Reading ‘Corrosion’ so you don’t have to

complqiningtrashfireOh, if only this WAS a parody:

“It was worrisome that the Human League had declared him “a traitor to Galactic Man” and was offering a bounty on his head. Still, this wasn’t the first time he’d been targeted by crackpots, though, and as a technocrat, he found it hard to be Praton as a sacrifice to his furious fellow council members.”

So with the tune of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, running in my head I descend into ‘Corrosion: The Corroding Empire Part by Johan Kalsi and/or Harry Seldon Edited by Vox Day’.

Servo is a robot working in a cocktail bar, when we meet him. Again, if only this book was a pastiche of new-romantic pop lyrics but it isn’t – I mean how would it have been to have included a cocktail bar in the story?

Instead, we get a bunch of connected not-exactly awful stories set in a technological society run by ‘algorithms’. The style is one I shall now christen ‘Puppy Clunk’. If you read some of the less appalling slated works in 2015, you’ll recognise the style. It’s not illiterate or wholly unreadable but it just sort of goes ‘clunk’ in every sentence.

“It had been ten months since the first time Servo made contact with the First Technocrat, and since then, things had gotten increasingly out of hand. The drone’s behavior had arguably become more erratic than the theoretical algorithmic anomalies with which he was obsessed.”

The premise is that this high-tech space-faring human civilisation is totally dependent on ‘core algorithms’. The civilisation doesn’t depart much from a bog-standard space-future (robots and vid-screens) and the importance of the ‘algorithms’ is just waved around a lot.

For reason unknown, this advanced society has apparently no understanding of boundary conditions or chaos theory or any one of the many ways humans have known that deterministic computation will depart from empirical data without regular correction. As a consequence, humanity is suffering from ‘algorithmic decay’ and only ex-surgeon turned rogue robot ‘Servo’ (no not the one from MST3K) can see the truth.

“He had been allowed enough visitors in prison to gather that the Human League were planning to do through legal means what they had failed to do illegally: assassinate him. His only chance was to win over a Technocratic Council that was not only looking for a sacrificial lamb to throw to the frightened public, but would be presided over by Harraf, his would-be successor as First Technocrat.”

Civilisation is heading for a crash!

OK, that was gratuitous. I’ll let Caden Jarris, First Technocrat infodump a summary of the dangers of algorithmic decay:

“As far as I know, there is nothing that is going to halt this mysterious, gradual corrosion of both the galactic and planetary infrastructure on its own. The trend may be slow, one might even describe it as glacial, but even so, the long-term trend is clear. If algorithmic decay is not arrested, interstellar transportation will be the first sector to fall. That will doom dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of populated planets and colonies to stasis if they are fortunate, and extinction if they are not.”
“We know all this, Caden,” the Sixth Technocrat complained.

I think we all sympathise with the Sixth Technocrat – nobody likes a gratuitous infodump.  The decay is a handy wavy substitute for Hari Seldon’s prediction of galactic Empire collapse from Asimov’s seminal Foundation stories. ‘Corrosion’ is supposedly some sort of parody/pastiche/homage to Asimov but it fails to capture any of his magic. Nor does it compensate by addressing Asimov’s failings: the characters are as thinly drawn as the plot. The book is short and yet still mainly waffle. It’s a bit like eating packing material – if packing material could go ‘clunk’ (which it can’t by design).

[NOTE: starch based packing ‘peanuts’ can be digested but are not produced in conditions that are food-safe. Also, they are intentionally stripped of useful nutrients so as not to attract vermin. You can learn more about packing peanuts here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foam_peanut#Starch-based_packing_peanuts No, this isn’t the most interesting article on Wikipedia but yes, it’s less dull than reading this book]

Speaking of peanuts, after the trial of First Technocrat Caden Jaggis, we are whisked away to see more of this amazing future society. We meet a farmer, called The Farmer, sitting on his future tractor: “Ontanso-44 tractor-processor, manually correcting bad readings and attempting to factor a uniform set of correcting algorithms. ” See, this society is all based on ALGORITHMS and so the Farmer has an algorithm-tractor, possibly an algorithm-combine harvester as well and an algorithm-chicken coop.

Nah, that would be silly. Instead, he has his trusted Intrepid-Abundance Class biogenetic tractor-combinator. But things are going badly because of, you know, ALGORITHMS.

“It was that fragile moment in the growing season when blight or insectoid plagues still threatened, but the natural algorithmic defenses of the crops were not yet a full strength. Every class of every crop he mastered — polito, chomats, paradagas, corbolini, purple crone, zaim, yossa beans, and even the hardy gang roots — were going wrong. They were behind schedule, maturing poorly or in several cases, mutating inconsistently.”

The poor old farmer has a bad time of it and…well then we jump forward in time and the empire has collapsed.

the-human-league-empire-state-human-single

Three stories in we meet another man with a vehicle, Scot Farmerson, who has a 00198 Burneck-made truck. That’s nice. You know what Foundation lacked? Trucks and tractors. Nothing says hard sci-fi like a decent agricultural vehicle.

Any Scot dies horribly because of bad algorithms. Not even his truck could save.

Then things go a bit milSF but we are still in the same story because they have gadgets and complain about ‘algodecay’. Then we wander. Things get dull. I can’t even make Human League jokes anymore. People don’t want jokes, people love action.

human20league20love20action See?

Skip, skip, skip, oops I’m at the epilogue. This starts with a binary code because ROBOTS! Robots that communicate in ASCII (not Unicode? darn – no emojis). The super secret messages in binary says:

The machines have developed a sense of morality. The galaxy is ours.

Morality? Perhaps but the book still hasn’t developed a sense of humour.

Yeah, anyways, war is good, robots plotting stuff etc. You know the drill. If you read the Castalia MilSF compilation in the Hugo Packet it’s basically the same stuff.

What can I say? The opening chapters were clunky and the rest were formulaic. It is almost like output generated from some deterministic sequence of rules and operations – why, it is almost ALGORITHMIC…

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77 comments

  1. Space Oddity

    I was doing a bit of MSTing of the excerpts Beale disgorged on the internet, something I only redoubled when I saw the robot named Servo. The book deserves it, twentyfold, and shows the Castalia House/Teddy Boy flaw of attempting to write social criticism from a position of colossal ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Night Wind

      When I saw that, I thought of a comic-relief villain named ‘Servo’ who used to appear in the 1950s TV Western series ‘Cowboy G-Men’. Ironically, the producers had to change his name to ‘Zerbo’ because of a copyright/trademark complaint. Servo used to follow the agents around and appear in various disguises trying to run side-scams off the cases they were investigating.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Mark

    Algorithmic decay = calendrical rot?

    Nah, VD won’t have read Ninefox, but the link amused me.

    Someone at F770 claimed the prose matched VD himself, which is interesting – how many of these exciting new authors we’d never heard of might just be Teddy’s socks?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. delagar

    The writing as you’ve quoted it here (I am *not* getting out of the boat) does match that horrible novella he freeped onto the Hugo ballot that one time.

    Like

      • JJ

        Nah, I figure that 3SV is going to get passed, and then, be VD will wander off to create Amazogalactic — which will destroy Amazon within 2 years! (credit to Doris V. Sutherland for this perceptive prediction)

        Like

      • Space Oddity

        That was me.

        Or rather, I was the one who declared that Beale would proclaim that whatever Alt-right Amazon ripoff he winds up producing when he finally burns all his bridges on the site would bury Amazon in two years, in response to Doris’ original comment.

        Like

      • JJ

        Oh dear, forgive me for misattribution — and all kudos for the Amazogalactic idea! (Seriously! Dead in less than TWO years!!!)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lurkertype

        Yes, but that WAS 60 years ago.

        Even Asimov didn’t go handwavium about mysterious ALGORITHMS (or whatever buzzword was hot at the time). Plus, Isaac at least had a PhD in chemistry and kept up with math and science well enough to write all those popular books on them. And his second wife gave him critiques of his stuff, as did other good SF writers. And he had shorter sentences.

        If people want pulp, they can get plenty of pulp for free. On Gutenberg or Amazon. And “Foundation” is still in print.

        Like

      • Space Oddity

        Exactly. My Kindle has Lovecraft, R. Austin Freeman and Edgar Wallace on it, amongst others. If I need to read the works of a racist immigrant-hater, well, I’ve got no dearth of choices, all of them more readable then Beale.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Space Oddity

      Look, they’re magic tractors, okay? Just like the seeds in the prologue are magic seeds. Which makes all the bitching about people just not getting SCIENCE amusingly ironic…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peer Sylvester

        The tractors are clearly a metaphor for communism and in that sense, for SJW. The farmer then -obviously- represents capitalism (trying to gain control of communism. That he does not have a name is a thinly veiled stab at the nameless companies, that are ruling our world)
        That the machines win in the end, shows that, according to Beale, capitalism will fall sooner or later, while communism will prevail in the end.

        In other words: VD clearly is coming out as a commie, with this book. He is just doing it under a pseudonym, so he wont be lynched by his own followers.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Lurkertype

      I read it almost straight through, well past my bedtime, and found several guffaw-worthy parts, not to mention snerks, chortles, and at least one “ooh, don’t LOL, everyone else in the house is asleep!”

      Plus intrigue, backstabbing, outer space pew pew, moments of quiet reflection, and a character I want to see in a cross-universe cuss-off with Avasarala from “The Expanse”.

      And I was never once confused by clauses in the wrong place, dangling modifiers, attempted funny that fell flat, bad tech, or general stupidity. Nor was I reminded of 80’s music.

      Like

    • Space Oddity

      As I’ve noted, the Prologue’s chapter-opening infodump explains about the founding of the Founders’ League… and then it goes on with the rest of the name to reveal that it was clearly about getting the acronym.

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. stevejwright

    So, some people have spotted a marker for Steve Rzasa in this thing… you think it’s overall Beale’s own style… and RevBob’s comments in the File770 thread mentioned confusion of tenses, which I think of as a stylistic marker for Rolf Nelson (based on “Shakedown Cruise”, which could never decide if it was past tense or historical present.)

    Is it possible that this thing is a collaborative effort? Along the lines of “Atlanta Nights”?

    (I’m sure I could do my own stylistic analysis, but that would involve, well, me reading the damn thing, which Ain’t Gonna Happen.)

    Like

    • camestrosfelapton

      I think it might be Rzasa also.
      1. The Saint Kurzweil thing suggests Rzasa
      2. Even ignoring that the writing really reminded me of ‘Turncoat’
      3. The story overall feels like it is building up to the state of affairs in ‘Turncoat’ and like that story there is a doughty humans versus evil robots but also some good robots thing going on.

      I think Beale would credit himself more clearly. Also he likes to show off his erudition and research, so we’d have got a lecture about something if it was Beale. He also likes fictionalization table-top war game battles he’s had and that kind of stuff isn’t really there in the book.

      Rolf Nelson? Yeah maybe. Or maybe more than one. Book One feels a bit different to the others.

      Like

      • Space Oddity

        He did credit himself–he said he was the “translator” in one of his blogposts.

        I freely admit, figuring out what goes on at the House That Cray-Cray Built (Very Shoddily) is rather tough–Beale has a long history of sock puppets dating back to his WorldNet Daily days, so it’s hard to be sure that an author he’s pimping actually exists. Plus it wouldn’t surprise me to find that he does a certain amount of ghosting for his actually existing proteges, taking their crap and making it into crap that can actually be read if one is wiling to scan very quickly. A part of me wonders if–given the speed with which “Rustification; The Rustifying Underwear, Vol 1” was produced, and the somewhat disjointed text–it isn’t a collaborative effort between Rzaza, Nelson, and a few other Cray-Cray House goons, with Beale stringing all their babbling together and giving it a shoddy paint job of an edit to make a book.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Kathodus

        Yeah, I suspect this is shared world short story anthology VD’s pals helped him put together to tweak Scalzi’s nose (and, it’s starting to seem, to cut off Castalia’s head to spite Scalzi’s face).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Space Oddity

        A shared world short story anthology pretending to be a novel. With quite possibly some of the “stories/chapters” split between various authors–the prologue, for example, shows some signs of being a Beale/Rzaza coproduction

        Liked by 1 person

    • johnthekorean

      It’s been mentioned by Wright that Beale is a very intrusive editor. His participation as editor might have been close to being co-author, if the original draft center from another writer in his stable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • stevejwright

        Hmm. On the other hand, Marc Aramini commented on Beale’s light touch as an editor – which, to my mind, is borne out by the way Aramini’s book on Gene Wolfe is a formless mess. And some of the stories in “Riding the Red Horse” noticeably didn’t have even decent subbing – the Rolf Nelson one was particularly grating on my (no doubt decadent and effete) sensibilities; it had errors which wouldn’t have got past my middle school English teacher, never mind a proper editor.

        Of course, it’s possible that Beale isn’t consistent, and devotes more effort to some projects than to others. Or it may be that JCW (no relation) regards even the slightest alteration to his hallowed prose as an unwarrantable intrusion. Anything’s possible, I guess….

        Liked by 1 person

      • JJ

        stevejwright: it may be that JCW (no relation)

        I have to say that I find your frequent plaintive reminders that there is absolutely no familial link between you and JCW quite endearing.

        Please accept my reassurances that no one is going to mistake you as being related to him; your writing is actually articulate, grammatically correct, rational, and comprehensible. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mark

        @JJ/Steve

        Hmm, I don’t know, maybe we should give Steve the JCW-Voight-Kampff test.

        “You are relaxing by watching a popular anime show. Two female characters shyly hold hands. How does that make you feel?”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Space Oddity

        Figuring out exactly what is happening at Cray-Cray House is a difficult endeavor–most of what we have our Beale’s chest-thumping and the various reports that everything is fine, fine, JUST FINE ( even as we make out the vague sight of a column of smoke coming from under the deck) from the assortment of self-defeating cranks, lifelong failures, and eager lunatics who have come along for the trip on the Good Ship Sour Grapes. I strongly suspect that there’s no system whatsoever–Beale flags some stuff through with no real editing because it looks all right to him, while other stuff gets rewritten beginning to end and still left almost unreadable when it’s all over.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. lampwick

    I’m still trying to picture this…
    “…looking for a sacrificial lamb to throw to the frightened public…”
    Block that metaphor!

    Like

    • Space Oddity

      Beale and company have yet to find a metaphor they couldn’t cut to pieces, and cobble together with several others into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster that they then unleash on the unsuspecting public.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mark

        @Steve

        Possibly it’s because VD fancies himself a novelist and has Opinions, whereas his only interest with Aramini’s book was to get a ‘serious’ book out under the CH name so he didn’t interfere much.

        Like

  7. Lurkertype

    I ate one of those cornstarch packing peanuts once on a dare. Probably better for me than this book.

    They don’t even taste like cornstarch, so I’m not surprised they have no food value. They do dissolve in water, but not too fast. I don’t see them much, probably because if your cardboard box gets wet and your packing peanuts become ooze, your item is no longer protected.

    All UPS stores take the foam kind free anyway.

    Like

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