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Literature / Aristoi

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A Science Fiction novel by Walter Jon Williams.

Thousands of years ago, a Grey Goo event destroyed Earth1, leaving a shattered and frightened human race in its wake. From the ashes of this disaster came Captain Yuan, a legendary technical, artistic, and political genius, who pioneered startling new innovations in all avenues of human existence. These included the Hyperlogos, a vast repository for all accumulated human knowledge that is instantly and freely available to all individuals; the oneirochronon, a Metaverse virtually indistinguishable from reality; and the daimones, tame Split Personalities that allow an individual to multitask in ways previously thought impossible, opening up new vistas in the potential for human achievement. Under Captain Yuan's guidance, humanity formed the Logarchy, a new galactic polity built on the principle of meritocracy: given technology's great and terrible potential, only the best among humankind (as defined by a rigorous and scrupulously fair series of tests) would be allowed to wield it. These men and women became the Aristoi, the new absolute rulers of all civilization, and under their guidance the Logarchy has experienced millennia of peace and prosperity unparalleled in human history.


Gabriel is an Aristos, not one of the eldest or the most influential, but among the greatest artistic minds of his generation. His domaine, unlike many of his fellows', is a democracy which he takes little role in governing, and he is perfectly content with his society and his existence. That contentment is shaken, however, when Cressida, an elder Ariste, warns him of a conspiracy to subvert the Hyperlogos, whose absolute integrity has been the linchpin of the Logarchy's peace for generations. When Cressida is subsequently slain in a convenient nanotech "accident," Gabriel realizes that the unthinkable has happened: the Logarchy is under threat, and the conspirators are somewhere among the Aristoi themselves...


This work provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: The Logarchy haven't found any yet. One of Cressida's initial theories is that the villains have discovered some and are keeping them from the rest of the Aristoi (but they aren't).
  • The Ace: Being one is required to become one of the Aristoi.
    • Gabriel, for example, is a genius composer, painter, architect, genetic engineer, and nanotech designer, a competent surgeon (despite not having any formal medical training), a charismatic leader, a cunning social manipulator, and a master of several forms of armed and unarmed combat.
    • Being a Broken Ace is perhaps more likely than the Aristoi want to admit. Several of them are eccentric, to say the least, and then there's the Big Bad...
  • Artificial Gravity: They have it... and they've weaponized it.
  • Augmented Reality: The oneirochronon can be used this way.
  • Ax-Crazy: Knight Silvanus.
  • Betty and Veronica: Clancy and Zhenling, respectively. Technically, they both lose, since Betty gets left behind to run things while Gabriel goes off on his quest for revenge and Veronica is sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Big Bad: Captain Yuan.
  • Big Bad Friend: Zhenling.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Rampant, ranging from standard enhanced immune systems that everybody has to gills and webbing for people who want to live underwater.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Gabriel uses gravity generators to design a house for his lover in which everything is upside down.
  • Blue Blood: Averted. The Aristoi are pure meritocracy, and Gabriel notes that the offspring of Aristoi seldom become Aristoi themselves.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Renos.
  • Brought Down to Normal: After the villains capture Gabriel, they switch off his reno, cutting him off from the Hyperlogos and forcing him to go back to calling up and controlling his daimones from scratch.
  • Brown Note: The Postures, Mudras, and Sutras of Captain Yuan, which are (respectively) postures, hand gestures, and words or phrases that people are conditioned from birth to have psychological or even physiological responses to. Aristoi are supposed to be deconditioned to the Mudra of Domination, but in their climactic throw-down Gabriel learns that Captain Yuan has invented an entirely new version.
  • But Not Too Bi: Gabriel is bisexual, but his two main love interests are both female, and his scenes with them are a little more explicit than his homosexual love scenes.
  • The Caligula: The Crackling Prince, a mad Aristos whose rule was so erratic and cruel that it led to widespread civil disorder. He was finally forced to retire after it came out that he was planning to use gravity generators to "artistically reconfigure" planetary landscapes... while they were still inhabited.
  • Canis Latinicus: Beukhomanan is this.
  • The Casanova: Gabriel.
  • Church Police: The Argosy Vassals.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Gabriel has to persuade Remmy that the Big Bad isn't God and he isn't Satan. Sadly, the persuasion doesn't take.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Remmy is subjected to this.
  • Comm Links/Subspace Ansible: Using the Hyperlogos, the oneirochronon, and their implanted renos, citizens of the Logarchy can be in constant contact with each other even over vast interstellar distances. In fact, at the beginning of the novel, Gabriel and Zhenling have known each other for over a decade, but have never actually been in the same solar system at the same time, much less met in meatspace.
  • Costume Porn: The outfits worn by Gabriel and the other Aristoi are lovingly described.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The novel takes place entirely from the POV of the Aristoi and their closest aides, so the Logarchy is generally portrayed as a Utopia. But there are occasional hints that it's actually this, such as Gabriel's blithe admission that almost all Aristoi have implemented Population Control and the glimpses into the domaines of Sebastian and Virtue's Icon.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: After being Brought Down to Normal, Gabriel is forced to fight the Big Bad in hand-to-hand combat. Gabriel never lays a finger on him.
  • Decadent Court: Both the Aristoi as a group and (especially) the Beukohomanan court are this.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: No one in this book disputes the basic principle on which the Logarchy is based (that some individuals have a natural right to absolute power over everyone else), so even the "heroes" occasionally (and rather casually) do things that should horrify anyone who believes in things like democracy and inalienable rights.
  • Digital Avatar: Called a skiagenos. Most people just appear as themselves, but some people are more eccentric (like Sebastian, who appears as a color-shifting floating sphere, or Dorothy St-John, who uses a different shape every time).
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Gabriel essentially stalks Remmy and uses his daimones and Brown Notes to bed him even after the other man at first rebuffs his advances. This isn't really commented upon, except for a bit of Hypocritical Humor when Gabriel notes how easy it would be for someone with real vices to exploit the poor, innocent Beukohomanans.
  • The Dung Ages: Gabriel and company view Beukohomana as this (and compared to their home society, it is).
  • Earth That Was: Earth 1 was destroyed by a Grey Goo event thousands of years ago. After the Logarchy was formed, one of the first things the Aristoi did was to Terraform Earth 2, which is as exact a replica as they could make based on surviving records.
  • Easy Sex Change: They take several months, but they're available with an appropriate nano package.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The villains have one. Gabriel privately makes a snide remark about how cliche it is.
  • Emperor Scientist: The Aristoi are the absolute rulers of humanity because they are the only ones allowed to use human technology to its full capabilities.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Averted in Beukohomana, which has the exact same cultural views of liberated women and homosexuality that real life medieval societies did.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Logarchy has it, but not much detail is given on how it works.
  • Feudal Future: The Logarchy. It's a meritocracy, sure, but it's still a confederation of absolute monarchies.
  • Free-Love Future: Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and polygamy are all widely accepted.
  • Genius Bruiser: Gabriel, Saigo, and Captain Yuan all demonstrate that they are well-qualified for this title at various times.
  • God Guise: Gabriel created a Scam Religion that worships him just to give his mother something to do. The Big Bad ends up doing this inadvertantly when Remmy becomes convinced that he is the literal God Almighty.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Hyperlogos, which is the sum total of all human knowledge. (How big is it? The Moon has been converted into a server farm for it. Just one of many server farms.)
  • Grey Goo: Mataglap nano, which wiped out Earth1 and led to the implementation of the Aristoi system. Early in the book, the villains use it to assassinate Cressida and Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: At the end of the novel, Gabriel is repeatedly warned that he has already started to adopt some of Captain Yuan's personality traits, and that, to beat him, he may end up becoming just like him.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: Earth was destroyed by Grey Goo, leading to the reorganization of society into essentially a confederation of feudal states, with each state's leader (the Aristoi in question) being the only ones allowed to use nanotechnology freely.
  • Homosexual Reproduction/Mister Seahorse: In the first chapter, Gabriel performs surgery on his lover Marcus to impregnate him with their child.
  • Honey Trap: Gabriel's entire romantic relationship with Zhenling was all a part of Captain Yuan's plan to get access to his secrets.
  • Hospital Hottie: Clancy.
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point, Gabriel reflects that the people of Beukhomana's lack of renos and daimones would make it child's play for someone who has them to indulge their vices at will, but luckily he doesn't have any such vices. He says this right after using one of his daimones to seduce a local man who at first rebuffed his advances.
  • Instant Expert: Gabriel has never used the special swords mandated for a proper Beukohomanan duel before, but becomes an expert with them (able to slay a man who has successfully fought over 200 such duels) after a single lesson. He also manages to teach himself how to play one of the local musical instruments overnight.
  • Long-Lived: Current median life expectancy is 355 years, but some people (like Pan Wengong and Captain Yuan) have lived much, much longer.
  • Loophole Abuse: One of the few restrictions imposed on the Aristoi's governance of their domaines is that they can't prohibit their citizens from emigrating if they want to. Virtue's Icon gets around this by imposing onerous taxes on anyone who tries to leave.
  • MacGyvering: Gabriel is rescued from prison when this giant ramshackle monster truck his psychotic Mataglap personality had been constructing without his knowledge smashes down the wall.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Gabriel believes that Saito is the conspiracy's mastermind, but it's really Captain Yuan.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Welcome Rain (and, by extension, Gabriel when he takes his advice).
  • Matter Replicator: A trivial application of nanotech.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • All of Gabriel's daimones have these. For example, Mataglap (an Ax-Crazy Blood Knight) is named for an Indonesian idiom for someone who is about to go berserk, while Augenblick (the master of the Sherlock Scan) is named for a Middle High German word that means "quick glance."
    • The Aristoi's starships are all named for famous philosophers and scientists.
    • Captain Yuan, the founder of the Logarchy, shares a name with the Yuan Dynasty, which was founded by Genghis Khan.
  • Medieval Morons: Beukohomanans are portrayed this way.
  • The Metaverse: The oneirochronon.
  • More than Mind Control: Used on Gabriel by the Big Bad. Luckily, although his primary personality is broken, one of his daimones is not.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Gabriel is definitely a hero, but he's also supremely arrogant, frequently lustful, and occasionally wrathful.
  • My Beloved Smother: Gabriel's mother Vashti.
  • Myself, My Avatar: The oneirochronon allows people to do this. Since people also have daimones, their actual bodies aren't left vacant; one of the daimones gets left in charge of it.
  • Nanomachines: Nanotech can do anything from curing diseases to performing an Easy Sex Change to building battleships and cities from base matter to even creating an entire race of humans.
  • Neglectful Precursors: Captain Yuan, the first Aristos, who abandoned the Logarchy on a quest to journey to the center of the galaxy centuries ago. He turns out to actually be an Abusive Precursor.
  • No Woman's Land: Clancy is warned not to go flaunting her medical knowledge in Beukhomana, or they'll think she's a witch.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: The required skill level for membership of the Aristoi.
  • Omniglot: Thanks to their renos, Gabriel and his crew manage to learn Beukohomanan in a matter of days.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The domaine of Virtue's Icon.
  • Polyamory: Rampant. Gabriel, for example, had six parents (although he only shares parts of his DNA with two of them).
  • Pride: All of the Aristoi are prideful as all get-out, and Gabriel is no exception.
  • Properly Paranoid: The Voice (in contrast to Mataglap, who is just regular paranoid).
  • Really 700 Years Old: People get to choose what physical age they are "stablilized" at.
  • Scam Religion: The Church of the New Thoth, which worships Gabriel as a god. Gabriel knows he's not a god and so does the high priestess (his mother), but, hey, it gives her something to do with her retirement, and he doesn't want to set the precedent of FORBIDDING a religion.. (One of Gabriel's colleagues, Virtue's Icon, also has the rather evangelical Temple of Virtue.)
  • Scenery Porn: Especially on Gabriel's worlds and in the oneirochronon.
  • Sequel Hook: The Big Bad has pulled a Villain: Exit, Stage Left and Gabriel has vowed to track him down, the precedents set by Gabriel's private Hyperlogos and warships have sewn the seeds of a civil war among the Aristoi, and the social problems that motivated the villains to do what they did still haven't been solved. Basically, if Williams ever decides to return to this universe, he will not have a dearth of material to work with.
  • Sex by Proxy: At one point, Gabriel has sex with Zhenling in the oneirochronon and Clancy in the real world at the same time. When Clancy figures out what he's doing, she is not amused. After the reveal that she was evil all along, Zhenling claims that she was doing the same thing herself during all of their trysts.
  • Sherlock Scan: Augenblick's specialty.
  • Shining City: Persepolis.
  • Sinister Minister:
    • Piscopos Peregrino, the head of Beukohomana's Church Police.
    • Virtue's Icon is described as what would happen "if Stalin became Pope."
  • Space Station: They exist (in fact, one Aristos has a domaine that consists of nothing but these), but they aren't so prevalent thanks to easy terraforming.
  • Split Personality: The daimones, natch.
  • Stalking Is Love: Gabriel's relationships with both Zhenling and Remmy have issues with this.
  • Starship Luxurious: Oh, yeah. Why should a sufficiently wealthy society not travel in comfort?
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Gabriel finds the Church of the New Thoth to be embarrassing.
  • Synthetic Plague: Clancy discovers that at least one of the diseases that Logarchy medical science hasn't stamped out yet is actually a mutated form of nanotech.
  • Terraform: Done routinely using nanotech. Turns out, they can even make people to populate the planets, too.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Captain Yuan.
  • Transhuman: The Aristoi are practically posthuman, and damn proud of it.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Most of the last third of the book is this for Gabriel.
  • Übermensch: The Big Bad. Gabriel has started down this path, as well, by the end of the novel.
  • The Unfettered: Several of Gabriel's daimones are this, most notably Mataglap (an Ax-Crazy Blood Knight), the Welcome Rain (a sociopathic Manipulative Bastard), and the Voice (who combines aspects of the two).
  • Uplifted Animal: Various animals are shown to be implanted with renos that give them humanlike (or nearly) intelligence. One of Gabriel's retinue, for example, is a terrier that has training as a nurse (as well as anaesthetic saliva).
  • Uterine Replicator: Not only possible, but implied to be the norm, as Gabriel has to explain to Marcus that physically carrying a fetus in one's own body has risks.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Not exactly perfect, but pretty damn close. The number of diseases that still exist can be counted on one hand.