barry_king (barry_king) wrote,

'Mid This Tumult Kublai Heard from Far Ancestral Voices Prophesying War

Somewhere along the line I'd hoped to post something about the story that came out last month. It was the only serious fiction writing I did last year, so I really should have said something when it came out. I wanted to write a realistic speculative fiction story about the near future, and I wanted to explain a phenomenon that's been dogging me all my professional life, and I wanted to show where I think the Internet is really headed.

Not sure if I succeeded. "Too much jargon" is pretty much all the feedback I've been getting. And that's fair. I pointed out that particular problem in the associated interview. And I think that's the rub of it: the real world of computers and networking is entirely virtual. Not "virtual reality", but it really does exist in our brains in exactly the same place language does. It's a thinky thing, not a thing that has an objective shape that we can investigate and take away our own subjective impressions.

It's one thing to call the alien rabbit in your SF story a flufflebeest, but you're still thinking of a rabbit when you do so. But what about something like The Freenet Project, which creates a self-replicating reality, similar to the cryptosphere in Feersum Endjinn, in that it contains all the information put into it, and as that information is accessed less and less often, it fades away to the "bottom" of the cryptosphere. So it's always topical. Now, if you use cryptographic methods to contain chain-of-trust connections between users of a freenet, you can make a wholly separate "darknet" where only trusted members and those who are trusted by those members can exchange information (drug cartels, child pornographers, and similarly criminal or paranoid activities are already conducted in darknets that use one or more of these components, so this is not so much the SF side of things). It's not anything like a rabbit. It's a concept that can't really be given a form or a familiarity, because it is an unobservable activity, like the interaction of subatomic particles. But it's where I think cyberpunk, now long distant from William Gibson, needs to go if it is going to have any verisimilitude in our heavily networked realities.

Gibson knew that the actual technology is boring, so he made his virtual reality have physical aspects to give it the visual candy needed to tell a story. But the thing, this closed culture which I based on a short article in IO9 about how political societies develop out of filters on the web is where the action is. I actually wrote a paper about how this phenomenon was going to be the inevitable outcome of social networking (based on my experience of Usenet) back in 1990, and I sincerely think that this continues to be where the Internet is headed, the thicker, and more divided, and more politically charged it is. So I took a page from Gibson and married it to a "black box" technology that taps on the body's ability to dream a different physical existence than the one it is existing in. That, at least, gives immediate physical cues as to what's going on.

From there, it's a simple story, really, about a friendship that continues despite lifetimes of very different political views, but both with the conviction that opening the doors is better than closing them. I hope you like Marvin and Andrew. They're based on some of the nicest people I know.

But actual story aside, what I found interesting in writing it was how it showed the conflict in my own brain about whether more privacy and more power over your own communications may be wonderful for the individual, but it may create a completely unworkable world, since it allows political partisanship on a level not seen since the days before the era of global exploration and colonization. In which case, the flood caused by the Internet has only just begun to swamp us, because we're definitely already caught in a cryptographic arms race with many entities that may or may not answer to anyone.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded