What was it like when you first heard that Wiredhad been banned in Singapore because of your "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" piece? I think I heard it from someone in editorial, and they were like, "Wow, this is cool!" At that time they thought it was cool, but I think they also thought that it probably wouldn't last very long, which I assume it didn't. It was more sort of a gesture on the part of the state, which sort of confirmed what I'd written. At first I was like, "Was I too harsh [in my article]?" No, they banned the whole magazine! They more or less proved my point. And I gather from what I read about Singapore that it's not really quite that heavy anymore, though I shouldn't comment on that, because I don't know.
When you first started doing this kind of work, it seemed like you were having issues already with being pigeonholed as a science-fiction writer. Did the non-fiction work seem like a way to get out of that at the time? It seemed like a way to take the tools that I use for writing — and a lot of them were tools that were forged in the very belly of science fiction — and take them out and use them to measure that actual weird world that is the science-fiction world that we live in. Sometimes that gives you a really good take on the world, and sometimes it will show you that the term "science fiction" isn't that accurate, or really that well-designed for measuring reality. It helped me keep in touch with the world in a way, doing the odd journalism piece. It sort of randomized my experience of the world and that, for a novelist, is always a good thing. It's human nature to sort of stay in your groove and you start assuming that the world in front of you is the way the world is for everybody.
Do you continue to travel a lot to all these places? All of the cities that pop up in these pieces have gone on to be so important in your later fiction. It shifts around. I'm probably in London more than I'm in Tokyo and I wish there were some wonderful new, lofty magazine that could help me balance that out [laughs]. Give me a bunch more Tokyo and let me decide — I could think about it. But I don't know if that's going to happen. I'm a person that tends to go to the same distant destinations over and over.
How did you experience the earthquake and tsunami disaster last year in Tokyo? I had an intense reaction. I also had a really, really intense and immersive community experience with that one because I happened to be looking at Twitter and someone I know in Tokyo tweeted, "EARTHQUAKE." All caps, you know — six exclamation points. And that was it. I didn't retweet it or anything, I just kind of thought, "What's that?" Then about a minute later, in bad spelling and crazy punctuation, it was like, "Big one! Big one! Getting out of building!" And so, you know, I tweeted something like, "My friends in Tokyo just said there's a big earthquake." Then I got this strange wave of people in Tokyo saying "Earthquake!"