David Louis Edelman's future-business saga MultiReal was one of the books that blew us away the most in 2008. So we had to ask Edelman why his vision of capitalism is so scary.
MultiReal, of course, is the second book in Edelman's Jump 225 trilogy, consisting of Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron. The trilogy follows Natch, an amoral entrepreneur who makes enemies wherever he goes - and whose ruthlessness wins him control over MultiReal, a fantastic technology that allows you to choose from an infinite number of possible outcomes to every action. Edelman also runs a long-running website about John Barth, one of my favorite authors. So I was excited to geek out with Edelman about capitalism, physics, infinite possibilities, and Barth.
How's the third book in the Jump 225 trilogy coming along? We can't wait to read it!
All I have to say is: this writing shit is hard. Really. I didn't make things easy on myself by throwing so many balls up in the air in Infoquake and MultiReal. At the end of book 2, there are six or seven different factions trying to gain control of MultiReal technology - which may or may not have disappeared forever. Meanwhile there's a war of civilizations brewing, a government mutiny in process, an unresolved love triangle, a main character presumed dead, and another character off in prison. And now here I am trying to tie everything up in 150,000 words with Geosynchron.
I know how the major plotlines are going to resolve. The big challenge is resolving them without jumping the shark or getting bogged down with exposition. The other challenge is trying to tie up all the minor characters and plotlines. What do I do with Robby Robby, the sales guy? Or Khann Frejohr, the libertarian politician? I introduced these characters to solve plot problems along the way, but I can't just abandon them in the end. There has to be some conclusion to their character arcs, even if it's only a sentence or two.
I've been studying all the classic SF/F trilogies of book and film for inspiration. Unfortunately there are very few great third acts. Return of the Jedi isn't terrible, but even if you give George Lucas the Ewoks, the first half of the movie is pretty lame. Matrix: Revolutions sucked, plain and simple. J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King was terrific - but of course, it wasn't really a third book, it was just the concluding third of one big novel. (As for Peter Jackson's film, I thought it was easily the worst of the three.) Children of Dune was mediocre, Xenocide just went to hell in the last half, Titus Alone is fascinating but not particularly satisfying. The list just goes on: Alien3, Spider-Man 3, Life the Universe and Everything, Back to the Future Part 3. So I feel like I don't have a lot of good role models here.
One of the many things that blew me away about Infoquake/MultiReal is the huge amount of worldbuilding, with the different types of corporations (memecorps and fiefcorps), and the quasi-religious creeds, and the Defense and Wellness Council, and Dr. Plugenpatch and so on. (Plus the backstory about the A.I. uprising, and the rise and fall of the Surinas, etc.) How long did it take you to put together such a detailed backstory for your world? Did you come up with a lot of this stuff as you were writing Infoquake, or did you work it all out in advance? Was it all seamless, or did you have to go back and make some changes after the fact, to make all of the different strands fit together?
I began with a vision of a futuristic world, and worked backwards to figure out how everything came together. Most of the backstory came about when I was writing the early chapters of Infoquake and just started randomly filling things in. When I'd get stuck writing the story proper, I'd just spend some time writing background articles. This kind of thing has always been attractive to me. I was the kid who bought AD&D modules just because I liked to read them, even though I didn't have anyone to play AD&D with. I'm the guy who always liked The Silmarillion better than The Lord of the Rings.
But really, the truth is that worldbuilding isn't as hard as it looks. Anyone can invent a plausible history of the future. The question is how far you want to take it and how plausible you want it to look. I decided to err on the side of making things too detailed. I wanted to take the worldbuilding just one step further than the reader was likely to follow. So I went into a ridiculous amount of detail figuring out how this world works and how it came to be. My future not only has a whole complicated government structure, but a system of shipping, high-tech building materials, a banking network, trade unions, and lobbyists too.
In MultiReal, Natch is put in charge of the development of this software that lets you glimpse every possible outcome of an action, so that you can pick the outcome you want. I'm still unclear on how the system works, even after re-reading some sections - is it just an incredibly powerful predictive engine? Does it actually see alternate timelines in some way? One level it seems like it's just simple physics - people are shooting at Natch, at one point, and he's able to calculate trajectories and stay out of the line of fire - but then there are things like Horvil getting a slightly lower price from a snack-vendor by using MultiReal. Is there going to be a more detailed explanation of how the system works, in the third book?
I've been working on a straightforward explanation of how MultiReal software works, but I can't seem to finish it. The problem is that I'm really not a science guy. MultiReal technology is really just a big metaphor for exploring how we make decisions and how we determine what's important in life. I came up with the idea first, and then hashed out the details of how it might work later with a good friend who has a Ph.D. in Physics.
But really, it doesn't entirely matter how MultiReal works. All that matters is that the reader thinks that it might work, and - even more important - that the reader thinks that I know how it works. Because no matter how you slice it, this is all far-future technology built on made-up scientific principles. At some point it will all fall apart under scrutiny.
For completeness' sake, the technical underpinning I worked out with my Physics friend is that the program has several "modes." On a basic level, it would be an incredibly good predictive engine that could, say, reverse engineer the muscle movements required for you to hit a baseball exactly where you want to hit it. But the program would also be capable of "throttling" to a quantum mode that can travel along different reality tracks and choose the one you want. My Physics friend and I had a couple of long discussions that involved Feynman pathways and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and lots of other things over my head. Eventually I just took his word on some of this stuff.
Do you think the meme (sorry) about your trilogy, that it's a "business story set in the future," has kept some people from appreciating it fully? (Like I said in my review, I see it much more as a story of technological advancement and society than a business tale.)