Escape Artists

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Author Topic: Pseudopod 486: Hinterlands  (Read 2714 times)

Bdoomed

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on: April 17, 2016, 01:14:22 AM
Pseudopod 486: Hinterlands

by William Gibson.

William Ford Gibson is an American-Canadian speculative fiction novelist and essayist who has been called the “noir prophet” of the cyberpunk subgenre. Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” (1982) and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984). In envisioning cyberspace, Gibson created an iconography for the information age before the ubiquity of the Internet in the 1990s. He is also credited with predicting the rise of reality television and with establishing the conceptual foundations for the rapid growth of virtual environments such as video games and the World Wide Web. Needless to say, Gibson is a major influencer to the existence of Escape Artists. “Hinterlands” originally appeared in Omni Magazine, October 1981

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer, composer, and heliocentrist George Hrab has written and produced six independent CDs and a concert DVD; published two books; and has recorded hundreds of episodes of Geologic Podcast. George Hrab has traveled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song. George is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment.

The New York City premiere of George’s composition for string quartet and voice called “The Broad Street Score” will be on May 12th, 2016 at NECSS, the North East Conference for Science and Skepticism.



When Hiro hit the switch, I was dreaming of Paris, dreaming of wet, dark streets in winter. The pain came oscillating up from the floor of my skull, exploding behind my eyes in wall of blue neon; I jackknifed up out of the mesh hammock, screaming. I always scream; I make a point of it. Feedback raged in my skull. The pain switch is an auxiliary circuit in the bonephone implant, patched directly into the pain centers, just the thing for cutting through a surrogate’s barbiturate fog. It took a few seconds for my life to fall together, icebergs of biography looming through the fog: who I was, where I was, what I was doing there, who was waking me.

Hiro’s voice came crackling into my head through the bone-conduction implant. “Damn, Toby. Know what it does to my ears, you scream like that?”





Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

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Metalsludge

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Reply #1 on: April 17, 2016, 01:56:31 AM
It feels very appropriate that Pseudopod would get to a William Gibson story in the same month that the two competing virtual reality headsets for the PC have been released to the public as consumer products for the first time, and lots of articles in the mainstream press are starting to talk about augmented reality as well. I recall first reading about augmented reality in one of Gibson's stories, and it seemed like such a strange concept to me, that he might as well have been describing magic. Only all these years later, and with the appearance of the actual technology in our lives, do I finally "get it" enough to understand more of what he was writing about.

Hinterlands debuted a bit before my time, but I read it many years after it was first published in an anthology, and it immediately became one of my favorite stories by Gibson. No surprise there, as it happens to also be one of his stories that is most like a weird tale, for all its science fiction trappings. We never do find out what lies beyond the gate of the story, and the finger of night he describes might as well be supernatural in both its nature and implications, from a human perspective. The feeling that the gulfs beyond the stars make playthings of humanity and can drive one to madness is all very Lovecraftian too.

Movies, and even video games with a similar setup, often get people referencing "Event Horizon" as their likely inspiration these days, but its pretty obvious that this story had a big influence that predated that movie, and the game versions of such concepts.

But for all of the author's prescience in some areas, we get some very typical Gibson, and outdated 1980's, stuff too - a presumption that the Soviet Union would always be there, published less than ten years before it would start to crumble, and we just happen to have a nationality trio for a Gibson story from that era of American, Japanese and Russian characters and/or related backgrounds, (all people from the presumed to be steadily ascendant cultures of the 1980's) complete with some rather Gibsonian females, in that they are always described as thin and relatively young, and he even lets us know just how attractive poor St. Olga was. And drugs are everywhere, as befitting a story written by a former hippie who was inspired by the beat writers.

When it comes to Gibson's earlier stories, I tend to get the feeling that I'm reading something from a time capsule of a specific era with its own peculiar presumptions and tropes, in a way that I don't always get from speculative fiction by other sci-fi greats. In comparison, many stories by authors like Ray Bradbury or Robert Silverberg could have been written yesterday, even if they include some of their own peculiar hangups.

Of course, at the time these stories were published by Gibson, they were part of a deliberate and controversial literary movement that was trying to get beyond broad and optimistic traditional sci-fi themes and down into some gritty details that were supposedly more realistic. So perhaps this was intentional, to some extent.



Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #2 on: April 17, 2016, 03:29:25 PM
But for all of the author's prescience in some areas, we get some very typical Gibson, and outdated 1980's, stuff too - a presumption that the Soviet Union would always be there, published less than ten years before it would start to crumble, and we just happen to have a nationality trio for a Gibson story from that era of American, Japanese and Russian characters and/or related backgrounds, (all people from the presumed to be steadily ascendant cultures of the 1980's) complete with some rather Gibsonian females, in that they are always described as thin and relatively young, and he even lets us know just how attractive poor St. Olga was. And drugs are everywhere, as befitting a story written by a former hippie who was inspired by the beat writers.

When it comes to Gibson's earlier stories, I tend to get the feeling that I'm reading something from a time capsule of a specific era with its own peculiar presumptions and tropes, in a way that I don't always get from speculative fiction by other sci-fi greats. In comparison, many stories by authors like Ray Bradbury or Robert Silverberg could have been written yesterday, even if they include some of their own peculiar hangups.

I was thinking about the two emphasized points, as well. It hadn't occurred to me until I was listening to this episode, but the story I'm researching right now seems to be revolving around that same "nationality trio." It's as though our fortunes have reversed several times since the fall of the Soviet Union, but when it comes down to it, not much has really changed. The Russian and Japanese space programs are still there, and arguably as robust (if not more so) than the U.S. space program, when it comes to exploration. Gibson would have had no reason to predict the European Union or the European Space Agency, and as I'm learning, there are a lot of encouragingly diverse, cooperative and inclusive things going on with regard to the International Space Station which, if I had tried to write about them thirty years ago, would have sounded like the kinds of "broad and optimistic traditional sci-fi themes" Gibson was trying to break away from.

And the drugs...well, drugs still are everywhere. We are just conditioned to react with horror when characters are shown using recognizably recreational drugs, and ignore completely when they are using performance enhancement* psychoactive medication for mood management. In a story about the challenges and triumphs of psychology, it is amusing to see the author almost-but-not-quite ignore psychiatry while also loading up his characters with a full deck of "fun" drugs. In a way, it demonstrates how the two fields have matured over the past thirty years, and how our Drug Wars have both failed and warped our self-perception of our reliance on drugs.

*Exception being in professional sport, of course.

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Metalsludge

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Reply #3 on: April 17, 2016, 07:28:28 PM
I was thinking about the two emphasized points, as well. It hadn't occurred to me until I was listening to this episode, but the story I'm researching right now seems to be revolving around that same "nationality trio." It's as though our fortunes have reversed several times since the fall of the Soviet Union, but when it comes down to it, not much has really changed. The Russian and Japanese space programs are still there, and arguably as robust (if not more so) than the U.S. space program, when it comes to exploration. Gibson would have had no reason to predict the European Union or the European Space Agency, and as I'm learning, there are a lot of encouragingly diverse, cooperative and inclusive things going on with regard to the International Space Station which, if I had tried to write about them thirty years ago, would have sounded like the kinds of "broad and optimistic traditional sci-fi themes" Gibson was trying to break away from.

And the drugs...well, drugs still are everywhere. We are just conditioned to react with horror when characters are shown using recognizably recreational drugs, and ignore completely when they are using performance enhancement* psychoactive medication for mood management. In a story about the challenges and triumphs of psychology, it is amusing to see the author almost-but-not-quite ignore psychiatry while also loading up his characters with a full deck of "fun" drugs. In a way, it demonstrates how the two fields have matured over the past thirty years, and how our Drug Wars have both failed and warped our self-perception of our reliance on drugs.

*Exception being in professional sport, of course.

Part of the original draft for my post included a note about how "Naturally, we can't blame Gibson for not predicting...", but I left it out to cut back on my blabbing.

Still, back in the 1980's, the press acted like the geopolitical assumptions seen in Gibson's stories of the time were indeed forgone conclusions that nothing was going to change. Going at that rate, I can't fault Gibson for not realizing otherwise, but it does leave his works feeling more like products of their time in a particular way. I do like the way that Gibson seemed to respond with relative enthusiasm, rather than fear, for what he seemed to rightly think would be an increasingly diverse and complicated world though, even if he viewed it in terms of what seemed to be the trends of his time.

I see your point about how, as much as things change, they seem to stay the same. The press tilts in the wind now as much as thirty years ago, and is now making a big deal about the Chinese in a way similar to how the Japanese were talked about during the 1980's. But the Japanese still have the third largest economy in the world and, as you mention, their continuing space program, and are starting to build up their economic reforms steadily, while the Chinese are suddenly trying to shore up their falling stock market. Who knows, we may all be getting cyber implants in Chiba someday yet. Philip K Dick's prediction of a half empty Bay Area mixed with replicants and flying cars by 2021 due to everyone heading to the Mars colony seemed far fetched with the passage of time as well, yet here we are talking an awful lot about Mars of late. I'm keeping my mirrorshades and trench coats handy, just in case it all turns out to be true and I wake up one day to the Gibsonian metaverse, and Dick's replicants and flying cars after all. :D

I didn't mean to suggest that the drug thing was only something of its time, just that the author's choice to emphasize it so often in his works reminds me constantly of his background and literary influences. What I think shows Gibson's growing maturity as a writer at the time though, is how he could take the drugs he may have regarded as adventurous and fun as a youth in the counter culture of his time, and use them in such a dark way in this story of the future - as the basis for propping up sacrificial lambs sent by their governments to be destroyed in exchange for a few alien baubles, albeit ones that can cure cancer.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2016, 08:00:37 PM by Metalsludge »



Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #4 on: April 17, 2016, 11:48:06 PM
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« Last Edit: April 18, 2016, 12:26:32 AM by Tango Alpha Delta »

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Fenrix

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Reply #5 on: April 18, 2016, 03:58:13 AM

I didn't mean to suggest that the drug thing was only something of its time, just that the author's choice to emphasize it so often in his works reminds me constantly of his background and literary influences. What I think shows Gibson's growing maturity as a writer at the time though, is how he could take the drugs he may have regarded as adventurous and fun as a youth in the counter culture of his time, and use them in such a dark way in this story of the future - as the basis for propping up sacrificial lambs sent by their governments to be destroyed in exchange for a few alien baubles, albeit ones that can cure cancer.


And the conversion of the most advanced portion of our society into a cargo cult.

I also like drawing lines between this story and "The Jaunt" by Stephen King and "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester.

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Reply #6 on: April 20, 2016, 02:28:30 PM
Interesting story.  It took me perhaps longer than it should have to grasp the situation enough to really get what was going on, or maybe that was an intentionally slow reveal.  I'm still not entirely sure I understand all of it, such as what role the surrogates actually play. 

I can definitely see why this would be tempting to use--toss people at the abyss and sometimes they come back with technology or other new things that we might never be able to discover on our own, at the cost of a human life and/or sanity.  My best guess about what's happening is that on the other side is an alien race that feeds on mental energy, and they sap the visitor and then send them back with a trinket to encourage more to be sent along.


I didn't mean to suggest that the drug thing was only something of its time, just that the author's choice to emphasize it so often in his works reminds me constantly of his background and literary influences. What I think shows Gibson's growing maturity as a writer at the time though, is how he could take the drugs he may have regarded as adventurous and fun as a youth in the counter culture of his time, and use them in such a dark way in this story of the future - as the basis for propping up sacrificial lambs sent by their governments to be destroyed in exchange for a few alien baubles, albeit ones that can cure cancer.


And the conversion of the most advanced portion of our society into a cargo cult.

I also like drawing lines between this story and "The Jaunt" by Stephen King and "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester.

Oh!  I was thinking "The Jaunt" was a PK Dick story.  It feels like one.  :)



benjaminjb

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Reply #7 on: April 20, 2016, 10:40:58 PM
Man, I really love Gibson. He was one of the first authors who really opened up my brain, along with Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.

In fact, coming back to this story decades after I first read it (and first wrote a short story that was such a rip-off of it), "Hinterlands" feels very much like a companion piece to Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" with a little bit of Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain!"

In the Le Guin and the Gibson, we have this notion of sacrificing other people for goods and happiness. (Ah, and there's a little hint of my other favorite sf author, Tiptree, and her "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side" -- there's a little bit of that cargo cult trap, except in Tiptree, it's sexual cargo. But there, at least, the people who are sacrificing themselves are also the ones who are experiencing the cargo orgasm first hand.) But whereas (presumably), the beaten child in Le Guin isn't a volunteer, the 'nauts in Gibson are willing to throw themselves into the void.

Which is what brings in the Cordwainer Smith, both with the sacrificial scanners (they become cyborgs in order to pilot the ships) and with the notion of the outer dark as this crushing entity.

In other words, for such a heavy sf story, I can see why it wold be printed in Pseudopod, since it brings together several horrific notions.



dagny

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Reply #8 on: April 21, 2016, 06:07:22 PM
I had actually never read this one, and I loved it. The language was beautiful, and the narration was great.

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Reply #9 on: April 21, 2016, 10:48:29 PM
First read this in The Burning Chrome collection.  Back then the "horror" of this story was lost on me. Now, I see horror on several levels. 

Whatever the travellers found at the other side of The Highway, that scares them out of their minds.  Something so horrific that makes them want to keep humanity isolated from whatever is out there.

There's also the horror the surrogates face trying to save the travellers who don't kill themselves.  This is made worse by the knowledge that the surrogates were failed highway travellers.  Every time a new traveller arrives, the surrogate is probably both terrified by what they saw and jealous because they got to see *something*.

Like Metalsludge said, the Hinterlands is Lovecraftian.  The stuff they bring back, and the drive to find more and the horror of the other side remind me heavily of the opening line of Call of Cthuhlu.

Quote
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

And like Al, "The Gernsback Continuum" is one of my favorite short stories from Gibson.  The boundary crossing nature of the story reminds me of Stephen King's early description of his "thinnies", places where the walls between worlds has been rub thin.   Which is obviously based on Lovecraft's work. The sanity  destroying knowledge theme also seems to be present in this tale.

Thank you to Al and the rest of Escape Artists for making this great available for us to enjoy.



chromeratt

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Reply #10 on: April 22, 2016, 10:57:38 AM
One of the things which makes Gibson's work so engrossing to me is the amount of back story he provides, both explicitly and implicitly.  Some times he absolutely crams it down your throat, like in most of Necromancer.  But in this story he spools the information out piece by piece in a more consumable pace.

And the implications of the massive global industry which has sprung up to support this endeavor are mind boggling.  The NASCAR-like patches as genius.  At first I thought they were to flood the travellers with frames of reference via brands they knew.  Then I realized they were sponsors, hoping to get a slice of whatever pie came back through anomally.

However he does it, Gibson's dense detailed writing helps to give the reader a strong sense of the world.  Like Metalsludge said, the world feels almost real.  I don't know if Gibson actually sat down and did world building for his stories or if he just knew the exact right amount of detail to provide.  Either way, he nails it almost every time.