Last week a bunch of you decided to read Company Town in our near-future science fiction online book club. Here’s a post for talking about the novel’s first third.
First I’ll offer a quick summary of the plot so far. Next I’ll add observations about Ashby’s world. Last will come miscellaneous literacy critical notes.
I: The story so far
Holding back on spoilers: Go Jung-Hwa is a bodyguard working in a community built on top of an old oil extraction platform ironically named New Arcadia. She begins as muscle to protect prostitutes, then is hired to protect a very wealthy man’s favorite son, Joel.
Hwa is marked internally and externally by Sturge-Weber Syndrome , which renders her resentful and conventionally unattractive. She is also unusual in not carrying technological implants, unlike most other people
Daniel Siofra is Hwa’s minder, a corporate functionary and the result of biologically engineering.
II: The world of Company Town
New Arcadia is the titular company town, a community dominated by one major employer and legally part of eastern Canada. There’s at least some active democracy, if not Infomocracy level, as Ashby tells us that the population once voted on the major decision to build a new platform (160). Yet the Lynch corporation, which just bought the place, employs Daniel in an “Urban Tactics Department”, where he undemocratically “change[s] the moods of cities” (295). Lynch may also already own the currency (756): a company town indeed.
It’s a grungy and grim world. Many characters are poor and unhappy, working by selling their bodies. There’s a sense of possibilities squandered. Hwa describes one attractive bit of technology is if “[i]t… came from someone else’s future” (106), because the future they actually live in is sad. There is some form of social safety net, at least in name, as people have Social Insurance Numbers (673). Class divides block some people from winning genetic advantages for their children and themselves (1018).
This near-future world offers digital technologies we’ve come to expect from recent science fiction. People have mobile devices (watches, 31) which they use for photographs, messages, and video, plus being advertised at by canny AIs, Minority Report-style (739). They see each other through filters which add and subtract content, like a Mind Your Manners layer (112). Lynch runs a city-wide management software platform, Prefect, which some users can access (814). Haptics are in play (87). Each person has a “halo” of medical (and maybe other) information (735).
Buildings can be made with “biocrete and healing polymers” (171) or programmable matter (234) and “designed by algorithm” (177). People can use “nano-mist” to some unclear effect (188). Botflies has observe people and objects (727). Self-driving cars are the norm (837, 901). Fusion power might (still) be just around the corner (1071).
Biological technologies are very powerful. Engineering children is widespread:
They had the uniform builds of state-sponsored genetic tailoring… (95)
Hwa stared at the uniform perfection of her fellow students. They were all mainstream: mainstream height, mainstream weight, mainstream ability, mainstream health. Techically editing skin color or hair texture qualified as a kind of hate crime… (1013)
Most people have implants, called “stimplants” (249). Daniel has “programmable tissues” (262). Joel has “an antianxiety implant” (1202).
Education seems decent at primary and secondary levels, but college is inaccessible .
“I want to go to university.”
Hwa winced. “Sounds expensive.” (358)
Zachariah Lynch, Joel’s father and corporate leaders, has a vision of a post-Singularity future attempting to assassinate his son. It’s not clear at this point if he’s delusional or correct, but his explanation of how best to do time travel into the past is interesting (599-635). Lynch sees the human race as “coming to an end”, mostly due to advances in biological technologies (635); is this apocalyptic fear going to ultimately structure the novel? Note the reference to Roko’s Basilisk. Continue reading