Emerging from the black hole of final reviews and the added hustle of wrapping up a semester of challenges I have some time now to get back to this writeup. Luckily I took some notes and already gathered many of the images and references. Just a bit of writing now.
A long gap as the world slowly falls apart and digitally sutures itself back together again into some Frankenstein of AR/VR/NR assemblage of events. The crew joined the virtual meeting flow and came together over Zoom for a couple of drinks from home as we discussed our most recent read, Agency by William Gibson.
Agency is the second book in Gibson's current trilogy, building upon the multi-threaded realities, or stubs, introduced in The Peripheral. In the long gap, several people decided to start with The Peripheral before going into Agency. I feel I probably should have (and will soon) reread it myself after our discussion. The Peripheral is a more complex and driven story as it builds out the near (and slightly further) future with cataclysmic change and significantly advanced technology allowing for the branching of time and reality from past events through computational simulations. The future cast of characters returns in Agency to dig deeper into our more immediate present as autonomous systems and emergent reforming militaristic AI start to transcend the will and understanding of their human creators. The two books live in the same universe but are completely different explorations through the speculative lens. A light (lite) version of time travel based on communication and a multiverse of possibilities. Agency hits much closer to home building a new world from the slight shift in the 2016 US presidential election.
Wheelie - (https://www.doublerobotics.com/pricing.html)
I found Agency most entertaining as an exercise in dialog, primarily between a young tech ware human, Verity, and a rapidly developing synthetic being., Eunice. The well-crafted personality of the AI, built upon the memories and consciousness of a real soldier, adds a rich color to the character that further blurs the distinction between humans and machines. It is often hard to know if the manipulations operated by Eunice are an elaborate hoax of a government or clandestine agency, or truly the laminar structures of a hyper-connected autonomous agent. It is the interaction between Verity and Eunice that forms the emerging identity of the AI. Dialog drives reflection and slows the multi-valent processing to engage with a human agent. Eunice is an abstract representation of a human neural pattern interfaced with myriad platforms of agency and control that allow her to expand into a new being, many and one, with a human interface device and a new concept of self. Interlinked.
Careful who you pick on:
Gibson's gentle tweak to our current technologies opens up a frightening potential for invasion. This subterfuge to our sovereignty that appropriates and transforms our own tools may quickly leave us in the dust. It is never clear if Eunice is benevolent or malevolent or even concerned with those distinctions as she gains greater integration with her self. The emergence of a self-aware computational network with near-limitless (from a human perspective) processing power could perpetrate extreme disruptions and manipulation to agency.
The book is really just the word, Agency, with all its baggage and complexity. Who has it, and when, in what context. I am reminded of the thoughts of Alan Watts or perhaps the wisdom of Buckaroo Bonzai, "Wherever you go, there you are." I hear the discussions of final reviews and project meetings shift to the topic of agency every day. It is something we all search for, forgetting that it is something we always have (or never will). I think it is this point that the book makes most sharply and without every really saying. The pace and tempo keep the reader in expectation of a larger agenda to the plot, the exertion of the author's agency over the reader to build sustenance and surprise. It never quite comes, never quite pulls back the curtain, the question remains ambiguous, the answer elusive. The humans do as they are told because they desire meaning, Euarnice directs from the network with no real desire but autonomy which the humans seem to already have. In the end, everyone is a pawn and an individual, an agent of themselves, legion, and singular. The more we simulate, plan, scenario, and organize the less we see our agency to affect the system, and yet, any time we chose we can surrender to the void.
So, while I agree that The Peripheral is a more exciting and dynamic story, I think that the blurred and ambiguous complexity of Agency is for more thought-provoking and evquietly menacing. It seems that perhaps the cover designer understood this best of all. I look forward eagerly to the third addition to this storyline.
We may be in a Vespasian stub!
Per usual, we generated a boatload of tangents and misdirections that should help to keep everyone busy in their conception and critical reflection during the summer of social distance.
GIBSON TRILOGIES Sprawl trilogy: - Neuromancer (1984) * - Count Zero (1986)* - Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) The Difference Engine (1990; with Bruce Sterling)
Bridge trilogy: - Virtual Light (1993) - Idoru (1996)* - All Tomorrow's Parties (1999)
Blue Ant trilogy: - Pattern Recognition (2003) - Spook Country (2007) - Zero History (2010) The Peripheral (2014)* Agency (2020)*
And if text is not your thing:
Movies and Television
Vero's Top Picks:
1. Train to Busan
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
3. The Thing
And everything Nicolas Cage: Conair Mandy Faceoff
Battle Beyond the Stars
Children of Men
Bad Times at the El Royale
28 Days Later
Red Dawn (1984)
V for Vendetta
West World Season 3
Altered Carbon Season 2 (still hasn't found the aesthetic of the books)
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
We are all very excited for Dune
Tokyo Ghost - Artist: Sean Murphy
Metabarons - Artist(s): Juan Giménez; Das Pastoras - Written by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Norm MacDonald on the Pandemic
Our next book is actually two books, one SkyFi Detective and the other Non-fiction
Fiction :: Exploded View by Sam McPheeters
(primarily selected for the headshot)
Non-Fiction :: New Dark Age by James Brindle
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