Hackers, p.1

Hackers, page 1



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  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  Copyright © 2013 by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.

  First printing: October 1996

  Cover art by Sharmen Liao.

  ISBN: 0-441-00375-3

  eISBN: 978-1-62579-147-4

  Acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following material:

  "Burning Chrome," by William Gibson. Copyright © 1982 by Omni Publications International, Ltd. First published in Omni, July 1982. Reprinted by permission of the author and the author's agent, Martha Millard.

  "Spirit of the Night," by Tom Maddox. Copyright © 1987 by Davis Publications, Inc. First published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, September 1987. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Blood Sisters," by Greg Egan. Copyright © 1991 by Interzone. First published in Interzone 44, February 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Rock On," by Pat Cadigan. Copyright © 1984 by Pat Cadigan. First published in Light Years and Dark, (Berkley). Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "The Pardoner's Tale," by Robert Silverberg. Copyright © 1987 by Playboy. First published in Playboy, June 1987. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Living Will," by Alexander Jablokov. Copyright © 1991 by Davis Publications, Inc. First published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, June 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Dogfight," by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson. Copyright © 1985 by Omni Publications International, Ltd. First published in Omni, July 1985. Reprinted by permission of the authors and the authors' agent, Martha Millard.

  "Our Neural Chernobyl," by Bruce Sterling. Copyright © 1988 by Mercury Press, Inc. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1988. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "(Learning About) Machine Sex," by Candas Jane Dorsey. Copyright © 1988 by Candas Jane Dorsey. First published in Machine Sex and Other Stories. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Conversations with Michael," by Daniel Marcus. Copyright © 1994 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Magazines. First published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, December 1994. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Gene Wars," by Paul J. McAuley. Copyright © 1991 by Paul J. McAuley. First published in Interzone 48, June 1991. Reprinted by permission of author.

  "Spew," by Neal Stephenson. Copyright © 1994 by Neal Stephenson. First published in Wired, October 1994. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  "Tangents," by Greg Bear. Copyright © 1986 by Omni Publications International, Ltd. First published in Omni, January 1986. Reprinted by permission of the author.


  The editors would like to thank the following people for their help and support:

  Susan Casper, who helped with the computer stuff; Janeen Webb; Ellen Datlow; Michael Swanwick; David G. Hartwell; Kathrine Cramer; Darrell Schweitzer; Tom Dupree; Martha Millard; Sheila Williams, Scott L. Towner; Sharah Thomas; Merilee Heifetz; and special thanks to our own editors, Susan Allison and Ginjer Buchanan.


  No one knows exactly when the term "hacker" came into the language, although it was certainly being used in small elite circles of what would eventually become the computer industry as far back as the mid-sixties. Even twenty years ago, few people outside of that fledgling computer industry would have known what you were referring to if you talked of "hackers," and that would have included most avid science fiction fans, and even the majority of science fiction writers—even many of the so called "hard science" SF writers who pride themselves on staying technologically au courant.

  By the middle of the seventies, a few of us were vaguely familiar with the basic concept of hacking in its most general sense, although mostly what we heard of in those days were "phone phreaks," a specialized form of hacker who pirates telephone service; as long ago as 1967 or 1968, one of your editors can recall someone telling him about a friend who had made a "black box" or "whistler" that enabled him to make long-distance calls without having to pay for them—but, since this was before even the term "phone phreak" had come into common parlance, there was no word to describe someone who engaged in that sort of activity. "Hacker" had yet to surface from the tightly closed ranks of the cognoscenti.

  Today, of course, after the explosive expansion of the computer industry, which has put personal computers into a respectable percentage of all American homes; after the "Cyberpunk" revolution in science fiction, which brought writers such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling to wide attention outside of traditional genre boundaries; after a follow-up flood of books and stories and comics and even songs and tapes and CDs; after big-budget movies such as Sneakers and War Games, cult movies such as Johnny Mnemonic, and even weekly television shows such as Max Headroom, Nowhere Man, Deadly Games and The X-Files, just about everyone knows what a hacker is, at least in the most commonly accepted sense: someone who illicitly intrudes into computer systems by stealth and manipulates those systems to his own ends, for his own purposes.

  Usually, in these scenarios, the hacker is up to no good when he intrudes into those computer systems. Usually, in fact, his goal is to perform an act that is illegal, immoral, or both: to commit a white-collar computer crime (transfer ten million dollars to a personal bank account); to commit an act of espionage, either industrial espionage or the old-fashioned political kind (steal the restricted designs for the new product line, steal the secret plans for the new terror weapon); to commit an act of sabotage or technological terrorism (crash the telephone system or the power grid, make an atomic power plant melt down, cause nuclear-armed missiles to be fired at Someone Somewhere). And so on.

  This is, of course, a somewhat limited conception of a hacker. Although some hackers do commit some of the above acts, mostly computer crime and computer fraud of one sort or another (pirating phone services is still big, as is the stealing of other people's credit card numbers), not all hackers are computer criminals, by any means. Many of today's foremost captains of industry were once scruffy teenage hackers, and many of the people who will one day pioneer new industries or new technologies, or explore as yet unimagined new frontiers of scientific knowledge, are scruffy teenage hackers right now. Nor, as the stories in this anthology will show you, are computers the only thing that can be hacked. In the future, for good and ill, clever hackers will be hacking DNA, viruses, or even the basic nature of humanity itself—indeed, some of them have already started doing so.

  It should also be kept in mind that hackers are not always driven by venal goals such as money or power. Money, in fact, is often the least potent of a hacker's motives, far outweighed by the desire to discover secret knowledge for its own sake, to explore the parameters of technologies that are new enough that no one as yet can be quite sure what can or cannot be done with them, to push the edge of the envelope . . . and then, when a new edge has been established, further out, to push it again. Hackers are experimenters, not content to passively accept a service as a consumer, always wanting to be in active control—which is why you will find no Virtual Reality or computer-sex stories here (for those, you must go to two other Ace anthologies, Isaac Asimov's Cyberdreams and Isaac Asimov's Skin Deep); instead, hackers are always driven to explore, manipulate, meddle, alter, rearrange, improve, upgrade, adapt, and change things around until they better suit their own needs.

  All this, plus the kind of res
tless, impatient, sometimes amoral or egocentric spirit that chafes at any kind of restriction or boundary, the kind of spirit (either "free" or "outlaw," depending on how you look at it) that bristles resentfully at other people's laws, rules, regulations, and expectations, and relentlessly seeks a way to get over or under or around those rules. The something that does not love a wall. In other words, very much the same sort of spirit that drove the people who, for good and ill, opened up the American West, the kind of spirit that produced far-sighted explorers as well as cattle rustlers and horse thieves, brave pioneers as well as scurvy outlaw gangs, and that built the bright new cities of the Plains at the cost of countless thousands of Native American lives.

  Today, poised on the brink of the twenty-first century, society may be about to change again in fundamental ways, and hackers will drive much of that change, for good and ill. Never before has so much power been in the hands of so few, those elite individuals who have the knowledge and the ability to manipulate the very structures that hold society together in this complexly interrelated Information Age. Will they bring the infrastructure of that society crashing in upon itself in flaming ruin, inflicting upon us acts of terrorism on a heretofore unimaginable scale, or will they be the trailblazers who will lead us to a new kind of society, one wherein the individual enjoys more personal freedom—and thus, inevitably, more individual responsibility—than was ever before possible in the history of the human race?

  Only time will tell. Only the future will know—but, in the meantime, you can get a taste of that future, or, rather, a taste of one of the many different futures that could come to pass, simply by turning the page, and reading the stories that await you. . . .


  William Gibson

  Although it has aesthetic antecedents in stories such as Samuel R. Delany's "Time Considered As a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" and James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," the stunning tale that follows may be the first real hacker story ever written, the first to explore some of the darker future possibilities of the then-emergent computer community . . . which makes it all the more ironic that it was written not on a computer, but on a battered old manual typewriter. It's a story that has been imitated hundreds of times since, not only in print science fiction but in comics, movies, and even weekly television shows—none of which takes anything away from the elegance and power of the original. As you shall see, this prototype hacker story is still one of the best ever written. . . .

  Almost unknown only a few years ago, William Gibson won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award in 1985 for his remarkable first novel Neuromancer—a rise to prominence as fiery and meteoric as any in SF history. By the late eighties, the appearance of Neuromancer and its sequels, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, had made him the most talked-about and controversial new SF writer of the decade—one might almost say "writer," leaving out the "SF" part, for Gibson's reputation spread far outside the usual boundaries of the genre, with wildly enthusiastic notices about him and interviews with him appearing in places like Rolling Stone, Spin, and The Village Voice, and with pop-culture figures like Timothy Leary (not someone ordinarily much given to close observation of the SF world) embracing him with open arms. By the beginning of the nineties, even most of his harshest critics had been forced to admit—sometimes grudgingly—that a major new talent had entered the field, the kind of major talent that comes along maybe once or twice in a literary generation. Gibson's short fiction has been collected in Burning Chrome. His most recent books are a novel written in collaboration with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine, and a solo novel, Virtual Light. Born in South Carolina, he now lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife and family.

  It was hot, the night we burned Chrome. Out in the malls and plazas, moths were batting themselves to death against the neon, but in Bobby's loft the only light came from a monitor screen and the green and red LEDs on the face of the matrix simulator. I knew every chip in Bobby's simulator by heart; it looked like your workaday Ono-Sendai VII, the "Cyberspace Seven," but I'd rebuilt it so many times that you'd have had a hard time finding a square millimeter of factory circuitry in all that silicon.

  We waited side by side in front of the simulator console, watching the time display in the screen's lower left corner.

  "Go for it," I said, when it was time, but Bobby was already there, leaning forward to drive the Russian program into its slot with the heel of his hand. He did it with the tight grace of a kid slamming change into an arcade game, sure of winning and ready to pull down a string of free games.

  A silver tide of phosphenes boiled across my field of vision as the matrix began to unfold in my head, a 3-D chessboard, infinite and perfectly transparent. The Russian program seemed to lurch as we entered the grid. If anyone else had been jacked into that part of the matrix, he might have seen a surf of flickering shadow roll out of the little yellow pyramid that represented our computer. The program was a mimetic weapon, designed to absorb local color and present itself as a crash-priority override in whatever context it encountered.

  "Congratulations," I heard Bobby say. "We just became an Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority inspection probe. . . ." That meant we were clearing fiberoptic lines with the cybernetic equivalent of a fire siren, but in the simulation matrix we seemed to rush straight for Chrome's data base. I couldn't see it yet, but I already knew those walls were waiting. Walls of shadow, walls of ice.

  Chrome: her pretty childface smooth as steel, with eyes that would have been at home on the bottom of some deep Atlantic trench, cold gray eyes that lived under terrible pressure. They said she cooked her own cancers for people who crossed her, rococo custom variations that took years to kill you. They said a lot of things about Chrome, none of them at all reassuring.

  So I blotted her out with a picture of Rikki. Rikki kneeling in a shaft of dusty sunlight that slanted into the loft through a grid of steel and glass: her faded camouflage fatigues, her translucent rose sandals, the good line of her bare back as she rummaged through a nylon gear bag. She looks up, and a half-blond curl falls to tickle her nose. Smiling, buttoning an old shirt of Bobby's, frayed khaki cotton drawn across her breasts.

  She smiles.

  "Son of a bitch," said Bobby, "we just told Chrome we're an IRS audit and three Supreme Court subpoenas. . . . Hang on to your ass, Jack. . . ."

  So long, Rikki. Maybe now I see you never.

  And dark, so dark, in the halls of Chrome's ice.

  Bobby was a cowboy, and ice was the nature of his game, ice from ICE, Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics. The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems. Legitimate programmers jack into their employers' sector of the matrix and find themselves surrounded by bright geometries representing the corporate data.

  Towers and fields of it ranged in the colorless nonspace of the simulation matrix, the electronic consensus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive quantities of data. Legitimate programmers never see the walls of ice they work behind, the walls of shadow that screen their operations from others, from industrial-espionage artists and hustlers like Bobby Quine.

  Bobby was a cowboy. Bobby was a cracksman, a burglar, casing mankind's extended electronic nervous system, rustling data and credit in the crowded matrix, monochrome nonspace where the only stars are dense concentrations of information, and high above it all burn corporate galaxies and the cold spiral arms of military systems.

  Bobby was another one of those young-old faces you see drinking in the Gentleman Loser, the chic bar for computer cowboys, rustlers, cybernetic second-story men. We were partners.

  Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack. Bobby's the thin, pale dude with the dark glasses, and Jack's the mean-looking guy with the myoelectric arm. Bobby's software and Jack's hard; Bobby punches console and Jack runs down all the little things that can give you an edge. Or, anyway, that's what the scene watchers in the Gentleman Loser would've
told you, before Bobby decided to burn Chrome. But they also might've told you that Bobby was losing his edge, slowing down. He was twenty-eight, Bobby, and that's old for a console cowboy.

  Both of us were good at what we did but somehow that one big score just wouldn't come down for us. I knew where to go for the right gear, and Bobby had all his licks down pat. He'd sit back with a white terry sweatband across his forehead and whip moves on those keyboards faster than you could follow, punching his way through some of the fanciest ice in the business, but that was when something happened that managed to get him totally wired, and that didn't happen often. Not highly motivated, Bobby, and I was the kind of guy who's happy to have the rent covered and a clean shirt to wear.

  But Bobby had this thing for girls, like they were his private tarot or something, the way he'd get himself moving. We never talked about it, but when it started to look like he was losing his touch that summer, he started to spend more time in the Gentleman Loser. He'd sit at a table by the open doors and watch the crowd slide by, nights when the bugs were at the neon and the air smelled of perfume and fast food. You could see his sunglasses scanning those faces as they passed, and he must have decided that Rikki's was the one he was waiting for, the wild card and the luck changer. The new one.

  I went to New York to check out the market, to see what was available in hot software.

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