Tag: posthuman

Glasshouse

(A no-spoilery review.)

I recently finished Charles Stross’ novel of the posthuman future, Glasshouse. It was closer to his novel Halting State in style, and certainly more readable than its unofficial prequel, Accelerando. While not a perfect novel by any means, and containing a few misses and rough parts, I’m placing it in my top 10 favorite SF novels and top 5 posthumanity-themed works.

I stopped reading Accelerando, but not permanently. (Not like Dies the Fire, the probable inspiration for the upcoming TV show, “Revolution.” That book is the only one that I’ve put down mid-way and said, “Nope! I’m done, thank you. No more.”) It really is a fascinating book that depicts the coming singularity, the advent of the posthuman age, in a believable and detailed manner. Unfortunately, I’m finding it a bit too dense, too inscrutable when it comes to the detailed, and far too often, explanations of intellectual property rights and venture investing and whatnot.

In contrast, Glasshouse, like Halting State, is more action and adventure. Where Accelerando explains the posthuman rise, Glasshouse exists in it. We don’t need to be told what’s happening, it just happens. In the opening pages, the first scene, the reader is thrust right in the middle of a strange, new existence where bodies are interchangeable and minds can be backed up and restored. At first, you have no idea if the characters are players in an advanced online RPG, a virtual reality, or what. But soon we come to accept that this setting is post-Earth, post-human, post-normal expectations of what it means to have a body or even an identity. The protagonist, Robin, goes through a crisis of identity involving his past life (lives — in the metaphorical sense, not any metaphysical “reincarnation” sense), while at the same time dealing with his current situation as a test subject in a closed environment meant to simulate late 20th, early 21st century Earth.

One of the most clever conceits of this novel is making most of it take place in a setting that’s vaguely familiar to the reader, if a bit askew (like a collision between the village from “The Prisoner” and the town from “Leave it to Beaver,” with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and an Ikea display showroom), and allowing that to counterpoint the characters and their floundering in this environment. We can understand the posthuman world better because of the way the characters who live in that foreign world react to the things and ways of our world–and at the same time provides the cognitive estrangement needed to examine our own ways and mores with their arbitrary restrictions and customs.

Meanwhile, Robin must solve a couple of mysteries, one involving who these people are running the experiment, and the other involving his missing memories.

Glasshouse is well-written and moves reasonably quick, but there are annoying moments where characters occasionally do or say something odd that pulled me out of the book. Whether it was something that was unmotivated, or awkwardly phrased, I found moments that my reading ground to a halt, I would have to go back and re-read the passage to see if I missed something, and just ended up shrugging and moving on. Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence. The only other complaint, is that some of Robin’s background and history would be presented in flashback with teasingly little in the way of context and explanation. This is fine, when explanation does eventually come and the tangles and loose ends get wrapped up; however, too much of his flashback went unexplained for too long, making it difficult to understand how it motivated some of his fears and goals. By the end, when the whole story starts to come together, I felt it was too late to make me really grasp who he was and what was going on in the past.

Indeed, difficult not just in understanding Robin, but the history of the book as well. The greater wars and conflicts that happened before the novel begins, which helped shape the condition of transhumanity in this story. Some of it in intentional, as, and this is difficult to explain without spoilers, much of history is actually lost to the characters and must, therefore, be lost to us readers. But I feel as though there are too many holes that Stross let go in the backstory that I really needed to have filled before the climax.

Stross and his works appeal to me because of my own keen interest in the topic of post- and transhumanity. It’s been a focus on my own graduate work (and, hopefully, will be the focus of my doctorate work when I finally get to attend Trent University. Oh, yes–one day I shall!), my writing, and my hobbies. I’ve written recently on my love for the pencil-and-dice RPG, Eclipse Phase. The creators of that game, set in a quasi-posthuman universe, have listed Charles Stross as a “writer to watch,” and it’s no wonder why: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Eclipse Phase was heavily influenced by Glasshouse (and Accelerando), as much as it was inspired by Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and maybe a bit by Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (I really want to see reputation (i.e. Doctorow’s “wuffie”) used more as currency and capital n the game!)

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GenCon-inspired motivation

Last week I attended the largest gaming convention in America, GenCon. Four days of role-playing games, sci-fi cosplay (not me, personally), writers’ workshops, dealer room (and by “room,” I mean ginormous arena of more product in one place than a human mind can comprehend). It was amazing!

I’ve been known on my blogs to babble in incessant detail about the minutia of an experience. I’m going to try to avoid that here, else this post will go on for days. Four, to be precise. So, instead, I’m going to attempt an overview and then get into a few details now an again.

What brought me to GenCon this year, several years after my previous and first trip, was the decision to volunteer to game master some rounds of Posthuman Studio’s amazing RPG, ECLIPSE PHASE. To be honest, and perhaps to the surprise of the volunteer wrangler if he chances upon this, I’d not actually run an EP game before. Oh sure, I’ve been GMing RPGs since I was 10, some (oh… my… god!) 30 years now. (Pardon me while I take a stiff drink or five.) And I’d been reading EP materials for more than a year, trying to convince my regular gaming group to let me run some for them (to no avail). So, when I saw the call from Posthuman for GM volunteers, I jumped at the chance. I think I literally jumped.

What followed was weeks of intense EP studying and, finally, getting a couple groups of my friends to allow me to test the adventures I’d be running on them. Gladly, that went well. More importantly, the actual GenCon rounds I ran went fantastically well! (Fortunately, I’m the kind of GM who, if I run into some kind of road-block, I create workarounds and can wing it really well, with the primary goal of making sure everyone has fun. (Which, by the way, does not mean everyone gets to Monty Haul their way through the adventures… I did indeed end up killing a couple of characters in a most dramatic and worthy fashion, and just about Total Party Killed one group. They really enjoyed the tension-filled drama!)

Anyway, to wrap this part up, ECLIPSE PHASE is an incredible game, and Posthuman Studios is filled with great people! (I found it very amusing, and cool, that nearly everyone I saw working the Posthuman booth sported body mods: lots of facial piercings, hair coloring, tats. …and they were young–20s, certainly. A realization that helped lead me to a personal revelation which I’ll deal with soon. Anyway, great people, cool company (they actually put their $50 core rule book free online under Creative Commons! Can you believe that?!) I’m hoping to involve myself with them more.

So, that’s what took me to GenCon. But better yet, the wife and I decided we’d make it a family vacation with the daughter. We all searched and scoured the GenCon schedule for things to do, and successfully found a few things to do together; but, ultimately, all three of our schedules were pretty filled all four days.

Wife and I played an interesting board game that’s about to come out and was funded with Kickstarter, called “Oh My God There’s an Axe in My Head!” I’m looking forward to getting a copy. The three of us attended Tracy and Laura Hickman’s (you know, Tracy of Dragonlance fame) Killer Breakfast. Fun! But he wasn’t nearly as clever and quick as I expected him to be. Meh, that’s OK–it was a cool experience, and I love his writing. Daughter attended workshops on Doctor Who jewelry (read: Shrinkydink) making, makeup, anime stuff, and more stuff. She and wife make funny-cool felt doll ninjas and zombies, and played a “furry”-based RPG.

One of the things wife (I really need to get permission from her to use her name in public) did on her own was attend a Shadowrun improv show. She found it funny, and it really revitalized her Shadowrun interest! (I used to GM her and some college friends through many adventures back in the early 90s.) Now we’re browsing the ‘net-tubes for copies of Shadowrun 4th edition. Guess what I’ll be doing again, soon. *wink*

The vendors were legion! And, man, if only I’d had money, and lots of it. So much to buy! I had my eye on an interesting non-collectible card game that allowed you to create and play through a dungeon adventure solo or cooperative or multi-player. What I did end up getting was the new FADING SUNS book, which, sadly, after the controversial departure of their lead designer (wow, they’ve completely locked down their forum since I was there last, when stuff hit fans–yikes!), isn’t the revolutionary new version we fans had been expecting. By the looks of it, it’s a version 2.5, though the lady was trying really hard to say it was virtually 3rd edition. In any case, it does clean up and streamline the 2nd edition rules, which is well worth it in any case! Whatever questionable things the company has done/is doing, I still love that game! And I got the ECLIPSE PHASE supplement book, GATECRASHING. (Their books, by the way, are some of the best quality I’ve ever seen, period.) Daughter picked up a Doctor Who sonic screwdriver and a very nice pocket watch that, without any influence by me, happens to look very much like my own pocket watch that she didn’t know about. She’s my daughter. *smile*

I didn’t get to meet Wil Wheaton though I so wanted to. $25 to meet and get an autograph, which I don’t begrudge him at all! But that’s just too much for me. I did get to meet, speak with briefly, and get to sign my Nook, author Michael Stackpole. I’ve been a fan of his for years, but more so after I found out the work he did putting the “Dungeons & Dragons is evil!!1!” people in their place in the 80s. And even more more so after listening to his Stormwolf advice and hosting Dragon Page podcast.

Which leads me into the real meat of this post.

I attended a few writing seminars and panels (though not near as many as I wanted to!), including one of Stackpole’s. I heard from editors and publishers and authors about the business of writing, about networking with others in the industry, and other topics that deal with the writing career, as opposed to the act of writing. (Heck, as I’ve written before, I’ve been studying the art and craft of writing for year– *sigh* decades.) Oh, I also watched the taping of four episodes of Writing Excuses podcast. Sadly, I couldn’t get Brandon Sanderson’s autograph. *pout* Hearing from professionals about the profession was more than just informative, it was illuminating. It was motivating! Half the people on the panels were young, or started very young. And once again, for the tetragabazilionth time since I started grad school a few years ago, I felt the very sharp and painful pang of regret at all the lost time! I am starting a new career path, based on my passion now at middle age. Not only do I only have half the time in front of me to accomplish and enjoy my goals, but I’m trying to do it with a demanding full-time day job and a family while my peers and competition both are doing the same thing at the peak of their vigor and freedom.

Well, yes, this feeling of loss and desperation was sharp, as it always is–but what I also felt and was/am quite glad for it, is excitement and anticipation and hope. For example, working for someone else as a slush pile reader should be an intern-like job for a young person, but I’m excited about the chance of getting to do it, and gaining the skills and experience it will provide. Trying to network at my age and position will be difficult, but now I have a head (and some notebook pages) full of tips and suggestions of how to do it properly and effectively, and I’m excited about that as well.

And so this is what I came away from GenCon with: the renewed thrill and appreciation of my RPG hobby, renewed motivation and hope for my writing, and a renewed plan and energy for my editing/publishing goals. And, interestingly, one of the things that the helped these renewals, was the fact that in 4 days I barely looked at Facebook. The realization: I need to stop using Facebook.

Sadly, that’s not entirely feasible as Facebook is a great tool to me for learning news and info about books and authors and publishers, getting scifi/fantasy inspiration, networking with others in the industry, keeping up with gaming news and releases, and, of course, promoting my own works. So, leaving altogether would actually be a bad idea.

What I did do, though, is set up a new account and liked/subscribed/friended people and pages and groups and interests that focused entirely on writing, speculative fiction, publishing, and other manner of related subjects. (See, my original account was filled with socio-political-economic-philosophical matter that compelled me to not just visit every moment I had a break from work/family/work, but read and respond with negative-feeling emotion that, while was very important to me, sapped my mood and attitude and encouraged misanthropic crumudeonry. Those socio-political-economic-ideological beliefs I still feel very strongly about; but, I decided, it was time to make all that take a backseat to what I want to be most important to me, aside from my family. My writing and writing-related career.

So, here it begins… again. Wish me luck!

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Review: Freedom(tm)

(Post originally published on my other blog, GrogMonkey, back on Jan. 27, 2011. Still trying to figure out how to divide the work between the two blogs.)

Freedom(tm) is the sequel to Daniel Suarez’s brilliant Daemon. It’s going to be impossible for me to review Freedom(tm) without spoilering Daemon to some degree. Daemon told the story of a genius online game designer who over years set up a hidden system within the Internet to awaken upon news of his death. That’s where Daemon begins, upon the activation of this servant process, or, computer daemon. In Freedom(tm), the daemon has won the first stage of its plan, it has started a revolution.

The novel takes place in today’s world, and in today’s reality. Everything that happens, every technology that’s used, is either currently in use and available as consumer electronics, or is military. Some examples include sonic placement which allows for a voice to sound as though it is coming from a specific point in space, even one’s own head (this is currently being used by advertisers), suits that bend light around it so as to render the wearer near-invisible (military development), aerial drones that can be tagged with a target’s cell phone GPS and send deadly darts to rain upon them from 10,000 feet (guess who uses that), power systems that can pull fuel-use hydrogen from the rock while creating water as a byproduct (in use currently where the oil industry doesn’t kill it), vehicles that can be equipped with sensor arrays which allow it to drive by itself following road lines and signs, FMRI machines that can virtually read minds if the subject can be asked a series of questions like a polygraph, etc.

Although, the one negative about the book, as that a lot of this technology gets used by the revolutionaries in quantities that strain believability. Even in the system of commerce and trade that is set up for the revolution to use, it’s difficult for me to believe that they can be equipped in such a short amount of time with mass quantities of wireless “augmented reality” glasses, power station-building equipment, invisibility suits, etc. But, fortunately, it’s written in such a way to to be forgiven.

Yet, that problem weighs heavy, I think, because of just how otherwise believable the story and situation is. Suarez writes a story that in all other aspects demands to be believed, so when a very crucial element of the revolution is questionable, it makes the verisimilitude of the entire story weaker.

Revolution. Let’s get back to that. That’s what Freedom(tm) is about — the true revolution for the modern age, the only kind of revolution that can happen in the western, developed world that could lead to fundamental change in economics, politics, society in general. Freedom(tm) illustrates a revolution that would have to take place in order to change the entire economic system from modern capitalism where boom-and-bust cycles are inherent, where unemployment is a necessity to keep the process working, where exploitation is not just a cost of doing business but a vital component — and brings about a system of true democracy controlled by the people and not by politicians who do the will of their richest contributors (corporations). Freedom(tm) does what SF author Kim Stanley Robinson advises we all must work towards: a post-capitalism society. Every stage of socio-economic-politics in history was thought to be the best one at the time, and at each new stage we looked back on the previous and questioned how we ever thought that last one was the best we could do. We need to get to that next stage. Freedom(tm) creates a believable means of doing so.

But it’s not an easy revolution. In Daemon, the daemon and some of its top human servants, are seen as evil. Killing people, infiltrating networks, implanting network worms, setting up processes by which corporations are held hostage and economic disaster looms…. The daemon is undeniably the villain of that novel. But Freedom(tm) shows us the reason behind it. And we come to realize that revolution is messy, and bloody. The point of revolution is to rip power from the hands of those who are in control, and obviously, those in control aren’t going to go down without a fight. Take what may be arguably a “worthy revolution,” the U.S. revolution. By most people, it’s seen as a just and necessary revolution — but think of how many people were killed fighting it. How many innocents, caught in the middle, suffered. How much was lost so that power could be ripped from one elitist class to a new, American class of elitists. The French Revolution was the epitome, the culmination, of the destruction of feudalism and control by royalty and the rise of democracy and private ownership — and it was horrifically bloody beyond belief. The “good guys” in that revolution were responsible for mind-numbing amounts of death.

Freedom(tm) doesn’t shy away from the necessity of “evil” things in order to bring down the multi-national corporation empire and establish true democracy and freedom. And, most importantly, create modern freedom where technology and modernization is not sacrificed, and is available to all, without the sociopathic economics of corporate oligarchy.

I doubt Suarez would call himself a leftist, I don’t know. He never uses terms in his novels like socialism, or communism, or anything like that. And that’s too his credit! Those words have a lot of baggage (most of which erroneously applied and misunderstood), that I’m sure if he used them or their ilk, he’d turn off readers out of hand. But the society, the economy, that he illustrates in Freedom(tm) is absolutely one of state-less communism, or anarcho-socialism. The government is undermined and rendered unnecessary, the corporations are rendered unnecessary and a violent hindrance to freedom and democracy. The society that is envisioned is absolutely the one that Marx said would follow capitalism, the one that could only be brought about thanks to the self-destructive mechanations and benefits of capitalism.

Like Cory Doctorow did with “wuffie” in his Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Suarez imagines an economy based on individual reputation and the acts one commits, good or bad, against other people and society. It’s a system that can only work in extremely small societies where everyone knows each other, or with modern/postmodern, technology dependent upon the interconnectedness we all scrape the surface of in our use of the Internet. The plus side is we have the means now to realize a post-capitalism society! The downside, is it’s dependant upon technology. And that only works so long as energy supplies are good. Suarez deals with that by describing system of creating and distributing energy power that is sustainable and not reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.

You’ll notice I jumped in talking about the grander themes and ideas of Freedom(tm) and haven’t really talked about the plot or characters. Sadly, those are the weakest parts of the novel — but that’s not to sat they’re bad. Where Daemon was all about plot and character, Freedom(tm) often feels like it uses characters (many from the previous novel) simply as a means to portray the ideas Suarez wants to get across. The characters, some of whom were so vivid in Daemon, come off here as two-dimensional. Especially the only significant female character, Agent Natalie Philips. In Freedom(tm), she’s acted upon and used as a tool to advance exposition. In fact, in the climax of the novel, she’s on the brink of actually doing something, discovers some vital information, is ready to jump into action, and suddenly everything she did up to that point is rendered pointless by the actions of other characters and she’s even saved by her lover in a way that makes her entire character arc of rising action meaningless. I get the feeling that Suarez was intending more for her — he placed her in a very important, vital location in the story, gave her access to important information and means to get more and do more, but then in a swoop makes it all a complete anti-climactic waste. I was very disappointed about that. Perhaps as he wrote the novel and found ways around her character to advance the plot and reach the grand climax, he forgot to bother with going back and writing her out of the novel, because she ultimately has no point in even being in the novel at all.

The plot that involves the way the government, basically in control by the multi0national corporations, fights back against the growing revolution, authentic and scary. Using increasing fear-tactics governments have always used to try to keep people in line and too powerless to act and too distracted to even speak out (economic crashes, high unemployment, outlandish fuel prices, and a patriotic surge of anger toward illegal immigrants), they find ways to use corporate, private military forces (fictional analogs of the real Blackwater/Xe Services, KBR, DynCorp, Aegis Defense, Raytheon, International Intelligence Limited, Executive Outcomes… these sound like fictional organizations, don’t they?) to do in the U.S. what they do in reality all over the world — divert public outrage toward those the powerful want undermined, and keep revolutionary elements (and the people in general) under check, with force if necessary.

Freedom(tm) is in many ways a terrifying novel because of how realistic it is (e.g.: the way in which corporations currently control government, and private corporate military operates around the world, and how the government could believably act against its own people in the attempt to maintain its own power); but it’s also one of the most inspiring, hopeful books I’ve read. So many people ask me what this fantastical anarcho-syndaclist, government-less communism, could possibly look like, and I too often have to use far-future SF like Blue Mars to offer examples — now, there’s Freedom(tm) which sets it in the here and now. Sure, it has some flaws, but there’s no such place as utopia. Oligarchic capitalism has serious problems, but so many people think it’s the best we can do — it’s certainly better than slavery and feudalism. I say we deserve to fight for a post-capitalist system that is even better than capitalism, even if it’s not perfect. Better is better, utopia or not.

Oh, critical theory aside — it’s really a fun and exciting book. Don’t let my socio-political ramblings dissuade you from readingDaemon and Freedom(tm); it’s my job to give voice to the overt socio-politics that’s only hinted at and implied and told through narrative in novels.


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Review: Altered Carbon

(Post originally published on my other blog, GrogMonkey, back on Jan. 27, 2011. Still trying to figure out how to divide the work between the two blogs. I only have a couple more to cross-post in a batch after this one.)

Well, I’m on a roll now, I just finished Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon this week, making it two books in a month! *sigh* Yeah, I’m not impressed either. Back in the good ol’ days of jr. and high school and undergrad, it was nothing for me to read three novels every two weeks. I guess I shouldn’t feel completely lame; the last few years of grad school I was reading non-fiction maybe four a month, or two and three plus handfuls of articles. No, I still feel lame.

Anyway, enough pity, the first month of my New Year’s Resolution to read more fiction, on a daily basis, is going well! After all, Altered Carbon is a rather longish novel. And a good one to boot! Though… somewhat flawed. Well, let’s get to it!

(As usual, I’ll try to keep it non-spoilery to begin with, and then if I have to talk about spoilery things, I’ll keep that for the end and with decent warning.)

I don’t like to recap novels, you can go read what it’s about somewhere else. But the short of it is it’s a noir mystery novel set a few hundred years in the future, and told by the protagonist “detective,” Takeshi Kovacs. He’s a reconditioned ex-special forces-esque soldier with a shadowy past, skeletons in closets, grudges tightly held, and a pencahant for losing his temper and killing people. But that’s OK, sorta, because in the future, death is rarely permanent. Most everyone has a “stack,” a computer chip in the brain that holds their identity, memory, personailty, and should you die (and not be a Catholic), you can be re-sleeved in a new body. (So long as your stack remains undamaged. However, Kovacs ocassionally finds the need to damage stacks.) He’s been given an offer he can’t refuse, literally, to solve the suicide of a wealthy “Meth,” or a Methuselah — a person who’s been around for a couple hundred years or so. Hired, of course, by the victim who doesn’t believe his own death was a suicide.

And so begins Kovacs’ tale of pavement-beating detective work while being gunned for by crazy assassins, tortured by people he gets in the way of, and involved in love affairs (or just pheromone-enhanced sexcapades) with girlfriends of the man whose body he’s wearing and wives (singular, actually) of clients (also, singular). Yeah, it gets pretty crazy, plot-wise. But one of the great things about Altered Carbon is how it keeps the twists and turns well-organized, easy to follow (with some furrowed eyebrows), and more or less within the realm of internal consistency. Very impressive for a first novel, by the way!

(Pause for scene cut…) Yikes! Since I started this review, I’ve read and finished another novel and started another! If I’m going to have any hope of getting reviews out the door, I need to keep them quick and superficial.

So, general thoughts: Basically, Altered Carbon is like a marriage of a Charles Stross novel with early 80s William Gibson. Morgan creates a future world where, because of the ability to re-sleeve your mind, life has become cheap and the commodification of the human has reached an apex. Or at least a crisis moment. The plot is superficially a noir in which the hero is a reluctant near-anti-hero who, thanks to becoming a target of the “bad guys,” takes the case personally, and jumps from femme fatale to femme fatale to get closer to his goals.

The writing was extremely compelling, expertly balancing descriptive and utilitarian. Morgan writes so you can easily picture the people and places, almost smell and touch it. The pacing was excellent with even the “slow parts” situated and developed within the narrative so as to remain compelling. While it’s a relatively thick novel, I read through it and a good clip, and never found myself lost or confused as to what was going on.

The posthuman elements and the depiction of future technology was quite convincing and believable, although we only see a very narrow slice of this future world, depicting both the lifestyles of the ultra-rich and the seedy underbelly of the dispossessed and terminally exploited. Nothing of the in-between classes.

And, for that matter, neither did the early cyberpunk of Gibson. His goal was to show the machinations and motivations of the corporate capitalists which controlled humanity, and the lower-class of people who were the only ones with the relative freedom to fight the system. Altered Carbon inhabits the same essential world.

In closing, I had dog-eared a few pages where something that resonated with my Marxist-materialist Critical Theory outlook jumped out at me. Granted, the entire novel is a critique of postmodern capitalism (again, just as cyberpunk in general is), but here are a few passages that really stood out. Instead of commenting on them, I present them as-is:

But this was worse than personal. This was about Louise, alias Anenome, cut up on a surgical platter; about Elizabeth Elliott stabbed to death and too poor to be re-sleeved; Irene Elliott, weeping for a body that a corporate rep wore on alternate months; Victor Elliott, whiplashed between loss and retrieval of someone who was and yet was not the same woman. This was about a young black man facing his family in a broken-down, middle-aged white body; it was about Virginia Vidaura walking disdainfully into storage with her head held high and a last cigarette polluting lungs she was about to lose, no doubt to some other corporate vampire. It was about Jimmy de Soto, clawing his own eye out in the mud and fire at Innenin, and the millions like him throughout the Protectorate, painfully gathered assemblages of individual human potential, pissed away into the dung-heap of history. For all these, and more, someone was going to pay. (437)

.

“The value of it. The value of a human life.” Kawahara shook her head like a teacher with an exasperating student. “You are still young and stupid. Human life has no value. Haven’t you learned that yet, Takeshi, with all you’ve seen? It has no value, intrinsic to itself. Machines cost money to build. Raw materials cost money to extract. But people?” She made a tiny spitting sound. “You can always get some more people. They reproduce like cancer cells, whether you want them or not. They are abundant, Takeshi. Why should they be valuable? Do you know that it costs us less to recruit and use up a real snuff whore than it does to set up and run the virtual equivalent format. Real human flesh is cheaper than a machine. It’s the axiomatic truth of our times.” (491-92)

.

“Kristin, nothing ever does change.” I jerked a thumb back at the crowd outside. “You’ll always have morons like that, swallowing belief patterns whole so they don’t have to think for themselves. You’ll always have people like Kawahara and the Bancrofts to push their buttons and cash in on the program. People like you to make sure the game runs smoothly and the rules don’t get broken too often. And when the Meths want to break the rules themselves, they’ll send people like Trepp and me to do it. That’s the truth, Kristin. It’s been the truth since I was born a hundred and fifty years ago and from what I read in the history books, it’s never been any different. Better get used to it.” (524)


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MMOGs: The Avatar of Consumerism

My term paper for ENG 685 (Survey of Modern Cultural Criticism…or something like that…never did learn the full name) was actually completed last May, but I haven’t gotten around to putting it up on the blog until now.

I’m kind of proud of it. It’s not great in that the writing style could still use a lot of work, but I think it’s a solid piece. I’d like to use this as a jumping off point into writing a book on the subject sometime down the road.

Well, here it is, but if you want to read it in an easier on the eyes PDF version, right-click/save-as this link here.

MMOGs: The Avatar of Consumerism

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) continue to draw throngs of players every year with the promise of action, adventure, compelling stories, and untold riches and legendary artifacts that can be your very own. The most popular MMOG at this time, World of Warcraft, has over ten million paying subscribers while millions more are playing dozens of similar competing games (MMOGCHART.com). There is no doubt that, as a cultural product, the MMOG is enjoying a popularity to which few other forms of production can compare (except for perhaps popular music and television). What is perhaps most striking about this form of production is that in addition to being a commodity sold by global media corporations and thus, like all other products and creative projects, comment on the cultural logic — the MMOG is in an unusual position to actually replicate the dominate hegemonic conditions which commodify the participant in active, real-time alternate spaces. Taking a materialist approach to the subject, what follows is an analysis of how the MMOG fits among the contrivances and contradictions of the postmodern culture. But to begin, an examination of how the mystification of commodification relies on the delicate construction of the idea of “the self” will be necessary.

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