Saturday, December 22, 2012

John Barnes, Mother of Storms

I didn't mean to read Mother of Storms right now: when you're trying to grade student papers, the pressure builds that pushes you to follow non-responsible paths, but I'd meant to put some distance between John Barnes' 1994 novel and my recent reading of David Brin's 1990 novel Earth. In the end, though, it was the right readerly move to throw them into fairly close sequence. We're living in a climate-change future, always imagining the consequences of our current action and inaction, so it was refreshing to stick with fiction that deliberately imagines a climate-change future.

But it's not just that they're both examples of climate-change fiction, though they are, or that they're both written from a particular point in our collective history, though they are (1990 for Brin, 1994 for Barnes). It's that they share a common perspective on technology, particularly on linked technologies like the web, and that they both end up thinking carefully about ideas related to The Singularity. (Or should that be without capitals?)

I sometimes find myself thinking about what I call a "Star Trek future," where apparently insurmountable problems have been seamlessly solved, and these novels both push toward such a future while detailing the enormously difficult challenges that would need to be overcome before we get there. Most days I have next to no hope that we'll achieve the necessary cultural escape velocity, so to speak; some days I have no hope. Brin and Barnes, like Kim Stanley Robinson in his Three Californias trilogy, give us a look at where some of the pivotal moments just might come from, and they give us some clues about how our actual culture might be able to survive them.