Episode 65: Design Fiction and the Pandemic with Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tešanović

Welcome to another quarant-week How Do You Like it So Far? team!  We are still super lucky to be able to stay safe with our friends and loved ones right now and hope you are all hanging in there.  We know it is a tough time and we appreciate you making this podcast a part of your quarantin-ing.  Basically, thank you for not socially-distancing yourselves from this podcast.  We are continuing our sequence on science fiction during the COVID-19 crisis.  This week, Colin and Henry welcome Bruce Sterling, author, futurist, and one of the founders of Cyberpunk movement along with his partner Jasmina Tešanović, Serbian activist, author, feminist, and filmmaker.  Sterling and Tešanović offer their perspective on what is going on in Belgrade, Serbia (where they are currently under a rigid lockdown) that perhaps can shed light on the pandemic.  Sterling brings (slightly terrifying) insight on speculative world-building in response to our current reality.  Sterling, well known for developing the concept of “design fiction,” discusses how companies and political organizations engage with world-building to anticipate problems and social change. Sterling dives deep into the potential policy changes that may happen, such as the rise of surveillance and technology companies becoming the new power brokers.  He describes how the current world order emerged post-9/11 as policy decisions reacted to perceived and anticipated threats and suggests that the pandemic is apt to bring new shifts in power.  Sterling provocatively suggests that when the pandemic ends, we may be living with its consequences but we will forget, as other generations have, the health threat itself.  Sterling discusses the role of Chinese soft power, specifically in the Balkan region, and suggests that China is gaining global influence even as the American Belle Epoque is ending.  Most surprisingly, Sterling dismantles the Cyberpunk ethos he helped create (mind blown right?) as science fiction writers are playing a different role in response to the changed environment in which they are working.  A silver lining Sterling does provide is an enthusiasm over Twitter (who would have thought?)!  Listen in as Sterling discusses a progression of pulp writers to contemporary ones like Cory Doctorow!  The list of those writers will be in the notes section, if you’re looking to expand your pandemic reading list.

Bruce Sterling:
Regional science fiction novel set in Italy – Bruno Argento pen name
Globalhead – collection of short stories
Holy Fire
The Task Lamp – Bruno Argento 
Social critique similar to H.G. Wells through the Martians in
War of the Worlds
Reason Magazine Interview — America’s belle époque 
Design Fiction
Mirrorshades anthology

Struggle between Science, Technology, Politics, Religion, Ethnicity and Sports in Serbia: 
Ahead of the curve in Coronavirus
Political struggle between Church + State regarding Easter 
Rigidly locking people in their homes 
Novak Djokovic and his wife blame 5G for coronavirus, Djokovic resistance to vaccination

Nikola Tesla

Ethnic enclaves within LA:
Little Armenia
Little Tokyo

Secret of the society → people are divided inside

Connettivisti fantascienza

Chinese have a high profile in Europe:
Soft power surging in the Balkans
Large medical presence in Serbia and Italy
Fire Eye – new coronavirus testing lab in Serbia
European Union didn’t help ItalyChina helped first

Jack Ma sending masks to Wall Street

Wuhan herbalists comforting the dying

Google investment in life extension – Calico | Buck Institute

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Star Trek episodes about alien virus

AIDS epidemic and the coronavirus

Coronavirus reminiscent of Black Death in Italy

Big tech platforms have the world at their feet

Trump’s trade war on Huawei

Narcos role in Mexico – giving out masks and food

Conflict in Italy between north and south with coronavirus

Organized crime in Italy helping with the virus

Yugoslavia was allowed to do what they were not supposed to do 

Big tech going to mutate into utilities

Big tech monopolies can become arms of power

Moore’s Law

Slobodan Milosevic

Contemporary Sci-Fi Writers (new digitally erudite group of people):
Hannu Rajaniemi
Cory Doctorow
Malka Older

Older Sci-Fi Writers who wouldn’t be in contemporary politics:
Robert Heinlein
Arthur C. Clarke
Isaac Asimov

Kim Stanley Robinson

Tom Wolfe

Douglas Coupland

Multimedia people:
Neil Gaiman
Harlan Ellison
George R.R. Martin

Other Cyberpunk Writers Mentioned:
William GibsonRastas in Neuromancer
Neal StephensonChina’s Role in The Diamond Age


Share your thoughts via Twitter with Henry and Colin and also through email at [email protected]!

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