Mondo 1995 (Part II)

Mondo 2000 nailed the emerging cybersexcomputerdrug zeitgeist with its first issue in 1989, making media mavens out of its founders, Queen Mu and R.U. Sirius. But the trippy, fractious family that was Mondo began to implode in 1993, torn asunder bu inter

The cover story in its premiere issue was written by Bruce Sterling, a frequent Mondo contributor. Also on the masthead were R.U. Sirius as contributing writer and Randy Stickrod, who was thanked under "tea and sympathy." The second Wired detailed the Crypto Rebels, "cypherpunks" battling for the right to encrypt, a subject first covered by Mondo. Posing on the cover, among others, was St. Jude herself, who had coined the word "cypherpunks." Wired's third cover featured Brian Eno, previously written up in Mondo; the fourth cover story was written by Mondo alumnus (and Mondo House guest) William Gibson.

Paying writers 20 times as much as Mondo, and paying on time, the more commercial Wired quickly skimmed the best of the rest of the Mondo talent pool: St. Jude, Branwyn, Rucker, Barlow, Ito, and Jaron Lanier.

To this day, Wired still smells strongly of Mondo. The October issue contains articles by former Mondoids Andrew Hultkrans, Chris Hudak, Allan Lundell, Mark Fraunfelder, and Gareth Branwyn; Wired's on-line subsidiary, HotWired, includes on its staff former Mondo contributors Gary Wolf, Richard Kadrey, and John Alderman; the magazine's new Scenarios special edition contains essays by Barlow and Sterling.

"Mondo did the market research for a cyberculture magazine," says Branwyn, author of an upcoming book called Jamming the Media. "Wired manifested on a much larger playing field, with sane people running it, with intelligent management. Mondo could have been much, much more than it was, and could really have been a contender for Wired."

Initial reaction to Wired's debut at the Mondo House was skeptical. They now had a competitor -- their first competitor -- but nobody seemed impressed by the first issues. It was corporate and straightforward, even journalistic. Timothy Leary called it the CIA's answer to Mondo 2000. The staff compared it to the Monkees.

"I thought it was a rip-off," remembers Hultkrans. He then pauses. "It was really like seeing yourself cloned in a way. It seemed like they were on a campaign to eat up our entire back catalog -- people we've interviewed, issues we've covered."

Even the distinctive spine design of Wired was blatantly copied from the clever John Borruso-designed spines of Mondo, according to an insider who attended the Wired design meeting.

"I don't think they make any bones about [the similarities]," allows R.U. Sirius. "Kevin Kelly pointed out in a discussion on the WELL, 'Well, you're always advocating appropriation, so fuck you.' I gotta hand it to him."

"Wired was uptown and Mondo was downtown," says Stickrod. "Mondo was really for the hairy and unwashed, and Wired was able to comfortably cross that threshold."

Queen Mu and her chief assistant, Wes Thomas, acted indifferent to the arrival of Wired, yet each issue was immediately scoured for ad leads. Once Sirius severed full-time ties to the magazine, Thomas assumed more editorial control. Originally the Mondo publicist based in New York, Thomas wrote technology articles for many issues, and had a brilliant intelligence for conspiracy theory.

"He went to work creating this little wedge in between there, and wound up with this really weird period that I like to refer to as Hogan's Heroes," says Sirius. "He was acting like Colonel Klink. On some cosmic level, his job was to come in and tear the place apart."

"He was the potentiator of Alison's worst qualities," claims Hultkrans. "I personally hold him partially responsible for what happened at the magazine."

"Wes would come to the door around 11 a.m. in a Buddhist monk robe, and get upset that his morning Chronicle was sitting under a car in the driveway," says then-staffer John Alderman. "Make one of the staff go get it for him. 'I'm the editor of the most important magazine in the world, and I need my newspaper every day!' "

The fun and games had ended.
"They had this beautiful house up in the Berkeley hills, trying to be the center of culture, but really it's this siege mentality," Alderman says. "The mail all has to be pored through like it's messages from the CIA/Wired/Mormon/Illuminati axis. That was a fully described theory one day."

In the early days, paranoia and conspiracy theories were just jokes from which outrageous scenarios and rants could be spun, but by 1994 the mood was strangely sober. The guys working on the phone box down the street -- what were they really up to? And who was that guy visible from the kitchen window, pretending to draw sketches of the building? And who were those kids who came to the door of the house, one of them claiming his dad worked for the CIA?

But maybe the paranoia was justified.
"Some of the shit they wrote about," says former illustrator Eric White, "I wouldn't be surprised if I'm on some list somewhere, just for being associated with it."

When a package arrived one day, the usually levelheaded Bart Nagel remembers gingerly opening it with an X-Acto knife taped to a broom handle. Gracie and Zarkov remember coming to visit once and finding everyone hiding under a bed, convinced the feds were circling with a helicopter.

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