Vernor Vinge - Journal of Omnifarious
Jan. 21st, 2004
09:07 pm - Vernor Vinge
Vernor Vinge dreams programmer dreams.
Cage match: Vernor Vinge vs. William Gibson
I now understand fully why the SF community has glommed onto Vernor Vinge as the inventor of Cyberpunk.
He isn't really. He doesn't even write Cyberpunk. He writes programmer dreams. He writes books and stories about the incredible and subtle power of information technology. They have good, hard, believable science in them. He has well drawn characters who act like humans you might expect you could meet someday. He's sparing with the magic, with things that are on the edge of plausible, but not a part of reality as we currently understand it. But the truly mind-blowing ideas in all of his books are really about information technology.
But, the real father of Cyrberpunk, William Gibson, writes mediocre science and excellent literature. Not only that, but it's literature that is clearly written by someone with a firm grasp on modern literary style, which (I think anyway) makes most SF fans very suspicious.
I have no fondness for modern literary style. Most modern literary fiction is so much empty self-flagellation by means of clever and elegant use of language. It's worthless.
But, on recently re-reading Gibson's most famous works, I realize that he actually has something to say. He's good at pointing things out about ourselves that are worth knowing, especially with the massive changes I expect we'll undergo in the next century.
But, unlike Vernor Vinge, he dreams the dreams of a psychologist or sociologist, not a programmer. Interesting, and worth reading, yes. But I'm a programmer, and Vernor Vinge's dreams have a much deeper resonance in me.
So, what's gotten me so fired up this time?
When I had a lot of difficulty getting access to the Internet when I first moved here, I felt very cut off. I felt more than cut off actually. I felt mentally amputated. I missed being able to just randomly look things up as I did things and have the answers right at hand. I missed the online manuals for my programming tools. I missed having friends close at hand to exchange a casual sentence or two with, even if a full conversation wasn't in the offing.
In the most recent book by him that I read "The Peace War", there is a character who becomes used to an advanced computer interface. The computer interface tailors itself to him, until it feels, to him, like an extension of his own mind. He is a brilliant mathematician in his own right, but once he learns how to use this interface, he becomes more than any human mathematician that has ever lived. Any stray thought can be expanded on, and be fully fleshed out as he thinks of them. Analysis that he could never have pulled-off unaided come to him as naturally as lifting a brick or walking. When he is disconnected, he feels like a part of himself has been amputated.
There are two models of how our tools might grow. One is that they might grow into something other than ourselves. Something we must hold conversations with and negotiate with. The other is that they grow into extensions of ourselves that make each of us something other than human. Either is scary, and seductive. Vernor Vinge writes about both.