(Or, why we should worry about billionaires who treat Neal Stephenson books like an instruction manual)
It always flabbergasts me when someone looks at the violence and poverty and horror that exists in the worlds portrayed in books like Snow Crash and Ready Player One, and then says to themselves: "Yes that! I want that! Clearly the big corporations in those stories have created a paradise worth living in, and the goal of turning people into mind controlled puppets or indentured servants is a good one."
Also, I disagree with the statement that a book where the plot doesn't start until 350 pages in is good. I read Cryptonomicon, and from that point swore off ever reading anything big and heavy enough to use as a murder weapon. Stephenson, like the tech billionaires, has gotten to a point where he doesn't listen to constructive criticism from editors. His first four books, when an editor or agent could tell him to cut out all the fat, were his best work. Especially Zodiac (which would make for a much better movie than Snow Crash by the way) where corporations are portrayed as greedy, short sighted, stupid, and entirely responsible for environmental destruction.
I'll bet the tech optimists, and Stephenson himself these days, carefully ignore that part of his bibliography.
This makes me think of Peter Isherwell character in "Don't Look Up"... Perfect tech optimism criticism.
And also the ending is gold in that movie.
Unfortunately, we simply can't model this. We will have to try it out. Not at scale. Stephenson's heroes just dive in at scale.
It's widely thought that 2023's bananagobsmack is a termination shock, we may already have run the first experiment.
The parallels to KSR's Ministry for the Future are compelling.
KSR assumes that some combination of democratic politics and eco-terrorism in the form of blowing up passenger airplanes will allow the world to coordinate on mitigating climate change while empowering indigenous forms of governance and technology. I think they also mostly get rid of the patriarchy? In other words, a story that lets the reader imagine that the climate crisis can only be solved by simultaneously overturning the existing, imperfect social order.
The problem with the book is that in real democratic governance and eco-terrorism scenarios, you never have everything go according to plan. Is Ministry for the Future going to lead some ex-Williamsburger to launch his own rogue sleeper cell to assassinate anyone consuming too much carbon? Probably not. But… yeah, it might.
Jokes aside, I liked both books a lot, but it's not clear to me which one is more reckless.
Techno-optimism seems like the best way to get people to save ourselves. Americans need to believe in self-efficacy. Leaving the field of techno-optimism to the fascist SV types merely means no democratic technological counterforce to whatever they're building next.