Everyone In Silico
by Jim Munroe
Four Walls Eight Windows
The line separating science fiction from speculative fiction is often subjective and a point of debate. Generally, both take place in a future, or perhaps alternate reality, where differences in science and technology are a fundamental part of the story’s setting. Where things seem to branch off is in character development — characters and events in science fiction stories seem to be defined by their interaction with said science and technology, while speculative fiction serves to demonstrate that despite all these crazy differences, people (and perhaps aliens) are still fundamentally people.
Jim Munroe’s Everyone In Silico is squarely in the camp of speculative fiction by that definition. Set in 2036, in a future sharply divided between people leading their existence in traditional meat-bag fashion and others converted directly into digital pulses, Everyone In Silico extrapolates a dystopian world dominated by advertising, faceless corporations, and wholesale exploitation of fashions and trends. Think of the scenario set forth in The Matrix (and for you literate types, dozens of Phillip K. Dick stories before it), but with those faceless corporations playing the part of the marauding alien masters, this time with full complicity of their human subjects.
The tale consists of a handful of interwoven storylines, each starting out focusing on an individual character but eventually braiding and merging into a single conclusion. Nicky is an unemployed genetic engineer, cursed by her selection of what is essentially a dead science and forced to eke a living in her craft in the same manner that we see blacksmiths and glass blowers today. Doug is a “cool-hunting” executive, a job consisting of spotting and exploiting miniature sub-cultures before anyone else does — he seems to be past his prime and now in deep financial straits which are preventing him from emigrating to Frisco, the virtual environment modeled after San Francisco where all the digital people reside. Eileen is a retired corporate enforcement operative, seeking the return of her missing clone/grandchild from the clutches of Self (the corporation responsible for maintaining Frisco). Paul seems to be masterminding some sort of overthrow of Self’s image and process.
As the story develops, Munroe handily points out that this crazy future world is not that different in structure from the one we live in today — just more intense. Advertising and consumerism are still the defining experiences for the average Western person, and children are forced to participate in that particular rat race at a younger and younger age. This take is not surprising, given Munroe’s past as an editor for Canadian culture-jamming magazine Adbusters. His points are well-made, if rarely subtle, but overall, it’s the act of people acting like people that keeps the pages turning here. Though fans of Dick’s unique mind-fuck will miss the air of supreme paranoia, Everyone In Silico is good artificial-reality fodder, enjoyable and able to function as both an interesting novel and a cultural critique.