Roberto Santoro Interview to Rudy Rucker for Storie, an Italian literary magazine, interview to appear with an exerpt of my journal notes regarding a trip to Rimini and Ravenna. Rome, 4/9/2003

Q: Your Rimini is a funfair-like place (it is suggestive of Las Vegas). On the other hand, it is also a space populated by exotic and nostalgic figures (resonances of Fellini s Grand Hotel). Which is the true Italian scenery in your perception? A: What is truth? I’m in no position to guess at the “true Italy.” There’s an Italy for each person there, a thousand Italys per person per day. I wish I could have long intense conversations with every one of the women, have big jolly shouting meals with every one of the men, and go to the carnival and play pinball with every one of the children. A thousand times a day. Not practical. So I write factified fiction and fictionalized fact. Q: The Romantics loved to come down to Italy. Goethe s trip is the one coming in our mind now. What are the specific techniques required in the writing of a reportage and is yours too a sort of (postmodern) Grand Tour ? A: I write a lot in my journal when I’m on the road, as then I typically don’t have anyone to talk with. It’s sort of like having a conversation, and of course, writing your journal is a terrific tool for selfknowledge. Psychoanalysis for free. My technique is be completely frank and truthful, or at least to pretend to be so. During the day I carry a folded-in-four sheet of paper in my hip pocket and jot things down on it. At night alone in my hotel room, I lie on my back with my laptop on my knees and type in what I saw and thought. And then I revise, and change what I saw and what I thought. Q: Your prose is rich of SF similes. Is keeping a journal (a travel one, in this case) a sort of warming-up in view of a most demanding (in terms of planning) narrative trial (i.e. a novel) and what are your writing methods? A: A novelist is a magpie, snatching up bright shiny bits to bring back to the nest. It often happens that things I see on my trips find their way into my stories. Reality is stranger than anything one can imagine. It would take too much space to explain my writing methods in detail here, but I have extensive notes about my process in a document called “A Writer’s Toolkit” which I keep on my website Q: A famous Twilight Zone episode is mentioned in your pages. Thinking about cinema, music and comics: what kind of stories influenced you most? A: It never stops. These days I might disingenuously claim that my biggest influence was a book of paintings by Peter Bruegel which my grandmother gave me when I was thirteen. I say this because I recently achieved my lifelong dream of turning Bruegel’s life into a novel, As Above, So Below. While researching that novel I traveled to Naples to see “The Blind Leading the Blind” and “The Misanthrope,” and in fact some of the journal notes from that trip ended up in Chapter One of my Bruegel novel. The movie The Incredible Shrinking Man made a big impression on me as a boy. And I read a lot of anthologies of 1940s and early 1950s science-fiction. Robert Sheckley was very important to me, as were, a bit later, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Jorge-Luis Borges and Thomas Pynchon. Coming back to The Incredible Shrinking Man, I had a memorable experience in the eighth grade, Spring, 1959, when the Science teacher at Louisville Country Day let us troop down one by one to look through a ‘scope at a big crowd of paramecia from a hay infusion (a hay infusion being what you get if you take some rain water and put grass or leaves in it and let it stand for a few days, producing scads of bacteria and the protozoa that feed upon them). I still remember my astonishment at seeing so many critters, and my intense desire to look at them some more. Just the other day I finally got a good microscope, a new Leica DM E ‘scope with phase contrast, and it’s like the ciliates and flagellates and bacilli are my pets. My dawgs. My homies. I bet I’ll write about them soon. There’s a rich genre of SF about scientists who fall through microscopes. Alternately, there’s a popular pseudoscientific theory that that the atmosphere is full of “air protozoa,” a fact which the establishment scientists have thus far resisted acknowledging. Kind of a stuzzy idea. The real protists are almost mere water, slight protein sheets and skeins within the fluid, so maybe there could be the same kind of thing in the thinner fluid of air. Yaar. Q: Bill Joy, one of the inventors of Java, claims that the robotics, genetics and nano-technology that are fueling the global economy also contain the seeds of our self-destruction. Do you think Joy’s thesis is plausible and what are the ethics of cyberpunk? A: Having used both C++ and Java a lot, I really dislike the way Sun distributes Java (incompatible new releases every year, refusal to make peace with Microsoft, and the write-once-debug-everywhere problem). This gives me reservations about anything Bill Joy says. My having lost a bit of money on Sun stock in the dot-com bubble does warm my heart to him either. On the other hand, Joy helped bring about Berkeley Unix and the vi editor which are Good Things. And his famous Wired article is in fact quite reasonable. Joy’s thesis is that rogue genomics, self-replicating robots, and out -of-control nanotechnology assemblers might wipe out our biosphere. He feels that we would do well to take it slow on radical new changes. Agreed. I would say that Joy overestimates the effect that we can have on the world. Having worked as a computer scientist for the last twenty years, I can assure you that our machines and technologies never work as well as we expect them to. (Especially if they’re based on Java!) Mother Nature is vastly more cunning and experienced than we can possibly imagine. The bacilli and protozoa have been waging biological warfare upon each other for billions of years, and there’s billions of these critters in your back yard. Gaia is old and smart. She can definitely defend herself. You don't think the bacteria can outsmart some cruddy Java-enabled nanotech molecule? You've got to be kidding me. Monolithic threats never materialize. Nothing ever wins all over the board. The future is going to be an incredible maze of competing things, many of which we can't even imagine. I agree with Joy that it is well for us to be cautious. But I deride the prophetic mantle of high seriousness that he dons. The cyberpunk attitude might be: we can't control it anyway, so why not enjoy the ride? Wave with it, brother. Nice tentacles you've got growing around your mouth. Even if the worst happens, no disaster ever manages to kill everything. If we seriously screw things up, maybe 99% of us will die, but then Gaia will heal herself in a thousand or ten thousand years, and our mutant descendants will be in a new Garden of Eden. If you take a long enough view, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Not that I think it'll ever come to this. The ethics of cyberpunk? That’s an oxymoron. For me, cyberpunk was always about being noisy, getting attention, twisting people’s minds, making things weird. A protest against consensus reality. I’ve always felt that if most people believe something it’s certainly wrong. Cyberpunk is a tool to warp comfortable pontification into hideous orgasmic pig squeals. Why? I don’t know. A kind of protest, maybe. A kind of wild fun. Q: Among the participants at Pio Manzù Conference there were John Searle and an aide of Generale Powell. A philosopher and a serviceman. Then, in your opinion, are culture and war the instruments of American supremacy over the world and how do you judge the neoconservatism of Bush administration. A: Let me answer this with a question: Must the mass media’s current top three topics of the hour dominate every conversation on every occasion everywhere on the planet? Like many other Americans, I disapprove of George Bush, and even more, of the (probably) criminal puppeteer Dick Cheney, but if I think about them all the time, they’re winning. If I obsess about them, and they care not one whit about my opinions, I’ve given away my soul for nothing. I would prefer not to care at all about politics. If I do this, am I effete, spoiled and unworldly? I would maintain that it’s a legitimate position to refuse the lockstep of mass thought. To tune out. What if they gave a war and nobody watched TV? This said, I recognize the value of dissent, of street action, and of written propaganda. I marched in the streets of San Francisco with the others. It felt good, even if it didn’t stop Bush and Cheney. This idiosyncratic answer is my own kind of written propaganda. I do what I can, after my own fashion. But never forget that your own life is more important than anything in politics, more important than anything on the news. Life is too short to waste your days in pondering the limited menu of topics which the media proclaims as being the only important subjects of discussion. The media is a Spectacle to distract people from their own best interests. The media is, after all, largely driven by the interests of the ruling classes. Certainly big media aren’t driven by art, by science, or by spiritual considerations. Small peer-to-peer magazines like Storie are excepted, of course! One of the nicest things about the Web is that it offers people the possibility of creating and reading their own versions of the news. I find it incredible that this medium arose so completely free of the establishments fetters. It gives one hope. In closing, I’d like to thank the staff of Storie for publishing my journal excerpt, and for the interesting interview. And I’d like to shout out a hello to the charming and clever Daniele Brolli, my main SF translator in Italy. I met him in Torino six months after the Rimini trip. But that’s another story.