Lots of stuff to catch up on, but I should note that this is the first blog entry with my new laptop Smoking Mirror. Say hello to the nice people, Smoking Mirror.
He is arbitrary, he is capricious, he mocks. He wills in the manner he desires. He is placing us in the palm of his hand; he is making us round. We roll; we become as pellets. He is casting us from side to side. We make him laugh; he is making a mockery of us.
(from Burr Cartwright Brundage's translation of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana
Well then, there you have it. I'll see if we can get more Nahuatl wisdom from Smoking Mirror later, but for now there's a discussion of Permanence
to be had. Because I'm in a nostalgic mood, I'm going to disguise the crucial plot bits with ROT13
. You can find a decoder here
. In the world of Schroeder's novel, the big scary menace is a civilization called the Rights Economy, which seeks to incorporate all other alien or human civilizations into itself. Permanence
presents a few alternatives for future civilization, with the deck stacked in favor of open collaboration of equals without demand for compensation. Sounds idyllic.
Our heroine Rue is fleeing her brother Jentry who's threatened to sell her into slavery (along with his claiming a fossil left to her by her grandmother for himself). So right away we're seeing ownership portrayed in a negative light, except for the local laws which give her claims to the shuttle she takes (she and her brother have equal ownership, and in such situations the one physically present is the captain of the vehicle). She files a claim on a comet she sees as she escapes. Rue makes her way to Erythrion where she risks becoming a debtor due to docking fees, but finds that what she first thought was a comet and then a human spaceship is in fact an alien spaceship. But to make her claim lasting she has to land on it and learn how to steer its course.
Now throughout the book Schroeder comes up with nifty ideas, like a civilization based around brown dwarfs (which can generate strong magnetic fields - power - and infrared radiation - heat) or using augmented reality to conceal things from people without the proper clearance (entrances don't appear on a military ship unless you're authorized to see them - everyone has brain implants giving them the ability to see 'inscapes'). He has a character who practices a form of Shinto based on enabling other people to cope with alien environments by visualizing the kami
of those places. Schroeder has a great argument about sentience and the inevitability (or lack of same) of consciousness as we know it in the universe. But that darn Rights Economy is such a ridiculous caricature it lessens the joy of reading Permanence
As presented, the Rights Economy seeks to keep humanity from speciating away from its origins through economic and other means. It's arguable whether that's a viable strategy, long-term, but OK. But wait, how does it hold itself together, you ask? Simple - everything is linked by economic transactions. You literally cannot
offer services for free, and that includes religions. Any property not claimed by individuals is appropriated by the government. At least one colony is forced to erect a dome to keep a breathable atmosphere because the evil Rights Owners (yes, it's capitalized in the book) back on Earth don't consider terraforming the planet to be an economically viable option any more. Genetic engineering, at least on humans, is forbidden (part of the whole speciation thing). There is a rebel movement against the expansion of the Rights Economy, but it's scattered and without much clout.
Yes, it's an incredibly unsubtle attack on the current situation with intellectual property. But wait, it gets better (here's the ROT13 bit, kids):
Gur rivy Nqzveny Pevfyre vf qrgrezvarq gb qrfgebl gur eroryyvba
ntnvafg gur Evtugf Rpbabzl bapr naq sbe nyy, jvgu n fhcrejrncba
snpgbel Ehr boyvtvatyl yrq uvz gb. Hasbeghangryl, uvf fpurzr
sbe qrfgeblvat gurz vaibyirf nyybjvat gur fhcrejrncbaf gb oerrq
naq ebnz gur havirefr ybbxvat sbe nalguvat abg cneg bs gur Evtugf
Rpbabzl. Abg whfg gur eroryf, ohg nyy nyvra yvsr guebhtubhg
gur havirefr. Nsgre nyy, gurler abg cneg bs gur bar gehr pvivyvmngvba.
Puevfg! Pevfyre qbrfa'g unir n oynpx zhfgnpuvb ur gjveyf bofrffviryl
naq tb nebhaq glvat jbzra gb envyebnq genpxf, ohg vg'f nobhg
Rue preaches at people in the best Heinlein character tradition throughout the novel, and eventually gur qlvat Plpyre Pbzcnpg pvivyvmngvba onfrq nebhaq gur oebja qjnesf vf erfgberq, jvgu rirelbar pbbcrengvat sbe gur terngre tbbq. Naq ubj vf guvf rasbeprq? Na beqre bs zbaxf jvgu pbageby bs gur fhcrejrncbaf, bs pbhefr. Ercynpr bar qvpgngbefuvc jvgu nabgure. Onu! N tha vf fgvyy n tha!
Open source collaboration is good for some things. Obviously Schroeder thinks so, or he wouldn't have worked on OpenCola
. It's not so good for others. Modeling economic goods as property is good for some things. It's not so good for others. But that wouldn't be a useful straw man argument, which is ultimately what Permanence
boils down to.