Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

At lunchtime, roughly when we started considering dessert, I asked Stephenson how the reception felt. He seemed a little annoyed – and he told me a story that made me think he wasn’t sure these people were joking. When he wrote Snow crash, Stephenson said he was living in the Washington DC area. On the subway, he sees mid-level bureaucrats heading for the Pentagon, written by Tom Clancy. The Hunt for Red October. Although no one boiled pot like Clancy, those military-art complexists – who almost certainly knew better – seemed to be “learning something from the things that annoyed literary readers, such as, ‘Here’s a graph about F / A’s performance characteristics. -18, “says Stephenson. “It’s a utilitarian approach that is supposed to be done for readers of fiction that is alien to the genre of literature.”

That’s probably why Stephenson resented the suggestion that he was doing anything other than rational writing — that he might be offering (as I hope, a little) a big fictional engine to power some Silicon Valley dream machines. I get it. It may seem deceptive for a modern novelist to say that he is optimistic that he will inspire social change through his art. But I pushed back anyway. After all, sci-fi. The base code says “check for changes”, doesn’t it? Rotate the story to see it from a different angle, maybe warn against bad results? “The extent to which fiction can have a social impact – and I don’t think that’s the purpose of fiction, but as you asked – can help tell a logical story about how things could evolve over the next few decades,” Stephenson said. “I’m drawn to any scenario where it seems like, here’s a plan, here’s something we can do that can be implemented without restructuring society.” And it’s about the kind of people who are intimately involved with his work, the kind of people who work – “people with an engineering mindset, or a roll-up-the-sleeves, problem-solving mindset,” as Stephenson says – Is drawn.

He thinks that someone, or any country, is going to try solar geotechnology. Climate change is a huge problem, and geoengineering is “a cheap, easy-to-implement, flawed, controversial approach that no one is going to implement sooner or later,” he says. But he denies that he is pitching a Big Science billionaire as a solution. It’s just a novel. The billionaire “does it without rules,” Stephenson said, laughing a bit at the humor of his own narrative. “It’s a bit of a straw man, by design. It’s a what-if.”

Nevertheless, identifying Stephenson’s geoengineering as a Big Vision may have real significance. His superscience is no longer a metaverse or a space colony. It is an engineering to deal with an impending threat. After years of rampant wildfires, hurricanes, disease outbreaks and other natural disasters directly or indirectly linked to climate change, the world’s leading technologists can take a stand where policymakers seem to have failed, which is almost hopeful.

This is a big fictional question, Stephenson says, but nothing more strange for the robot than Isaac Asimov’s immutable behavioral law. It’s the kind of irrationality that makes people think they can be heroes, even if our brains tell us that the real work will probably involve a meeting with Robinson’s bankers. The difference between a novel and a report from an intergovernmental panel on climate change is that a novel has to make major narrative changes — Stephenson has been advocating for decades that science fiction embrace the techno-optimism of its golden age, but as an inspiration, not controversial. . It has to be entertaining, and it can’t be publicity. “One thing that gets people out of a book right away is any suggestion that it’s an ax-grinder,” he says.

Example: Ricardo Thomas

In reality, science-hero or white paper is a false choice. David Keith, a physicist at Harvard, is one of the most vocal researchers in solar geoengineering (and many other important climate change technologies and policies). He knows Stephenson and doesn’t think he’s there. “I totally reject your distinction,” Keith says. “Some concepts and some technical concepts do not tolerate the first two lectures of the class. No technology innovation can solve our problems without strong policy, but policy alone cannot reduce emissions to zero. “

Asking billionaires to save the world is never a good idea, but even today, they are not at all interested. Elon Musk has a solar power company and an electric car company. Lauren Powell Jobs is investing $ 3.5 billion to help communities affected by climate change. The Silicon Valley Titans help fund Keith’s program. “While touring and pitching here, I’ve heard someone in a Sand Hill Road office say, ‘We should just invest in it and take it,'” said Keith, referring to politics and the environment. “There’s a big spectrum.”

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