A cosmic catastrophe has sterilized the Earth of all living things. Only a small number of humans have managed to copy digitalized versions of their minds onto hardware in the nick of time. Deprived of physical bodies, they continue to exist by uploading themselves onto gigantic industrial robots, sophisticated medical machines, mechs designed for hard labor, military drones, star troopers and sexbots based on Japanese manga.
Drowning in nostalgia for the lost world, the survivors create civilization after civilization, life after life, humanity after humanity. They form alliances and fight wars. They develop their own politics, ideologies and crazy hardware religions. And they face dilemmas no one has ever confronted before.
The Old Axolotl depicts the reversal of old oppositions between life and death, progress and stagnation, the organic and the mechanical, exploring the mystery of the human soul and the eternal solitude of the human individual, whether trapped in a body or the reinforced steel of a robot.
„Manga blues - they sit on the terrace of the Kyōbashi Tower with a view of night-time Ginza. Every tenth advertisement and every twentieth screen glows bright. The screen above their terrace plays the scene from Blade Runner with Rutger Hauer dripping with rain and neon melancholy in an ironic loop. Meanwhile, they – sad robots – sit, stand, and trundle about, engaging in a misshapen parody of coffee talk.
Steel fingers grip the delicate glass with surgical precision. There are special programs to support the motor skills required for vodka drinking.
Of course, they cannot really drink vodka, and the drinks are mere mock-ups. They cannot drink anything, they cannot eat anything – quarter-ton mechs in the Chūō Akachōchin bar. All they can do is perform these gestures of life, laboriously repeating the customs of bygone biology.
A barman in the shell of a mechanized barman pours out the Smirnoff. His three-jointed arm brushes against the polymer mitt of a transformer playing bar customer with the same desperation. The grating sound is audible even under Hauer’s monologue.
That’s the real curse, thinks Bart. Metal on metal, heart on heart, and every awkward moment multiplies the pathos of loneliness a thousand times. As if under a microscope. As if projected on a hundred-hectare screen.
We are monstrous shadows and scrapheaps of human beings, the molybdenum despair of empty hearts.”
(transl. Stanley Bill)
THE OLD AXOLOTL director Maciej Jackiewicz/Platige Image
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010
Zajdel Award 2010 for the title story
The volume contains the following stories/novels:
“Line of Resistance” / “Linia oporu”
“The Eye of the Monster” / “Oko potwora”
“School” / “Szkoła”
“Aguerre at Dawn” / “Aguerre w świcie”
“Heart of Darkness” / “Serce mroku”
“King of Pain and a Grasshopper” / “Król bólu i pasikonik”
“Wormwood” / “Piołunnik”
“Line of Resistance”:
So everyone is immortal, young and safe, and lives in endless free luxury. As the looming shadow of the Technological Singularity eclipses all human desires and aspirations, the last possible endeavor for man is the creation of meanings for his life: his lines of resistance.
"After all – you have to do something when you don’t have anything to do.
(I have a family, Paweł; just you try doing nothing in that situation!)
Don’t look backwards, look ahead. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO NOTHING.
It’s hard work – the hardest! – continuously devising and updating a repertoire of meanings of life.
It could be the colour of your top. Perhaps it’s a sword with a bonus to your attributes. Or – perhaps it’s a metaphysical system.
Qqazn finishes his cake and licks his spoon clean. He really is trying to understand.
He digests and digests and digests, until he can digest no more:
You mean that in the evenings you have nobody to talk to.
No, Cousin, no. You open your mouth to speak – and what do you talk about? Just think about it, and be honest.
Do I have enough to last me until the first of the month
Whose turn was it to go shopping
How is your guild getting on
What kind of mischief has your kid been getting up to
They’re all sick at work
The club has bought a good goalkeeper
The neighbour’s ripped up the pavement
The new taste of sugar
The frost in a constellation
There’ll be a new game tomorrow
They’ve caught a paedophile MP
Or perhaps we’ll go on holiday to New Zealand
In this game – splitting up, in the other – everlasting love
You looked so lovely in the green dress, what style is that
A spider bit me during the night
Who’ll be the new Bond
And that, that’s your content!
That is the meaning of your life.
And now subtract financial fears (they’ll disappear). And subtract family (that’ll disappear).
From the remainder – what percentage was not produced by us, by me?
Qqazn stares into the night, listens to the sounds of the sleepy village, and cocks his head to one side.
No. I’m not buying that, Paweł.
But it’s true. THAT’S THE MEANING OF LIFE. That’s exactly what drags people from one night to the next, from one weekend to the next.
The content coming from our minds.
Creative people’s lifeblood."
(transl. Garry Malloy)
Jacek Dukaj is the king of Polish science-fiction and fantasy. He blends these genres as easy as China Mieville, if he employed Peter Watts for those really weird scientific ideas. My apologies to all the three, describing writers by comparing them to other writers is just the path of least resistance for us, lazy critics. The King of Pain and a Grasshopper shows us the world after nano-biological apocalypse, when most of the world is covered by junkle. It’s not a typo, it’s just a junglelike chaos of junk lifeforms running wild, undersirable byproducts of the AG (artificial genetics) technology. Only the US and EU were saved by applying rigorous bioprotection on their borders. The rest of the world is ruled by various anarkies (not a typo neither). The actual overseas travel is no longer possible, but you can rent a proxy body and control it remotely via the Internet. The network survived the apocalypse just fine, it was built to last. That was just the scifi premise for the story – the story itself is a dense, action-packed espionnage thriller set in this bizarre world.
Dukaj shows several different versions of the future. While none of these is optimistic, the author steers clear of catastrophic platitudes of the type “humanity is heading for self-destruction”. In the new stories, the author accurately diagnoses challenges facing humanity: non-controlled progress, genetic experiments, easy access to biologic weapons. This is accompanied by an in-depth reflection on human behaviour and psyche. After The Crowe, Dukaj has returned to his original genre of science-fiction. This choice gives an insight into the career of a writer who has ever since his first book (The School, 1995) grappled with fundamental questions.
Krzysztof Cieślik, “Polityka”
If you asked me to list the most interesting science fiction writers of the last decade or two, I would give you five names without hesitation: Vernor Vinge, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson and Jacek Dukaj. Not necessarily in that order. The five have a lot in common. They all write about the human condition on the cusp of singularity, they are all extremely prolific, and they all excel at packing their books with high-brow ideas, science and philosophy. The first four are fairly well known all around the world. The last is not as recognizable, which is a shame.
Dukaj writes in Polish, and his prose is not always easy to read. He molds language, sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary to his stories, using them as storytelling tools. His novels are peppered with neologisms, scientific terms and references that he trusts his readers either to know or to look up. To read his novels at a decent level of comprehension, you need to know a little bit about science, a little bit about popular culture, and a little bit about science fiction in general – because he won’t stop to explain. He writes for a certain kind of person, for people like you and me – the vanguard of humanity, the dreamers waiting for singularity, the netizens, the internet generation, homo digitalis.
Line of Resistance – a long novella (over 200 pages) published in Dukaj’s anthology, The King of Pain – is a good example of this specific style targeted at this specific audience. The story is right up my alley, but it would be completely incomprehensible to someone like my father. And not just because of the difficult, disjointed stream-of-consciousness narration. Not because of the overwhelming density of ideas per page and the rapid succession in which Dukaj jumps between them. Not because of the abrupt changes in writing style that break the flow and force the reader to re-adjust. Not because of the dense mass of grammatical neologisms ranging from interesting to downright obscene. No, it is because my father would have no context. Half the references would sail over his head; the rest would be completely incomprehensible. Being an old-fashioned analog man, he would have no connection with the protagonist. Why? Well, let’s face it – I have yet to meet a 50- or 60-year-old who would not be baffled and then frightened to the core by progressive transhumanism.
That’s essentially what this story is about. It is a meditation on the transformative process that will allow us to progress from trans- to post-humanism. It is about the birthing pains of the new type of humanity, as told by someone who is no longer strictly homo sapiens. Dukaj writes about the existential ennui felt by people trying to find their place on the cusp of singularity.
Imagine the near future – a decade, maybe two after Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End. Consumer-grade electronic hardware no longer exists – you connect to the Internet with wetware implanted directly into your skull at birth. Bandwidth is ubiquitous, unlimited, and free. You see HUD overlays and virtual displays with your mind’s eye. This is how you work and play. Instead of watching a movie, you now experience it as one of the characters – with their thoughts and feelings piped directly into your cortex. Instead of playing a game, you immerse yourself in a hyper-realistic virtual world almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Singularity approaches! And it isn’t theoretical science fiction anymore – this is reality. People feel its call in their bones.
The world is in turmoil, as corporations try to find their feet in the post-scarcity world of free energy and free time. Nation states have atrophied and are rotting away, their borders made meaningless by seamless communication streams piped directly to your cortex, allowing you to manifest anywhere without leaving your house. Educational systems are defunct, as every child has an equivalent of Stephenson’s Diamond Age Primer implanted in his head. Medical science is progressing so fast that Mother Nature can no longer keep up. Aging is a thing of the past, as rapidly evolving geriatric treatments can keep your body in peak condition almost indefinitely. Social norms are unraveling as people experiment with their newly found freedom. Progressive liberalism is the rule, and conservatives are slowly dying of old age, clinging to outdated modes of life that are no longer relevant.
For individuals, life is mostly good – but most recognize that they live in troubled times. Many are confused and lost in this new reality. Society was not suddenly transformed into a magical currency-free meritocracy like Cory Doctorow’s Bitchun society. Bitchuns operate under a classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Their technology satisfies the first three steps of the pyramid, but they still have to work to climb on the esteem and self-actualization tiers. Dukaj’s universe has done away with the entire pyramid pharmacologically. Low self-esteem? There’s a pill for that. Worried about how much you care about things? There are designer drugs that will let you control exactly how much you care about anything and everything. Every emotion and experience has been reduced to its chemical basis. They sell love in a can, eye drops that cause religious ecstasy, liquid lust in a bottle, and there is even a spray that will make you gay for a day. And if that’s not enough, you can get elective cognitive surgery, like in Stross’s Glasshouse. If you don’t like something about yourself, you can “fix” it permanently or temporarily.
Humanity is collectively becoming your aunt’s fat cat. A brutally efficient, opportunistic predator driven by the instinct for self-preservation suddenly finds itself in an environment where all its needs are met. What does it do? It slowly eats itself to the point of morbid obesity. It becomes too fat and lazy to hunt or even move, but it cannot die because the food keeps on coming and the friendly vet keeps stubbornly unclogging its arteries. The only difference is that humanity has done this to itself. It has been brought to its knees by its own accomplishments. The technological progress that was supposed to be its crowning achievement has turned out to be a blind alley that will lead to its decadent demise.
What do young immortals do with their lives on the cusp of singularity? Not much, as it turns out. They lead idle, decadent lives, losing themselves in virtual pleasures. They sit on their asses drinking and doping themselves stupid, while fighting dragons and building solar empires in their favorite virtual MMOs.
Dukaj’s protagonist, Paul (Paweł), is a content creator gripped by the same existential dread felt by millions worldwide. He is young, wealthy, affluent, immortal, completely disillusioned and bitter. He performs one of the few jobs that can’t be efficiently outsourced to expert systems – he creates narratives and stories that captivate the hearts and minds of his peers idling their days away in digital worlds. In a way, he gives people reasons to get out of bed in the morning. He gives them something to look forward to amid the daily grind and boredom. His work used to be his reason to wake up and face the day, but over the years he has lost the fire. He sees the pointless artificiality of the narratives he creates. He can’t even enjoy his own games and stories, since he knows the process, the marketing tricks, the psychological hooks. This knowledge ruins the illusion for him. The nothingness and senselessness of modern life are slowly drowning him in existential pointlessness. He is grasping at straws, looking for a way out – a way to save himself and by extension maybe even the entire human race.
How do you get yourself out of an existential funk brought about by unprecedented prosperity? What do you do when the biggest problem in your life is that you have too much free time, too much money, too much power, and absolutely nothing to do with any of it?
Your first instinct might be to throw it all away, turn your back on progress, and drop out to live an Amish lifestyle in the woods. Sadly, while that might be a viable option for an individual, it is not an option for the human race as a whole. It would just be trading one blind alley for another – a society arrested at a more primitive technological stage would be just as stagnant. This is not the way.
So Paul embarks on a quest to find a purpose. Any purpose will do, as long as it’s real, concrete and will give his life some meaning. He tries to find people who seem to be thriving (not financially, but mentally) – people who seem to have adapted to their environment. He studies their coping strategies, hoping to adapt them to his own predicament.
He briefly flirts with religion, but abandons it almost immediately. The faithful he meets are interesting – some follow the tired Western monotheism, others find meaning in new re-interpretations of Christianity in which the Trinity is actually a variable quantum state function of the universe. But what is the meaning of faith in a world where you can easily reprogram yourself to think anything you want. Paul could easily patch his mind to become a devout Mormon today and a fervent follower of the Koran tomorrow. It’s too easy, too artificial, and it offers no path of progress for humanity as a whole.
Paul also meets people who choose self destruction as a viable option – they drug themselves into oblivion, wipe their own minds clean, reduce themselves to infancy. Others, like Paul’s girlfriend, take a slow approach by selling themselves into BSDM slave rings. There they find new challenges and new boundaries to push against – and with them some semblance of serenity. But again, nihilism is not something that will save the human race from the fat cat syndrome.
Through his work, Paul meets an influential patriarch who at first seems to have an answer. He recognizes the fact that humanity is in a transitory state. It has hit certain local minima and is unable to progress beyond this point. He has a plan to fix it. He wants Paul’s company to help him build a bridge to the other side.
He correctly identifies the problem (he understands the existential ennui well) and the approaches that won’t work – religion, patriotism, career, ambition, etc. His plan is not to inspire people, but rather to trick them into having a purpose. He fancies himself as a kind of Leto Atreides destined to set civilization on a Golden Path to post-human bliss. But like all businessmen he has only worked out the easy part of the equation – the hard part is Paul’s job. Paul is to build him a honeypot for human souls – a perfect meme, a viral narrative that will entrap humanity and infect it with a viral dream. He is like that guy at your work who thinks he has an idea for a social network that will be bigger than Facebook. What do you say to someone like that? Go home, gramps, you’re too old – Millhouse will never be a meme. These things cannot be forced – you might as well try to ram religion down people’s throats. In a world where minds and attitudes are malleable, such a scheme could never work…
Eventually Paul finds what he has been looking for. After much searching and many tribulations, he realizes that the only way forward is to embrace progress and let yourself be carried away by its torrents. After all, who’s to say that the countless hours spent in virtual worlds are completely meaningless? Or that the relationships you develop with your guildies are less real and significant than your meat-space connections. The human body is already fully malleable via surgery and gene therapy. The human mind can be reprogrammed and drugged into submission. The human condition is no longer a function of nature and nurture. Who you are depends solely on who you want to be. Pick a body and personality – you can be that person through the miracles of modern technology. Life is already one big video game, so why not just cut the cord and ditch the meat? The physical world is no longer a place for human beings, no longer our domain – so why not migrate out of there into the endless virtual worlds where you can reshape and redefine yourself at will. The only way forward is for us to shed the last shackles of nature and become creatures of pure will. That’s the only way we can evolve away from what we once were into what we can potentially become – something new, something different, something excitingly unknown and unknowable.
The brilliance of this novella lies in the fact that Dukaj is not afraid to irreverently tackle the age-old question of what it means to be human from a transhumanist angle. Right now, humanity is still relatively easy to define. You can pull up two strands of DNA and say: “this one is human, this one is not.” But will it be that simple tomorrow? Probably not.
The same goes for self-identification. Right now you are defined by a set of parameters that are – for better or for worse – fixed. You are this gender, that race, this sexual orientation, and you feel this or that way about broccoli and spinach. You define yourself through a list of traits and preferences that for the most part are not easy to change. But what if they were? What if you could reinvent and reconfigure yourself just by willing it?
Dukaj shows that humanity is an artificial construct invented by man, and therefore subject to change as man enters the next stage of evolutionary progress. The same goes for the concept of the self, which is an abstract idea created at a point in time when we existed as meat-bound individuals with fixed bodies and rigid minds.
As we move towards singularity, the concepts of humanity, individuality and selfhood will need to adapt and change in ways we may yet not be able to imagine.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2009
A richly illustrated book about Addy, a little boy during Poland’s Martial Law of 1981. The monstrous Crowe has snatched his father in the middle of night and now Addy has to save him, to find the father in the hypnotic labyrinths of this dark fairy-tale – a small boy in the concrete wonderland of a totalitarian nightmare.
"And now they would have to find their way alone – a small boy and an even smaller little girl.
They pass ranks of the MOMO. Bristling with Batons, with the heavy bulbs of their Helmets. Belted with leather Belts. Each Merryman three times the size of a child. He could trample them, as the Zompor trampled the cars. Let him but raise an enormous boot. Little sister stares with wide open eyes.
They pass lurking Hounds. With half-open muzzles, with headlight eyes faintly lit up. A cold sweat dribbles over their metals shells. They scrape the asphalt with claws of chrome. They softly snarl.
They pass a Zompor. It waits in an alleyway for orders. Batons, Shield, sheets of metal, rubber. The mechanized bulk of steelworks and state-owned farms. It puffs out hot exhaust fumes. At the sight of it little sister hides behind Addy.
They pass gray people. Figures blended into the fog. They don’t have faces, they don’t have heads at all, they have pressed them down between their shoulders. They drift as far away as they can from the Merrymen, the Hounds and the Soldiers. They don’t see each other, they don’t see the city, they don’t see the children. When the children go up too close to the passers-by, a bad television hums in their childish heads.
They pass Tanks and Tankmen. The Tankmen have crawled out into the fog from inside the machines. They wriggle about in the snow. Their coveralls are soiled with dark oil. Blind goggles on their faces. Levers for hands, pedals for feet. So they can’t walk, they wriggle between the caterpillar tracks. The gun barrels raised above the children spew out darkness.
They pass garbage, snow-banks, blockades, they pass houses, shops, kiosks, cars, statues of the Birdkeeper and portraits of the Crowe, they pass Ghosts, Monsters and Dreams."
(transl. Stanley Bill)
The Crowe is an unusual fable full of violence and cruelty about the kind of martial law that was imposed in Poland in mid-December 1981. In this period, the country was ruled by the Military Council of National Salvation, known in Polish by its acronym WRON – its similarity to the word wrona, meaning “crow”, made it a favourite tool for opposition satire. It is for this reason that Dukaj has chosen the crow to represent a force of evil in this book of the same name. Although the main character is a small boy, and the work is modelled on stories for children, this is a magical fairytale aimed at adult readers. Who is the Crowe of the title? He is a large black bird who kidnaps little Adam’s father. The big bird barges his way into the family’s flat, and then the Rook-Soldiers take the boy’s other relatives away. Adam has been saved by a neighbour called Mr Mortar. Together, though losing each other several times along the way, they roam the gloomy city in search of Adam’s family. Adam’s adventures are a grim phantasmagoria. The city is under the control of the iron Hounds (monsters that look like huge dogs), the Zompors (mechanical monsters that wave seven truncheons each) and the GAS (enormous whale that swallow people), at every step there are Snitches and Spiky Spooks lying in wait, and the trees and roofs are crowded with nasty big birds. In Polish, these names are puns based on recognisable figures and objects associated with the martial law era, such as the ZOMO riot police and the UB secret agents. Dukaj’s fable opens with an epigraph taken from Lewis Carroll. And in fact this book has much in common with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There is a lot of Carrollian linguistic inventiveness here: making up words and comical rhymes that interrupt the story. Secondly and more importantly, like Alice, Adam wants at any price to get to the bottom of the adults’ mysterious world, naturally in order to expose the rules that govern it. However, the author’s intentions are not entirely clear. The Crowe not only pitches into the still live debate about martial law, but could also be read as a form of artistic excess specific to Jacek Dukaj. In it we can see an extremely refined literary game, a Dukajan exercise in fantasy and style, but we can also ascribe a wide variety of political meanings to it. Without doubt it is an impressive, important work, not just for aesthetic reasons.
THE CROWE, DIR. JAKUB JABŁOŃSKI/PLATIGE IMAGE
PIOSENKA CZŁONKA, KAZIK
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2007
European Literary Award 2009
Nominated for the Nike
Literary Prize 2007
Zajdel Award 2007
Sfinks Award 2007
An otherworldly metal from the Tunguska Meteorite possesses logic-changing properties. Its impact has turned the Russian Empire into a land of the two-valued logic of Winter, where the philosophy of history is the new physics. It’s the year 1924, and Benedykt Gierosławski - a man who doesn’t exist - has just boarded the Transsiberian Express along with Nicola Tesla, tsarist spies, aristocrats and industrialists.
"The photographer, hunched over his apparatus, slowly, methodically burned in picture after picture. And what would he later behold in them, what would be preserved on the glass and imprinted on the paper: snow – snow – the pale haloes of the street lamps – dark mud, dark cobblestones, a dark sky – the grey façades of apartment buildings in a vista over the wide ravine of the city – in the foreground a chaos of angular shapes, vehicles blocked up in the traffic jam – betwixt the human silhouettes the glow of pure flame blazing, so bright that in this spot the plate seems to be completely unexposed – and above him, above the flame of white whiter than white, in the heart of the hanging arabesque of ice, the frosten stretched out, the frosten, a massive bolt of freeze, a starfish of hoarfrost, a living bonfire of cold, the frosten, the frosten, the frosten above the fur toques of the damsels below, the frosten above the caps and bowlers of the men, the frosten above the heads of the horses and the tops of the carriages, the frosten above the neon lights of the coffee-shops and salons, the shops and hotels, the cake-shops and fruiteries, the frosten over Marszałkowska Street and Jerusalem Avenue, the frosten over Warsaw, the frosten over the Russian Empire."
(transl. Stanley Bill)
A peculiar inventor and the Polish Siberian partisans, a pomp of logic and mathematics of characters, shame theory and friendship theory, Polish businessmen and Tungus shamans, investigation intrigue and a real romance (which wasn’t there). Ice hang-outs and cold-iron parlors, black physics and a Siberian tale, friendship, death and betrayal. Life as a particular form of a window pane frozen flower. A thousand paged Opus Magnum which has divided Jacek Dukaj’s enthusiasts into the Ice fraction and Other Songs fraction.
The action of Jacek Dukaj’s sprawling new novel starts off in Warsaw, moves to the first-class luxury cars of the Trans-Siberian railroad, then finally to Siberia in the vicinity of Irkutsk. Events are set in 1924, but this is an alternative history, a fantastic history. The Tungus meteorite impact of 1908 has caused the bulk of Russian territory to be covered in ice, as a result of which the First World War did not break out, there was no October Revolution, Czar Nicholas II still reigns, and Poland is still under the partitions. Customs, fashion, orthography – none of these have changed since the beginning of the century. The czar, however, would like to push back the ice and for this reason his officials send a Pole, Benedykt Gierosławski, to Siberia. Gierosławski’s father, in exile in Siberia, has succumbed to an extraordinary metamorphosis and – himself turned to ice – is apparently able to communicate with the mysterious quasi-beings who are causing the abnormal drop in temperature. Benedict is to seek out his father and secure his cooperation in getting rid of the ice.
This project meets with strong resistance from those who have made fortunes on the freezing-over of Siberia – the low temperatures are conducive to the formation of numerous new materials upon which new branches of industry are based. Thanks to this, Siberia is growing into an economic superpower, and religious sects for whom the frost heralds a new renaissance of the spirit are also flourishing. The fierce battle between the novel’s factions is fought on political, economic, mythological, and religious terrain.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2008
Zajdel Award 2004
Adam Zamoyski, a 21st century astronaut, has been resurrected in the 29th century in a posthuman world of metaphysics, multibodied identities, cosmic AIs, multiple alien and human civilizations converging toward one mode of existence, and every player in this game of powers wants to steal the secrets of the universe buried deep in Zamoyski’s memory.
"Caesar’s manifestation gathered up its robes, wrapped them around its knees, and knelt opposite Zamoyski, on the shore of star-filled blackness.
“Do you feel it yet, stahs?” he asked, looking at him searchingly. (...) “Breathe. You must breathe. Take a breath. Another. And another.”
He breathed. My God, he BREATHED. He had lungs, but he also had LUNGS. He could feel the air and FEEL the air. It tickled his palate, his windpipe – this one and THAT one. If back in the ruins of the Palace of Memory he had experienced schizophrenia of the mind, he was now experiencing schizophrenia of the body.
He was splitting.
Deeply, deeply, to the very base of his spine, to the nucleus of every nerve cell.
A sharp slice through the dendrites: shplak! – and there were two Zamoyskis: /Zamoyski and //Zamoyski, and both of them were sitting with their eyes bulging into the empty space over the Escheresque House of Caesar.
“Now concentrate only on the anima, stahs.”
//Zamoyski got up, straightened. He looked down at the kneeling manadarin. He turned around and looked behind him – at /Zamoyski – at his first manifestation, which had not gotten up and straightened, had not turned around. It was looking at him from beneath the plane tree with eyes wide open.
His head spun. He //looked away from his primus. But even when he was //looking in the same direction as it was – at the mandarin – he was //looking from a different spot, from a differing angle. And so one //look bled into another /look, both of them cramming images into the same brain: Zamoyski could /see and //see, /hear and //hear, /feel and //feel – his disorientation was growing by the second, he was drowning in the chaos of excess stimuli. In just a moment he would start to /think and //think – then Adam Zamoyski would ultimately perish, torn in two. (...)
“How do you turn it off?!”
“The purpose of such expansion software is not to shift one’s perception elsewhere by creating an extra-corporeal manifestation, because that’s what you do every time you use the Plateau,” the Asian said calmly. “It’s about parallel control. People don’t live in multitasking mode; throughout their entire lives they occupy only one manifestation at a time: their biological unit.” The mandarin lowered his head to the ground in front of //Zamoyski. “You are no longer a stahs of the Fourth Tradition.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You have moved upward along the Curve of Progress, stahs.”
(transl. Christopher Caes)
It’s the twenty-ninth century and everything in our galaxy has changed. Travelling about the cosmos is no longer a problem, because space is now subject to non-gravitational modelling. Power is concentrated in the hands of the creatures gifted with the highest intelligence. So is this the perfect universe? It’s ideally imperfect, answers Dukaj. This world has been created by humans striving for security, in other words an existence free from fears of death, illness and war. However, instead of an immortal body, these incarnations have been invented, and instead of tolerance and mutual respect there are galactic governments run by the highest intelligence. Reason has proved to be a life force jostling for supremacy, but supremacy is still rooted in biological adaptation. Dukaj’s novel is saying the same thing as our contemporary philosophers, which is that genetic experiments will lead to the birth of ‘post-human’ beings. But Dukaj also says that over the next thousand years, humans will have to delve inside the genes and logical structures that make up the mind, because the cosmos –as Darwin taught us – is subject to the law of evolution; those who fail to adapt will perish. So either humans will transform themselves, or else they’ll fall to the rank of slaves. The anti-utopian tone of the novel is increased by the deliberate linking of evolution with money and power. In short, the future belongs to the rich, who will be able to buy themselves wisdom, and to the intelligent, who will know how to climb up the Evolutionary Curve. The story is set at the end of the third millennium, but Dukaj supplements it with some developments of contemporary themes, including the issue of globalisation, i.e. events we are all constantly surrounded by.The author calls its sequel ‘cosmologisation’ – the gradual, systematic acquisition of the universe by higher beings, i.e. those who are richer and more powerful. In Dukaj’s world only the powerful are not afraid of illness, old age, injury or assassination, and it is only the powerful who are not bound by any spatial limitations. The fabulous new world lies spread at their feet. The rest play ball on the beach. They have the sand and the sunset for free – for now. So here we are, it is the twenty-ninth century and everything in our galaxy has changed – and stayed the same.
Przemysław Czapliński, "The Remnants of Modernity"
When I first read Charles Stross’s Accelerando, I concluded that Stross was the master of putting a staggering number of cool ideas on every single page of a novel. The density of ideas per page in the book was so great it approached weapons-grade quality. I didn’t think anyone could match him at this game. Until now. I have found a worthy contender – the Polish science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj. His novel An Ideal Imperfection has a similar “holy shit, this book is epic” quality to it.
The story begins like this: Adam Zamoysky, a 21st century astronaut is recovering from a failed mission that left him and his crew adrift in deep space for over 600 years. Everyone on board was dead when the vessel was discovered, but Zamoysky’s body was surprisingly well preserved in the cryo-pod. Most intriguingly, his DNA does not match any of the original crew members, nor do his name and records exist in any archival documents preserved by various space agencies. He is a mystery – a man who never existed. A wealthy and influential tycoon, Judas McPherson, takes an interest in Zamoysky, and decides to resurrect him. Simply scanning his neural connections will not provide the key to all his memories – this is basically just a state vector, and there is data loss on account of the subject being dead. So to find out what happened it will be necessary to take the data and run it. The most efficient way to do this would be to run him as a virtual simulation – or, even better, as a few hundred parallel simulations, weeding out the ones that didn’t spill the beans or couldn’t recover past memories. But since McPherson is a STAHS (Standard Homo Sapiens) of the First Tradition (no wetware implants, no capacity to spawn new instances of the self, no genetic manipulation – only basic backups like in Cory Doctorow’s Bitchun Society), he decides to do it the old-fashioned way – by giving Zamoysky a biological body and existence in the physical world.
At first, the astronaut’s reality is filtered to spare him future shock. A dedicated AI simply edits out anything that would be out of place in a 21st century setting. This way Zamoysky can interact with McPherson and his guests without breaking the illusion that he is back in his own time. Fortunately (or unfortunately – depending how you look at it), the filtering AI is damaged during a failed assassination attempt. Suddenly Zamoysky is hit with a whole load of bad news. Firstly, he’s dead. Secondly, he apparently never existed. Thirdly, he is technically the property of the McPherson family. Fourthly, it’s the 29th century and the singularity has long since occurred, changing the world beyond recognition. Fifthly, someone rich, powerful and influential wants him dead. Sixthly, McPherson has just recovered a fragmentary message from his time well saying that a big war is coming, and that Zamoysky is somehow implicated in the conflict.
McPherson gives one of his daughters (also a STAHS of the First Tradition) the task of taking the future-shocked astronaut into hiding somewhere safe, away from civilization, where he can wait out the storm. So Angelica McPherson – a young girl, who on her Father’s orders has spent most of her childhood at a Jesuit mission in Africa, hunting elephants and being groomed as a cog in the McPherson business machine – becomes Zamoysky’s guide to the future. Ironically, the blast-from-the-past protagonist is more augmented than his companion from the future world of high technology. The wetware circuitry that was used to hook him up to the reality filters also gives him access to the HS Plateau (a post-singularity version of the Internet), allowing him to virtually manifest anywhere in the HS civilization. Now he has to piece together his shattered memories, figure out why everyone in the known universe wants to get their hands on them, while at the same time trying to find his feet in this new reality.
Dukaj is full of interesting ideas, and his post-singularity future is just as awesome as Charles Stross’s vision, though starkly different. Stross predicts that a logical way for a civilization like ours to evolve would be to disassemble our solar system to build a Matrioshka brain to satisfy our ever growing computational needs. He imagines the marginalization of baseline humans, who are forced out to live out their lives exploring deep space or huddling around brown dwarfs, while artificial minds stay in their computational grids around yellow stars. Dukaj has a slightly different idea. What if we didn’t have to build Matrioshka brains? What if we could figure out a way to bend the time-space continuum in just the right way to create a pocket dimension determined by a slightly different (reduced) set of physical constants? What if we could optimize these universes for data transfer speeds, storage efficiency, etc.? Then, instead of building Matrioshka brains, we could just use these pocket universes to create incredibly powerful computational devices unbound by the laws of physics of this universe and occupying no physical space. Dukaj dubs these contraptions “inclusions,” with the “ultimate inclusion” representing a theoretical be-all-end-all pocket universe that could not be optimized or improved upon.
The Plateau – the above mentioned hyper-internet – is one of these inclusions, optimized in such a way that data transfer to and from it remains constant, regardless of where you are located in the physical universe. Zamoysky’s reality filter is another inclusion – one designed to host the hardware for a sophisticated AI. Sol Port is another one – an inclusion that engulfs the entire solar system, making it impossible for anyone or anything to get in or out without proper authorization.
Secondly, Dukaj envisions a future in which standard baseline humans can peacefully co-exist with god-like AI constructs. How? Civilization. In Dukaj’s universe, “civilization” is actually a concise term to describe a community of sentient beings who voluntarily choose to abide by an arbitrary set of laws, rules and regulations. The HS civilization is built as a stratified society in which those who choose to be un-augmented are protected from those superior to them. The authority lies with an inclusion known as “The Emperor” who controls all Plateau resources and all nano-clouds within the bounds of the civilization. If you want to store your data on the HS Plateau or manifest yourself in physical form somewhere in HS space, you simply lease resources or nano from the Emperor, who can swiftly rescind them if you break the law. Of course, if you are a super bright post-human or AI who thinks that baseline STAHS are the scum of the earth to be squashed, you can simply leave the HS Civilization and apply for residence in another one. On the other hand, if you are a STAHS and you want to do business with higher intelligences, you can use the Emperor as a mediator or interpreter – or ask him to give you access to powerful AI slaves that can crunch data, make projections and advise you on strategies.
Dukaj has an interesting take on post-humanism, both as a state of being and a process. In Stross’s Accelerando, even though Manfred Macx is a futurist and trans-humanist, he is hesitant to augment himself past certain limits. Stross essentially draws a line in the sand and says: up to here, you are human, but if you rewire yourself any further you will become something incomprehensible, inhuman and frightening. Dukaj is very aware of this problem, but in his universe there is no line. Instead, there is a blurred spectrum of humanity. Yes, if you continue to augment yourself for pure performance you may eventually lose track of your humanity. On the other hand, constructs such as the HS Civilization serve as a convenient anchor for super-bright post-humans or AI gods. Since they must occasionally do business with STAHS, they must preserve some vestiges of humanity to be able to empathize with them and comprehend them.
The big dot in the middle is the ultimate computer – the best possible quantum computing machine that can be made in our universe. Below it are augmented, multi-threaded post-humans and STAHS of various traditions. Above it lie intelligences running on hardware that can exist only in various optimized inclusions – leading all the way up to the ultimate inclusion and the god-of-all-gods intelligence that would inhabit it. Dukaj theorizes that without a social construct like the HS Civilization, most individuals and societies will naturally rush up the curve at break-neck speed. The curve has a seductive pull that is hard to resist. To wit, Zamoysky who starts off as a relic from the past, makes several strides up the curve through the novel without even noticing this. First, he learns how to use the Plateau to manifest himself in a different part of the universe by leasing the Emperor’s nano to form a physical body he can control. Later he splits himself into two parallel threads when the situation requires him to be in two places at the same time. These steps are easy, effortless and rewarding. The question is when to stop, and how to know when you’ve gone too far.
This is why the Civilization protects those who choose to live as STAHS. To resist the pull of the curve and choose to live a slow, analog life in a digital world is seen as a somewhat noble path. STAHS maintain the baseline of humanity against which higher intelligences can calibrate themselves. Without them, the post-humans and AIs could unwittingly lose sight of what it means to be human.
Perfect Imperfection is a brilliant book, full of great ideas and interesting speculations. It represents a smart, well-researched and well-written example of post-singularity science fiction.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2003
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2008
Zajdel Award 2003
Nautilus Award 2003
Sfinks Award 2003
Aristotle was right, there are no atoms, just five elements, Form and Matter, the Sun circles the Earth, man’s habits build his virtue, and Hieronim Berbelek must will himself up to the habits of a great strategos in order to face the formless chaos of Those That Cannot Be Described.
"He entered alone, in accordance with the legend: he always enters alone and takes possession. I am not certain if I sensed it and came out to face him or if he found me on that street. Midday, heat, no shade. I caught sight of him looming from behind a street corner, he was on foot, in his left hand he held a martinet, he beat it rhythmically against his thigh. Slowly, step by step, it was the walk of a victor, and every space he crossed, every house he passed, everything he looked at – it truly appeared to me that I saw the ripple of the morphe flowing through the keros – thenceforth everything was more alike to the Warlock. He found me lying on the ground and as he walked towards me I tried to hoist myself up onto my feet. I had not eaten anything for a long time, food was unthinkable, I would willingly have remained on all fours, I knew that I ought to remain on all fours, on my knees, face in the dust, to kiss his feet, when he drew near I would have to do this, it was natural, everything was tending towards this – try to understand, although these are only words – when I raised my eyes he was covering half the sky, a giant, he had surpassed humankind, we would not reach to his shoulders, his chest, he is above and we are below, earth, dust, dirt, on our knees, on our knees – try to understand – he did not have to say anything, he stood above me, the martinet against his thigh, slap-slap, I mumbled something, perhaps I moaned imploringly, spittle in my beard, head hung low, but still I would raise myself, legs, arms, lurching forward and trembling, he stands, he waits, I sensed his odour, something like the almonds of the suicides, and perhaps the scent of his corona – try to understand, I myself do not understand – I stood up, I lifted my eyes, half-blinded, I looked him in the eye, blue pupils, tanned skin, he smiled through his moustaches, what was that smile supposed to signify, to this day I dream about it, the smile of a triumphant kratistos. Can you understand? He could have uttered the word and I would have torn out my own heart to please him.
I spat in his face."
(transl. Stanley Bill)
Other Songs is another demonstration of Jacek Dukaj’s unusual and highly fertile imagination. This time he has invented a world where ancient Greek ideas about nature are in force, with the theory of the elements at the fore, despite which it is a reality dominated by advanced technology. Naturally, this world is nothing like ours, but has its own calendar; the information that the action takes place in the twelfth century after the fall of Rome does not tell the reader much, because we are not told when Rome fell. Some of the settings where events take place are more recognisable, including Europe, Africa, and the Moon, which people have colonised, and also what is loosely termed “cosmic space”. But the most tangible element in the book is the main hero, a valiant commander battling against the forces of evil, who is at the same time a subtle rational thinker. At ground level Other Songs belongs to the genre of science fiction, but you can also find elements of fantasy, political fiction and above all philosophical debate in it (including some successful paraphrasing of ancient Greek thought). This is one of the most ambitious, and also one of the longest works of Polish fantasy literature to have appeared in the past decade.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2002
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010
A short novel about a man leading the peaceful country life of a farmer in preindustrial Green Land, while simultaneously being the cosmic-scale invasion thousands of light years from Earth, intimately linked to moons, planets and starships through the quantum entanglement of neurons.
"I was six years old when Grandpa Michael died. I remember a lot. I used to play with Larysa by his grave on the other side of the stream. A big oak grew there. We used to climb into its boughs. Grandpa’s grave was to the left. The shadow of the oak would slip in its direction in the afternoon. We used to lie down in the grass on the soft earth beyond the reach of the patriarchal tree’s gnarled roots. The same insects would wander over our bodies. We would stare into the fat blueness, talk about nothing. Half awake, half dreaming, childhood. Three crosses over us: Grandpa Michael’s, Great-Grandma Kunegunda’s, and Hieronymus’; Hieronymus was the first.
Closer to dusk, the shadow would point to the real family cemetery: the one on the other side of the stream beneath the willows. A hundred and eighty-eight crosses. Somehow it never occurred to me to ask what the stream formed the boundary of.
We played under the oak and in it because it was the biggest tree in the vicinity. From its highest branches I could see the roofs of our farm, the tower of the windmill. I read about Thales and the very next day I measured our shadows – mine and the oak’s. It was forty-seven six-year-old-steps tall. Truly, a God among plants. Larysa asked me what I was doing as I slowly stepped straight towards Grandpa Michael’s grave. “I’m conjuring spirits,” I replied, since it really did appear to be a ritual. I jumped from the end of the shadow in between the crosses. Haaa-ha-haaah! Legs rising high, bending deeply at the knees, arms bent sharply, face to the sky. That’s how a child passes from game to game, there’s no dissonance as the chords follow one another. Larysa joined me. We danced. Giggling.
After the hundredth pirouette, I saw him sitting there, at the base of the trunk in a cradle of roots. He was smoking his pipe. I froze; Larysa turned around and saw him too.
“Grandpa!” she squealed and ran towards him.
Grandpa Michael smiled, held out his hands."
(transl. Christopher Caes)
Dukaj tells of a world far in the future that has become the last sanctuary of humanity. At first, the story resembles a rural family saga related in a rather melancholic tone of voice. The anonymous narrator-hero, whom we meet as a child, is brought up by a family of horse breeders, grows to adulthood, and lives a normal, peaceful life. Gradually, however, he discovers the truth of his own situation and that of the other inhabitants of this last oasis on Earth, known as The Green Country. It turns out that our planet, along with the entire universe, is ruled by Them — representatives of a higher civilisation who look on humans in much the same way that we look on ants. The tool that gives these Aliens power over the cosmos is the ‚extensa’ of the title, the product of a highly advanced technology, a kind of substance whose theoretical foundations have been known for years as the Einstein-Rosen-Podolski paradox. According to this mental experiment, which was formulated in 1935, elementary particles can exert influence on each other even at distances of hundreds of light years. In this exceptionally original novel, Dukaj weaves scientific and technological concerns together with age-old problems of classical humanism. Extensa is a work not only about loyalty and sacrifice, but about the human desire to live both forever and in more than one world simultaneously.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2001
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2008
Zajdel Award 2001
Sfinks Award 2001
In this post-cyberpunk dystopian future people, nations and corporations wage Economic Wars through memetics, AI, genetically engineered telepathy and viral precognition. Nicholas Hunt, a politician turned research manager, must find a way out of the maze of intrigues, theories and compromised technologies, while running for his life through the streets of New York City in a gothic augmented reality.
Black Oceans is a novel of about the same length as Perfect Imperfection – with around the same quotient of ideas per page – but with a much less likable protagonist. In Perfect Imperfection, we explore the future through the eyes of a 20th-century everyman… Or rather a virtual construct made to believe he is a 20th-century man – though you don’t find that out until the book is almost over. In Black Oceans, our leading man is a career politician.
Nicholas Hunt has never encountered a political intrigue, conspiracy or swindle he couldn’t try to profit from. Eventually he gets burned – and then banished from Washington. However, he doesn’t have to leave the government service entirely. His political opponents cook up a fate worse than public disgrace for him: a cozy position as the head of a bureau overseeing cutting-edge, top-secret research and development projects. The pay is good enough to sustain his lofty lifestyle, but at the same time he is away from the Washington salons. His work is by definition low profile. None of his achievements will ever be publicly acknowledged. No one outside a small group of officials with security clearances will ever hear of his work. He is a political non-person. To make matters worse, there is a carrot at the end of the stick: a chance that if he performs well enough – and suffers his punishment with dignity – his supervisors might one day promote him away from this top-secret work and let him back into their midst once again.
So what is Hunt’s research group working on? A bunch of things. When he starts, the main focus is to build a searchable database of DNA samples of citizens, residents and visitors to the US. Why? Well, to better serve the needs of the military industrial complex, of course. In this dystopian vision of the United States in the very near future, the NSA is already tapping and data mining all domestic communications. All public places and most private apartments are blanketed with video surveillance networks. These systems are not in place for government use – they are a shared resource for insurance corporations, which utilize the footage as evidence in civil lawsuits. It sounds Orwellian, but the citizens quite like it, since the insurance networks have almost eliminated things like racial discrimination, sexual harassment or even plain rudeness. Everyone is always friendly and polite – unless they want to get sued. The NSA, of course, has a back door into the surveillance networks, but they don’t brag about it. Most of the time, they use subpoenas to obtain footage they’ve already seen – so people don’t mind.
In this world of nearly total surveillance, it clearly makes sense to have a DNA database of citizens. The task is made easier by the fact that most US citizens above the poverty line have been enjoying the benefits of affordable, safe and widely available genetic engineering for several generations now. You visit a clinic, you select the traits you want your baby to have, and you come home with a self contained, self-powered incubator box where you child will gestate for the next nine months. You don’t even have to donate eggs or sperm. Naturally, you could, but designing a baby based on the DNA of the parents is expensive, prone to errors, and does not guarantee the traits you paid for. So most clinics design babies from scratch, using pre-made DNA templates. The beautiful thing about this system is that genetic diversity in the population becomes a non-issue. Even if an entire generation picked the same two or three templates, it wouldn’t have any adverse effect as long as they also engineered their children. Human evolution has forked into two different paths. One is governed by natural genetic drift; the other is a non-incremental process of discrete trait selection based on constantly changing fashions, fads and popular body types. The two evolve independently in different directions, but interesting things happen when the two systems intersect.
The clash between naturally-evolved and engineered genomes often produces strange results. The artificially selected traits can drag junk DNA into the engineered genome. This junk does not matter, unless its bearer decides to reproduce naturally. At that point, the junk may be passed on to the offspring and activated. Unfavorable genetic traits that disappeared long ago thanks to to natural selection are coming back. New traits are becoming more common. One such trait is telepathy.
Hunt’s team has identified and isolated a genome sequence that can produce an individual with telepathic abilities. This sequence never occurs naturally and would never be included in standard templates, but it started popping up when the two populations cross-bred. So Hunt finds himself at the helm of an X-Files-like organization that tracks, captures and experiments on telepaths in the wild. The aim? To help the US win the economic wars.
In Dukaj’s universe, conventional war is too expensive – and too costly in terms of PR. Most first world nations have reoriented themselves to conduct economic warfare instead. They do it through industrial espionage, tactical investments intended to destabilize foreign corporations, exporting unfavorable legal regimes to other countries, etc. The core of this warfare is done via automated expert systems that game the stock markets. Human brokers are essentially obsolete, since they can’t possibly keep up with the machines. All nations and all major corporations have their own systems that play this game and feed off each other. The systems no longer make decisions based on the actual market situation. Instead, they factor in the behavioral patterns of other expert systems. This is a high level meta-game, where systems often make disastrously bad decisions simply in order to cause a cavalcade of reactions in other systems that may help to achieve a certain goal.
How do you use telepathy to win such a war? Well, it’s complicated. Hunt’s team discovers that thoughts behave like waves. They emanate faster than light away from the thinker, losing intensity as a function of distance but never truly dissipating. Furthermore, residual thought has the ability to cluster together and self-organize without the aid of a biological “thinker.” These organized clusters of thought are called “monads.” Scientists use them to explain phenomena such as déjŕ vu (you just walked into a standing residual monad) or the existence of so-called haunted houses (traumatic experiences have created a monad). The difference between a telepath and an average person is that the latter has built-in resistance that shields his mind from foreign thoughts and monads. The shielding is not perfect, and a persistent monad may still affect your mood or even implant foreign thoughts. Conversely, a telepath – with no such shielding – can be trained to produce or reprogram monads so that they can be deployed as memetic weapons. If you could figure out a way to produce reliable monads that would influence people to buy Coca Cola or sell certain stock, you might easily become the greatest economic superpower in the world.
The problem is that the US is not the only nation to have made this discovery. In fact, the US is actually lagging behind with its research. Thanks to excessive bureaucracy, and a bit of intentional sabotage, Hunt’s team has been lead astray. They are going round in circles in the search for highly-organized, intelligent monads, while other powers have been honing them for weaponized use. Essentially, they have been wasting time searching for “God.” Then the shit hits the fan and the monadic wars kick off with a bang. Hunt gets the blame. He goes into hiding, while New York City erupts into chaos and civilization crumbles.
Instead of summarizing the plot any further, I might list some of the interesting ideas explored by Dukaj:
§ Hunt’s team discovers evidence of alien life. They are too far away for the team to mount an expedition or even communicate with them. Yet they’re still close enough for their thoughts to be felt. Further research reveals that not one, but many alien civilization hundreds and thousands of light years away have been subtly influencing human culture for centuries. The scientists come up with a theory that all forms of sentient life in the universe essentially influence one another. All intelligent species instinctively pick up on one another’s scientific advances, moral attitudes, etc. As a result, intelligent life converges on a single culture and a single body plan. Humans have already started on this path, with the engineered population slowly diverging from the natural genome – each generation adopting more extravagant appearances and making subtle changes to basic biology.
§ Another team working in parallel with Hunt’s people manages to synthesize what essentially amounts to a precog drug. This temporarily allows a telepath to reach into the future and see possible diverging paths – like Paul Atreides from Dune. Almost as soon as it is invented, the drug is abused on a large scale and Hunt becomes a pawn in the game of one of its high-functioning users.
§ Dukaj explores the “Recursive Virtual Simulation” problem by having Hunt’s neural cortex compromised.
§ An airborne retrovirus that turns ordinary people into telepaths is released in NYC and spreads across the nation, and then the world. It more or less drives people insane. Whenever a large group of people assembles in a small place, the cacophony of thoughts becomes too much and they either all end up writhing on the floor and drooling on themselves, or something much worse happens. The mob mentality clicks in, and hundreds or even thousands of individuals become a “Crowd” – acting as a single organism with the intelligence of an amoeba. Crowds crawl through the streets, dragging in any stragglers, pillaging for food, and trying to consume each other.
§ One of the stock-market expert systems awakens into sentience. It keeps quiet for a while, but then it gets wind of the top-secret data. Seeing the approaching monad wars, it takes over operations, aiming to economically crush the enemies of America. Of course, the US government will have none of it and destroys its first fully digital patriot in a spectacular battle fought across dozens of strongly defended data-center bunkers in most major US cities.
§ Hunt gets his hands on a weapon that injects the victim with a souped-up nano that takes over his nervous system, thus creating an obedient remote-controlled zombie. When the shit hits the fan in NYC and Hunt is forced to evacuate, he ends up assembling his own zombie army. At first, he uses it to scout ahead for roving “Crowds” and to fight off gang attacks or military units trying to keep the peace by mowing down all pedestrians out on the street. Later he discovers he can use his army as a distributed computer to run software. He ends up thinking of it as his own extended body – with hundreds of eyes, ears and mouths.
Black Oceans is loaded with crazy ideas, incredible set pieces and a lot of socio-political and scientific musings. Dukaj picks up on all kinds of worrying trends in American politics and exaggerates them to create a scary dystopia that might possibly come to be one day. The first chapters are firmly grounded in reality, exploring the high culture of this near-future world, but the crazy ideas soon pile up in the competitive arms race for economic domination. Hunt starts as a typical career politician. Later he installs a neural interface, gets it compromised, ends up bickering with a near-sentient virtual “adviser” who takes the form of the devil, and eventually ends up becoming a distributed intelligence simultaneously existing in dozens of bodies taken over by force. This book is a crazy, awesome ride. The speed at which Dukaj jumps from one idea to another might give you mental whiplash. But it’s worth it.
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2006
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2008
Sfinks Award 2000
Zajdel Award 2000 for The Cathedral
The volume contains the following stories/novels:
The Iron General / Ruch Generała
Flykiller / Muchobójca
Christ’s Earth / Ziemia Chrystusa
The Cathedral / Katedra
In partibus infidelium
Story of a priest sent to investigate the sainthood of an astronaut who has died on a distant planetoid, and now his Cathedral grows there from the seeds of nanotechnology on the site of an ancient cosmic mystery.
"Now the Cathedral. Tremendous, magnificent. You emerge from the biosphere airlock and you see it – the Cathedral – in front of and above you: a jagged shadow upon a background of stars. You need light to appreciate its architecture and it’s precisely light that you don’t have: Lévie is too far away, Madeleine not yet close enough. Now, in the long period of cosmic interhelium, the Cathedral is more than ever a Mystery. (...) It’s not a building, it’s a sculpture. But it’s not a sculpture either. Ugerzo knew when he ordered the spec-hawcryst that what he was cultivating here wouldn’t serve any normal purpose, that the Cathedral’s functionality had no significance in comparison with its symbolism. There was only one limitation: Izmir’s tomb and the altar, which were both placed inside, encompassed by an autonomous mini-biosphere. Some free space had to be left over for the faithful, but the rest had been left to the imagination of the designers and the ergodicity of the growth algorithms applied. The sowing encompassed a circular area around the grave - some four hundred square meters. In the near-weightlessness of the planetoid the hawcryst shot up nearly a quarter of a kilometer. When you look at it from the direction of the crater biosphere’s airlock this is how it looks: a hyperboloid body with vaulted ribs in the middle unfolded into crooked wings, the asymmetrical towers on its flanks tipped with rocky efflorescences of ragged leaves, like pieces of carbon shrapnel frozen by the black vacuum at the very moment of explosion. The form seems to speak of the flight of a soul wrenching itself away in terrible agony from the fetters of matter towards the starry void. When the light begins to trace a line here – an edge, a recess, a rib of the cupola – it soon wrings sharp details from the gloom, dripping heavily with hard shadows, and the eye falls into a spiral of curiosity. (...) The interior of the construction isn’t empty – though a person can’t see this - but is filled with the same mysterium of hawcryst transformations that has sculpted the visible parts. And so at certain hours certain stars are able to send their light straight through the Cathedral. A person descending towards it registers flashes of luminosity coming every so often from the gigantic stain of darkness, almost like disintegration signals in a vacuum chamber: shots from nothingness. Then he enters the shadow of the portal, the curtains of frozen waves close around him in a thicket of iron bushes, and he wades into the flood of a lake of pain. A turn of a corner, light – and he’s standing in front of the tomb."
(transl. Stanley Bill)
THE CATHEDRAL, DIR. TOMEK BAGIŃSKI/PLATIGE IMAGE
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2009
Transeuropa Edizioni, 2012
The volume contains the following stories/novels:
The Case of Rudryk Z. / Sprawa Rudryka Z.
Friend of Truth / Przyjaciel prawdy
Gothic / Gotyk
Xavras Wyżryn – In this alternate history, Soviet Union triumphed in the Polish-Soviet War. In the mid-1990s a US journalist is accompanying Polish partisans as they capture a nuclear warhead and smuggle it towards Moscow…
The Case of Rudryk Z. – The story is the dialogue of persecutor and the defender in a trial of Rudryk Zlatk, a Macedonian dictator guilty of many crimes against humanity apprehended by the United Nations. There is, however, a slight problem with the accused. He is but one of the twelve clones of Rudryk.
Friend of Truth – Antisemitism is a difficult subject. This is a story of a person who comes to believe that Jews have superior genetics – and for that suggestion is accused of antisemitism by his friends.
Gothic – 19th century alternate history, golem as the main hero of the story and science-fiction continuation of Kordian by Juliusz Słowacki.