Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century

Overview

An unforgettable journey into the dark heart of the Information Age, Escape Velocity explores the high-tech subcultures that both celebrate and critique our wired world: cyberpunks, cyberhippies, technopagans, and rogue technologists, to name a few. The computer revolution has given rise to a digital underground - an Information Age counterculture whose members are utilizing cutting-edge technology in ways never intended by its manufacturers. Poised, at the end of the century, between technological rapture and ...
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Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century

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Overview

An unforgettable journey into the dark heart of the Information Age, Escape Velocity explores the high-tech subcultures that both celebrate and critique our wired world: cyberpunks, cyberhippies, technopagans, and rogue technologists, to name a few. The computer revolution has given rise to a digital underground - an Information Age counterculture whose members are utilizing cutting-edge technology in ways never intended by its manufacturers. Poised, at the end of the century, between technological rapture and social rupture, between Tomorrowland and Blade Runner, fringe computer culture poses the fundamental question of our time: Will technology liberate or enslave us in the coming millennium? Mark Dery takes us on an electrifying tour of the high-tech underground. Exploring the shadowy byways of cyberculture, we meet would-be cyborgs who believe the body is obsolete and dream of downloading their minds into computers, cyberhippies who boost their brainpower with smart drugs and mind machines, on-line swingers seeking cybersex on electronic bulletin boards, techno-primitives who sport "biomechanical" tattoos of computer circuitry, and cyberpunk roboticists whose Mad Max contraptions duel to the death before howling crowds. Most "cyber-" titles are a breathless mix of New Age futurism and gadget-happy cyberhype. Escape Velocity stands alone as the first truly critical inquiry into cyberculture. Shifting the focus of our conversation about technology from the corridors of power to disparate voices on the cultural fringes, Dery wires it into the power politics and social issues of the moment. Timely, trenchant, and provocative, Escape Velocity is essential reading for everyone interested in computer culture and the shape of things to come.

In the first in-depth exploration of fringe computer culture, Dery introduces readers to underground roboticists, cybersex enthusiasts, virtual-reality designers, cyberpunk novelists, and would-be cyborgs. In exploring this strange new world, Drey shifts the focus from the corporations that design the digital machines that are changing our reality to the fringes of cyberculture, where real-life cyberpunks are pursuing the bright promise of these technologies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freelance cultural critic Dery takes readers on a strange, unsettling, often provocative tour through fringe computer subcultures. We meet cyber-hippies and ``technopagans'' who use the personal computer in New Age mystical rituals via echomail, a technology that links discussion groups into a communal conference. California roboticist Mark Pauline stages spectacles in which robots and humans are menaced by heavy machinery or remote-controlled weaponry, while Chico MacMurtrie's puppet-like robot musicians, acrobats and warriors enact ecotopian dramas. Australian cybernetic body artist Stelarc, plastered with electrodes and trailing wires, embodies the human/machine hybrid all of us are metaphorically becoming. Dery also profiles online swingers hooked on virtual sex, cyberpunk rockers, cyberpunk novelist William Gibson and D.A. Therrien's performance ensemble Comfort/ Control, which dramatizes popular anxieties over the autonomy of intelligent machines and the nightmare of humanity's obsolescence. Dery closes this adventurous inquiry with an appraisal of the ``posthumanist'' visions of novelist William Burroughs, techno-mystical SF author Vernor Vinge and Carnegie-Mellon roboticist Hans Moravec. Illustrated. (Feb.)
George Needham
"Escape velocity" refers to the speed a body must achieve to escape the gravitational pull of Earth. Dery contends that cyberculture--an underground world of high-tech performance artists and philosophers, cyberpunk authors and musicians, and technosex aficionados--is reaching its own escape velocity and will eventually free itself of the gravitational pull of history, tradition, and perhaps even evolution. Drawing his raw material from a wide variety of sources, Dery has produced an exhaustive and exhilarating book. Cyberculture, he demonstrates, threatens to forge a whole new meaning not only for technology but for what it means to be human: he discusses the kinds of music, art, and literature created through computer programs, and he relates experiments in life extension as well as plans to store human consciousness on CD-ROM. Some of this material is not for the squeamish, especially the treatment of "cybernetic body art," which includes putatively artistic self-mutilation, body piercing, and tattooing. Still, for librarians struggling to understand how the Internet will affect their reference departments, this book will be a mind-expanding voyage. For the initiated, it will be a handy travel guide.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802115805
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/16/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Escape Velocity 1
1 Turn On, Boot Up, Jack In: Cyberdelia 19
2 Metal Machine Music: Cyberpunk Meets the Black Leather Synth-Rockers 73
3 Waging a Tinkerer's War: Mechanical Spectacle 109
4 Ritual Mechanics: Cybernetic Body Art 151
5 RoboCopulation: Sex Times Technology Equals the Future 181
6 Cyborging the Body Politic: Obsolete Bodies and Posthuman Beings 227
A Comment on Sources 321
Notes 323
Index 361
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  • Posted January 17, 2011

    A Perfect Portrait of the Utopian/Dystopian Human/Computer Present/Future

    A wonderful book covering all sorts of phenomena related to the interface between human beings and machines circa 1999, covering fringe artists and thinkers like Mark Pauline and Stelarc, funky authors such as JG Ballard and William Gibson, and philosophers like Baudrillard. A great portrait of the period too--not dated at all, but a snapshot of a bunch of brilliant and/or weird thinkers and tinkerers--like postmodern Joan Didion or Tom Wolfe in their nonfiction modes. One of the most entertaining nonfiction books I've ever read--honestly. Check it out.

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