“They have tremendous technical strength, but the crises arrayed against them are crushingly heavy,” Sterling said in an interview.
The Caryatids deals with “ubiquitous computation,” a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction. “I’ve wanted to write a book about ‘ubiquitous computation’ ever since that term first came out of Xerox PARC in the early 1990s,” Sterling said. “I immediately knew it was a powerful and interesting concept—and that it would take me a long time to get it portrayed on paper.”
Sterling got so interested in ubiquitous computation that he taught the subject in design schools. “I wrote nonfiction tracts about it, and I came to know many of the theorists and practitioners,” he said. “Right now, there are four start-up tech companies who have named themselves after my speculative concept of the ‘spime.’ So, yes, I got rather involved. I’m not a tech developer, programmer or businessman, so, for a novelist, the inventive ruckus there is something of a tar-pit. It’s a lot of fun to blog about, however.”
Sterling said he’s starting to feel like his novels have become printouts from some new milieu. “I like to call that new thing ‘speculative culture,’” he said. “Speculative culture is digital. It was never paper-based, so it’s not very ‘literary,’ not very ‘fictional.’ But there are swarms of far-out ideas in speculative culture. They’re being traded at electronic speed by whole gangs of activists from a crowd of forward-thinking disciplines: some people from science fiction, but also futurism, design, software, architecture—even manufacturing and the military are coming up with odd, pundit-like, trend-spotting figures. These are not science fiction writers, but they do look and act rather like them—collecting and spreading notions and approaches as they try to think outside of their boxes. Science fiction culture seems very calm, mellow and meditative, even poetic, compared to online speculative culture.”
Sterling loves science fiction very much, but said it needs to be ahead of its times. “That doesn’t mean that science fiction has to have higher bandwidth and pump more data than Google,” he said. “It does mean that speculative culture has a visible need for a literary wing. I’m trying to expand my understanding so that I can meet that need.”