Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Metatropolis is a shared world collection of 5 stories on the theme "future cities", edited by John Scalzi, 2010, 288 pages. It is subtitled "Original Science Fiction Stories in a Shared Future".

I was very pleasantly surprised at how good this collection is. I only read 4 of the stories because I had already purchased, read, and reviewed the Scalzi story separately - which lead me to this collection. The stories all explore how we move past our current capitalist economy. All the stories were well written page turners. I give this a 5 star rating and strongly recommend it. I am really surprised this came out in 2010.

I want to discuss the content in detail without worrying about spoilers, so,

*********************** SPOILER ALERT ***********************
Many of the attitudes are very reminiscent of Cory Doctorow's "Walkaway", which I discussed here - but come from 7 years earlier?!?!? I noticed 2 overall differences between these stories and "Walkaway".
  1. 3 of the 4 stories feature a reputation economy. Doctorow is not a big fan; in fact, he is a big proponent of a gift economy.
  2. When Doctorow introduced post-sigularity tech in the form of immortality via upload/download, I questioned its necessity, but decided it was OK. But none of the stories here uses any such real science fictiony type breakthrough. All the tech in these stories is stuff that we could feasibly be making in the next 10-20 years. So maybe the immortality was a distraction after all.

The 1st story is "In The Forests Of The Night", by Jay Lake (who died in 2014). The city here is set in the Pacific northwest, where it hides from capitalism in the forests and lava tubes. The Evil Capitalist particularly wants to get his greedy hands on their IP before it becomes open source. There are a messianic figure and a hit woman both in the EC's employ. The messianic figure I really did not get the purpose of. He needed to die christ-like to energize the Cascadians to metastasize? Why did we need the Great Man Theory here?

The 2nd story is "Stochasti-city", by Tobias S. Buckell, who I don't think I have read before. A nomadic carbon neutral society decides to make Detroit carless. Some great ideas here. Some of the ramifications of the gig economy (ha ha, Wikepedia redirects "gig economy" to "temporary work") are explored. Taskrabbits deliver packages of who knows what, and if they get in trouble a gig economy lawyer bails them out. The nomads organize in a city and build things like vertical farms, all from reused materials, before they move on. Good stuff.

The 3rd story is "The Red In The Sky Is Our Blood" by Elizabeth Bear. We have a parallel society based on a reputation economy (with a bracelet with merit dog tags as hardware). They work in collapsed cities, converting abandoned homes. "Some of them are petroleum farms, some are food farms. All salvaged materials."

Here is an interesting exposition by one of the characters, combining a definition of our old friend The Good Life (maybe v0.5) with a cutting critique of the globalized economy.

“All you need to live,” said Shearer. “Food, water, a place to sleep, protection from the elements, connectivity. Exploitation of natural resources, manufacturing — stuff — is a dead technology, Miss Grange. The world needs to invent something new. New ways to live. We’ve proven that upsizing and globalization really don’t work as well as we’d hoped. Economies of scale make stuff cheaper, but they also demand that we move stuff from place to place, and create demand for stuff that’s really not needed. And so rapid growth may lead to rapid collapse. With modern communications, you don’t need to be big anymore to be diversified.”
We also meet the sharing economy, which appears to be rapidly becoming commonly practiced in the real world. I read a quote somewhere to the effect that "ownership was only invented because we didn't have good tech to do sharing". Clearly we have the tech now.

Here's a nice description of their system:

“Okay,” Cadie said. “So really, it’s not all that different from anything else. Except instead of money, you get tags.…”

“Except, instead of contributing to an exploitative economy designed to line the pockets of the top capital holders, we’re contributing to a collective economy in which people know one another by reputation.”

“Until it gets too big.”

“Then we split up,” Homer said. “Subdivide until we reach a sustainable level. Growth—getting as big as possible as fast as possible—is not the only way to survive. Think about dinosaurs and mammals.”

The 5th story is "To Hie From Far Cilenia" by Karl Schroeder. Schroeder has published some very interesting stuff on future governance, I am always glad to find more of his work. This story features alternative realities layered in Augmented Reality trying to create a reputation economy based post-scarcity utopia, existing in parallel with the normal world. They appear to have their own dark net.

This was a really interesting observation, new to me. It touches again an idea to which I was recently 1st exposed in "Doughnut Economics": the power of a currency.

“Did you know,” Fraction said suddenly, “that when Roman provinces wanted to rebel, the first thing they did was print their own money?”

You can see why I liked these stories. New economics upon new economics: reputation economy, gig economy, sharing economy, collective economy, managed employment economy, complementary currency. Good 21st century economic thinking.

What do all these parallel, alternative systems have in common? The removal of the rentier from the economic picture. For sure, good riddance. The "euthanasia of the rentier" cannot come soon enough.

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