Toast, by Charlie Stross (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Mon, 8 Apr 2002 14:32:05 +0200 (CEST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 7 Apr 2002 17:46:15 -0700
From: Hal Finney <hal@finney.org>
Reply-To: extropians@extropy.org
To: extropians@extropy.org
Subject: Toast, by Charlie Stross

I see on boing-boing.net that list member Charlie Stross has a new
short story collection published, Toast: and Other Rusted Futures.
The boing-boing site has an excerpt from one of the stories, Jury Service,
co-written by Cory Doctorow, which I thought sounded pretty good:

   Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first
   century.

   Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most
   part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom
   of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one
   or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar
   system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the
   sun. Except for the solitary lighthouse beam that perpetually tracks
   the Earth in its orbit, the system from outside resembles a spherical
   fogbank radiating in the infrared spectrum; a matrioshke brain, nested
   Dyson orbitals built from the dismantled bones of moons and planets.

   The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn
   off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes
   wander nostalgiawise. When that happens, it casually spams Earth's
   RF spectrum with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies
   that emulsify whole industries, cultures and spiritual systems.

   A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but
   there's always *someone* who'll take a bite from the forbidden Cox
   Pippin. There's always someone whom evolution has failed to breed
   the let's-lick-the-frozen-fencepost instinct out of. There's always a
   fucking geek who'll do it because it's a historical goddamned technical
   fucking imperative.

   Whether the enlightened, occulting smartcloud sends out its missives as
   pranks, poison or care-packages is up for debate. Asking it to explain
   its motives roughly as pointful as negotiating with an ant colony to
   get it to abandon your kitchen. Whatever the motive, humanity would
   be much better off if the Cloud would evolve into something so smart
   as to be uninterested in communicating with meatpeople.

   But until that happy day, there's the tech jury service: Defending
   the earth from the scum of the post-singularity patent office.

This scenario is a bit reminiscent of the Ken MacLeod books where SIs
on Jupiter were beaming toxic viral memes towards the earth.  Only here
they are less obviously malicious, perhaps meant to goose the Luddites
on Earth into taking the Big Leap.  The disparaging characterization
of those receptive to these messages seems a little unfair, but perhaps
reasonable from the POV of a culture which has evolved a strong defense
mechanism against the techno utopia which lies just offshore.

I don't know how much of this is Cory and how much Charlie, but the
writing here sounds strong and imaginative.  Charlie has a blog at
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blosxom.cgi, and the book is available
at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154137/charlieswebsi-20.

Hal