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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

As Through a Pair of Mirrorshades Darkly

Where Are They Now?

A regular feature of Rolling Stone Online, copyright 2021. Click on boldfaced words or phrases for audiovisual attachments or Additional reading material (definitions, contemporary equivalents, etc.).

Thirty-five years ago, the cloistered, complacent world of science fiction was rocked by the official birth announcement of a courageous, intelligent, angry new movement, the cyberpunks, a group of young writers intent on dragging SF kicking and screaming into the 1980's, that decade which seemed so turbulent at the time, but which now, in the light of our own era, appears so innocent and easy-going. With the publication of the anthology Mirrorshades, this bubbling-under revolution in the depiction of the future was forever captured in a single literary snapshot.

The eleven authors--ten men and one woman--immortalized in that 1986 book went on to produce a variety of work. But with the advent of new modes of content-production and transmital, these writers--as well as many others--disappeared from the literary scene, their archaic skills outmoded, their will to write shattered, transformed or displaced, as they witnessed their visions randomly debunked or confirmed. Not one of them managed to survive (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) into the near-term future about which they so famously speculated. They all ultimately met fates which, taken together, constitute a primer in the extensive global changes we have all witnessed over the past three and a half decades.

Here then, in the order in which we encountered these fallible visionaries in Mirrorshades, are the follow-up capsule histories of these prescient authors who were all paradoxically blindsided by circumstance.

# Cheerleader, strategist, and guiding light of the cyberpunks, Bruce Sterling always exhibited an extraliterary side to his activities. Cosmopolitan to a flaw, he frequently extolled the virtues of such author-politicians as Vaclav Havel. It came as little surprise to those who truly knew him that in the Russian elections of the year 2000, surprise candidate Sterling, his U.S. citizenship traded for Russian papers, quickly emerged as the front-runner. Elected handily, he soon began to rule the faltering nation firmly yet beneficently, pulling his adopted country into the 21st century. Such accomplishments as the Mars mission of 2010 and the Circumarctic Dike System can be laid entirely at his doorstep. But hubris engendered his one fatal misstep: his attempt to change the Russian diet, mandating Texas Bar-B-Q in place of such staples as borsht and potato pancakes. After his assassination by a disgruntled beet farmer, Sterling's preserved body came to lie perpetually in state where Lenin's once reigned.

The sight of William Gibson in dreadlocks, his complexion darkened by melanin boosters, a huge spliff in his grip, will instantly be familiar to reggae fans even today. Seduced by the heavy drug scene in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada, Gibson gradually abandoned writing in favor of ardent Rastafarianism and Jamaican music. Going by the nickname "Tuff Deck," Gibson soon had a recording contract with Virgin Records. His subsequent career included such milestones as helping to create the fusion style known as "hillbilly-ska" and recording the Number One Single of 2005, "I and I No Idoru, Mon." Unfortunately, on his Virtual Light Tour of 2009, Gibson fell victim to a fatal jolt of electricity when he absentmindedly attempted to insert a jack into his navel rather than into his guitar.

Few people today recall the noble experiment known as "Chemical chooling." Yet it was in this brave but misguided effort that Tom Maddox met his doom. Intent on raising the educational achievements of American youth, Chemical Schooling represented the first crude attempts at today's brilliant drugs. Attempting to prep for an upcoming semester, Maddox accidentally ingested an overdose of semiotics pills. In itself, this would have been crippling but not necessarily fatal; however, the overdose left Maddox with an overwhelming compulsion to smoke Gitanes and drink espresso, and he quickly succumbed to massive nicotine and caffeine poisoning. A memorial chair at a Paris cafe has been endowed in his name.

Lone annointed female cyberpunk, Pat Cadigan had by the 90s expatriated herself to London. Initially, this seemed a wise and healthy move. But Cadigan had not reckoned with changing climactic conditions. After the Great Flip of 2009, when London began to be submerged bby risin sea levels, Cadigan refused to leave her beloved city. "I'm gonna ride this out like a Ballard protagonist," she was quoted as defiantly saying. In the general crazed exodus, the stubborn Cadigan's whereabouts became hazy, even her continued existence in doubt. After a decade, she has been transformed into an iconic, mythic figure, "The Lady of the Thames." Brave souls exploring the aquatic ruins of Mother London claim to have seen her gaunt and shrouded apparition poling a skiff through the urban channels while singing "Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive-O."

The first of the governing City Brains that enjoyed a brief vogue were all patterned on human intelligences. The AI for the San Francisco-San Jose district had Rudy Rucker as its template. (Rucker was chosen for this honor as he lay in the hospital suffering from terminal Mandelbrot's Fever contracted from overexposure to fractals. Only humans soon to die were allowed to become artifical intelligences, thus avoiding legal problems of duplicate identity and ownership, etc.) At first, the Rucker AI proved very moderate and capable in its governance of the metroplex. But then strange orders began to issue forth: memorization of Kerouac's On the Road was to be mandatory for high-school graduation; Frank Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" replaced "The Star-Spangled Banner" at official functions; and so on. Only after a tremendous struggle between citizens and the capricious cyberpunk-on-a-chip, with the Rucker AI employing civic robots in its defense, was the rogue silicon freestyler disabled. Videotaped as its boards were pulled, even today the AI can be heard plaintively singing in diminuendo "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz."

Having moved into the videogame industry in the 90s, Marc Laidlaw was eager to participate in the post-2005 revolution in that field. Unable ever to achieve satisfying virtual reality, the game industry chose to blame their failure on the unreasonable human demand for hi-res 3-D input. Various firms began to offer neurosurgical operations allowing players to see the real world in familiar lo-res pixel form, complete with special effects. Large theme parks simulating famous videogames were built, and the players turned loose. Naturally, the programmers and writers had to undergo this same operation in order to develop the parks effectively. Laidlaw's demise came when, attempting to "reach a new level," he jumped from his tenth-floor apartment onto a "magic mushroom" below his window that proved to be a passerby's umbrella.

James Patrick Kelly never intended to search for Champie, the legendary atavistic monster of Lake Champlain. But a simple fishing trip in 2003 proved his undoing, as Champie, attracted by Kelly's unusual choice of bait--champagne-marinated caviar--surfaced alongside Kelly's canoe and swallowed both boat and fisherman. This meal brought on Champie's own death, and the recovered corpse was opened to reveal that Kelly had survived for a short time within the monster, just long enough to compose a final story on his durable laptop, "In the Belly of the Beast," which went on to win that year's Nebula, Hugo, and Field and Stream awards.

Accidentally stepping into a pool of "grey goo" during the famous Seattle Scum Splash of 2016 opened up a new way of living for Greg Bear. After absorption, his intelligence now resided in a million tons of aggressive protean undifferentiated protoplasm. Reining in the monstrous formerly nonsentient blob earned Bear the Congressional Medal of Honor as well as exile to the Mojave Desert. Once penned by an acid-filled moat in his sandy Coventry, Bear became a prime tourist attraction and continues right up to the current day to amuse children and adults alike with his various Jello, blancmange, and Rush Limbaugh impressions.

Becoming fascinated with Deep Ecology, Lewis Shiner arrived at a point where he abandoned job and family to become a monkey-wrenching eco-guerrila. His legendary career protecting Mother Gaia reached a climax when he singlehandedly sabotaged further development of the Amazon Rain Forest by introducing a bioengineered defense against human predation: Organic Muzak. Implanted in vegetation and animals, the virus-borne circuitry that allowed animals and trees to emit Muzak insured that humans would remain far away from the ear-assaulting forest, whereas other forms of life would not be bothered. But Shiner, his GPS unit broken while he sought to leave the Amazon, became lost amid the cacophony and quickly succumbed to his own deadly defense.

How many times before their actual arrival had science fiction predicted the advent of "the feelies," entertainment that offered tactile sensations to the audience? Few people would have guessed that John Shirley would be instrumental in helping perfect this medium. As Hollywood ramped up to introduce this entertainment option, the moguls discovered that test subjects were hard to come by. Sure, everybody wanted to test the porno options, but few people were willing to undergo the alpha software for the slasher or combat feelies. Enter Shirley, notoriously open to any and all experiences. By becoming Subject Number One in Hollywood's grand drive to perfect the feelies, Shirley allowed the experts to calibrate their effects. But a few years of this intense nervous-system stimulation proved too much for even the life-hardened Shirley, and he ended his days comatose in a sensory-deprivation tank.

After publishing his final "humor" column, "As Through a Pair of Mirrorshades Darkly," Paul Di Filippo vanished without a trace.

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