RogerBW's Blog

Realtime Interrupt, James P. Hogan 07 September 2023

1995 SF. Joe wakes up in a hospital with serious memory loss: he overdid things, it seems, and had a major breakdown. But bits of the world are wrong.

Simulacron-3 is the obvious precedent: when Joe looks suddenly at a thing that it was very unlikely he'd look at, it's missing until it suddenly appears. Sure enough, he's in an immersive simulation; as his memories return, he recalls working on the design of it…

The flashback chapters to the real world are interesting, because they obviously draw heavily on Hogan's time in engineering sales at Honeywell and DEC in the 1960s and 1970s. Joe thinks of himself as a straightforward guy who has no time for office politics, who therefore falls for every bit of manipulation that's trailed past him; then he shifts focus and tries to "get ahead" more, but is still a naïve sucker when faced with people who are actually good at this stuff.

Meanwhile there's plenty of classic hard SF going into the crunchy details of how this simulation technology works, and indeed how the artificial intelligences that make up most of the population work too. (The world simulation is intended as a training device to let AIs learn from humans without the complexities of the human-native advantage in perceiving physical reality, at least until the big money shows up.)

It's interesting, but often clumsy. Here's another infodump on how the technology works, here's another obvious bit of corporate politics, here's a gosh-wow moment of simulated world, here's a bit of sentimental Irishry. Most of these don't really connect with the people involved.

What this does do, which few other stories about finding that you're in a virtual world manage even though it seems to me a fairly obvious thing to try, is have a sequence of awakening "back in the real world"… only to have a whole new set of doubts raised about whether this experience is really the real world or just another simulation. (Considering how resolutely un-Dickian the rest of the story is, I'm quite surprised to see this here.)

Looking at Hogan's midlife shift into contrarianism, I have to wonder if some of Joe's realisation that all is vanity and he's been wasting his life on trivial matters parallels Hogan's own, which gives the whole thing a darker tinge when read in retrospect. I mean, fair enough, Hogan had always been towards the Libertarian end of the community of SF thought, though (not being American) without the firearms fetishism. But this book came out in 1995; in 1997 we got Bug Park in which a major sympathetic character has been thrown out of academic science for daring to question orthodoxy; in 1999 came Cradle of Saturn, dedicated to Velikovsky and with that cosmology played straight-faced, and non-fiction pieces boosting Peter Duesberg's "AIDS is mostly a side effect of AZT" theory and arguing for catastrophism in evolution; in 2004 Hogan was explicitly claiming that Velikovsky was right, and had become a climate change denialist too; and in 2006 he was praising Holocaust-deniers. A cautionary tale for all of us who've been used to being the smartest guy in the room when everyone else is wrong.

See also:
Simulacron-3, Daniel F. Galouye

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:23am on 07 September 2023

    Born in 1941, he would've been 54ish when Bug Park came out, and he died of heart failure in 2010.

    I mention this in passing because I've seen this happen with lots of older men.

    People's personalities changing as they get older, and wondered if this is due to deteriorating health?

    Arguably, older generations would've been smokers, which has deleterious effects upon one's circulatory system that could affecting their mental state too.

    Just an observation on the human condition.

  2. Posted by John Dallman at 09:56am on 07 September 2023

    Wow, I had no idea he'd gone that crazy. I read Code of the Lifemaker in the eighties for a class, found the writing unappealing, and never went back to him.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 11:08am on 07 September 2023

    John - probably Inherit the Stars (1977) is his best, and I have a soft spot for The Two Faces of Tomorrow (1979) (which raises many of the same concerns over AI development as come up here) and Thrice Upon a Time (1980) - but by the 1990s he's definitely recycling material. I think the SFE entry is harsh but fair where it deals with his prose style.

    The contemporary reaction that I remember to Cradle of Saturn was that he was obviously playing a joke on the audience and he'd pop up at some point to say "har har fooled you into taking this rubbish seriously". But he didn't.

  4. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:40pm on 07 September 2023

    I found THRICE UPON A TIME his most appealing story: it calls up the ethical core of time travel that can affect the past in a way that no other story does. A somewhat staid, flavourless and character free way but a methodical one.

    I can't remember what the last Hogan I read was: maybe THE PROTEUS OPERATION. Time travel again. I do know that at some stage I stopped bothering to pick up his new stuff.

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