A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980). Long ago, some distant planet realizes that quite a lot of people are doing what David Graeber might call bullshit jobs. So a poet spins some apocalyptic yarns, and the bullshit jobs people -- mostly management types, although some telephone-sanitizers etc. -- are packed off to colonize a backwater planet.

This planet, it turns out, is the prehistoric Earth. And yes, we are their descendants, as demonstrated not so much by shared DNA, but by shared attitudes and agendas:
"[...] Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich."
      Ford stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed.
     "But we have also," continued the management consultant, "run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability [...] we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and ... er, burn down all the forests. I think you'll all agree that's a sensible move under the circumstances."
For other money trees, see Kendrick LamarNalo Hopkinson, Clifford D. Simak, and Adam Roberts.

This is not the first (supposedly) impractical currency in the novel:
"[...] Its exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu is simple enough, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles long each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu. Ningis are not negotiable currency, because the Galactibanks refuse to deal in fiddling small change. [...]"
Actually, a credit theory of money might say there's nothing wrong with the Ningi/Pu system. Owning a Ningi wouldn't have to involve re-locating a physical object: a record in a ledger should be enough. Compare the famous stone money of Yap.

(JLW)

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale

Here's a short review of Atwood's classic over at The Guardian (by Charlotte Newman), plus Margaret Atwood's entry at the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.

And here's a snippet:
"Sorry, he said. This number's not valid.
  That's ridiculous, I said. it must be, I've got thousands in my account. I just got the statement two days ago. Try it again.
  It's not valid, he repeated obstinately. See that red light? Means it's not valid.
  You must have made a mistake, I said. Try it again.
  He shrugged and gave me a fed-up smile, but he did try the number again. This time I watched his fingers, on each number, and checked the numbers that came up in the window. It was my number all right, but there was the red light again."
And:
She got up and went to the kitchen and poured us a couple of Scotches, and came back and sat down and I tried to tell her what had happened to me. When I'd finished, she said, Tried getting anything on your Compucard today?
  Yes, I said. I told her about that too.
  They've frozen them, she said. Mine too. The collective's too. Any account with an F on it instead of an M. All they needed to do is push a few buttons. We're cut off. 
Compare Brett Scott, "The War on Cash." Here's a snippet from that:
The proclaimed Death of Cash is thus an episode in the broader drama that is the Death of Privacy, the death of breathing room, and the death of informal, non-measured, unaccounted-for behaviour. Every action you take must forever be attached to your digital persona, dragging with it a data trail extending back to the day you were born. We face creating an entire generation of people who do not know what it feels like to not be monitored.
(JLW)

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003). A novel which doggedly accumulates clever choices, and touches quite a lot on the reduction of humans to economic values. That there is a lot to nitpick over and call out is, in this case, a sign of what an excellent novel it is. Two clever choices pertinent to economics are: (a) the choice of an overdetermined apocalypse -- brought about through individual agency and economic crisis and ecological crisis and technological crisis, and if it hadn't been this particular apocalypse, it probably would have been a different apocalypse; (b) the decision to largely float the whole "reduction of humans to economic values" thing as a mansplainer (who has consumed his share of child pornography, sort-of-ironically of course) explaining to a woman the tragedy of her objectification. She is not convinced:
Of course (said Oryx), having a money value was no substitute for love. Every child should have love, every person should have it. [...] but love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value, because then at least those who wanted to make a profit from you would make sure you were fed enough and not damaged too much. Also there were many who had neither love nor a money value, and having one of these things was better than having nothing.
(JLW) 

Atwood, Margaret. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Margaret Atwood, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008)

Non-fiction. Each of the book's five chapters was delivered as a one-hour lecture in a different Canadian city between October and November 2008. Adapted into a film in 2012:



I found the book entertaining and commendably sprawling but also weirdly elusive. For more on debt see David Graeber and Charles Stross.

(JLW)

Banks, Iain M. The Culture series

Iain M. Banks's Culture series. Notable for its post-scarcity civilisation: anyone can have pretty much any good or service they want. Nobody has to work unless they want to. Work has more to do with self-expression, self-fulfillment and relaxation than with toil, coercion, duty and necessity. Banks outlines the Culture's democratically planned economy in "A Few Notes on the Culture" (1994). See also Gene Roddenberry.

Here's one interesting snippet: in Banks's Look to Windward (2000), a highly desirable ticketed music event leads to a "partial" reinvention of "money."
“Well, for tickets to Ziller’s concert [...] People who can’t stand other people are inviting them to dinner, booking deep-space cruises together — good grief — even agreeing to go camping with them. Camping! [...] People have traded sexual favors, they’ve agreed to pregnancies, they’ve altered their appearance to accommodate a partner’s desires, they’ve begun to change gender to please lovers; all just to get tickets [...] And they have indeed [...] come to agreements that go beyond barter to a form of liquidity regarding future considerations that sounds remarkably like money” (p.276).
I wrote about this a little bit in the reflective part of my PhD. I said:
"This episode suggests a technologically privileged and sexually liberal version of commodity theory, with the same progression from inconvenient, illiquid, spot-trade barters to more conveniently liquid transactions. The tenacity of money in the Culture series, flourishing inside its homines economici like gut microbiomes [...] suggests a failure to fully erase money."
(JLW)

Banks, Iain M. The Algebraist

Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist (2005). A non-Culture novel (although barely, I reckon). In terms of economics, it's notable for its reputation currency kudos (used by the Dwellers). Here's a snippet:
Bribing creatures who found the concept of money merely amusing tended to tax even the most enterprising and talented arbitrageur. The Dwellers clove to a system in which power was distributed, well, more or less randomly, it sometimes seemed, and authority and influence depended almost entirely on one's age; little leverage there.  
Alternatively, every now and again a species would attempt to take by force of arms what those involved in Dweller Studies attempted to wrest from the Dwellers by polite but dogged inquiry. Force, it had been discovered - independently, amazingly often - did not really work with Dwellers. They felt no pain, held their own continued survival (and that of others, given the slightest provocation) to be of relatively little consequence and seemed to embody, apparently at the cellular level, the belief that all that really mattered, ever, was a value unique to themselves which they defined as a particular kind of kudos, one of whose guiding principles appeared to be that if any outside influence attempted to mess with them they had to resist it to the last breath in the bodies of all concerned, regardless.
And another:
The problem was that to the Dwellers all professions were in effect hobbies, all posts and positions sinecures. This tailor that Y'sul and the City Administrator were babbling on about would have had no real need to be a tailor, he was just somebody who'd found he possessed an aptitude for the pastime (or, more likely, for the gossiping and fussing generally associated with it). He would take on clients to increase his kudos, the level of which would increase proportionally the more powerful were the people he tailored for, so that somebody in a position of civil power would constitute a favoured client, even if that position of power had come about through a lottery, some arcanely complicated rota system or plain old coercive voting - jobs like that of City Administrator were subject to all those regimes and more, depending on the band or zone concerned, or just which city was involved. The City Administrator, in return, would be able to drop casually into just the right conversations the fact she had such a well-known, high-kudos tailor. Obviously Y'sul had had sufficient kudos of his own to be able to engage the services of this alpha-outfitter too. People further down the pecking order would have employed less well-connected tailors, or just got their clothes from Common, which was Dweller for, in this particular case, off-the-peg, and in general just meant mass-produced, kudos-free, available-as-a-matter-of-right-just-because you're-a-Dweller . . . well, pretty much anything, up to and including spaceships.
Kudos makes for some interesting comparisons with Cory Doctorow's Whuffie, Karen Lord's social credit, and the trust "currency" of Michael Swanwick's millies.

Also see Abigail Nussbaum's review.

(JLW)

Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward: 2000-1887

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). Bellamy's utopian novel-- it's the old-fashioned kind you might charitably call "heavy on worldbuilding" -- deals extensively with economics. Bellamy advocates an egalitarian command economy, with everyone taking an equal share of non-transferable credit.

Bellamy may fudge many of the trickiest questions by tacit appeals to the presumed improved efficiency of more centralized and scientific production, the benign and wise judgments of authority, and to some extent (a lesser extent than William Morris) the sweet tempers and fraternal fellow-feeling of those raised under his system. But we should give him credit for raising those questions in the first place.

"Fraternal fellow-feeling" is probably the right phrase: women are the formal equals of men, but women's emancipation has a strangely afterthought-ish feel to it; there's also a dose of "equal but separate" here, and the tedious loveliness, tenderness and trembling of Edith, the only utopian woman Bellamy gives us in any detail, is cause enough to withhold his Ally Pic-Nic Biscuit (7d a pound). (The way she conflates herself with a previous Edith deserves separate discussion).

One interesting question about the economy of Looking Backward is whether it can truly be said to be post-money: it asserts that it is up front, and as it fills in more institutional detail, the assertion is eroded by special cases (literary and artistic production, foreign travel, inheritance, local government) where the value embodied by credit might become transferable, in a funny kind of way, and therefore start to look a bit more like money. At any rate, the final bulwark is the assumption that general prosperity will put an end to the kind of arbitraging and usurious behaviors without which money is not really money.

Bellamy's criticisms of the waste of market competition still have some bite. One especially intriguing example is how his principles play out in education and professional training: no ignominy attaches to dropping out of a course, because people need to try things to find out if they're any good at them, and how could you possibly find out what you're really good at unless you can drop out of something you're not without cost? The real waste would be done by people sticking to careers they're no good at (and don't enjoy). Any serious understanding of the novel has to come to terms in some ways with its enormous popularity in its day. Was it a page-turner? It's worth comparing with William Morris's slightly less economics-focused utopia, which came out around the same time. If I had to live in one of them, I'd go for Morris's any time. But I do appreciate Bellamy's sense that unpleasant necessary work is sort of real. Morris wrote a review of it:
The only safe way of reading a utopia is to consider it as the expression of the temperament of its author. So looked at, Mr. Bellamy's utopia must be still called very interesting, as it is constructed with due economical knowledge, and with much adroitness; and of course his temperament is that of many thousands of people. This temperament may be called the unmixed modern one, unhistoric and unartistic; it makes its owner (if a Socialist) perfectly satisfied with modern civilisation, if only the injustice, misery, and waste of class society could be got rid of; which half-change seems possible to him.
(JLW)

Beukes, Lauren. Moxyland

Lauren Beukes, Moxyland (2008). Review originally appeared on Aargh.

If you are going to write an archetypically bursting-at-the-seams first novel, then cyberpunk is an excellent genre in which (and bursting slightly out of which) to write it.

We get four narrators: Kendra, a Z-list schleb photographer, interested in the aesthetics of both obsolete and prototype technologies; Toby, a vile trustafarian with a magic vlogcaster suit; Tendeka, a slightly naïve community organizer and political activist; and Lerato, an AIDS orphan done good as a hacker with a snazzy corporate day-job. They roll around, exemplifying themselves and their world, occasionally explicitly brushing against each other, occasionally suggesting some more obscure, behind-the-scenes connections, until a horrific police crack-down on a rather intricate scene of civil disorder draws their four narratives together for the final act.

One of them melts.

I saw a review somewhere which suggested that Beukes has written a globalized, homogenized cyberpunk dystopia, in which corporate totalitarianism usurps any strong sense of place. I have to disagree – at least inasmuch as Beukes doesn’t hold back on the South Africanisms, both vocabulary and speech rhythms. In fact, I wonder about the extent to which Moxyland is two novels, depending on a reader’s familiarity with South African English: there’s something quite gleefully trolling about asking some of your readership to dip into stockpiles of negative capability earmarked for alien civilizations, just to cope with how some people are really talking today. Swak is not drek but it could feel that way. (I think the brand names – “it’s going to be toyota” etc. – are Beukes’s own near future neologisms, but I’m not sure).

One drawback for the relatively non-South African reader (South Africanness is all relative hey) is that they may hear less of the differentiating nuance of the four voices. With its multiple viewpoints, and its headlong worldbuilding, the first half of the novel could almost be a disaster. But there’s plenty to pull you through. There are some sharp science fiction conceits. That bio-sig pen, for instance, which mixes a little of your DNA into the drying ink of your signature, and the delivery of a bouquet surrounded by GM butterflies programmed never to stray too far from your office desk: both had me hopped up to my eyeballs with readerly trust. Beukes also has a gift for what I’ll lazily and imprecisely call “set-pieces.” She knows how to layer and pace volatile situations where snap decisions matter. And there are nuggets of beauteous prose prosody: “. . . yield a juicy maggot, let alone mielies. It’s all cliché, a communal sepia-toned memory that all us Aidsbabies have in common . . .” or “It’s a mural, giant-scale and kif skilful, of a Nguni cow in profile.”

(Not that I dislike disasters, necessarily).

Given the black humour which pervades the book, it’s possible Beukes did miss a trick by making Toby quite so unlikable – I think most readers will be able to feel comfortably superior to Toby, whereas Beukes was clearly capable of making his voice theoretically abhorrent but actually quite charming.

But maybe it’s not a missed trick so much as a deliberate trade-off: it sharpens the allegory. By the end of Moxyland, it is not difficult to interpret the fates of the four characters as characteristic fates (or median fates, or modal fates) of the values they embody. I think perhaps cyberpunk and allegory are both ways of writing that are constitutively invested in representing the systemic (e.g. really showing the workings of capitalism and patriarchy, not just how they present themselves to us. Doxing them, if you will). So it’s pretty damn yaris to discover allegory operating so multifariously and nebulously within a cyberpunk novel.

One small example. If there was a sf-style exposition of how phones work in Beukes’s world, I missed it. It doesn’t matter: the phones make total sense anyway. The technology seems to involve some degree of bodily integration (police use your own phone to sort of tase you), so the job could have been done – plot-wise – by neural implants, but it was a masterful stroke to go with phones instead. That’s because phones are far more allegorically suggestive. It is very easy to elide the phones with “all the ways in which we are reliant on technology, especially networked technology which opens our lives to inspection and control by state and/or private sector bureaucracy,” at least as a working hypothesis, while we gather clues about the mechanisms involved. Having a phone means being governed in particular ways, but not having one means belonging to an underclass.

In this, perhaps the phone has a logic in common with the animal of Beukes’s next, rather more polished novel, the urban fantasy Zoo City. That is, the (lack of a) phone in Moxyland, like the animal in Zoo City, is a way of symbolizing social stratification, but without absorbing or displacing the kinds of stratification we already know about – economic, racial, gender – instead the phone gets wriggled back inside the interlocking matrix it’s supposed to symbolize, complicating it even further.

I wonder if there are some fruitful connections here between governmentality and gamification, or at least gaming more generally. There is certainly some interesting stuff here about gaming, reality, and various intricate blurrings and nestings of the two. The title puts the spotlight on this aspect. And I'm dying to ruminate on race and Kendra's skin. But I won’t get into any of that now: this was meant to be a short review ^_^ and besides, there have already been some intriguing pixels spilled about this book: not least this brace over at Strange Horizons; Sean Green asking some interesting questions about the portrayal of activism (and pointing out the precise timing of the novel’s publication, post Iraq invasion and subprime mortgage crisis, pre Occupy); Martin Petto on Beukes and Gibson; and Jonathan McCalmont also on the broader context of cyberpunk, positioning Moxyland at the satirical end: deconstructing the myth of the cool outsider by portraying such characters as victims. I think he’s right about the “smiling grimly.”

(JLW)

Brunner, John. Total Eclipse

John Brunner, Total Eclipse (1974). Mess with eugenics and capitalism-like structures merged into one institution, y'all might wind up dead.

Here's the relevant bit (big spoiler alert):
“But that’s absurd,” Lucas said after a pause. “Going bankrupt— well, it could bring down a civilisation, but it couldn’t wipe out an entire species.”
“It could!” Ian insisted. “Look, it occurred to us to wonder whether the Draconians traded among themselves, and we decided yes, they must have, but it never occurred to any of us to ask what kind of currency they employed.”
Cathy jumped to her feet. “The printed crystals!” she burst out. “Those can’t have been money!”
Karen shouted. “You’d find money all over everywhere, not concentrated in great big storehouses—”
[like, an hour later] 
“Am I being obtuse?” Karen said. “Or have you not yet explained how going bankrupt killed them off?”
“I was just coming to the details of that. I think I already said— excuse me, but my head is buzzing insanely with all the implications— I think I said I started asking what an individual could accumulate by way of reward, or payment.”
There was a brief hush. Nadine ventured, “Promises that when he became she, there would be outstanding genetic lines reserved to— uh— to her?”
“That’s it. That’s what killed them.” Igor leapt to his feet and started pacing back and forth, thumping fist into palm. “I’ve almost got it,” he said. “You mean that without realising what they were doing, they restricted their genetic pool until it became dangerous, and then it was too late. Like fortunes being concentrated in the hands of a few ultra-powerful families? A sort of genetic capitalism?”


(JLW)

Chambers, Becky. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014). A gentle, fluent, very cozy space opera with an ensemble cast of chirpy quasi-millennial misfits, with shades of Firefly, Star Trek, Mass Effect, Redshirts, Karen Lord, Ursula le Guin, Naomi Mitchison,

Here's a snippet about shopping:
“I’ll take it.” Kizzy handed the Harmagian the soap. He took hold of it with two of his smaller tentacles, each covered in a sheath-like glove to protect his delicate skin. He zipped behind the counter and busied himself with foil and ribbon.
   “There you go, dear guest,” said the Harmagian, handing her the attractively wrapped bundle. “Just chip off a little piece of it at a time, it’ll last longer that way.”
Kizzy stuck her nose to the wrapper again. “Mmph, that smells good. Check it out, Rosemary.”
    Rosemary couldn’t help but inhale as Kizzy shoved the block of soap into her face. The scent was thickly sweet and sugary, like a cake. She imagined using it would be like bathing in a meringue.
    “That’s eight hundred sixty credits, if you please, thank you,” the Harmagian said. Kizzy stuck out her hand to Rosemary.
    “Can I have the chip?”
    Rosemary blinked, not sure if she had understood. “You want the company chip?”
    “Yeah, it’s soap,” Kizzy said. “Soap is cool, right?”
    Rosemary cleared her throat and looked down at her scrib. No, soap wasn’t cool, not fancy soap, but how could she tell Kizzy that? She had come onto Kizzy’s ship, been welcomed by Kizzy with open arms, let Kizzy buy her too many drinks, had vastly less experience than Kizzy in things like tunneling and shopping in neutral ports. But even so —
    “I’m sorry, Kizzy, but, um, we can only use the chip for common-use soap. If you want special soap, you have to get it yourself.” She felt the words come out of her mouth, and she hated them. She sounded like a killjoy.
    “But —” Kizzy started. Without a word, Sissix grabbed Kizzy’s wrist and pressed it to the merchant’s scanner. There was a corresponding chirp, indicating her account had been accepted.
    “Hey!” Kizzy said.
    “You can afford it,” Sissix said.
And here's one about getting space-mugged by pirates:
Captain Big tapped xyr chin within xyr mech suit. “If we take ten barrels, will you have enough to reach your next destination?”
    Rosemary asked Corbin the question. He nodded sullenly. “Yes, ten barrels will not be a problem,” she said.
    The conversation had gone from frightening to bizarre. The inflections that Captain Big was using didn’t have a parallel in Klip, but in Hanto, they were downright polite. She would expect to hear this kind of talk in a shop or a restaurant, not while standing at gunpoint. It was as if the Akaraks thought of her as a merchant, with the threat of violence serving as currency.
    “We will require technical supplies as well,” Captain Big said. “Our engines are in need of repair.”
(JLW)

Chamisso, Adelbert von. Peter Schlemihl

Peter Schlemihl by Adelbert von Chamisso (1814). Peter Schlemihl exchanges his shadow for the purse of Fortunatus, which produces everlasting riches. But he finds himself shunned by society and unable to marry the woman he loves. The Devil offers to return him his shadow in exchange for his soul but Schlemihl chooses to go shadowless.

Some snippets (trans. Leopold von Lowenstein-Wertheim):
"I only crave for your permission to lift up your noble shadow right here and to put it into my pocket; how I do it is my own affair. In return, and as a token of my profound gratitude to the gentleman, I will leave him to make his choice among all the treasures which I carry in my pocket. The genuine mandrake root, magic pennies, robber's ducat, the magic napkin of Roland's Knights, the gallows mandrake; but all this may not be of sufficient interest to you. I have something much better: Fortunatus' wishing cap restored as new and also a lucky purse exactly like the one he possessed."
And:
As soon as I found myself alone in the cab, I burst into tears. It was already beginning to dawn on me that even as gold on this earth is more highly esteemed than merit and virtue, so the shadow might be more highly esteemed than gold; and that as I had previously held my conscience higher than wealth, I had now given up my shadow for the sake of gold [...]
And:
I dismissed the driver with gold, selected the best front room and shut myself up in it immediately.
     And what do you think I did? Oh, my dear Chamisso, it makes me blush to confess it even to you. I pulled out the cursed purse from underneath my coat and in a kind of frenzy, which burned me up like a conflagration, I extracted gold from it; more and more gold, which I scattered over the floor. I trampled on it, making it tinkle and feasting my senses on its glitter and sound; I piled gold upon gold till I sank exhausted onto my luxurious bed, wallowing in a yellow flood. Thus the day went by and the evening. I did not open my door, and when night finally came, I fell asleep embedded in gold.
And:
"It seems to me rather a weighty matter to give my soul in exchange for my shadow."
"Weighty!" he repeated after me and burst out laughing. "And what, may I ask, do you imagine your soul is? Have you ever seen it? And what do you intend doing with it once you are dead? Thank you stars that you have found a collector sufficiently interested to wish to buy, even during your lifetime, the reversion of this quantity X, this galvanic force, this polarized potential, or whatever we may like to call this illusive something.; and to be willing to pay for it with something really tangible -- your very own shadow, which will give you the hand of your sweetheart and the fulfilment of everything you want. Or would you rather hand over the innocent young girl to that despicable schemer, Mr Rascal? [...]"
And:
"[...] But enough of this -- you possess me while you possess my gold. [...]"
And:
Remember, my friend, while you live in the world to treasure first your shadow and then your money.
(JLW) 

Chapman, Stepan. How Alex Became a Machine

Stepan Chapman, "How Alex Became a Machine" (1996?).

Here's a brief mention by Tobias Carroll.

Doctorow, Cory. Chicken Little

Cory Doctorow, 'Chicken Little' (2010). A novella originally appearing in Gateways, ed. Elizabeth Anne Hull, an anthology inspired by Frederik Pohl, and now pretty widely available.

Leon works for Ate, a corporation whose opulent fortunes are entirely based on one previous sale, and are now looking to make their second. Nobody at Ate knows what they sold last time. It's a well-kept secret. Better than well-kept: deliberately lost, forever. They do have a general idea of the type of customer they sold it to:
The normal megarich got offered experiences [...] The people in the vat had done plenty of those things before they’d ended up in the vats. Now they were metastatic, these hyperrich, lumps of curdling meat in the pickling solution of a hundred vast machines that laboriously kept them alive amid their cancer blooms and myriad failures. Somewhere in that tangle of hoses and wires was something that was technically a person, and also technically a corporation, and, in many cases, technically a sovereign state. (p.535)
Here we encounter a connection, which crops up pretty frequently when fantastic literature thinks about economics: that is, a connection between capital and living, disaggregated bodies:
“The monster in the vat. Some skin, some meat. Tubes. Pinches of skin clamped between clear hard plastic squares, bathed in some kind of diagnostic light [...] Eyes everywhere else. [...] I looked away, couldn’t make contact with them, found I was looking at something wet. Liver. I think.” (p.548). 
Compare that with the many wriggly legs of Terry Pratchett's Luggage (a diabolic avatar of Echo-Gnomics) in the Discworld novels, or the mashed-up flesh which Marx points out is the real substance of which all commodities are made (“human labour in the abstract . . . mere congellations, semisolid, tremulous comestible mass, Gallarte, of homogeneous human labour” (Sutherland 2008)), or, of course, Adam Smith's monstrous Invisible Hand.

These immortal quadrillionaires are capital personified, referred to as monsters, gods, and at one point, “the fortunes in the vats” (p.533).

The equivocation in first of the above-quoted passages over sovereignty – “in many cases” (q.v.) – is also worth noting. “The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the shift from state power to market power” (Susan Strange, Mad Money, p.183). Somewhat distinct from the questions of how market power operates, and the ways in which they do or could serve human needs, there is controversy over the extent to which market power remains embedded in and limited by state power. The historical and ontological relationships between states and money is also complex and controversial: very briefly and broadly, chartalist accounts of money tend to emphasize money's unit of account function, and see the relationship between money and state as crucial, whereas the metallist accounts emphasize money’s function as a medium of exchange, and argue that money can emerge and operate independently of state action. These issues are complicated by the fact that the ingredients of sovereignty vary state-by-state: China, Greece, ISIS, Luxembourg, Somalia, and the United States of America, to pick a few, are not all states in the same way.

‘Chicken Little’ offers us a glimpse of Mammon, of the monetary sublime, of capital purified and personified, and so it confronts this difficult question: is what we see still mingled with state power? Is capital power by its very nature entangled with state power? Or does capital in its fiery, purest form finally shrug off the state altogether?

Finally, an answer!

Or . . .

One sharp approach is to allegorize all the ambivalence, equivocation, frustration and controversy itself -- which is what Doctorow goes ahead and does. 'Chicken Little' tells us that in many cases, the people in vats are "technically sovereign states" -- but not in all cases, and the assertion is in the same breath as an allusion to corporate personhood, something we all know to be at least a bit unsavory, and probably completely ludicrous.

There's also another reference to a person in a vat as a country unto himself, but it has a kind of metaphorical, "no man is an island, wait, this man is a big scary quadrillionaire island" vibe to it.

But the novelette's most interesting move in this respect involves a bit of wordplay, centred on the one way in which the people in vats (they're most frequently referred to in that way, "the people in vats," "the quadrillionaire in the vat," "the old thing in the vat") still somehow come across as vulnerable. Buhle, the one person in a vat whom we meet, is essentially on life support. Despite his no doubt endless state-of-the-art fail-safes and back-ups, he feels unpluggable. He may be pure money, but he's nothing without his vat.

Personified capital's continued reliance on the state is thus inscribed, punningly, into its very name -- PERSON IN A VAT -- through an allusion to one of the state's more subtle and pervasive forms of extrusion, which makes itself felt in every "pure" market dyad, if only by its conspicuous absence. VAT: Value Added Tax. Money is not really money without the support of the state's taxonomization and taxation of our material existence.

There is some thematic movement in the second part of the novelette. But Doctorow isn’t abandoning one set of themes for another, so much as rapidly orbiting to a new vantage point.

See also: on the name "Buhle."

(JLW)

Doctorow, Cory. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003).

If you're doing an economics and science fiction reading list, this should be pretty near the top.

I talked a bit about this book and its quasi-magical reputation currency, Whuffie, in my review of Doctorow's Pirate Cinema.

The TL;DR version is: maybe it's interesting to compare Whuffie and DRM (or at least, the things DRM would imagine itself doing in the best of all possible worlds). Why quasi-magical? Nowadays it's difficult not to see Whuffie through the lens of algorithmic governmentality, Uber, platform capitalism, Peeple, etc. But it may also be worth drilling down to the conceit that underlies Whuffie: a  system that can evaluate feelings and work out exactly what they're about and the ways in which they're good or bad (hence 'reality'-based currency).

Also see under Paul Graham Raven below. For other exotic currencies that are perhaps made out of trust or reputation, see entries for Iain M. Banks, Karen Lord, and Michael Swanwick.

(JLW)