We've been tempted to hack our own biochemistry to speed up our perceptions of time and ease the wait for Geosynchron, the third book in David Louis Edelman's ambitious biohacking/reality-hacking saga. But it's here at last, more warped than ever.
There are definitely spoilers in this review, although I don't give away any major plot points in the third book.
Edelman's "Jump 225" trilogy, in a nutshell, is the story of an unscrupulous entrepreneur, Natch, who somehow becomes entrusted with the most important technology in human history. Multi-Real allows you to select among every possible action you could take, until you find the variation that puts you on top. Because everyone in the world is full of "bio/logic" systems that regulate body chemistry and connect people to the "Data Sea," somehow everyone's shared neural links cooperate in running endless simulations of how everyone would behave in a particular situation, until finally one choice is locked in. At least, that's how I understand it.
So Natch becomes the "Geosynchron," or the person who has to make the defining choice for the entire human race — we can be freed from the "tyranny of cause and effect," and live in a world where we get to try out every choice, or make every throw, until we get it right. (And risk a calamitous collapse of the Data Sea) Or we can turn our back on this technology until we can develop it with more safeguards.
As we noted in our review of volume two, MultiReal, this is really a story about new technology, and society's attempt to figure out how to deal with it. The government wants to control it (and maybe use it to rule with a tighter grip.) Business people want to make money off it. And libertarian extremists want to give it to everyone, so we can all be free of causality forever. In the middle of all this is Natch, who doesn't have an ideology — he's just pure ego, with occasional flashes of petulance. Or rather, he was — because Natch has experienced some growing pains lately.
Geosynchron takes us through the process of figuring out what to do with MultiReal, even as the program's abilities get more and more fantastical. It turns out MultiReal doesn't just let you run simulations on the same individual act over and over again — it also lets you live "one minute in the future," by running constant simulations one minute ahead. (So if someone kills you, you can just reset everything back one minute.) And the idea is floated that MultiReal could let you run different reality simulations lasting months, or even longer, to see how things turn out — before rolling it all back if you don't like the results.
So Infoquake was about unscrupulous entrepreneurs fighting to the top of the bio-hacking heap. MultiReal was about cloak-and-dagger battles over control of the MultiReal software. And the third book, Geosynchron, is more about what happens when business consultants and marketing people start helping to run the government. Many of the unscrupulous entrepreneurs from the first book have crossed over and started working for one version of the government (there's been a civil war, it's complicated) and meanwhile Natch has become a kind of political figure, against his own will.
And Geosynchron suggests that spies and armies are all well and good — but savvy marketing and B-school cleverness can move the world just as much.
Natch's former analyst, Jara, gets caught up in the maneuverings of would-be high executive Magan Kai Lee, and her team comes up with innovative solutions to long-standing political disputes involving the slightly-less-posthuman Islanders — the process of unraveling centuries-old political issues turns out to be no different than that of market-testing a hot new product. And later on in the book, when Natch has to sneak into the headquarters of his arch-enemy Brone, Jara and her team use individually targeted advertising (on the complex's ubiquitous TV screens) to distract each member of Brone's libertarian cult one by one. The business thriller of the first book has mutated into a kind of paean to business as political savior.
As Jara observes at one point in the book, "There's nothing sacrosanct about history. History is written by the ones with the best marketing consultants."
In fact, the longer the debate over MultiReal goes on, the more you realize that MultiReal isn't the only tool for manipulating reality to serve your own ends. A clever business person, like Jara, can warp your reality a dozen other ways, and reality really is just a commodity that you're sold (or which is taken away from you.) This realization crests during the hilarious sequence, which I mentioned above, where Natch sneaks into the Libertarian cult headquarters, and Jara and her friends beam advertisements individually targeted to each cult member as he/she passes, to distract them from Natch's presence. Jara muses:
Is that all we are? she thought. Puppets with strings to be pulled by marketers, advertisers, bureaucrats and con artists? Of course, it was not every day that your typical marketer could afford to spend thousands of credits on research and surveillance into your personal life and habits. But the fact tht everyone had some kind of irresistible switch of desire hardwired to their physiology seemed like a repudiation of everything Jara had learned about herself over the past few months.
The strange figure in the middle of all this is Natch, the borderline-psychotic businessman whose ambition slashed through the first two books. After all of his setbacks, Natch runs and hides, winding up in Space Vegas (it's not called Space Vegas, but it basically is) where he decides to take down drug-dealers for fun. (Another example of the business person as superman — the drug kingpins have no hope against Natch's superior maneuvering.) When Natch finally comes back to the action, he's a much more subdued, almost Zen, version of the character. It's sort of the opposite of what you'd expect — Natch, the man who stands for pure willfulness and self-gratification, gets handed the keys to MultiReal, a program that lets you have whatever you want — but instead of liberating him and magnifying his ego, the responsibility and strain crush him, before finally turning him into a wearier, more philosophical person.
And maybe that's the final message of the MultiReal saga — infinite possibilities aren't a neat app or a blessing. They're actually a crushing responsibility, akin to the worst elements of godhood.
Natch's final decision over the fate of MultiReal turns out to affect the fates of everyone in the story, and the fallout is pretty intense, especially if you've gotten invested in all these characters over the course of three books. At the same time, the last volume of the trilogy is curiously muted and introspective, after the first two rollicking books. Part of this is because Natch, whose hubris was a huge engine of the story in the first two-thirds of the saga, has turned inward. Part of the change is also because the debates over the future of this posthuman society, and MultiReal's place in it, take center stage. But also, one senses that the scope of the story, and the implications of the technology have finally become so unimaginable, that Edelman struggles slightly to convey it all in relatable terms.
Geosynchron is an engaging conclusion to a thrilling, thought-provoking saga, but my main feeling after finishing it was eagerness to see what Edelman does next — I have a feeling his next project will be amazing. Geosynchron comes out Feb. 23.
Top image: Detail from Stephan Martiniere's lovely cover art for Geosynchron.