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SciFly NYC // 93 // Speculative Spotlight - Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Red Moon'

Weekly Events 9/9 - 9/15

The Astro Art of David A Hardy

Hey SciFly Readers!

To get pumped for the upcoming #SFReads book club, I thought it would be fun to try out a new project. As you know, I'm an avid SciFi reader. For this reason, I typically read all of my novels digitally (or I would live under a mountain of books) and only buy signed copies from authors I really admire and want to meet (Kim Stanley Robinson, Tim Maughan & soon Annalee Newitz <3).

One really cool feature of reading books on my phone is that I have an opportunity to highlight ideas and passage I found really meaningful or interesting while reading, and export them to one big note later on for future study & exploration. I typically only do this with non-fiction books, but while thinking about how I could potentially share some prompts for #SFReads, I realized it would be fun to start highlighting passages from the Scifi I am currently reading as well. I hope that this will both force me to actually organize my thoughts and notes after devouring books, and serve as inspiration for other people to look at society, technology, economics, politics, and the environment through a new lens.

So, from now on, when a piece of sci-fi is really amazing, I will do a quick intro where I give a brief plot synopsis, pull out some of my favorite quotes, and briefly give them some further thought and context.

The first book I actually remembered to take lot's of highlights while reading was the second to last novel I finished, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Moon, which I finished about a week ago.


Red Moon
By Kim Stanley Robinson

Synopsis & Plot (from Wikipedia)
Red Moon is a 2018 science fiction novel by American novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. The novel is set in China and on the Moon. 

Maybe some spoilers... but not really... so read the synopsis at your own risk. ;)

Fred Fredericks is sent to the Moon to deliver a quantum communications device. Upon his arrival, he is nearly killed during the handover of the device, but cannot remember what happened. He is held on suspicion of murdering the official to whom he was delivering the device.

A journalist helps Fredericks and the dissident leader Qi, who is due to give birth soon, escape back to Earth. They are pursued by Chinese authorities who believe that Qi will lead a revolution of disaffected workers and displaced migrants to overthrow the Party leadership.

After a series of chases and escapes, Fredericks and Qi return to the Moon, where they encounter a wealthy Chinese businessman building his own ideal colony and visit free settlers creating a lunar city outside government control.

One faction of the Chinese leadership orders missile strikes on the Moon to kill Fredericks and Qi, but they receive advance warning of the attacks and flee to a remote lunar shelter, where Qi gives birth as millions of Chinese workers gather in Beijing to start the revolution.

While this book apparently received mixed reviews, I really liked it. As always, Robinson gave careful consideration to the realities of colonizing the moon, resultant political snafus, and how many of today's forces could continue playing out and wind up in a global crisis of capital and politics. One thing I really noticed during the novel is that Robinson again chose to focus on the idea of America creating a huge debt strike, just like he did in New York 2140. It really is an interesting end-game, and in the case of Red Moon, paired with a super amusing flight to a variety of cryptocurrencies. I really appreciated that this book talked a bit about blockchain governance and crypto, more so than pretty much any other scifi book I have read yet. Overall, the plot can be a little slow and convoluted, but as always, if you slow down and appreciate the story Robinson is telling in its detail and entirety, you will glean tons of insights and imaginative sparks for what life on the moon could be like one day soon.

Doc's Favorite Quotes & Passages from Red Moon

"...humans were the lubricant that kept the machines working at their many points of systemic friction."
- On Human-Machine relationships

"Money, capital— they’re just ways of organizing work. And it’s the work that’s real. So the other stuff is mysterious. What if every time you said money you replaced that word with the word trust. Here, I will pay you ten units of my trust.” He looked at Ta Shu and grinned. “A good deal!”
- On Money

“Yes! It’s part of what’s called the crisis of representation, and maybe the biggest part. Lots of people in this world have no real representation in government. Not just China, but everywhere. America too."
- On the Crisis of Representation

"Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice: the struggle to make things, the class struggle, and scientific experiment." 
- Quote from Chinese Book of Quotations from Chairman Mao

"This slow pedal through the heavy gravity of his grief quickly took on the nature of a penance or a funeral march. Almost always when sadness came to him he felt it as an emptying out, a going away. Occasional stabs of sorrow struck, but mostly he was gone and did not feel things; that emptiness was his sadness. It always made him want to feel something, anything because anything would be less sad than the emptiness."
- Reflecting on loss after having to deal with grief after re-entering earth's gravity post lunar stay

"money and information were fungible and kept turning into each other."
- On Money & Big Data

"But what was the relationship between cloud and world, between tap and act? This was always the question no one could answer. Maybe, Fred thought, the two were the same now. Maybe the question itself was simply wrong. Maybe they had always been the same. Words were acts, words were always acts; that was why he was always so hesitant to speak.
- On Digital Agency & Social Media

"Maybe they were living through a transition to some new world order, unnamed and inchoate. Maybe this was a wrestling match between elements among the elite, but maybe it was a wrestling match in which the many were trying yet again to seize power from the few. For the bait could bite."
- On Government & Revolution

"He wondered if he had done right to try to alter the system from the inside. Possibly it had always been a false hope, a dream. A fantasy response, as happened so often."
- On Activism

Each time and place had its own particular structure of feeling, a cultural construct ordering and channeling the basic biological emotions.
- On the unique relationship between Time & Place

"Earth is crowded and fragmented. The noise-to-signal ratio is stupendous, so you can get in the noise and hide.”
- On Surveillance Earth vs. Moon

“I’m not sure. I think it’s a coin that is created or validated by taking carbon out of the air. Something like that. It’s a credit system, and its coins can only buy sustainable subsistence necessities, but since everyone needs those, it’s looking like they’re getting widespread buy-in and acceptance. What will happen if everyone shifts their savings all at once?”
- On CarbonCoin, a blockchain cryptocurrency everyone is fleeing to in the book when national currencies plummet due to Debt Strikes

"Everyone was now trying to understand terms like citizens’ fiscal revolution, cryptocurrencies, especially carboncoin, and blockchain governance. People were also trying to figure out whether these mass actions were going to create real representation. There were a million opinions, or maybe a billion, but no one actually seemed to understand what was happening."

"Nothing that China or anyone else could do was going to be enough to save the American economy from a huge disruption, which was either a self-induced collapse or a startling triumph for the idea of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That it had been caused by legal actions taken by millions of Americans intent on changing the political system made John Semple think that although it was confusing, there might be some promise in it."

"But stopping speculation in these currencies didn’t actually stop people from using them for exchanges."

- Above 3 quotes - on people's response to international turmoil. Turning to crypto and blockchain promises without really having a clue what is happening. Sounds about right. :D

"But now it appeared that everywhere in the world governments were suffering a crisis of representation. Possibly this was because it was all one system, which one could call global capitalism with national characteristics, each variation around the Earth marked by the remaining vestiges of an earlier nation-state system, but still making together one larger global thing: capitalism. When it came to those national characteristics, China had the Party, the US its federal government, the EU its union; but all were ruled by the globalized market."
- On Capitalism

Long Quote / Conversation 
"On the contrary, every sector of world finance seemed to be suffering except for the cryptocurrency called carboncoin, which was some kind of money created by a confirmable history of carbon drawdown or equivalent environmental actions, valid for subsistence spending only. What this virtual currency would come to in the real world no one could know, and the fact that millions of people had withdrawn their savings from normal seigniorage currencies to invest in such a murky new form of money, meaning, in the end, value and trust and exchangeability, was just another frightening destabilization to add to all the rest. That the millions of backers of this new currency were also demanding blockchain governance only added to the worries of people in power everywhere."
“Do you understand this idea of blockchain governance?” Ta Shu asked John Semple at one point.
John shrugged. “I think the idea is that if everyone’s got a wristpad and a connection to the cloud, everyone could participate in some kind of global governance, in which every action legal and financial would be completely documented, and recorded and secured publicly step by step and law by law.”
“It still seems like someone would have to propose laws, and other people would have to enforce them.”
“I think the idea is that it would all happen by collective action, and be open for everyone to see.”
“But who would actually do it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It seems crazy.”
John shrugged. “Maybe every new system of government looks crazy when it’s first proposed. Remember how in the eighteenth-century people said representative democracy was crazy. They called it mob rule. Said it would never work.”
“Maybe it never did.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t say that. Three hundred years isn’t a bad run. And it might keep going, if we can keep it going. I mean, when the representatives aren’t bought by the rich, representative democracy has done pretty well.” 
“But now that seems to have ended somehow.” John sighed. “Maybe feudalism never really went away. Maybe it just liquefied to money and bided its time.”
“That would be bad.”
“I know. But if money, as it exists now, is just feudalism liquefied, maybe this carboncoin is a try at something better. Maybe it’s the labor theory of value back again, with the labor involved required to be for the good of the biosphere, and the money only good for that labor.”
- On money, government, crypto etc.

"What is important now? Design a solution by reiterative testing of hypotheses and scenarios. What will restore balance?"
- An AI trying to figure out how to fix things

Anything that can be inspected can be altered unless locked in a blockchain. Blockchains block alteration: is this good?
- An AI trying to figure out how to fix things

"In Thucydides’s trap, the waning hegemon gets drawn into conflict with the rising power, not understanding this is useless and eventually will cause it to lose more than if it had conceded the hegemonic role."
- An AI trying to figure out how to fix things

"P2P is peer to peer, usually loans without bank intermediation. Blockchain governance is an algorithmically assisted direct democracy or a representative government in which the representatives are in part algorithmic. Laws are algorithms in a system in which human legal workers (researchers, lawyers, judges, plaintiffs) make definitions and choices at the branching points in various decision trees. Representative government is already semi-algorithmic. New laws are clinamen (Greek for “swerve in a new direction”). Impulses. “Allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Who are the discredited in the current situation?"
- An AI trying to figure out how to fix things

"The path into the light seems dark. The path forward seems to go back. The way is never obvious."

“Decay is inherent in all compounded things, persevere diligently.” 
- Last Words of Buddha

"This project may have succeeded in part; but not entirely. Its ambiguous results so far make it obvious that although words are acts, and even important acts, there are in the discourse space of the current global civilization simply too many acts. They fill the discourse space so completely that to some degree they create an interference pattern. The resulting vibration of the cultural space exceeds the surface tension of the moment, and a chaos of intersecting waves breaks out and jumbles the surface, such that no new semantic action—no words in any configuration, no matter how reflective of the shared zeitgeist, no matter how persuasive rhetorically—can alter humanity’s current behaviors. There’s too much noise, too many interference patterns canceling each other out, too many laws that need changing. Nothing emerges from this chaos by way of a coherent mass action. There are, in short, limits to speech. Something more may be required."
- On Mass Action & Reform

Hope you enjoyed the new intro (be sure to let me know if you have any ideas or favorite quotes!

Don't forget to register for the upcoming #SFReads book club, the sign-up form will close on Sunday 9/15 for the first round!

Thank you for listening and read on for this week's great speculative events!

"The future is here, now let's distribute it." 

Doc Martens

SciFly is a design studio dedicated to leveraging speculative design and science fiction to imagine and prototype alternative futures enabled by today's emerging technology.


Monday | 9/9

Tuesday | 9/10

Wednesday | 9/11

Thursday | 9/12

Friday | 9/13

Saturday | 9/14

Sunday | 9/15

OnGoing [classes, exhibits, shows etc.]


What I'm Reading

Here is a quick snapshot of my favorite books, podcasts, and articles this week.

Hullmetal Girls
by Emily Skrutskie

Hyundai reveals foldable electric scooter designed to be charged in its cars
by Jennifer Hahn

Social Media without the Internet
by Tuang Studio

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