Monday, 28 November 2011

It's All About Soul Part II [Review: Slabscape Reset]

Two versions of entrepeneur Louie Drago are revived onboard the Slab, a giant generation ship: Dielle, a cryogenically stored body that has been restored to youth but “reset” with few conscious memories of his past life, and Louie, a computer simulation of Louie’s personality. Dielle is na├»ve, Louie is a born negotiator but culture-shocked, and both have to adjust to reality of life on the Slab.

S. Spencer Baker’s novel Slabscape:Reset describes a future society shaped by a small number of technologies: in particular artificial intelligence and matter transmission. Slab is controlled by the almost omnipresent AI Sis, and there is also a council of lesser AIs and partly digitized citizens. Sis is also part of an Internet-like information network based around neural implants. One major theme is the rise of celebrity voyeurism, a bit like the satirical setting of Ben Elton’s Blind Faith or Richie Chevat’s Rate Me Red - Dielle quickly falls into the hands of a publicist and almost every minute of his subsequent life is scripted, monetized and broadcast through the network. This is not a new idea at all but it’s explored in a playful and enjoyable way.

The other major theme is the soul and this is a lot more interesting. Slab humans believe souls to be an alien imposition. Souls are detectable, at least indirectly, and the Slab is partway through a long journey to their point of origin: its mission is to make contact with the alien source and register some form of complaint. Also while the matter transmission technology can transmit almost anything, humans tend to arrive at the other end without their souls. Apparently on Earth this led to a surfeit of estate agents. Boom boom. Louie has been revived to help solve a mystery that may threaten the Slab, and the fact he that he is not concerned whether he has a soul or not becomes important.

Reset is the first in a series of Slabscape novels. It’s a lighthearted but still well-thought out and well-written fantasy. I will be looking out for the sequels and I look forward to finding out where the author is going with their ideas about the soul. I also learnt an important lesson from this novel: if you’re planning to go into cryogenic suspension, don’t pay your fees with a credit card.