Re: Future Perfect
24 Mar 1999 02:02:57 -0000

> Warning: the following remarks may contain spoilers for anyone
> who has not yet read, but plans to read, _Permutation City_
> or _Diaspora_ by Greg Egan, _Excession_ by Iain Banks, or
> _A Fire Upon The Deep_ by Vernor Vinge.

> For me, Banks' Culture has the drawback that the mantle of civilization
> has clearly passed from the biological races to the Minds, though

As opposed to the polises, where humans are a few million Amish remnants? I'm not sure why you'd pick one and not the other, particularly as many of the polises seem dangerously solipsistic. The Minds never pretend reality doesn't exist. And they explore. Of course, they have FTL, and the polises don't.

If I found myself transported to the Culture I think I'd upload and start growing up in short order.

> It's also rather implausibly suggested that a few biological brains have
> pattern-recognition tricks that the Minds still haven't figured out,

Once, in the first book. I suspected it was a ruse to make humans feel better. I hope he's reconsidered.

> perform on behalf of the Culture by infiltrating the societies of
> more primitive planets (including Earth), while providing a vehicle for
> stories of interest to human readers, seems something of a forced
> narrative device.

How so?

> writing on the Culture. For instance, the human agents recruited by the
> Culture are often subjected to rather appalling personal risks
> and ordeals (which form the basis of the stories). They're handsomely

> one-sided (from the Culture's point of view, the agents are being paid
> trinkets to suffer agonies and risk their lives). The usefulness of these

But they're not risking their lives. Zakalwe risked his life because he refused to be scanned. The agent in _Consider Phlebas_ might have been at risk either because Culture tech was less advanced, or more likely because Banks hadn't thought of the consequences of Culture tech yet. In _Use of Weapons_ and _Excession_ human can be backed up just as much as Minds can; Zakalwe simply opts out.

> There's an air of decadence and boredom in the portrayals of the human
> inhabitants of the Culture, particularly those who are not working for

Well, there is the fact that there have been 9000 years of progress by superhuman Minds. I don't think it's possible for a mere human to even learn enough to contribute much. I don't think this is disappointing; it's what I'd expect after that much progress. That's what transhumanism means, to go beyond the human.

And I think the same gulf existed with the polises; it just wasn't emphasized as much.

> In many ways, the Culture represents the worst of contemporary human society
> dressed up with AIs and ultratechnology. But most humans in the Culture

The worst?

> don't seem to have either the desire or the means to bridge the gap between
> themselves and the Minds (who treat them with a scrupulous politeness that

Well, if they did have the desire to bridge the gap, they wouldn't be human anymore. In realistic terms a Culture Mind can be roughly viewed as a nanoor quantum computer the size of a small whale.

> In contrast to the narrative devices adopted by Banks and Vinge, there
> is no gulf between humans and AIs in _Diaspora_. Uploading is a fully-

Apart from AIs being very cerebral, and immortal, and much faster, and having lots of different senses...

> To summarize, I would say that the essential difference between the world I
> find emotionally appealing and the ones I find more alienating, is that in
> the former the humans are transformed en masse into their superiors, whereas
> in the latter the humans have been superseded and left behind by their
> superiors (the Minds, the Powers, and the TVC elite). The transformation

Appealing: most humans chose to upload. The rest live as quasi-religious separatists (there hadn't been much contact between the fleshers and AIs for a long time at the beginning) before eventually being killed off by the cosmos. The AIs do not become particularly superhuman.

Alienating: many humans choose not to upload. They are indulgently pampered by their godlike descendants.

For sheer fun and safety, I'll go with the Culture myself. Even if I couldn't upload.

-xx- Damien Raphael Sullivan X-)