Swancon 17 – November report – Dreamers in the Net (Part 2)

Pages 20-21 of this progress report have to do with one of the Cyberpunk RPGs being run at the convention – Dreamers in the Net. Page 21 contains the advert with the title Dreamers in the Net in very big letters and then the tagline was “In Cyberspace, Everyone can hear you Dream. It is apparently a FANTASY ROLEPLAYING ADVENTURE for a group of five players of ALL LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE using a SYSTEMLESS RPG ORGANISATION incorporating elements of CYBERPUNK II. To be run during PARSEC, written by Stefan Brazil with ideas from the PARSEC committee. The preceding page has the second of a faux newspaper article, the first having been produced in the July progress report, giving background to the adventure.

The Urban Outback by Gerry Cornell

Part 2: Virtually Alone.
This asphalt desert recedes towards an infinitely distant horizon. The sky is a deep purple, heavy with ominously black banks of cloud, and the quality of its crimson light is almost carnal. Tendrils of actinic white flicker down to kiss the ground far, far away, and each brief flash raises a puff of fluorescent violet that, at this huge distance, could be the passing of a mountain. Before us is the “piece”. My companion, never quite satisfied with his art, hovers at its four metre peak, sharpening the emerald spines with a fingertip. I am uncharacteristically awed. Worldly sophistication fails me in the presence of this object d’impossible. I know it is not alive, but its writhing is primally disturbing. The child-like faces that peer out from amongst the twisted steel girders, distorted street-signs, neon advertising and twisting ropes of slick, grey-green flesh are blank, dull-eyed, uncomprehending. I know its name because it whispers it over and over in the weirdly echoing silence of this place, its voice saying nightmare and city and anger and pain in a rugged undercurrent of sibilants just at the edge of sound. Its name is its message and its ultimate pathos. Its name is “Home”.

Gabrielle Julian Robinson is a naïve artist. His work, while lavishly presented and poignantly emotive, is quite often cliched and overdone. He constantly refers to his roots in the pre-Closure US Urban tribalism of the late 1980s, with its youth art of graffito, its “bombing”, rap music and linguistic exclusivity. Yet it’s a false affinity, for their world and his are far apart, and in my conversations with this strangely talented and strangely lost young man, I came to feel he beautifully illustrated, far more in what he was than in what he produced, much that is wrong with our society of today.

Gabrielle works four hours a night in his elder sister’s Coffee-Sushi Bar, sweeping floors, cleaning tables, finding taxis for the drunks. In his room, amongst the paraphernalia of inner-city youth of thirty years ago and half the Earth away, are a Kaeida Scope™ virtual visualisation system with its pre-beta copy of Autodesk Japan’s incredible Nu-Reality II real-world modeling package with professionally customized Materials Palette, four SonyZai VR suits, an NEC Hyperlink® ultra-high speed, satellite-based Net-portal, and an experimental holo-store subsystem which can hold a billion of his worlds within its palm-sized case. These items carry a street value of over six hundred and twenty thousand yen. Gabrielle earns less than A¥35 a night, on average. Who pays?

Coming out of the world of “Home”, Gabrielle and I share a Coke and a chat while he reads the Net. Casually, as though it were something he might do every afternoon, he shows me a hack-line via Greece that penetrates the Desert Wall. I watch a cable-TV broadcast in what was once Syria, read some electronic mail from the offices of a textile trader in North Africa to a colleague in Baghdad, and catch a snippet of Arabic news about riots in Old Cairo. Suddenly we are speaking with a Wandering Jew – a woman who calls herself Rachel Bein – but she’s far too cautious to say much about the present-day fate of her former country folk, and I learn nothing new. Gabrielle boasts that he has cut TAPE to a secret Old South African system in Azania and seen documentation relating to a CRS-like virus being developed in the late 1990s as a bioweapon in the Inter-Racial war, but it’s quite possible he’s merely recounting something he’s read in the speculative press. The world flashes by on his giant wall-panel and I am drunk with it.

The truth of the matter is that Gabrielle and hundreds like him are part of the great technological mousecage Australia. They are experimental animals; cheap R&D tools for the huge Japanese and Taiwanese TechnoCorps. This last year, Gabrielle has lost two friends to VR and Net accidents. Three more have suffered significant damage to their vision or hearing. Another is in hospital in a deep coma and Gabrielle himself suffers pre-Parkinsonian symptoms as a result of an experimental cortical-tap that simply didn’t work. Yet he will not stop; he’s got nothing else to live for.

We often ask the question: Would we be better without Japan and without the huge inrush of Hong Kong money at the end of last century? Would we be better if America still existed as we new her, or if Fortress Europe cared? The answer isn’t clear, but I can’t say I think so. It’s been said that failure to shift our economy into the post-industrial world did this to us. It’s been claimed we sold what we had and never made what we could have. It’s been charged that we were lazy, that we were over governed, that we were ripe for the plucking. I look at Gabrielle and others like him, and I think I see the truth. We were simply alone; self-interested and unwilling to involve ourselves with the world. And now we’ve lost our chance. Our euro-Australian middle class is generally unemployed, unemployable, unhappy and ignored in their inner-city housing units. Our youth are aimless, barely able to raise a cry of protest, so deep is their despondency. We are a colony that’s no longer even a nice place to visit, and we’ve got to live here. This is our Home.

16 – The Cityscape Dec 10 2019

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