Perhaps that same mechanism applies to coolness. Maybe what we're really talking about is novelty. Because a mechanism like Twitter is probably the single most powerful and efficient aggregator of novelty that ever existed. The real function of magazines, for the most part, has been to aggregate novelty, to run around to find a lot of new things, put them in your issue, and get them out ideally before the other magazines notices it—then people buy it, bring it home, and wolf down all this novelty.
Now if you've got your Twitter feed set up right, every day you can get more raw novelty dumped on your desktop than you can get buying an entire magazine store. And it changes every day. What does that mean? One thing it means is that magazines have to find something different to do—you have to find some niche that you can operate in.
If novelty is available wholesale at that level and at that quantity for free to a 15 year-old in Nebraska, what's that going to do to the rest of us? I don't know, but I'm sure the next time I'm writing a novel that's going to be one of the post-it notes on the windshield.
Is this commodification of novelty—that novelty is so available to everyone that novelty, per se, may not be a novelty anymore—behind the more here-and-now setting of your recent novels?
Well, when I started writing in my late 20s, I knew that I was a native of science fiction. It was my native literary culture. But I also knew that I had been to a lot of other places in literature, other than science fiction. When I started working I had the science fiction writer's specialist toolkit. I used it for my version of what it had been issued for. As I used it, though, and as the world around me changed, because of the impact of contemporary technologies, more than anything else, I found myself looking at the toolkit and thinking, you know, these tools are possibly the best tools we have to describe our inherently fantastic present—to describe it and examine it, and take it down and put it back together and get a handle on it. I think without those tools I don't really know what we could do with it.
Whenever I read a contemporary literary novel that describes the world we're living in, I wait for the science fiction tools to come out. Because they have to—the material demands it. Global warming demands it, and the global AIDS epidemic and 9/11 and everything else—all these things that didn't exist 30 years ago require that toolkit to handle. You need science fiction oven mitts to handle the hot casserole that is 2010.
Do you think that there are Hubertus Bigends around somewhere, scanning the world with a heightened perception of these larger trends that interweave marketing and fashion and technology and enormous revenue streams?
I doubt that there are, but I sort of wish there were. The closest thing that might ever have existed, however briefly, was when [Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren was hired by the Polish government to "rebrand Poland". I think the very idea of that having happened was part of the original inspiration for Bigend.