The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A metaphor for the mundane

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote, in his introduction to Nebula Awards Showcase 2002, that science fiction stories are 'statements about the way we live now, coded'. In the age of pioneering (and then mass) aviation, we had space stories. In the era of Cold War paranoia and dread we had post-apocalypse and aliens-among-us stories. Or to use the example Stan gives: in the decade when we encountered the internet, we had mind-uploading stories.

For me, the most haunting metaphor for the way we live now is Robert Charles Wilson's 1998 story Divided by Infinity. The narrator is given a pseudo-scientific book that argues, on the basis of the Many Worlds Interpretation and quantum handwaves, that you never die. Other people die, but (from your POV) you don't: subjectively your consciousness continues in a less likely infinity of possible worlds. As you get older, the world around you just gets weirder, and weirder, and weirder.

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I like the 'sci-fi is really about the present' perspective, but this new development also offers a lot of fun and stimulation in its own right. Imagine how efficiently shares could be traded between New York and London. Surely it wouldn't be that difficult to refit the CIrcle Line as a proton accelerator?

@Kenneth, I'm not sure that cutting the network latency between New York and London from 60 milliseconds to 59.998 milliseconds would have a big effect on the efficiency of share dealing.

There was a short story in an Asimov's or Interzone (about twenty years ago now) that used the same central premise. A gambler had a collarbomb that would go off automatically if he lost a bet. From his POV, he never lost a bet - other hims, in other universes, lost and died.

I think a similar idea was used by Fred Hoyle, maybe in October the First is Too Late.

Will Self has a short story in which the premise is that you never die, you just move to other parts of London.

Not sure this would work for smaller cities.

I find it odd that the 3rd linked story says that if this is true, then we must say goodbye to both relativity theory and causality. It's only according to relativity theory that light speed is the maximum speed of causality. So if relativity is wrong, that claim about causality might be one of the things that's wrong. Thus even if relativity theory is wrong, it seems a bit early to start waving goodbye to causality.

That might be one explanation why the Universe is so ridiculously big, and would put a quite a literal emphasis on the phrase, "until death do us part."...and perhaps some symmetry to "then birth do us join."
I grew up in a small town. now I live across the river in a bigger town, I just think of it as a suburb of my old home town.

@Dr Plokta:

Ah, but some forms of faster than light travel are the equivalent of time travel, so maybe we can dial the latency down to -10 seconds and get a jump on all the other traders.

If you're interested in discussion of the neutrino story by some practicing physicists, try Cosmic Variation.

As for "weirder, and weirder, and weirder", why that's just fine with me. I grew up in the US in the 1950's when weird was considered a crime, and everyone just knew that the future would be just like the present, only shinier and with more plastic. <shudder>

Alexander, that's an interesting link. If you make any comments in future, please give some text and context around any links so it doesn't look like it might be spam.

Stephenson does this with Anathem, too, no?


Anyone think the test results will be confirmed

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