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: A couple days ago Sumana and I discussed Snow Crash, which has for some time been a bit of a sticking point between us. She really enjoys it, and I really unenjoy it. (Throughout this discussion, keep in mind that I could never bring myself to finish Snow Crash, which of course is unfair to Snow Crash.)

My main problem with Snow Crash is its manifestation of what I once called the Fundamental Cyberpunk Error: the FreeCiv-ish idea that civilization consists of a Fisher-Price hammer-and-peg playset with a bunch of discrete technologies and social constructs sticking up, and that you can tap on one with a hammer and push it down without it having any effect on any of the others. "Of course there will be sports in the future... [tap, tap, tap] DEATH SPORTS!" And you have Rollerball.

Example: setting completely aside the usability problems of virtual reality, how can a fully immersive high-bandwidth world-wide virtual reality universe continue to exist in a world without the rule of law or the sanctity of contract? Who mantains the servers (or other electronics)? Who manufactures the servers (or other electronics)? Who mines the raw materials and how do the raw materials get to the fabrication plant without being stolen by bandits? Who grows enough food to feed all these people working on assembly lines instead of hunting and gathering? Who maintains the microwave stations and transatlantic fiber optic cable, or launches new sattelites into space to replace broken ones? How does each party to this operation afford the cost of the private army required to avoid getting ripped off or blown up by rivals? It's to solve these problems that people form states[0], but once you've tapped down the little "State" peg with your little cyberpunk hammer you don't have that option.

Anyway. My point here is not to carp on particular problems, but to discuss this sort of inconsistency in general. I carp not on particular problems because Sumana convinced me that microlevel inconsistencies can happen in a cultural artifact even if the long-term cultural shift in that artifact's universe is in a particular direction ("The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."), so it's not prima facie evidence of poor craftsmanship to include such inconsistencies. I find myself much more favorably disposed towards Snow Crash, and I think it does the book more justice, when it's regarded as a snapshot of a civilization seventy-five years into a four-hundred-year decline into tribalism and anarchy rather than (as I regarded it until recently) as a picture of a civilization already completely collapsed into tribalism and anarchy.

The thing is that this exact same sort of inconsistency happens in cultural artifacts which are generally agreed to be awful: for instance, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which nobody except Jake thinks is great.[1] (Paraphrase: Jake: "all my friends think mad max beyond thunderdome is a terrible movie." Leonard: "Has it ever occured to you that there might be an empirical basis for such a belief?" Jake: "that is impossible.") It happens in Signal to Noise, a book which may well have merit (though I didn't like it) but in which all the characters act as though the American government still has power, even though voters stupidly passed a poorly-written Constitutional amendment which has as a trivial side effect the total emasculation of government (perhaps the case that will establish this is still awaiting certiorari).

I am ill-disposed towards inconsistency in general (I once rewrote a song because it contained an inaccurate statement about evolution), but I think I can now distinguish the good kind of inconsistency (forms of archaic rituals from the modern era preserved through inertia and other microlevel eddies flowing against the macrolevel, enhancing the richness of a story) from the bad kind (consequences of authorial decisions not properly thought out, causing gaping plot holes and annoying me). It comes down, I think, to judging an inconsistency against the gestalt of the book. For instance, A Canticle for Leibowitz has some of these inconsistencies, but they seem to me like the good kind, and I really like A Canticle for Leibowitz. I haven't read The Postman, but from what I've read about it it seems the very embodiment of the good kind of inconsistency, and I've a feeling I would like it as well (though apparently the movie is horrible).

[0] I know, Locke was wrong, people don't 'decide' to form states to solve particular problems--but once you have states, it's things like the rule of law that distinguish states whose citizens can create things like the Internet from states whose citizens can't. And any cyberpunk-esque mutual defense venture created to get around the lack of a state is in fact a Lockean state of the sort that people don't decide to form. This is actually one of the premises of Snow Crash, which means I'm arguing in circles--wheels within wheels, Jeeves. My point is that to mantain the civilizational infrastructure neccessary for an reliable virtual reality Internet, your de facto state must have power and agreements with other de facto states consumnate with the power of and mutual agreements between today's nation-states, so why not put the microstate idea in another book so as to do it justice?

[1] In British radio programmes this is known as "the sort of statement that gets us letters".

: My mother got her angry letter printed in the Bakersfield Californian, so in celebration I will point her to this Steven Jay Gould article.

: Also: today is Rachel's birthday, which she shares with L. Ron Hubbard. Happy birthday, Rachel!

: Unsurprisingly, I didn't win an XYZZY award.


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