Wednesday 15 December 2010

The New Shockwave Rider

Back in my teenage years I devoured books even faster than I do now. It's a mystery to me how  I managed to have a life outside books as well. I read anything and everything, I used to have a rule that if I started something, I must read it to the end.
That rule, I have now discarded.  If I read a book whose stupidity severely offends me, I launch it into oblivion. Books that were monumentally stupid and offensive, I have, in the past, used as food for the fire. No, it's not a book-burning as such, just a bit of darwinian pruning. A book that has won the opposite of my approval might need to be stopped in its tracks before it can waste another minute of anyone else's life. And if being so stopped, it helps to heat my bathwater, then it's done one good deed in its life.

I used to read a lot of science-fiction, which is a genre full of opportunity for social comment and speculation. Most non-sf readers seem to think it's all rocket-ship men with blasters fighting evil green-skinned aliens. No. And it's not Star Wars, either. Many science fiction writers have been scientists, and hugely well respected ones too. Isaac Asimov, for one. Another was Arthur C. Clarke.
Clarke wrote 2001, A Space Odyssey, a great book, and a beautiful, baffling, prescient film.
Clarke invented the geostationary (Staying always above the same point on the globe. orbiting at the same speed as the planet rotates) telecommunications satellite. His books had them before Telstar first beeped and crackled transatlantic television into life.
Know what the name for a geostationary orbit is?
"Clarke Orbit".
Another writer whose works were full of philosophy and future prediction, was John Brunner. Way back, in 1975, he wrote a book set in a future where a huge computer network holds our data, banks our money, builds our cars, dispatches our bombers, runs our industry, even runs our jails.
Back in 1975, Brunner saw something very akin to our internet. He invented a character, who had worked creating the Net, but had decided to opt out. Our hero uses his coding skills to hide from the net, he erases traces of himself, with portions of self replicating code, which search through the net for references to him and erase them.
The authorities are chasing him, because his knowledge is a threat to them if used against them.
The title is a reference to Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock", published in 1970. Brunner's character is the Shockwave Rider, surfing the wave, the shockwave that is the future.
The more he tries to live off the grid, below the radar, the more the authorities seek to locate him.
He changes identity and appearance regularly, and, as I said, he writes protective code... He calls his code fragments "tapeworms", because they burrow into the web and self replicate.
One of his worms has a job of keeping him alive and safe, which it does by constantly checking he is alive, safe, and free.  If it is not reassured that he is safe, it will, from multiple locations, unstoppably, release all manner of  embarrassing revelations, government data, secret files, etcetera.

Seems vaguely familiar? Oh yes. Julian Assange's insurance against being 'disappeared' by the U.S. government is just the same.
If  he is silenced, assassinated, disappeared, extra-ordinarily rendered, 'terminated with extreme prejudice', If he dies of a mystery sickness, if his car runs off the road and into a concrete bridge-pillar, then, all around the world, torrents of secret files will be unlocked, everywhere, unstoppable.
Assange is a modern shockwave-rider.

How do I view him?
Is he a spy or a traitor or a rapist?
I don't think he is.
Whilst he's referred to as all of these by some U.S. politicians, firstly, the allegations of 'rape' are not quite that. It seems the main misdemeanour is that during consensual sex, a condom split, and he failed to stop.
The woman in question apparently has withdrawn her co-operation with swedish prosecutors, and left the country. In any normal scenario, it would seem the prosecutors would not feel the need to extradite a person on such evidence. My opinion, and a common one too, is that the allegations are being used to get him sent back to Sweden, where he'd be handed over to U.S hands, bundled aboard a CIA chartered jet, to an unknown destination, Guantanamo? no, somewhere even more deniable, where methods of torture forbidden under U.S. and international law would be used upon him, until his sources were all exposed, and wikileaks silenced forever.

I hope the shockwave rider's insurance policy protects him. No, I'm not blindly defending a spy, I'm defending a man who was brave enough to show us a little of how we're being lied to.