Halo and post-franchise worldbuilding

Paul Raven @ 01-02-2011

Here’s a link-heavy post at MetaFilter rounding up a whole bunch of bits and bobs about the fictional universe of the Halo game franchise. Over a decade old, Halo has propped up seven best-selling novels (one of which was penned by long-term friend-o’-Futurismic Tobias Buckell), a radio drama, a handful of Hollywood-grade short films… and then there’s all the fan-created content, too.

I mention this not because it’s impressive (though it is, really), nor because it represents a potential future ecosystem for creatives (which it does, be they writers, artists, film-makers, whatever). No: what interests me is that they’ve reached a point where someone has written a lengthy treatise on the nature of canon in the halo universe, and what will happen to it when Bungie, Halo’s creators, decide to move on to something else. I just tried reading it, and I bounced right off after the first few pages – if you think sf academia produces tracts couched in impenetrable language, you’ll find the SVMMA CANONICA as welcoming as a concrete wall, though I suspect the obfuscatory language is a deliberate and ironic affectation – so I’m not going to pass comment on its content; what interests me is the amplified persistence of fictional universes in the internet age. Fan-created content isn’t new, of course, but the ability to share it easily with a post-geographical community means that a certain momentum or mass can accrete around the original source material, and – in quite a few cases – eclipse it.

Who owns a world when its original creators decide to stop creating within it? How far into the future will fans still be working within the Halo canon? What are the odds of a schism in said fandom? If you have two competing fictional histories of an orphaned fictional universe, which one is more valid – the one with the most followers? The one with the greatest logical consistency within the parameters of the pre-schism history? Might the two factions war over their interpretations of the canon? Could said war be restricted to the fictional universe itself, or might it spill out into the parent reality… or even leak across into other fictional universes? When immersive virtual worlds are cheap and commonplace, how many will there be? So many questions… and enough ideas for a dozen novels*, were I skilled enough to write ’em.

[ * I’m put in mind of Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces, which goes somewhat in that direction; I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, so do pipe up with suggestions in the comments, won’t you? ]

John “Global Guerrillas” Robb interviewed

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2010

Regular readers will know I follow John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog quite closely; Robb cropped up yesterday as an interviewee on Boing Boing, restating his case for turning our backs on our governments (who have, in many ways, turned their backs on us) and building grass-roots “resilient communities”:

BB: Do you see a diminishing role for the state in large-scale governance? Does this compel communities to do it for themselves?

JR: Yes, large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok. As services and security begin to fade, local sources of order will emerge to fill the void. Hopefully, most people will opt to take control of this process by joining together with others to build resilient communities that can offer the independence, security, and prosperity that isn’t offered by the nation-state anymore. However, this is something you will have to build for yourself. Nobody is going to help you build it.

Robb’s is a potentially grim vision (and he appears to rather revel in that grimness from time to time, like any good gadfly); some commenters have pointed out to me that a pinch of salt added to Robb’s posts is a sensible precaution, and I’d agree, but I still think there’s a lot of useful stuff in what he has to say. That said, it’s good to question received wisdom, especially when it confirms what you already believe to be true… so via Technoccult, here’s a critique of Robb’s last book at Reason:

… Robb claims global guerrillas can successfully wage strategic war on nation-states. But a successful strategic war is one in which a guerrilla group attains its strategic goals. If global guerrillas really just want failed states, the world has no shortage, and Robb is correct. If they want the things guerrilla groups have always wanted—regional autonomy, a greater share of the economic pie, dominion over ethnic or sectarian rivals, an end to foreign occupation, social revolution, national control—it’s much harder to say that any global guerrilla group has yet been “successful.”


What most of the global guerrilla groups have managed so far is to not lose. It’s a truism of counterinsurgency that “guerrillas win by not losing,” but successful guerrilla movements eventually win by winning. It’s much harder for global guerrillas to “win” than Robb thinks, because most of these groups have larger goals than he acknowledges.

These peer-to-peer networks of resistance would be pretty easy to hijack, I suppose; we’re rather attached to hierarchies as a species, though whether that’s a predisposition or a psychological artefact is beyond my knowledge. So, what starts as a scattering of people who think of themselves as freedom fighters can be corralled together and steered by another group with a wider agenda and more resources… or maybe just a bigger axe to grind. But perhaps I’m naively assuming that most small insurgencies start as a valiant resistance to some sort of oppression. More research needed (my hourly mantra).

Still, Robb’s points about having to look out for ourselves as nation-states decline and stability decreases ring pretty true, even if they have a Mad Max-esque vibe of dramatic overstatement to them. Security can be offered to you (in exchange for taxes, or whatever else, and not necessarily delivered on when it comes to the crunch), but resilience you must make for yourself. Resilience can fail as well, of course, but then you can blame no one but yourself… perhaps that’s why we’re all so resistant to the idea?

Welcome to the Dropout Economy

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2010

American pride?This one’s doing the rounds everywhere at the moment (I spotted it thanks to Chairman Bruce and John Robb), and with good reason: it’s a provocative piece, especially coming from Time Magazine. Welcome to the Favela Chic future, American style:

Middle-class kids are taught from an early age that they should work hard and finish school. Yet 3 out of 10 students dropped out of high school as recently as 2006, and less than a third of young people have finished college. Many economists attribute the sluggish wage growth in the U.S. to educational stagnation, which is one reason politicians of every stripe call for doubling or tripling the number of college graduates.

But what if the millions of so-called dropouts are onto something? As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won’t exist, we’re on the cusp of a dropout revolution, one that will spark an era of experimentation in new ways to learn and new ways to live.

Go read the whole thing, and see Reihan Salam predict the rise of roll-your-own web-based homeschooling, resilient sub-communities based on the exchange of labour rather than money, backyard farming and permaculture, mend-and-make-do and hardware hacker attitudes, and a complete volte-face away from institutional politics.

Exaggerated for controversy and effect? Almost certainly… but grown from more than a single grain of truth, I think, and just as likely to happen over here in the Eurobloc, though maybe not so soon or so hard. [image by emseearr]