Thursday, December 18, 2008

Multiversal Truths, and Little Brother

Man, has it really been so long since I’ve written or does it just seem that way because of how busy it’s been? Anyway, because it’s been awhile, and because it may be another while before I post what with this being the holidays and all, this is an epic double post!

Finals have come and gone, momentarily satisfied with their pounds of flesh. All things considered, I’m pretty proud of how this quarter turned out. Plot was rather dull, but there was some nice character development, and enough laughs and tears along the way to keep folks watching. It felt more like a prologue than anything really, as my classes have given me a couple questions I plan on pursuing in the following academic stretch. In particular, I plan on exploring the effect of virtual worlds on the real one, now that cyber-realities have gone all mainstream.

This has been made all the more fitting since I have now officially fallen off the wagon.

Really, the only things keeping me from taking up current residence in Azeroth are my busy holiday schedule, my commitment to a Left 4 Dead quartet and a lernaean reading list that rolls longer whenever one of its members is scratched from the list. So it is official now: I am only rooted in this reality because it serves as the terminal which permits me to jump between other alternative realities.

Before I go on, one of the things I noticed over the term is the inherently ‘multiversal’ quality of the typical college day. Simply attending class is like wading through a reality storm, for what is an academic ‘class’ really, other than an extremely condensed exploration of a specific period or subject? After about three such ventures, one develops an irrational fear of being devoured by a rampant era, or errant discipline. The Jazz age may swallow you up on your way to math, or russian conjugation might toss your ass in the gulag on the way to lunch. This effect is particularly acute in the study of English, where students are frequently expected to read a full novel in a week. As I mentioned earlier, Through the Looking Glass was on the reading list, and it isn’t the sort of text one digests overnight.

Frankly I love the schitzophrenic nature of it all, but my brain is wired that way. Stockholm Syndrome turned Attention Defecit Disorder into a close friend a long time ago. Once you get accustomed to the daily or weekly agenda, you inevitably start to look for links between your subjects of study, no matter how irrelevant or disparate, just to give yourself a place to stand on. This leads the mind down some really innovative avenues of thought, and I think such contextual concatenation is an extremely useful skill to have in our modern world of links and five second media. But it has its’ downside as well.

Occasionally, you’ll be struck with the desire to revisit a class world from an earlier quarter, but these feelings are inevitably dismissed as whims as matter of necessity: There is simply no time for that sort of exploration when they pop up. It’s sad really, because many of these passing fancies hold tremendous academic merit and after being brushed off so callously, they don’t always come calling a second time.

Since I still haven’t moved through the inebriated “Wooow” factor of Lich King yet, I’d like to spend the rest of the posts going on about a book which made completing my final papers very difficult for me, because I wanted to be reading this and writing papers on it instead.

To tell it simple, Corry Doctorow’s Little Brother is a novel which explores how information technology figures in to the freedom of speech vs. homeland security dialectic. It is written for the web-savy generation: Hackers, gamers, and other people into cyber culture will get the most out of it, but as long as you are internet literate you’ll be able to enjoy the narrative, so congratulations, you’re already eligible! The book is set about five or ten years in the future, and there is some futuristic technology but it’s all based on stuff we have today, and the progression thoroughly makes sense. You might even learn some stuff about how the current internet works, seeing how Doctorow explains almost every piece of technology in the story.

Despite all of this, it never condescends to the reader. In fact, one of the best parts of the book is that it respects its audience. The characters are smarter than your average high school punks, but every invention and creative solution they conceive seems plausible. Really, one of the book’s messages is not to underestimate the young people. And mind you this is a message book.

The book is post-post-9/11, and unapologetically liberal. The main bad guys are The Department of Homeland Security. Other lesser antagonists frequently suggest that suspending freedom of speech and invading privacy are acceptable evils in the pursuit of the greater good. The opening is particularly ham-handed, but the edge it adds to the book is very effective from a literary stand point and philosophically deeply refreshing. Cautiousness has become so much a part of liberal rhetoric, that it is politically correct to the point of impotent paranoia. Doctorow’s take on liberalism is drawn from the proactive vein of the civil rights movements, and injected with modern punk sensibilities, making it a welcome alternative. That being said, the book doesn’t sacrifice the more mature diplomatic tone of the political left, and the characters in the story are most appealing and real when the reflect on the consequences of their radical actions.

It’s tempting to say that this radical slant is to blame for nobody having heard of the book, but I’m not that paranoid. Hell, I stumbled across the book because it was on display in the bookstore where I work. The cover quote from Neil Gaiman (who I respect and admire); “A wonderful important book…I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year” was what sold me. Excluding Alice and Dune, I’d say it’s true for me as well. Best thing is, THE ENTIRE BOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR FREE.

Well, I am being pestered to play Left 4 Dead as I type, and I also vowed to hit 71 in WoW. So I’ll tell you about those sometime soon.

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