Friday, 17 August 2012

The Stars Are Also Fire II

In Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars, the central characters spend a lot of time on the run from agents of an overtly oppressive human tyranny. In the sequel, The Stars Are Also Fire, their successors spend a lot of time on the run from agents of a subtly oppressive transhuman cybercosm exercising the same kind of global control as the positronic Brains at the end of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Despite this conventional thriller fiction, both novels end by anticipating cosmic and even transcosmic apotheoses.

Is the conflict at the end of the second novel credible? Free human beings and downloaded human intelligences will use nanotechnology to fill the stellar universe with organic life that is expected to end when the last star does whereas inorganic intelligence will survive the universe either by utilising the energy of disintegrating black holes and particles or by experiencing an infinitiy of events and thoughts in the finite time before a cosmic singularity.

Why should both not happen? The cybercosm judges that a cosmos full of organic life will be unpredictable and thus might jeopardise intelligence's chance to survive so that the two destinies are incompatible. Are they? Can't inorganic intelligence cooperate with and take its chances with organic life? Can it not accept uncertainty while striving towards its goal? Should it not see the suppression of scientific data as an unacceptable means to an end just as it no longer uses physical coercion? This issue is the ultimate expression in Anderson's works of the basic conflict that he sees between freedom and control but I wonder if it is rather contrived in this case?

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