The Algebraist

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It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars. Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he makes it to the end of the year. The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in ...Continua
Ha scritto il 31/08/10
absolutely terrific! everytime I read one of Mr. Bank' books I'm utterly astonished by his master of the matter.
He creates galaxies, universes and their inhabitants with such a literary supremacy it's hard for me to read anyhing else at a
...Continua
Ha scritto il 28/02/09
Banks, Iain M. (2004). The Algebraist. London: Orbit. 2008.

Chi si è già imbattuto in me, qui o altrove, sa che sono un lettore onnivoro e compulsivo. Ma il tempo è limitato, e a volte faccio qualcos’altro, volontariamente o meno. E la produzio

Chi si è già imbattuto in me, qui o altrove, sa che sono un lettore onnivoro e compulsivo. Ma il tempo è limitato, e a volte faccio qualcos’altro, volontariamente o meno. E la produzione libraria, nelle 2 lingue che sono in grado di leggere correntemente (italiano e inglese) è sterminata. Quindi non deve stupire (anche se un po’ mi rattrista) che mi possa sfuggire, magari per anni, un libro o un autore interessante. Per la verità, questo libro mi era passato sotto le mani più d’una volta e, se non sbaglio, qualche tempo fa ne avevo letto una raccomandazione lusinghiera su NewScientist (per l’esattezza, qui). Ma il riassunto in 4ª di copertina mi aveva scoraggiato, perché faceva pensare a una specie di space opera (stile Guerre stellari, tanto per capirsi). In una certa misura, il romanzo è proprio questo, e non manca nessuno degli ingredienti: un futuro remoto, avventure galattiche, molte specie aliene, una guerra, organizzazioni sociali ideologie e religioni, cattivi cattivissimi eccetera.

Ma il romanzo è molto di più. Troppo complesso per riassumerne i temi, e non lo farò. Ma certamente fantascienza della migliore, di quella che apre la mente e obbliga a riflettere sulle cose da uno (o molti) punti di vista diversi. Per di più scritto bene, molto bene (che ha letto e ama Philip K. Dick conosce la frustazione di leggere romanzi belllissimi ma scritti con i piedi!).

Mi limiterò a poche osservazioni sparse e ad alcune citazioni (scelte tra le tante perle di cui è infarcita la prosa di Banks).

Prima notazioni: il cattivo (non l’unico cattivo, ma il cattivo per eccellenza), l’Archimandrita Luseferous (un nome che si è scelto da solo per semprare ancora più demoniaco) è una figura meravigliosa.

[He] had some years ago caused the head of his once-greatest enemy, the rebel chief Stinausin, to be struck from his shoulders, attached without delay to a long-term life-support mechanism and then hung upside down from the ceiling of his hugely impressive study [...] so that the Archimandrite could, when the mood took him, use his old adeversary’s head as a punchball.
[...] Luseferous still felt deep, deep resentment towards the traitor, resentment which easily and reliably turned itself into anger when he looked upon the man’s face, no matter how battered, bruised and bloody it might be (the head’s augmented healing functions were quick, but not instantaneous), and so the Archimandrite probably still whacked and smashed away at Stinausin’s head with as much enthusiasm now as he had when he’d first had him hung there, years earlier.
Stinausin, who had barely endured a month of such treatmentbefore going completely mad, and whose mouth had been sewn up to stop him spitting at the Archimandrite, could not even kill himself; sensors, tubes, micropumps and biocircuitry prevented such an esay way out. Even without such extraneous limitations he could not have shouted abuse at Luseferous or attempted to swallow his tongue because that organ had been removed.
Though by now completely insane, sometimes, after an especially intense training session with the Archimandrite, when the blood trickled down from the one-time rebel chief’s split lips, re-broken nose and puffed-up eyes and ears, Stinausin would cry. This Luseferous found particularly gratifying, and sometimes he would stand,breathing hard and wiping himself down with a towel while he watched the tears dilute the blood dripping from the inverted, disembodied head, to land in a broad ceramic shower tray set into the floor. [pp. 9-10]

Gli altri affascinanti aspetti del carattere e dei trastulli di questo gentiluomo vi invito a scoprirli da soli.

Seconda notazione: tra i tanti personaggi del romanzo merita una menzione l’endiade comica dei “capitani gemelli” Quercer & Janath. Impossibile dire di più senza imbarcarsi in una lunga spiegazione che per di più rischierebbe di rovinarvi il piacere della lettura. Ma li ho trovati esilaranti, e una reincarnazione della coppia Tweedledum and Tweedledee di Lewis Carroll:

Un dialoghetto che li vede protagonisti, nel più puro spirito carrolliano (anche se più adatto alla dialettica di Humpty Dumpty):

‘Ti aswer your question: I’m not telling you.’
[...]
‘That’s not an answer.’
‘Oh, it is an answer. It may not be an answer to your taste, but it is an answer.’ [p. 440]

Terza notazione: nella civiltà che (più o meno, e non senza contrasti) domina la galassia, Mercatoria, è diffusa una religione, la Verità, apparentemente fondata sull’argomentazione del filosofo Nick Bostrom (Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?). In estrema sintesi, l’idea di Bostrom è questa:

1. In linea di principio, è possibile ipotizzare una civiltà in grado di creare una simulazione che contiene agenti individuali dotati di intelligenza artificiale.
2. Questa civiltà verosimilmente “farebbe girare” un enorme numero di simulazioni (a fini di ricerca, divertimento eccetera).
3. Un individuo simulato non sarebbe necessariamente consapevole di essere una simulazione – vivrebbe la quotidianità della sua “vita reale”.

Ma allora, delle due l’una:

1. O noi siamo l’unica civiltà che ha pensato (e rudimentalmente realizzato) simulazioni di intelligenza artificiale e che non si trova a vivere in una simulazione.
2. Oppure siamo dentro uno dei miliardi di simulazioni che stanno “girando” in questo momento.

Bolstrom argomenta che – a meno che siamo in grado di provare che nessuna razza intelligente può raggiungere un livello di tecnologia sufficiente (cioè, simulazioni di questa portata sono impossibili) o che se lo può raggiungere non è però propensa a condurre simulazioni (per motivi etici o comunque non tecnologici) – viviamo quasi certamente in una simulazione. Dato il numero elevatissimo di simulazioni (e sub-simulazioni, e sub-sub-simulazioni…), la probabilità di vivere nell’unica non-simulazione è infatti ridicolmente bassa!

La religione della Verità muove da argomentazioni somili:

The Truth was the presumptuous name of the religion, the faith that lay behind the Shrievalty, the Cessoria, in a sense behinf the Mercatoria itself. It arose from the belief that what appeared to be real life must in fact – according to some piously invoked statistical certitudes – be a simulation being run within some prodigious computational substrate in a greater and more encompassing reality beyond. This was a thought that had, in some form, crossed the minds of most people and all civilizations. [...] However, everybody – well, virtually everybody, obviously – quickly or eventually came round to the idea that a difference that made no difference wasn’t a difference to be much bothered about, and one might as well get on with (what appeared to be) life.
The Truth went a stage further, holding that this was a difference that could be made to make a difference. What was necessary was for people truly to believe in their hearts, in their souls, in their minds, that they really were in a vast simulation. They had to reflect upon this, to keep it at the forefront of their thoughts at all times and thay had to gather together on occasion, with all due ceremony and solemnity, to express this belief. And they must evangelise, they must convert everybody they possibly could to this view, because – and this was the whole point – once a sufficient proportion of the people within the simulation came to acknowledge that it was a simulation, the value of the simulation to those who had set it up would disappear and the whole thing would collapse.
If they were all part of some vast experiment, then the fact that those on whom the experiment was being conducted had guessed the truth would mean that its value would be lost. [pp. 247-248]

L’argomentazione è sottile, e Banks la sviluppa ulteriormente, ma io mi fermo qui, a meno che qualcuno sia interessato a saperne di più.

Concludo con le citazioni sparse.

[Parla un poliziotto-torturatore a un manifestante arrestato]: I’ve inspected your profile. You are not stupid. Misguided, idealistic, naive, certainly, but not stupid. You must know how societies work. You must at least have an inkling. They work on force, power and coercion. People don’t behave themselves because they’re nice. That’s the liberal fallacy. People behave themselves because if they don’t they’ll be punished. All this is known. It isn’t even debatable. Civilisation after civilisation, society after society, species after species, all show the same pattern. Society is control; control is reward and punishment. Reward is being allowed to partake of the fruits of that society and, as a general but not unbreakable rule, not being punished without cause. [pp. 180-181]

[Monologo interiore di Luseferous] The real strength came from a very simple maxim: Be completely honest with yourself; only ever deceive others [p. 277]

He had also realised that innocents died just as filthily and in equally great numbers in a just war as they did in an unjust one, and had known that war was to be avoided at almost all costs just because it magnified mistakes, exaggerated errors [...].
[...] muddle, confusion, stupidity, insane waste, pointless pain, misery and mass death – all the usual stuff of war [...] [p. 284]

Divide and conquer. That wasn’t difficult in the current system. In fact it was set up for it. He remembered asking his father about this [...]. Why the confusion of agencies? [...] Why so many? Why divide your forces? The same went for security. Everybody seemed to have their own security service too. Wasn’t this wasteful?
‘Oh, definitely,’ his father had said. ‘But there’s opportunity in waste. And what some call waste others would call redundancy. But do you really want to know what it’s all about?ì
Of course he did.
‘Divide and conquer. Even amongst your own. Competition. Also even amongst your own. In fact, especially amongst your own.Keep them all at each other’s throats, keep them all watching each other, keep them all wondering what the other lot might be up to. Make them compete for your attention and approval. Yes, it’s wasteful, looked ay one way, but it’s wise, looked at another. [...]‘ [p. 341]

Any theory which causes solipsism to seem just as likely an explanation for the phenomena it seeks to describe ought to be held in the utmost suspicion. [p. 368]

[He] was one of those people who got to the top of an organisation through luck, connections, the indulgence of superiors and that sort of carelessness towards others that the easily impressed called ruthlessness and those of aless gullible nature called sociopathy. [p. 389]

‘Did you ever feel anything for me?’ he blurted.
Liss stopped, turned. ‘Apart from contempt?’ [459] ...Continua

Ha scritto il 27/02/08
SPOILER ALERT
Otherwise, typical Ian Banks: good.
Eh, ends with a d'oh lame ending after altogether way too much buildup.

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