Posts Tagged ‘ Geopolitics

The Endless City

The future is mega-urban.

Chinese hypercities of tens of millions of inhabitants, such as the newly-proposed Guangzhou megalopolis (aka Pearl River Delta/Zhusanjiao/Golden Delta) or the Bohai economic rim, will contain 40, 50 or 60m people each, roughly comparable to the present-day population of France or the UK. China, India and the rest of the developing world are urbanizing at a tremendous rate, achieving urbanization rates of 60-70 percent in some prefectures within 1 or 2 decades, accelerating a process that took 2 centuries in Europe and 50 years in North America.

Playing a cyberpunk game like Deux Ex: Human Revoltuion one could see the multi-level megacity of Heng Sha and immediately think of the exploding conurbations of the new China – hypercities such as BoHai Ring City and Guangzhou accreting within the polluted industrial Sinosphere like pearls inside a shell.

The UN Habitat State of the World’s Cities 2011 report indicates that Africa is currently leading the urbanization race, with China, India and Brazil close behind. With some of the largest and fastest growing populations in the world, African cities will become gigantic hives, half middle-class and half slum, a boon and a bane to national governments on the continent. Warfare, too, will have to adapt to grinding condo-to-condo infantry battles rather than the classic open-field tank battles of previous world wars. Today military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) doctrine dominates mechanized infantry and heavy armor operations manuals, and the days of long-range strike planning in the Fulda Gap are long gone.

Urban operations in Chinese cities in a hypothetical war between China and the USA could be ugly beyond belief; civilian casualties could top 90% of all casualties and simply by shooting an assault rifle a soldier could accidentally end up committing war crimes  in places as densely populated as these. In the face of intransigent urban insurgents dominating fighting operations would modern warfare one day return to the bomb-it-into-rubble doctrine of the Second World War again?

For a more civilian perspective on China’s lightspeed urban transformation, check out the China Urban Dev Blog.

Ten Hallmarks of Crappy Cyberpunk Writing

I wrote this post about 5 years when I got an allergic reaction to the bad writing in so many cyberpunk novels. While most of my rant still stands, I’ve changed my mind about a few things. Citations available upon request. Enjoy.

Warning, snark ahead. I was just reading Accelerando and this popped into my head. That’s only a reaction to the embedded, subconscious snark in most cyberpunk writing. At least I’m honestly malicious. Keep in mind I’ve read most of the cyberpunk novels out there, from the 50s through Cheap Truth to Stross’ latest, so I’m not hating the genre, just criticizing cliches. A book would have to have at least 5 of these characteristics to qualify as crappy. So, here are the things I hate about cyberpunk literature (which, incidentally, I used to love when I was younger):

1. Simplistic, linear extrapolations of current trends. China is a rising economic power? Well obviously it will be a greater economic power than the US in the future! Duh. Does the sentence “We will bury you!” [economically] ring a bell, Einstein? [Khrushchev shouted it at the US ambassador in 1956. Today the US economy is 20 times the size of the Russian economy] Linear extrapolation is the number one mistake of all novelists and prognosticators. Try harder. Certain trends may continue for a long time, but there is no guarantee that if something has been happening for the last twenty years it will continue to happen for the next twenty. In the 1950s the Philippines was considered by most experts to be the East Asian country of the future, while South Korea was considered an irredeemable basket-case. How did that work out for them? The future is very unpredictable; it does not grow from one or two factors alone. Read more

Security Councils of the Future

boardoomThe topic of what a future global governance structure might look like is not often touched-upon by futurologists, who generally prefer to focus on snazzier topics such as technology or disaster scenarios, but is probably of greater importance than either of these two domains.

Simply put, the question is: who will shape the global order?

As mentioned previously the current international order was constructed by the United States and its allies, with the grudging acquiescence of the Soviet Union, at the close of World War II. With Germany and Japan both occupied, most of Europe and Asia devastated, India just emerging from colonialism and China in the throes of civil war, the Soviets and the Americans bestrode the world and imposed their vision of the future on its inhabitants. No other major country was capable of doing it. Read more

Crafting a Near-Future World, Part 1

For most people it seems to be a truism that the more realistic something is, the more boring it seems to them. Simulations of international relations and negotiation strategies between great powers, or the dance of sub-atomic quanta in a  particle collider, is fun stuff for academics but the average person’s eyes glaze over within seconds. Roleplaying gamers are no different in that regard, though there is a small hardcore group of gamers who prefer system complexity…and they are mostly wargamers.future world map - syndicate

Attempting to construct a near-future or cyberpunk world requires a certain level of realism in order to present a situation which is both different and yet familiar and believable to the players. Presenting a near-future in which McDonald’s rules the world and Jay-Z is the president of Russia might be fun for a wacky one-shot session of something-or-other, but it’s no basis for a long-term campaign. Read more

God From the Conspiracy

My interest in cyberpunk and near-future gaming was rekindled recently with the release of the magnificent Deus Ex: Human Revolution trailer from Eidos Montreal/Square Enix. Deus Ex is often described as the best PC RPG video game of all time and has won numerous awards since its release in 2000.

Helios AI and JCIt’s shocking to recall that video cards at that time had only about 4 MB of RAM but even for its time Deus Ex was not visually cutting-edge. The game’s strength was never the graphics, but rather the detailed roleplaying elements, which included multiple story paths, multiple ways to overcome obstacles (combat, lockpicking, sneaking around and hacking) and a detailed (perhaps over-detailed) inventory. Most of these, however, featured prominently in games like Thief and System Shock and were not truly new inventions. The ability to upgrade the protagonist with advanced cybernetics is quintessentially cyberpunk and proved critical to advancement in the game.

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