MultiReal picks up right where Infoquake leaves off. Natch has successfully demonstrated the revolutionary new product to the masses—and now the Defense and Wellness Council wants control. He refuses and goes on the run (several times) while his fiefcorp dissolves into bickering and bureaucratically-induced chaos. Oh, and infoquakes continue on the Data Sea.
As with many middle books in a trilogy, MultiReal is one endless spiral of bad luck for the protagonists. From the red tape and threats thrown at them by Magan Kai Lee to the deleterious effects of the black code on Natch, it seems like our heroes can’t catch a break. Eventually, the stress snaps the bond between Natch and his second-in-command, Jara, who is disillusioned with his petty selfishness. With Jara in control of the fiefcorp and Natch essentially forced out, the two of them go their separate ways, with the spectre of MultiReal floating in the Data Sea like some kind of digital child caught in a divorce.
Edelman captures some of the tension and philosophical difficulties inherent in a government’s pursuit to control new technologies. Len Borda makes a convincing zealot, one who believes that control is the only way to ensure stability. Like many real-life politicians, he fears the development of technologies or other innovations that he can’t regulate. On the other hand, MultiReal is dangerous, because of how it controls what people perceive as reality, what they remember and how they react. Its usage takes a physical toll, and it is not just a toy. This book is much clearer on what MultiReal does and how it can be used, and it’s a little scary.
But it’s not that scary, mostly because—as Natch tries to point out to Brone—it doesn’t scale. There is just no way that everyone could have their own set of infinite realities; the computing power doesn’t exist. Managing the infinitely branching realities of a single person seems mind-boggling enough to me. Similarly, MultiReal is a powerful weapon, but it is still limited. It might let someone dodge bullets, but they can only do that for so long. Eventually they will get exhausted and get back to square one.
Edelman manages nevertheless to get me thinking and to help me articulate my own philosophies. I came down strongly in the, “Release MultiReal to everyone, unlimited choice cycles!” camp, and my position did not waver. Information really does want to be free, in my opinion, so it is just a matter of time before that scenario becomes reality (and I mean the reality). Might as well get it over with. While I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the libertarian ideals of limited government, there are moments in the history of innovation when government cannot effectively manage the social change precipitated by new technologies. All it can do is ride out the storm as best it can—or, failing that, fold in upon itself as society experiences the turmoil of revolution.
It would be nice to see that, or anything like that, happening here. Unfortunately, MultiReal is mostly talk. It is incredibly slow-burning—oh, there are plenty of action sequences, and a lot of plotting and strategizing on the part of both sides. Yet none of this seems to come to much. Natch drifts in and out of hiding; Jara and the fiefcorp debate how they should proceed without his leadership; Borda and Kai Lee alternately cackle and threaten each other. It’s a maddeningly flat plot structure that leaves me simultaneously enthusiastic and frustrated! There were moments, such as when Natch held his finger on the button at the meeting of the Prime Committee, threatening to release MultiReal to the public, when I could cheer. For the most part, though, all I could manage was a resigned apathy.
And I can’t say this book did much to improve my opinion of Natch. He’s not a nice person. To be fair, Edelman showed us how he got that way in Infoquake. But I can’t muster much in the way of admiration or respect. Plus, Natch is much more reactive in this book. He runs away, licks his wounds, makes quick decisions based on what other people try to do to him. There is little of that lateral-thinking fiefcorp master whose scheming got him to the number one spot on Primo’s overnight. At least that Natch could move some pages!
MultiReal, like the first book in this series, is a fun science-fiction thriller that asks some good questions about how technology is changing our lives. It’s definitely my cup of tea, and it presents the kind of deep implications of computers and posthumanism, the questions about governance and religion and autonomy that seem so topical these days. However, it doesn’t stand out against the rest of the posthumanism, post-governance crowd, and wow me with its unique characters or extremely memorable twists and turns. It’s a competent but not compelling example of its ilk—and I must say I’m interested in how the trilogy turns out, but I’m not getting my hopes up for any big surprises.