Replicator in Egan's Diaspora

Date: Tue Dec 18 2001 - 10:53:32 MST

I was re-reading Greg Egan's fascinating novel Diaspora, which is about
the response of an uploaded future humanity to a major galactic threat.
Early in the novel two of the characters, Yatima and Inoshiro, transfer
themselves into robot bodies and go to visit a colony of "fleshers",
non-uploaded humans. Walking through the jungle they stumble across
an empty canister of "Replicator", which they view as dangerous and
threatening. But I can't figure out what this stuff is. It doesn't
seem to match any of the dangerous future materials we have discussed.
Here is the description:

   Yatima heard something skid across the ground in front of ver; ve'd
   inadvertantly kicked a small pipece of corroded metal out from under
   a shrub. Ve kept walking, but Inoshiro paused to examine it, then
   cried out in alarm.


   Yatima turned baqck and angled for a better view; the interface made
   vis body crouch. "It's just an empty canister." It was almost crushed
   flat, but there was still paint clinging to the metal in places,
   the colors faded to barely distinguishable grays. Yatima could
   make out a portion of a narrow, roughly longitudinal band of varying
   width, slightly paler than its background; it looked to ver like a
   two-dimensional representation of a twisted ribbon. There was also
   part of a circle - though if it was a biohazard warning, it didn't
   look much like the ones ve recalled from vis limited browsing on
   the subject.

   Inoshiro spoke in a hushed, sickened voice. "Pre-Introdus, this
   was pandemic. Distorted whole nations' economies. It had hooks
   into everything: sexuality, tribalism, half a dozen artforms and
   subcultures... it parasitized the fleshers so thoroughly you had to
   be some kind of desert monk to escape it."

   Yatima regarded the pathetic object dubiously, but they had no
   access to the library now, and vis knowledge of the era was patchy.
   "Even if there are traces left inside, I'm sure they're all immune
   to it by now. And it could hardly infect us -"

   Inoshiro cut ver off impatiently. "We're not talking nucleotide
   viruses, here. The molecules themselves were just a random assortment
   of junk - mostly phosphoric acid; it was the memes they came wrapped
   in that made them virulent." Ve bent down lower, and cupped vis hands
   over the battered container. "And who knows how small a fragment it
   can bootstrap from? I'm not taking any chances."

Ha! I typed this all in, and then I finally figured out what it is. A
pretty good joke.


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