The Cassini Division

March 28th, 2005
This entry is part of 2 in the series The Fall Revolution

There are several focuses which are usually predominant in science fiction, directions towards which an author may devote more energy in their work than others, although all are usually present in some degree. Some SF is all about building a world, making its structure and inhabitants as real to the reader as they are in the mind of the author. Some is largely about the science, or (often) one particular aspect of science taken to a logical extreme, with the implications that extrapolation might have for a society. Some is primarily focused on the idea of the Alien, both human and non, and how what we perceive as “normal” humanity would (or should) interact with “them.” The Cassini Division includes some of all of these, but its real focus, I would say, is on ideologies. This is political science fiction, and in some ways it treats politics in the same way that much of science fiction treats science…it takes ideologies to logical extremes, and then reflects on how society would structure itself under those conditions. MacLeod writes of a future in which technological advancement leads to an apocalyptic showdown between those who have replaced their flesh bodies with a computer representation of themself augmented by Artificial Intelligence. These post-humans, who settle and begin altering Jupiter, almost instantaneously achieve a Vingean Singularity, construct a wormhole through which to explore the Universe…and then go mad, spewing viruses designed to infect and destroy any networked computers, and potentially even the brains of anyone listening to an unencrypted radio signal. Modern society, deeply dependent on computers for its survival, collapses into anarchy, and that portion of humanity that lived in space is abruptly forced into self-sufficiency and must quickly find new ways to survive. What emerges from the rubble is a sort of Nietzschean socialist libertarianism, if that doesn’t break your brain. Absolute democracy, with everyone sharing an equal vote on all matters, adhoc local councils making any decisions at those levels, and everyone contributing and sharing to the extent that they are willing and able, enforced by their own abilities to enforce their will upon the world as an individual. This is all made possible by nanotechnologically supplied ubiquitous resources and functional immortality, with all computing done by analog, mechanical “babbage” computers immune to the digital viruses still being continuously broadcast from Jupiter, where the mysterious post-humans have been mysteriously quiet otherwise. Meanwhile, unknown to the new Communist society in the Solar System, an ultra-capitalist libertarian society has been developing and flourishing on the other side of the wormhole derived from servants of the post-humans who fled through it at the last possible moment. Not being hindered by the Jovian broadcasts, their terraformed world of “New Mars” develops along a more conventional computer and media-rich path, and recently sent a probe back through the wormhole to find out what happened to the old place. The probe, containing the downloaded minds of a human being and an autonomous A.I., was intercepted by the Executive and Military arm of the Solar System’s commune, the mysterious and independently powerful Cassini Division. Certain news about New Mars, along with an escalation of activity among the post-humans, prompts one of the Cassini Division’s highest leaders, on the quest for information that forms the basis of the plot of the book. Where this book excels, aside from some really nice space-opera bits, is in its realization of these extreme political extrapolations; but that’s also where many readers will doubtlessly stumble in their enjoyment. There’s more than a little bit of axe-grinding going on, here, as MacLeod is basically asserting through omission that a libertarian society is the only type of society that a truly advanced culture will find success in, or possibly that all stable societies will tend towards libertarianism. That’s pretty damn bold, when you get down to it, and I don’t know that I’d agree, but it makes for interesting reading. Recommended.

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3 Responses to “The Cassini Division”

  1. PoplarReader says:

    Following on from your review, you (and your readers) might be interested to know that MacLeod has his own blog

    http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/

    which may well illuminate some of his thoughts and views on politics etc.

  2. Emmet says:

    Cassini Division is probably my least favourite MacLeod, because Ellen May is such a thoroughgoing pain as a viewpoint. Of the other Fall Revolution books, I’d suggest giving at least The Stone Canal a try before drawing any conclusions about MacLeod’s own politics, though.

  3. Skwid says:

    Thanks, Poplar.

    Emmet, it’s already on "The List," actually. Looking forward to it.

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