Interview with Neal Stephenson about his new novel and the state of the internet

Tyler Cowen of Reason used the occasion of the release of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell to interview him about what he thinks on a wide variety of topics, including surveillance, clothing of the future, and the rise of algorithmic decision making.

In your books, you saw some of the downsides of social media earlier than most people did. What's the worst-case scenario, and why do many people think they're screwing things up?

I think we're actually living through the worst-case scenario right now. I think our civil institutions were founded upon an assumption that people would be able to agree on what reality is, agree on facts, and that they would then make rational, good-faith decisions based on that. They might disagree as to how to interpret those facts or what their political philosophy was, but it was all founded on a shared understanding of reality. And that's now been dissolved out from underneath us, and we don't have a mechanism to address that problem.

But what's the fundamental problem there? Is it that decentralized communications media intrinsically fail because there are too many voices? Is there something about the particular structure of social media now?

The problem seems to be the fact that it's algorithmically driven, and that there are no humans in the loop making editorial, curatorial decisions about what is going to be disseminated on those networks. So it's very easy for people who are acting in bad faith to game that system and produce whatever kind of depiction of reality best suits them.

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Talking with Neal Stephenson about his latest book, "Fall; or, Dodge in Hell"

Veteran reviewer/interviewer Rick Kleffel (previously) has just posted a long podcast interview (MP3) with Neal Stephenson, discussing his latest novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell ("a science fiction novel with a fantasy novel stuck inside of it"). Read the rest

Neal Stephenson's next book is a science fiction novel with a fantasy novel stuck inside of it

Neal Stephenson's next novel is Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, an 880-page Stephsonian brick of a novel that has ample room for two novels, and that's because Stephenson actually stuck a second novel inside the first one. Read the rest

Science fiction, predicting the present, the adjacent possible, and trumpian comic dystopias

In 2010, Steve Almond started work on a Tea Party-inspired novel called Bucky Dunn Is Running, about a racist demagogue businessman who comes within a whisker of the Republican nomination for their presidential candidate; he'd aimed to have it done for the 2016 election season, but then Trump happened, and his satire seemingly caught up with him. Read the rest

A few tickets left for tonight's event in Seattle! (then Bellingham, Vancouver, Burbank...) (!)

We had a fabulous time last night at Portland's Powell's City of Books and now I'm on the runway to fly up to Seattle for tonight's event at the Neptune Theater with Neal Stephenson (it's not too late to get tickets!) -- then tomorrow I'll be at Bellingham's Village Books before heading to the Vancouver Writers' Festival. Read the rest

Book review: Neal Stephenson's “Seveneves” has too little humanity in the characters

Stephenson’s new novel doesn’t generate the kind of excitement for the future that we’ve come to expect from the author of Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Anathem.