Interview: Gary BallardPosted by Psychochild
As part of our work here on The Internet Crashed, we’ll do interviews with people involved with cyberpunk.
I first “met” Gary Ballard online; we both frequented the same online game (MMO) rant and discussion sites. He posted under the pseudonym “HaemishM” and was an active participant back in the olden days of the MMO community. As I focused more on my own blog instead of visiting the community sites, I fell out of contact with most of the personalities, including Gary. But, as I was starting up this site, imagine my surprise when I found out that Gary had been writing an online cyberpunk serial called The Bridge Chronicles. Gary has collected his stories into book form and is now selling his work online.
A transcript of our email interview follows.
1. Share your vital data with us: Who are you? What have you done? Why should we adore you?
My name is Gary Ballard. I’m a web site designer by day, and a self-published author by night. I’m a mouthy, opinionated bastard the rest of the time, as evidenced by my many years ranting on various video game web sites most of the last decade. I have written and published two novels, part of a series called The Bridge Chronicles, which were originally published serially on a blog over the course of two years before being collected and sold as paperbacks and eBooks. I’m not sure anyone should adore me, unless you happen to like the feeling of sand in your delicate parts. If you really feel adoration is necessary, it’s likely because you are mentally deranged or you’ve read my novels and enjoy a witty, acerbic protagonist in a well-developed cyberpunk universe.
2. What got you into cyberpunk?
It was my early ’20′s before I ever got into cyberpunk. Before that, I hadn’t really paid much attention to it, though I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. I can lay the blame for my interest in the genre to a guy named Cleve who let me into a pen-and-paper roleplaying game session for a game of his own design. I don’t even remember the name of the game, but it was an awesome, action ballet over-the-top kind of shoot ‘em up roleplaying game, set in a universe that would have fit in an anime setting like a glove. It had gun-wielding nuns, for fuck’s sake. How could I not enjoy it? It got me exploring other cyberpunk staples like Blade Runner, and one of my favorite guilty pleasure cyberpunk movies, the B-grade action movie Nemesis. Finally, I had to read William Gibson’s Neuromancer and I was hooked. Within a year or two, I’d started to design my own cyberpunk RPG, and the world-building I did for that game is the world of The Bridge Chronicles.
3. What element of cyberpunk really appeals to you now?
There’s so much to like about cyberpunk. You have gritty anti-heroes, techno-fetishism, stylish language that borrows so much from hard-boiled and noirish writers like Raymond Chandler. There are these colossal worlds with innate political and economic structures that are stratified into a sort of unwritten class/caste system. Everything is so familiar, almost like you’re observing today’s world only with these glasses that show you a tinged, surreal layer on top of the normality we all know. And there’s this underlying sense that struggles to break through the mountains of cynicism that says through technology mixed with the human spirit, somehow we can break through all these oppressive class divisions into some new, frightening yet more liberated sense of consciousness, whether it be through a new virtual reality or a metamorphosis of the physical world and its corrupt political structures.
4. What is your favorite cyberpunk work (other than your own)? How has this work influenced you?
William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy probably influenced me the most, but my favorite would have to be Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. His use of language, his intense interest in the structure of words and ideas and how those influence us is amazing. And Hiro Protagonist is really one of my favorite characters of all time.
5. What are your biggest non-cyberpunk influences?
The beat writers, guys like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs probably influenced me the most outside of cyberpunk. Their rebellion both against social mores and against the formalism of literature has been especially influential in my writing.
6. What has been the most significant change in cyberpunk since you got involved?
The Internet. When Gibson first envisioned “cyberspace,” he had little real world technologies to base that on, certainly almost none that were in widespread use. The growth of an actual global information network has given us all a glimpse into what that future could look like, and so far, it isn’t what we thought it would be. The use of 3D avatars has been tried as the interface for multiple non-gaming applications and has flopped horribly for the most part because of the clunkiness of it. That kind of cyberspace interface really requires a full sensory experience, a bit like the creche work I talk about in my novels.
7. What do you think is the most important issue facing the today that was predicted by cyberpunk?
Corporate intrusion in our everyday lives. You look at the situation we have now and it’s eerily reminiscent of how powerful corporations are in cyberpunk worlds. Behemoths like Goldman Sachs can pull off the biggest financial swindle in the history of the world and the SEC slaps them with a fine small enough to be paid off by their last quarter’s profits with a little change left over. What’s even scarier is that a guy like Madoff pulls a fraud of equal size and he gets jail time because despite his inflated success, he didn’t have and couldn’t afford the protections that a corporation has. Attempts to regulate those industries with legislation have been glacial in coming, and what has passed has been so weakened by corporate lobbying as to be a blip in the radar. Set against the backdrop of the Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited money for political advertising and you see the beginnings of corporate ownership of actual regions of the world in all but name.
8. How do MMOs relate to cyberpunk from your experiences?
MMO’s are the first blundering, blind steps towards Gibson’s Matrix. And boy are they blunder-filled. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from studying MMOG’s, most involving the hubris of egotistical developers and the stifling of innovation due to the profit motive, but I’ve spent years railing against the fuckups of the MMOG industry. One thing I will point out is a reference back to an earlier article I wrote for f13 – MMO’s need to be thought of as a medium, not a genre of video games. You take an experiment like Second Life and put it up against a refined, Skinner-box profit machine like World of Warcraft and you’ll see two very different experiences. Both have elements of game, but such widely varying goals that they can’t be considered in the same genre at all. You have to view them as two examples of different genres within the medium of an online multiplayer experience.
9. What do you think is the future of cyberpunk?
Cyberpunk is constantly refining its vision of the future along the lines of our current experiences. I’m probably guilty of being a bit old school in my approach to the genre, going for the most clanky, metal-head action style of the ’80′s and ’90′s. The Internet should be a positive boon for the genre. In the ’80′s, not many mainstream people could wrap their heads around the idea of a global information network. These days we can’t live without it. Cyberpunk has become the mainstream… almost.
10. Anything else you’d like to share?
Buy my books? Just thought I’d plug links to where you can purchase the book in both paperback and eBook format.
The best value on that list is The Bridge Chronicles, Books 1 & 2. It’s an eBook compilation of the first two books in the series, Under the Amoral Bridge and The Know Circuit. I’m currently close to completing the first draft of the third novel in the series, called if [tribe] = (that reads like IF TRIBE EQUALS).
Thanks for the interview!
What do you think? I’ve got a copy of Gary’s books and hope to make time to read them in the near future. Do you agree or disagree with his opinions?