Tuesday, March 22, 2011

12 parsecs

I highly recommend this background reading on interstellar trade by none other than our own Professor Krugman. My favorite quote: “I do not pretend to develop a theory which is universally valid, but it may at least have some galactic relevance.”

The reason I mention the above paper, which explains how economics is compatible with special relativity (and does it with exceptional sass), is because Nova’s economics is much more straightforward: vaned spaceships do not obey relativistic time dilation, and interstellar communication is uninhibited by causality; these have become traditional assumptions in SF. Yet Nova also comes with a history of political, economic, and cultural shifts—the Von Ray family, the Outer Colonies, and the Vega rebellion—which in part depend on former technological constraints which have since become irrelevant. For all of the benefit associated with the new system of labor and the prospect of sudden “regime change” sitting on the new Illyrion-nova economy, there is nothing quite new about the overall system of economics, which proceeds as a larger-scaled but faster (not slower as in Krugman) version of events which may conceivably have happened on Earth. Part of this is that time in Nova is more or less linear, which brings to mind the notion of progress and the anthropological equating of long times into the past with long distances out in space.

In Nova, the past invariably revolves around the 20th century, but there is no clear allegorical reading which suggests that going to Earth, or any other destination (like Phoenix’s Alkane Institute), is equal to going to the past. On the other hand, since Katin is the author of the narrative constructed after its described events, what we are reading is more closely the narrative of Katin’s (read: Earth’s) relationship to its own history, some recent events experienced firsthand but most designed as retellings, e.g. of Lorq’s past (originally argued about Maus by Young). Because Katin’s perspective of time is the same as everyone else’s, his narrative has historical value when he synthesizes the narratives of those he encounters, like Mouse, into his own narrative. In other words, in the world of Nova all narratives see other narratives in parallel, so that there is not only egalitarian labor but also egalitarian history. As a commentary on history, the narrative also uses nonhistory—tarot readings and myth—not so much as irony than as a continuation of putting ideas and retellings of the past equally. This was not true in The Time Machine, where the Traveller’s mind is not in the same time as the future world and repeatedly fails to analyze it using 19th-century methods, or in The Left Hand of Darkness, where the express nonlinearity of the different perspectives of time available to Genly Ai makes it difficult to write an unbiased linear history.

Nova’s simplified economics allows the narrative to present a presumedly fair scheme of historical retelling (historical outsourcing, anyone?), because Katin’s narrative stands in for Terran introspection toward Earth’s own history. But it’s not really fair, as there must have existed interpretations of history, especially that of Vega, which were selected against and disappeared from the contemporary perspective in which Katin participates.


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