I always find it weird when someone insists that 1984 is warning about socialism because of the party name. The horrors committed by IngSoc are authoritarian, and have nothing to do with whether the economy is socialist, capitalist or communist, or the state is a republic, monarchy, etc.

You could easily imagine a libertarian state where a big enough corporation has the powers of ubiquitous surveillance, controls communication and information, has violent agents asserting control over people, etc. Same abuses, no socialism.

I mean, Cyberpunk corporate dystopia is an entire genre.

And we don’t even need to imagine giant corporations with microphones in homes, tracking people’s every move, mediating their communications and their access to knowledge, driving them toward the daily outrage.

Fun sci-fi social satire: The world is a mess, but we can find the sublime in chaos.

Absurdity, social satire, lots of music references, and a fast read that still feels like a wall of words at times. In the same vein as Hitchhiker’s Guide & Year Zero (though in this case humans are the *worst* musicians in the galaxy). Fun, though it’s got some dark moments. The world isn’t totally awesome or totally awful, it’s both: Everything is *messy*, and you can find the sublime in chaos.

A fascinating look at a side of Instagram that I’ve mostly ignored.

I’ve known the high-rolling “influencer” side of Instagram is out there, but for the most part, I’ve tuned it out by following only friends and people whose photos I find interesting (including the author, which was how I found out about this book), rather than following personalities.

The book covers three main topics:

  1. How and why people game the system on attention-based social networks, using Instagram as a case study.
  2. How attention-based social media games your brain.
  3. Ways to keep yourself in control of your social media experience.

I’ve read a lot about the second and third topics, so that part was mostly familiar to me, though I expect it will be more interesting (and helpful) to other readers.

The first topic – which is basically the hook to get people looking at the rest of it – proved to be very eye-opening as it describes the sheer amount of product placement and sponsorship going on, the lengths people will go to in order to make it look like they have a bigger audience than they do so they can get the deals, and the various techniques used to get around fraud detection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night the last few months. It links human cruelty, psychopathy, and mob behavior to the nature of consciousness, mostly focusing on the main characters but playing out against a global crisis brought on by a rising tide of xenophobia.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about Frameshift. His 1997 novel deals with (among other things) eugenics, Neanderthals, Nazis, and health insurance companies doing everything they can to avoid covering people with pre-existing conditions.

I can’t imagine why that keeps coming to mind….

Feedback, by Mira Grant

While reading Feedback, it occurred to me that Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series features the worst-case scenario of zombie design, and yet humanity survives with civilization mostly intact. That’s impressively optimistic.

I mean, look at the parameters of how zombies work in this setting:

Everyone who dies becomes a zombie, regardless of whether they’ve ever been near a zombie. This is fairly common, but there are settings where you can keep zombies out with a quarantine. Not this one.

Direct contact with a zombie is extremely contagious. Bites and scratches, sure, but imagine a zombie with late-stage Ebola. (A modified Marburg is one of the component viruses). Zombie drool landing on an open wound can convert you. The blood spatter from the zombie you’re shooting can get in your eye and convert you. The body of the zombie you just killed, lying on the ground motionless, is still a high-level biohazard that can convert you.

Anyone who goes out in the field must go through decontamination when they return. Showers include a standard bleach cycle and won’t let you out until it’s done. Outbreak sites have to be hosed down with bleach, burned, or simply condemned.

Any blood that’s been outside the body long enough will trigger conversion on exposure, even if the person isn’t a zombie. Even your own blood.

Sometimes people spontaneously convert. It’s not common, but it’s been known to happen.

The newly-infected can be as fast as a normal person before their body starts decaying. (Yep, fast zombies and slow zombies in the same ‘verse.)

Any large mammal can become a zombie. Dogs. Raccoons. Horses. Bears. Cows. Red meat is now a biohazard.

Mobs of zombies can plan ambushes. Enough zombies together exhibit just enough rudimentary intelligence to set a trap. Even across species.

There’s a really scary twist in the virus’ transmissibility late in the second novel that I won’t spoil.

The only factor that isn’t maxed-out is their indestructibility. A zombie in the middle of the desert or at the bottom of the ocean will eventually starve.

Eventually.

And yet humanity survives the Rising and is able to rebuild civilization in many — not all, but many — parts of the world.

That’s…well, that’s kind of inspiring.