Cyberpunk author William Gibson has been writing about technology,
but until now, his books were physically conventional paper and
binding. Now, to borrow a phrase from Buckminster Fuller, his
medium is also his message.
"Agrippa: A Book of the Dead" by William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh,
illustrates the intangible nature of memory as air exposure
cause Agrippa's chemically treated etchings to change and a
Macintosh disk with a story on it to hopelessly encrypt, once read.
On the subject of memory and how it mutates and changes, the focal
point is the story on the disk is William Gibson's father, who
died when he was six. The title of the work is not from King
Agrippa, a figure from Roman history, but instead is the label on
the 1919 family photo album containing photos of Gibson's father.
Agrippa comes in a case that resembles a laptop computer, with book
inside surrounded by copper honey comb-shaped forms and cut-outs in
the inside pages to contain a 3.5-inch floppy disk. The disk
contains Gibson's story which is encrypted a scheme based on an RSA
data encryption. The story can be read by a program which unencrypts
the text on the fly and then self-destructs after one reading,
leaving only the encrypted text on the disk. Once the reading of the
text on the disk is started the story cannot be stopped, copied, or
A representative for the artists, Kevin Begos, told Newsbytes Gibson
expects people to attempt to unencrypt the data or try to capture
the story. Some people have already started on the task of breaking
the encryption scheme and Begos said some are reportedly using the
Touchstone Delta supercomputer at Cal Tech to do so. Others are not
using high tech means to save the story. One poet whom Begos
described as computer illiterate, said he would simply read
the story aloud into a tape recorder.
Agrippa costs $450 for a copy with reproductions of the etchings,
$1,500 for the real etchings by Ashbaugh himself, and a $7,500
edition offers velum binding, drawings by Ashbaugh, a custom box,
and real etchings, Begos said. Only 10 copies of the $7,500 version
are available, Begos added.
No paper form of Agrippa will be available. However, a fiber optic
transmission of the Gibson story is planned for September of this
year to sites worldwide, Begos said. While an IBM and compatible
personal computer (PC) version of Agrippa was planned, Begos said
the preponderance of orders have been for the Macintosh version. "We
just haven't gotten to the PC version yet," Begos added.