Read “The Great Simoleon Caper,” a short story by Neal Stephenson

“The Great Simoleon Caper”

by

Neal Stephenson


Hard to imagine a less attractive life-style for a young man just out of college than going back to Bismarck to live with his parents — unless it’s living with his brother in the suburbs of Chicago, which, naturally, is what I did. Mom at least bakes a mean cherry pie. Joe, on the other hand, got me into a permanent emotional headlock and found some way, every day, to give me psychic noogies. For example, there was the day he gave me the job of figuring out how many jelly beans it would take to fill up Soldier Field.

Let us stipulate that it’s all my fault; Joe would want me to be clear on that point. Just as he was always good with people, I was always good with numbers. As Joe tells me at least once a week, I should have studied engineering. Drifted between majors instead, ended up with a major in math and a minor in art — just about the worst thing you can put on a job app.

Joe, on the other hand, went into the ad game. When the Internet and optical fiber and HDTV and digital cash all came together and turned into what we now call the Metaverse, most of the big ad agencies got hammered — because in the Metaverse, you can actually whip out a gun and blow the Energizer Bunny’s head off, and a lot of people did. Joe borrowed 10,000 bucks from Mom and Dad and started this clever young ad agency. If you’ve spent any time crawling the Metaverse, you’ve seen his work — and it’s seen you, and talked to you, and followed you around.

Mom and Dad stayed in their same little house in Bismarck, North Dakota. None of their neighbors guessed that if they cashed in their stock in Joe’s agency, they’d be worth about $20 million. I nagged them to diversify their portfolio — you know, buy a bushel basket of Krugerrands and bury them in the backyard, or maybe put a few million into a mutual fund. But Mom and Dad felt this would be a no-confidence vote in Joe. It'd be,'' Dad said,like showing up for your kid’s piano recital with a Walkman.”

Joe comes home one January evening with a magnum of champagne. After giving me the obligatory hazing about whether I’m old enough to drink, he pours me a glass. He’s already banished his two sons to the Home Theater. They have cranked up the set-top box they got for Christmas. Patch this baby into your HDTV, and you can cruise the Metaverse, wander the Web and choose from among several user-friendly operating systems, each one rife with automatic help systems, customer-service hot lines and intelligent agents. The theater’s subwoofer causes our silverware to buzz around like sheet-metal hockey players, and amplified explosions knock swirling nebulas of tiny bubbles loose from the insides of our champagne glasses. Those low frequencies must penetrate the young brain somehow, coming in under kids’ media-hip radar and injecting the edfotainucational muchomedia bitstream direct into their cerebral cortices.

“Hauled down a mother of an account today,” Joe explains. “We hype cars. We hype computers. We hype athletic shoes. But as of three hours ago, we are hyping a currency.”

“What?” says his wife Anne.

“Y’know, like dollars or yen. Except this is a new currency.”

“From which country?” I ask. This is like offering lox to a dog: I’ve given Joe the chance to enlighten his feckless bro. He hammers back half a flute of Dom Perignon and shifts into full-on Pitch Mode.

Read the rest of “The Great Simoleon Caper.”

All these beefy Caucasians with guns! (From Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash)

 

All these beefy Caucasians with guns!  Get enough of them together, looking for the America they always believed they’d grow up in, and they glom together like overcooked rice, form integral, starchy little units.  With their power tools, portable generators, weapons, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and personal computers, they are like beavers hyped up on crystal meth, manic engineers without a blueprint, chewing through the wilderness, building things and abandoning them, altering the flow of mighty rivers and then moving on because the place ain’t what it used to be.

The byproduct of the lifestyle is polluted rivers, greenhouse effect, spouse abuse, televangelists, and serial killers.  But as long as you have that four-wheel-drive vehicle and can keep driving north, you can sustain it, keep moving just quickly enough to stay one step ahead of your own waste stream.  In twenty years, ten million white people will converge on the north pole and park their bagos there.  The low-grade waste heat of their thermodynamically intense lifestyle will turn the crystalline icescape pliable and treacherous.  It will melt a hole through the polar icecap, and all that metal will sink to the bottom, sucking the biomass down with it.

From Neal Stephenson’s prescient 1992 cyberthriller Snow Crash.

“All These Beefy Caucasians with Guns!” (A Passage from Neal Stephenson’s Novel Snow Crash)

A passage from Neal Stephenson’s prescient 1992 cyberthriller Snow Crash:

All these beefy Caucasians with guns!  Get enough of them together, looking for the America they always believed they’d grow up in, and they glom together like overcooked rice, form integral, starchy little units.  With their power tools, portable generators, weapons, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and personal computers, they are like beavers hyped up on crystal meth, manic engineers without a blueprint, chewing through the wilderness, building things and abandoning them, altering the flow of mighty rivers and then moving on because the place ain’t what it used to be.

The byproduct of the lifestyle is polluted rivers, greenhouse effect, spouse abuse, televangelists, and serial killers.  But as long as you have that four-wheel-drive vehicle and can keep driving north, you can sustain it, keep moving just quickly enough to stay one step ahead of your own waste stream.  In twenty years, ten million white people will converge on the north pole and park their bagos there.  The low-grade waste heat of their thermodynamically intense lifestyle will turn the crystalline icescape pliable and treacherous.  It will melt a hole through the polar icecap, and all that metal will sink to the bottom, sucking the biomass down with it.

The AV Club Interviews William Gibson

The AV Club interviews cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson about his new novel, Zero History. From the interview–

AVC: You’ve talked elsewhere about the modern dilemma of separating the real from the virtual. How does something like Twitter confuse the issue?

WG: More and more, I think the thing our descendants will find most quaint and old-fashioned about us is the trouble we still take to make that distinction, between the virtual and the “real.” I think that will seem sort of Victorian to them, because I think we’re already losing the need to make the distinction, and I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. That doesn’t fill me with the panic it fills some people with. The back-and-forth [of Twitter] is the same back-and-forth we’re having right now in a telephone conversation, and it’s very much like the back-and-forth that Victorian English people had with their three mail deliveries a day. Except that with a medium like Twitter, it’s simultaneously public, in large part. It becomes a communal activity. I don’t see it as a new activity, inherently. I think it’s something we’ve had equivalents of for forever, but the completely post-geographical way in which we’re able to do it is new. And it must be changing it somehow. I actually don’t think we can know what emergent technologies are doing to us while they’re doing it to us. In fact, I don’t think we know yet what broadcast television did to us, although it obviously did lots. I don’t think we’re far enough away from it yet to really get a handle on it. We get these things, I think they start changing us right away, we don’t notice we’re changing. Our perception of the whole thing shifts, and then we’re in the new way of doing things, and we take it for granted.

William Gibson

Just out of high school, I had a mild obsession with William Gibson’s so-called cyberpunk novels. The first and most famous of these is Neuromancer, an incredibly prescient book that the Wachowski Bros. shamelessly ripped off in The Matrix. Neuromancer is the first in “The Sprawl” trilogy; Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive followed. I borrowed and never returned Neuromancer from Tilford; a few years ago I lent it, along with Burning Chrome, Gibson’s collection of short stories, to a student who in turn never returned them. I read Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive at the same time as my college roommate Jordan. I don’t know who has these books now.

In 1990 Gibson co-authored a book called The Difference Engine with Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine posits a Victorian England where computers have already been created and are in use. The novel explores the consequences of a technological revolution coming a 100 years early. This book launched what is sometimes called the “steampunk” genre. After TDE, Gibson spent the 90s writing three novels often referred to as “The Bridge” trilogy: the first, Virtual Light, was pretty good (it had a really cool idea about “organic computers”); the second, Idoru, was pretty bad, really; the last, All Tomorrow’s Parties, was downright awful (I couldn’t finish it–I was embarrassed for one of my favorite authors!) At the beginning of the new millenium, technology had caught up to Gibson’s cyberpunk visions, making some of the details of his Bridge trilogy seem outdated or just plain hokey.

I knew our time together was up when I passed on a $4 copy of 2003’s Pattern Recognition at Barnes & Noble a few years ago. Despite his fiction taking a dip, Gibson’s blog, as well as his essays (often published in Wired magazine–check out what is probably his most famous piece, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”) remain relevant and entertaining. Maybe his forthcoming novel, Spook Country, will prove more entertaining; until then, at least we have the Sprawl Trilogy.

(Check out more William Gibson covers at this gallery)