Pseudoscience Fiction in Louis Armand's Cairo: A Review
By Jim Chaffee
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T S Eliot, The Hollow Men
I'll start by saying I don't much like science fiction. I'd rather read science, especially physics. Science fiction is constrained to present a reality that is explainable, though it can have the goal of convincing the reader of some "moral truth," as too often in the Star Trek series. To narrow the scope of what I mean by science fiction, let me make clear that Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is not science fiction. His explanation of how it is that Tyrone Slothrop plots a map of random (Poisson distribution) rocket hits on London before they occur is not a rationalization within the science fiction genre but rather a joke of the future affecting the past due to psychological extinction as an infant of classical conditioning pairing an explosion as conditioned stimulus to an erection as response. The satire is the reversal of the order of response and stimulus. The butt of the joke is the pseudoscience called psychology.
Science fiction writers struggle to make nonsense seem plausible, though sometimes they attempt to make what is mundane in science seem bizarre. Modern physics, particularly quantum mechanics and general relativity, doesn't bother to make its mathematical models seem plausible, since it relies on experiment to test via falsification. That is to say, by making precise predictions based on theory (precise predictions the defining condition of theory), experimenters attempt to falsify the theory, as with classical (Newtonian) gravity which incorrectly predicts the orbit of Mercury when near the Sun, a prediction made correctly by general relativity. (The distinction between general relativity and classical gravitation is more profound on a metaphysical level than is evident from the generally small differences in predictions.) The reality presented by general relativity and quantum mechanics are way outside the bounds of "rational" experience and there is no need to make them seem plausible by rationalization given experiment by prediction. Which is why I prefer to read science. Mathematics is yet more creatively outlandish; according to the great 19th century American mathematical physicist J. Willard Gibbs, "A mathematician may say anything he pleases, but a physicist must be at least partially sane."
This is by way of introducing Cairo, the latest novel from Louis Armand which is not really science fiction, in so far as it doesn't attempt to base its reality on science, but which parodies science fiction by employing a satellite as a plot device. This illustrates the other reason I tend to avoid science fiction, namely that the rationalizations presented for events or conditions are often as implausible as simply saying they are due to magic, reminiscent of the cartoon of a mathematician at a blackboard presenting a proof at a step that cannot be justified simply saying, A miracle happens here. (This is akin to the justification for implementation of SDI under Bush the Younger, despite the fact that it never passed any operational tests: No matter if it works, because God will make it work when it is needed.) Of course, for most people it seems that technology is miraculous or magical, given they haven't a clue how the devices they believe in and live by function. As in the action film where a car explodes when a trunk full of C4 is hit by a bullet, complete malarkey to anyone who has spent time in combat situations around the explosive. For this reason, it is not dangerous for those writing science fiction to be ignorant of the technology they rely on for their magic, but it is a problem for me when I understand the technological underpinnings. This not only happens in science fiction; one would be hard pressed to find a more implausible book than The Talented Mr. Ripley, a thriller where logic is suspended as Patricia Highsmith relies on the reader accepting events so implausible that Ripley doesn't believe he can possibly get away with them. Perhaps this has to do with the novel being a psychological thriller, psychology an academic pseudoscience so full of holes it can justify anything. And though I have some problems with Cairo, Armand is a far more accomplished writer than Highsmith; Cairo requires less credulity than The Talented Mr. Ripley.
As I noted, Cairo is not science fiction, since there is plenty of magic not explained. For example, time-warping, which is not only not explained but not really represented in concrete actions, though we do have at least one character in two places at the same time (apparently) but who may be "time-shifting" in different places. In the end, it is not important, given that the purpose of the novel seems to be to represent a dystopian future (though without any concrete basis for the dystopia that I could pinpoint). It is more a horror story in the nature of Arthur Machen or H. P. Lovecraft, an unnamed horror lurking in the ambient background, perhaps The Digital, given the stab at horror in an unstated problem with digital technology, another wrinkle I intend to address. But to be sure, time-warping is a natural part of general relativity (GR) in that gravity (which is curvature of the four dimensional object that models reality in GR, though for a clearer understanding of what that means it is imperative to have some understanding of differential geometry, a pure art form going back to Carl Friedrich Gauss and his student Bernhard Riemann that provides the foundations for GR, especially through the work of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro and his student Tullio Levi-Civita on tensors of which curvature is a particular example) slows time, which is why time began with the big bang and stops in a black hole. Both differential geometry and GR are more imaginative creations than any science fiction I have encountered. (Which makes it amazing that a creative genius like John Milnor, the inventor of exotic spheres, for example, could find science fiction entertaining, but it is difficult for us mere mortals to grasp the world inhabited by such creatures, for whom the science fiction might be a simplistic and mundane halfway stop from his mathematical universe.) Of course, in GR "place" is not defined by spatial coordinates in three dimensions but by events, four-dimensional "places" on that geometric object called a smooth manifold in differential geometry, that in GR entangles time inextricably with space. Among consequences is that the order of events need not be absolute. (For example, considering your reading of this word as a space-time event, there exists a future event and another simultaneous event (say taking a breath as you read word) in your reference frame which occur simultaneously or in reversed order in some other reference frame. For a discussion of how "tensed language," which distinguishes between past and future and, less clearly between then and now, imposes the false (according to relativity) world of Aristotelian absolute now on humans, I suggest chapter seven of Relativity and Geometry by Roberto Torretti. This effect of language on the perception of reality is the basis of Benjamin Whorf's linguistic theory.)
In Cairo, each chapter is demarcated with an earth coordinate in latitude-longitude, spherical coordinates on the earth geoid. There are essentially five trajectories of events in space-time, one in New York City, one in and about London, one in southern Australia, one beginning in Prague and moving via Italy to Cairo, and a central locale in Cairo where the story begins. Everything converges to Cairo, however, with the character in New York apparently in both New York and Cairo simultaneously though it is not clear what that might mean if one considers reality in a relativistic sense (can a single entity's space-time trajectory span two different reference frames, ie split into two paths?). There is a bit of Cairo apparently in London via a museum with Egyptian artifacts, from which enters a touch of magic via an ancient tiny homunculus (the Black Osiris, which it seems is visible when implanted in humans using an eye-piece like a jeweler's loupe as seen embedded on the Borg) that plays a part in "infecting" the character in New York who is apparently the same as the disoriented and other-driven character (a zombie?) in Cairo with whom the novel opens. Since there is no time demarcation associated with the coordinates, the trajectories are incompletely specified, but then there would be a need for specifying reference frames for the characters as well unless it was assumed they were all in the same frame, difficult if the zombie from New York is to traverse Cairo as well on a split trajectory. The Australian, a half-aboriginal woman linked to a weather scientist investigating an apparent correlation between meteorite hits and long-term weather patterns, seemingly a crank study, seems to end up in Cairo where she is tortured for no apparent reason, having been transported by extraordinary rendition, space-time warp, or perhaps typo on the coordinate heading of the last two of her chapters. There is one certain coordinate typo, the chapter entitled Manekineko on page 317. It also seems clear that the weather scientist ought to have taken some classes in orbital dynamics of earth satellites, which will be discussed shortly. The character in Prague is a Chinese woman who might be an assassin, controlled by someone she believes has her body stored in suspended animation in a tank in China, a belief discounted by a woman she meets in Italy presenting an even more awkward story based on the satellite at the center of this tale. The New Yorker possible part-time zombie is a loser whose wife meets a gruesome end, her pet bonobo last seen playing with her detached head. The London character is a thug of sorts, an enforcer for a pornographer who is infatuated with dwarfs and tied to the homunculus and some evil other-worldly types: a dwarf and a character more or less without a face. The London thug wisely bows out before things get out of hand.
Before exploring more of the story, it is necessary to give a brief (nontechnical) account of the Newtonian classical two-body (Keplerian) satellite orbit. Unfortunate, but it seems almost no one understands it, including the Palestinian climate scientist (named Dix) in Australia with a fascination for meteors. We will stick to earth-orbiting satellites, though the basic two-body Newtonian theory works fairly well in the solar system except when solar satellites like Mercury get too close to the sun and GR is needed to account for the stronger gravitation. It is sad that people who are certified as educated are unfamiliar with such a classical theory, but for example the MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, ceremonially certified with a PhD in something or other, once expressed amazement that NASA didn't steer a satellite over to view some event. NASA doesn't steer satellites; but then Maddow also touted Janet Yellen as a natural choice to run the Federal Reserve since her predictions are so good compared with those of economics in general which, as Maddow noted, has a terrible record of making correct predictions. This shows a complete misunderstanding of science: the predictions of individual scientists are irrelevant. It is the theories they create that make the predictions, inherent as theory of necessity must make precise predictions that can be tested to falsify. Scientists are not prophets, though Yellen might be. Like astrology, economics has a penchant for complicated mathematics, but in economics that is a sleight of hand trick to divert attention to a false cause and effect relationship between, for example, supply and demand based around a phantom "force" called equilibrium price, avoiding the difficult question of what drives demand and what is the actual rationale for manipulating supply. Clearly given the track record of economics, the causes of demand and supply have nothing to do with the so-called equilibrium price (but there might finally be consideration of human primate instinct, a study going back to the economic observations of Thorstein Veblen). For a recent article regarding the application of econometric chicanery in applying mathematics to trading software through backtesting to convince buyers (and academics) of the efficacy of said software or strategies for trading in financial markets, see David H. Bailey et. al., Pseudo-Mathematics and Financial Charlatanism: The Effects of Backtest Overfitting on Out-of-Sample Performance, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, May, 2014 (available free online at the AMS website). It seems sad that a person could graduate from high school without understanding, not just as a factoid to recite but in the sense of grasping the derivation, the mechanics of the two-body orbit in classical gravitational attraction. In any case, Rachel Maddow is as superstitious as Bill O'Reilly, despite their opposite stances on most other matters.
The two-body (Keplerian) orbit of a satellite is determined by a second-order differential equation requiring six initial conditions (for definiteness, we are choosing the earth orbiting satellites). Those initial conditions, say initial position and velocity at some time, completely determine the orbit. Speed is a function of the orbit, with lower orbits having a higher speed, higher orbits slower speed. An equivalent set of six conditions to initial position and velocity are the orbital elements. These specify a conic in a plane, for our purposes an ellipse, with the earth as a focus of the ellipse, an orientation of that plane in space, and finally the shape and orientation of the ellipse in the plane and an epoch, that is a fixed time at which the orbit passes some chosen point. Orbits with small eccentricity are nearly circular. If the orbit is circular (that is, the eccentricity is zero so the satellite distance from the earth center is constant) the speed of the satellite is constant. The period of the orbit is determined by the height of the orbit as well (leaving out complications with highly eccentric orbits). A geosynchronous orbit, for example, has a period the same as the rotation of the earth, so when in orbit above the equator the satellite remains above a fixed point on earth (geostationary orbit), quite high and not moving very fast; a GPS satellite has a lower orbit with an approximate period of two, that is it orbits the earth twice per earth rotation; while a spy satellite might have a polar orbit that is quite low so it has a high speed and a high period and hence can cover a lot of ground as the earth rotates beneath its orbit. (Note that speed is the magnitude of the velocity vector, which vector incorporates direction as well as speed.) One could have several satellites configured in the same orbital conic and plane except with different epochs, and they would all have the same speed and thus not collide.
With two-body (Keplerian) orbits other effects (perturbations) are ignored. For example, in the derivation it is assumed the earth is a sphere that can be treated as a point-mass, a fiction given the earth is an oblate spheroid bulging along the equator due to its rotation. This bump requires a gravitational potential that has an infinity of extra terms, harmonics, with names like J2, J3, J4, ad infinitum, which must be accounted for to get more accurate orbits, especially for low-earth satellites which may also be affected by atmospheric drag. Low orbits require more maintenance than orbits of higher bodies, which are more affected by other celestial bodies like the moon and which are also more affected by the likes of solar wind. These details are not so important except to say it is necessary from time to time to adjust the orbits with controlled "burns" in what is often called station keeping, implemented by communicating commands from the ground via data links. Keep in mind that the satellites generally have some device pointing at the earth, a camera or antenna or radar, and that the orientation of the satellite must be such that this device does not point away from its intended line of sight. For a camera, for example, it is important that not only the satellite position be known when a photo is taken, but also the orientation of that camera as well as its offset from the satellite center of mass.
In particular, satellites do not come out of nowhere, which is what the weather scientist Dix says to his aboriginal friend about the satellite that has collided with some other body, perhaps an asteroid. Earth satellites are easy to track: one needs only two positions and the time of transit to determine the two-body (Keplerian) orbit (Lambert's theorem, which solves the two-point boundary value problem). If the satellite had just been put on orbit, not a credible suggestion given its purpose in the story, the device that had released it into orbit, generally a rocket, would be apparent. Dix says the satellite was in a high orbit and that it was moving fast, though as noted, its speed is a function of the altitude which is a function of the semi-major axis of the orbit ellipse and its point on the orbit; if it were high up it would not be moving so fast. And were it a missile, as he suggests is possible, it would likely have a lower orbit or perhaps a more eccentric orbit designed to intersect the earth at some point if it had already "gone ballistic" (ended powered flight). If it were still powered it would not look like a satellite given its speed which would not be consistent with an orbit. At any rate, something lands at ground zero in New York City, and some other pieces land in the southern wastes of Australia. Dix sends the woman after a piece that lands in Australia and she finds, oddly enough, a black box I assume as on an aircraft, which is a very strange thing to have on a satellite. For one thing, it is not likely that such a thing would be of much use, as satellites are usually monitored in real-time by telemetry; nor is it clear what it would be recording; nor would it likely survive re-entry. Real estate on satellites is precious and the devices one can place on a satellite are limited. The computer you use, whether it be laptop, desktop, smart phone, etcetera would be unlikely to survive long in space. Cosmic radiation is hard on the guts of the devices we use here on earth, the memory and processors, so they must be redesigned using materials less susceptible to its ravages. Since there are so few of these devices needed in space, there are no economies of scale and prices are insane: a small amount of memory and an ancient chip design built for space might cost millions of dollars. Besides, there is not much power available: it is difficult to run an extension cord to a satellite. This requires devices that use little power. Finally, heat is a danger, as fans cannot cool processors in space (why? take this to be an exercise) and must be dissipated in some less efficient way, which means processors that run hot will likely incinerate or melt.
However, given the Egyptian roots of the unnamed horror, we could assume the satellite was an ancient Egyptian spacecraft as recorded on panels of the hypostyle hall of the Great Temple to Osiris at Abydos, flowing along a geocentric orbit of modified Tychonic heavenly system perhaps on the lines advocated by Robert Sungenis in his book Galileo Was Wrong, or better yet akin to the original Ptolemaic system with deferents and epicycles. Perhaps the satellite was on an especially loopy epicycle and so, according at least to Newton, did come from out of nowhere. It is possible that ancient Egyptian earth-satellites followed "orbits" with elliptic epicycles that hurl satellites great distances from earth through some ancient mechanics. What blows the satellite as science fiction device is its use according to the woman who rescues the Chinese woman Shinwah from her handler de Laurentis. She tells Shinwah that her body is not in some tank in China under de Laurentis' control, but rather that he tracked her by the satellite that crashed; in fact, the satellite kept track of her coordinates. "'…the comsat that used to feed the coordinates back to your Head Office got taken down. We don't know how. The signal went dead two days ago. Something crashed in New York. Ground Zero. Maybe that was part of it. The Americans are pretending it was an asteroid. But then they would, wouldn't they?'"
So Shinwah is told she has a transmitter implanted in her head that evidently communicated with the satellite that has since violently de-orbited due to a collision (though why it's pieces would not simply remain in space in a new orbit, perhaps eventually spreading out like a ring, is not clear, at least according to Newtonian gravity). How that single device obtains her location is a mystery. Magic. At least according to modern scientific theory and engineering practice.
A single satellite tracks her? How? It can't follow her around. What is determining her location? If this were a communications satellite in a geostationary orbit that only serves to communicate her location, that still begs the question of how that location is determined. (There are other orbits for communication satellites, including more eccentric orbits, but they all present the same problem.) If there were implanted within her a tracking device like a ranging transponder, assuming it could operate on very low power, it would not be possible to locate her coordinates with a single range (at least two are needed to obtain a two-dimensional projection onto earth, but real accuracy would require three) unless it was tracked by some sort of device like a monopulse radar that could detect not only range but azimuth and elevation, a difficult proposition at such distances in any case given the lack of resolution of those angles measured from afar. Perhaps a laser beam would allow more resolution, though having enough power to run such a device that would anyway be absorbed by buildings is not a feasible story. An implanted GPS device might work, though GPS, a one-way spread-spectrum radio that computes an antenna position and the offset of its receiver clock from GPS time using four satellites (four are needed to solve for position in three dimensions along with the time bias since the measurements are not ranges but pseudoranges, measured as difference between time of transmission on the satellite in highly stable GPS time and generally sloppy time of reception on the receiver clock, which measurement contains more information than a range from which time cannot be deduced; see Jonathan Abel and Jim Chaffee, On the Existence and Uniqueness of GPS Solutions, IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, November, 1991, On the Exact Solutions of Pseudorange Equations, IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, October, 1994, and GDOP and the Cramer-Rao Bound, Proceedings IEEE PLANS '94, Las Vegas, NV, April, 1994) would not work well indoors (advances have been made in such solutions, especially with aided GPS where long integration times across data boundaries are possible to increase sensitivity by providing satellite information externally so as not to require demodulating the data or else by transmitting the data to another device for post-processing; but accuracy is still poor given the scattering of the signal that diverts the exact line-of-sight path to the satellite; see for example Günter Hein, et. al., GNSS Indoors: Fighting the Fading in Inside GNSS, March-April 2008 available online from insidegnss.com). But of course, the problem is how to get the data to the satellite from her physical location when there is no line of sight; the GPS receiver itself does not communicate without mediating devices like a screen with a physical link to the receiver (like having an FM radio without speakers), or a cell-phone, or some other radio (wireless device like Bluetooth or Wifi that might access the internet) to transmit location information. At any rate, for me the satellite would be merely a plot device to get several people involved and tied to a central story were it not linked to the ancient Egyptians via some ancient space magic, which need not cause one to wonder WTF because it need not be plausible to modern science. Plausibility is not a strong suit nor a necessity for Machen or Lovecraft or their spawn, Steven King. We can forego the physical necessity of line of sight by calling this pseudoscience fiction, a cross between Lovecraft, ancient astronaut Egyptology (perhaps Ed Sanders meets David Icke and Peter Kolosimo), and Osirian afterlife (though much understanding of this was destroyed along with the cult of Osiris through Christian persecution under Justinian).
At any rate, Shinwah and her lady friend trot off to Cairo in search of what the friend calls a cartouche to get rid of the transmitter in Shinwah's head. "…the only way of doing the job clean is you have a cartouche. And the only place you'll find one, is Cairo." The link would be tenuous was not this cartouche connected with the Black Osiris homunculus that resides, it seems, in a cartouche containing a "transparent cylinder studded with circuitry" that radiates a low warmth and pulses red, opened early on in the novel by the hapless New Yorker who is zombified by that tiny black homunculus. The ancient homunculus residing within its cartouche with circuit-studded cylinder is apparently in part a tracking device tied to the satellite that has seemingly crashed with something or other and de-orbited in pieces. And has something to do with relativity, which might be compatible with Egyptian Osiris cult astronomy instead of with quantum mechanics. That is pseudoscience fiction.
The story also posits a catastrophe spawned by corporate abuses of unspecified modern digital or virtual technology. The unnamed horror, The Digital, a bugaboo that is difficult to wrap one's head around, is an unnamed horror in the tradition of Lovecraft. It made me think of the cartoon by Tom Toles in which Randolph Itch dreams he is being coerced to walk a wireless tightrope, high-wire funambulism with wireless technology, high speed no less. In the novel it is said that there are mobs and riots, stock market collapse, and all sorts of havoc resulting from some unspecified catastrophe, the nexus of which is a domed building in Cairo built by some unspecified corporations. "The way you stop a sickness spreading is by quarantine. Which is whey they built the dome. To keep death out. And the intifada blocked every tunnel past the periphery. To keep the entropy in." I had trouble fitting this bit in with my Egyptian pseudoscience motif. Entropy is a macroscopic measure of a microscopic phenomenon like temperature is of the kinetic energy that is heat. Of course, entropy is a hot word ever since Pynchon put it in the buzz lexicon of modern fiction with his highly overrated short story of the same name. I suggest everyone who wants to play with the word read at least a short work regarding entropy (to avoid the longish expositions of physics texts on thermodynamics) like Elliot Lieb and Jakob Yngvason, A Guide to Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, May, 1998, available free from the AMS website.
In Britain, meantime, there are characters associated with the main Brit, a motorcycle riding thug, who have "abiding faith in all things pre-digital" as if that is supposed to make one immune to the real problem, which is nothing to do with digital and everything to do with a proliferation of open communication networks ripe for interception (and assumed available to the ancient Egyptians via their black Osiris bug). Of course, there is the internet: however that is implemented, we all are (or should be) aware of its vulnerability to interception and spoofing. But that predates the proliferation of digital technology into the analog world. There is a significant difference between the computers of the 1960s and 70s and the computers of today. When I first worked GPS in 1981, GPS receivers were large devices that did the bulk of their processing using analog components to down-convert the incoming signal to an intermediate frequency and apply analog phase-locked loops to track the signal, produce the pseudorange measurements and demodulate the carrier. Eventually the receivers shrunk when computer processors shrunk and speeded up enough to convert the incoming (analog electromagnetic) signal to a digital representation before down-conversion to baseband and operate on that signal with computer implementations of the formerly analog phase-locked loops and demodulator. But even then the processing was tenuous given that co-processors that ran fast enough to keep up in real time were not available, requiring in many cases to approximate real numbers with integers directly instead of using floating point representations. The difference in processing is akin to a CD player versus a record player. Nothing sinister. In fact, there has been a move to miniaturize analog components because they operate faster in real-time without using as much power and generating as much heat as digital signal processors, for use where the algorithmic flexibility gained from digital processing is moot. At any rate, the idea of keeping to land lines and avoiding computers connected to the internet, while recognizing the true danger of these communication nets, has nothing to do with digital. Cell phones are two-way radios that broadcast openly to repeaters that send the analog signal along, ripe for interception by anyone intelligent enough to operate a receiver designed to demodulate the signal. The same is true of radios like Bluetooth and Wifi. Anything broadcast over a cell phone, Bluetooth or Wifi is public information, its analog signal readily intercepted. As is any data stored on a computer connected to the internet. Does it help to have a device like a phone connected only via landline? Maybe. Intercepting landline signals in the old days required a physical device be connected. That would be true with fiber optic cables as well, except that it seems those laid by US companies are designed to provide ready access for interception, one reason why Brazil has chosen to lay its own fiber optic cables for communication inside and outside the country. But what if the landline is connected to a cell phone, so that at some point it must be broadcast on a radio frequency from a repeater to that radio called a cell phone? How safe is the landline that travels entirely over fiber optic cable, given the designed access for snooping? Or worse, if uplinked via radio frequency to a receiving device for transmission along other cable?
At any rate, it is not an issue of digital versus analog, but of interconnection via publicly open communication networks. And it seems that the black Osiris is a means of bugging the brain. Is the black Osiris analog or digital? Is that relevant?
The issue that troubles me in all this is the idea that somehow corporations will be forced to trap people physically. "'The corporations. Began as enclaves. High-rise wage ghettos. In the end, people couldn't leave. Debt-bound. Nowhere to leave to. Outside the Dome, nothing survives for long. Unless it's underground. Or up in space. But the Dome economy was always virtual. Nothing but an oversized bubble waiting to burst. Only the Dome itself, what you see when you're up there instead of the sky, that's real.'"
This is where I begin to feel queasy. Why do you need a dome? I am sure it must be related to the pyramids. The debt-bound trap of high-rise ghettos has always been the direction of the twentieth century, nascent in the industrial revolution since the beginning, a new form of feudalism in which people are bound to corporations through debt. Ever since humans left the confines of subsistence agriculture for modern societies in which almost everyone is removed from providing the basic necessities, society that goes back to the ancient Egyptians. The paradox is that humans have prospered under this form of feudalism, with more security rather than less. How many people starve to death in advanced societies? When it does happen, as it did in Darjeeling in India, it is not due to lack of necessities but to a means of distribution that cuts out certain people, causing an outcry that forces societies to amend the distribution, though that is one of the things the US extreme right in the form of "libertarianism" (a misnomer if ever there were one) would like to be done with (they have a superstition that says that distribution untouched by government, i.e. society, is somehow natural). This is illustrated by the cheers at a Ron Paul rally for letting people without health insurance die. More likely today is that humans die of overeating and lack of exercise, with diabetes predicted to become epidemic. But in any case, minus the dome this is nothing more than the latter twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. With the bubbles. Which are commonplace (since before the founding of modern society; Isaac Newton was burned in such a bubble and they go back beyond that one, perhaps also to ancient Egypt). Which have not brought down society (which itself is likely a manifestation of human instinct).
It is almost a bit of Tea Party paranoia, this fear of collapse and starvation predicated on a "virtual economy," whatever is meant by an economy. Societies exist by providing the humans who inhabit them with the goods necessary to survive, but that was always tenuous for those on the bottom, more so when the "economy" was less "virtual" than now. I suppose humans can be frightened by not seeing the roots of the stuff they need to survive: food, water, shelter. I remember that when Lehmann Brothers collapsed, I was told by a progressive that we didn't need these new fangled investment banks anyway, that we needed to get back to those basic companies with long historical roots like GM. I pointed out that Lehmann Brothers had been founded before the US Civil War to provide brokerage services to cotton farmers, a form of insurance (options). This is an example of the "virtual economy" that has moved modern humans farther from starvation, at least in the so-called developed world.
In that the novel trades on fear of this development that goes back hundreds of years, I find it hard to swallow. I suggest the experiment of trying to grow enough food to keep from going to a grocery store; try it for a year. If there is a collapse of modern society, it will be a result more of environmental calamity brought about by humans changing the ecosystem than by some virtual-digital calamity. Perhaps abetted by superstition of the sort coming from the US Republican right-wing (i.e. gold bugs, libertarians, tea partiers) or New-Age remnants of hippy culture which infects both right and the "progressive" left, much like the paranoia reflected here. It isn't terrifying; it's silly.
But that is a quibble with the author's philosophical bent. The novel itself is a new genre, a sort of horror that I believe might be called pseudoscience fiction, this one rooted in alien technology and ancient astronaut beliefs linked to ancient Egypt. I bet Ed Sanders and David Icke would like it.
© Jim Chaffee 2013
This review first appeared in Nth Position.