book review: the surrogates

The Surrogates is a science fiction mystery set in a future where people can sit in the privacy of their own room and teleoperate a surrogate to go out and interact with the real world for them. When you’re operating the surrogate you’re feeling what it feels and doing what it does, but without exposing your real self to danger.

What makes this book great is how Robert Venditti gets into what this would mean for a world. It turns most of our major crimes into property crimes, since a murder of a surrogate is basically like totalling someone’s car. People took up smoking again because all of the carcinogens accumulate in the surrogate’s body, leaving the real you with lungs pink like the insides of babies.

The story follows a police detective on the trail of a murderer who might be a terrorist, and gets at the heart of what this technology means. There’s an anti-surrogate political group, and a murderer who can do things no one has ever seen before. Also, between each issue in the trade paperback there are news reports or advertisements or academic papers that help to flesh out the world (much like you might remember from Watchmen, though there’s no parallel pirate story going on here), which are done superbly.

Venditti and Wendele did a great job with this book. I know there was a movie version fairly recently but didn’t see it. It seems like it’d be very easy to simplify it too much for the sake of good visuals. If the movie’s worth seeing let me know!

book review: permutation city

Permutation City is a Greg Egan book about people creating copies of themselves to run in virtual worlds. The in real life part of it is partially set in Sydney right near where I live, which is kind of neat. Because it’s a Greg Egan book, there’s lot’s of talking about ideas of how we are what we think we are. This one’s got a little less oomph to it, but I expect that’s just because it’s from 1994.

One of the ideas he explores is about being able to edit your own personality completely as a digital entity. One of the (digital) characters has it set up so he pours himself drinks to change his mood. A whole liquor cabinet full of Optimism, Calm Acceptance, Driven to Succeed, which felt more natural to him than sitting at a mixing board style console to tweak his personality.

I love thinking about that whole digital consciousness stuff. Even if it’s infeasible in real life. In this book he talks about the different paths taken in virtual biology. Some people generate a bunch of ad-hoc processes to make you feel like you’re there, but another character is working in a virtual world with completely different laws of physics. She’s got a project trying to prove whether or not natural selection is possible in that universe with much less complex rules.

There’s lots of neat stuff here. Not my favourite Greg Egan, but still, damned good book.