So this week I would like to take the time to make you aware of a book series which is a little older. Of course this is subjective since people read much older books more regularly. The point I am trying to make, and that is why you are here after all, is that this is not a new book series so you may have to dig a bit to find it.
The Dagmar series are three books written by Walter Jon Williams. Williams is a native of New Mexico and has lost more prestigious science fiction awards than anyone else, at least that is what his friends say. In the Dagmar series, Williams produces a trilogy of near future techno thrillers.
The main character of the first two books, and an important supporting character of the third, is Dagmar Shaw. Dagmar is a technically savvy game designer. Her genre of games is Alternate Reality Games(ARG). To describe an ARG is a bit difficult because they are more than one thing. They are scavenger hunts, and puzzle games and often spy thrillers. Perhaps one you have heard about going on right now is the Resistance Radio station that has gone up to promote The Man in the High Castle, ARGNet tells me this a new one.
In these books Dagmar is confronted with a problem which she overcomes using her technical skill and loyal following of internet sleuth/puzzle kings. In This is Not a Game (2009), the first book, Dagmar confronts the questions of Artificial Intelligence and a globalized economy. With computers trading at lightning fast speeds in global currencies and stocks, who is there to make sure bad things don’t happen? This is not something new, here is a blog post from the Yale School of Management showing that computer-assisted trading can actually make global markets less stable. Oh and it is from 2011, two years after This is Not A Game was published.
The second book features Dagmar’s transition from game designer to cyber warrior. Deep State (2010), features Dagmar and her crew working with a British Spy to foment civil unrest in Turkey. Of course Turkey in the novel has been taken over by an autocrat undermining the popular will. That sounds nothing like the real world, why would anyone believe such tripe! Williams himself noticed though that his fictional revolution looked a lot like an event which played out at the same time the book was making its way through last edits.*
You get the idea here. The last one is an attempt on the part of Dagmar to use the skills she has built over the course of the other two books to actually make the world a better place through streaming video! The Fourth Wall (2012), focuses on a washed up child actor who looks just strange enough to be the main character in a sci/fi television series, and who is just good enough to sell the role. Is it a little pie in the sky? Yes, absolutely. I don’t think world peace will actually be achieved by a Netflix show. But of course the power of narratives built in online communities never influenced anything, right Macedonia?
I highly encourage readers to check out this book series. It deals with some real heavy issues, but in a fun and entertaining way. And of course the appeal of near future fiction is that it could happen five minutes from now. In the case of the Dagmar series, it actually happened. What is more, the value of this kind of work is that it allows the audience to digest some of the ideas without having to become experts in each field. That is when Science Fiction has been at its best, helping us learn about ourselves and where we are going, without feeling like we are being preached at.
*I full well acknowledge that the Arab Spring has not actually made a safer more democratic Middle East. My intention here is to draw attention to the way our technology is shaping political narratives in unexpected ways.