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Hul-Gil comments on Serious Stories - Less Wrong

39 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 January 2009 11:49PM

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Comment author: Hul-Gil 25 April 2012 06:17:49PM *  3 points [-]

I enjoyed Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom quite a bit! I'm glad Kevin7 posted this link.

However, the insanity portrayed as being beneficial and desirable in The Metamorphosis is too egregious to ignore - even if the rest of the story had made good on its promise of providing an interesting look at a posthuman world. (It doesn't. We don't even get to see anything of it.) At first, I thought "oh, great; more cached-thought SF"... but it was worse than that. I forced myself to finish it just so I could be sure the following is accurate.

Worse than the already-irritating "death gives meaning to life!" reasoning replete in the work, we find either actual insanity or just a blithe disregard for self-contradiction:

  • Technology is bad, because one day the universe will die. (What's the connection? No fucking clue.)
  • We should live like cavemen, because technology (and knowledge itself - no reading!) will lead to murder (but certain arbitrary tools are okay); but death is fine when it's a bear or disease that kills you.
  • Reality isn't "really real" if it's created or controlled by an AI, even if it's indistinguishable from... uh... other reality.
  • And, of course, we save the most obvious conclusion for last (sorta-spoiler warning): despite item #2, it's okay to murder billions of happy immortals because you're unhappy that life is safe and everyone is free at last.

Merits as a story? Well, at first, it's even a little exciting, as we are treated to a glimpse of a post-Singularity world (the only glimpse we get, as it turns out), and then some backstory on how the AI was created. That's cool; but after that, it's not worth reading, in this reader's humble opinion. It's very formulaic, the characters (all ~three of them) have no personality (unless you count angst), and any technical or imaginative details that might be interesting are... well, either not there at all, or waved away with the magic Correlation Effect Plot Device. (It's first used to explain one thing, then turns out to do, quite literally, everything.)

I would like to contrast this to John Wright's The Golden Age trilogy. That work is replete with interesting ideas and details about how a Far Future society might look and work; no magic one-size-fits-all Plotonium (to coin a term; I'm sure TVTropes already has one, though) here. In Metamorphosis, we aren't really given any glimpse at society, but what we do see is essentially Now Except With Magic Powers. In The Golden Age, it is immediately obvious we aren't in Kansas any more. Metamorphosis explores one idea - AI - and that, poorly; The Golden Age includes nanotech, simulation, self-modification, the problem of willpower (see: Werewolf Contracts), posthumans, post-posthumans, post-/trans-human art, and more. Check it out if you have transhumanist leanings... or just enjoy science fiction, come to that.

Comment author: grendelkhan 18 October 2013 05:53:38PM 0 points [-]

even if the rest of the story had made good on its promise of providing an interesting look at a posthuman world. (It doesn't. We don't even get to see anything of it.)

You may enjoy A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace--it's based in part on the author's history of card-counting--but then, you might not, as the Casinos don't seem like a very Fun place to go.