William Gibson: the jackpot - Torgo χ


2015-08-02 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

Quoting from William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014), chapter 79, called "the jackpot":

[The central character here is a ~18-year-old in small-town Tennessee? circa 2030. She is talking to Wilf, who is communicating backward in time from ~2095, via (at the moment) a "Wheelie Boy"-- a toy that's like an iPad mounted on a little Segway]

      She sat with him [the tablet-screen] on her lap, in the old wooden chair under the oak in the front yard.

      [...] Wilf Netherton was explaining the end of the world, or anyway of hers, this one, which seemed to have been the beginning of his.

      Wilf’s face, on the Wheelie’s tablet, had lit her way downstairs. She’d found Ben on the porch steps, guarding the house, and he’d been all embarrassed, getting up with his rifle and trying to remember where not to point it, and she’d seen he had a cap like Reece had had, with the pixilated camo that moved around. He hadn’t known whether to say hello to Wilf or not. She told him they were going to sit out under the tree and talk. He told her he’d let the others know where she was, but please not to go anywhere else, and not to mind any drones. So she’d gone out to the chair and sat in it with Wilf in the Wheelie Boy, and he’d started to explain what he called the jackpot.

      And first of all that it was no one thing. That it was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns, looking like Burton and his posse, or else were eaten alive by something caused by the big event. Not like that.

      It was androgenic, he said, and she knew from Ciencia Loca and National Geographic [two cable channels] that that meant because of people. Not that they’d known what they were doing, had meant to make problems, but they’d caused it anyway. And in fact the actual climate, the weather, caused by there being too much carbon, had been the driver for a lot of other things. How that got worse and never better, and was just expected to, ongoing. Because people in the past, clueless as to how that worked, had fucked it all up, then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late.

      So now, in her day, he said, they were headed into androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit, like she sort of already knew, figured everybody did, except for people who still said it wasn’t happening, and those people were mostly expecting the Second Coming anyway. She’d looked across the silver lawn, that Leon had cut with the push-mower whose cast-iron frame was held together with actual baling wire, to where moon shadows lay, past stunted boxwoods and the stump of a concrete birdbath they’d pretended was a dragon’s castle, while Wilf told her it killed 80 percent of every last person alive, over about forty years.

      And hearing that, she just wondered if it could mean anything, really, when somebody told you something like that. When it was his past and your future.

      What had they done, she’d asked him, her first question since he’d started, with all the bodies?

      The usual things, he’d said, because it was never all at once. Then, later, for a while, nothing, and then the assemblers. The assemblers, nanobots, had come later. The assemblers had also done things like excavating and cleaning the buried rivers of London, after they’d finished tidying the die-off. Had done everything she’d seen on her way to Cheapside. Had built the tower where she’d seen the woman prepare for her party and then be killed, built all the others in the grid of what he called shards, and cared for it all, constantly, in his time after the jackpot.

      It hurt him to talk about it, she felt, but she guessed he didn’t know how much, or how. She could tell he didn’t unpack this, much, or maybe ever. He said that people like Ash made their whole lives about it. Dressed in black and marked themselves, but for them it was more about other species, the other great dying, than the 80 percent.

      No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.

      The shadows on the lawn were black holes, bottomless, or like velvet had been spread, perfectly flat.

      But science, he said, had been the wild card, the twist. With everything stumbling deeper into a ditch of shit, history itself become a slaughterhouse, science had started popping. Not all at once, no one big heroic thing, but there were cleaner, cheaper energy sources, more effective ways to get carbon out of the air, new drugs that did what antibiotics had done before, nanotechnology that was more than just car paint that healed itself or camo crawling on a ball cap. Ways to print food that required much less in the way of actual food to begin with. So everything, however deeply fucked in general, was lit increasingly by the new, by things that made people blink and sit up, but then the rest of it would just go on, deeper into the ditch. A progress accompanied by constant violence, he said, by sufferings unimaginable. She felt him stretch past that, to the future where he lived, then pull himself there, quick, unwilling to describe the worst of what had happened, would happen.

      She looked at the moon. It would look the same, she guessed, through the decades he’d sketched for her.

      None of that, he said, had necessarily been as bad for very rich people. The richest had gotten richer, there being fewer to own whatever there was. Constant crisis had provided constant opportunity. That was where his world had come from, he said. At the deepest point of everything going to shit, population radically reduced, the survivors saw less carbon being dumped into the system, with what was still being produced eaten by these towers they’d built, which was the other thing the one she’d patrolled was there for, not just housing rich folks. And seeing that, for them, the survivors, was like seeing the bullet dodged.

      “The bullet was the eighty percent, who died?”

      And he just nodded, on the Wheelie’s screen, and went on, about how London, long since the natural home of everyone who owned the world but didn’t live in China, rose first, never entirely having fallen.

      “What about China?”

      The Wheelie Boy’s tablet creaked faintly, raising the angle of its camera. “They’d had a head start,” he said.

      “At what?”

      “At how the world would work, after the jackpot. This,” and the tablet creaked again, surveying her mother’s lawn, “is still ostensibly a democracy. A majority of empowered survivors, considering the jackpot, and no doubt their own positions, wanted none of that. Blamed it, in fact.”

      “Who runs it, then?”

      “Oligarchs, corporations, neomonarchists. Hereditary monarchies provided conveniently familiar armatures. Essentially feudal, according to its critics. Such as they are.”

      “The King of England?”

      “The City of London,” he said. “The Guilds of the City. In alliance with people like Lev’s father. Enabled by people like Lowbeer.”

      [...]

     

[Later...]

      But she still didn’t get what the United States did either, in Wilf’s world. He made it sound like the nation-state equivalent of Conner, minus the sense of humor, but she supposed that might not be so far off, even today.

[Conner is a character who is a twitchy, amputee veteran, whose assistive technology is modded to have some mean capabilities. It is considered a local unruly pastime to pick barfights with him, with some amount of risk in presuming that somebody might come by and tell Conner to let the poor idiot go.]

      [Person from the future says:] "Records, during the deeper jackpot, are incomplete to nonexistent, and more so in the United States. There was a military government there, briefly, that erased huge swathes of data, seemingly at random, no one seems to know why."

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