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An Interview with Pat Cadigan
conducted by Jakob Schmidt

© Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan was born in Schenectady, New York, and grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Attending the University of Massachusetts on a scholarship, she eventually transferred to the University of Kansas where she received her degree. Pat was an editor and writer for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City for ten years before embarking on her careers as a fiction writer in 1987. Since that time her Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated short stories have appeared in such magazines as Omni, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Isacc Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, as well as numerous anthologies. Her first collection, Patterns, was honoured with the Locus Award in 1990. Pat Cadigan moved to England in August 1996, and now lives in North London, with her husband Chris Fowler.

Pat Cadigan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Twilight Zone: Upgrade & Sensuous Cindy
SF Site Review: The Ultimate Cyberpunk
SF Site Review: Dervish Is Digital
SF Site Interview: Pat Cadigan
SF Site Review: Tea from an Empty Cup

Patterns
The Twilight Zone: Upgrade & Sensuous Cindy
The Ultimate Cyberpunk
Dervish Is Digital
Dirty Work

Art: Thomas Cole
Tea from an Empty Cup

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Let's start with a general question: in your mind, what's writing Cyberpunk about today?
Well, the thing about me writing Cyberpunk is not really that I ever set out to write something called "Cyberpunk." I'm writing what I always wrote, dealing with issues that interest me. I've always been concerned with the impact of technology on human beings, and that's what I've always written about. Eventually, at one point it was determined that this fits the description of the category "Cyberpunk." But it's not so much that I'm concerned with writing Cyberpunk, as I'm concerned with developing and improving as a writer, trying to find pointed things to say about the things that concern me.

While we are talking about the relation between humans and technology: it seems that many classic Cyberpunk-concepts like virtual reality and the transformation of the human body by technological means are extremely present in today's SF. Do you think that's one reason for the notion that "Cyberpunk is dead": its elements are everywhere, but there's very little left that you can point your finger at and say "that's Cyberpunk today?"
Twenty years ago Cyberpunk was really something new. In the twenty years since it hit, it has been integrated into SF, and into the mainstream. So it doesn't exist as such a solidly separate category as it did before. By now, it's really sort of a part of everything else. In the beginning, Cyberpunk was a subgenre of SF, now there's more of a "Cyberpunk-sensibility." We've really seen this process of integration, just as we've seen the integration of the new technology that Cyberpunk was concerned with. When Cyberpunk started, the desktop computer was still a fairly new idea. Now everybody's got one. Not only has everybody got one, but everyone either has a palm pilot or a laptop or both. Cyberpunk isn't dead, it's just much more part of everybody's day-to-day existence. So naturally, the way you write about these things changes. You don't go on writing about the impact of the telephone on society. There is no impact of the telephone on society any more. The telephone is part of the standard furniture of our lives. So if you write about the telephone, you don't write about its impact on society as a whole -- unless of course you're writing historical fiction.

Do you think that is the reason why William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson all turned towards contemporary fiction -- that their topics have become so integrated into day-to-day-life by now that it has become easier to write about them in contemporary or historical settings? That this was a reason for them to move out of the science-fiction-field?
I don't think they consciously did anything. I can't really speak for them, because they haven't let me in on their deep-seated motives. But I suspect that they're doing what I do, which is to continue to write about things that compel and interest them. Whatever they're writing about is whatever they're all wrapped up in at the moment. The idea is not to serve some kind of Cyberpunk ideal. We never did that in the first place, not really. What we did is to write about the things that concern us. We're still writing about the things that concern us. It's more the critics, the analysts and the academics that are trying to make sense of it, I guess.

They put a lot of names to things. In fact, it's very simple: society has moved along, we all move along. Our focus changes. As people, we're not concerned with the same things that we were twenty years ago. We're in a different stage of our lives and the world is in a different condition. We have different situations to worry about, or to be happy about, or to wonder about. The motion of life carries you forward -- you're never standing still. When you say "now," by the time you finish the word, the first half of "now" is in the past.

There's one thing that struck me in your later novels. It's still very possible to look at them and say "that's Cyberpunk," there are many recognisable Cyberpunk-elements in them, but there's also one noticeable change: the main character is a police officer. While this works perfectly in terms of style, it seems kind of atypical for the Cyberpunk genre.

Earlier Cyberpunk nearly always was about one person subverting the system, living in the margins, and now there's a main character living at the heart of the system. Does this have anything to do with the changes you mentioned?

Well, it probably does in a way, although part of it is that I've always loved reading police procedurals. Many times you find people in police jobs who go into them with the most idealistic of intentions, because they believe that they can do some good, and that this is the best way they can do some good, the biggest way they can effect some difference. But it's also a reflection of what happens to you in your life: you don't always stay on the fringes, on the borders, or the frontiers. One day you wake up and you're in the heart of society. You're either part of the solution or part of the problem or -- more likely -- part of both. When you're forty-five, you're not doing what you were doing when you were 20. You don't have the same kind of responsibilities or roles to play. You're supposed to have learned something, you're supposed to have advanced in some way in your life. So I suppose it's a reflection of what's happened to me personally.

I'm not a kid any more. And in many respects it's like: I'm a middle-aged women, I'm walking down the street and the young guns don't know anything about me, and they think: "Well, there goes a grown-up." Do you see what I mean?

Let's get to another question: the gender-politics of Cyberpunk, and of the authors that have been Cyberpunk and are maybe part of something different now. I don't want to go for the "why aren't there more women writers in Cyberpunk?" -- question again. But with some Cyberpunk novels, I asked myself if their authors are trying to make a gender-political statement. For example, Neal Stephenson always insists on gender politics being of no relevance in his context. Maybe you remember this female character from Cryptonomicon who's very explicitly "beyond feminism" because she's much to cool and to smart for having any problems with men trying to oppress to her. Do you think that the question of Cyberpunk's relation to gender politics is still of interest?
That's the thing -- feminism is a perfect example of how things change. I've got a friend who's at least ten years younger than I am, probably a little more, and we used to work in the same place. One night we were out to dinner, and she said "I'm not a feminist." And I said: "Really, Lisa? Do you own your own house?" -- "Yeah." And I said: "Do you own your own car?" -- "Yes." -- "You have a job." -- "Yes" -- "You're not married?" -- again, she answered "Yes." And I said: "Did you need your fathers signature to get any of the things you own, to get a credit card or anything like that?" She said: "Of course not." And I said: "You're not a feminist?" She answered, again: "No." And I said: "This is because feminism has changed the face of culture." The fact is that that was what feminism was all about. The idea was to give women choices that previously they did not have. As late as 1977, I couldn't get a credit card without having a husband to co-sign for me.

These days, young women -- say about 25 -- have had no experience of this. And if you told them what it was like, they wouldn't accept this for a minute, because they've grown up in a culture and in a milieu where they don't have to. So naturally the woman in Cryptonomicon is beyond feminism because she is too cool to have problems with men. It's what I've said in a previous interview with someone else a long time ago: that I insist to live in a world where the word "feminist" is as quaint as the word "suffragette."

That's the whole idea of feminism: to make it like the word "abolitionist," which meant, in the 19th century in America, that you were anti-slavery. So of course you are an abolitionist, but the whole idea of slavery is actually irrelevant in a modern society. And that's the idea of feminism: feminism succeeds when we don't really have to think about it anymore. That's what I'm talking about: the changes society goes through. And probably we'll have other things to think about, other causes to rally behind or rally against, depending on your point of view. This has also to do with the time when Neal Stephenson started writing. A lot of the groundwork was laid. If there hadn't been any Bill Gibson or Bruce Sterling or Rudy Rucker or Pat Cadigan (She said modestly), there wouldn't be any character role for Neal Stephenson to play in. But there is, and he's a big success, and this is the way things go. Years ago, Bill Gibson said that what he was doing was Samuel R.Delany. And Samuel R. Delany said that what he was doing was Alfred Bester.

That's the literary lineage that you can trace from Bester to Delany to Gibson. That's how it went.

What are you working at now? I already mentioned some things about the Dore Konstantin novels -- could you tell us something about the concept of these?
Well, the idea was to have a police procedural in the somewhat near future with a police detective who has to conduct a lot of her investigations in artificial reality. AR has very much become the standard furniture, the fixture of the time and the culture that she lives in. It's taken for granted, and it's easily accessible, cheap, convenient to use.

Everybody uses it, like everybody watches television now. So she has to conduct a lot of her investigations within alternate reality -- excuse me, artificial reality. "Alternative reality" or "alternate reality" is what a lot of people are calling it, because they're starting to get confused and blur everything together. Some people insist on referring to real life as "the ground floor," like the ground floor of a building, and then you go up to the next floor, and that's a different place, and they want to treat artificial reality and think of it as if one is just as real as the other.

I have to emphasise that when I started these books I lived in America, and there's a very American sensibility and viewpoint to them. In America we worry about things like status incredibly much, and this is why designer clothing and designer kit are so successful. Because you wear your status, you show your status: "I'm a cool person" or "I'm a confident person" or "I'm a reckless, sexy, dangerous person," depending on what kind of image you want to project. So, in extending this to artificial reality, there are people who live all their status in AR. The lot of their energy is directed upon becoming whatever they want to be in AR that they can't be in real life: an outlaw, a ghost, a super-hero -- whatever. These things become very important to them -- they collect status symbols. And to them that's just as real as acquiring property in the real world. So suddenly, I found myself dealing not only with issues of crime, but also with issues of self-image and psychology and politics, to a certain extent. Right now I'm working on the third and probably last Konstantin book, at least for a while. It's called Reality Used to be a Friend of Mine and deals with more aspects of virtual life and virtual crime -- and virtual crime investigation. I can't say too much about it, because if I talk too much about my work, it removes the need to write it. So I seldom talk about anything while I'm working on it. But like I said, it deals with virtual life, virtual crime and things that seem criminal but aren't and things that seem okay, but are completely unethical. It all depends on where you stand on certain issues. And it deals with the problems of trying to reconcile having 100 percent free speech with having to listen to something that you don't want to hear, that is no good for anyone to hear or to deal with. But if the idea of free will and free speech is to continue, to survive successfully, these things have to exist, to be allowed to exist, without someone trying to suppress them. I put it in a very clumsy way, but that's at near as I can get to telling you without telling you.

That sounds as if you are trying to make a political statement with this book, or with several of your books. Does the question of if or how there's any political message to your writing concern you?
I used to go around saying that I wasn't political at all. And that's a very American point of view. And then I did this talk at Trinity College in Dublin, and the students there were -- god, they were brilliant. Every last one of them was just brilliant. And they asked me this questions that I couldn't begin to answer, because I couldn't understand the questions.

They'd been politicised in their cradles. Of course -- they're Irish, you know. And I began to understand that everything you do as an artist is a political statement of some kind. Now what I'm trying to do is not so much to present a political creed but to demonstrate what it's like if you have to live in a political situation, if you need to try and reconcile yourself with the downside of a certain kind of system's good intentions. And I want to show how a code of laws and a code of ethics you live by -- morals that you don't feel you can compromise -- can put you in some pretty terrible positions at the same time. There are difficulties with everything, no matter how good anything is supposed to be. And one of the things that I try to tell my friends when they get behind any kind of cause is that all movements and causes, no matter how well-intentioned, breed storm troopers.

So consequently, we have feminists that I would cross the street to avoid, because they want to force their idea of what is a proper lifestyle on other women who don't want to live that way. I keep reminding people that the whole idea of feminism was to give women choices, and by extension give everybody choices. The idea was: if you wanted to stay at home and bake cookies and be am full-time homemaker and raise one child after another, then that was fine. But if you didn't, if you wanted to go out to work or pursue any other kind of lifestyle, then that was okay, too. The idea was that you got to choose what you wanted to be. And by extension, if you find yourself in a family situation where the woman was the better bread-winner and the man was the better stay-at-home-parent then that shouldn't be a problem. And a lot of people had problems with that, and it's still seen as not quite right by a lot of people even today. But that was the idea behind feminism -- it was supposed to be okay. It was not supposed to be a thing where we force every woman into a career, particularly the kind of career that has been male-dominated in the past. Just because women can become -- let's say, for the sake of it -- rocket scientists, doesn't mean that we should force every woman to be a rocket scientist. Some women -- like some men -- are not rocket-scientists. So, now what was the question?

Basically, if you're trying to make any political statement with your novels.
No, my idea is not some kind of manifesto or propaganda, but to demonstrate what it's like to live in a system where some things go wrong, no matter how right they're supposed to be or how well-intentioned they are.

And I want to demonstrate what a person of a good conscience is kind of stuck doing, when nothing you do seems right, or when doing the right thing seems wrong and doing the wrong thing seems right, and whatever you do, it's going to be seriously wrong. Or at least you'll feel that way. It's an invitation to put yourself in this persons shoes. I'm not telling anyone how to feel, you can feel about it however you want. It's like: "This is what happened to Dore Konstantin in this particular situation."

AC: Thank you very much.
You're welcome very much.

Copyright © 2006 Jakob Schmidt

Jakob writes and translates reviews, essays and short stories, most of them for the German magazine Alien Contact (www.alien-contact.de) and its publishing house Shayol. That's in his spare time, which luckily still makes up the bulk of his days.


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