Quicksilver

I’m almost done reading Quicksilver and it has certainly delighted me. There are any number of very delightful passages. I particularly liked a passage that appears early in the book were a price negotitation in a marketplace is intermediated by negotiating the value of each coin that will be used in the transaction. Each coin has any number of attributes that temper it’s value: the metal it’s minted from; the nation that made it; the extent to which it has been quartered, shaved, and worn; and it’s provance. The merchant and buyer can discuss all these attributes rather than discussing the actual price of the goods to being exchanged. Toward the end the merchant accepts a particularly lousy coin as part of the trade since, he explains, he owes a debt to a gentleman he dislikes and it would please him to pay off the debt with such a joke of a coin.

People forget, money is like that.

It’s a mystery to me why there are so few books about the middleman, the intermediary. Quicksilver isn’t quite about that, but it does touch on a lot of the issues. Like communication, money, encryption, the function of knowledge and secrets in making markets, the emergance of the edge between church and state – that all come into play around the role occupied by the middleman.

Quicksilver is also extremely funny. It brings back the funny undercurrent that gave Snowcrash it’s glow. That glow seemed to dissipate in Diamond Age (which I’ve always felt reflected the author’s horror at waking up one morning with an infant child in the presense of his clear vision of the the world our technology is creating).

I read many many years ago in some high end Optics Society journal about what I came to think of as “the white light.” The article argued that if one extrapolated the patterns in communication there would come a time when the cost of routing information around the network vs. the cost of broadcasting everything everywere would cross and at that point the end points on the net would see everything and just pluck out just the bits intended for them. In contrast to that I came to think of the birth of the web as creating a kind of great darkness; that every bit of knowledge that exists prior to the creation of the web is outside the web inaccessible. That the ease with which out can get knowledge in the web is so high – bathed in the bright light – that knowledge outside the web has, in effect gone dark.

Reading Quicksilver is a wonderful generator of examples of this. There are hundreds of tiny historical facts in Quicksilver. For example that after the Duke of Monmouth failed to overthrow King James the rebels were sold into slavery – i.e. English citizens were made into slaves. If you want to know more your going to have to go into that dark place to find this and most all the other facts in Quicksilver certainly aren’t out in the bright light of the web. Well, not so far.

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