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Literature / Fall Revolution

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The Fall Revolution series is a "Future History" tetralogy by Scottish Science Fiction writer Ken MacLeod. The series covers a time span of about 400 years, starting with the university days in Glasgow of three key recurring characters through two global political upheavals, nuclear war, the singularity and planetary colonisation. There's a strong political theme of socialism and libertarian anarchism. Both the series as a whole and the individual books exhibit Anachronic Order.

The first book, The Star Fraction sets the scene, following the events of the Fall Revolution and the re-uniting of a balkanised United Kingdom.

The second book, The Stone Canal begins on New Mars, a colony planned by Posthumans but populated by a ragtag band of the more conventional type when the Posthuman civilisations crashed. It follows the life and times of Jonathon Wilde (who had a brief role in The Star Fraction) from his university days through his rise as a political power in the anarchist free port of Norlonto, his role in the third world war and eventual death and first resurrection as a personality upload and second resurrection as a re-embodied human.

The third book, The Cassini Division takes place after the events of The Stone Canal following the return of Jay-Dub through the wormhole, and is set in a prosperous and thriving communist utopia that has spread across the solar system but still has to deal with the lingering threat of the fallen Posthumans and their remains in Jupiter.

The final book, The Sky Road is set on Earth, in an alternate future from the one which led to The Cassini Division, and is largely set in a peaceful and liberal new civilisation that formed from the Green (ecoterrorist) and Red (communist) "barbarians" after a final nuclear war on Earth destroys all electronics via EMP and everything in orbit via Kessler syndrome. It looks at the history of Myra Godwin from her student days and her actions following the Fall Revolution which ultimately end civilisation and lead to her being granted the title of Deliverer.

The Cassini Division was nominated for a Nebula Award. The Sky Road was nominated for a Hugo.

This series provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted, more or less.
    • The Watchmaker A.I.s are quite alien, but no-one really gets a chance to find out if they're benign or not because Moh's sentient gun decides it would be in everyone's best interest if they were destroyed.
    • Moh's gun seems benign, but we never hear from it after the first book.
      • It is heavily implied that it was the foundation of The General, a Manipulative Bastard of an AI which figures in subsequent volumes as the power behind the Sheenisov.
    • The Posthumans created many A.I.s, but few interacted with presingularity intelligences. The pre-crash ones in the Macros seem nice enough, but the goals of the posthumans and the minds they've created are not particularly human friendly, in the end.
    • Dee Model (created by humans and accidentally given sentience) and the Succubi (created by Posthumans and given bodies by humans) all seem to be quite reasonable, sound and well adjusted and quite capable of living in human society.
  • Arc Symbol: The Hammer, Sickle and "4" symbol of the Fourth International pops up quite a lot.
    • Clovis in The Sky Road spots a badge that he sees as reading "GT4" in Merrial's house, though its true meaning is made clear later.
  • Artificial Human: Dee Model is technically a decorticate clone; a human body grown in a vat minus most of the more sophisticated parts of its brain, with an AI installed in the vacant skull space.
  • Balkanize Me: The Star Fraction has a Balkanised UK, and mentions the UN having over two thousand national flags flying outside.
    • The Stone Canal mentions that Kazakhstan has broken up, too.
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: Dee was constructed as one of these.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Jon Wilde, Dave Reid and Myra Godwin all start out with lofty goals, but all of them eventually have to compromise given the nature of the world they live in (and indeed helped create).
    • Blood Sport: it appears that the New Martians don't have any compunctions about entertainments being lethal, given their casual use of body cloning and mind uploading technology.
  • Body Backup Drive: Jon Wilde is one of the first to have his brain scanned and his mind uploaded, but the technology is ubiquitous in the new civilisations on Earth and New Mars.
    • Some New Martian sports have "Death Penalties". This isn't detailed, but apparently involves misbehaving players being shot during a match.
  • Body Surf: the Posthuman civilisation on Jupiter seems entirely capable of doing this to humans with electronic brain interfaces.
  • Brain Uploading: the original Posthuman civilisation was populated by brain uploads, both voluntary and otherwise. The Posthuman-aligned forces in the battles on Earth before the Deliverance tended to shoot first and brainscan the bodies and leave the questioning to the A.I.s and active Posthumans.
  • Brown Note: The Cassini Division mentions the Langford Visual Hack, a Shout-Out to David Langford's "blit" stories:
    And yes, I know the Langford hack is just a viral meme in its own right, replicating down the centuries like an old joke, wasting resources every time we act on the insignicant off chance that if someone could think of it, somehow it could be done. What kind of twisted mind starts these things?
  • The Conspiracy: The Fourth International proves to be a surprisingly durable one, and was heavily involved in the ISTWR, the events of the Fall Revolution, the re-unification of the Republic, the Space Movement and ultimately the rebuilding of civilisation after the events of the Deliverance. It never made it to New Mars, however.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive; Myra, Reid and Wilde all fill this role at one point or another. The nuclear destruction of civilisation, rise of the posthumans and resurrection of the dead in new bodies sortedout the three of them, one way or another.
  • Crapsack World: There's a lot of this. The post-deliverance civlisations on Earth and the society on New Mars seem happy and hopeful enough, but everything prior to these events is basically a long, slow, miserable death spiral.
  • Cyberpunk: The Star Fraction has quite a bit of this, but later works tend to be more Post-Cyberpunk.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Myra may have accomplished this, but may never have lived to see that her actions were justified. Wilde achieves this in The Stone Canal.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Cassini Division uses wormholes and time travel to have a paradox-free FTL system. The end of the wormhole where you want to go is carried by an STL vessel to the destination. Once established, to go from A to B you make the trip instantaneously but jump forward in time from A's point of view: if you go 5 light years, you exit the wormhole at B five years after you left (from A's perspective). If you travel from B to A, you go back in time the same amount, so from B's perspective you arrive at A 5 years before you left. Combinations of wormholes that create paradoxes fall apart, so you can't leave A and travel back in time to before you left. This means that you can have two systems that have "real time" communication with each other through the wormhole that are nevertheless separated in time from one another.
  • Foreshadowing: it is mentioned that the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in the early 20th century with a mere hundred members, and had nearly a thousand by the 70s. This is mockingly extrapolated to suggest they'll have a parliamentary seat by 2015 and global domination by the 24th century. The Stone Canal shows that they got their seat, and The Cassini Division shows that by the 24 centry the communist Union controls more or less the whole Solar System.
  • Grand Theft Me: there's a strong aversion to direct neural interface electronics on New Mars, for just this reason... it wasn't for nothing that the Posthuman civilisation before their crash was called "The Possession". A Jovian posthuman does exactly this to a trade ship during the climax of The Cassini Division.
  • Just a Machine: Opinion of AI in the Fall Revolution series tends to be divided. Truly synthetic intelligences and human uploads are often considered to be "flatlines"; a realistic simulation of a sentience but nothing going on beneath the surface. They tend to be classed as property rather than individuals. The Fast Folk, an AI and upload civilisation, are treated as horrifyingly dangerous but still "people", in a sense.
  • Kill Sat: Earth is surrounded by orbiting battlesats, originally used by the UN to enforce peace and control certain aspects of technological development and later used by a number of difference forces before their ultimate destruction during the events of the Deliverance. The new civilisation in the solar system uses these to control replicator outbreaks but not for warfare with humans.
  • Longevity Treatment: lots of these are developed following the Fall Revolution. Later variants seem quite capable of conferring eternal youth, leaving only death by force, accident or suicide.
  • Me's a Crowd: Jay-Dub decides that this is the only realistic way of dealing with the situations of the Quick and the Dead on New Mars.
  • The Metaverse: the Posthuman Macros run these. Both the New Martian and Solar union civilisations strongly disapprove of full immersion virtualities, as they are stepping stones to a new Posthuman singularity with all the dangers that implies.
  • Narrator All Along: In The Stone Canal, the odd chapters are about (amongst other things) a man called Jon Wilde being cloned by a robot with his personality called Jay-Dub. The even chapters are Wilde's memoir. It's not until chapter 18 that it becomes clear the Wilde narrating the even chapters is the robot, not the clone.
  • Nuclear Option: The International Scientific and Technical Worker's Republic ends up with a substantial chunk of former Kazakhstan's (and presumably the former USSR's) nuclear arsenal, and sells nuclear deterrence rights to all comers, finally giving everyone the option of a nuclear defence whilst simultaneously making it incredibly difficult for anyone to start a nuclear war, because everyone else can easily fight back.
    • Of course, there's a limited amount of usage options on sale, so not everyone can be protected. This does not end well.
  • Older Than They Look: after the Fall Revolution, practically everyone. David Reid, Ellen May Ngwethu, Merrial Maclafferty and Professor Malley are noteworthy examples.
    • Ax has had puberty permanently deferred in order to avoid some sort of particularly nasty disease which New Martian science is unable to fix.
  • One World Order: The US/UN is this, following the Third World War. The events of the Fall Revolution make a serious dent in its power, however, and by the time of the Deliverance it is a shadow of its former self.
    • The Space Movement tries to stage a global coup to oust the remnants of the UN, but is ultimately unsuccessful.
  • Private Military Contractors: Mercenaries are exceptionally common up to the events of the Deliverance.
  • Replacement Goldfish: David Reid never really got over his rejection by Annette. Happily, the Posthumans who had hoped to found a colony on New Mars had obtained a sample of her DNA, so he could have a perfect replica of her body made but with a suitably subserviant Sex Bot AI installed instead of Annette's original intelligence.
  • Robot Girl: Dee Model. She looks (and feels) like a normal human, but what's going on inside her head is distinctly different. She can move faster, heal quicker, speak in ultrasound and can make much better use of her puny human senses than real humans could.
  • Robotic Spouse: Dee gets back with David Reid after she obtains her freedom and sentience, but as a partner, not a sex slave.
  • Robot War: the uninhabited (by humans, at least) areas of Ship City are in a permamenent low-level state of this.
  • Sex Bot: There appears to be a range of these available to the citizens of Ship City (Dee is a "Model D Gynoid", implying other models and presumably male-gendered ones) though only one is encountered in the books.
  • The Singularity: The series follows humanity through a singularity where a vast number of artificially generated A.I.s and uploaded human minds upgrade their own intelligence and capabilities to godlike levels, before burning out and collapsing leaving the wreckage of their birth behind them for the rest of mundane humanity to sort out.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: In The Cassini Division two characters peruse a market stall selling old books. One tome, Home Workshop Nanotech, is the science-fictional equivalent of a tome of eldritch lore, being a mysterious ancient book containing world-shattering knowledge of things man was not meant to meddle with.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: Averted. Mutual Protection's Slave Camps are often populated with white collar and political prisoners, who get to Work Off the Debt by doing what they do best. Physical labour is seen as "break time" by both the inmates and their guards.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Pretty much everyone, as it happens. Jon Wilde and David Reid are quite keen to do this, though not so keen that they're willing to give up smoking. The events of The Stone Canal and The Cassini Divison show that they've been successful, though only Reid accomplishes it in his original body.
    • The descendants of the Red and Green barbarians were given a number of useful inheritable traits via genetic engineering, including a lifespan of 250 years or so. the Tinkers, being the actual scientists and engineers to survive the Deliverance, have a much better version of the same traits. None of them are senescent, and none have died of old age in the centuries following the fall of civilisation.
  • World War III: The Germans, finally fed up with terrorism, refugees and fallout (whose origin is never mentioned...) invade Poland. Neither the Poles nor the Germans have any nuclear weapons, but when Israel decides to weigh in against the Germans everything goes very bad, very quickly. The US, in charge of the UN, enforces nuclear disarmament with orbital battlesats and forms an oppressive global regime (a CoDominium without the Co) that is ultimately ended by the Fall Revolution.

Alternative Title(s): The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, The Sky Road