Pirate Utopia

Book by Bruce Sterling ISBN:1616962364. (For Peter Lamborn Wilson book, see Pirate Utopias.)


cf Futurism

Novel with good intros, post-interviews, etc.

About a real place: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Regency_of_Carnaro


Intro by Warren Ellis

Like the author of the marvelous little book you’re about to read, I work in the future. But, being British, I also work in the past,

Pirate utopias are a fiction, a social speculation spun out of stories of secret supply-base islands and anarchist colonies. The most famous, the fabled Libertatia of the 1600s, was probably invented pseudonymously by Daniel Defoe, downriver in London. And Defoe wasn’t even his real last name. Fictions upon fictions upon fictions. You may detect early on that more than one story is being told here.

Futurism, the movement, cofounded by F. T. Marinetti, was also, in its way, a story about blasting away the past and riding mad technology into fortune.

The Russians wouldn’t even let Marinetti talk when he came to put Moscow in motion—Cosmism was already murkily coursing around the country’s veins, a strongly nationalist futurism of their own that put the homeland at the centre of a tomorrow devoted to bringing its sons and fathers back from death itself.

The Cosmist dream has yet to come true. The Futurist dream did.

It’s always tempting to see mad times as a pivot point, around which ground lay the seeds of our own future. And this time is no different, set as it is on the streets of a pirate bay.


The Regency of Carnaro

The United States

Secondari’s Futurist fervor profoundly inspired the factory girls. Liberated by this swift change in their circumstances, they became eager factory pirates.

With this money in her hands, Frau Piffer transformed her dull, brick war-factory into a vibrant stronghold of Futurist feminism.

Since Fiume was an Italo-Balkan port city, the people of Fiume spoke an entire Babel of tongues. Unfortunately, the Great War had smashed Secondari’s right ear. Even when the Fiumans spoke good Italian, Secondari was hard-put to hear them. He entirely failed to understand their Serbo-Croatian speech. Their Hungarian was a profound mystery to him. The rich people of Fiume spoke some French, but Secondari hated the arrogant rich, and didn’t much like the French, either. The English language was well known in Fiume’s banking and shipping circles. Secondari could speak and write English rather well. However, the Great War had deafened him. Civilian life would always be a conspiracy to him.

Lorenzo Secondari was not an inventor. He lacked the creative skills for that. Instead, he was what he most wanted to be: a free pirate. Given the stolen plans, he had no doubt that he could successfully build flying radio torpedoes. Anyone who doubted his capacities deserved a hard lesson.

The second reel featured “Tarzan.” Tarzan was the American version of a Nietzschean Overman. Tarzan was a superhuman anarchist, but since he lived in a jungle, he did not have to smash the State.

The doctor had restored the soul to Secondari’s still-warm corpse.

Angry scenes ensued—especially with his older brother. Secondari’s older brother had never joined the Royal Army, being much too busy running the family enterprise of arms dealing.

He could not stay in a city that would shelter such a man. He would have to find a holocaust city, a place fit for himself.

When Austria-Hungary shattered to bits, the large Italian faction of the population naturally expected to become part of Italy. The League of Nations had frustrated this natural hope. Instead, the peacemakers callously donated Fiume to the new, unheard-of Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The city’s cry of pain was heard. Saviors arrived in a convoy of stolen Italian military trucks. On September 12, 1919—a date as important as that of any great battle of the Great War—the Italian rebels had “deserted forward into the Future,” and invaded Fiume.

The Prophet, the Seven of Ronchi, and the Ace of Hearts. These uniformed Futurist Overmen were the avant-garde of the Twentieth Century.

Lorenzo Secondari had limped and wobbled into Fiume about a month later.

The “Desperates” were the wretched and the lost.

The Prophet had saved Secondari because the Prophet tenderly cherished every Desperate who joined his cause.

Aware that Secondari could not properly hear his words of wisdom, the Prophet had written Secondari a personal letter.

the Prophet had also sent Secondari the gift of a personal diary.

Revolutionary Fiume thronged with literary men-at-arms. Writers, first and foremost, had answered the clarion call of the great warrior-poet. Before the Future could exist, the Future had to be written into being.

entries, he knew that he was not a writer. He was an engineer.

He had become the pirate engineer among the pirate writers.

The Ace of Hearts was a Milanese aristocrat, and also a combat air ace.

With a fleet of fast, piratical speedboats equipped with working torpedoes, the tiny Regency of Carnaro could hold the whole Adriatic hostage. After all, during the Great War, German U-boats with torpedoes had done precisely the same thing to the Atlantic Ocean.

These sailors wore brand-new Regency of Carnaro uniforms—blue, white, and very angular, like costumes for aquatic harlequins.

Frau Piffer had also brought her child to witness the glorious event: little Maria Piffer,

Maria Piffer was a true native child of the Twentieth Century. Maria was entirely at her ease inside a weapons factory. Being seven years old, Maria Piffer hated schools. She despised and feared churches.

“A man with your skill and commitment is far too valuable for that! You’re my pirate engineer, you’re my best military asset! I can’t throw a man like you away for the sake of killing five fat civilian idiots in this little town! A man with your ability should be building amazing Futurist weapons, fit to terrify the whole world!”

Give me command over every other industrial factory in this city. I want control of the tobacco factory, the paper factory, the shipyards, and the oil refinery, too. I’ll Syndicalize every one of them.

Frau Piffer is not my mistress! I don’t need a woman, I have no time for one. I only have time for the Future.” The Ace of Hearts raised his hairy brows.“Are you truly that dogmatic? Are you a monk? Our Fiume Revolution is a Revolution of Love! Our Revolution is a great world rebellion about Youth, Love, and Music.

“No woman is a technical solution, that’s why! I’m a pirate engineer! I don’t want a girlfriend, I want a revolution in popular mechanics!

Ulivi had discovered a new form of radiation, the “F-Ray.”

The sudden appearance of Giulio Ulivi was like the first flower in spring. In the future, there would be many bright young men, just like Ulivi, arriving in Carnaro. The Regency of Carnaro was growing powerful, and there would be consequences in this. He, Secondari, would have to organize these eager men, and set them into the course of useful work, and become their patron. He would have to be, not just a pirate engineer, but the boss of pirate engineers.

Alone, in the golden lamplight, with only the pure, strange music of his damaged ears for company.

“Secret news has just arrived, of vital importance,” said the Ace of Hearts. “Some news is good, while some is bad. Which intelligence would you like to learn first?”

The American government is now being run through Wilson’s aide-de-camp. Colonel House is his name. Wilson’s equerry is a Texan gentleman, he’s an Army cavalier. A fighting man, like us.”

we have received a secret reply from Colonel House. House wants to negotiate with us.”

The world of the League of Nations is doomed,” said the Ace of Hearts. “Without President Wilson to push his crazy scheme, his own Congress won’t vote for the League of Nations!

“That old man, who is our Prophet,” said the Ace of Hearts, “wants us to march to Zagreb at once, to destroy Yugoslavia.

“The Prophet plans to use Italian arms. In order to conquer the Balkans, from here in Fiume, we’ll have to march on Rome first.

“Oh, stop talking such balls! That’s an epic poem! That’s not a military strategy!

Secondari deeply respected, and even loved, the Ace of Hearts. He had often tried—and failed—to emulate the Ace’s paradoxical mix of cool, sporting indolence with ruthless revolutionary fervor. Even a Nietzschean Overman could never possess such Milanese suavity as the Ace of Hearts.

Secondari had to bid a farewell to his beloved Torpedo Factory. State politics required him to move into the Hotel Europa, the den of the Carnaro elite. Secondari soon discovered that the Hotel Europa was a seething Futurist orgy.

Prophet’s harem in Fiume was quite small and efficient. He had only five women available.

Taking their cue from these habits of their supremo, the soldiers of Carnaro freed themselves from the strictures of pre-war propriety. They were love warriors and love revolutionaries: nudists, kama-yogis, and homosexuals.

Secondari came to understand the doctrines of Constitutional Anarcho-Syndicalism. Under Anarcho-Syndicalism, financial ownership was banned by state decree. Private property could only be owned by syndicates of laborers. In short, Syndicalism meant taking everything from the rich, and giving everything to the technocrats and their work-forces.

his new task as a government official was to steal the country from the legal control of the rich, and give it to the labor force.

seen very starkly, just as a realpolitik political machine—the Regency of Carnaro was a clique of armed, dissolute poets who robbed bankers, then distributed the means of production to labor unions. The leaders of Carnaro were hard, even brutal, authoritarians, who pretended to be flowery, musical, poetic anarchists.

The labor unions running the factories (renamed as “Syndicates”) were almost as incompetent as the capitalists had once been.

prettiest factories in the world—barely scraped along financially.

The Regency of Carnaro had to find other means of subsistence.

Since Carnaro was a regime of writers, much of the state’s income naturally came from readers.

Fiume’s tourist trade quickly boomed.

Then the Italian government fell again.

The resulting technical caretaker government of Italy was headed by Senator Marconi. The irascible, one-eyed radio genius was a poor administrator.

Marconi was a close personal friend of the Prophet—since

With the departure of Italian troops, globe-trotting foreign legionaries slunk into the town. These marauders crept in from every corner of the earth, for the news had spread that Carnaro could forge new passports.

The leader of this American spy delegation was a superhuman Jew. This fantastic figure was known worldwide as the “Man Without Fear.” The Man Without Fear was a black magician.

You, and me, and Maria, and my bastard nephew. We will never be any bourgeois, legal family. But we can become a free syndicate of liberated people who unite in defiance of the Church and the State!”

The Art Witch was a Milanese millionairess and ardent occultist. She was a fixture in the European radical art world. The Art Witch was so entirely weird and eldritch that even the Ace of Hearts, a fellow Milanese who was a yogi, a nudist, a vegetarian, and a pirate, could not bear the sight of her.

“Have you heard about ‘Dada’ yet?” the Art Witch prodded.

“Luisa, do you want to stay here to see Houdini?”

Then the regime arrived in the hall, in a great, glittering line. Secondari immediately realized that, as the most hated man in Fiume, he had been left out of this crucial political arrangement.

the gesture was entirely legible. The “Regency of Carnaro” was about to become a genuine Regency.

He could read the Prophet’s aged face like an open book. The Prophet was miserable.

Now that he had won his victory, the Prophet looked as hollow as a rotten tree. He was no ruler. The Duke of Aosta was the ruler. In the shadow of a competent ruler, a Prophet was merely a poet. The Prophet was superhuman, and yet he was doomed.

The Man Without Fear took command of the stage.

all of them—even the leonine Ace of Hearts—looked like Sicilian stage-puppets. They had become a government.

He was no mere pirate of expedience, some gangster doing the will of other, better men. He was an entirely genuine, heartfelt, and totalitarian pirate. He hated every form of property. He loved every kind of theft.

“Well, he’s the greatest wizard in our modern world,” said the cowboy with pride. “Because he’s a Twentieth-Century wizard. His feats are all done with Knowledge and Science.”

“Oh, well, those needles aren’t black magic,” chuckled the cowboy. “Houdini just toughs that out!” The boy assistant made a sturdy bicep under his checked cowboy shirt. “See, it’s all about physical training! Because he’s a superman!”

I am Howard Lovecraft, Mr. Houdini’s publicity agent.

But we’re not that old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger, European style of spy. Don’t think that of us, please. We’re much more like an Amateur Press Association.”

“Well, Houdini, and Bob, and me, we’re American patriots, of a new, progressive kind. Through our radio, magazines, and private newspapers, we’ve assembled a new movement of the people who share our vision of tomorrow. We’re some all-American engineers, scientists, and inventors, but mostly, well, we’re writers. We aim to help our country out of a bad pinch.”

“Yes. You can tell your master, Colonel House,” said Secondari, “that we have flying radio torpedoes. Torpedoes that fly. In the dark. With radio. No one can see them.” “I’ve heard

“You see, we Americans believed that the Great War was the War to End All Wars. Now the League of Nations has failed, and we can see that our attempt to bring peace to the world was a rank superstition. This world only understands the virile force of arms, as wielded by a born conqueror,

“He means General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing!”

“Did you tell him about our research project in Manhattan?” the magician said. “Our Manhattan Project,

“President Pershing will make Houdini the next Head of the American Secret Service.

we use the scientific séance techniques of Dr. Cesare Lombroso as our military parapsychology.”

Suppose that you Futurists were to join us out on the road, in the forthcoming Pershing Presidential campaign?”

Your Regency of Carnaro is too small. That’s the problem. The Land of Opportunity is a place of cosmic proportions.”

September 14, 1919,

Wilson’s call in Tacoma the day before for “all the great free peoples of the world to underwrite civilization.”

Gabriele D’Annunzio, the Italian poet-aviator, arrived in Fiume from Ronchi this afternoon with detachments of grenadiers and Arditi provided with machine guns and armored automobiles, according to reports reaching this city tonight.

Post-body material

That is not to suggest that Pirate Utopia is a true story. It’s an alternate history of a momentarily successful attempt to conjure an alternate future,

After an auspicious reading of the cards by an American-born princess, D’Annunzio grabbed the opportunity to accept the Italian-Fiumans’ invitation and round up a crew of demobilized troops to correct this error of the state through bold action,

D’Annunzio, aided by “Ace of Hearts” Guido Keller, a fellow Ardito aviator who kept a pet eagle and liked to take naked walks on the beach, managed to take Fiume with just 186 veterans and a few barely serviceable surplus vehicles—pushing

Fiume became a temporary autonomous zone to which war-forged modernists flocked from all over the world—Futurists and proto-fascists, Dadaists and syndicalists, free lovers and strident Bolsheviks, radio innovators and desperadoes, all drawn by D’Annunzio’s calls from his hotel balcony and the press releases put out by his team of international poets turned public relations hacks.

Real-world Fiume’s candle burned out after fifteen months, but the Fiume of Utopia Pirata isn’t bound by such constraints. Sterling imagines a different outcome—one where the mix of technological innovation, futurist ideas and liberated territory creates a moment in which forward-thinking people can seize the controls and steer the world towards their vision of a better future—or at least one juiced with more imaginative vitality. Sterling’s alt.Fiume is uninfected

shares DNA with Sterling’s seminal 1980s novel Islands in the Net, with its global archipelago of future Fiumes, and applies Sterling’s more recent observations about the ways network culture liberates the timeline of our minds from the constraints of historiographically sanctioned official narratives.

Rousseau’s revelation that human nature could be improved by redesigning the structure of society uncorked a few centuries of whiteboard utopias that managed to get beta-tested in real life, from Saint-Simon’s prescient visions of techno-meritocracy to Fourier’s communal phalanxes of work based on joy and Marx’s elusive communist paradise.

You’re talking about in our real history, there was a torpedo factory there?

Yeah, we were there, Jasmina [Tešanović] and I were both there for a big cyberpunk event,

lecturing the people of Fiume on their own history, which they know very little about. They’re like most people. It’s like telling people in Austin about Colonel [Edward M.] House, who basically ran the U.S. Government while Woodrow Wilson was demented by a stroke. House lived in Austin.

For some mythic reason I decided to refer to everybody by their epithets, so the hero Lorenzo Secondari is called Pirate Engineer by most people, and D’Annunzio is called The Prophet, and the Ace of Hearts is actually a guy named Guido Keller in real life, and the Jewish Economist was a Jewish economist, and The Constitutionalist, they’re all real, and the Art Witch, of course, is Luisa Casati.

D’Annunzio, a super well-read guy, knew this, so he’s rounding up all his men and coming up with these bizarre rituals, many of which have, of course, been forgotten, but some of which became super-influential.

Calvino was from Turin and Primo Levi was from Turin.

fantascienza is not exactly equivalent to SF. It doesn’t convey the exact same social function that science fiction does within American society. Fantascienza really is a kind of science fantasy, and it appeals to elements of Italian popular culture that cut through reality at a somewhat different angle. There’s a closeness between crime writing, historical fiction writing, and science fiction writing in Italy that you wouldn’t see in the U.S.

A lot of it has to do with the small scale of the language. The markets are not big enough to afford big iron-clad genres. So if you’re a popular writer, and you’re not a literary writer in Italy, then you’re in a class of popular writing, and it doesn’t really matter if you write a murder mystery that has science fiction elements or whatever. It’s just looser.

Others would imagine that Italian science fiction people were super-literary because Calvino’s famous and he was a Nobel Prize-caliber writer. But actual Italian fantasy subculture people are way into SF for its gaudy pop culture aspects. They really like B-movies, horror, scandal stuff, they like the spaghetti western aspects of it because they’re fed up with their high-flown literary writing. They want some stuff with some guts.

there’s this brotherly feeling between certain kinds of political ecstatic cult politics and the “sense of wonder” of reality-bending in science fiction. They both supply a lot of crypto-religious loftiness

This awesomeness covers a lot of political shabbiness. When you study how fascism was actually carried out as a practice, there was this massive, ecstatic life with the huge rallies and the flowers and the sacrifice and the noble fall and the martial ardor and all that, but at the same time fascism was really a grimy little favor-driven society.

I can easily imagine writing a Lovecraft fascist parody that would be horrifying in kind of a Thomas Ligotti vein, where Lovecraft really is a fascist, and he’s taking over Providence and kicking all of the Italians out, or whatever Lovecraft would have done if anyone had ever given him political power.

Lovecraft actually did work for Houdini, and Houdini did work for the U.S. Secret Service, so it’s not that far-fetched to imagine Lovecraft involved with the espionage community.

Fascism is an attempt to make politics metaphysical and poetic that actually ends up creating a lot of crippling difficulties for people in their everyday lives.

It’s a political warning for an era of daffy political excess, which is what we’ve got.

the graphic novel I spent most of the 1990s creating with David Britton, Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, pastiches the styles of the Cubist and Expressionist painters, especially Picasso, along with borrowings from the Bauhaus designers. Pirate Utopia forced me to look much more closely at the Futurists than I had done before.

Futurist painting still involved the very old and very traditional application of oil paint on canvas.

Fortunato Depero, on the other hand, was a designer and illustrator as well as a painter, and it’s his bold, often cartoon-like graphics which I’ve adapted for many of the illustrations in this book. While most of Depero’s contemporaries remained wedded to their canvases, Depero attempted to live up to his manifesto by bringing his own brand of Futurism to textile design, furniture, stage sets, tapestries, children’s toys, even sketches for Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurist Cooking.

Depero declared, somewhat presciently, that “the art of the future will be largely advertising.”

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