5.0 out of 5 stars
A wonderful book about SCIENCE MAGIC and how real people react. BUY IT NOW!
December 14, 2015
By Pat Patterson
This IS, by golly, a review of the second novel in the series, and it’s name is Nemo’s World. I say that, because somehow I convinced myself that it was Red Queen. No, you dope, Red Queen is the FIRST novel in the series, and you reviewed that in September. /end apology for being a dork/
This is a SCIENCE book about PEOPLE. It is not a ‘meanwhile, back at the asteroid’ book, which merely transmits Perils of Pauline into outer space. It is also not a ‘gee-whiz, look at the quasar explode!’ book, which only uses the people to discuss something esoteric. It is, instead, a well-written book about what real people do when they encounter technologies which have the capacity to free or to imprison or to destroy. The technology itself is ethically neutral; it is the character of the people that determines whether or not the outcome results in the maximal value of goodness in the universe or not. You know that bit about sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic? That could easily happen in this book if the author just used hand-wavium. However, a good bit of the first third or so of the book is given over to explaining just how all this works. So, take heart: you do NOT have to have advanced studies in physics to understand what’s going on in the book. And, if you really don’t care, just skip over the explanations like you did during the whaling parts in Moby Dick.
The characters are carried over mostly from Red Queen, with some new additions. In my humble opinion, however, they aren’t the SAME characters, because they change in light of new developments.
The principal technological applications are a result of discovering how to use the underlying structure of the universe (the substrate) as a source of computation and power. The two most significant applications are first the ability to create windows into other distant locations, and second the ability to create exact replications of physical objects. Thus, we have infinite or near infinite growing room, and infinite resources. In the world of intense government control described in the first book, this is an immediately destabilizing factor.
Okay, I want to shift to what I believe is the most interesting ethical question posed by the technology, which is the replications of human beings. Steve is the genius behind the discovery and development of the new technology. Whether or not it is required that his type of genius also be socially inept is not clear, but Steve is certainly found to be pretty far along on the Aspergers/autism scale. It’s actually quite a beneficial characteristic for him to have, at least in the early stages, since he hasn’t been talking to other people about what he has discovered, and also because he pretty much ignores everything around him in order to enjoy his work. And, to be greatly specific and intentionally offensive, he don’t seem to care for chicks. HA HA! As it happens, there is a certain young lady from the sub-continent of India who DOES care for him! And whether or not he notices, she acquires him by the provision of moving into his tent. I feel relatively certain that Steve had SOME input into the arrangement, but it is clear that Rasna is the active agent here, and it is a Good Thing. And, when you add a Good Thing to a Bad Thing, then you get a Some Thing!
Here’s the Bad Thing: There is so much essential development which must be handled immediately, and it can only be handled by Steve due to his brilliance and grasp of theory, that he simply can’t handle it all. It simply CAN’T all be done, yet it MUST be done, and it means that Steve doesn’t even have a chance to eat or sleep, much less explore his relationship with Rasna. So, he uses the replicator, and creates another Steve.
In public, they use the fiction that this is Steve’s twin brother Larry, just in from Viet Nam, who speaks very little English. It works, for the public.
But MY immediate question is this: since the Larry is the same as the Steve, does he not have equal standing? And specifically, what is relationship with Rasna? Sure, share the work; that presents only minor problems. But share the companion? Rasna reveals that she can’t tell them apart, but states that she doesn’t care, as long as it’s the original she’s sleeping with.
How does she know?
And what about the Larry/Steve’s position on the matter? He has been completely replicated, which means he emerged from the replicator with the same emotional set-up and memories of Rasna as Steve/Steve; isn’t denying him the pleasure of her association the ethical equivalence of denying Steve/Steve?
As I was reading this, I thought, Maybe this is a third application where Steve’s Asperger’s is going to be a benefit. Perhaps he really hasn’t bonded with Rasna at all, so emerging into being without the physical requirement to spend time and energy with her is going to be seen as a plus, and not a minus. Maybe you can replicate geniuses with Asperger’s at will, and never suffer any social complications.
But then it occurred to me: why not replicate Rasna, and call her something else, like Shakuntala, the warrior empress from the Drake/Flint Belisarius series, and pair her up with Larry/Steve?
BUT: Rasna does NOT have Asperger’s! And neither would Shakuntala/Rasna, and so what would be the likelihood that she would ALSO demand to be the only one to sleep with Steve/Steve?
Okay, Jeb Kinnison, how are you going to write your way out of THIS mess?
The small group who program the new technology recognize how much trouble it would cause to have human copies, so they write the programs for normal use to recognize and prevent copying of living things. Steve’s use is a one-off, with the alternative — opening up direct substrate programming to more programmers — viewed as too dangerous to allow. The plot in the next book requires restoration of a lot of backup copies of people, and so the issue will have to be faced. As with all powerful technologies, there are compelling reasons to use it, and real dangers as a result…
Rasna accepts Steve for who he is, and revels in taking care of him despite his limitations and absorption in his work — this has been a pattern for lots of great scientists, and many partnerships are founded on complementary personalities like theirs. You’re quite right that copies of Rasna would find it more difficult to accept the situation, and over the longer term, the copies of Steve may well deserve equal status and a Rasna-copy of their own, likely by moving to another planet to avoid confusion!