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Authors: Bruce Sterling

A Good Old-Fashioned Future

BOOK: A Good Old-Fashioned Future
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“A haunting and lyrical triumph.” —

“A book made entirely of ideas … big, fat, juicy technological extrapolations, presented with flair and enthusiasm. An intellectual feat, it is also a rare treat for the spirit and the senses.” —

“A patented Sterling extra-special.”


“The social dimension is his bailiwick, and while Sterling always has a sense of humor, particularly in his stories, he’s never written anything with the satirical zing and laff relief of the first 70 or so pages. Indeed, not many have—this English-honors boy will take it over any Nathanael West or Evelyn Waugh he knows.” —
The Village Voice


“Brilliant … Fascinating … Exciting … A full complement of thrills.”

The New York Times Book Review

“A remarkable and individual sharpness of vision … Sterling hacks the future, and an elegant hack it is.” —

“So believable are the speculations that … one becomes convinced that the world must and will develop into what Sterling has predicted.” —
Science Fiction Age

“Sharp … Intriguing … A near-future thriller.” —
Publishers Weekly


(with William Gibson)

“Bursting with the kind of demented speculation and obsessive detailing that has made both Gibson’s and Sterling’s work stand out.” —
San Francisco Chronicle

“Highly imaginative … [A] splendid effort.” —
Chicago Tribune

“Smartly plotted, wonderfully crafted, and written with sly literary wit … spins marvelously and runs like a dream.”

Entertainment Weekly







(with William Gibson)



A Bantam Spectra Book / June 1999

SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

These stories were previously published in other formats: “Maneki Neko” was published in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
, May 1998, copyright © Mercury Press, Inc. First published in
Hayakawa’s Science Fiction Magazine
. “Big Jelly” was published in
, November 1994, copyright © Dell Magazines.
“The Littlest Jackal” was published in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
, March 1996, copyright © Mercury Press, Inc.
“Sacred Cow” was published
in Omni
, January 1993, copyright © Omni Publications International Limited. “Deep Eddy” was published in
, August 1993, copyright © Dell Magazines.
“Bicycle Repairman” was published in
InteractionsL: The Sycamore Hill Anthology
, edited by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name, and Richard Butner, Tor Books, 1996.
“Taklamakan” was published in
, October/November 1998, copyright © Dell Magazines.

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999 by Bruce Sterling.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books

eISBN: 978-0-307-79680-6

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.



“I can’t go on,” his brother said.

Tsuyoshi Shimizu looked thoughtfully into the screen of his pasokon. His older brother’s face was shiny with sweat from a late-night drinking bout. “It’s only a career,” said Tsuyoshi, sitting up on his futon and adjusting his pajamas. “You worry too much.”

“All that overtime!” his brother whined. He was making the call from a bar somewhere in Shibuya. In the background, a middle-aged office lady was singing karaoke, badly. “And the examination hells. The manager training programs. The proficiency tests. I never have time to live!”

Tsuyoshi grunted sympathetically. He didn’t like these late-night videophone calls, but he felt obliged to listen. His big brother had always been a decent sort, before he had gone through the elite courses at Waseda University, joined a big corporation, and gotten professionally ambitious.

“My back hurts,” his brother groused. “I have an ulcer. My hair is going gray. And I know they’ll fire me. No matter how loyal you are to the big companies, they have no loyalty to their employees anymore. It’s no wonder that I drink.”

“You should get married,” Tsuyoshi offered.

“I can’t find the right girl. Women never understand me.” He shuddered. “Tsuyoshi, I’m truly desperate. The market pressures are crushing me. I can’t breathe. My life has got to change. I’m thinking of taking the vows. I’m serious! I want to renounce this whole modern world.”

Tsuyoshi was alarmed. “You’re very drunk, right?”

His brother leaned closer to the screen. “Life in a monastery sounds truly good to me. It’s so quiet there. You recite the sutras. You consider your existence. There are rules to follow, and rewards that make sense. It’s just the way that Japanese business used to be, back in the good old days.”

Tsuyoshi grunted skeptically.

“Last week I went out to a special place in the mountains … Mount Aso,” his brother confided. “The monks there, they know about people in trouble, people who are burned out by modern life. The monks protect you from the world. No computers, no phones, no faxes, no e-mail, no overtime, no commuting, nothing at all. It’s beautiful, and it’s peaceful, and nothing ever happens there. Really, it’s like paradise.”

“Listen, older brother,” Tsuyoshi said, “you’re not a religious man by nature. You’re a section chief for a big import-export company.”

“Well … maybe religion won’t work for me. I did think of running away to America. Nothing much ever happens there, either.”

Tsuyoshi smiled. “That sounds much better! America is a good vacation spot. A long vacation is just what you need! Besides, the Americans are real friendly since they gave up their handguns.”

“But I can’t go through with it,” his brother wailed. “I just don’t dare. I can’t just wander away from everything that I know, and trust to the kindness of strangers.”

“That always works for me,” Tsuyoshi said. “Maybe you should try it.”

Tsuyoshi’s wife stirred uneasily on the futon. Tsuyoshi
lowered his voice. “Sorry, but I have to hang up now. Call me before you do anything rash.”

“Don’t tell Dad,” Tsuyoshi’s brother said. “He worries so.”

“I won’t tell Dad.” Tsuyoshi cut the connection and the screen went dark.

Tsuyoshi’s wife rolled over, heavily. She was seven months pregnant. She stared at the ceiling, puffing for breath. “Was that another call from your brother?” she said.

“Yeah. The company just gave him another promotion. More responsibilities. He’s celebrating.”

“That sounds nice,” his wife said tactfully.

Next morning, Tsuyoshi slept late. He was self-employed, so he kept his own hours. Tsuyoshi was a video format upgrader by trade. He transferred old videos from obsolete formats into the new high-grade storage media. Doing this properly took a craftsman’s eye. Word of Tsuyoshi’s skills had gotten out on the network, so he had as much work as he could handle.

At ten
., the mailman arrived. Tsuyoshi abandoned his breakfast of raw egg and miso soup, and signed for a shipment of flaking, twentieth-century analog television tapes. The mail also brought a fresh overnight shipment of strawberries, and a jar of homemade pickles.

“Pickles!” his wife enthused. “People are so nice to you when you’re pregnant.”

“Any idea who sent us that?”

“Just someone on the network.”


Tsuyoshi booted his mediator, cleaned his superconducting heads, and examined the old tapes. Home videos from the 1980s. Someone’s grandmother as a child, presumably. There had been a lot of flaking and loss of polarity in the old recording medium.

Tsuyoshi got to work with his desktop fractal detail
generator, the image stabilizer, and the interlace algorithms. When he was done, Tsuyoshi’s new digital copies would look much sharper, cleaner, and better composed than the original primitive videotape.

Tsuyoshi enjoyed his work. Quite often he came across bits and pieces of videotape that were of archival interest. He would pass the images on to the net. The really big network databases, with their armies of search engines, indexers, and catalogs, had some very arcane interests. The net machines would never pay for data, because the global information networks were noncommercial. But the net machines were very polite, and had excellent net etiquette. They returned a favor for a favor, and since they were machines with excellent, enormous memories, they never forgot a good deed.

Tsuyoshi and his wife had a lunch of ramen with naruto, and she left to go shopping. A shipment arrived by overseas package service. Cute baby clothes from Darwin, Australia. They were in his wife’s favorite color, sunshine yellow.

Tsuyoshi finished transferring the first tape to a new crystal disk. Time for a break. He left his apartment, took the elevator, and went out to the corner coffee shop. He ordered a double iced mocha cappuccino and paid with a chargecard.

His pokkecon rang. Tsuyoshi took it from his belt and answered it. “Get one to go,” the machine told him.

“Okay,” said Tsuyoshi, and hung up. He bought a second coffee, put a lid on it, and left the shop.

A man in a business suit was sitting on a park bench near the entrance of Tsuyoshi’s building. The man’s suit was good, but it looked as if he’d slept in it. He was holding his head in his hands and rocking gently back and forth. He was unshaven and his eyes were red-rimmed.

The pokkecon rang again. “The coffee’s for him?” Tsuyoshi said.

“Yes,” said the pokkecon. “He needs it.”

Tsuyoshi walked up to the lost businessman. The man
looked up, flinching warily, as if he were about to be kicked. “What is it?” he said.

“Here,” Tsuyoshi said, handing him the cup. “Double iced mocha cappuccino.”

The man opened the cup, and smelled it. He looked up in disbelief. “This is my favorite kind of coffee.… Who are you?”

Tsuyoshi lifted his arm and offered a hand signal, his fingers clenched like a cat’s paw. The man showed no recognition of the gesture. Tsuyoshi shrugged, and smiled. “It doesn’t matter. Sometimes a man really needs a coffee. Now you have a coffee. That’s all.”

“Well.…” The man cautiously sipped his cup, and suddenly smiled. “It’s really great. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome.” Tsuyoshi went home.

His wife arrived from shopping. She had bought new shoes. The pregnancy was making her feet swell. She sat carefully on the couch and sighed.

“Orthopedic shoes are expensive,” she said, looking at the yellow pumps. “I hope you don’t think they look ugly.”

BOOK: A Good Old-Fashioned Future
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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