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Monday, June 30, 2008

"MultiReal" by David Louis Edelman

Read Excerpts HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION:MultiReal” is the second book in David Louis Edelman’s wonderful Jump 225 trilogy after “Infoquake”, which was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best Novel and named Barnes & Noble's Top SF Novel of 2006. This review of “MultiReal” contains some spoilers of “Infoquake”, which I strongly suggest you read first since “Multireal” picks up exactly where that book ends. However, there are numerous appendixes in “MultiReal” that summarize “Infoquake” and provide lots of necessary details about the Jump 225 world, so “MultiReal” can be read as a standalone. “Donald Trump meets Vernor Vinge” was used as a quick soundbite for “Infoquake”, while “Matrix meets Boston Legal” should do for “MultiReal”, though truly both books are much richer than that.

SETTING: About 500 years or so in the future, Earth is quite different than today. After a period of chaos and disintegration in our near future, the Reawakening spurred by the science of bio/logics started and currently we are in year 360 of the new calendar. Based on a three-legged stool of hardware—1) nanotech machines implanted at or even before birth containing a variety of standard tools for maintenance of human tissue, 2) software programs that control the machines, 3) and a huge repository of free and independent medical information—this science has revolutionized society. Its founder, Marcus Surina, is credited with beginning the renaissance of the human race and is the most revered scientist ever, while his descendants—some quite famous and productive on their own—control one of the most powerful corporation/creed/dynasties ever based in Surina's hometown, Anda Pradesh, in what is India today.

However there are no nation states anymore, just a multitude of local civic groups providing the basic services of government. The L-PRACGs are organized usually around a central tenet, use formulas of free market tenets to determine the blend of services/taxation they provide, and the vast majority are not localized in one place. People choose which L-PRACG(s) they subscribe to. However the true power rests with The Defense and Wellness Council, the military and security arm of Earth, theoretically subordinate to a Prime Committee elected by L-PRACGs and various major corporations. The head of the committee, currently Len Borda, is quite a powerful ruler, least as long as he can convince the citizenry that the issues at hand deal with global security. There are fringe groups that are not attached to the global network called the Data Sea, most notably the religious groups based in the Holy Land collectively known as Pharisees, the Pacific Islanders and orbital colonies beyond the reach of the Council power.

The other important power in society is the press as embodied by powerful opinion commentators and/or news and gossip providers called drudges in a very nice touch since they mostly resemble the original one of today.

The scariest threats to the system come from data disruptions believed to happen because of local stresses to the Data Sea, called Infoquakes. Since people's health depends so strongly on bio/logics and the Data Sea, Infoquakes kill, sometimes in vast numbers.

The most competitive industry is the software one based around fiefcorps which are limited time partnerships. There is a ranking system Primo, and to be number one on Primo is the goal of every ambitious businessman. The less glamorous maintenance work is done by memecorps which are publicly funded and take a longer view. Most middle and upper class children are raised in hives with their peers rather than at home.

Natch is one such fiercely ambitious businessman with Donald Trump-like qualities and “Infoquake” is mostly about his rise from a somewhat atypical middle class childhood to the achievement of being number one on Primo. By trickery and for a short time, but enough to catch the eye of the latest scion of the Surinas, Margaret—a genius herself—developed a technology that has the potential to change the world dramatically. The technology is called MultiReal and the fight for its control is the subject of this book.

FORMAT/INFO: The trade paperback ARC I have stands at 458 pages of text followed by 50 pages of appendixes regarding the Jump 225 world, including a summary of “Infoquake” that I tried to compress above just in case the book is not fresh in your memory and so you won’t get lost in “MultiReal”. The book is divided into four named parts, each subdivided in numbered chapters. The narration is third-person present tense following several main characters, of which Natch and his fiefcorp analyst and “keep Natch straight” friend Jara get the most face time. The ending occurs at a natural point in the narrative and sets the table for “Geosynchron” which should be a cracking end to the trilogy.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: It took me some time to fully get into “MultiReal” since the motivations, choices and actions of the characters depend a lot on this wonderful Jump 225 world built by Mr. Edelman, and it’s been two years since I read “Infoquake”. So I provided a longer than usual Setting part of the review to get you up to date with the book so you can dive straight in and not get lost. Once I immersed myself in the world of Natch and Jara, the book became a true page-turner that I could not put down, and when the final page came I was sad since I really wanted more.

While “Infoquake” was a narrative about Natch and contained quite a lot of backstory that sometimes interrupted the flow of action, “MultiReal” starts on a roll with the government thugs led by second-in-command and Borda's designated successor, Magan Kai Lee, on a raid to Natch's apartment and it goes on like that to the end.

Once Margaret Surina licensed MultiReal to the Surina/Natch fiefcorp, and gave him core access to MultiReal, Natch was a marked man. Margaret was sitting at the top of her tower surrounded by a powerful guard while slowly losing her mind to paranoia, so when Len Borda decided that Natch had no intention of giving MultiReal access to the Council, it was an easy choice where to go for it.

But what is this MultiReal that people are prepared to go to so many lengths to control? It is nothing short than a revolutionary bio/logics program that allows users to go through millions of iterations of possible realities in a second. Remembering that pretty much everyone is connected to the Data Sea, it means that a user of MultiReal can do very improbable things at least for a short while. So in vivid demonstrations, we see people shooting dart guns in such a way that darts meet in the air, people being influenced to sell their wares at vastly reduced places, people being effectively paralyzed and unable to do anything. It is simple—as long as you have MultiReal and the person in front of you does not, you can go almost instantly through millions of possible short term futures and choose one that you like however improbable is. If both have MultiReal they tend to cancel out each other’s intentions as shown in the shooting contest. Of course it also depends on technicalities like the number of cycles allowed.

So in the hands of the Council and no one else, MultiReal is the ultimate tool for control. In the hands of the people it may be the ultimate tool for freedom, but also the ultimate tool for chaos, and given the intensive computational requirements, there is a fear that unlimited use will lead to Infoquakes. No wonder Margaret was scared about its potential and effectively handed it to the first person she found that she believed ruthless and amoral enough to stand up to Len Borda and other interested parties, but would not try to use it for his own ends. Anyway the use is limited and tiring on users, so a single person with it is not a threat, but an organization and especially the police/military, well it's a different kettle of fish. Maybe it would have been safer to hide it forever or destroy it, but Margaret could not destroy her masterpiece that should immortalize her in the Surina pantheon, though she kept it hidden for a long time.

Failing to catch his prey and embarrassed by the drudges mysteriously present at the scene, Magan decides on a different strategy. In his rise to power, Natch has not been the most rule-abiding businessman there is, and while his provable transgressions are of a wrist-slapping type, he has committed quite a lot of them, 120 to be specific. And many drudges hate Natch since he is not the huggy, endearing type either, so they are mostly happy to take their cue from the Council and blacken Natch's name. In a surprising move Magan effectively gives control of the Surina/Natch fiefcorp to Jara, the straight-shooting analyst who, in a nice sideplot, acts out her infatuation with Natch on the Sigh network. The cornered Natch is willing to go to any lengths, including threatening to ruin the career of his closest childhood friend and follower, rich engineer Horvil, to get his way, so Jara and Natch have a big time fallout when she stands up to him. Natch goes to the anti-Borda libertarian LPRACGs for allies, and later to his childhood mate/nemesis, ultra-rich manipulator Brone, while Jara struggles to keep the fiefcorp alive.

Natch is still up to his old tricks and is one step ahead of most of his enemies, but can he stay one step ahead of his presumed allies?

Jara struggles to do “the right thing”, but what exactly is the right thing?

The combination of extraordinary world building, compelling characters that grow on you in Jara and Natch, legal intrigue, political maneuverings and fast action made “MultiReal” an even more entertaining book for me than “Infoquake” which I loved too. Better pacing and a more compact time frame make “Multireal” technically more accomplished too and I really have the highest hopes for “Geosynchronous”.

Highly, highly recommended…

NOTE: The Mass Market Paperback reprint of David Louis Edelman’sInfoquake”, the first book in the Jump 225 trilogy, is out now (June 24, 2008) through
Solaris Books and can be ordered HERE.


RobB said...

Damn! Beat me to it. I just started reading MultiReal - im 100 pages in and liking it, so I'll skip reading the review until after I finish the book and pen my review. But I did see that you consider it highly recommended, which is good.

Robert said...

Well Liviu beat you to it :) Me, I still have to read "Infoquake" and if any of the reviews I've been seeing for the books are anywhere accurate, then I'm in for a ride!

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