Water Cooler – Saturday Art Book Review “The Cassini Division

If you are looking for a book that is long on nifty ideas and technology, it is hard to go far wrong with Ken MacLeod’s “The Cassini Division”.

This book is set in the 24th Century and there have been a lot of changes. There has been a computational Singularity in which some of the human population uploaded themselves into computers made of smart matter (nano machines) and then kept upgrading themselves until they became post-human and weakly superhuman.

After creating a worm hole in orbit around Jupiter they hit some kind of wall evolutionarily and dropped into the depths of Jupiter. Unfortunately for the rest of the Solar System they started emitting radio signals that were computer viruses and caused the near total collapse of civilization.

Two hundred years after the event the Earth and humanity have recovered. Ellen May Ngewthu is a solider and member of the Cassini Division, the group which keeps watch on Jupiter against the chance that the Jovian’s ever get their act together and become a bigger threat to humanity again.

That is the space opera part of this story. But what is really fun and interesting is MacLeod’s exploration of Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism, using the fight between the superhuman Jovian’s and Solar Union.

In the Solar System a unique from of communism has become the dominant political system. It is based on the idea that each person owns the whole of the Universe. Basically you are allowed to do whatever you can get away with. What limits you? What prevents you from hoarding resources or even killing people?

Not the law, but the fact that no man is an island. You can do what ever you can get away with, but so can all of your neighbors and if they decided to deprive you of your life for being a disruptive asshole, well, it is what they can get away with.

This society is underpinned by a lot of nano-manufacturing (miniscule machines that can assemble things at the molecular level) and computing that is all mechanical, not a single bit of electronic computation, since that would be vulnerable to the still broadcast virus’s of the Jovian’s.

The Jovian’s have started to come out of their dream time and it is Ellen and her crews job to find a way to stop it. In the course attempting to do this they have to travel through the worm hole to a colony founded by the bonded workers who had supported the Jovian’s before their fall. They were a strongly capitalist society and they have embraced the ultimate Libertarian free market economy, Anarcho-Capitalism.

On New Mars (the colony) they have no government, but many companies. If you need police services, you contract for them. If you want sewer or power service, then you contract for those too. Even the court system is by subscription and to bring a suit both parties have to have a subscription to the same court.
Both of these systems work for the people who have adopted them. They each have their problems but both the New Martians and the Solar Union believe that they have the best and only workable system. They really don’t and almost can’t understand each other.

What MacLeod seems to be saying here is that while there is a way to evasion each of these radical social ideas, they can’t really be implemented if there is major competition. They have to be in isolation from each other and from other forms of government if they are to flourish.

Beyond the political science this book also give a good look at what consciousness means and how you could tell the difference, if indeed there is any, between yourself and copy of our mental state implemented in a clone.

If there is one fault to find with the book it is that it is written by a man and the main character is a woman. There are a few authors who can bring opposite genders point of view through very well, CJ Cherryh comes to mind, but Ken MacLeod just does not manage to make Ellen seem like a woman, at least to this man.

Now I know not everyone is a total nerd like I am and that Space Opera, outré political systems and advanced technology is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still if you are in the mood to stretch a bit this book is one that will not disappoint. Even with all the other things it is a pretty interesting adventure with a good lead character.

So, what is on your minds tonight Firedogs? The floor is yours!

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