Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Report: The Peace War, by Vernor Vinge

The Peace WarThe Peace War by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where to begin. I love Vernor Vinge. Fire Upon The Deep, Deepness In The Sky, I'm not going to say they are masterpieces, but they deliver such great ideas that whatever problems the stories had mechanically (2 dimensional characters, wonky plots, horrible dialogue), just got buried under the scope and wonder. Not so much with The Peace War.

First, it's pretty laughable that his set up is that a bunch of administrators from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, what he calls the Lawrence Enclave, a bunch of bureaucrats on a government contract conspire to take over the world. I mean, why? They've already taken over the world with red-tape, and even if there was such a cabal, the decision to overthrow the government would die in committee. They'd need receipts and billable hours just to devise a plan. Where do you charge conspiracy?

Second, once overthrown, how exactly is it easier for these directors to control the world in such large swaths? There's a director that controls Africa and Europe and another who controls all of Asia. Really? Seriously? One dude? And an administrator with a bobble generator? Ever hear of suicide bomber Vinge? People have blown themselves up for less. He hints that the original Avery might have been more of a dictator, which I find easy to swallow than a bunch of admins arguing over a conference table about how to divide up with world. There's be about 10,000 vice-president/deputy administrators choking the system by the time the story started. That might have been an interesting read.

Third, and most infuriating, the blackmail story between Della Lu and Mike Rosas, pretty much the plot of middle of the book, was complete bullshit. There were ample opportunities for Mike and Wili to get rid of Della, pretty much whenever they want. Wili could have just bobbled her right when he saw her the second time. Kill her and be done with it! It was painful to read, and Mike's explanation of why he was complicit (cause his dad knew who created the plagues he betrays his friends???) just didn't make any sort of sense.

There's some interesting stuff with the bobbles and time travel (the scene at Mission Pass was smooth), though their allegory to nuclear weapons is pretty brittle. Also, would the bobbles really float? Yes, they might be filled with air, but time stops inside, which means particle interaction stops inside the bobble, which means particles stop "working", moving, unable to transfer heat. They are effectively frozen, though, since they can't transfer heat, the bobbles wouldn't feel cold, perhaps even ambiently warm. Therefore, they couldn't really be more warm than environment that surrounds them or buoyant in the cool evening air. The real question is how mass, frozen in time, acts in gravity. We know black holes still have gravity... or is it just the accretion disk at the event horizon that has gravitational pull? No, I believe they have gravitation. Any physicists out there?

Franky, the last half of the book was painful to read. I was boggled by the characters actions that only seemed generated to further the plot and the end really doesn't pay off. Must of have been pretty slim pickin's in 1984, the year it was nominated for a Nebula, though not surprising it lost to William Gibson's Neuromancer. It's an interesting point in the history of Science Fiction: Vinge's the Peace War, which Bruce Sterling competently argued was a continuation of military/Strategic Defense Initiative authoritative centered Science Fiction associated with Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (even when centralized power is corrupted, as in the "Peace War"); and the near future dystopia of Gibson's Neuromancer" which posited a future dominated by greed and megacorps (corruption here is replace with outright greed), and people trying to make their way, though still with a grand scope.

There's some hints of libertarianism in the Peace War, but it was just window dressing. I wonder what Vinge thinks of Michael Swanwick's "Libertarian Russia"?

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