Virtual reality, class, gender, robots, and love: continuing with _Company Town_

Ashby Company TownContinuing with our near future science fiction online book club reading, let’s plunge further into Madeline Ashby’s Company Town.  You can find previous posts here.

Before we go further, a quick note: book club member Tim Lepczyk  has finished the book and written up a review.  Shield your eyes if you want to avoid spoilers.

As usual, I’ll begin with a quick plot summary, then explore the novel’s world-building, followed by lit prof notes.  Let’s go as far as the end of “Part Two: October”, which ends with chapter 15.

I must say I’m enjoying this very much.  Hwa is a great character, furious and ethical and flawed.  And the world is fascinating.

1: The story so far

Plot:Go Jung-Hwa joins the Lynch company as Joel’s bodyguard, training the young heir in self-defense and growing close to him.  We learn about the Lynch family, especially its ancient and visionary (perhaps mad) patriarch.  Someone is killing sex workers, which Hwa is investigating.  Hwa gets closer to Daniel Siofra.

2: The world of Company Town

More details of a near-future world emerge, including: an AI system can choose to learn: “[a request] will force me to engage in some adaptive learning.  Please be patient with me.” (1877)

Speaking of automation, there are more robots, including robotic medical services (1417).  There are illegal micro-bots,

schooling machines.  As she watched, the machines trembled for a moment and then divided.  Each looked just like the other.  They swam off in different directions.  After a moment, they divided again. (2104)

VR/AR/MR continues, with “accessory reality activities… Helmets, goggles, layers, things that that.  Have you put on a new pair of specs recently?” (1448)  “accessory reality activities” is a great phrase.  And another example of it:

It would be Halloween, soon… there were a bunch of haunted accessory realities – you could see the whole rig populated by zombies, or vampires, or whatever.  Each day the vision would change a little, until you were in full alternate-universe horror. (1908)

“Immersion” is another word, a noun referring to a full VR/AR/social experience (2877).

Ubiquitous computing means the casual recording of life: “Will you show Mistress Severine this conversation”?  “Of course…” (1604)  Hwa gets crime information by downloading visual records from a bartender’s optics (2818).

Data and analytics: there’s a creepiness metric for legal sex workers (1657).

Bioengineering: we learn of  “food moths” (1938).  Some poor people “were all networked together, brain to brain, ia early skullcap prototypes. Or so she’d heard… The bleed through was too intense.  Addictive.  It was the only real social network.” (1968)  Humans can be rebuilt nearly from scratch (2670).

Design: there’s a fun architecture of rotating building units (2055).  An office has a blank desk with a single elaborate style, the use of which triggers visual displays and audio interaction (2650).

Over to politics: the oil rig town has a very humane approach to victims of violence, “at to point imply[ing] that the victim did anything to deserve it” (1652).  For the flip side of this, we get one glimpse of right-wing politics in Europe: “Her parents gave up everything to bring her to Canada fro Greece.  They escaped the Golden Dawn with a single hard drive.” (1745)  There’s a glimpse of copyright, as one’s local internet of things devices “will report you” for copyright infringement (2110).  And this devilish bit: “I heard the CIA tried giving Putin cancer, way back when, with the early programmables.” (2892)

Economics: there’s another example of subscription-based hardware, as “nano is stricly subscription-only in Canada.  No replication.” (2110)  We learn where the rig is located, on the Flemish Pass Basin (2995).  And the entire book through this point is shot through by extreme class differences.

Ecology: something bad happened to California (2589).

3: lit prof notes

Chapter names have shifted.  No longer are they the names of injuries, but now locations.

Nice touches, like Hwa describing her mother mourning at a funeral as “networking” (1690) and “a whole exhibit about serial killers… next to the Wall Street exhibit” (2890).   Another cute detail in the latter is a “Mr. Moore” as a guide to Jack the Ripper, clearly a shout-out to great comic author Alan Moore and his work on that subject (1989-1999). There are little glimpses of possibility, like “a man cooking syrup sculptures” (1900).

Ashby gives us a blind seer, a la Tiresias (1985).  She’s a woman of power, speaking truth from the depths of class difference.

The Lynch experimental reactor is named after the Krebs cycle (2995), suggesting a powerful role for biology, or at least a self-sustaining and productive reaction.

IV: Over to you

What do you make of it so far?

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