We have already set the plot for a novel whose premises are, at least, suggestive. Let see now the epic their characters represent even by diving into metaphysics.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Read fist part of this article here)
Life for the “autoverse”
Maria Deluca is a brilliant computer designer who, one day, gets an interesting job offer from a mysterious customer who turns out to be none other than Paul Durham. The objective: given a certain virtual environment (the already famous “autoverse”) to develop, according to its own simplified natural laws, a seed capable of generating a completely new biosphere, an autonomous form of life that can evolve both independently and freely within this given environment. The name of this form of life will be “Lambert”.
This project intrigues, fascinates and despairs in equal parts Maria who, after arduous months of obsessive work, always well financed thanks to the regular founds her patron always gives her (and that he himself receives from those billionaires he hopes to sell his project to), and after creating a sui generis astronomical context with its own planetary system, she finally achieves her goal: a prototype of bacteria for the “autoverse” that effectively evolves and self-replicates by filling every existing ecological niches.
At first Maria ignores this project’s true intentions, believing it has a theoretical nature. Durham, her boss is, as it has been said before, a certainly peculiar person, with a background of mental issues but, at the same time, endowed with a powerful intelligence. In his personal quest to investigate “copies” technology, years before his masterpiece, Durham has already created several “copies” of himself he has been placing in different virtual environments in order to study the acceptance or rejection they might feel for them. Tired of getting only failures (“copies” always ended up accessing an option that finished their own existence, that is, they always committed suicide), and used to play with fire regarding the limits of his own consciousness, Durham even put his own mind in a virtual environment making himself believe that, in fact, he was a “copy” that was being observed from the outside by his own flesh and blood persona and to which he had previously erased any possibility of self-elimination, an extreme experience that put him at the very limit of his mental endurance but which helped him greatly to design both the “autoverse” and the “Elysee.”
Eventually, Durham confesses to Mary the true intentions of the whole project, which does not suppose a major moral dilemma for her, mostly thanks to a generous payment. What Maria does agree to do after delivering her work, however, and just before completely disengaging from the project, is to make a “copy” of herself to be placed in the “Elysium” so that it can be activated in case her inhabitants might have any kind of problem in the future, given the fact that she is the real and only creator of “planet Lambert”.
A world of its own
The story then gives a great leap and everything suggests that “copies” have been successfully placed within the “Elysee”, where its inhabitants have lived for seven thousand years of real time already, which due to the delay in the computing power availability are three billion years of subjective time.
The “Elysians” have been living for this long without having any idea of what is really happening in the outside world and without being subject to the physical limitations they were confined to when they were human beings. Each of them has its own universe to be manipulated to its personal liking: they can configure their external appearance at will, they can change physical laws at will, and they can even create copies out of themselves with which they can populate their world and which, in turn, can create even more copies. Moreover, they can access to the files of their memory and their personality and change what they consider appropriate, eliminating memories, modifying others, adding some if they wish and changing the very parameters of their way of feeling or thinking.
With this set of infinite possibilities, there are all sorts of grotesque situations: some “Eliseans” create complex universes to the smallest detail and then destroy them to start over again. Others surrender themselves to meditation and become ascetics. Others manipulate their minds to feel what they want to feel and to forget what they want to forget, and from doing so, by eliminating every memories of past changes, they even doubt about the certainty of their own personality and begin not to be very sure of who they really are or whether they still bear any resemblance to the person they were at the moment they entered into that universe. Some people give a lot of thought to these disquisitions, while others manipulate their mental files to simply stop worrying about all this. There are “copies” that cling to their identity, to their humanity, even creating clones similar to their original personality they observe secretly to see how they differ from their current personality. Some “copies” even interact with these clones seeking to provoke some kind of catharsis of their past sins. Meanwhile, time is passing by and while some are filling their interest in what spontaneously comes to their minds others create a custom pattern that randomly imposes them vocations, indulging in a certain hobby with total dedication for millennia just to change to another one.
Meanwhile, the “Elysee” has been filled with “copies” of the “copies” of its original inhabitants, each of them perfectly self-conscious. Beyond that, life on “planet Lambert” has gradually evolved and is completely alien to all of this, since from the very beginning the “Eliseans” have decided not to interfere and only observe in order to preserve one of his most beloved entertainments.
The “Elysee” in danger
At one point, however, Durham’s “copy” activates Maria´s. Obviously, something is wrong. It takes some time for the new replicated Maria to assume the idea that her flesh-and-blood alter ego has been dead for thousands of years already and that she has awakened within that computer world her former employer created for a multimillion-dollar group of “copies” and in whose elaboration she helped so much. When she finally gets to the idea of its new reality Durham explains the problem to her.
The bacterium created by Maria on “planet Lambert” has been a resounding success, until a point that life has evolved there into creating a genuinely intelligent type of race, an insect-like eusocial society called “Lambertians.” Faithful to their original policy, as soon as the “Eliseans” perceived this phenomenon, they decided not to intervene and to limit themselves to observe how things go.
Over time, however, “Lambertians” have evolved geometrically to the point where they have begun to question the origin of their own existence. It is at this point that “Elysees” have noticed a disturbing symptom: without anyone knowing very well how, as the “Lambertians” have become more self-conscious, it seems that their own world, “planet Lambert”, has been expanding its influence and has gradually absorbed “autoverse” and “Elysée”. “Copies” risk ceasing to exist.
At the very moment of Maria’s awakening “Lambertians” have begun to elaborate a theoretical model about the origin of their own universe. “Eliseans” have decided that the time has come to establish contact with them and to offer them an explanation, since they think that no form of life arising from “autoverse” could ever be able to unravel its own origins without the human logic of those who originally designed it. To this end, an expedition to “planet Lambert” is being prepared along with Durham and Maria’s “copies”.
Maria begins to be worried about something that, both for her concern and for the rest of the “copies”, she gradually begins to suspect: that two different frames of metaphysical reality could not coexist, and that the more logical and stable version could end phagocytizing and eating the other. Bearing in mind that the inhabitants of the “Elysee” are a set of “copies” made in pieces that inhabit private worlds which are not governed by “autoverse” laws, whereas in “planet Lambert” everything follows a set of physical laws that are uniformly applied, Maria fears that, in case of conflict, “Lambertian” vision of the cosmos is more likely to prevail.
“Lambertians” reality takes control of “autoverse”
Her worst fears, however, are confirmed after the expedition. “Lambertians”, once they have been exposed to the truth, and against all odds, simply choose to discard an explanation they find too complex, illogical and farfetched, and prefer to rely on their own theory of spontaneous generation entirely based on the rules of “autoverse” which, therefore, does not recognize the existence or even the possibility of something similar to “Elysium” or “Eliseans”.
Expansion of “Lambertian” world then grows exponentially as its inhabitants finalize their theoretical work, and desperate “copies” try to reduce the speed of execution for “planet Lambert” and freeze it, only to discover, too late, that their software does not respond, because the entire system has escaped from their control and has started to run independently responding to unknown parameters that no one really understands. In the end, “Elysée” implodes and the fate of all the “copies” and all its inhabitants is uncertain.
A dense but visionary story
This is not a book that can be read lightly, of course, but its reading will be of enormous value for any human being minimally intelligent.
The metaphysical question that its author proposes to begin with is complex and enormous as it does not happens in many science fiction books, but precisely because of that reason it allows the reader to dive in some levels of thought both unsuspected and surprising. At a detailed level, history is full of concepts, ideas and technologies described with sufficient clarity and that are enormously suggestive and not too difficult to understand. Not to mention the moral dilemmas raised by the whole argument and that this book exposes in all its harshness.
Permutation City is, therefore, one of those books that want to open the mind of its readers, a book to read quietly and to think about later. It can only be highlighted that, by the time the novel was published, internet was no more than a mere anecdote, so it is only possible to imagine what kind of influence this revolutionary technology would have had on its author and his story.
(Ghost in the Shell´s universe also plays with virtual worlds and informatics capacity to create new realities. Trailer from the homonymous movie. 1995)
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