Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Too much of a geek

I’m reading Geodesica: Descent by Sean Williams (“with Shane Dix!”) right now. I finished Geodesica: Ascent the other day.

All in all, I’m enjoying the two novels though they aren’t extremely deep. They were a nice break from some of my other reading.

I’m not buying some of the technological implications of the books though. It isn’t that the tech is bad (though it may be), it is that the implications are wrong. We have trading between colonies spread out over a sphere of about 150 light years from Sol, with the main action taking place in one region united by a trading circuit. The FTL tech of the books requires the routes to be largely free of dust and debris in order to gain real speed and the traffic is monopolized by a guild that has grown to be during the lifetime of characters in the books (long lifetimes, though).

What I’m not buying is two things:

  1. Interstellar Trade: WTF? The first book mentions that most commerce is dead because most human settlements, even small ones like the station of Bedlam with 40,000 people, have an economy based on nanotech manufacturing from asteroids in other material. Characters clearly want for no necessities and a lot of effort is spent on arts and crafts or social relations. If this is true, what the hell are small ships carrying back and forth (besides the occasional person)? The commerce angle makes no sense.

  2. Tech Scarcity: The spacing guild, the Palmers, travel around in nanotech-based ships with no fixed forms. They are composed of massively redundant nanotech pieces in small units that contain life support, power, FTL drive, etc. so that there is no simple point of failure. As a side effect of this, the ships come in a variety of sizes, can combine or separate into multiple vessels at will, and infiltrate (by design) the physical systems of their pilots, who effectively merge with them. Each functional whole ship is a sphere containing a human and the ships are logical entities that are like strings of pearls because the units travel together. All right, so far, so good.

We’re shown in the books that a ship pared down to a tiny portion of its size can, if given resource, build more nanotech and regrow itself.

The last bit is the problem. If these ships can be grown from their smallest sized unit and if they can incorporate a human into the systems at will (and agreement by said human), why are the Palmer ships so rare and most humans live in stations or planets while the guild travels around?

It should be like, “Well, gee sir, you’re interested in traveling through space. Here, let me spray some tiny bit of dust into a vial for you. Give it some resources and sunlight and it will grow into your own personal travel sphere and allow you to merge its tech into yourself.”

The novels make a lot of noise about post-humanity but miss the obvious implication that they have the ultimate anarchist technology right in the middle of the books. If every person can have a ship and the tech of the ships, shown to be the most advanced outside of post-human entities, breeds itself and is designed to support generally one (but potentially many more on demand) human life, travels faster than light, and needs no maintenance, why aren’t millions of individuals infected with this tech, launching themselves into the stars to never return as explorers or simply people wanting to be free of society or social circumstances?

This tech is in the middle of a guild that controls shipping lanes between simple colonies? I’m not buying it and the authors obviously didn’t follow it to its conclusion as the ultimate liberator of individuals from social control (meanwhile writing a novel full of a large war and interstellar aggression).