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The Hacker Crackdown, law and disorder on the elec

The Futurians didn't have bulletin board systems


I'd

known Steve Jackson for many years. We knew one another as colleagues, for we frequented the same local science-fiction conventions. I'd played Jackson games, and recognized his cleverness; but he certainly had never struck me as a potential mastermind of computer crime.

I also knew a little about computer bulletin-board systems. In the mid-1980s I had taken an active role in an Austin board called "SMOF-BBS," one of the first boards dedicated to science fiction. I had a modem, and on occasion I'd logged on to Illuminati, which always looked entertainly wacky, but certainly harmless enough.

At the time of the Jackson seizure, I had no experience whatsoever with underground boards. But I knew that no one on Illuminati talked about breaking into systems illegally, or about robbing phone companies. Illuminati didn't even offer pirated computer games. Steve Jackson, like many creative artists, was markedly touchy about theft of intellectual property.

It seemed to me that Jackson was either seriously suspected of some crime--in which case, he would be charged soon, and would have his day in court--or else he was innocent, in which case the Secret Service would quickly return his equipment, and everyone would have a good laugh. I rather expected the good laugh. The situation was not without its comic side. The raid, known as the "Cyberpunk Bust" in the science fiction community,

was winning a great deal of free national publicity both for Jackson himself and the "cyberpunk" science fiction writers generally.

Besides, science fiction people are used to being misinterpreted. Science fiction is a colorful, disreputable, slipshod occupation, full of unlikely oddballs, which, of course, is why we like it. Weirdness can be an occupational hazard in our field. People who wear Halloween costumes are sometimes mistaken for monsters.

Once upon a time--back in 1939, in New York City--science fiction and the U.S. Secret Service collided in a comic case of mistaken identity. This weird incident involved a literary group quite famous in science fiction, known as "the Futurians," whose membership included such future genre greats as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, and Damon Knight. The Futurians were every bit as offbeat and wacky as any of their spiritual descendants, including the cyberpunks, and were given to communal living, spontaneous group renditions of light opera, and midnight fencing exhibitions on the lawn. The Futurians didn't have bulletin board systems, but they did have the technological equivalent in 1939--mimeographs and a private printing press. These were in steady use, producing a stream of science-fiction fan magazines, literary manifestos, and weird articles, which were picked up in ink-sticky bundles by a succession of strange, gangly, spotty young men in fedoras and overcoats.


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