Re: Future Perfect

Tue, 23 Mar 1999 23:18:05 +0000 wrote:
> > For me, Banks' Culture has the drawback that the mantle of civilization
> > has clearly passed from the biological races to the Minds
> As opposed to the polises, where humans are a few million Amish remnants?

Yes, I enjoyed the portrayal of uploaded, posthuman society as mainstream, mundane, taken-for-granted. The fleshers, observed from Yatima's and Inoshiro's point of view, are the exotics.

> I'm not sure why you'd pick one and not the other, particularly as many of the
> polises seem dangerously solipsistic.

Yes, this is a point. Of course, there are the gleisners (one of whom discovers the impending burst, which shocks the polises into the diaspora).

> The Minds never pretend reality doesn't
> exist. And they explore. Of course, they have FTL, and the polises don't.

Yes, the FTL aspect is a significant difference. I have a friend for whom
the existence of FTL in a story makes the difference between science fiction
and fantasy (even though that's not true for most readers of these genres).
As strange as it gets, _Diaspora_ is much "harder" SF than Banks (and the
allusions to Kaluza-Klein and string theory are very very con-temp-o-rary).

> > 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?

Oh, I just meant that the Special Circumstances shenanigans provide the excuse for the action/adventure and martial arts aspects of the Culture stories. Apart from _Excession_, a lot of the books are focused on low-tech adventures and conflicts, with the godlike Minds and their human priesthood hovering indistinctly in the background. This is pretty
conventional machinery for an SF story, I suppose -- no more "forced" here
than in a lot of other contexts.

> > ...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).
> 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.

Yes, in some of the Culture stories, it seems that nobody "really" dies. And they can be scanned, stored and transmitted in the wink of an eye! Still, though there's been much discussion on this list concerning the true identity of such a copy, I don't think it would make me feel better,
if I were faced, let us say, with imminent decapitation, to know I had recently been backed up.

> > In many ways, the Culture represents the worst of contemporary human society
> > dressed up with AIs and ultratechnology.
> The worst?

Well, yes -- the Special Circumstances messing about, and the nastiness of
the Minds in _Excession_, and so on. It may well be, of course, that there's
no getting away from Darwinian bloody-mindedness even among trans- or post-humans (the distaste for Darwinian cold-bloodedness is itself, after
all, a product of Darwinian selection). I suppose transcendent minds will still
be subject to transcendent forms of pain.

> 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.

Yes, the neat trick of _Diaspora_, as I mentioned above, is that I don't identify with the fleshers. I identify with Yatima and Inoshiro, the ordinary
people in the story (even though they're posthumans). It's not clear how
superhuman they are, partly because we're seeing the world through their eyes
(or their gestalt input channels): they take their abilities as much for granted as I'm taking my own ability to compose this sentence; and partly because
the story has to be accommodated to contemporary human readers. Nevertheless,
_Diaspora_ is probably as posthuman as a contemporary SF author can get and still
find a publisher -- a number of quite smart people whom I tried to introduce to this
book found it completely unreadable.

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

I wouldn't be too disappointed if I woke up on a GSV, either.

Jim F.