Once the Net and the Web were new, and when the adventurous and unwary spent too much time there, flirting with each other in verbal disguise... The story of bad behaviour-- fanaticism about small rows, gender-disguised "Netsex", the spending of other people's money on vast phone-bills--has been told by others--Indra Sinha tells it in a British context where the poverty and uncertainty of the Thatcher era made everything that bit more intense and obsessive. This is also the story of the near-collapse of a marriage--he withdrew from his wife and dragged her off to meet Net chums who never showed up--or showed up and never introduced themselves...These were also the years of his growing political commitment--a highly paid copywriter, he started using his skills for good causes like exposing the use of chemical weapons by Saddam against the Kurds. He writes well about his discomfort his Net friends' games of expensive verbal sado-masochism in the face of real evil. This is a moving and wise book about a man who loved games, and came to feel that he could no longer, in conscience play them; there is real pain here, in his rejection of a sort of beauty. --Roz Kaveney
From the Author
May 4th 1999 - Publication Day
Going through some old papers in my study this morning, I came across the first outline I wrote, back in 1993, for what would become The Cybergypsies. A sketch of the opening, recording a surreal 3 a.m. conversation with Geno Paris, a virus writer in Oklahoma City, quickly dissolves into notes, among which was the following:
"The night is full of invisible pathways, crisscrossing the globe, bounced off the stratosphere by orbiting comsats. They're thronged by clouds of insubstantial travellers, the restless folk who ceaselessly wander the electronic pathways, congregating at this bulletin board, that multi-user game, who you're as likely to bump into at an online party at the WELL in San Francisco as ransacking the archives of an ftp server in Finland...These are the Computer Gypsies, as ragtag a crew as ever roamed the 'real' world we can taste and touch. This is their story..."
In the event it has taken six years for the book to be completed and see the light of day. When I first had the idea of writing about the strange and interesting people I had met in cyberspace, I thought of the book as an expose of a world which few ordinary people dreamed existed. Hardly anyone I knew could say what a modem was. The World Wide Web had only two hundred websites. Our world consisted mainly of multi-user games - some of them on members-only networks, others at the end of private phone lines - and networks of privately owned bulletin boards - the semi-respectable Fidonet, and other nets devoted to unpublicised activities, virus writing, hacking, phreaking. It was a pre-internet world, in which the big companies like British Telecom and Microsoft took little interest. "Old time cybergypsies" - how this phrase made journalist Jason Cowley laugh when he was visiting us last week - look back on this era as a sort of golden age. The explosion of net access meant I had to rethink and focus on the characters. It took me a year after I started writing to work out how to do it.
What evolved was an interweaving of many stories, themes and currents. The book's discontinuous narrative and apparently dsylexic structure is an attempt to convey what cyber experience is like - fractured, hallucinatory, random, full of strange and unexpected juxtapositions - coincidences and what Eve called "noincidences" - blind alleys, fragments of "reality" torn up and flung in your face.