Liquid Reign is a work of speculative fiction, imagineering a fairly liveable future in 2051, neither dys- nor utopian. Melting the boundaries between science and fiction into a novel format, each chapter provides links to the sources of inspiration influencing it – ranging from Jean Jacques Rousseau‘s social contract of 1762 to blockchain startups from 2018.
The website ist liquid-reign at the .com domain, where you can download a free copy.
A couple different friends said the same thing to me about this book: it's not very good, but you should definitely read it! By which they meant, and I agree, that the storytelling is a bit stiff but the ideas are super interesting and fun to think about. This is often the case with "hard SF," and I often lose patience with such stuff, so I picked up this book not expecting to finish it.
Surprise! It's actually kind of a page-turner, in which a Rip-Van-Winkle coma victim searches the future for his beloved. I mostly read it on my phone in the U-Bahn between stops. It's an object lesson in how dryness can be forgiven in storytelling, if the action never slows down and the characters are kept motivated and busy!
As for the plausibility of this future: the central idea of the story is a model of high-res direct democracy, in which one can assign one's vote to any number of politicians or specialists, and the process of choosing a politician is replaced with the process of deciding whom you trust with regards to what. This voting system itself is actually not SF at all -- it's totally possible now, today! And in an era where our 200-year-old representative democracy is feeling dysfunctional and corrupt, it's a very refreshing proposal.
Then the book goes on to show us the wonderful post-capitalist, AI-enhanced, VR-bedecked future that logically follows ... in which people spend a hell of a lot of time locked in rubber VR suits, playing first-person shooters and staring into digital hallucinations. If that future becomes real, please kill me.
There's also quite a lot here about the inner lives of super-intelligent AI constructs which appear magically after that bloody "singularity" event that people who don't understand exponential growth continue to find inevitable. These digital-friend-accessories don't seem to be 100% necessary for the utopia, or the plot, though they do smooth out what would otherwise be a very tedious voting process. They are clearly a fascination of the author ... he predicts they will be friendly, lifelike and motivated, far smarter than people, and yet only ever helping us out, never once developing agency problems like self-interest. Fingers crossed, I guess.
Liquid Reign is a work not just of techno-utopianism, but also of a kind of democratic-utopianism -- that is, the fantasy that for any given problem, people will come up with a reasonable set of laws and rules to address it, and that those fine-grained rules will be more reasonable and easier to enforce than the ones we have now. I'm doubtful of that. The law is a blunt instrument, and one of the biggest liberal delusions is that people will eventually thank you for hitting them with it. But still, I'm happy to debate the question with you! A book like this is most valuable for the arguments it starts. Shouldn't we have a better democracy at this point? Do we really need professional politicians? What can and can't we fix with laws? It would be such a better environment right now if people would read and write and talk with friends and strangers about these real questions, instead of poking their newsfeeds, reacting to trolls and stewing in disgust with the current state of politics.
This is a novel with a vision of life in 2051, with many life aspects including the money system thoroughly thought through, tracking backwards from then to today. What's fascinating is that although at the start this may feel like a weirdo's fantasy, at the end of each chapter there are links showing that all the futuristic things being described are actually being worked upon now. ...By half way through the book, Bitcoin started feeling to me like a historical dinosaur! A recommended read.
I'm only 20% through this book, so don't blame me if the quality changes later.
However, I can not hold myself back in recommending this book to all futurists, technologists and everyone who likes to think about how we could potentially tackle some of our big societal problems.
In short and easy to read chapters, Tim develops an intriguing story line of a coma-patient waking up years in the future, who gets to know and explore all those big ideas and technological advancements that happened since then.
Every chapter picks up between 2-4 concepts, such as UBI, DAO's, Cryogenics, AI, VR, ... Often he only scratches those topics on the surface, but at the end of each chapter provides interesting & useful resources as links. (I have the epub version and strongly recommend reading this book in an electronic device capable of browsing websites and watching videos. A paperback version won't provide much pleasure!) I suppose/hope that he's going to go into most of the topics that the main actor is encountering in a bit more detail throughout the book.
The writing style may need a bit getting used to: perspectives and style are changed seamlessly and unexpectedly. One paragraph the world is described as seen through the main actors eyes, the next might be the same scene - or a few seconds later - experienced by a friend, or even by an AI helper. But even though there is no obvious indication, it is always clear whose perspective we're witnessing at any given time. In some way I suppose this makes the book even more entertaining, while at the same time exploring those seemingly dry or complicated topics - a really neat mix (as long as you don't mind being taken out of the story every 5 minutes because you want to learn more about a concept via his resources).
If the story remains as entertaining and the content as informative as the book starts with, it does deserve 5 stars.
I have finished, after nearly one year (only partly because of the book). Unfortunately the book loses its grip after a while, because it is just continuing in the same style as in the first 20%, and doesn't really dive much deeper into many of the very interesting topics. Instead, it just continues to reveal more and more 'crazy' ideas about what society's been up to.
I would have hoped that some of the concepts that the author brings up in the beginning will be explored in some more depth throughout the book, or that the characters and the story get developed more, but neither happens. Well, that might not be completely true, because most of the concepts fall either into the category of fluid/liquid democracy, or VR, so those two concepts do indeed get explored a bit more, but always in a way that leaves me wishing for more.
Many things stay relatively close to the surface, the sci-fi concepts as well as the story line, and unfortunately the main character is not very relateable either. And so the book doesn't quite manage to become either a grabbing story, nor a anything with real sociological / scientific / cultural insight.
Nevertheless, it is a very unique book and I'd still give it 4 stars, partly for its boldness to endeavor this very unique style, and partly for the pure multitude of ideas of what a possible future might hold. And as a definitive fan of liquid democracy and technology I still thoroughly enjoyed the whole book!
Liquid Reign is a page turner. Took me four (short) nights only.
I loved every part of it. It’s entertaining, in its fiction part. It’s instructive, on the science part. It’s provoking, as a social/political experiment. It’s creative as well, especially some of its visual descriptions. The description of the visualisation of data, when the character explores the connections between voting patterns and closeness... if only it was already here.
There’s lots of references to existing anticipation works. Although, the parallel that struck me more than any other was the narrative trick of waking your main character from a coma. It kept reminding me of the first volume of Zelazny’s Princes of Amber, in a different genre, but wondering from that point on how much different and diverse would be the trajectory of the main character and how inventive the narrator would be.
It’s a delightful (an utter delight?) exploration of today’s complexity and projection of disruptive technologies and social changes. It highlights so many leads that would be worth exploring, References at the end of chapters is a great idea, I checked a number of them to explore further.
Congratulation. I much enjoyed the reading, learned a few things and was also touched by some of the inter/mixed-generational relationships.