The Big Idea: David Louis Edelman

David Louis Edelman has been making a name for himself in science fiction over the last couple of years with his Jump 225 trilogy of books, the first of which Infoquake, racked up some nice reviews and helped propel Edelman into nominations for two different kinds of John W. Campbell award (one for Best Novel, and the other for Best New Writer), which is a one-two punch that not many other writers can claim. Edelman and his trilogy are back with MultiReal, and to explain the Big Idea of the book and series, Edelman’s got a set-up that… well, I’ll just let you read it for yourself.

(Holds up tarp to protect himself, cowers)

Okay, David: Take it away —


Could Adolf Hitler ever have been the good guy?

The man was a warped, murderous bastard who ordered the slaughter of millions of people, started an unnecessary war of conquest, and permanently 86’d the dreams of an entire generation or three. But seriously – let’s say you hop in a time machine, track the dude down as a teenager, and put him through a serious reeducation program. And maybe give him a heavy dose of Prozac. Or better yet, hand him a Macintosh. Could he be redeemed?

Because a non-insane Adolf Hitler would be a great guy to have on your side. He had the raw charisma to motivate tens of millions of people to get off their asses. He had the cunning to convince Neville Chamberlain that he wanted peace with Europe, and then the strategic genius to turn around and conquer it months later. He had the tenacity to never give up, even when the odds were stacked against him. If only Hitler didn’t have that whole “stinking, festering, maggot-ridden evil” thing going on – and if only he had some competent advisors who weren’t also stinking, festering, etc. — he might have accomplished some amazing things.

That was one of the Big Ideas behind my novels Infoquake and MultiReal. Create a character with Hitler-like strategic genius, with Gates-like business savvy, with Clinton-like personal magnetism, with Machiavelli-like disregard for ethics. Stick him on the fence between the ultimate selfishness and the ultimate selflessness, give him a technology that could revolutionize the world or destroy it, and see what he does.

My character, Natch, is a business entrepreneur in a far-future society where software runs the human body. To be concise, he’s a manipulative bastard. To be a little less concise, he’s a very manipulative bastard. The first time you meet Natch, he’s busy creating a complicated terror hoax that will scare millions of people, just so he can take advantage of the panic to leap to the top of the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide. (Imagine if someone started mailing suspicious envelopes filled with Sweet n’ Low to major media outlets during the anthrax scare of 2001, and you’ll get the idea.)

Natch is still a relatively young man; he hasn’t had the opportunity to do Hitler-sized damage yet. You can sense that he’s not beyond redemption; he’s just pointed in the wrong direction.

During the course of Infoquake, he manages to connive his way into co-owning a new technology called MultiReal. And MultiReal, as you discover in the book MultiReal, is a potentially epoch-changing technology. It’s like the Internet to the Internetth. Simply put, MultiReal allows you to hop through potential realities and choose the one that suits you. Hit a baseball, and choose the reality where you hit a home run every time. Shoot a gun, and choose the reality where you hit the target every time. Confront an enemy, and choose the reality where that enemy inexplicably decides to commit suicide…

(Before you start protesting about how ludicrous that sounds, let me say that MultiReal is a lot more complicated than that – complicated enough that it takes most of two novels to set up. And if you’ll excuse a little chest-thumping, let me point out that Publishers Weekly said “MultiReal is firmly established as one of the most fascinating singularity technologies in years,” and Norman Spinrad said in Asimov’s that “Edelman seems to have convincing and convincingly detailed knowledge of the physiology and biochemistry of the human nervous system down to the molecular level.” The latter of which makes me cackle with glee, because it’s so not true.)

You can probably see where I’m going with this MultiReal stuff. It’s all a question of choice. How do you make the right choices? What happens when you’ve got two equally good choices – or two equally bad ones? Can you take responsibility for your choices? How important are your choices? Could even Adolf Hitler have led a life of charity, industry, and philanthropy if he had made better choices?

So during the course of Infoquake, MultiReal, and the still-in-progress Geosynchron, Natch must ask himself these questions. But he’s not alone; the entire world around him is facing difficult choices as well. Society is ideologically split between governmentalists who favor a strong central legislature and libertarians who prefer a patchwork of smaller, subscription-based authorities. Most of the world has adapted to the bio/logic technologies that have radically changed society, but there’s a vocal minority of conscientious objectors who feel they’re being shoved under the rug. Humanity has begun expanding to Luna, Mars, and a dozen orbital colonies, but the mass of Earth-bound people are having a difficult time accepting the needs of these new pioneers.

When you reach a fork in the road, how do you decide which path to take? Or could MultiReal be the key to allowing humanity to take both roads…?

I had my own choices in mind when I started writing Infoquake and MultiReal back in late 2000. I was in the middle of a fairly acrimonious divorce. I had just quit my contract job programming U.S. Army websites that nobody in the U.S. Army knew or cared about. I had changed my hair style, moved outside the DC Beltway, gotten a new pair of glasses, and sold a house. I was in a mood to take a poke at everything I thought I knew or valued with a really sharp stick to see if it held up.

And so I decided to put it all on the line for my characters. During the course of the Jump 225 trilogy, you’re going to see a man who was once one of the world’s most despicable human beings put in the ultimate hot seat. You’re going to see Natch faced with possibly the most momentous and far-reaching decision any human being has ever had to face since the dawn of history.

What’s he gonna do? The answers lie just ahead…


MultiReal: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit MultiReal’s site here, which includes written and audio excerpts. Visit David Louis Edelman’s blog here, and learn about the “Jump 225 Jumbo Mega-Bonanza Summer Giveaway.”

11 Comments on “The Big Idea: David Louis Edelman”

  1. Sounds very promising, although I’m not so sure about the “Hitler as strategic genius” meme. The technology reminds me a bit of Greg Egan’s Quarantine and the ability to control the collapse of wave functions that its plot hinges on. Obviously a different treatment, though.

  2. Well, now I’m ridiculously interested. This piece, combined with some of the good reviews I’ve read recently, puts this one very high up on my to-read list.

  3. Yeah, “Hitler as strategic genius” is nonsense no matter how you turn it. Foremost from an ethical point of view, but also from a factual, considering the numerous examples when Hitler overruled OKW in military matters to disastrous effect. Also, I don’t see how unilaterally quitting non-aggression pacts and riding surprise attacks on neighboring countries qualifies as “strategic genius”. I found the comparison to be improper as well as tasteless.

    Books sound very interesting though.

  4. “…with Machiavelli-like disregard for ethics.”

    I’m guessing that Mr. Edelman hasn’t read very much Machiavelli.

    But other than that, sounds really interesting. I’ll have to pick up a copy sometime soon.

  5. Hmm… I guess it depends on whether the choices you make in Multireal are, well, real. If each choice is unalterable and you have to live with the consequences that’s one thing. If you can play with various choices and see the outcome of different choices, that’s more game-like and I can see people playing with choices that they would normally never consider just to see what happens.

    For me the success of this will depend on how you handle Natch’s choices… it sounds to me like he’s fairly set on one path and, absent some significant reason to change, why would he alter his direction? Just because there’s a technology that makes explicit that we have choices and those lead to different outcomes? That seems fairly obvious to any reasonably sophisticated person.

  6. splittersturn @ #3:

    Yeah, “Hitler as strategic genius” is nonsense no matter how you turn it.

    Well, the guy started with a ruined country and conquered most of Europe with it. Perhaps “strategic genius” isn’t the right terminology — and, okay, borderline tasteless — but you’ve got to have some kind of smarts to do that. (Of course, the man then proceeded to put Germany deeper in the hole. But that’s stinking, festering evil for you.)

    Carnadine @ #4:

    I’m guessing that Mr. Edelman hasn’t read very much Machiavelli.

    I read “The Prince.” But I’ll admit it was a long time ago.

  7. the kind of nitpicking i think that Carnadine is trying to say is that you probably meant to use Machiavellian as opposed to Machiavelli-like, since Machiavelli himself was a relatively upright and moral man, if the biography in my copy of “The Prince” is to be believed.

  8. Minor annoyance: Hitler didn’t have the cunning to convince Neville Chamberlain that he wanted peace in Europe — right after getting off the plane and making that “peace in our time” speech, Chamberlain went back to Downing Street, shoved through an appropriation for another thousand Spitfires and an emergency boost to the re-armament program, and confided in his diary that war was inevitable; it was just vital to delay it until the country had re-armed.

    (I get really annoyed by folks who paint Winston Churchill as the British genius wartime leader and Neville Chamberlain as an ineffectual pacifist idiot. Chaimberlain — elderly and sick (he died in November 1940) — was out of his depth once the shooting war began, but he recognized very clearly what was going on and was desperately playing for time from 1936, while reaching for the big stick to hand to his successor. Indeed, he’s the guy who brought Churchill into his cabinet after the outbreak. Without Chamberlain’s combination of diplomacy and guile things could have been much worse …)

  9. S Belisle @ #7:

    the kind of nitpicking i think that Carnadine is trying to say is that you probably meant to use Machiavellian as opposed to Machiavelli-like

    It’s funny, I actually did originally write “Machiavellian,” and then changed it to “Machiavelli-like,” just to insert a little color in the language. I mean, the word “Machiavellian” is so cliché, innit?

    Charlie @ #8:

    Hitler didn’t have the cunning to convince Neville Chamberlain that he wanted peace in Europe…

    Also funny… I specifically did some quick research on Neville Chamberlain before I finished this piece. I remember reading somewhere that he had gotten a bad rap. And you’re right, Charlie, the consensus seems to be that NC’s early biographers formed their judgments of him without knowing the full picture of what he was doing and thinking behind the scenes.

    That led me to think about one of my favorite novels, Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. Which features a protagonist who spent World War II as a Nazi broadcaster spouting anti-Semitic propaganda on the radio. Except he was really a double-agent for the Allies, filling his broadcasts with secret messages to Allied commanders that would help defeat the Nazis. At the end of his life, our protagonist concludes that it doesn’t matter that he was privately supporting the Allied cause, since his public deeds gave so much comfort to the Axis.

    Vonnegut’s conclusion, and one of the wisest sentences I’ve ever heard in my entire life: “We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be.”

    Which led me to thinking… did it matter that Chamberlain ran out and immediately beefed up the British defenses behind the scenes, when his public appeasement of the Axis furthered Hitler’s goals? Would the world have been better served by public defiance and a united front, no matter that it would have hastened war?

    Well, I don’t know. I’m simply not enough of an expert on the period to have a wise and informed opinion. But I did conclude that I didn’t want to get into all that in my Big Idea piece. And so, rightly or wrongly, I decided to stick with the original sentence.

  10. Hmm.

    I’d argue that Chamberlain’s rearmament program — which would have been glaringly obvious to anyone watching the order books for the RAF and the Royal Navy — was hardly a secret; the March 1938 speech was just an attempt to damp down war hysteria in the wake of the Czechoslovakian takeover.

    If the UK and France had stood up to Hitler when he marched into the Rhine in 1936, they could have taken him out then and there: the Wehrmacht’s tanks were cardboard cut-outs on bicycles, with the factories just starting to tool up to build the real thing. By 1938, though, the picture was very different. The British and French re-armament programs only really started around the time of the Anschluss, and were running a year behind Hitler’s; in the summer of 1938 he’d have been able to out-shoot their antiquated 1920s-vintage tanks and biplanes. Only by 1939-40 would the allied rearmament program put them on something approaching an even footing.

    I tend to think of Chamberlain not as an appeaser, but as the guy facing down a vicious rottweiler who quietly says “good doggie” while reaching for a baseball bat. Doesn’t really fit in the Vonnegut frame at all …

    (None of which detracts from the intriguing point you raised in your big idea piece: it’s just a personal hobby horse I’m riding home on a wet Saturday afternoon, you understand.)

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