ESCAPE VELOCITY: Cyberculture at the End of the Century by Mark Dery

ESCAPE VELOCITY: Cyberculture at the End of the Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dery has critiqued various aspects of the emerging""cyberculture"" for magazines such as Rolling Stone, Wired, and Omni, and here he deepens and expands his ideas into a provocative analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of the wired revolution. Dery structures the book as a series of profiles of various ""computer-age subcultures"": junkyard roboticists, ""technopagans,"" cyberpunk musicians, body artists, and others who partake in one way or another of the technological apparatus of the digital era. Along the way he brings to bear an impressive (and sometimes almost too broad) range of sources; in one early paragraph he segues from computer theorist Hans Moravec to science fiction writer Vernor Vinge to Superman, from the Christian evolutionist Teilhard de Chardin to Timothy Leafy to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Though at times Dery's sweeping scope leaves some subtopics (such as virtual sex) underexplored, on the whole he presents a convincing overview of a coherent pancultural phenomenon. And he doesn't stop at describing the current face of cyberculture, he dissects it, focusing primarily on what he calls ""the rhetoric of escape velocity""--a tendency among many cyber-enthusiasts to frame their notions in millennial terms, full of body loathing and the dream of digital transcendence. This rhetoric, says Dery, ""seduces us with its promise of a deliverance from human history and mortality,"" encouraging its believers to ignore ""the palpable facts of economic inequity and environmental depredation"" in the real world. He looks with favor on grassroots efforts to ""retrofit"" digital technology to other purposes, using it to elucidate those real-world troubles rather than to escape them. Supported by the words of the cyber-cultists themselves, Dery's critique--neither knee-jerk Luddite nor cyber-starry-eyed--constitutes a vital examination of the values behind much of the ""cyberbole"" that increasingly clogs the cultural airwaves.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 080213520X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Grove