His (Sterling’s) famous introduction for that book (Mirrorshades), describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about.
the transition from MONDO 2000 to Reality Hackers — excerpt from Freaks in the Machine MONDO 2000 in late 20th Century Technoculture (yes… still in progress)
Some time in 1988, we made a rash decision. Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 15,000 in sales was solid), we decided to change the name of the magazine itself to Reality Hackers.
It was my idea.
We’d been hipped to cyberpunk SF and I’d read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Mirrorshades collection. His famous introduction for that book, describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about.
Here are some parts of it: “The term, (cyberpunk) captures something crucial to the work of these writers, something crucial to the decade as a whole: a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech, and the modern pop underground.
“This integration has become our decade’s crucial source of cultural energy. The work of the cyberpunks is paralleled throughout the Eighties pop culture: in rock video; in the hacker underground; in the jarring street tech of hip hop and scratch music; in the synthesizer rock of London and Tokyo. This phenomenon, this dynamic, has a global range; cyberpunk is its literary incarnation…
An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy…
For the cyberpunks… technology is visceral. It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.
Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry — techniques radically redefining — the nature of humanity, the nature of the self. The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication.
Cyberpunk favors “crammed” loose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overIoad that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock “wall of sound.” Well, then…
As an added influence, Jaron Lanier was hanging around some, sharing his lofty goals for virtual reality; and Eric Gullichsen, who was teaming up to do some writing with Timothy Leary — with whom he shared a mutual fascination with drugs, extreme technology and Aleister Crowley — was already fairly deep into our mix, while dreaming his own VR schemes. Various hackers like Bill Me Later and John Draper (Captain Crunch) were popping by with increasing frequency. Hanging in hacker circles, we were also befriended by John Morgenthaler, who was getting very serious about the exploration of smart drugs. Something was starting to surface. Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these, at times, esoteric groupings included men (yes, men) who were creating the next economy. Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.
Other factors played into this change. While a strutting, pop-intellectual, irreverent peacock of a psychedelic magazine (in other words, High Frontiers) could surely build an audience somewhat larger than 15,000, we probably weren’t all that far from the optimum, unless we wanted to stifle our Gonzo-meets-Camp writerly excesses and dumb ourselves down to something more like a High Times for psychedelic drugs. Also, acid dealers don’t advertise. The number of potential advertisers for a magazine that revolved primarily around psychedelics was limited, particularly in this “just say no” period. Hell, dope friendly humor was even voluntarily eliminated by Saturday Night Live, the once-hip show inspired by a Lorne Michaels mescaline trip. And then, admittedly, by emphasizing technology, we could, in theory, put a bit of a buffer zone between ourselves and “the man” — throw him off our druggy tracks (albeit with a massive feature on “Smart Drugs and Nutrients”) while sneaking sideways into the center of the oncoming digital establishment, all the better to affect the total fucking transmutation of everything (bwahaha)… or maybe even make a livelihood!
John Morgenthaler: The research on “cognition enhancing substances” had been going along for decades. There was nothing rebellious about it. But we put a rebellious spin on the science by calling it Smart Drugs. That is what turned the dry science into an act of rebellion against the societal system.
The War On Drugs was at a peak at the time. Nancy Reagan was saying “drugs are bad” and we came along talking about “smart drugs”. This was like throwing a wrench into the anti-drug propaganda machine. It was a victory. And to take it further, we showed how we would use these new drugs to extend that very countercultural identity that the people like Nancy Reagan really found so threatening. There was definitely a “we gotcha” feeling
It had really been my intention from the start to create a magazine that (to slightly detourne the original subhead of High Frontiers) was balanced between psychedelics, science, technology, outrageousness and postmodern pop culture. The psychedelic impulse had gloriously taken center stage for the first four years. Now it was time to push into new territory.
To consolidate my thoughts about the Reality Hackers, I wrote a small manifesto (a list, really) titled:
What Are The Reality Hackers Doing?
1: Using high technology for a life beyond limits
2: Expanding the effectiveness and enjoyment of the human brain, mind, nervous system and senses
3: Blurring the distinction between science fiction and reality
4: Making big bureaucracy impossible
5: Entertaining any notion — using what works
6: Infusing new energy into postmodern culture
7: Using hardcore anthropology to understand human evolution
8: Using media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)
9: Blurring the distinctions between high technology and magic
10: Replacing nerd mythology with sexy, healthy, aesthetic, & artful techno-magicians of both genders.
With this, I was also aligning the magazine ideologically with a transhumanist agenda. I’d attended meetings of a nanotechnology interest group hosted by Christine Peterson and, sometimes, Eric Drexler. I started to see the actual dim outlines of a plausible “total fucking transmutation of everything;” with molecular technology giving us total productive control over matter for unlimited wealth; biotechnology giving us the potential for positive mutations in the human organism; and neurotechnology theoretically allowing us to maximize our intelligence — not too mention cleaner, better highs with no downside.
Of course, we were maybe throwing away four years building a brand but, if we were anything, we were impulsive.
Ken Jopp: Reality Hackers was, to me, inelegantly titled. Still, the cyberpunk thing was revving up. The weekly tabloid in my town ran a cover story on hackers: teenagers who lugged computers into phone booths, and then, when nobody was looking, they made long- distance calls for free! This was subversive stuff. Off the Establishment! I bought the issue of Reality Hackers and adopted it and its kin as a cultural security blanket. These proto- MONDO publications, arriving during the Dark Ages of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (666), were a source of what later would become hollowed out to form a tin horn. I mean, Hope and Change?
Lord Nose: I think it kept getting more and more mainstream in hopes of getting on to the newsstand and getting advertisers. It was being more palatable — or seemingly palatable — for the corporate interests that had no taste. I mean, it was so different. High Frontiers had a very different thrust.
Somerset Mau Mau: I didn’t like the move away from the emphasis on psychedelics. I appreciated the move towards acknowledging people from Silicon Valley and the rise of thinking machines and so on. But I grieved over the change of emphasis. I thought there was a lost opportunity to have a psychedelic magazine go mainstream. That’s what I thought was lost there.