|An Interview with Pat Cadigan|
|conducted by Jakob Schmidt|
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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."
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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