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From: Science Fiction Eye catscan - - A statement of principle

Фантастика >> Зарубежная фантастика >> Стерлинг, Брюс >> From: Science Fiction Eye catscan
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Bruce Sterling. A statement of principle

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bruces@well.sf.ca.us

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Catscan 10 "From SCIENCE FICTION EYE #10"

A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLE
I just wrote my first nonfiction book. It's called THE HACKER CRACKDOWN: LAW AND DISORDER ON THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER. Writing this book has required me to spend much of the past year and a half in the company of hackers, cops, and civil libertarians. I've spent much time listening to arguments over what's legal, what's illegal, what's right and wrong, what's decent and what's despicable, what's moral and immoral, in the world of computers and civil liberties. My various informants were knowledgeable people who cared passionately about these issues, and most of them seemed well- intentioned. Considered as a whole, however, their opinions were a baffling mess of contradictions. When I started this project, my ignorance of the issues involved was genuine and profound. I'd never knowingly met anyone from the computer underground. I'd never logged-on to an underground bulletin- board or read a semilegal hacker magazine. Although I did care a great deal about the issue of freedom of expression, I knew sadly little about the history of civil rights in America or the legal doctrines that surround freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. My relations with the police were firmly based on the stratagem of avoiding personal contact with police to the greatest extent possible. I didn't go looking for this project. This project came looking for me. I became inextricably involved when agents of the United States Secret Service, acting under the guidance of federal attorneys from Chicago, came to my home town of Austin on March 1, 1990, and confiscated the computers of a local science fiction gaming publisher. Steve Jackson Games, Inc., of Austin, was about to publish a gaming-book called GURPS Cyberpunk. When the federal law-enforcement agents discovered the electronic manuscript of CYBERPUNK on the computers they had seized from Mr. Jackson
's offices, they expressed grave shock and alarm. They declared that CYBERPUNK was "a manual for computer crime." It's not my intention to reprise the story of the Jackson case in this column. I've done that to the best of my ability in THE HACKER CRACKDOWN; and in any case the ramifications of March 1 are far from over. Mr Jackson was never charged with any crime. His civil suit against the raiders is still in federal court as I write this. I don't want to repeat here what some cops believe, what some hackers believe, or what some civil libertarians believe. Instead, I want to discuss my own moral beliefs as a science fiction writer -- such as they are. As an SF writer, I want to attempt a personal statement of principle. It has not escaped my attention that there are many people who believe that anyone called a "cyberpunk" must be, almost by definition, entirely devoid of principle. I offer as evidence an excerpt from Buck BloomBecker's 1990 book, SPECTACULAR COMPUTER CRIMES. On page 53, in a chapter titled "Who Are The Computer Criminals?", Mr. BloomBecker introduces the formal classification of "cyberpunk" criminality.
"In the last few years, a new genre of science fiction has arisen under the evocative name of 'cyberpunk.' Introduced in the work of William Gibson, particularly in his prize-winning novel NEUROMANCER, cyberpunk takes an apocalyptic view of the technological future. In NEUROMANCER, the protagonist is a futuristic hacker who must use the most sophisticated computer strategies to commit crimes for people who offer him enough money to buy the biological creations he needs to survive. His life is one of cynical despair, fueled by the desire to avoid death. Though none of the virus cases actually seen so far have been so devastating, this book certainly represents an attitude that should be watched for when we find new cases of computer virus and try to understand the motivations behind them. "The New York Times's John Markoff, one of the
more perceptive and accomplished writers in the field, has written than a number of computer criminals demonstrate new levels of meanness. He characterizes them, as do I, as cyberpunks."
Those of us who have read Gibson's NEUROMANCER closely will be aware of certain factual inaccuracies in Mr. BloomBecker's brief review. NEUROMANCER is not "apocalyptic." The chief conspirator in NEUROMANCER forces Case's loyalty, not by buying his services, but by planting poison-sacs in his brain. Case is "fueled" not by his greed for money or "biological creations," or even by the cynical "desire to avoid death," but rather by his burning desire to hack cyberspace. And so forth. However, I don't think this misreading of NEUROMANCER is based on carelessness or malice. The rest of Mr. BloomBecker's book generally is informative, well-organized, and thoughtful. Instead, I feel that Mr. BloomBecker manfully absorbed as much of NEUROMANCER as he could without suffering a mental toxic reaction. This report of his is what he actually *saw* when reading the novel. NEUROMANCER has won quite a following in the world of computer crime investigation. A prominent law enforcement official once told me that police unfailingly conclude the worst when they find a teenager with a computer and a copy of NEUROMANCER. When I declared that I too was a "cyberpunk" writer, she asked me if I would print the recipe for a pipe-bomb in my works. I was astonished by this question, which struck me as bizarre rhetorical excess at the time. That was before I had actually examined bulletin-boards in the computer underground, which I found to be chock-a-block with recipes for pipe-bombs, and worse. (I didn't have the heart to tell her that my friend and colleague Walter Jon Williams had once written and published an SF story closely describing explosives derived from simple household chemicals.) Cyberpunk SF (along with SF in general) has, in fact, permeated the computer underground. I have met young un
derground hackers who use the aliases "Neuromancer," "Wintermute" and "Count Zero." The Legion of Doom, the absolute bete noire of computer law-enforcement, used to congregate on a bulletin-board called "Black Ice." In the past, I didn't know much about anyone in the underground, but they certainly knew about me. Since that time, I've had people express sincere admiration for my novels, and then, in almost the same breath, brag to me about breaking into hospital computers to chortle over confidential medical reports about herpes victims. The single most stinging example of this syndrome is "Pengo," a member of the German hacker-group that broke into Internet computers while in the pay of the KGB. He told German police, and the judge at the trial of his co-conspirators, that he was inspired by NEUROMANCER and John Brunner's SHOCKWAVE RIDER. I didn't write NEUROMANCER. I did, however, read it in manuscript and offered many purportedly helpful comments. I praised the book publicly and repeatedly and at length. I've done everything I can to get people to read this book. I don't recall cautioning Gibson that his novel might lead to anarchist hackers selling their expertise to the ferocious and repulsive apparat that gave the world the Lubyanka and the Gulag Archipelago. I don't think I could have issued any such caution, even if I'd felt the danger of such a possibility, which I didn't. I still don't know in what fashion Gibson might have changed his book to avoid inciting evildoers, while still retaining the integrity of his vision -- the very quality about the book that makes it compelling and worthwhile. This leads me to my first statements of moral principle.
As a "cyberpunk" SF writer, I am not responsible for every act committed by a Bohemian with a computer. I don't own the word "cyberpunk" and cannot help where it is bestowed, or who uses it, or to what ends. As a science fiction writer, it is not my business to make people behave. It is my business to
make people imagine. I cannot control other people's imaginations -- any more than I would allow them to control mine. I am, however, morally obliged to speak out when acts of evil are committed that use my ideas or my rhetoric, however distantly, as a justification.
Pengo and his friends committed a grave crime that was worthy of condemnation and punishment. They were clever, but treacherously clever. They were imaginative, but it was imagination in a bad cause. They were technically accomplished, but they abused their expertise for illicit profit and to feed their egos. They may be "cyberpunks" -- according to many, they may deserve that title far more than I do -- but they're no friends of mine. What is "crime"? What is a moral offense? What actions are evil and dishonorable? I find these extraordinarily difficult questions. I have no special status that should allow me to speak with authority on such subjects. Quite the contrary. As a writer in a scorned popular literature and a self-professed eccentric Bohemian, I have next to no authority of any kind. I'm not a moralist, philosopher, or prophet. I've always considered my "moral role," such as it is, to be that of a court jester -- a person sometimes allowed to speak the unspeakable, to explore ideas and issues in a format where they can be treated as games, thought-experiments, or metaphors, not as prescriptions, laws, or sermons. I have no religion, no sacred scripture to guide my actions and provide an infallible moral bedrock. I'm not seeking political responsibilities or the power of public office. I habitually question any pronouncement of authority, and entertain the liveliest skepticism about the processes of law and justice. I feel no urge to conform to the behavior of the majority of my fellow citizens. I'm a pain in the neck. My behavior is far from flawless. I lived and thrived in Austin, Texas in the 1970s and 1980s, in a festering milieu of arty crypto- intellectual hippies.


    

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