The Bruce Sterling series concludes. I’ve read other Sterling works but made no notes on them.
Raw Feed (2000): A Good Old-Fashioned Future, Bruce Sterling, 1999.
“Maneki Neko” — A bizarre, comedic look at a future Japanese “gift economy” organized efficiently and incorruptibly by vast databases and artificial intelligences. Hero Tsuyoshi Shimizu, who makes a living converting obsolete formatted video recordings to new formats, occasionally sends an interesting bit of recording to special databases, interested companies, and newsgroups via the Internet. In exchange, those coordinating AI’s and databases take care of him by sending him odd, cryptic instructions on his pokkecon (with its cartoon characters it’s an oh-so-Japanese combination phone and personal digital assistant) which lead to all kinds of economic and social goodies or facilitate giving those to someone else. Things become comical when Tsuyoshi does a favor for his wife, a collector of the cat charm – the Maneki Neko – of the title. He crosses paths with Louise Hashimoto, a federal prosecutor from the U.S., who rather hysterically declares the gift economy is a vast criminal conspiracy. She broke part of a gift network, accessed its coordinating server, and now is the subject of a barrage of ingenious, varied forms of harassment. Tsuyoshi’s “digital panarchies … polycephalous, integrated influence networks” threaten all those countries who want to tax his income and benefits. Hashimoto says he lives on kickbacks and bribes. She says his economy is undermining the “lawful, government-approved, regulated economy”. He responds that maybe his economy is better. And maybe it is. It rescues Hashimoto from a mob (which it creates) and may lead to the marriage of Tsuyoshi’s brother and Hashimoto. However, the last line of the story carries an ironic sting: “Then he sat down again and waited patiently for someone to come and give him freedom.” The gift economy comes at a loss of privacy and servitude to the impersonal, computer coordinating apparatus.
“Big Jelly”, Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker — Crossbreed a social commentary on high-tech startup companies with a Texas tall tale, filter the mix through Sterling’s acute sense of observation on mores, politics, and the street’s use of manners, add some Rucker strangeness and comedy, and you get this odd, pleasing tale of Urschleim (perhaps the first form of life which has become all others) from Texas oil wells. There are also artificial jellyfishes and their homosexual creator – a mathematician desperate for a stake in a successful, high-tech company and an older man to take care of him, and a young Texas oil scion desperate to start a new family fortune. The characterization, social observation (lots of attention to dress and consumer products), and comedy were all good. I liked the technical details of jellyfishes, natural and artificial. Rucker and Sterling almost make the notion of artificial jellyfishes desirable. Certainly jellyfish fan Tug Mesoglea has better ideas than the inventive, quick-witted, but somewhat wacky, futurist Edna Sydney who suggests fake jellyfish as beach toys and fashion accessories (which Tug likes). The story takes an apocalyptic turn at the end. Revel’s Urshleim turns out to be the by product of a gene-engineered bacteria eating up the Texas oil reservoir. However, our heroes are in on the ground floor of a new “paradigm”. The slime gives off helium and uses cold fusion. Continue reading “A Good Old-Fashioned Future”