the Light While
Playing in the Dark
an interview with Mondo 2000ís Editor-in-Chief, R. U. Sirius...
A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to a magazine which
was unlike any Iíd seen. It was a luscious maze of computer-generated images
and fonts, and had ads for items like the Cranial Electro-Stimulation Device and
contained interviews with special-effects wizards, radical feminist writers,
intellectual rock musicians, and fringe scientists.
There was a conversation between William S. Burroughs and Timothy Leary,
a guide to life-extending vitamins, reviews of computer hardware and software,
news about Virtual Reality breakthroughs,
a fashion spread on fractal patterned mini-skirts, and a lot more. It seemed as if
some benign god of technology had created a fold in time that allowed the
youth of the 60ís counter-culture to mate with the cyberbrats of the Information Age,
and this magazine was their Bible. The magazine was called Mondo 2000,
and it also featured a hysterical editorial by someone named, R. U. Sirius.
Mondo 2000 is San Franciscan in origin and spirit and it is quickly
becoming the international forum for an alternative computer culture.
Mondoís Editor-in-Chief R. U. Sirius, its ďDomineditrixĒ Queen Mu, along with
physicist/writer Rudy Rucker have just published a book, Mondo 2000 A
Userís Guide to the New Edge (Harper Perennial). The book presents the magazineís
greatest hits which have been updated, indexed, and annotated in such a clever way
that even the densest, computer-illiterate, slow-time dweeb can glide through
its corridors and come out a hyper-informed explorer of life on the New Edge.
I met R. U. Sirius at the Limelight club in New York City where he was
promoting and celebrating the release of the book.
Dike Blair: Could you brief me on your magazines that preceded and evolved into
Mondo 2000. I couldnít find any back issues of High Frontiers or Reality
R. U. Sirius: Well, High Frontiers printed approximately 4 issues over 5 years,
beginning in 1984. It was printed on the cheapest possible news print and was
a psychedelic-oriented magazine with long, unedited conversations with people
like Terence McKenna, Tim Leary, Andrew Weil, Albert Hofmanóthe inventor of
LSD, and it went on from there. Science, technology, and all that edge stuff was
a background phenomena at that point, so we reversed field and engaged the
cyborgization of humanity, what the street culture that evolves around that is, as
well as covering the intellectual influences and cultural theory that went with it. All
that stuff came together into a rich stew.
Gibsonís Neuromancer came out in 1984, was this a big influence?
I was behind the curve on cyberpunk/Science Fiction stuff. Like a lot of people in
the psychedelic community, I was turned on to it by Leary. What really blew me
out was Mirror Shades and Bruce Sterlingís introduction to Mirror Shades. Like
a lot of people who read it, I said ďmy God, thatís it!Ē Thatís not ďit,Ē Science
Fictionóthatís ďit,Ē what weíre into, whatís worth exploring, what we want to write
about, what we want the magazine to be about. So this was the transition when
High Frontiers became Reality Hackers. Basically, Reality Hackers was a
much nerdier attempt than Mondo 2000. With Mondo 2000 we put in the funk,
the humor, the snap, and the pop culture that turned it into an explosive
I take it you would have no problem seeing Mondo 2000 evolve into another
Well, Mondo 2000 has an expiration date. Eventually its gotta be something
You mix the sophisticated with the inane. An esoteric interview with a physicist
runs next to a fleshy photo spread featuring thermo-responsive, cybernetic
jewelry. Is this to reach a broader audience, to be more entertaining, or is there
Well, fashion in general is kind of inane. Itís very hard to find people in the
fashion area who are doing anything that directly relates to what weíre doing.
But youíre insistent on including it.
Yeah, well itís basically for the photo ops. It's for the visual material. It has to be
a beautifully done magazine. Itís a good excuse to get sexy people in the
magazine. I often wish it we had more of that actually.
I try to push this at Purple Prose
Yeah, I was hoping it was a porno magazine.
You do a lot of reportage on Hacking and Cracking, but you donít publish or
advocate anything illegal.
Well, itís not 2600 (a magazine dedicated to freedom of information, with the
emphasis on ďfreeĒ). We donít advocate anything. Itís not really a medium for
advocacy, itís a presentation, really. I donít really see it as journalism, I see it
more as performance art. Itís sort of a conceptual presence. If you consider
what sort of culture weíve interacted with most frequently over the last few years,
it is computer culture. Most of my time over the last 3 or 4 years, has been spent
going to computer conventions and listening to talks on really dry stuff Ė you
know, people talking about their processors and programing. This is such a
powerful culture, and I think that Mondo has been a major subversive influence
within it. The economic structure of the entire Western World, as it now exists,
has been designed by people who we would have called ďfreaksĒ back in the
1960ís, so that subversive element was there all along. It was just so
submerged, and business certainly wasnít going to bring it out, so it had to be
brought out through the media. We led that into the light, and I think that is a
One of the biggest criticisms of your magazine, and I would note that you relish
printing otherís rabid critiques in the magazine, is its consumerist quality. One of
your readers asked, ďwhy do exploration and analyses of new types of
consciousness and cyber realities have to be so expensive and accompanied by
so many toys for the wealthy?Ē
It doesnít have to be. Thereís no attempt in Mondo to say that you must do this,
or you must have this product. On one level, for whatever liberation Mondo
offers, the price is $5.95. Itís like going to a high-tech film that shows these
people playing with neat toys. Nobody says that itís necessary for them to
acquire these things in order to get something from the film. Itís interesting that
people hold us to a higher standard than ... than I do! I was very interested in a
review on us in The Face. They took us to task for the consumerist aspect of the
magazine. What they didnít mention was that they were quoting from paid
advertising. Well, I started going through The Faceóhere are cigarette ads,
here are beer ads Ė and I think there was even something on the military. I
wouldnít say The Face is about cigarettes, beer, and the military. I deny that our
magazine is about what people pay us to rent space.
Do you reject any ads?
Queen Mu rejects ads on aesthetic grounds and she wonít accept tobacco
products. People have to submit advertising as if it were a work of art.
Mondo 2000 is a visual feast. Who is your Art Director?
Bart Nagel. Heís really good and gets better with every issue. He did the book
(Mondo 2000 Users Guide). It really explodes, visually.
Itís extremely readable and user-friendly.
One of the purposes of the book was to think about the average literate person
out there who doesnít know squat about this cultural phenomena, or technology,
and write the book for them. We did that, but never-the-less, I just did a radio
interview in Boston and this woman said, ďthis is so bizarre, nobody can
understand where this is coming from.Ē Well itís like noun-verb-adjective-whole
sentences, with terms defined on the side of the page, historical data,
informationóall you have to do is think. Generally itís not a question of whether
itís understandable or not, itís a question of whether it intersects with something
people have seen previously.
It seems that Mondo could only have happened in California or, more specifically,
the Bay Area. Rudy Rucker describes Californians as having the naive belief
that (a) There Is a Better Way, and (b) I Can Do It Myself.
I read a book named, The Intelligence Agents by Timothy Leary which basically
said that anyone living east of the Rockies is brain dead. So I took that as a
challenge and moved to California. Leary was talking about Ralph Abraham and
his Gaia theory and observed that in California any weird idea will find something
to bind to. That was what happened to me, there were other molecules for me to
bind my vision to.
Is there a stronger urge to synthesize there?
Itís a younger place, itís just new. Itís the youngest place in the world.
It may be young, but I notice that your magazine and some of the cyber writers,
are recently quite attracted to the prehistorical.
It seems that what we have is sort of an attempt to bring everything into the
present. Itís, like, suck everything, all information, all history, all human
experience into a particular point in time.
Among other things, Purple Prose is an art magazine so Iíd like you to address
computer art. As much as Iíd like to, I have yet to see any computer art that
affects me as much as, say, a Joseph Cornell box, or a Gerhard Richter painting.
Have you ever been to a SRL (Survival Research Laboratories) show?
No. Iíve seen the tapes but I guess thatís not quite the same.
Gosh, itís not the experience at all. Itís almost completely unrelated.
I think computer art sucks for the most part. Itís a new area. Conceptually itís
very interesting to be able to take your visions and your most perverse fantasies
and put them directly into the eye stalks of your virtual friend or enemy. I donít
know that this has anything to do with art, itís more like post-art. We may be past
art and into an ongoing metalogue among all human beings. I can relate to what
youíre saying in the sense that as much as I like modern techno music, I donít
find anything that touches my soul as much as Exile on Main Street or Blonde
Thereís a loose theme to this issue of Purple Prose, ďTo Dream.Ē Iím curious
about your good and bad dreams as they apply to Mondo 2000, the culture,
cybernetics, you name it.
Um, to dream. Iím looking forward to dreaming tonight, Iíve slept about 3 hours a
night for the last week. The good dream for me and Mondo is overcoming the
limits of biology without necessarily leaving sensuality or sexuality behindó
cyborging human beings to make us less vulnerable. I learned in philosophy
class that there was this inevitable downside to hedonism- there was a payback.
I think that maybe technology is really an attempt to have the pleasure and not
have it be a zero-sum game. Thatís the upbeat part of it. The downbeat part of it
is around us all the time. Itís just exploding insides, human beings being
psychologically raped and replaced by power-driven, hard-edged technology.
The world of Neuromancer is pretty much what we haveóa mega-multinational
dominated place where individuals and tribes have been exploded. Thatís the
nightmare, but itís also kind of a fun nightmare. At a talk in Minnesota somebody
asked meďwhereís the joy in these dark visions?Ē I was feeling very joyful at the
time and said, ďsometimes itís fun to play in the dark.Ē Thatís part of the