Monday, April 24, 2017

Six Collapsing Infomocracies

I recently read 3 high quality science fiction novels.

1st, "The Collapsing Empire", by John Scalzi, 2017, 318 pages. This is a space opera, with a feudal instellar empire that also incorporates a religion, set around 400 years in the future.. I'm kind of tired of interstellar empires, particularly feudal ones. Of course, Scalzi snarkily informs that the whole deal including the religion was setup as a scam by some 0.01%'ers who came up with the best way to extract rents ever. It's a good read. It is really kept moving by the mother/daughter team who head one of the monopolistic clans that are the empire's nobility who say "fuck" or tell someone to "fuck yourself" every other sentence or so, and who are unashamedly sexual predators.

2nd, "Infomocracy", by Malka Older, 2017, 350 pages. I really want science fiction to turn its thinking to how we can create modern systems of governance to implement a post scarcity utopia. This novel has some interesting concepts. Set 40-50 years in the future, the world has implemented micro-democracy. The world has been divided into 100,000 districts of 100,000 citizens called "centenals". Hard to believe that that does actually multiply to 10B. Each centenal can choose its government from a menu of political, corporate, security, military, etc. parties in (online) elections held every 10 years. Some parties have only 1 centenal, others have 10s of 1000s. Laws are specified by the party the centenal elects, giving the effect of states' rights on steroids. There is a global organization called Information that basically encompasses all the hardware, software, and content of the Internet. The party that controls the most centenals is the "supermajority", and maybe gets to take the lead in creating the overall policy agenda?

Our main protagonists are a campaign worker for an up and coming party, and an operative for Information. With regard to the plot, it's really kind of all over the place. Kind of a spy/suspense feel, with some ninjas thrown in, plus some conspiracy theory, but the drama is often quite unexpected. The created world seems to have a lot of incongruity - maybe that is intentional. Some of the plot elements seem somewhat unbelievable - like no one is in charge of things where you would definitely expect someone to be in charge - but again, maybe that is what you would get with such a micro-democracy.

Ms. Older has an interesting bio, and she uses the experiences of her world-spanning career in vivid depictions of various locales and their foods. I'm not that into travel, I may need to rethink that based on the opportunities for some different cuisines.

Not the greatest read, but, again, I welcome the concepts. I debated not ordering the sequel to this novel, but wound up going on and ordering it. It's due out in September.

3rd, "Six Wakes", by Mur Lafferty, 2017, 390 pages. I kind of bought this book by mistake when I was trying to buy "Infomocracy". It was a fortuitous mistake, this was a very good read. Set ~500 years in the future, it is a murder mystery involving the 6 crew members and AI of the 1st interstellar vessel to leave earth. The crew members are all clones with criminal backgrounds who get their crimes pardoned in exchange for spending a few lifetimes crewing the ship. Lots of shells within shells, somewhat of a noir feel. Part of the background of the story is the rise of cloning, which involves personality uploads and downloads, with technology available to edit the personality. There are the inevitable political and religious controversies. I liked this nice rant by the ship physician, arguing against someone opposing cloning on religious grounds.

“I’m so sick of that argument. I’ve been hearing it for centuries. Playing God. Wolfgang, we played God when people believed they could dictate their baby’s gender by having sex in a certain position. We played God when we invented birth control, amniocentesis, cesarean sections, when we developed modern medicine and surgery. Flight is playing God. Fighting cancer is playing God. Contact lenses and glasses are playing God. Anything we do to modify our lives in a way that we were not born into is playing God. In vitro fertilization. Hormone replacement therapy. Gender reassignment surgery. Antibiotics. Why are you fine with all of that, but cloning is the problem?”

There was a little of the science in the book where I was kind of like "Nah, no way", but, other than that, a very good read.

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