Neil Stephenson’s Corvus: Beyond Mind and Body – Culture

Cool, one thinks after the first chapters of Neil Stephenson’s new novel “Corvus”: This borderline between the analog and digital worlds takes you on a journey into the near future, which is more exciting and enjoyable than most genres of science fiction.

And, as usual, the flight does not enter a time determined in a predictable way by technology, comfort, monitoring and optimization, by delivery services, smart refrigerators and care robots. Sci-Fi à la Neil Stevenson – This is a way more adventurous in a completely virtual future, conceived, developed and designed in supercomputers, stored in server farms, real and programmed, real and fictional at the same time.

Corvus’ near-future world is defined by the possibilities of existence beyond the physical – and the spiritual – as we know it. It is being explored by online entrepreneur Richard Forthrust. Protagonist Stevenson is a man made: the founder of a computer game company, mentally transcending any concept of success, the president of a company who no longer has to dedicate himself to sales success in the gamer’s world – it works on its own. Richard Forthrust can tackle really interesting questions related to virtual reality.

He has no financial worries, his desk is stocked with a yoga mat and the like. We learn about Forthrust in a slow awakening, interrupted again and again by phases of drowsiness. Upon awakening, he contemplates the thread of consciousness—remembering, dreaming, thinking—only to drift away again.

Don’t be afraid of big ideas

Likeable man: calm, intelligent, contented. One would like to stay with him longer in Seattle tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Unfortunately, getting to know each other soon ceases: Richard Forthist, better known as Dodge, dies unexpectedly during a seemingly harmless external operation.

This massive account of the Dodge Forthrust’s Journey is over 1,100 pages long. (From American to Julian Grabiner-Müller. Goldmann Verlag, Munich 2021. 1152 p.m., €30.)

Stephenson, who came from an American family of scientists, often ventured into such large-caliber movements. The 62-year-old author, a bald man with a long beard, is not afraid of big ideas, the imaginative implementation of which requires great constructive skill. He did this particularly well in the science fiction novel “Error” (originally “Reamde”, published in 2011).

It’s about a kidnapping that ends in a fight. It is fought in a virtual world. In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Neil Stevenson had already directed a story full of crime and thriller elements in the United States in the near future, where there was little loneliness like hope for the future.

By the way, “Metaverse” was invented in this novel – a term now common in advertising. It describes a place on the Internet that is accessible, operated, and inhabited by many – and which today is primarily intended as a marketplace and place for consumption and shopping.

Here, science fiction goes hand in hand with humor and irony

But Stevenson, at least by his accounts, is neither pessimistic nor miserable. He has accompanied and researched the development of the digital world for decades. He made a research trip in the name of the American “Wired” magazine, during which he observed the laying of submarine cables – the nervous system of the network. He worked in technology companies and co-founded a software company. He talks about his words with Jaron Lanier, Internet artist and critic from Berkeley, California, according to the closing speech of “Corvus.”

Stevenson’s main characters are wonderful men and women who deal with the dark sides of their living conditions, with surveillance technologies, private security services, the weakness of the state and the power of money, making their way into the digital world.

Stephenson’s science fiction is aligned with humor and irony. Richard “Dodge” Forthrust, a Seattle entrepreneur with big ideas, calls the internet “miasma,” which translates to “pest” or “poisonous fog.”

Or – the flip side of Neal Stevenson’s humor – the condensed version of the big idea Dodge Forthrust thought and worked on until the end: survival in the afterlife. How does it present itself – a “death disorder”? The disruption, which breaks the usual way of thinking and doing, is popular with technologists from Seattle and Silicon Valley.

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Why would you accept death at all? “Because when you defeat every enemy, earn endless money along the way, and find yourself enjoying a bite of sushi or a sip of thirty-year-old barley, why not wonder about the possibility of doing such things forever.” Basically standing in the way.”

Which brings us to the least fun part of the trip. Because in the wake of Dodge’s death, “Corvus” has split into two main narrative threads.

One, even more exciting, deals with how his descendants deal with what he issued in the event of death: freezing and storing until it is possible to preserve his consciousness, his soul, and his being as a dataset and reawaken him into a postmortem existence. .

Neil Stephenson develops this thread in the usual way: with extensive technical knowledge of what is possible; Paradox in dealing with the disputes of grandchildren and heirs. And with a sense of the situation, sadness and hope at the same time, he closes and makes it possible. Fascinating.

The story of the creation of the Internet era

Plus, there’s a postmortem thread for Dodge’s new existence: in a world of datasets, set in giant server farms, a digital postmortem called “Bitworld” – a new world, however, there’s no talk of the aforementioned sensuality of good sushi. And thirty-year-old malt whiskey.

Neil Stevenson tells the second series as if he had suddenly become a different author: someone as loving a novel as Carl May once did, the long, slow description of mysterious landscapes, writing for writing, preserved in a monotonous voice, almost heels on many long sides. In this world, the name Dodge is no longer Dodge, but Egdod.

At first he was a loner, a being in a world whose creation he encouraged through memory and imagination.

It’s as if Neil Stevenson wanted to write a creation story for the internet age based on the development of a video game landscape. A landscape in which time passes slowly and even more slowly and sometimes creation does not develop for weeks. This part of “Corvus” also reads like this on many pages: long.

As is often the case with Neil Stephenson, it ultimately comes down to an old feud between Dodge and an opponent. Like Dodge, he died from the analog world to “Bitworld” and continued to exist there as the dominant data set. The final battle between the two, at least, makes Corvus a comprehensive, albeit challenging, story.

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