Political infighting and activism escalated to open warfare, with the state playing the 3rd party in the ring? Exploration robots attaining sentience/self-awareness, downing tools and taking up weapons? A heady mix of Virtual Reality, Real Life, and rather blurred distinctions of which is which? Ken MacLeod is at it again, indeed, and I have to admit that I’ve been lapping it up.
But let’s start at the beginning, seeing that The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, kicks off with a bang. Actually, it kicks off with rather a lot of bangs, as we witness two political/terrorist organisations slugging it out with each other and the state over London, using robot tanks, military drones, and planes loaded with ordnance. And we witness Carlos the Terrorist, fighting for the Acceleration, being duped by his state handler, and then killed…
“At the fag-end of the twenty-first century, immortality was the only thing worth dying for.”
Just to find himself revived in a VR simulation, and told that he’s dead, and has been for over a millennium. Also that he is still under death sentence, for the Docklands atrocity he’s committed (which he cannot remember). But he’s in a simulation of a terraformed world far away from Earth, which itself is running on a computer on a space station orbiting said, yet non-terraformed planet. And he’s going through military exercises in the forest, together with a group of fellow Axle War Criminals, to prepare for a conflict with prospecting robots which have attained self awareness, or consciousness, due to an unfortunate series of events. But of course it cannot be that simple…
The Acceleration, or Axle, or Axe (depending in how much of a hurry you are), was a post-capitalist, accelerationist movement, zooming for the future of enhanced/uploaded selfs, and a post-singularity style cornucopia society with complete individual freedom.
The Reaction, or Rax, was a, er, reaction to that. Traditionalist, modernised Anti-Modernity, with strong fascist and scientific racist undertones; trying to go back to pre-state capitalism instead of trying to go past it. They hankered for top-down control, with God on their side.
Between them they fought what was came to be known as the Last World War: Axe vs Rax vx The State (all of them). With robot armies, drone fleets, nuclear and nanotech and biotech weapons, and billions in lives lost in ‘collateral’. Until both movements got wiped out, for good. Or so the books say…
This has none of the ‘classic’ politics and political discourses which propelled (and sometimes dogged) earlier MacLeod books. Not that he can stay off the riff entirely - instead we get the Axe/Rax background as the current progressive/reactionary drives, overdrawn and projected into the far future. It’s a big, nasty, accelerated bastard child of some of the movements we witness even now…
He also cannot fully keep off the little side-swipes at his usual targets: “America: where good ideas go when they die”
One thread promising interesting developments for the future are the (now) self-aware prospecting (and other) robots, who, at least in their own eyes, have moved from being property to actual self-owned personhood - given that this is Ken MacLeod I would expect him to make more of this as part of the trilogy, and I'm very much looking forward to his thoughts, all the more so after bringing up the Lockean Proviso in the story (it's used as the name of one of the legal companies the war criminals are being employed by - to fight the robots, nevertheless).
There’s loads of riffing on conspiracy theories, recursive loops of paranoia regarding who you can trust or if things are as they appear, or just another shell, another wheel within a wheel. Exacerbated by the whole thing playing inside/out of (?) simulations and VRs. He plays that card quite openly - people don’t agree on what is ‘real’ and what is ‘sim’, never mind what the relevant distinction is. Charles Stross’ Alien Snail, decanted into a body in physical reality for the first time, did not have the problem, but complained about the inflexibility of the simulation environment…
And no, this is not a random quip, parts of the book strongly harked back to Stross’ Accelerando - not a bad thing at all, in my opinion!
What else can I tell you without spoiling too much of the clever setting and engrossing story? Don’t even expect this to have a finished story arc - this is only a beginning, a setup, leaving hanging and gagging for more, just as things step up a level. He’s a bastard… (at least the next book, called The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, will be out in 6 months only!)
So, get reading, it’s grand, and more is coming soon!
Ken MacLeod is a Scottish writer of SF who burst onto the scene with his Fall Revolution Series in 1995. He’s been nominated rather regularly for all the big awards, and has won the Prometheus (repeatedly), BSFA (also repeatedly), Sidewise, and Seiun in translation, obviously) Awards.
Title: The Corporation Wars: Dissidence
Series: Corporation Wars
Series Number: 1/3
Author: Ken MacLeod
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.littlebrown.co.uk
Publication Date: May 2016
Review Date: 160628
Topic: Political Conflict