R. U. Sirius & St. Jude interviewed by Jon Lebkowsky
about How to Mutate & Take Over the World

Alt-X: You guys said that 'Mutate' would be, on one level, a manual for subversives. But it reads like M.C. Escher on antacid.

R. U. Sirius: The book encrypts its real message by offending, disgusting and revolting the reader about all of the wrong things. Hopefully, we can generate media controversy over paedophilia, drugs, obscene speech etc. Meanwhile, the basic hackerly ray attitude at the center of the book is stated clearly, rationally, and repeatedly. It's open and yet attention is distracted from it.

St. Jude: Yet the haqr spirit is invoked. It appears! The question; "WHAT ARE ANARCHISTS GOOD FOR?" is answered. Other exciting questions are kicked about mercilessly... like, what will be the strategic effects of re-establishing slavery. How can one join a merely virtual Underground. How to go about enforcing a clampdown on an infinitely springy web. What CONELRAD means. How there are only one or two ways to be correct and millions of ways to be Dada revolutionary.

ALT-X: Hackers will tell you that the net will perceive censorship as damage and route around it. But what about something more sinister, like the seizure of the infrastructure by Armageddon Online. How do you combat that?

SJ: An alternative Internet with guts is a possibility. The book suggests that a problem will generate all possible solutions... subnets that hitch-hack the BigNet, metanets macrameing themselves immanently throughout, (like darning the holes, cute), shunts and chutes and ladders. Or for $10,000, you can get your own satellite uplink now. Connectivity is easy to hack and hard as hell to stop. We ARE everywhere... sing, children: the MBONE connected to th' ankle bone...

RUS: Since I find all this radical optimism hard to believe in, I spend the book getting fucked up. It's a dope opera subplot...

ALT-X: I talked to some Branch Davidian survivors of the Waco Texas fire. They described what there life was really like, as opposed to the media images that demonized them. What might they have done differently? How could they have hacked the media and deconstructed the media agenda?

RUS: If the Branch Davidians were able to break through their OWN fanatical reality tunnel and from there project a sense of humor and self-awareness, they could have created some doubt about the image that was being projected. Unfortunately, the image is largely correct, which doesn't justify the government action but... I like to think that a successful revolutionist in America would be someone(s) who's sense of self-conscious irony was as thick as David Letterman's. Way beyond Abbie Hoffman or SubCommadante Marcos even...

ALT-X: Thirty years ago some of us thought there'd be a revolution, but somehow we really fucked up. Is there a possibility of revolution in the nineties?

RUS: I doubt it.

SJ: I have a dream of the community of nerds discovering themselves as a power... of a real virtual underground making dada revolution, truly. It could happen. it could, given some sort of catastrophic event that makes them go into strategic opposition. And the dance the feds seem to be doing with the Bill Of Rights may precipitate just such an event. I do dream.

ALT-X: How do you hack media subtly, so that the subversion feels non-threatening 'til it does its life-affirming work?

RUS: I'm rather inclined instead to say take all that subtly subversive energy and blatantly politicize it. We're losing our freedom, not tomorrow... TODAY!!! During the Vietnam war era, all of the people who saw through the bullshit stepped up to the plate and talked about it directly.

ALT-X: But we may have a better chance now because subculture and alternative political people aren't hopping from ideology to ideology. I think we're trashing the whole belief/ideology thing and abolishing preconception.

RUS: Everything is dissolving and devolving except for the megacorps, especially the media/tech megacorps. And since they AREN'T dissolving, the dissolution of everything else makes us ripe for total rape. The solution may be in the immortal words of Jimbo Morrison... "get together one more time."

ALT-X: Then again, maybe this is all about fashion. Have you ever notice that revolutions always carry fashion statements in their wake? Wonder what that means? Could we channel Toulouse-Lautrec and ask him? R.U., ever channeled anybody?

RUS: On mushrooms on the harmonic convergence I became the reincarnation of Hitler and Paul McCartney. Lotsa karma to clean up but O MY JUST LOOK AT THE TIME!

ALT-X: The 'celebrity' worm has turned. Phil Zimmermann (the cryptogropher who created the infamous Pretty Good Privacy encryption program) told me that--to his eternal delight and amazement--an exotic dancer at a topless club in S.F. knew who he was because she'd read about him in Mondo 2000. I'll bet there are days now when Phil would prefer to be way anonymous.

SJ: Nah... he's still having fun. I heard about that dancer--lap dancing and talking about key-exchange algorithms. Half-nude encryption groupies! Talkin' trash about prime numbers! It does NOT get any better than that.

ALT-X: Which somehow brings me to the "post-novel" form of Mutate. Care to talk about the methodology for slamming that together?

RUS: Perhaps the most important thing about Mutate being a "post-novel" is the degree to which it's trying to act upon or intervene in the present, no bones about it. The immediacy of it removes it from long term consideration but at the same time, it's not simply an act of journalism or propaganda... or it's a truly awful act of journalism or propaganda. Something else is afoot. I think the intention of the book is worth decoding. But most of the readers and reviewers so far have been lazy. The book has been reviewed as if the endless propagandizing by the anarchist underground was the entire message of the book. The tedium is the message, assholes.

ALT-X: But there is an apparent affinity with the Hunter Thompson gonzo school of accelerated subjective journalism. The drugs are different, but isn't the intent the same?

RUS: Well, Hunter's writing was more muscular and straight ahead despite his getting all twisted up on drugs. We strive more for strange loops, recursions, and twisty Escher-like logic and at the same time more deliberate shock tactics...

ALT-X: You get a sense of a possibilities for interaction from the email formats and the subliminal delivery of a community-context look and feel, which I think results from the way the book was put together (in cyberspace, on an asynchronous but virtually synchronous conferencing system). But so far it's still a book, a one-to-many animal. Have you got a strategy for extending to an interactive context online (or otherwise)?

RUS: There's THE MUTATE PROJECT ( It's a place where something can happen if people want to make it happen. TMP could be a network and could be a database for realizing the title of the book. The database is what's missing from the book. It'll take more time, more money, and more patience than we had. The book is just a timebomb really, with all of the limitations implicit in that. I think that there's a VERY good chance that it will become a network and a database, actually. By the way, one of the things that really depresses and disappoints me about the extropians is that it's NOT a database for personal and social mutation, but primarily a repository for some very dubious ideology. An authentic strategy for revolution is hinted at in the book, although I think the comment that we have up front that a revolution can be simply conceptual and virtual is sort of deceptive. I don't know. Jude will have to speak in favor of that concept actually. I had a character for the book called Hassan I Sirius who was going to provide a model, and something of a guidebook, for actual guerrilla war in America. I backed away from it only because it wasn't working as text. And then, in light of the Oklahoma bombing, I was pretty glad that I did. By the way, I want to get away from--or challenge--the implicit assumption that the breakdown of broadcast to participatory media is the only revolutionary strategy. In fact, we approach a culture where individual, romantic passion is taboo... so I must go there. Different responses are appropriate in different situations, dependent not just on what you think but also on how you feel...

SJ: The idea of a conceptual, virtual revolution is actually pretty scary. The problem with an online anonymous revolution-- "just raise your left hand and swear yourself in-- there! you're a member in good standing"-- is not that it wouldn't work, but that it would. Crazoid powerless teeners could bring down this and that to count coup on a system that denies them. Psycho programmers driven over the edge by years of slavery to Merrill Lynch's accountancy department could wreak horrible chaos o n international finance... endless bloody damage and universal unaccountability. Whooooooo.

RUS: What Jude is implying is what really attracted Mondo 2000 to cyberpunk. It was Michael Synergy's rap about what a few sharp-eyed hackers could do to the system. And that was at the center of the magazine, even though most morons got sidetracked by the window dressing. Anyway, ours was really a visceral response that begs the question of what happens next. I like the notion, in Mutate, of the television pirates who create intrusions that are so fucking entertaining that they're popular. That--to me--is the challenge.

The Write Stuff