Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Three from Perhaps the Stars

I finished Ada Palmer's Perhaps the Stars, the fourth and final book in her Terra Ignota series, which I earlier described as "Set on Earth in about 400 years in a post-scarcity world, which we would consider utopia in many ways... but it's still not, because humans."

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that in this book the almost-utopia has given way to world war. Palmer does her usual thorough job of moving the plot forward with a cavalcade of characters, washed in waves of Iliad references in multiple languages, leading to a satisfying ending. Bravo!

I noted just a few passages to quote. These had something to say to us now that I think stands alone, without having to know much of the story.

After the war has disrupted the world's communication network, and a jerry-rigged system is created to partially rebuild it — the narrator, who is at the nexus of the new network — decides not to pass along every message because some of them are damaging lies. This causes its own controversy:

...and then someone used the old hate phrase 'Free Speech' and it exploded. That's what we're afraid of really, that in our information efforts, we're going to poison this war like the free-speech-mongers poisoned the last centuries of the Exponential Age and vomited out the Church War. Free Speech, that old tool of the plutocracy, the intoxicating, rosy blossom under whose petals parasite lies can breed and multiply until they devour all the garden. None of us wants that. I hope none of us wants that, but there are still Free Speech zealots in this day and age, and they're just the type to have communications tech, to build a radio or study Morse code, and volunteer to join our network as a link and pass on...death. (pp. 121–122)

That quote reminded me of this post from early 2017.

In a later section, which also refers back to how things used to be hundreds of years in the past (our present and not-as-long-ago past), there was this bit of historical description:

...claims of Universal Laws, of Reason and Enlightenment, ...have so often brought the worst out of the strongest: first the Age of Empires when European powers raced to enlighten (conquer) and to civilize (enslave) their fellow men... But as horrors made colony a dirty word, the Age of Empires gave way only to an Age of Excuses, when superpowers learned to rules-lawyer Justice, Democracy, even Freedom and Revolution into pliable excuses to meddle wheresoever on the globe they smelled profit, but when less-profitable peoples begged for aid, poisoned by the superpowers' fumes, lies, and cruel investment, then the powers hid like children in the pillow-fort of their so-modern and so-rational directive not to interfere. (p. 198)

And a final short quote. This time it's not a grand political analysis, but a useful reminder, at least for me:

I think "stupid" is a very harmful word, especially when we reach for it in anger, and it isn't any less harmful when we apply it to ourselves. (p. 454)

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