Managerialism: Where the MDA is Headed

In a nutshell, a managerial state, implemented (enforced) via MAs: The China Convergence.

I haven’t finished the article yet, but the first several pages neatly summarize my thinking on where the MDA is headed in the second and third books, based on my reading of Burnham, Reimann, Orwell, Wells, Scott, and others.

This managerial system developed into several overlapping, interlinked sectors that can be roughly divided into and categorized as: the managerial state, the managerial economy, the managerial intelligentsia, the managerial mass media, and managerial philanthropy. Each of these five sectors features its own slightly unique species of managerial elite, each with its own roles and interests. But each commonly acts out of its own interest to reinforce and protect the interests of the other sectors, and the system as a whole. All of the sectors are bound together by a shared interest in the expansion of technical and mass organizations, the proliferation of managers, and the marginalization of  nonmanagerial elements.

Interesting that art is imitating life here for a change.

My own imagined version of this based on reading Burnham is a managerial system so integrated that the sectors defined by Lyons are indistinguishable, having been systematically dismantled and rebuilt as a seamless whole.

The catch in implementing any totalitarian state has always been achieving the total part: total control requires total legibility and total ‘actionability’. If you are obliged to carry an electronic communications device in your pocket at all times, and you use it in some capacity (even just its passive presence) in every interaction with another human, it’s trivial for the state in question to harvest all the data about your thoughts and actions they could ever need. And with a machine simulacrum of intelligence to analyze it, to find subtle actions and interventions it can take to achieve its goals and eliminate dissent before it can become a problem – indeed, before the dissenters even become aware of their dissent.

Of what use are crude tools of surveillance and control like the gulag, Gestapo, Stasi, Pitešti, Room 101, struggle sessions, brainwashing, social credit, etc. when you have technology through which you can precisely spot the patterns and trends in an individual’s thoughts early, even before he does, and nudge him in a safer (for you) and more productive (for your interests) direction without his awareness?

A system of this kind, implemented objectively and with the right overall goals, could indeed be a utopia – all discontent headed off by the right incentives and disincentives applied automatically at the right moment, all personal potential optimized with targeted opportunities and constructive interferences appearing at the right moments, etc. Each subject might see himself as the luckiest man in the world as he reflects on his unbroken string of good fortune and near-misses…as if there is someone watching out for him.

But, humans being humans, we all know a system of this kind could not and would not be implemented in such a way. As we see with things like the Google algorithm, biases, pettiness, misanthropy, ideology, etc. would prevent an objective implementation. It would be impossible for anyone capable of implementing such a system to allow it to apply positive nudges to people they see as undeserving, e.g. giving a frustrated young antisemite an art-school scholarship so as to focus his energies on something rewarding and constructive – and equally impossible to avoid programming it to sadistically apply negative nudges to those they feel deserve them.

Melodrama and Bootstrapping

Came across this trailer the other day:

I haven’t watched any of the series, only a couple of other snippets, so I don’t know what the content is actually like, but this trailer put me off ever finding out.

When it first came out, I watched a couple of clips showing the launch of a Truax SeaDragon which, given my background and paired with the alternative history angle, piqued my interest.

This looks like…crap. Melodramatic crap. Soap opera crap on Mars. I mean, sure, the spaceships look fun, but the characters and their interactions look insufferable.

No thanks.

One of the comments caught my attention, however:

All “space colony” stories on TV and movies either stop short of the actual colonization, or skip the colonization part and move straight to how the colony was destroyed or how colonies fought against each other.

Okay, so we’re not TV or movies, but…Hello? We’re right here… That’s a major point of the entire Ares Project universe: showing the initial development stages of Mars settlement, the part that everyone else skips over.

Martian Technology: Science Pins and Pingers

These devices have been featured so far in In the Shadow of Ares and quite prominently in Redlands and He Has Walled Me In.

A science pin, as described in ItSoA, is a device shaped like a scaled-up golf tee, with a stem 1-1.5m long, and a head 100-150mm across and anywhere from 50mm to 400mm tall. The stem contains common power generation, storage, and management functions, and in the field is mounted to a peg or sleeve drilled or driven into the soil or rock.  The head consists of one or more cylindrical modules of different heights and a wide variety of functions. These modules thread together at the center with a common physical and electrical interface.

In all applications there is a communications and C&DH (command and data handling) module. This module links the pin to local and satellite communications networks, as well as to specialized instruments such as seismometer arrays or deep soil probes which are not located on the pin itself.

Modularity and standardization make it possible for science pins to be quickly emplaced and easily maintained, and readily upgraded with new or additional instruments as needed. The size and external features of the modules make them easy for suited settlers to handle with gloved hands.

Lindsay Jacobsen is shown in ItSoA maintaining a science pin she had previously deployed to monitor ground water for evidence of biological activity.

In HHWMI, Leon Toa has a strange encounter with a strange science pin in the Wilds.

Redlands prominently features a gold-plated science pin, and the action is set at one of the settlements where the devices are manufactured.

In Ghosts of Tharsis, we introduce a specialized application of the science pin concept, the “pinger”. A pinger is a science pin used as a navigation aid, particularly during mild to moderate dust storms when travel by rover is still somewhat feasible. The head of a typical pinger is a single mass-produced module containing navigation strobes and the power storage required to operate them for a month or more. The head is crowned with a passive reflector that rover navigation radars can use for distance and triangulation measurements.

Pingers at intervals and in problem-prone locations include additional instruments to monitor local weather conditions and transmit them back to a central data hub for use in travel planning.

A real-world approximation of Martian navigation pingers
A real-world approximation of what Martian navigation pingers along a rover track might look like (Öskjuvatn, Iceland).

I particularly liked the idea of reusing science pin components as the basis of navigation aids, as it reflects a potential real-world solution to the problems of navigating across a landscape with minimally-developed roadways prone to obscuring by dust. It has the added benefit of eliminating the ability of the MDA to bring to a halt surface transportation among the independents by scrambling the signals from the positioning satellites on which they have a Charter-granted monopoly. But most importantly for our purposes as authors, it makes possible a dramatic rover chase in a Class 1 dust storm…

There’s a Story Here

I don’t know what it is, but I can imagine a dozen of my own:

If you take away the ray-gun rifle and the gas giant in the background, it’s a retrofuturist take on the climax of our (eventually upcoming) story, “The Olympian Race”.

(Unfortunately, I found this several years ago and don’t recall now where it came from.)

Helluva Ride

I had the same reaction to this that I had when LM started putting cameras on the Shuttle External Tanks: “Why haven’t they been doing this cool thing all along?”

The departure of the heatshield was especially fun, as it’s exactly how I imagined the corresponding event in the prologue to “In the Shadow of Ares” (minus the unfortunate burn-through, obviously).

The rover’s first 360 pano is also out:

Note the similarity…
Day 14
Day 14
Mars on Earth

Life Imitates Art: The Mars Rovers of Iceland

On my next to last day in Iceland, I drove the Kaldidalur route from Reykholt to Thingvellir, passing en route the Langjokull ice cap. Much to my surprise, there was a modestly-marked turnoff that led not merely close to the ice but out onto it (just left of the prominent hill in the center of the image): 

Between Iceland and Norway, I’ve been up close to a dozen or so glaciers but have only ever seen ice caps from a distance. I always pictured them as being bounded by ridges or mountains where they didn’t squeeze out through passes as outlet glaciers, and didn’t anticipate that the margin of the ice would simply taper off to nothing. Just look at this – is this what you would have expected? That such a huge mass of ice would just kinda…end?

I took some pictures and made some notes and filed it all away for when we eventually send characters to the North Cap. Expect to encounter this scene with a red tint at some point.

Another surprise, and the point of this post, was the tour vehicles used by Into the Glacier to ferry people to a man-made ice cave further out on the ice cap.

A little research turned up that they were custom made from MAN 8×8 military chassis by a British company, Army-UK. The things were huge – the pictures don’t convey just how large they seemed up close (but note the Ford Explorer for some sense of scale). I couldn’t see how many seats there were in the front cab, but it looked wide enough to seat four abreast. Army-UK gives a maximum cabin capacity of 38 passengers, which would work out to ten two-by-two rows (minus two seats for the entrance door and steps).

This one was even larger than the one above:

While these aren’t exactly how we pictured the rovers in the Ares Project universe (at least not the rovers sent to Mars as part of the titular Ares Project, which we describe as having cylindrical bodies with a single large front transparency akin to the submersibles from The Abyss), they are great analogues against which one can imagine what other sorts of rovers might look like. In particular, the rovers used by the ill-fated British Trans-Marineris Expedition of 2050…oh, wait, we haven’t talked about that story yet, have we…

 

 

 

 

Rights Enforcement Without Government

One of the common themes in the Ares Project universe is the problems that result from the lack of a government on Mars – or, to be more broad-minded about it, the lack of formalized mechanisms for resolving disputes, something traditionally handled by government.

The Mars Development Agency is a non-governmental organization, and while some characters see it as a provisional government, it’s authority and powers are strictly limited in scope and degree by the Mars Charter. It was established primarily to run the land claim registry system and to build and operate essential infrastructure in support of settlement activities. As a number of characters have pointed out, MDA has no army or police force through which it can exercise a force monopoly – a fact the stories provisionally titled “True Crime” and “The Olympian Race” explore in some detail. Its power lies in its ability to screw over the commercial settlements that get out of line by cutting off their interplanetary communications and cargo shipments via Phobos, pressuring the (in some cases vital) concessions at Port Lowell to charge astronomical prices or not do business with them at all, and in the case of settlements whose land claims have not yet vested, taking away their provisional claim and thereby undermining their business by scaring off their investors. The settlements are left to work out their own rules for resolving disputes, and when this fails to litigate through their agents on Earth.

After reading the draft of “True Crime”, one of our reviewers noticed similarities in certain elements of the story’s background to David Friedman’s contractual/market-based alternative for rights enforcement – something quite unexpected, as neither Carl nor I had heard of David Friedman. In a nutshell, the concept is that individuals contract with a rights enforcement agency to represent them in disputes with others – think of it like having an insurance policy where the insurance company protects your rights. In the event of a dispute, your agency and the other party’s agency contract with an impartial third-party arbitrator to settle the matter. Along the way, a form of law evolves out of (among other things) what the agencies are willing to go to bat for you over under what circumstances, and the track records of agencies in accepting the rulings of arbitrators and of arbitrators in how they make rulings.

I like the concept, given that it could emerge naturally in a clean-sheet society with no government in the familiar sense, made up of people most of whom have joined it through a contract (the standard 5-year employment contract covering the cost of transport to Mars), who live in communities that are essentially company towns where conduct is subject to rules laid down in the employment contracts, and where relations outside the town are subject to the terms of commercial contracts. (I can’t see this ever emerging in an existing society and displacing an extant government.)

One question that I haven’t resolved is, unfortunately, something at the core of “True Crime”: what do you do when someone murders someone? No one in their right mind is going to contract with a rights enforcement agency that would countenance the death penalty, however unlikely they are to engage in a capital offense. I’m betting this is a plus for those libertarians who would consider this arrangement, given their philosophical opposition to capital punishment: in order to get any business, a rights enforcement agency would have to state in its contract and in negotiations to select an arbitrator that it will not accept execution, torture, or other extreme penalties. If one did not, they would get few if any clients, and their willingness to let them be killed would be rendered moot by the unwillingness of other agencies and arbitrators in this regard.

That still leaves the question of how murder (for example) would be punished under a contract-based society like this. The obvious alternatives are imprisonment, servitude, and restitution. Mars doesn’t have the resources for literal prisons (barring an unlikely rate of crime that makes private prisons paid for by the “losing” agencies economically viable). That leaves servitude and restitution, which in practice may amount to the same thing – indenturing the killer to work for the victim’s settlement for some period of time, for example, or adding the dead man’s remaining contract to that of his killer (payable to the victim’s settlement) as restitution. 

But as with many bright libertarian ideas, it treats the problem in purely economic terms, ignoring the moral and societal aspects. Is simply paying what is in effect a weregild adequate punishment for murder? How would one ensure the establishment of social norms beyond simple payment of money, so as to ensure that one can’t simply murder as many people as one can afford? I suspect that anyone running into this more than once would render themselves ‘uninsurable’, i.e.: unable to find any agency to protect their rights, and thus ironically in the vulnerable position of the outlaw in Commonwealth Iceland instead of being able to murder at will. Given time to look further into this, I suspect answers to most such objections can be found in medieval systems of tribal or thing law.

Ordnance Survey Maps Go Off The Planet 

This looks good – one of my gripes about writing fiction set on Mars is that despite the huge volume of photographic and topographic data accumulated over the past fifteen-plus years, it’s nearly impossible for a non-planetary-scientist to visualize the terrain using the information products planetary scientists have generated from that data. This effort appears to remedy that problem by presenting the aforementioned data in a familiar format: Ordnance Survey Blog OS maps go off the planet

The planet Mars has become the latest subject in our long line of iconic OS paper maps. The one-off Ordnance Survey Mars map, created using NASA open data and made to a 1:4,000,000 scale, is made to see if our style of mapping has potential for future Mars missions. Our Cartographic Designer, Chris Wesson, designed the map…

While the Ordnance Survey isn’t printing these maps as of yet, they are taking requests at the link above to gauge interest in doing so. Meanwhile, you can view the (enormous) electronic version on the Ordnance Survey Flickr page.

Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration

This sounds interesting, if a bit pricey, like a cross between Big Dead PlaceEndurance, and The Martian (and who knows, probably a bit of Alive! thrown in as well).

Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration: What We Know from Polar Expeditions  [Erik Seedhouse]

With current technology, a voyage to Mars and back will take three years. That’s a lot of time for things to go wrong. But sooner or later a commercial enterprise will commit itself to sending humans to Mars.

 

How will the astronauts survive? Some things to consider are:

• Who decides what medical resources are used for whom?

• What is the relative weight of mission success and the health of the crew?

• Do we allow crewmembers to sacrifice their lives for the good of the mission?

• And what if a crewmember does perish? Do we store the body for return to Earth or give the member a burial in space?

Questions like these, and hundreds of others, have been explored by science fiction, but scant attention has been paid by those designing missions. Fortunately, the experience gained in polar exploration more than 100 years ago provides crews and mission planners with a framework to deal with contingencies and it is this that forms the core of this book.

Why the parallels between polar and space exploration? Because polar exploration offers a better analogy for a Mars mission today than those invoked by the space community. Although astronauts are routinely compared to Lewis and Clark, Mars-bound astronauts will be closer in their roles to polar explorers. And, as much as space has been described as a New Frontier, Mars bears greater similarity to the polar regions, which is why so much can be learned from those who ventured there.

Note that even though we’ve written young-adult SF, we haven’t shied away from these sorts of questions, and indeed In the Shadow of Ares opens with the death of the entire third expedition to Mars, which mystery forms the core of the novel. Likewise, a dramatic mass-casuality accident forms the background of our new short story, He Has Walled Me Inand the story itself has origins in my having read Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival.

 

Re-Reading “Tunnel in the Sky”

I’ve only read Tunnel in the Sky once before, probably in the late 1980s when I first discovered Heinlein. I remember having liked it then, but with some vague misgivings. Reading it again, I can better put my finger on what I did and did not like about the book.

What I liked:

  • The premise of the story. It’s almost shocking to realize that there was a time when the idea of high-school students being dropped on an unexplored planet to fend for themselves for two to ten days – no rules, no adult supervision, no possibility of intervention, and with death as a very real possibility – as a school sanctioned activity, could be presented as a realistic scenario. While in the 1950s this might have been stretching the Boy Scout ethos a bit (a point Patterson makes in his bio of Heinlein), today this element would belong less to science fiction than outlandish fantasy: long before Rod Walker had a chance to apply his chronic, paralyzing angst to the decision of whether or not to go through with the test, Patrick Henry High School would have been sued into insolvency by the first pair of grieving parents to find a lawyer capable of circumventing any liability waivers they or their mulched-by-alien-pirhana-dogs offspring may have signed. I imagined how right-thinking busybodies and helicopter parents would react if you proposed something analogous to this today, and got a good chuckle out of it.
  • Elements of the plot and world that seemed to prefigure/inspire later SF and other media (something else Patterson touches on, I discovered after I wrote this post). For example the titular tunnel, which is essentially a Stargate without the water ripple or the kawoosh effect (luckily for Rod, since he would have been disintegrated by it at one point in the book), but with what amounts to an iris in one case, and subject to the same sorts of misalignment problems presented in the Stargate movie and the first few episodes of the SG-1 series. Also from the Stargate franchise, you have the similarity of the marooned ‘duplicate’ crew of Destiny having to start over with nothing on an unfamiliar planet after their gate is disrupted by a large stellar event, quickly coming to grips with the situation and starting a new government, building the tools to make the tools to make the tools, etc., recovering the ability to make iron (albeit bog iron in the case of SG:U, which is more believable as it mirrors iron development in a number of real-world cultures) — of course, since SG:U was subject to the influence of John Scalzi, I suspect it was more of a lazy knockoff of Heinlein than inspired by him. For another example, stasis fields of varying time-distortion effects – while Heinlein’s stasis fields never reach complete time stoppage like Larry Niven’s do, his description of how they were invented bears some similarity to Niven’s account of their invention in the Known Space universe. And of course, there’s the presentation of the dishonest and manipulative news media at the end of the story, in which journalists are shown to be more concerned with titillating images and lurid stories than presenting the truth of what they’re covering.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Rod Walker. What an insufferably neurotic and insecure character. I kept expecting him to learn from his experiences and develop new confidence and grow into his role as ‘mayor’ of the group of survivors paralleling his growth into adulthood. But he just…didn’t. His dinner scene with his family after his return is little different from the dinner scene before he left – he managed a community of 70-odd individuals for more than a year, yet he still can’t stand up for himself against a self-absorbed father who is completely detached from reality, relying once again on his older sister to intervene. (Of course, one can read the portrayal of his parents and his home life as the genesis of those neuroses and insecurities – Rod is barely recognized as an autonomous individual by his parents, everyone is expected to walk on eggshells around his codependent and psychologically delicate mother, his father uses her fragility as a weapon to control the others, the parents are so self-absorbed that they planned to use all of their financial resources to go into stasis for twenty years to await a cure for a disease they never mentioned the father had and without even telling their minor child who they are leaving behind penniless and parentless, etc.)
  • The other characters. Nobody really had any depth, and few were even likable. Heinlein seemed unable to decide whether Grant should be a villain or not, presenting him at first as a sweet-talking sociopath, morphing into Napoleon from Animal Farm, before abruptly turning him into a well-meaning but incompetent leader who sacrifices himself for the survival of the others to atone for the consequences of his lack of foresight and bad decisions. The same with Roy, who is at first Grant’s henchman in Animal Farm tyranny and dislikes Rod for being Grant’s rival, then abruptly becomes pals with Rod (all through the downriver expedition, I expected the newly-chummy but intermittently-sullen Roy to metaphorically unmask and literally stab Rod in the back). And as noted above, the parents are horrible people, as is their “family friend” who is tacked on at the end.
  • The unresolved romantic issues between Rod and Caroline. Yes, I know the reasons why they didn’t end up together (racial sentiments in 1955 would have made the book unsellable, or at least seem so to his publisher, even though – if you pay close attention – both characters are actually black), but it’s unsatisfying that their relationship simply…ends. And isn’t resolved even in the epilogue.
  • The numerous abandoned plot, character, technology, or world elements. While it didn’t quite reach Star Trek levels, it was frustrating to have some element built up only to see it dropped abruptly without further development or used in an inconsistent manner. The Deacon was missing parts of three fingers, but later on a character informs us that it was better for Grant to have died from his injuries because unlike on Earth, they lacked readily available replacement/donor limbs. In the first few days, before anyone even knows they’re marooned, one of the students is stalking and killing the others, yet this whole matter is dropped abruptly after Jack explains how she acquired Rod’s knife – wouldn’t someone in that situation at least be a bit put off by the thought that a fellow student who (if Johann and his dog count as the first victims) was murdering the others within the first few hours of the test, for no other reason than to take their gear? If the point was to hit the theme about humans being more dangerous than any alien predators they might encounter, the opportunity was wasted by leaving that thread so poorly resolved. Likewise, why spend so much time on the downriver expedition and the discovery of the beach of bones and the abandoned cliff dwellings without then following up on the significance of those things? Yes, I can connect the dots and guess that the dopey joes stampeded the herds to the salt sea and then ate them on the beach while the animals were trapped and weakened from thirst, but the cliff dwellings and the implications of their existence were completely wasted…we’re teased with the idea of sentient aliens, and then that idea is developed no further and their fate is left unresolved. So many Chekhovian guns are hung on the wall and left unfired at the end of the story that I have to wonder if there isn’t a much, much longer original version from which the published version was haphazardly cut.

Overall, not Heinlein’s best work. But not his worst, either, as it’s still a passably entertaining read (if you don’t read it closely enough to frustrate yourself the way I did). According to Patterson Heinlein wrote the book in one month, and I think it shows in lack of attention to detail. From what Patterson relates of Heinlein’s writing practices, Tunnel in the Sky reads as if he had a bunch of well-developed world-building material on hand and a solidly-developed gimmick, and hastily strung a story around it all to meet a deadline.