Today, for the third time in the last year, I got email from a new SF author that went more or less like:
“Hi, I’d like to send you a copy of my first novel because [thing you wrote] really inspired me.”
All the novels so far are libertarian SF with rivets on – the good stuff. Amusingly, I don’t think any of these authors knew in advance that I’m a judge for the Prometheus awards,
It’s really gratifying that I’m making this kind of difference.
Well, the fourth will know. And if they’ve read any of your blog entries on SF, they’ll know what you’re looking for.
To me, one of the most important things Prometheus needs to do is not fall for the typical ___-ism-oriented judgement. For instance, a former boss of mine liked to listen to Christian music in the car. The thing I noticed about it is that it was absolute crap musically, because it wasn’t judged as worthy of airtime based on its music. Only the message mattered. The same can be said of the SJW-driven awards that can only go to a Lesbian Latina Mary Sue because STICK IT TO TEH PATRIARCHY!
>To me, one of the most important things Prometheus needs to do is not fall for the typical ___-ism-oriented judgement.
This is a failure mode I was on the alert for when I joined the judges, because I thought it might fall to me to push back against it. I am happy to say I haven’t seen it. Good libertarian content is considered necessary for an award nomination but has never been sufficient.
In fact one of the things we mark down for is heavy-handed preachiness. (Catch an SJW doing that, ever!) I think I am a bit more likely than our average to gig a book for this, but not by much.
One reason it’s easier for the Prometheus judges to be on the straight and narrow about this is that there is never a shortage of libertarian-themed aspirants. Every year I’ve has more stuff land on me than I can easily make time to read.
That was one of the problems underlying Starwarsgate: Disney!Lucasfilm wanted credit for including e.g. an Asian woman in the main cast, without delivering on the story front. I mean, yay diversity and everythjng, but why not just write the story blind, get it on lock, and then decide that the part of the plucky mechanic or faithful lieutenant should go to a PoC after, because they’re all aliens anyway?
(In Star Wars, even the humans are aliens. “A galaxy far, far away” and that.)
It would be REALLY helpful for us (and for them!) if you would publicize the names of the books and authors if you like them.
Especially if we can contribute to crowdfunding campaigns or even purchase them direct or online somehow.
>It would be REALLY helpful for us (and for them!) if you would publicize the names of the books and authors if you like them.
Already have for two of them. Haven’t read the third yet. It’s The Hidden Truth by Hans G. Schantz.
You’ll enjoy that book when you get to it. Here was my Amazon review:
This is a great story with a nice McGuffin and a slightly disturbing take on modern liberalism/progressivism/statism but the real key to the story is the espionage and counter-espionage and, IMHO, it should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the fields of online security or anonymity.
It is set in a more or less present day alt-history USA (I think it’s about 2009) that is only slightly different from the current one. The split is that Gore won the election an 2000 and the 9/11 event ended up killing him rather than destroying the WTC. However this, and some of the other changes, are really just enough to provide the author with cover to avoid getting into potential legal trouble but not at all enough to mean that the technology or environment is notably different. There are also a number of real people who show up as minor players in the book and this helps to add to the verisimilitude. There are differences of course and the alt-history bit means the author can get away with slightly changing some internet related things to make for a better story.
The book is really all about secrets and spies and the tradecraft of spies in a digital age. I am very happy to say that the cyber-spying and countermeasure parts are about as accurate as they can be in a book that is a work or fiction. If you want a nice overview of how easy it is to track someone digitally and how hard it is to be truly anonymous in today’s world then this is absolutely the book to read. As someone who is knowledgeable in this field I can say it was an absolute pleasure not to be repeatedly thrown out of the story by implausible tech, indeed it was a joy to see the author correctly describe internet security related technologies
The plot is good and consistent, the characters seem like real people and there are an absolute minimum of typos or similar though the author and/or his copyeditors may want to discreetly figure out the discrete meanings of those two words and not continuously confuse them…
Well, with Ursula Le Guin now no longer with us, you may be spurring others to write fresh new SF at an opportune time, when we are in need of new voices.
(I don’t think Le Guin fits your politics or style, but her influence on the genre is significant and undeniable.)
>(I don’t think Le Guin fits your politics or style, but her influence on the genre is significant and undeniable.)
LeGuin was a good writer. One of the indices of “good writer” is that she usually (there has been an embarrassing lapse or two) has the creativity and discipline required not to bash the reader with political polemic.
And yes, I do slap around libertarian writers who lack these qualities.
LeGuin was a very, very political writer, but she subscribed to the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, and she wrote realistically – that is, the favored ideology didn’t swoop in and save the day – about what concerned her. In short, she was a skilled artist, not a politically motivated hack.
The problem with the current crop of SJW writers is that they wouldn’t recognize an extended metaphor or a parable if it jumped out of their closet and kicked them in the face. If it’s not obvious they don’t see it and won’t relate to it. If I wrote a story about Orcs being oppressed by Elves they’d classify it as a “silly fantasy” and be unable to see that maybe Elves represented White, European people and Orcs represented oppressed people… just saying that the problem isn’t with writing that is/isn’t political, but with the SJWs concept of what artistry is and how it works.
The sad thing is that I agree with much of the SJW agenda, but SJWs do a truly horrible job of communicating about their politics and regularly kick their allies in the teeth! What Eric says about “divisive language” applies here. (I don’t want to derail the thread, but just saying…)
That’s good news. My take on the Prometheus award is that it’s ended up being more for anti-authoritarian sf rather than libertarian sf. This is fine with me– it cuts down on the preachiness problem.
>My take on the Prometheus award is that it’s ended up being more for anti-authoritarian sf rather than libertarian sf.
It’s interesting that you say that, because one of the filter questions we often find ourselves asking is “Is this work really libertarian, or just anti-authoritarian? Stuff that’s just anti-authoritarian, like the innumerable teen-revolt-against-dystopia books in recent years, gets selected out earlier.
To count as libertarian, a work has to address freedom as a positive, constructive good – not just “it sucks when there’s a boot on your face, but “outcomes of freedom are better than outcomes of non-freedom”. It also has to recognize that economic freedom – not just the personal kind – is important.
Do you know of any libertarian sf where the enemies are coming from both the left and the right?
I’m gonna suggest Christopher Nuttall’s The Empire’s Corps series (14 books).
>I’m gonna suggest Christopher Nuttall’s The Empire’s Corps series (14 books).
Haven’t read those but Nuttall’s stuff is generally pretty good.
>Do you know of any libertarian sf where the enemies are coming from both the left and the right?
Depends on how you’re defining “the right”. I’ve read libertarian SF in which the villains included religious conservatives and absolutists. Heinlein’s “Revolt in 2100”, for example. It also does not seem thaty the “left” or “right” orientation of the Earth authorities is even discernable in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.
Travis Corcoran’s The Powers of the Earth has some socialcon bad guys, who aren’t as bad as the socialists who are the main villains but still cause some trouble.
>Travis Corcoran’s The Powers of the Earth has some socialcon bad guys, who aren’t as bad as the socialists who are the main villains but still cause some trouble.
I’d forgotten that, but yes.
That book was the first of my string of three.
Tangential, but in Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls the space habitat “Golden Rule” was pretty much precisely what Moldbug first came up with as neoreactionary governance: a sovereign hotel competing on a market because residents can come and go (“exit”) but they have no voting rights (no “voice”). Interestingly, that novel immediately shows a flaw in this model. Although not the most important flaw, IIRC the reason that model is not discussed much anymore is that it is embarrasingly autistic, it ignores the emotional attachment people want to develop towards a home that is truly theirs and a homeland that is in some limited but important aspect theirs. “Exit” i.e. consumer choice works in many, many things but we don’t want to spend our lives shopping around in what city-state to live in, we like to be more rooted and more at home somewhere surrounded by people who are like us.
Having said that – putting the sovereign hotel in space is smart because only people who have less of a territorial attachment will even consider moving out from this planet. If it is only the descendants of those people who will colonized the galaxy, it makes sense to assume they are okay with living rootless.
Nevertheless exitocracy is not a dud concept, theoretically people could stay put and choose between multiple competing governance / judicial “service providers”.
A surprisingly elegant concept of that is demonstrated in the sci-fi videogame Elite: Dangerous. There the Empire looks at the first look just aristo-feudal, at the second look not so. Instead of elections, people can choose any time which Senator to pledge allegiance to. They can switch any time, shop around – exitocracy, consumer choice. Senators determine tax levels, provide government services to their own supporters, so mostly people can choose which government to belong to without moving from their home. No idea what the Senate does but if Senators have to cough up some of their own tax money to finance whatever programs it does it makes sense to assume it does little. This suggests something like a Roman model: the Via Appia is called so not only because a guy called Appius organized the project, but also because he financed it out of his own pocket. No idea what the Emperor does, most likely executive for whatever little the Senate decides. Another interesting idea is people do not choose directly which Senator to belong to, instead they choose Clients and Clients choose Patrons and Patrons choose Senators. This does not seem to make a whole lot of sense on its own, but it does in the following. A consumer choice based governance provider system has to find a way for some provider to go bust and some new taker take their place. This is non-obvious given that governance providers are coordination providers, so it is a game only larger players should play. This is a key insight often missing from libertarian or ancap logic, you know, the Moloch thing. That everybody cannot talk with everybody. People need some kinds of representatives. Effectively, we literally want them to be few enough to be able to “conspire” without much defection. Because there are benevolent conspiracies, like all governance providers choosing to cooperate to beat an infectious disease. Defection would create a freerider problem.
So you cannot have a million tiny governance providers, you need a few large ones so that they can talk and coordinate fairly easily. This is what the E:D Empire solves elegantly: a Patron can make a bid to take a Senator’s role. In that case a classic election is held. Same thing down the road, Clients can make a bid on a Patron’s role, and any random dude on a Client’s role.
>it ignores the emotional attachment people want to develop towards a home that is truly theirs and a homeland that is in some limited but important aspect theirs.
If that be the case, then there is a market for sovereigns allowing people to vote, and to generally grant Assent to what their parliaments choose, in order to attract those people. Look at the final days of the DDR: Once Hungary started letting East Germans make an end run around the Wall into Austria, where the government let them take a train into West Germany, the leadership knew they’d have no population left to govern under their terms, and accepted joining the Federal Republic as the only practical course of action.
Sovereigns need not recognize an oxymoronic “right to vote” as most democratic/republican governments pretend exists. (Voting is not use of individual liberty; it is the exercise of political power over others. No one claims there’s a right to be a juror. In both cases, common citizens have power over others, but it’s the right of the others to have their actions judged by their peers rather than an elite “noble” class that is in play, not any sort of “right to vote” per se that is at work). The sovereign can, however, explain that giving citizens such input into the process of making laws can, as you say, enhance the experience of citizenship, and that the sovereign reserves the power to withhold Assent as a check against populist excesses. If it is rarely withheld, few people will “vote with their feet” to exit the arrangement. Some people might even feel more reassured thereby.
>Instead of elections, people can choose any time which Senator to pledge allegiance to. They can switch any time, shop around – exitocracy, consumer choice.
Right. This is what Icelandic contract feudalism would have looked like in a society with higher population density and Roman technology.
“Instead of elections, people can choose any time which Senator to pledge allegiance to”
Sounds like proportional representation. Many countries have that, using elections every four years. There are downsides to switching representation at any time. People need time to do work, both the elected representative as the electorate.
I think the problem in the US (what you all take as the gold standard) is the concentration of power in the hands of individuals (elected or not). For instance, I do know few countries where a single representative can block putting matters up for vote in the whole parliament.
There are solutions where no single individual gets the power over a whole branch of government (e.g., as in Germany).
Proportional representation would be a huge step forward for the USA. Unfortunately, it would require throwing the existing constitution out in order to implement. (I’m still all for it. A number of even American jurists, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are beginning to acknowledge that the U.S. constitution is obsolete and fatally flawed — in a country where anything less than full-throated support for 1776’s idea of political philosophy can spell doom for your political career.)
But what’s being proposed is a system that provides government administration the way European companies provide internet access: single country, single set of laws, with multiple competing administrations handling enforcement. Imagine if you could swear your fealty to Trump, Obama, Hillary, Bernie, Jeb Bush, etc. according to whom you feel runs things the best — and switch your affiliation at any time, like going to a different country or state without having to move. That’s roughly how the gothorth in medieval Iceland worked.
I don’t see how it would even work in a community as large as ours, but it’s one of those never-will-come-to-pass libertarian wet dreams.
>A number of even American jurists, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are beginning to acknowledge that the U.S. constitution is obsolete and fatally flawed
Right. This is your same universe in which industrial civilization is doomed to collapse because PEAK OILZZZ!!!!
“This is your same universe in which industrial civilization is doomed to collapse because PEAK OILZZZ!!!!”
This response has nothing at all to do with the subject of this conversation. Its aim is to prevent a discussion on merits by shooting the messenger. I can only assume that you do this because you do not have rational counter arguments to contribute.
This is a perfect illustration of why USA politics are on a roller coaster ride into hell. No one wants to think about what is said. The only thing they are interested in is preventing arguments to be taken seriously by shooting the messenger. It is about preventing unwanted voices from being heard.
Ginsburg stated that she would not look to the U.S. constitution as a model to follow when drafting a constitution for post-revolutionary Egypt, citing its age. She cited the constitutions of Canada and South Africa as being more protective of human rights, being much more recent and written with contemporary rights and equality concerns in mind, including the rights of women and ethnic minorities.
If the U.S. constitution were superlatively effective at safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the citizens under it — as conservatives insist it is — it would almost certainly be chosen as a model for new governments to follow. Instead, since the turn of the twenty-first century, new governments have increasingly avoided using the U.S. as a model — something which Ginsburg advised for Egypt. I’m not sure what your criteria for the definition of “obsolete” are, but to me “too old to be considered fit for the job in new deployments” seems to fit well enough.
As for peak oil, that’s still supported by Hubbert’s theory. Recent reserve discoveries and the development of cost-effective unconventional extraction techniques have bought us a little time, they haven’t repudiated the theory. Transitioning to alternative energy sources is still of utmost importance, but it looks like we can do that now without breaking civilization.
>Ginsburg stated that she would not look to the U.S. constitution as a model to follow
I found that. Your original claim does not follow. Nowhere does she assert that the Constitution should be abandoned as the governance framework of the U.S. in favor of “proportional representation” or anything else. You’re still fever-dreaming.
>Recent reserve discoveries and the development of cost-effective unconventional extraction techniques have bought us a little time,
The idiotic thing about Peak Oil catastrophism is exactly that it ignores input substitution and demand elasticity. Anybody with even a smidgen of economics could have told them that as price levels go up, a way to “buy time” inevitably appears because that’s what markets do. But oh, no, it’s ever so much fun to peddle Mad-Max-like end-of-civilization fantasies to gullible fools – and then blame them on the free markets that in the real world are actually saving your ass.
And it’s an especially idiotic mistake because economists had already made the same mistake about “peak coal”, roughly a century and a half ago. Granted, economists didn’t use the term “peak coal” back then. But a quick web search for “William Stanley Jevons” and “coal” will quickly reveal that the fallacy some economists fell for then is an exact analogy to the “peak oil” fallacy now.
Making a mistake once is normal. Repeating a 150-year-old mistake while believing to have reached a visionary insight is just stupid. I believe the technical term is “derp”, though American English is not my first language.
“a way to “buy time” inevitably appears because that’s what markets do.”
Indeed, “Peak Coal” was followed by oil and gas. “Peak Oil” will be followed by sustainable electricity.
What the economists get completely wrong every time is that they look at the supply, but never at the waste disposal side. Coal consumption was declining to avert pollution well before the supply gave problems. China is reliving this cycle at this very moment. The same will happen with oil. Solar and wind will push out oil because they will be cheaper soon, especially when the environmental costs are internalized into its price.
Re: Peak Oil
I began my career working for the world’s largest oil company and then spent a quarter century serving many clients in O&G production. My source is firsthand experience. There are vast amounts of oil still remaining on this planet, so much so that if offshore drilling is permitted on our coasts, it will tank crude prices back to <$15/bbl. That is the greatest fear of the majors. Not running out anytime soon.
You seem to regard a single representative being able to gum up the works a bug not a feature. Similarly, you seem to prefer systems where no individual can be held accountable because citizens can’t vote for individuals but must vote for whole slates with all that entails.
Those who value freedom would share neither of those preferences.
> shop around
If you haven’t read it, try Joan D. Vinge’s “Outcasts of the Heaven Belt.” The Heaveners’ democracy operates over online communications directly between the citizens and their representatives… who are representatives because they hold assigned proxies for various goals or pieces of specific legislation, not because they were elected in a conventional sense.
The Heaven system is just part of the story background, but I found it fascinating to think about.
“The Heaveners’ democracy operates over online communications directly between the citizens and their representatives…”
The risks of such a system is that it descents into mob justice. This is what we see now on Twitter and Facebook: Groups of activists travel around the net destroying dissent.
>This response has nothing at all to do with the subject of this conversation.
It’s called “illustrating absurdity by being absurd.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a little flaky recently but she is not running around telling people the Constitution as the framework of U.S. law is obsolete (yes, I checked). That’s a fever dream and belongs with previous examples of Jeff Read bugfuck such as PEAK OILZZ!!!@!2`.
“It’s called “illustrating absurdity by being absurd.””
I could come up with less sophisticated names. But the effect is the same: Shoot the messenger when you cannot shoot the message.
It’s been a long time since I read it, but IIRC Niven and Pournelle’s Fallen Angels had some televangelist types among the bad guys (who were mostly green/feminist communists).
Of course, that book also featured organized SF fandom defending the stranded astronauts against the communists. How quaint. The people running Worldcon and SFWA today would be the first in line to hand the crimethinking astronauts over to the authorities.
>The people running Worldcon and SFWA today would be the first in line to hand the crimethinking astronauts over to the authorities.
True. They’ve abandoned the core values of SF for a mess of politics. That doesn’t mean fandom wouldn’t act, just that some of its organs have been corrupted by entryism. The distinction is important.
Niven, Pournelle, and *Flynn*, that should say.
My major complaint against Fallen Angels was that its “ruling coalition of proxmires, rifkins, falwells, and MacLaine” comprises people who regard each other as minions of the Devil, sometimes literally. But that doesn’t make any difference because they are all Them who obviously don’t care about anything but hating Us.
IOW, they’re “Baptists and bootleggers.”
The ruling coalition of Fallen Angels is dysfunctional – a functional and at marginally competent government would have caught the Angels no later than “Yersini is a pest.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve read Fallen Angels, but what struck me as silliest at the time was the division between science fiction fans (good) and fantasy fans (medievalists and bad).
My comment notifications aren’t working.
I just found out that LeGuin died.
In one of her last interviews, she said that she wasn’t a progressive because she didn’t believe in progress.
Most progressives don’t.
Assuming you are referring to this – https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/writing-nameless-things-an-interview-with-ursula-k-le-guin/ – then it’s a very interesting interview.
I think it is fair to say I disagree with a lot of what she seemed to believe in but I appreciate having read her books because they were both enjoyable and made me think (albeit often think, NO THAT’S NOT HOW IT WILL REALLY WORK)
I remember LeGuin saying space stuff in orbit was ‘just a bunch of garbage flying around’ and snarling when I read it . . . but that was the infidel case against the Church of Space, and they will never put it better. Good English skills. From dust we are made and to dust we depart.
I have a feeling you’ll be getting more letters like mine after this blog post. Thanks for supporting libertarian authors. Hope you enjoy my books.
I haven’t written anything (yet), but your Deep Norms of SF post has really helped to articulate what is that I really like about SF (even if you take a harder line on some things than I would). This is also why I’ve always enjoyed your reviews. If I ever do write something, those considerations would be a huge influence…
>(even if you take a harder line on some things than I would)
Necessary in order to keep the Overton Window from being shifted by the careless or malevolent.
Absolutely, I have the luxury of no one caring what I think about this stuff… Plus, I’m not as well read as you, so I’m still working through some things that you’ve clearly experienced and developed working models for. It’s useful to see your breakdown, but nothing beats actually experiencing “defective” SF.
I know you have spent a lot of effort understanding time and time information driven from GPS sources. The USAF is spoofing the GPS signal in the western US for the next 3 weeks. Will this have an effect on the precision of internet time information? Thanks
>The USAF is spoofing the GPS signal in the western US for the next 3 weeks. Will this have an effect on the precision of internet time information?
Unlikely. Too many clocks distributed in too many places.
Is that still true? There are a _lot_ of GPS clocks on the Internet these days, almost as if someone famous published an article about how to build a cheap one from a kit once.
Just now, in my motley collection of servers, only one of ten machines are polling a single non-GPS reference from pool.ntp.org–and even then, the NTP daemons didn’t believe the time enough to consider it as part of a combined time reference because all the GPS clocks agree on a different time. That’s 39 clocks out of 40 on GPS, and dissenting opinions are dismissed as error.
But under jamming, would the error be the same for every GPS clock? I’d expect that different locations would receive different amounts of error, otherwise correcting for the jamming would be too easy (just offset the data you get from your GPS by the opposite of whatever constant temporal and spatial skew is being applied, and you have an accurate, precise GPS reading again).
Are all of your clocks in quite different locations or quite similar ones? The USAF is jamming in the western US, but not the entire globe. If all (or most) of the clocks feeding Internet time from GPS were within the jamming zone, I could see that messing with Internet time. But as long as most of the GPS-fed timeservers are outside the jamming zone, I’d think the presence of a jamming zone shouldn’t have too much of an impact.
If the USAF is using a competing transmitter, as opposed to temporarily reprogramming the GPS satellites to transmit errors from space, then the effect could be limited geographically. At least one thing the NTP pool still gets right is geographic diversity.
With two transmitters (or two constellations of transmitters each collectively controlled by separate entities) and two sets of signals, GPS receivers in the affected area could detect the problem locally (or fail to work at all, with the same effect) and drop out of the NTP pool. NTP peers might detect increased jitter and switch to non-GPS or unjammed GPS servers fairly seamlessly.
If the jamming prevents GPS reception at all, then the NTP pool will just route around it. If the *entire* GPS network goes down (straying away from the original jam-a-small-area topic now), that event would funnel the NTP network onto the few hosts that use non-GPS sources and push up the average server stratum up, and there would probably be some disruption for people who don’t have NTP servers that automatically refresh pool DNS addresses. It’s a bit of work to reorganize when 95%+ of your distributed data source goes away at once.
Would anyone care to poke at Doctorow’s Walkaway? It’s very pure exitist utopia. There’s enough nanotech, 3d printing, and cheap energy that people don’t actually need large formal social structures.
I’m not convinced that the “no one gets anything extra for doing work” utopianism would work at all, but I’m curious about what would be possible at that tech level starting from our society.
I don’t find Walkaway convincing as a social model. The way of life it portrays is fine (for certain values of “fine”) as far as consumer goods go. But those consumer goods are only available because they are provided by a lot of fairly large and complex capital assets: computers, 3D printers, Internet connections, energy sources, and so on. And I’m really not seeing any portrayal even of the physical basis for the production of those assets, and still less of the financial basis for making resources available for them. It’s a lot like the old Technocratic idea that the engineers would make us infinitely wealthy if they weren’t restrained by the sinister plots of cost accountants and capitalists; it makes me think of Ayn Rand’s socialists saying, “the factories are here,” which in turn was based on the Marxist expectation that industrial production could become self-sustaining without needing capitalists. Having the capital take the form of a decentralized network rather than the concentrated nodes of factories is a visually striking change, but I’m not seeing that it changes the underlying logic.
When you come down to it, even the old high industrial model had its network industries (Rand’s protagonist ran a railroad) and even Walkaway‘s future may well have its concentrated nodes (can the circuit elements be made by 3D printers, or are they being manufactured in a big expensive factory somewhere offstage?). Leaving them out of account may be the economic equivalent of the old cartoon where one step in a scientific diagram is A MIRACLE HAPPENS!
Though I’d also say that I can’t imagine being happy in the society Doctorow envisions. You can say what you like about greedy rich people with insanely huge mansions; but I’m happy with my hundred-odd shelf feet of books, my desktop computer with a comfortably large screen, and my safely indoor cat. I don’t see how I could have any of them in a walkaway society; in fact Doctorow’s narrative makes it clear that such things can be stolen for simple whim or even malice, and there’s no source of redress.
Thanks for the substantial analysis.
You’re probably right about the walkaways not currently being able to make the technology they use, but I expect that they could build up to it if they weren’t under attack.
I wonder about why they’re allowed to develop as much society as they have– I think current tech could do a better job of denying access to land than we see in the novel.
Also, while clever tech can get such water as is available and use it efficiently, the water has to be there.
I don’t know whether anyone is working on distributed chip manufacture in case society collapses. Not necessarily building it yet, but at least developing the theory.
Doctorow’s revulsion at life extension in the current flesh was weird.
I agree that the way they live doesn’t look very attractive, but they’re refugees. The viewpoint character is a walkaway because she finds life among the super rich emotionally intolerable, but most of them are walkaways because they’re working very hard for less and less reward, and seeing things only getting worse.
He lost me at the uploading part. If you preserve the information stored in a living body by preserving the living body, that’s survival; but if you put the same information into a different body, that’s reproduction, not survival. And most versions of uploading seem to be clearly reproduction. In the same way, I’ve thought for decades that getting into a Star Trek transporter is suicide followed by the construction of a copy of the person “transported.” Of course this way of looking at the matter is based on the way biological organisms function, but then I AM a biological organism.
There are versions of uploading that are sufficiently close to the way a living organism rebuilds itself a piece at a time so that I could regard them as “survival.” Ray Kurzweil seems to be envisioning one in The Singularity Is Near. But Doctorow is talking about something entirely different. And I don’t think it really addresses the issue to say, “Well, after we’ve created our copy of you, our programmers will tinker with the code until it stops thinking of itself as a copy, or stops caring.”
If that be the case, then you must also think that metabolism is a process of continuous suicide and simultaneous regeneration. Much of the matter that’s in you now won’t be in you a few years from now. If someone went into a transporter and was held as a pattern in its buffers for a year, then rematerialized, they would be more “them” when they emerged than if they had simply stayed around for a year — because the quantum state that comes out of the transporter is identical to that which went in, and elementary particles are indistinguishable but for quantum state.
No, not at all, and actually I addressed that explicitly when I said that “There are versions of uploading that are sufficiently close to the way a living organism rebuilds itself a piece at a time so that I could regard them as ‘survival.'”
There is a story about a man who had the axe that Lincoln used to split rails. Of course it had had five new heads and two new handles, but it was the same axe. And that IS analogous to what living organisms do, though the agency is not that of the axe itself but of the people who repair it. But it wouldn’t be the same thing if you threw away both the head and the handle, and got a new head and a new handle, and put them together. You wouldn’t be entitled to call that “Lincoln’s axe,” no matter how exactly similar the head and handle were to the originals. It would be a reproduction of Lincoln’s axe.
The thing that bugs me about various “post-scarcity” futures that have been depicted (at least in the things I’ve read – haven’t read much Doctrow. I’m thinking mostly of Ian Banks and the like):
The utopias depicted always tend to portray people having it good because they are granted consumer goods as a boon by some outside agency, not because they have any power to create such things for themselves. In fact, the depicted futures are often explicitly disempowering. The future we’re supposed to find desirable is one where people are taken care of like pets – their various annoying petty needs, once short circuited, keep them comfortably inert and out of the way of whoever is ‘plot relevant’.
This is in opposition to a future where people are depicted has having powerful tools that they can use to solve their problems. (And make problems, but mostly solve problems.) (Actually, that’s one thing that the Marvel superhero movies inadvertently get closer to “right”*, though the other conventions of the genre apply: they let at least the main characters solve their own problems by acquiring/building absurdly powerful tools/inventions/gizmos) *right meaning closer to what I’d like to see in fiction.
I’m not very eloquent tonight: I’m trying to state what I find grating about ‘post-scarcity’ economies in fiction, even without overt political preaching (thank you Captain Picard). Do the people composing the ‘post-scarcity’ society have any role in creating and controlling the wealth of said society, or are they just supposed to be in awe and gratitude for something they could never deserve, dropped on their heads from “on high”?
> Do the people composing the ‘post-scarcity’ society have any role in creating and controlling the wealth of said society
As Mike Rowe likes to point out, if you like having clean water, roads, cars to drive on them, climate-controlled comfortable homes, etc., then you need people to make that stuff happen. Even if you posit that robots are doing most of the work, you need people to build and control the robots. Even if other robots are building robots, someone has to run the robot factories, or else you risk turning the whole planet into paperclips.
Iain Banks has a convenient dodge — the Minds. They are fully sapient machines, vastly more intelligent than humans, but technically they are “people” and have an interest in keeping the Culture working. Non-sapient machines do all the scutwork, but the Minds make the day-to-day executive decisions.
Granted, it is a dodge — but Mycroft from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress suffers from the same problems: what exactly is keeping these superpowerful machines’ interests aligned with the well-being of the humans under their care is never fully explained.
Fun reads tho.
> no one gets anything extra for doing work
As I get older I am more and more convinced that the adage “Idle hands are the devils workshop” is true for a large majority of humans.
Caveat: I have not read Doctorow’s Walkaway.
Most people simply are not driving to create for no reason, and most people will fill their time with drink, drugs and sex–the first two of which are strongly correlated with violence, and the third of which gives focus to that violence.
I love reading Ian M. Bank’s Culture series, but I suspect that if technology went that way for humans very, very few would remain. Possibly there’s a genetic component which can be selected for–See also the Eloi and the Morlocks–which would solve the problem over 20 or 40 generations, but from what I can see people need something to need to do.
We see this not only in the plight of welfare recipients across most cultures, but we see similar behaviors in Trust Fund Children, and to an extent in retirees–although not so much with the drugs (One of my uncles was reasonably sober his whole working life and started drinking more when he retired. Then it started causing health problems and cut way back.).
It’s not just humans. If you’ve ever heard Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer) talk about how he trains dogs, you understand that dogs need to believe they’re doing a job to be happy and healthy. That job can be damn near anything, just so the dog thinks it’s a job. So he might put a vest with pockets on the dog, and put something in the pockets, before taking the dog out for a walk. The dog knows it’s carrying something the alpha wants it to carry, which means it’s an important job. You can see the dog’s pride in doing that job, even though it has no idea whether the things in the pockets are really important or placebo cargo.
That goes to the biggest problem with replacing gainful employment with “entitlements” designed to provide the income of a job. Someone who isn’t doing anything knows it. You have to give them something to do so they feel like they’re earning their pay, that makes the world just a tiny bit better for being done (or a bit worse if it isn’t).