Bruce Sterling on dieselpunk, alternate history, fascism and the current political moment

In November, Bruce Sterling published "Pirate Utopia," a dieselpunk novella set in the real, historical, bizarre moment in which the city of Fiume became an autonomous region run by artists and revolutionaries, whose philosophies ran the gamut from fascism to anarcho-syndicalism to socialism.

In a new, wide-ranging interview with the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast (MP3), Sterling discusses the historical response to fascism, and the current political moment with the rising tide of ultra-right populist/authoritarian political movements.

Bruce Sterling on the allure of fascism:

"If you're under fascist occupation, there's very little question that you're suffering a lot and that they're really bad. Even though they'll propagandize you and so forth, their contempt for you—their racial contempt for you and their cultural contempt for you—is so overwhelming that you never believe that. But if you're inside the fascist tent, it's all about patriotism, and the allure of self-sacrifice, and how we're bringing civilization to other people, and we're resolving age-old conflicts in our own society by uniting around our great leader, the Duce or the Führer, and it's actually exciting, it's thrilling. You go out into the square and there's like a hundred thousand people all around you, they're shouting for the same thing, they're making the same arm gestures. There's tremendous light shows, fantastic music. The women are excited, even the five-year-old child thinks it's great, your grandparents are overwhelmed by the pageantry. You really feel like your civilization has gotten up on its feet and achieved something fantastic."

Bruce Sterling on dystopias:

"The idea of dystopia paying the bills is a super-alien idea for a guy who grew up reading commercial sci-fi in the 1960s and 1970s, because if you wrote a dystopia in that period you had to really go beat the knuckles of Ace Books or Ballantine Books or the other major sci-fi publishers of the period to get them to print a book with a downbeat ending. It's just not something you would do at all. But dystopia actually sells pretty well now, though it doesn't sell anywhere near as well as just complete fantasy. Teenage vampire books or Harry Potter books or Game of Thrones or epic, game-able fantasies are what really sell. [Dystopias] sell kind of OK, but they're not the major imaginative sub-genre of our era. But I think Chris [Brown] is right in that optimism sells even less. I mean if you try to write a sci-fi anthology or something which says, 'Boy, it's 2017 and things are going great, let's lift our chin up.' There's just such an obvious phoniness about that whole idea, nobody believes it."

Here's What Sci-Fi Can Teach Us About Fascism [Geek's Guide to the Galaxy]

(via Beyond the Beyond)