A book that has ‘Agency‘ as its title, and is written by William Gibson, as Boris already intuited, is a book that I must read. So I did, in the past few days after it got published on January 23rd.

It was disappointing I thought.
Except for its definition of personal agency by a rogue AI as personhood, financial independence, and global citizenship, plus transparency about that towards others. And except for introducing the concept of Competitive Control Areas (described more theoretically here) to overcome failed states (in this case by installing Russian oligarchs/gangs, aptly named the ‘klept’. We probably should use that term more widely)

The playing with alternate time paths (stubs) I disliked as it seems a cop-out (leave the timey wimey stuff to The Doctor, where it’s all just a bit of good fun). Other than that the entire book is merely a long chase through a USA where Trump never got elected and Brexit didn’t happen (but Syria might become a nuclear war zone). A high speed chase with AI glasses, and coolio drones remotely controlled by people from the future who lived through the ‘Jackpot’ (the crunch where 80% of humanity died from the climate emergency, but somehow the tech level never collapsed) and now seem rather relaxed about it all as they interfere in other timepaths for fun mostly.

William Gibson, father of 'cyberpunk'William Gibson, image by Frédéric Poirot, license CC BY SA

Read Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record in recent weeks. Not sure what the rationale for this book is. Sort of an autobiography meant as an apologia, it seems. The first range of chapters didn’t do much for me. In the later chapters there’s more I found interesting.

Takeaways are that despite his young age he was way deeper involved with the three letter agencies than those agencies after he left implied. His last more removed position was his way of building an exit strategy, though the agencies said that made his role insignificant. The point isn’t where he worked last, but what he did in the years before. Working with lots of contractors adds to an agency’s plausible deniability however.

The book also makes clearer what it is that he currently does, even in his isolated state in Russia (where he stranded as his passport was canceled by the US mid flight, while en route to South America), why he chose to work with reporters the way he did, and how he could ensure nothing of the material he took with him was with him when he left Hong Kong.

Other than that, the book usefully makes the key points again that matter: that meta data is much more telling about you than the name suggests, that there is a huge difference between scooping everything up to retroactively search for things later, versus the previous method of searching for additional information once something suspicious has been detected. This makes all of us suspect by default, depending on the type of light shed on all the data collected about us already.

Witchhunt Snowden
A poster of Edward Snowden in Berlin, I took this photo in 2014 a year after the first publications

After reading and enjoying a first book by Claire North, 84K, I downloaded some others, like the previously mentioned The Gameshouse. The Sudden Appearance of Hope was a fun fantasy tale (someone is so forgettable that she gets away with everything) with a social media style data-predatory app (called Perfection) taking over and building the worlds elite in its own image. A nice fast paced chase around the world, with soul searching how to have a sense of self without permanent outside feedback (because people don’t remember you at all, ever), whether that is freedom or hell. Near future in its setting with small easily overlooked changes, e.g. where Scotland appears to have gone independent (only implied by the passport control on its English border).

Having read three books by Claire North in the past few weeks, I like how very different the stories are, in genre almost. One a fantasy tale that doubles as a historic novel, one a more dystopian near future SF story entirely set in the UK, one an almost old fashioned ‘honor amongst thieves’ detective story taking place around the world, but based on a fantasy premise that allows for a psychological development story in parallel, and set in the social media age. I still have one book by Claire North left, which is her debut, curious about what it will bring.

I read the first book Children of Time, in which spiders inherit the earth, or rather a terraformed planet, late last year. This is the second episode, Children of Ruin, this time with very emotional octopuses (yet with rational tentacles) and with alien self-aware slime mould. We’re going to have an adventure, the mould makes the last remaining humans say.

The weird thing was I kept thinking I read it before, although it was first published last May. Maybe there were a few sample chapters appended to the first part.