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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Introducing Bruce Bethke™ 2.0


Another week, another batch of queries, all along the lines of, “Are you the Bruce Bethke?” 

I’m never sure how to answer that. The snark is strong in me. It can be hard to resist the temptation. 

“That depends. Are you here with a royalty check or a search warrant?”

What they usually mean, of course, is “Are you the Bruce Bethke who wrote the short story ‘Cyberpunk’ back in—” and then they provide a date that’s somewhere within a reasonable range of the truth.

So the short answer is, yes, I am.

The more complete answer is that I wrote the story in the early spring of 1980, and it spent the next couple of months bouncing back and forth between me and the editorial offices of Asimov’s. At first they liked it, but asked for a rewrite of the ending on the grounds that Asimov’s readers would never go for a story that ended with the punk winning. That, and then there was that whole business with electronic banking; that all had to be changed. They told me they’d spoken with a Real Banking Expert, who assured them that electronic banking was only ephemeral and every electronic transaction had to be backed up with an actual physical paper trail within 24 hours or else it would be backed out.

[“Oh really?” said the Time Traveler from the early 21st century, as he logged into his bank account to make sure his payroll direct deposit had cleared, checked his paperless statements to see which bills were due, queued up a few credit card payments while he was waiting for the barista to put his order together, and then bonked his phone on the reader to pay for his extra dark roast grande and morning glory muffin.]

Eventually Asimov’s decided they couldn’t use the story after all and sent it back with a decisive rejection. Thereafter it bounced around the offices of all the other SF/F magazines then in business—Analog, Omni, Fantasy & Science Fiction, a few more whose names I can’t remember and don’t feel like looking up right now—before ending up at Amazing, where it was accepted in the summer of 1982 and finally published in the fall of 1983. Amazing’s practice at the time was to put magazines out on the newsstands two months before the cover date, so while the official publication date is November 1983, that’s more like the “sell by” date on a carton of milk.

And when you consider that the story had been circulating around the industry and in front of one SF/F editor or another pretty much constantly from mid-1980 forward... 



I write all this now because this is often the second question that comes up, as soon as I admit that Yea, I Am Him Who Thou Doth Seek. People then want me to talk at length about the exact and precise provenance of the story, what my influences were when I conceived the idea, and exactly what I was trying to say when I wrote it—usually, it turns out, because they’re writing either a term paper or a thesis on the subject. Frankly, answering those sorts of questions got old a very long time ago, and for a long time the sobriquet of “the guy who wrote Cyberpunk” felt an awful lot like a dead albatross hanging around my neck.

But...

Things change. Every ten years or so I seem to need to reinvent myself, and it’s once again time to do so. Hence, Bruce Bethke™ 2.0. (Actually, I think we’ve reached at least 5.0, but 2.0 gets the concept.) He’s that cartoon character in the upper right corner. I can’t promise to be him 24x7, but I can perform the part upon request.

There is just one thing I ask of you in return. 

Stupefying Stories was never supposed to be about me. It was never supposed to be about an agenda. Stupefying Stories is about good storytelling, pure and simple, and about using the attention that people seem to want to pay to me, because of some stories I wrote back in the 1980s and 1990s, to get them to pay attention to newer and younger writers who are writing great new stories right now.

When I first began my career as a writer, I had the good fortune to learn from a lot of really good people who took the time and trouble to believe in me and help me along. Most of them are dead or retired now, so I can’t pay them back for their kindness and support, but I can pay it forward.

Stupefying Stories is me, paying it forward.

So right here and now, I will offer you a deal. Yes, I am the Bruce Bethke. I am the guy who wrote “Cyberpunk.” And I will be happy to engage on the topic and answer all of your questions as best as my time permits. All I ask of you in return is that you read Stupefying Stories, and pay some attention to the writers whose careers I think deserve a boost.

Sound fair enough to you? Good. Then let’s begin the conversation:

“Hi, I’m the Bruce Bethke™. What would you like to talk about?”

 



In science fiction circles Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and Finale music notation engine (among other things), but spent most of his career in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that was absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

Now retired, he runs Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories purely for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form. He can be reached either through comments left here, by email through his web site at brucebethke.com, or via facebook.com/bruce.bethke 



 


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