands and painstakingly formed into perfect spheres …
The brogues, shined lovingly enough, for long enough … must ultimately become a universe unto themselves, a conceptual sphere of lustrous and infinite depth.
Just as a life, lived silently enough, in sufficient solitude, becomes a different sort of sphere, no less perfect.
(Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands, Tate Magazine, September / October 2002)
Works we all our lives recall reading for the first time are among the truest milestones …
The events … were staged in some vast repurposed fortress or castle [which] hummed and gleamed like a vacuum tube within a thirteenth-century reliquary.
(Preface, Labyrinths, Jorge Borges, 2007)
[London] is a city in which, [Ackroyd] suggests, subjective time flows differently, from one area to the next, and may have come to a near-complete halt in others. …
It is a city in which the eternal suffering of the poor may perpetually serve some mysterious and driving purpose in the life of the whole, some hidden dynamo of torture and sacrifice dating back to something stranger and less easily articulated …
(Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities, Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer 2001)
Both [Britain and Japan] display a sort of fractal coherence of sign and symbol, all the way down into the weave of history. …
[Truly,] there is something in the quality of a good translation that can never be captured in the original. …
I see it in the eyes of the [dealers, and in the eyes of the otaku:] a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime.
(Modern Boys And Mobile Girls, The Observer, April 2001)
In Istanbul, one chill misty morning in 1970, I stood in Kapali Carsi, the grand bazaar, under a Sony sign bristling with alien futurity, and stared deep into a cube of plate glass filled with tiny, ancient, fascinating things.
[The] Sony sign — very large, very proto-Blade Runner, illuminated in some way I hadn't seen before — made a deep impression.
(My Obsession, Wired, January 1999)
We are building ourselves mirrors that remember — public mirrors that wander around and remember what they've seen.
That is a basic magic.
(William Gibson's Filmless Festival, Wired, October 1999)
Disneyland With The Death Penalty
Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation.
If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore.
There's a certain white-shirted constraint, an absolute humorlessness in the way Singapore Ltd operates; conformity here is the prime directive …
Imagine an Asian version of Zurich operating as an offshore capsule [of Malaysia —] an affluent microcosm whose citizens inhabit something that feels like, well, Disneyland.
Disneyland with the death penalty.
[Except that] Disneyland wasn't built atop an equally peculiar nineteenth-century theme park …
… Bits of the Victorian construct, dressed in spanking-fresh paint, protrude at quaint angles from the white-flanked glitter of the neo-Gernsbackian metropolis.
The facades of the remaining Victorian shop-houses recall Covent Garden on some impossibly bright London day. …
The physical past, here, has almost entirely vanished.
In 1965, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, became the country's first prime minister [and the] People's Action Party has remained in power ever since …
… Reddy Kilowatt as the mascot of what is, in effect, a single-party capitalist technocracy.
Rococo pagodas perch atop slippery-flanked megastructures concealing enough cubic footage of atria to make up a couple of good-sized Lagrangian-5 colonies.
[In] many ways, it really does seem like 1956 in Singapore …
[An] expanded middle class enjoys great prosperity … and a deeply paternalistic government is prepared, at any cost, to hold at bay the triple threat of communism, pornography, and drugs.
Singapore is curiously, indeed gratifyingly, devoid of certain aspects of creativity.
(Wired, September 1993)
My Own Private Tokyo
The Industrial Revolution came whole [to Japan], in kit form: steamships, railroads, telegraphy, factories, western medicine, the division of labor — not to mention a mechanized military and the political will to use it.
Then those Americans returned to whack Asia's first industrial society with the light of a thousand suns — twice …
[And] thus, the War ended.
At which point the aliens arrived in force, this time with briefcases and plans, bent on a cultural retrofit from the scorched earth up.
She's probably Australian, young and quite serviceably beautiful.
She wears very expensive, very sheer black undergarments, and little else, save for some black outer layer—equally sheer, skintight, and micro-short—and some gold and diamonds to give potential clients the right idea.
She steps past me, into four lanes of traffic, conversing on her phone in urgent Japanese.
Traffic halts obediently for this triumphantly jaywalking gaijin in her black suede spikes.
I watch her make the opposite curb, the brain-cancer deflector on her slender little phone swaying in counterpoint to her hips.
When the light changes, I cross, and watch her high-five a bouncer who looks like Oddjob in a Paul Smith suit, his skinny lip beard razored with micrometer precision.
There's a flash of white as their palms meet.
[Outside] Harajuku Station [there's] a bevy of teenage manga nurses [hanging out:] rocker girls kitted out in knee-high black platform boots, black jodhpurs, black Lara Croft tops, and open, carefully starched lab coats, stethoscopes around their necks.
The look clearly isn't happening without a stethoscope.
You can do that here, in Tokyo: be a teenage girl on the street in a bondage-nurse outfit.
You can dream in public.
And the reason you can do it is [because] this is one of the safest cities in the world …
[One in which] a special zone, Harajuku, has … been set aside for you. …
The manga nurses don't threaten anything; there's a place for them, and for whatever replaces them.
It's hard to beat, these nameless neon streets swarming with every known form of electronic advertising, under a misting rain that softens the commercials playing on facade screens of quite surreal width and clarity.
The Japanese know this about television:
Make it big enough and anything looks cool.
(Wired, September 2001)
- Burning Chrome, 1986.
Muscle boys scattered through the crowd [at the Drome] were flexing stock parts at one another and trying on thin, cold grins, some of them so lost under superstructures of muscle graft that their outlines weren't really human.
Nighttown spread beneath us like a toy village for rats …
I imagined the old men at their endless games of dominoes, under warm, fat drops of water that fell from wet wash hung out on poles between the plywood shanties.
We're an information economy. …
[It's] impossible to move, to live to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information.
Fragments that can be retrieved, amplified …
[A memory of Paris:]
- long Mercedes electrics gliding through the rain to Notre Dame — mobile greenhouses, Japanese faces behind the glass — and
- a hundred Nikons rising in blind phototropism — flowers of steel and crystal.
(Omni, May 1981)
The explosion [created] a white sheet of heat lightning that had turned the pale branches of a bare tree against the night sky into a photographic negative of themselves: carbon branches against magnesium sky.
(Unearth 3, 1977)