io9 Book Club, Assemble! This Month: David Louis Edelman's Infoquake!

Ever worked at a tech startup that used some unscrupulous means to get ahead, and stood on the verge of an amazing breakthrough? Then you'll love Infoquake, David Louis Edelman's novel which the io9 Book Club is discussing. Join in!

The tagline of this copy of Infoquake is "Hack the body, and the mind will follow," and indeed Infoquake is a fascinating story of bio-hacking — computers don't really exist any more, but instead people's brains have become like computers, able to be augmented and even hit with "black code." It's a fitting selection for io9's Posthumanity Week, since it's all about humans transcending their original parameters. And into this already fascinating world, Edelman inserts shark-like entrepreneur Natch, who's never met an ethical boundary he doesn't want to do the flamenco on.

We'll be talking about the book in comments on this post for the rest of the week, so feel free to join in. It's the first book of a trilogy, concluding with Multireal and Geosynchron, but it stands pretty well on its own. And we'll try to avoid dishing out any major spoilers for the rest of the trilogy.

And the good news is, Infoquake has been out long enough that if you still haven't got it, you can score a used copy — I saw one in San Francisco's Green Apple Books the other day. It's a quick enough read that you could read it tonight and join the discussion tomorrow, too.

Edelman will be coming in to answer your questions (in a separate comment thread) on Thursday.

And because he is truly a god among authors, David's already sent us, via email, his responses to your comments on this post:

crashedpc - Eigentlich said, "I wasn't sure where the end WAS until it hit me, cuz the appendices are like a quarter of the books, each!"

I'm utterly baffled at the number of people who don't notice the appendices until they hit the end of the book. They're clearly listed in the table of contents, and there's a footnote in one of the early chapters that nudges people to check out the glossary. There have also been a number of readers and reviewers who didn't realize Infoquake is book one of a trilogy until they reached the end, even though it's clearly labeled on the cover and title page. Don't remember anybody complaining about the same things in Dune or The Lord of the Rings...

humperdinck says, "I am a huge Bonneth fan and hope she gets her own trilogy."

I had a soft spot for Bonneth too. In fact, I think I liked her character a lot more than Merri, even though Merri gets all the screen time.

NerD: Blattela says, "I'm also loving the way the author talks about coding. It's accurate in a lot of ways which caused a great deal of snickering last night."

Glad the coding parts resonated with you. Even though the entire programming environment in the book is made up, I wanted tech people to recognize that I feel their pain. So now I'm curious as to what in particular caused the snickering.

Ruthless if you let me says, "Did everyone read through the indexes in the back? I didn't know they were there until I got to the last page, and became disappointed that I didn't have another 50+ pages to go until 'the end.' They seemed a bit redundant too."

The way I approached the appendices was that I wanted them to be completely optional, but a nice little bonus for those who wanted to geek out. I tried very hard to work all the terms and concepts into the body of the novel proper. Likewise in books 2 and 3, I tried to work recaps of the previous books into the story, but there's a synopsis in the back if you need an extra nudge. You'll also notice that the appendices for each book relate to the terms and concepts discussed in that book. In book 1, there's a lot of talk about programming, so there's an appendix about bio/logic programming; in book 2, there's a lot of talk about politics, so there's an appendix about the system of government; and so on.

♠ Final ♠ says, "I absolutely loved seeing Natch getting screwed over... I liked it but I thought all the substance was in the last 100 or so pages."

It doesn't bother me that you enjoyed seeing Natch get screwed over by Brone. What does bother me a little bit are the readers who were rooting for Natch's take-no-prisoners brand of capitalism all the way through the book. As for the "substance" of the book being in its last 100 pages... that is somewhat purposeful, and patterned after lots of other trilogies. I mean, Star Wars is a little slow until Luke & Co. get to the Death Star, isn't it? Also, I always thought of Jump 225 as one long book told in three parts instead of three standalone books. That's how the first draft was written. So the fact that the first sixth of the trilogy is heavy on backstory and build-up seems appropriate to me.

mkirkland says, "Anyone else suspect the Surinas are/have access to AI's? Teleportation and multiverse manipulation sure seem like post-singularity technology... Also, I really liked the Asimov/Foundation reference in the first Surina. Sheldon == Hari Seldon? ;)"

Re the Surinas and AI's... keep reading, pal. As for the Asimov/Foundation reference... honestly, I can't entirely remember if that was intentional or not. I think it was intentional that the two founding fathers of bio/logics were named Henry and Sheldon. But I came up with the backstory so long ago (late 2000) that I can't remember for sure.

apt2501 says, "One minor problem I had with the book was that the characters did not seem to take advantage of the ability to project themselves into different places. I'm not sure I totally understood the limits of this ability (for example, could you multi to a place where there are no other humans, e.g., the bottom of the ocean?), but it seems to me, if I could project myself virtually anywhere in the world, I would hung out in much cooler places than the characters in the book did (the top of Mount Everest, the South Pole, etc.)"

Keep in mind that in addition to the multi network, the characters in the books also have access to SeeNaRee. So instead of sending a multi projection to the South Pole, most people would choose to download a virtual environment in their living room that feels like the South Pole. As for the limits of multi technology... could you project somewhere that there are no other humans? Sure, as long as there are multi nanobots floating around to capture and transmit sensory information. And presumably there are only nanobots in places where humans are going to congregate, to keep the costs down. So no nanobots at the bottom of the ocean or three miles up in the air, for instance. That said, keeping track of all the rules of the multi network was a tremendous pain. I wouldn't be surprised if I messed up a few details here and there, though nobody's pointed out any major goof-ups to me so far.

Icedkasz says, "The problems I had were in the details. We've got a world where people use nanomachines to solve all of their bodily issues, and yet some people are still fat? Vanity still exists, as people have programs to ensure their nails and hair look the best. They can use programs that trigger chemicals in the body to keep one awake, but they still drink coffee (Nitro)? What's going on with those connection squares people stand on, when they want to connect to their internet? Why stand when you can sit?... The worst offender was in the final scene, where the team is running around panicked, wondering exactly how they're going to make the perfect presentation for the software which runs through multiple permutations to find the perfect outcome."

You bring up some very important points. Yes, people in the Jump 225 future shouldn't get fat like Horvil (or bald like Serr Vigal, for that matter). Jara shouldn't need to constantly be drinking nitro to keep herself awake. A few reviewers have also pointed out that, even though people run these de-stressing programs and so on, they behave pretty much like your standard dot-com workers circa the year 2000. I made a very conscious decision early on in the writing to not make the characters too different from you and me. With everything else going on in the book — an anti-hero, shifting narrative timelines, lots and lots of new glossary terms, idiosyncratic prose style, complex future history, etc. — trying to heap posthuman emotional states on top of all that seemed like too much. So you're absolutely right that there are inconsistencies here. I decided to err on the side of making the characters easier to identify with, and just let some of these details slide.

Re the characters standing on the multi tiles rather than sitting... a simple case of "the author thought it would be cooler for them to stand on a red tile, even though he couldn't think of any real justification for it."

As for why Jara et al couldn't just use MultiReal to come up with a perfect presentation about MultiReal... actually, as my characters discover in book 2, it's a lot harder than you think. Even if you grant that the technology and the computing power to create MultiReal exists, there are a zillion practical and philosophical questions you have to answer before you could make something like this work. Who decides what's "perfect"? What if some people like your perfect presentation but some people hate it? And most importantly, what happens if someone in the audience is running MultiReal too and wants your presentation to fail? Even for a made-up technology with made-up rules, it gets ridiculously complex in a very short amount of time. Given that my characters are scrambling around to write this presentation at the last minute, seems appropriate to me that they wouldn't be able to figure out how to do it in time.

Evil Tortie's Mom says, "he goes to the logical (but rarely-seen) conclusion that the tech here makes it so you don't have to excrete."

Evil Benjamin's Dad replies: I have to say that getting rid of bowel movements is one of the few things in the books where I don't have a clue how they would accomplish it. I even thought up a credible method of teleportation, but eliminating the toilet? Damned difficult. The best I can figure out is that somehow they've managed to bioengineer some microbe that eats bodily waste while it's still in the body. But then why don't the microbes multiply out of control? How do the microbes themselves dispose of waste? Dunno.

Derek Pegritz says, "Awful book. Great idea, sure, but Edelman is a terrible writer. I really wish the prose had been better than an 8th grader's because, truly, the *concept* and world-building behind this book is really nifty."

Half of my readers seem to love the prose style and half seem to hate it. All I can say is that I made a very deliberate choice to use a flamboyant and melodramatic style in these books. So many writers (SF/F writers in particular) make all the safe word choices in an effort for their writing to be as transparent as possible. As if the prose is supposed to fade into the background and not be noticed. I decided early on that I'd much rather be ridiculous than boring. So yeah, I invented words like "deadendingest" and tried some peculiar metaphors (a "pantherlike" sun). Some of it works, some of it doesn't. I tried to keep the self-deprecation factor high and throw in some purposeful cheeseballs to remind the reader that these books have a satirical side to them. ("L-PRACGs" and "Dr. Plugenpatch," anyone?) I knew I'd lose some readers in the process, and that's okay with me.

Dr. Emilio Lizardo says, "what was with the 75 pages on Natch's school years and 'the shortest initiation?' It seemed like it could have been handled more elegantly. It seemed like telling rather than showing to try to give the lead a little more depth."

Sorry you didn't care for the backstory on Natch. I felt it was important for the reader to see what made this guy tick. I think you'd feel puzzled by his motivations throughout the trilogy if you didn't know where he came from. You'd definitely feel shortchanged in book 3 when Natch decides to [CENSORED].

parallaxslip says, "My biggest complaint was the number of threads that were started, but not well explained - Like the Pharisees, and the Islanders (it seems likely that those threads are explained later on in the series)."

Yes, you're right that the Islanders and the Pharisees in particular get their due later on. In book 3, we spend half the book in the Islands and there's an important secondary character who's a Pharisee. I tried to divvy up all of the stuff I wanted to explore between the three books so each volume would have something new. In book 2, you see a lot more about the Sigh network, the creeds and the political system; in book 3, we explore the Islands, the Pharisees, the orbital colonies and the military.

Brine says, "Why don't some characters (Natch/Jara) have any apparent last names, while most of the characters are referred to first and last name every single time they show up? Also, why is it called the Jump 225 trilogy? It's mentioned once in that dream of Natch's and never mentioned again in all three books."

Last names are one of the things I never satisfactorily explained. I did come up with some reasoning behind it and stuck a sentence or two of explanation in book 3, but I'll admit it's inadequate and inconsistent. As for why the trilogy's called Jump 225... that dream sequence of Natch's in chapter 7 of Infoquake tidily sums up not only most of the themes of the books — how we pin our hopes on technology, our desire to transcend natural law, our hubris in assuming that we can make the universe bend to our wishes — but it also tracks Natch's character arc fairly closely. You can really read the Jump 225 scene as one big metaphor for the whole trilogy.

snewt2 says, "Stick with it, and you'll realize that those program names you dismissed as blunt, utilitarian metaphors — NiteFocus, DeMirage, EyeMorph — are at once illuminating and skewering the processes through which we (must) navigate culture spilling-full with information and infoetiquette."

Glad you recognized that the trilogy is really just a funhouse-mirror reflection of the present. Too many people get hung up on the futurist prediction aspect of science fiction, thinking that books set in the future are somehow supposed to be about the future. That's nonsense. Predicting the future is really just something of a fetish since so much of it revolves around luck; all we can really do is dissect the present through the medium of the future. (Although allow me to pat myself on the back a little bit here. Most of the concepts in these books were created before Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube even existed, and before Google even became a household name. Someone mentioned an app store — when I started writing these books, there was no iPod, much less an iPhone or an app store.)