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New Deal

Cyberpunk visionary Richard K. Morgan takes on the future

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In its ongoing quest for the ultimate postfilm conversation, Talking Pictures takes interesting people to interesting movies.

Technology sucks. Thanks to Fandango.com--the newfangled Internet service that allows people to purchase their movie tickets from home--I am now officially screwed. Though I have arrived at Sony's Metreon theater in San Francisco a full two hours early, naively planning to acquire tickets for the futuristic Jim Carrey film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I find that they are all sold-out. Sold-out! Every last ticket has been snapped up by obsessive web surfers. This for a late night screening on a Monday evening, no less. By the time I am joined by my guest, Glasgow-based cyberpunk author Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon), several other films have also sold out, though I've glimpsed less than two dozen people actually walking up to buy tickets.

"Ah, it's the curse of technology, isn't it?" remarks Morgan bemusedly. After a short discussion in which we come frighteningly close to grabbing tickets for Dawn of the Dead, Morgan--whose relentless new book, Broken Angels, continues the bloody adventures of body-swapping 25th-century badass Takeshi Kovacs--confesses a sudden, intense desire for a hamburger. Ten minutes later, we are seated in a fake '60s diner, looking at posters from American Graffiti, eating cheeseburgers and apple pie.

Morgan mentions the upcoming big-screen incarnation of his book, the rights having been snapped up by Joel Silver.

"I've seen an early draft," Morgan says with a shrug. "They've given Kovacs a daughter, to humanize him. They've taken this scary, heartless mercenary and given him the disfiguring scar of morality." Even so, Morgan is looking forward to seeing how modern special effects will re-create the brutal, pitiless world he's imagined for the year 2550. Citing Ridley Scott's Blade Runner as an example of a science fiction film that still holds up after time, Morgan explains what he sees as the major problem with futuristic films and books.

"The thing about Blade Runner," he says, "it was made 22 years ago, but it still looks like the future. That's no mean achievement. I can't think of any other science-fiction movie, with the possible exception of Alien, that still looks like the future. Every old science-fiction film about the future--and many of the books--seem horribly, horribly outdated now. There's a shot of a computer and you think, 'Aw man, I have something more sophisticated than that on my desk at home.' In Blade Runner, you watch it today and it still looks like the possible near future.

"The great thing about writing novels set 500 years in the future," he continues, "is that by the time I'm proved wrong, I'll be dead. I'll be spared all those embarrassing questions on whatever passes for talk shows in the future."

"Unless they've downloaded your consciousness and jack you into a new body just so you can face the humiliation," I reply.

"That sounds about right," he agrees. "Keep people alive just so we can laugh at them in the future."

"Which do you think is easier to imagine," I ask, "a future that's dark and dangerous and murderous but hard to believe in, or the kind of future we were promised at Walt Disney's Tomorrowland, where technology is only used to make life better? It's impossible to imagine that today. What we imagine now is something out of Mad Max."

"To be honest, I think you could sell that in Disneyland quite successfully," Morgan laughs. "A dystopian Tomorrowland, with attractions in which you're equipped with sawed-off shot guns, sent out on a ride of some kind where you blast dangerous people as they come along. We could do that. What you can't do anymore is give people a vision of a wholesome future. And in a sense, I think that's our failing.

"We do tend to imagine the worst, don't we?" he continues. "I know I do. In the future, I think it will be much the same, only with different furniture. Society only works as well as human beings behave themselves. In the end, technology won't have much to do with how utopian or how dystopian our societies are. It will depend on whether we've grown up or not."

"I just hope that in the future we've found a way to avoid missing movies," I reply.

"I think we already have," Morgan says. "I think it's called Fandango.com."

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From the April 7-14, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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