December 20th, 2010


Surface Detail & The World Swappers

Surface Detail, by Iain with-an-M. Banks, is a pretty hefty tome, but I zipped through it pretty rapidly. A Culture novel, it tells various intertwining stories that relate to a virtual war carried out by simulations suddenly getting 'promoted' to a realspace conflict. Plenty of action and stuff blowing up to keep your attention, but there are some nuggets to keep your mind chewing meditatively. Don't ask me what the title refers to, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was about the many instances of camouflage in the plot, both literal and more in the sense of deception. More thematically, the book tangentially addresses the idea that Hell is wrong (instantiated by 'virtual afterlives' used by different species to keep their living members in line).

The World Swappers is a relatively early work by John Brunner. And it reads like a lot of 50s SF, where protagonists manipulate the fate of the galaxy in alignment with their utopian vision, no matter who gets hurt in their way. Seriously, our hero pulls some stunts that should result in a war crimes tribunal. Want the inhabitants of planet X to play ball? Simply embargo the interplanetary food supply shipments they're dependent on until you see signs of half-eaten children in the streets. On a more personal scale, he (knowing full well what will happen) virtually kidnaps a girl and hands her over to the antagonist, who proceeds to torture her for information she does not have. Not that you would want to, but you can read it here. This is no Stand on Zanzibar.