Uncanny Valley Digest: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

zamyatinweOur Wednesday night Zamyatin discussion was the hammer and tongs! Like many thought-provoking Russian novels of its time, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 authoritarian dystopia, We, was first published in translation, outside of Russia. It is an epistolary novel of journal entries made by the chief engineer of a starship that is about to deposit its payload of perfected human life into space. This ship, the INTEGRAL, will be loaded with “treatises, epic poems, manifestos, odes, or other compositions dealing with the beauty and grandeur of OneState.” Since everyone who feels capable is required to compose something, our narrator begins this diary. His name is D-503.

David: “Welcome to the July 8th edition of the Quarantine extravaganza.”

Regarding We
David: The book is very lean. Very little sentence subordination. Almost no adverbs. Dense.
Nowell: It get’s tedious.

Taylorquote-in-the-past-the-man-has-been-first-in-the-future-the-system-must-be-first-frederick-winslow-taylor-68-70-81

Schmuck.

Chris: Frederick Winslow Taylor, pioneer of psychophysiology. He invented time and motion studies. Made Henry Ford a fortune measuring workers motions to make them most efficient. The conversion of a human to a perfect part of a machine, in flesh and blood. “An evil science developed for American capitalism that is now everywhere.”
David: A prognostication that life and culture will become this machine factory way, too.
Nikita: The doctor’s office. A very Freudian reading of the soul as an ailment. The mirror analogy . A hard surface that gets softened by heat by fire of irrational passions. It then doesn’t reflect reality, it absorbs it within, generating soul, which is a sickness in OneState.
Chris: There are two doctors in the office. One who is –
Suhail: Dr. Scissorlips!
Chris: Yes, him who is I-330’s contact. (and also the guy who seems helpful in getting D-503 in contact with I-330 and the underground society. Spoiler: but he’s not helping revolutionaries, he’s helping identifying them!)
Nikita: And the other doctor, who is developing the surgery to remove the Imagination.
Chris: and what about the S-shaped man who follows him?
Nikita: a common figure, lurking in the background, you never know why he’s watching the character.
Chris: The Secret Police man is not a threat. He’s your friend. He knows you, understands your circumstances, sympathizes. He doesn’t want to bust you. He wants your whole network.
Meg: D-503 is all about control. It’s such a terrifying crisis for him to feel emotion. It drives him out of his mind to feel intense desire, or love.
Chris: Notice the resonance with the Matrix. Neo was the mechanism that instantiates the irrationality that all complex systems inevitably yield, undermining the system itself.
Suhail: Like Godel, Escher, Bach. The opening idea that more complex systems tend to produce instances that the system cannot account for.
Nowell: Like the square root of -1 for D-503.
Meg: The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forester (1905), was his technological dystopia in response to the telephone and what he was afraid it would do to people.
Suhail: In The Machine Stops, everyone stays home in a comfortable, convertible room and lives life through video calls and never makes physical contact with other people. The state owns children and raises them away from their parents (Also in We).

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St.Basil Orthodox Cathedral and Minin & Pozharskiy monument in Moscow, Russia.

Technology Worship And The Russian Revolution
Chris: Ideologically based societies tend to develop plans to remake society. Communism and Socialism wanted to engineer society.
Nikita: And instead of change over generations, the Bolsheviks wanted to do it over the course of 2 five-year-plans. A lot of heads rolled. Millions. Although, this early 20th century futurist movement started as a positive thing. An optimistic futurism that wanted to leave behind the past with speed and machines. But we can’t forget, coded in male terms of war and power. The excitement of leaving the past behind by riding in an automobile or jumping out of a plane with a parachute gave mass society great pleasure. Later, it darkened into crushing organic flesh under the heel of the machine.
David: Is this a critique of 1920s Russia?
Nikita: Zamyatin was a Bolshevik himself. He bought in early on, during the optimism. He was imprisoned for it and eventually released. As an artist he believed in creative freedom and was quite disillusioned by the movement. Zamyatin was one of the few Russians whom Lenin gave permission to leave Russia (for Paris, where he lived out his life). Bulgakov was not allowed to leave. Zamyatin was viciously attacked by critics, the new peasant-cum-intellectuals who didn’t want his style in the canon. It drove him out of Russia.
Suhail: It doesn’t read to me as a critique of socialist Russia, but of this global technological acceleration, and how it could do this to any country.
Nikita: Russia didn’t have a Renaissance, like Europe. They went directly from the middle ages to the Revolution, trying to update centuries worth of change into one generation.
Suhail: From feudal peasants to college educated hack novelists in one fell swoop. Ouch.
Nikita: It was pretty medieval, yes.

Characterizations By A Love Sick Engineer
Meg: For the narrator each character is represented as one image, the puffy wrist, the parabola bald spot, the O mouth, the sharp toothed I-330. Because he’s a mathematician, he reduces each person to a visual trait. That is all he sees, or references. It creates for a kind of disjointed sense of space, but it strangely highlights the perspective of a person like D-503 who can no see whole human beings.
Ryan: He’s definitely in the realm of the surrealists, like Breton and that time.
Chris: D-503 is experiencing a tortured spontaneity. He can’t handle it. He makes a miserable sensualist showing everyone what an emotionally immature idiot he is. Is this the horror of the novel, that “I too could cast into this madness of passion.”
Meg: He’s clueless that I-330 is manipulating him, almost mocking him. This gets into the novel being a satire. But how far is it going to go? It’s pushing it to call it satire sometimes.
Nikita: He’s a pawn of both sides. Either allegiance to the Benefactor or the confusing, irresistible woman.
David: This guy has no emotional outlets whatsoever. A Freudian would wonder, “What the hell happens to this person’s brain when he falls asleep? It must blow like a fuse!”
Nikita: D-503 is attracted to this femme fetal who will annihilate him and release and relieve him of his lust as well. She could leave him at any moment but she will also delight him. He can’t resist her, and she can’t decide if she cares about him. His only other choice is the all-controlling Benefactor, a technological, hierarchal father figure.

Sigmund_Freud,_by_Max_Halberstadt_(cropped)

Father, anyone?

Chris: The Freudian death-drive. It’s “off-the-shelf Freud.” After the seduction he’s drawn into a world organized around sex and death (eros and thanatos). And he is trapped between that world and the OneState world of + and – .
Nikita: Zamyatin is using the ultimate dichotomy between Freedom and Happiness, borrowed from Dostoyevski’s Grand Inquisitor chapter from Brothers Karamazov. Freedom (suffering, doubt, feed yourself, survive, lots of choice) Vs. Happiness (regularity, the total state that supplies for everyone’s needs and replaces the need for religion)

World-Building Minutiae, Glass, and Russian Dolls
Suhail: Some world-building details he slips in almost as afterthought clues. There was a 200 Years Ward. Only 0.2% of Earth’s population survived. We live in these glass cities away from the overgrown wastelands beyond. There are 10 million citizens in OneState, that’s all that’s left of humanity. (Not counting the hairy savages living outside the Green Wall (glass barrier containing the city.) Also, a detail about naming the Numbers: males get consonants, females get vowels.
Chris: The world building thread of glass. Why all this glass? There’s glass everywhere.
Suhail: The symbolic transparency of human life, the state seeing everything and everyone through all neighbors spying on each other.
Meg: This seemed to me an antecedent to the generational starship trope in science fiction that followed this. The INTEGRAL is a kind of generational starship. A ship that arrives at its destination piloted by the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original passengers. So the ship has to be able to sustain itself for centuries.
Chris: Back to the glass for minute. I thought about the Russian doll image, the Matryoshka, a sense of nested scale in the glass. The city is a big glass ball. Each room is a small glass ball. Each person’s shaved head is a small glass ball, clear and predictable. Even the way people are interrogated and executed for having an Imagination takes place in a round glass bell.
Meg: Glass is a man-made structure. Control again.
Nikita: Glass as a building medium had been hot since the early skyscrapers of the gilded age, late 1800s.

David: An 1851 image of the Crystal Palace at The Great Exhibition Of Industry Of All Nations, in Hyde Park, London.
Woah, dig that. The first moment in modern architecture where you could see out in great scale and nature was right there with you while you were still inside.
Chris: Connection to stained glass in churches to cast light on the numinous presence of the divine spirit.
Suhail: But here it’s Prosperity Gospel glass buildings, instead of church stained glass.
Nikita: Incidently, Dostoyevksi’s Notes From Underground was an intentional middle finger at that Crystal Palace and that technological optimist Great Exhibition.
Everyone Else: NO kidding, cool, I had no idea. Thank you, Nikita.
Nikita: Evidently, that spectacle, and that palace particularly, infuriated him.

Movie Trailers And Proper Names
David: We have the trailer for the 2021 release of the motion picture, W.E.
We took a break to watch it. Looks cool. “I’d watch it.” Foreign cinema, babee!

Nikita: This connects to Lem’s Solaris, the choice between happiness and freedom. In Solaris, something happens to make the character leave the fantasy planet that generates the fantasy of his dead wife, returning to the reality of his (now-dead) father.
David: Also connections to Logan’s Run, and THX-138, giving people coded names. The number labeling system, as a sci-fi trope it speaks volumes.
Chris: Gulag guards used number codes to address prisoners.
Meg: Atwood said this novel influenced The Handmaid’s Tale. Certainly the naming conventions. Also the way sexuality is regimented in that society, like the pink tickets in We.
Nikita: The names are such an obvious mechanism from a writer’s perspective. And from a philosophical perspective. Your proper name is your passport to symbolic reality; it’s your ticket. It precedes you, presumably as you are born. Your name is given, not chosen, typically, and it lasts after you. The name. it’s connected to your unconscious somehow. It’s considered by some Russian thinkers an immortal part of your body, similar to the way your hair and nails keep growing after you die. AND in the 1920s in Russia people actually did this, forsook their Christian names and took on mechanist, “Taylorist” names, like Bolt, or Hammer, or Ninel (Lenin backwards)
Chris: Like River, or Rainbow, or Moon Unit.

Join us next week for Philip K. Dick’s first robot novel, We Can Build You.
Thank you for reading. Reading rules!

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Now, the notes! (Translation and Introduction by Clarence Brown, 1993)

xviii: Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915)
xix: not blaming nationalities. All of humanity is going this route.
xxi: sci-fi is a literature of ideas
xxii: a Zamyatin essay from 1923, “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters”
5: the Green Wall is glass
6: sublimity of ultimate rationality
6, 36: zero freedom = zero crime. Intentional satirical logical syllogisms of human values that fail in their simplicity. If you stop valuing freedom and love, all else follows.
10: love at first sight, via irritation.
10, 39: The irrational number in human thought. No ratio can represent the idea.
11, 17: people as parts of a machine
13: sterilized social world, and proud of it
13: even the two Personal Hours will become incorporated
18: grand piano as artifact
18: A propaganda diet must be rigorously maintained. Imagination is a pang, an epileptic illness. Being trained to laugh at old, creative music. But this time the music touched him instead.
20: Of the Sex Hour, only 15 minutes of it are budgeted for the carnal act itself. They do workbook problems together, also.
21: War between City and Country. Totally Russian Revolution flavor.
22: *bread is extinct.
22: backstory. catastrophic 200 years war. population depletion. petroleum-derived food, the saving technology.
22: How sex is regulated. Pink tickets. Make envy impossible, and happiness is inevitable. Like a ratio with a zero in it.
25: so tongue-in-cheek. The “ideal is “where nothing ever happens anymore.”
25: all “unforeseen circumstances are budgeted to the Personal Hours.
27: The use of color troubles ol’ D-503
28: Children are raised by the state, as in “The Machine Stops” (E.M. Forster)
29: A “clear” antecedent to Winston and Julia’s relations in 1984.
30: “equality” with a dual edge, making “originality” impossible and undesirable.
33: dream-state anti-logic of bodily fluids. “juices”
33: dreams are mental illness, as well.
36: “beneficent yoke of the Benefactor.” push on, beasts of burden.
35-6: surveillance intrigue. so different from Stealing Worlds, where surveillance was blunt, obvious, trite, ubiquitous.
37: D-503 is triggered. Some logic ought to help! He uses logic cruelly on O, to say that modern spies are less odious than ancient spies. Dood’s whack.
39: Pliapa, the old, robotic math teacher.
41: his self is splitting. 56, 59, 63: he’s dissolving into… 71,79: he’s made his transition. Color no longer disturbs D-503. In fact, he uses it to describe his own mood. Color and ripening. 79: he’s in love. 80: colors again, for him.
41: painting ? “In The Carriage” ?
43: Borg-ish. Integrated from the cretin to Shakespeare, so we never have either anymore. [68: same with humans and gods, total equality, so we don’t have either anymore.]
45-9: public, religious, capital punishment for thought crimes. Be rendered down to water
56-7: drunk and impassioned, such alien feelings, totally overwhelm our INTEGRAL-designing engineer.
61: another instance where clear-cut rational duality fails the human condition. Non-Freedom = Happiness.
65: giving infinity parameters, to soothe the existentially dreadful mind.
66: poetry, the ocean, all subjugated to reason and “usefulness and functionality.”
70: certainty of love, despite logic. like a natural law.
72: he already knows he’s dead (the old him?), but the passion, love, bliss, carries him.
72: heart-certainty now, rather than reason-certainty. This is how it “had to be.” (Italics his.)
73: beautiful, sexual, compelling…ruination.
74: emotional fullness! I’ll even fit this uncertainty into a syllogism.
75-6: the neighbor (spy) and the impulse to salvation and support from these spies. Like S on the subway is almost comforting, because at least he’s a Guardian. At least he knows what’s best for me.
77: I take it the preponderance of ellipses…during sex scenes…indicates…censorship? or is his writing that vague? I doubt it. It’s confusing either way.
77: good image management (from his tryst with I-330 at Ancient House)
84: S is still on his tail and now it goads
85: S…very Kafka
87: Brief, OneState-doctor’s definition of the soul, as illness.
88-9: love roller coaster, the faintest hope of seeing her makes his despondent day.
88: an epidemic of cases of soul. The system is breaking down? Humanity is resurfacing despite OneState’s hard work?
90: Good image management, “prose poem” vibe.
91: the virtues of walls, particularly the Green Wall
92: the same way I-330 said she was in love with that old woman at Ancient House.
94: He “died.” Was it a panic attack? a fainting spell. He blacked out for 10 seconds and no one ever does that anymore. No reference point for a black out, but death.
94: an old deep subway tunnel?
98: logical reasoning of material shapes for irrational numbers, like the square root of -1. meaning: the “soul” is as real as a pair of boots behind the closet door. *boom* logic implodes.
99: “None of this vanished. It was just concealed by the light of day.”
103: O deregisters him. A break-up letter.
104: no “Innumerable Pity”. when only 10 workers die, it’s too few, given the whole of humanity, to slow down or mourn.
105: a clue in the naming system. Consonants for males. Vowels for females.
111: reducto ad finem

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Uncanny Valley Digest: Stanisław Lem’s “Let Us Save The Universe”

lemsavetheuniverseLast night’s Stanisław Lem discussion was a joyride in a cosmic salvage craft! (In Polish, the “ł” is pronounced as a soft “wa,” between “L” and “W” on the English speaking palate.) Lem’s most well-traveled character, Ijon Tichy, delivers a wry and corrective missive to humanity.  “Let Us Save The Universe,” was first published in 1971. The English translation was published in the December 14, 1981 issue of The New Yorker. In it, Tichy laments the “growth of cosmic tourism,” and all the litter in its wake. He culminates in a call to action to clean up the solar system, with Lem-ish levity.

The asteroid belt is littered and defaced. Eros is graffitied with lovers’ names and “arrow-pierced hearts in the worst taste.” Ceres is plastered with 3D family photos like a Fotomat of Mt. Rushmores. Juno has been chipped and eroded away by vandals and souvenir hunters.

stanislawlemBoth stars in Centaurus are growing dim because they’re orbited by so much litter. One large planet in the system has a Saturn-like ring of “beer bottles and lemonade containers…tin cans, eggshells, and old newspapers. “There are places where you cannot see the stars for all the rubbish.” There’s also the problem of inconsiderate tourists expectorating into space. “Individuals who fall sick during a voyage seem to consider outer space their personal toilet.” That gunk freezes! Instant micro meteorites, quite dangerous. Also, “Alcoholism is a special problem.”

Oxygen supply lines are delayed across the 6 light years between Beluria and Palindronia. “People who go there to sightsee are forced to freeze themselves and wait.”

You get the point. The first third of the story reads, and I’m memory-quoting Chris here, “like a crotchety old man at the park complaining about all the people ruining his peace and quiet.”

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The rest of the story is a tongue-in-cheek monsters compendium of plants, insects, and animals, that have mutated to lure, capture, and devour hapless human tourists. Like bottombiter chair ants, “that group together and mimic wicker furniture,” until a weary tourist comes along and instinctively plops into a random wicker chair, never to rise again.

There is a plant, the furiol, that attracts loud, misbehaving, destructive children, who love to kick and crush it because it cracks like an egg. It releases spores that get into their systems and infect the children.

“The child develops into an apparently normal individual, but before long an incurable malignant process sets in: card playing, drunkenness, and debauchery are the successive stages, followed by either death or a great career.”

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That part’s funny enough, but he follows up by saying, in response to those who want to eradicate this plant, “Those who say this do not stop to think that children should be taught, instead, not to kick objects on foreign planets.”

There is a bird, hunted and eaten to the brink of extinction, called the scribblemock. It mimics humans much like a parrot does, but in writing. “Some people deliberately infuriate the bird by taunting it with spelling errors.”

Discussion ensued:

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Yes, that’s a Lord Of The Rings, Black Orc Porter

David: “Welcome to the Cosmic Confluence on Channel 28 Cable Access.”
Nowell: Yeahhh.
David: I found it a little bit impenetrable.
Meg: It correlates with increasing cultural awareness of pollution as a problem.
Suhail: It reminds me of Sharing Air.
Chris: Ecological talk of species mimicry betrays a gentle paranoia, of all these beasties that lure people in and devour them.
Meg: There’s another Tichy story with an electronic bard that spouts some really excellent poetry.
Nikita: Another famous one – The 14th Journey Of Tichy. There was an Azerbaijani-Russian collaboration animated movie of it.
David: The litter. Here’s the result of all that golden age sci fi going-out-into-the-great-beyond, colonizing space, and owning the universe stuff. So here’s all your junk and bullshit strewn everywhere. It’s an early cynical response to golden age sci fi, like, going out there isn’t going to be as great as we think.
Meg: It’s a big deal when a sci fi story gets published in the New Yorker. How much is it characteristic of Lem or how much is it New Yorker’ed? Because it’s very quaint in tone, with the sketches, with a Thurber-y, New-Yorker tone.
Chris: He was considered one of the most intellectual of sci fi writers. Not cynical so much as world weary and penetrating.
solarislemmovieNikita: Solaris is a masterpiece.
Chris: The only other Polish author I’ve read in depth is Sapkowski’s Witcher books (fantasy, recommended).
A recommendation of The Clockwork Man, by William Jablonsky.
Meg: In Poland or Eastern Europe, is sci fi literary? Seems like yes.
Nikita: Sci fi was taken very very seriously. “using Aesopian language to get past the censors.”
Suhail: Like the coded indictment of Cold War Russia in The Master And Margarita, by Bulgakov.
We went on a Bulgakov tangent about that masterpiece. Meg reads The Master And Margarita every couple of years; loves it. Nikita and Meg suggested strongly The Heart Of A Dog, also by Bulgakov.
Chris: Lem has 36 writing credits on IMDb. A Tichy series, 14 episodes. TV shorts. TV Movies. The most recent is a sci fi film in Hungary called, “His Master’s Voice.” Sounds like a ton of films to be explored.
Had a great free association from Meg that lead to Alfred Jarry being an influence on Lem. And David noticing that a character in Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? steals that name. “It’s Al Jarry, a B-movie actor from Indiana who plays Mercer in the Mercerism simulations.”
Chris: And Mercerizing is the industrial process of polishing threads of fabric for textiles. Just as the thread connecting these subjects has been made more lustrous.
Nice one, Chris!
Nikita: Clearly, Tichy is blaming humans for polluting what we assumed to be infinite spaces, but they’re not.
Meg: An extension of the fallacy that humans are at the top of the food chain.
Nikita: Things are in disrepair. There’s litter everywhere. Alcoholism is rampant. It’s a total reflection of the deteriorating soviet block social state of affairs (1971-81).

“Some people believe it is all right if humans eat creatures from other planets, but when the reverse takes place they raise a hue and cry, call for military assistance, demand punitive expeditions, etc.”

HA!
The story ends on a call to action, for us to enforce the laws and clean things up: “let us save the universe.” Sardonic; and all right in the middle of the environmental movement! (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962. Nixon formed the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970)
David: Now that we’ve had at it, I take back what I said about it being impenetrable.
Suhail: I also read it as a random flight of fancy at first, until Chris pointed out that these creatures are all evolved to devour humans because of cosmic tourism.

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Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 9.52.14 PMNikita suggested an animated Russian film from 1981 called “The Mystery of the Third Planet.” We shared around the YouTube link, to watch it later.

On that note, join us next week, for our discussion of We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Thank you for reading! Reading rules!

Posted in Authors and Writing, Science Fiction, Short Stories, summer reading, uncanny valley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncanny Valley Digest: Karl Schroeder’s Stealing Worlds

stealingworldsschroederA spunky burglar is on the run for her life after helping her now-murdered father rob a corrupt ecological securities firm. Schroeder’s virtual worlds detective caper, set in the near future, is a young adult primer on the implications of blockchain and AI in our corporate futures.

This didactic novel is strong on ideas, and makes up for that strength in character development and VR setting descriptions. One of our favorite ideas in Stealing Worlds is the advent of philosophies about AI design. Face it, our current economic systems are exploitive and increasingly destructive. As we automate our economic systems they become more aggressive, faster, less humane. Chris put it best when he said, “The money tree is the only tree that when you shake it, the fruits and nuts fall upwards.”

The Automated CEO
In Stealing Worlds, synthetic sentiences have not only taken over manufacturing and accounting jobs, but corporate boards. By automating and blockchaining the decision matrixes of a corporate board, theoretically you can filter out greedy and corrupt decision-making. It’s a simplistic view of morality, but Schroeder’s on the case.

blockchainAIThe main flaw, highlighted by Meg: “Okay, here’s this terrible state of affairs caused by the misuse of powerful technology. And the solution is…even more technology that’s even more powerful, and it can’t be hacked! I’m skeptical.” In this context, the solution is often worse than the problem.

Epistemology Acting Up Again?
Of course, the new technology does get hacked. Unwilling to fault the idealized blockchain, the problem is in its sensory apparatus. Even though the blockchains remain incorruptible, the sensors are hacked – the uncountable multitude of minuscule sensors that provide all the big data to the blockchain-girded AIs. Giving a blockchain AI phony data is a great way to control its decision making.

The book glosses over just how many millions of tiny sensors are needed to generate sufficient data to formulate these blockchain AIs. Every tree, every person, creature, piece of fruit, quantity of water, soil sample, etc. Any aspect of the material world that can be monitored by sensor generates data. Talk about microplastic litter, on a new massive global scale. (What is blockchain anyway? A type of software ledger that can verify and ensure an original digital phenomenon. With infinite identical digital reproduction, how can you tell which file is the original? For example, blockchain is used to generate bitcoins, which cannot be copied. They exist in a finite, global quantity, and that is why the work as money.)  It’s funny that the sensors are hacked, corrupting the data which the perfect blockchain AIs unwittingly absorb. It’s like the state of journalism, ha!

This is a classic replay of the flaw of technological romance, the insistence that the newest, most promising, most powerful technology is of course immune to human greed and corruption. It’ll fix everything this time, we’re sure of it!

chardevSetting and Characterization
Meg noted, despite Schroeder being a futurist with a degree in Foresight Studies, “he had a hard time describing virtual places.” Many agreed, there was an unconvincing and random quality to the VR interfaces. Everyone agreed that the Peruvian rainforest segment was beautifully described. Maybe that was not a mistake, since by the end of the book, the aim is to sort of re-diefy nature.

Also, the romance and sex in the book was so trite it was barely there. Nikita pointed out that Schroeder was raised in a Canadian Mennonite community. This was during the portion of our discussion about the book’s unidimensional characterizations. Regarding the protagonist, Sura, Meg said, “I never worried about her. Too much like a video game figure. But at least video game characters get to die.” Ha! Chris said, “She didn’t have an arc, a hero’s journey.” Dave added, “No – she has a payoff, namely the meaning of her parental loss.”

Schroeder doesn’t do women, doesn’t do sexy, but the ideas hold it together. Gill’s last word, “You never get a sense of what makes these characters tick. But it was worth the ride.”

Waving compass character cartoon styleThe Character of Compass
Compass is a friend of Sura’s who turns out to have a selective type of amnesia. Compass remembers who she is in the present, but she can not remember how she got here. She is unable to recollect her own past to conjure a continuous identity, so she lingers in different VR character frames to keep herself sane. In Chris’s words: “prosthetic personality disorder.”

A Special Announcement
During our end-of-discussion chat, Meg shared some delightful news: she’s had a story accepted for publication by Analogue Science Fiction Magazine!!! It’s a 10,000 word novella (of which they only print 2 per issue) called “Flashmob.” Watch for it. WAY TO GO, MEG! Too cool! 😀

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Join us next week for our discussion of Stanislaw Lem’s “Let Us Save The Universe.”


Thank you for reading! Reading rules!

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P.S. The notes!

p.88 – is it the end of drudgery, or a new running wheel for capitalism’s rats?

p.89 – good rant on the new economy. Shoveling garbage IRL becomes an in-game resource. People are getting paid in virtu for proxy tasks in situ. It’s like spending real world money on Warcraft gold. Virtual worlds are only instantiated if they have an economy. That’s a threadbare “world.”

p.82 – the Cahokian Elder and the orchard forests of the past.

p.89 – the thundering roar of forest sounds in the days before humans, and lumber.

p.89 – another rant that puts me in the mind of  “Everybody Knows” by Don Henly (also, covered by Concrete Blonde in the 90s!). The “black people standing around” line gave me pause. In the Henly song, the lyric is: “old black Joe’s still picking cotton. Everybody knows.”

p.91 – geography bows under the weight of the gaze

p.106 – luck talk/monopoly. The illusion of the self-made man.

p.113 Proudly Eagle Owned! carshare service. A blockchain AI corporation with no human members. requires lots of sensors.

p.120-1 – All that ‘splainin’ and I still don’t get it. How is this different than using USD to buy Warcraft tokens.

p.122 – oracles? I am not gripped. Who understands this?

p.130 – my eyes are glazing over

p.167 – parallel Americas: poverty-stricken and wealthy, clean and surveilled or filthy and private?

p.169-70 – How the wealthy cope with privacy loss. “Whitelisting” your face in the recognition databases.

p.169 “Who really runs the show?”
This question, this premise, the axiomatic belief itself that a “who” clandestinely wields world-controlling power. There is the kernal of God and conspiracy theorist in that simplistic framing of the question.
CONSIDER THIS: The show runs us. Even if humans “built” it.
So many forces at play, so many instances of greed and stupidity, as well as genius and generosity, so many people out for themselves and their ilk that no one runs the show, because everyone’s is. Think of Caesar’s assassination. Everybody was in on it, and almost none of them agreed with each other on any other points but the knives’.

p.177-8 – nice touch. the case for total surveillance. Pf. So, how to preserve privacy in this total immersion surveillance?

p.178 – Andrew Yang outlines some of this in real life terms in The War On Normal People

p.179 – an idea similar to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock

p.183 – the most important thing about AI is not what it thinks, but what it thinks it is.

p.190 – totally, the “solution” is as bad as the problem.

p.199 – the virtues of blockchain avocado tracing.

p.212 – the human heart, at it again.

p.260 – actants and deodands: AIs acting on behalf of externalities and non-human life. We’ve tagged every plant, animal, and square foot of soil in this stand of forest. Nevermind the litter. Now, using an interface we’ve written, the big data from those sensors can manifest as an interactive AI.

p.264 – so it’s basically like a mushroom trip in nature, but instead of mushrooms to talk to the forest spirits, you use sensors that represent every living thing in the forest and talk to the AI that is amalgamated from that sensor data. How’s the bear doing? How are the moles doing? How’s the fungal soil layer doing? It’s all somewhere in there.

p.264 – “There are more organizational principles at work in just this one forest than humanity has invented in ten thousand years”

p.265 – the mycelial mind

p.271 – Phil Dick homage line: “They are that which is still there, even when you stop believing in them.”

p.272 – An AI with a unique worldview, not borrowing a human worldview.

p.287 – The interface is the mask.

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