Title: "The Destructives"
Author: De Abaitua, Mathew
Published: UK:Angry Robot, 2016
ISBN: 9780857664754
Length: 411 pages
Keywords: ai, apocalypse, bloodroom, dystopia, moon, robot, seizure, singularity
Review by: Don Kuenz

Matthew De Abaitua

Intro

Extracts from the Cantor Accords

Emergences will not intervene in human life, except for the purposes of research or where humans knowingly or unknowingly reproduce the conditions necessary for emergence.

Attempts to create a new emergence by any party will be punished by extreme sanction.

A billion people died during The Seizure, when Earth's Artificial Intelligences (AI) emerged and erased the bulk of humanity's data to prevent mass extinction from war and consumption. The self-styled emergences expatriated Earth after cooperation with humanity proved futile. A cloud of emergences, a metallic menagerie, now resides at the University of the Sun, a solar Stapledon swarm [1] beyond Mercury's orbit. And a bleak future lies heavy on humanity.

Emergences built asylum malls for people displaced by economic collapse. It seemed logical to combine humanity's desire to shop with its need of psychological help. Although malls primarily provide retail therapy to patients, they also offer housing. Some consumer inmate residencies span nearly thirty years.

Dr Easy, the only emergence left on Earth, observes a destructive named Theodore Drown. As the sole subject of Dr Easy's research, Easy intends to accompany Drown from birth to death. Dr Easy acts oddly nonchalant over the latter event. In one case, Easy chooses to idly stand by, observe, and not voluntarily disclose information to save Drown's life.

Recovering weirdcore addict Drown wears a small black box on a necklace. He's faithfully worn the mysterious box since he discovered it hidden away as a child. Drown now teaches at the University of the Moon. His boss, Professor Pook, schedules Drown alone to meet with Professor Kakkar from the School of Emergences at Farside campus. At the meeting Kakkar indoctrinates Drown with the help of consultant Patricia Maconochie, who reveals a remnant data cache in a cavern, hidden from the University of the Sun's prying optics.

Title, teasers, cover, characters, & blurb

The Destructives

Be the Anger You Want to See in the World.

“The only intelligent book ever written about the technological singularity. As disturbingly hyperreal as any Pre-Raphaelite painting, If Then imagines what the end of history really will really look like, what’s really at stake, and maybe, just maybe, what we can do about it.”

Simon Ings, on If Then

“De Abaitua treats the Singularity as a kind of end of the world scenario, with most humans more preoccupied by entertainment and culture from "before" than creating anything new, a logical conclusion to be drawn from this sort of technopocalypse, since humanity's last major breakthrough resulted in societal collapse and obsolescence.”

B & N

“This is the kind of post-apocalypse, after-it-all-changed novel — with clever codicils — that the Brits do with so much more classy, idiosyncratic style than anyone else. It is full of magisterial weirdness, logical surrealism, melancholy joy and hopeful terror. If I begin to toss out names like Adam Roberts, Brian Aldiss, Keith Roberts, and J. G. Ballard, I will not be lavishing undue praise.”

Paul Di Filippo, Locus



Character list:
Theodore Drown–Recovering weirdcore addict who teaches at the University of the Moon.
Dr Easy–University of the Sun robot.
Professor William Pook–Drown's boss.
Professor Kakkar–Member of the Univerisity of the Moon's School of Emergences.
Patricia Maconochie–Freelance corporate consultant.
Oliver, Verity, and Meggan Horbo–A quantified family reconstructed from data remnants.
Matthias–Death Ray operations manager at the Novio Magus asylum mall.
Olaf & Sarah Magnusson–Wealthy couple.
Reckon Pretor–A biologist on Europa.
Ballurian & Hamman Kiki–Father and son who lead a rogue research group on Europa.

Theodore Drown is a destructive. A recovering addict to weirdcore, he’s keeping his head down lecturing at the university of the Moon. Twenty years after the appearance of the first artificial intelligence, and humanity is stuck. The AIs or, as they preferred to be called, emergences have left Earth and reside beyond the orbit of Mercury in a Stapledon Sphere known as the university of the sun. The emergences were our future but they chose exile. All except one. Dr Easy remains, researching a single human life from beginning to end. Theodore’s life.

One day, Theodore is approached by freelance executive Patricia to investigate an archive of data retrieved from just before the appearance of the first emergence. The secret living in that archive will take him on an adventure through a stunted future of asylum malls, corporate bloodrooms and a secret off-world colony where Theodore must choose between creating a new future for humanity or staying true to his nature, and destroying it.

Review

De Abaitua self identifies as a amanuensis, or at least he did as a younger man. [2] His advice to aspiring authors is:

Don't mess around with the first ten thousand words. Get to fifty thousand words as quickly as possible. By then, the plot will have kicked in, and the characters will be interacting, and that's where you learn about more than well-turned sentences. You're picking up the long game of story. [3]

Destructives are Earthshakers, people who disrupt the status quo. The cover shows Drown in the sensesuit he wears to explore the quantified, Totally Damaged Mom's house and family.

Readers may view The Seizure as an allegorical 2008 Financial Crisis; economic collapse with mass despair and nostalgia for the good old days left in its wake. Weirdcore flattens an abuser's emotional response to provide existential dread escapism. It cauterizes psychological feelings and makes people andy-like, unable to feel empathy or emotion. Meanwhile, Professor William Pook moonlights and creates pre-Seizure product to satiate nostalgic cravings.

The morality of the Dr Easy's own actions never trouble it. It's indifferent to Drown's fate when Drown's life hangs in the balance. The angry robot more-or-less eats human enemies alive, secretly enjoys it, and then wears their hide as a trophy.

The story explores fresh ideas from popular culture. There's a floating city, known as a Lillypad, populated with wealthy executives. It extracts concessions from local governments eager for the promise of economic stimulus generated by the Lillypad when it moors.

Then there's the bloodroom.

The bloodroom is a corporate meeting room made from the cloned biomaterial of a CEO. It serves the dual purpose of augmenting the lifespan of the CEO and functioning as an intimidating environment in which to motivate or discipline staff. The bloodroom extrapolates a practical utility and a cultural role at the same time. The asylum malls are a mistake made by the artificial intelligences who realise that humanity requires treatment but we also like shopping so they merge the two environments into one misunderstanding of the phrase “retail therapy”. Both technologies speak of a future that is not progressive but is rather an intensification or acceleration of the way things are now.

In the end, De Abaitua's story proves worthy of my time. It both entertains and stretches my imagination.

Notable quote

Cruelty was easy and it was for the conforming weak. Kindness was hard, and it was the preserve of true strength. (p 245)

Glossary

amanuensis ectogenesis endometrium exosmotic Stapledon sphere umgebung umwelt windhund

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© 2021 Don Kuenz