Penguin reissues a seminal work of cyberpunk fiction from the Hugo Award-winning author of A
Fire Upon the Deep - with a new introduction by Hari Kunzru
Mr Slippery is an illegal computer hacker - a Warlock - and an expert in a new virtual reality technology called the Other Plane. Arrested by US the government and forced to work for them, he finds himself pitted against a new and frightening international cybercriminal: the Mailman.
The Mailman is building a network of Warlocks, promising them wealth and power, causing chaos around the globe - but noone has ever met him in person. As Mr Slippery and his sidekick Erythrina drain the world's computational power to track down their formidable adversary, they begin to wonder if they are chasing a ghost. Is the Mailman a man at all? Is he even human?
True Names is part of the Penguin Worlds classic science fiction series
This remarkable anthology reprints Hugo winner Vinge's (The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge) "True Names" (1981), the story that began SF's cyberpunk revolution, with 11 essays showing its effect on science as well as fiction. The best are the testimonials by pioneers in virtual reality, cryptography and artificial intelligence. The most famous contributors, Marvin Minsky and Danny Hillis, also show the deepest understanding of Vinge's vision. The weakest pieces are science-fictional, appearing pale in the shadow of Vinge's story. Fellow SF author John M. Ford's essay is lightweight, while a stunted attempt at storytelling by Richard Stallman quickly reverts to polemic. The overall problem with the collection is its wildly unbalanced political stance. A quarter of the essayists are "crypto-anarchists," who see the ability of individuals to act secretly as the only defense against a totalitarian surveillance state. Their claim that the response to public tragedy is always a call to restrict civil rights seems sadly prescient, but their antisocial antidote sits poorly after September 11; the crypto-anarchists' beloved secrecy lets both terrorists and tyrants flourish. More socially responsible uses of cryptography exist that could, like the camcorder, give the power of surveillance to the people. It's a shame that editor Frenkel didn't seek out alternate voices such as Bruce Sterling or David Gelernter, but the book is still a testament to SF's power to shape the future and give us advance warning of the rocky issues ahead.