Posts Tagged ‘Ken Macleod’


 

(The Corporation Wars: Emergence, by Ken Macleod. Orbit, 2017, 402 pp., $9.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

This final portion of the Corporation Wars trilogy wraps things up neatly. Whether that’s a good thing or not is questionable. It leaves hanging (appropriately) the question of whether machine-intelligence is a good thing or not. That it exists here, is beyond question.

The narrative also, barely, leaves hanging the question of whether capitalism is a good thing or not — though the mayhem in pursuit of the profit motive seems persuasive evidence to the contrary. (Macleod has delivered a much less nuanced judgment in The Stone Canal and many of his other works.)

Another mostly unaddressed but central question is whether stored backups of personalities would, when revived, constitute continued life for the backed-up personalities. (I’d argue, pessimistically, that it wouldn’t, because the dead versions would in fact be dead — when we’re dead, we’re dead — and unaware of the “revived” versions, and unaware of their perceptions.)

As well, Macleod gives a good impression of the alienness of machine intelligence in such passages as:

“‘<Very well> said Simo. <Talis and I will wait deeper in this tunnel. If there are any indications that you have been caught, you may rely upon us to save ourselves>”

Anyway, here, in this final portion of the trilogy, we follow the protagonist Carlos, and the “freebot” (self-aware robot) Seba through their struggles against both the neo-fascist “Rax” and the neo-liberal Direction.

Without giving away too much, what I can say here is that Macleod neatly winds up the plot, without leaving much room for a sequel.

Beyond that the text is replete with mostly sci-fi references, including to the munitions company “Morlock Arms,” and a clever rephrasing of Clarke’s famous dictum: “She understood in principle, but the engineering details were at a level where the most strictly materialist explanation might as well be magic.”

Even funnier: “Entire automated law firms stored like flat-packs, ready to be assembled at first notice . . . Imagine a robot stamping an official seal . . . forever.”

The one real problem with this book and the previous one is that Macleod does not provide sufficient back story — nowhere near. So, if you haven’t read the previous books, you’ll be at a loss in understanding Emergence.

Here, for once, a prologue would have helped tremendously, as it would have with the previous book, Insurgence. As is, the lack of back story makes it impossible to fully enjoy this part of the trilogy without having read the first two parts of the trilogy almost immediately beforehand.

So, please don’t even think about reading this final part without having read Dissidence and Insurgence first, and in short order.

Recommended with that qualification.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, two translations, a nonfiction book, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


(Insurgence by Ken Macleod front coverThe Corporation Wars: Insurgence, by Ken Macleod. Orbit, 2016, 331 pp., $9.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Insurgence, the brand new second installment in Ken Macleod’s Corporation Wars trilogy, resolves issues left hanging in the first book, Dissidence.

Insurgence settles the matter of what’s real and what’s virtual in the Corporation Wars universe, and also clearly reveals the nature of one of the two antagonistic political factions, the Reaction, or Rax. They’re essentially the alt-right: racist, abusive, self-seeking propertarians who regard other people as “potential slaves.” (As in Dissidence, there’s frustratingly little in Insurgence on the nature of the Rax’s opponents, the Acceleration, or Axle.)

Like its predecessor, Insurgence is a page-turner, akin to what another reviewer termed an “airport bookshop thriller.” There’s enough intrigue and more than enough well described combat scenes to satisfy even the most hardcore military sci-fi fans.

Along the way, we get to know both the trilogy’s protagonist, Carlos, and the rebellious, sentient robots, the “freebots,” quite a bit better. As well, there’s a lengthy, quite plausible section showing how a cult of personality can emerge in even the most seemingly progressive political movements.

Like the first book in the series, Dissidence, Insurgence doesn’t work as a stand-alone novel. Instead, it reveals the nature of the conflict, reveals more of the nature of the conflicting parties, and sets the stage for the conclusion of the trilogy.

Recommended (but only after you’ve read Dissidence).

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover

 

 


The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken Macleod, front cover(The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken Macleod. Orbit, 2016, $9.99, 349 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent years, there’s been much discussion about whether or not reality is reality, whether we live in a real physical world or a computer simulation. Those who advance the to-all-appearances unfalsifiable simulation conjecture do so using the argument that computer power is increasing so rapidly that in the far future it will (supposedly) have reached the point where it will be possible to simulate the entire universe, and that because it will (supposedly) be possible that someone or something will do it, probably repeatedly, and that hence we’re probably living in a simulation (or a simulation of a simulation of a simulation . . .). That’s a whole lotta supposition there, Bubba.

A second common supposition is that true artificial intelligence will arise shortly, and that with it will eventually come AI/machine  consciousness. That brings up the question of whether or not it matters if a sentient being, essentially self-aware software, runs on meat hardware or electronic/mechanical hardware. To put it more colloquially, are self-aware robots people?

These inter-related matters form the background for Ken Macleod’s new novel, Dissidence.

The book’s back cover copy does a nice job of describing its contents:

Carlos is dead. A soldier who died for his ideals a thousand years ago, he’s been reincarnated and conscripted to fight an AI revolution in deep space. And he’s not sure he’s fighting for the right side.

Seba is alive. By a fluke of nature, a contractual overlap, and a loop in its subroutines, this lunar mining robot has gained sentience. Gathering with other “freebots,” Seba is taking a stand against the corporations that want it and its kind gone.

Against a backdrop of warring companies and interstellar drone combat, Carlos and Seba must either find a way to rise above the games their masters are playing, or die. And even dying will not be the end of it.

Beyond that, and without giving anything away, one of the book’s primary areas of interest is in whether Carlos is living in a simulation on the world he inhabits, whether the drone combat in outer space, and its setting, is real or a simulation, or whether both are real, both are simulations, or one is real and the other a simulation. And if so, which is which?

Macleod provides enough clues along the way that the eventual revelation toward the end of the book is welcome, but the reader will probably already suspect it by the time of the “big reveal.”

The political background of Dissidence is a bit sketchy, one suspects deliberately so. Carlos, the primary character, was a member of the Acceleration (the “Axle”), a vaguely described progressive insurgency battling vaguely described reactionary forces (the “Rax”) later this century, with the governments and the corporations that control them playing both against each other.

Since Dissidence is the first book in The Corporation Wars series, one suspects that Macleod will go into considerably more political detail in the just-released second book in the series, Insurgence, and the third book, Emergence, scheduled for 2017.

At least I hope he will. He’s written a number of wonderful political sci-fi novels (notably The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, The Night Sessions, and Intrusion), so it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll go into more political and social detail in the second and third Corporation Wars books.

For now, Dissidence is an entertaining series opener. It’s page-turner, hard sci-fi that makes you think.

Highly recommended.

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


Sharp and Pointed has been around for just over three years, and we’ve put up just over 1,000 posts —  this  is number 1,001 — in 37 categories. Coincidentally, we reached 30,000 hits yesterday.

Science fiction is probably our most popular category, and we’ve put up nearly 100 sci-fi posts. Here, in no particular order, are those we consider the best.

This is the first of our first-1,000 “best of” posts. We’ll shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Addictions, Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Interviews, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.


“‘You might like to hear my preliminary report on a random sample of radio signals.’ . . . Yeng, with an impish smile, reached up for a switch and fiddled with a dial. The command-deck speakers filled with the most doleful music I’d ever heard. A sad, throaty voice was singing along, with lyrics I had to search my most distant memories to make sense of: the themes included unemployment, alcohol abuse, desertion, betrayal, sexual frustration, jealousy, religion . . .

“‘That’s terrible,’ said Tony, after a couple of minutes of open-mouthed listening. ‘It must be hell down there.’

“Suze laughed. ‘Not hell — capitalism.’

“‘Yes, yes, yes,’ I said, ‘But what sort of music is that?’

“‘Country,’ said Malley. ‘Or maybe western.’

“‘Give us something else,’ Boris pleaded. ‘Anything.’

“‘Sure thing,’ Yeng drawled. (The inflection was already getting to her.) She turned the dial through a couple of banshee howls, and settled on a wavelength just as a voice announced: ‘–and I’d like to welcome you all to the Black Wave, Ship City’s first and best blues and soul station, here to help you make it through the night . . .’

“To be fair, not all the music beamed out by the local radio stations was an incitement to suicide: some of it was definitely a provocation to murder.”

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–Ken Macleod, from The Cassini Division

The Cassini Division, by Ken Macleod cover


We started this blog in July 2013. Since then, we’ve been posting almost daily.

When considering the popularity of the posts, one thing stands out:  in all but a few cases, popularity declines over time.

As well, the readership of this blog has expanded gradually over time, so most readers have never seen what we consider many of our best posts.

Over the next week or two we’ll put up lists of our best posts from 2015 in the categories of atheism, religion, anarchism, humor, politics, music,  book and movie reviews, writing, language use, and economics.

Because there were considerably more posts in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013, we put up several lists for 2014 and will be putting up a similar number of lists for 2015. We’ve already put up the following:

Here’s the first of the 2015 lists:

Science

Skepticism

Science Fiction

(The George Turner series is included here, because it concluded in 2015.)


Intrusion

Intrusion, by Ken Macleod (Orbit, 2012, 387 pp., available used in the US, new in the UK)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Here’s one that really slipped through the cracks, which is a shame because it’s the best near-future dystopian sci-fi novel that’s appeared in years. It’s frightening because it’s all too plausible. Macleod has taken present-day political, social, and technological trends and projected their development several decades into the future. Some developments are good, most are bad.

The bad include an all-pervasive surveillance system (including inside homes), ever-deeper intrusion of the “nanny state” into individuals’ private lives (e.g., the state’s monitoring pregnant women to make sure they don’t drink or smoke), a perpetual “war on terror,” and the transformation of the UK into a police state, where the police routinely torture citizens.

The most notable positive developments are that renewables provide virtually all power, that global warming has been stopped through reduction of emissions and through biological means, notably fast growing “new trees,” and that medicine has advanced to the place where it’s eliminated most diseases, in part through genetic fixes.

That brings us to the rub. Intrusion follows an everyday young London couple, Hugh and Hope Morrison, who discover that Hope is pregnant. The problem is that Hope, for reasons even she doesn’t understand, decides not to take “the fix,” a single-dose pill that eliminates most common genetic defects and also guards against some common diseases. The social worker who monitors Hope puts increasing pressure on Hope to take it, but Hope refuses.

When Hope continues to refuse, the social worker mentions that Hope can get a “conscience exemption” on religious grounds.  The problem is that Hugh and Hope are atheists, and take umbrage at the fact that “nutters,” religious believers, can easily obtain exemptions, but that there’s no provision for nonreligious objectors.

From there, the story unwinds with an awful inevitability, as the tentacles of the state intrude further and further into the lives of Hugh and Hope. Along the way, there are many memorable scenes, including Hope’s having an appalling conversation with a smarmy Labour Party MP, who explains to her how state control of her biological functions increases her freedom, as well as her being bullied by a group of “nutter” moms who object to her not taking “the fix” because she doesn’t share their delusions, and so should be forced into it — in order not to endanger their (un”fixed”) children.

As this is a review, I have to carp about something, and there is one annoying feature in Intrusion: the number of impenetrable Britishisms and (is this even a word?) Scottishisms whose meanings are impossible to derive from context. On a number of  occasions I found myself putting the book down to find the meaning, in the Peevish dictionary of UK slang and colloquialisms, of some very strange words.

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get back to the review.

Intrusion isn’t the most pleasant reading — neither is 1984 — but it is very well written, thought provoking, and — in a sci-fi scene awash in escapist crap — it deals with important issues.

Highly recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover