How great was Tim Maly’s month of cyborgs? I liked it not only because I like Tim, and not only because I like, um, cyborgs; I liked it because it seemed to play into the events-as-future-of-media model, and to deepen it. It seemed to suggest a new way of both producing and presenting ideas.
Bruce Sterling said this about Tim’s undertaking:
[It is] a project with an extremely heavy science-fictional tinge that is in fact quite remote from science fiction. It lacks the look, feel, extrapolative techniques and sense of wonder payoff of science fiction. There’s no fiction in it, and it has scarcely a whiff of science. Basically, it’s a large clique of obviously intelligent and creative people who all more or less know each other through the Internet, and are all loosely riffing about cyborgs, and what-cyborg-means-to-them. A cultural artifact of this kind could not have existed without collapsed barriers-to-entry in publishing.
And it’s not even dull, fannish, or self-indulgent. It’s a little overwhelming in its volume and its focussed erudition, but it’s a very readable and illuminating “project” (whatever a “project” is). Certainly it’s far more interesting and gets much more to the core of the matter than, say, a commissioned science fiction anthology titled “Cyborg!” which might have had fifteen science fiction stories about cyborgs. Even if they’d been great science fiction stories by top sci-fi authors with lots of gosh-wow and plot twists, they wouldn’t have torn into the depths of the subject in this remarkable way.
Emphasis mine; I think that line sets up such a revealing comparison. It ought to make anybody in the anthology business pause and ask themselves if they’re using the right tool for the job. It makes me think, for instance, of New Liberal Arts; how might that project have been different if we’d thought of it as a slow-burning event—an internet-powered lecture series—instead of as a static body of work that we rushed to complete and then release whole?
And maybe this is noteworthy, too: I read perhaps 25% of all the cyborg posts. First of all: that’s a way better ratio than any anthology I’ve ever picked up. Second: maybe this is an important new technique! You want to get an idea out into a big, busy world? Don’t just take one shot. Instead, refract the idea through dozens of different minds; send it ricocheting through dozens of different niches. Blast it out like grapeshot. Modernist poetry fans? We got ya. Kanye West fans? We got ya.
It’s not just grapeshot across, like, idea space, either; it’s grapeshot across time. Stringing the project out over a whole month gave Tim and all his contributors more opportunities to talk about it. It gave readers more time to discover it and get excited about it.
There’s a lot to chew on here if you’re a media maker or a media inventor. I’m eager for a post-mortem from Tim himself; I’d love to know, from his perspective, what worked, what didn’t, and what surprised him.
In the meantime, here’s Alexis Madrigal’s capstone to the project: an interview with the man who coined the word cyborg in the first place. Click over for the context, and stick around for the kicker; I guarantee it will make you smile.