Bruce Sterling's Shareable.net story about astroturfer gulag

Shareable.net's series of science fiction stories about societies built on sharing and sustainability continues, this time with a deeply ambivalent, darkly hilarious story by Bruce Sterling called "The Exterminator's Want-Ad," about the special rehab prison that corporate astroturfers are sent to after climate collapse:
Personally, I loved to buy stuff: I admired a consumer society. I sincerely liked to carry out a clean, crisp, commercial transaction: the kind where you simply pay some money for goods and services. I liked driving my SUV to the mall, whipping out my alligator wallet, and buying myself some hard liquor, a steak dinner, and maybe a stripper. All that awful stuff at the Pottery Barn and Banana Republic, when you never knew "Who the hell was buying that?" That guy was me.

Claire and I hated the sharing networks, because we were paid to hate them. We hated all social networks, like Facebook, because they destroyed the media that we owned. We certainly hated free software, because it was like some ever-growing anti-commercial fungus. We hated search engines and network aggregators, people like Google -- not because Google was evil, but because they weren't. We really hated "file-sharers" -- the swarming pirates who were chewing up the wealth of our commercial sponsors.

We hated all networks on principle: we even hated power networks. Wind and solar only sorta worked, and were very expensive. We despised green power networks because climate change was a myth. Until the climate actually changed. Then the honchos who paid us started drinking themselves to death.

The Exterminator's Want-Ad

(Image: claytonjayscott.com)

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  1. As much as I love Bruce’s writing, sometimes I just wanna punch the bastard for constantly reminding me that there’s no Santa.

    Can I please have a Lesbian Lentil Muffin Coop Open-Mic Poetry Slam chaser?

  2. I suppose I should give Bruce a shot… but a lot of climageddon sci-fi I have read in the past just tends to come off feeling forced. I mean really… the climate is imploding and no one just fires up a few high altitude airplanes and does a sulfur bombing run on the upper atmosphere?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratospheric_sulfate_aerosols_(geoengineering)

    I know sci-fi tends to reflect our current hopes and fears, but I guess I just find the level of pessimism you need to have to believe that humans are going to roll over and die in the face of climate change to be a bit much. Give me some good post-singularity sci-fi. Mmmm, that stuff is delicious.

    1. You do realize that the end product of sulfur bombing is atmospheric sulfuric acid, right?

      It would take a lot more than “a few” high altitude aircraft to deploy the material, meaning this effort would produce a lot of additional CO2.

      Should we consider this? Yes.
      Is it a viable solution to global warming? Maybe.
      Is this cure worse than the disease? Possibly.
      Is it a panacea for climate issues? No.

      1. You do realize that the end product of sulfur bombing is atmospheric sulfuric acid, right?

        Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s very little chance that there’d be a giant acid rain storm leading to widespread plant death and making CO2 levels even higher while causing worldwide famine and a plague of respiratory diseases on top of ozone destruction in a stratosphere stirred into unprecedented turbulence by localised cool pockets where the planes went through changing global weather patterns in ways even worse than the warming we set out to stop.

        If we’ve learned anything from Deepwater Horizon, it’s that you can instantly scale up barely tested techno-fixes to a huge environmental disaster and it’ll all be fine.

      1. The Culture series by Ian Banks is pure post singularity and very good. He basically writes about a utopia Kurzweil might dream of and then finds stories of conflicts on the border lands. His writting isn’t amazing, but it is pretty good and the stories are fun once you get into them (at least of the books I have read so far).

        If you don’t mind getting a little whacky, Illium by Dan Simons is freaking wonderful. Hyperion, also by Dan Simons is pretty a wonderful book too, though it might not be “post singularity” in the strictest sense of the word.

        Charles Stross has written a small pile of books that are pure Kurzweil envisioned singularity books. I personally am not horribly enthusiastic about Stross’s writting style, but your millage very.

        1. i recommend “The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect”, the only non-Vinge singularity story i’ve really enjoyed.

  3. Will read. But: I don’t think Facebook-skepticism is litmus for astroturf — FB is just the current iteration of the MySpace/Friendster/AOL/Compuserv borg, which is to say they know what they’re doing but in the end it’s just another resource-shifter disguised as a community.

  4. Screeds disguised as fiction are still screeds. Not that I disagree with him on any particular point, but still…screedy.

  5. Unless I misread and mis-take the “dark ambivalence,” I’m pretty sure the Facebook reference was intentionally ironical.

    Enjoyed the story, didn’t think it was screedy, much.

    Q: How irreparable do things have to get before we will throw out our paradigms?

  6. When he writes that google is not evil, it is at that point, you realize the story is truly fiction.

  7. The excerpt above lead me to believe that the story would be heavy-handed, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks for posting this, Cory. My favorite line was the one that ends with “…while witches read Tarot cards to the beat of techno music.”

  8. This is the best fiction bruces has done in a while.

    I was kind of discouraged by “The Caryatids.”

    * * *

    Post-singularity stories? Where we all live forever in perfect bodies in a golden mansion?

    Whoops, wrong eschatology.

  9. If social capital and instant karma are the currency in this story, I wonder what Bob’s “chimerical avatar” would look like.

  10. Sterling’s Schismatrix is still one of the best works in science fiction. He hasn’t done much of that caliber since, though. His eco stuff starting with Heavy Weather and particularly his early blog (viridian) aren’t as thought-provoking and entertaining as Schismatrix. There are some neat tech and social ideas here and there in the later fiction, but it’s too often preachy and too difficult to suspend disbelief in the contrived eco-apocalyptic scenarios (or the naive corporatism of Islands in the Net, either, for that matter).

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