Friday, January 29, 2010


From: Olen

I would just like to comment on how the technology form of the "slate" in Slow River has pretty much completely manifested with the release of the Apple iPad. Does science fiction serve a function of prescience in the development of technology? Was your book just another access point into non-linear time and consciousness? Just some questions that come up for me.

I think I'll re-read the book again for kicks. Now that I think back on it with my more film-oriented eye, have you considered film adaptations of it, or any of your works for that matter?

Oh, and me? I'm a queer writer and artist "living" in San Francisco and enjoy your work and just thought I'd reach out.

I was crushed (crushed!) when Apple chose to name their tablet iPad and not iSlate. Not being a modest person, I could have got a lot of mileage out of that one. Sigh. But, hey, not being a modest person, I think I'm going to get some mileage, anyway. Below is an excerpt from the manuscript of Slow River, written in 1993. Lore, scion of a stinking rich family, has been kidnapped, injured (big slash across her back), escaped, and found--naked, in the alley of a strange city--by a not particularly nice woman called Spanner. Spanner takes Lore home.

Lore reached for the tea. The red scar between her thumb and forefinger showed up clearly against the white ceramic. Moving hurt. Spanner nodded to herself. "I called the medic. He's on his way. And don't worry. He won't report this. Or you."

Lore felt as though she should say something, but she had no idea what. She sipped at the tea, trying to ignore the pain.

"I know who you are," Spanner said softly. "You were all over the net." Lore said nothing. "I don't understand why you're not screaming for Mummy and Daddy."

"I'll never go back."


Lore stayed silent. She needed Spanner, but she did not have to give her more ammunition.

Spanner shrugged. "If that's the way you want it. Can you get any money from them?"

"No." Lore hoped that sounded as final as she felt.

"Then I don't see how you're going to repay me. For the medic. For the care you look like you're going to need for a while. Do you have any skills?"

Yes, Lore wanted to say, but then she saw once again the red scar on the hand wrapped around her tea cup. How would she get a job designing remediation systems, how would she prove her experience, without an identity? "My identity...."

"That's another question. You want to get a copy of your old PIDA?"

"No." The pain was hot and round and tight. The infection must be spreading. Again, she thought of his blood mingling with hers.

"Then you'll need a new one. That costs, too. And what do you want me to call you? I can't go around calling you Frances Lorien Van Oesterling."

"Lore. Call me Lore."

"Well, Lore, if you want my help then you'll have to pay for it. You'll have to work for me."


Spanner laughed. "Not even remotely. But I've never been caught, and what I do is low down on the police list--victimless crime. Or nearly so."

The only "victimless" crimes Lore could think of were prostitution and personal drug use.

Spanner stood up, went to her work bench, brought back a slate. "Here. Take a look."

Lore, moving her arms slowly and carefully, turned it over, switched it on. Wrote on it, queried it, turned it off. She handed it back.

"It's an ordinary slate."

"Exactly. A slate stuffed with information. What do you use your slate for?"

Lore thought about it. "Making memos. Sending messages. Net codes and addresses. Ordering speciality merchandise. Appointments. Receiving messages. Keeping a balance of accounts..." She began to see where this was leading. "But it's all protected by my security code."

"That's what most people think. But it's not difficult to break it. It just takes time and a good programme. Nothing glamourous. This one..." She smiled. "Well, let's see." She sat down at her bench, connected the slate to a couple of jacks, flipped some switches. "Can you see from down there?" Lore nodded. On a readout facing Spanner numbers began to flicker faster than Lore could read them. "Depending on the complexity of the code, it takes anywhere from half a minute to an hour. I've yet to come across one that--" The numbers stopped. "Ah. An easy one." She touched another button and the red feed light on the slate lit up. "It's downloading everything: account numbers, the net numbers of people called in the last few months, name, address, occupation, DNA codes of the owner...everything." She was smiling to herself.

"What do you use it for?"

"Depends. Some slates are useless to us. We just ransom them back to their owners for a modest fee. No one gets hurt. Often we couch things in terms of a reward for the finder. No police involvement. Nothing to worry about."

"And other times?"

Someone banged on the door, two short, two long taps.

"That's the medic." But Spanner did not get up to let him in. "Better make up your mind."


"Do you want to work with me or not? Even if I don't let him in, there'll be a small fee for call out, nothing you couldn't repay when you're able. But if he comes in here and works on you, then you'll owe me."

The medic banged on the door again, faster this time.

"Sounds like he's getting impatient."

Lore had no clothes and no ID; she doubted she could stand. "I'll do it."

As you can see, in some ways it's pretty old-fashioned (shopping online for 'speciality items' instead of 'everything') but in others it's kind of cool (not modest, remember): 'net numbers' = internet telephony; a slate/mobile surfing device; DNA profiles; wallet online, etc. Did I invent all that stuff? Hell, no. All the bits and pieces were floating about in the meme-o-sphere; as a genre, cyberpunk was mature (can't believe I used 'mature' and 'cyberpunk' in the same phrase). But I did pull it all together in a relatively realistic milieu. I showed how real people might use such things. And I had a blast doing it: there's nothing more satisfying than inventing new worlds and the people in them. Though I think I had the most fun with the remediation technology.

I had a very serious offer from an independent producer, once, for Slow River. I turned her down. I wasn't convinced she could pull together the budget and, frankly, what she was offering me wasn't enough.

I wonder, sometimes, how it would have turned out. I think it could make a fantastic film. Lots of visual set-pieces, spiffy tech, exciting plot, sex, a smidge of violence, some bad guys, and characters trying as hard as they can.

I've had much TV and film interest, over the years, in the Aud novels but it always comes to nothing. I'm okay with that. Though, wow, I would absolutely love to see Aud onscreen, love to see my art through the eyes of another artist (lots of other artists: writer, director, actor, set designer...). I'd be thrilled. And, eh, the money would be nice. Writing an adaptation of The Blue Place is still on my to-do list.

But back to the iPad. What a bloody stupid name. Don't they have any women working at Apple?

(thanks to Dianne Cameron for the link)

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