the prestige (as seen from the props room)

Reading a Matt Webb post all the way to the end has the effect of revealing him as a sort of genre artist—a term I do not intend as insult. In much the same way as the golden age sf short story authors, he has a fairly standard suite of conceptual strategies; the excitement of the form is seeing the transform that those strategies produce from whatever his starting materials happen to be.

(I’m not sure it’s quite what he’s aiming for, but I read these things as pen-sketch preliminary design fictions, ideas that mostly stay at the one-person brainstorm stage.)

This one, however, had a different surprise waiting for me at its end. After kicking around the notion that the Arthurian sword in the stone and other such mythical images were (or can at least be read as) metaphors for the then-magical technology of blacksmithing, and then taking that into full-on Clarke’s-Third-Law reimaginings of the same sorts of image, Webb closes by saying:

I guess current technology is that magical, really, except that the process of transformation from raw material to end artefact takes thousands of miles and so much time that it’s not really your agency that makes it happen. So maybe, to invent something magical, one algorithm is to look for lengthy industrial processes and imagine them as on-demand, pocket-sized.

At which I genuinely laughed out loud, because it’s pretty much exactly the argument I’ve been making about infrastructure for a decade or so, as perhaps most accessibly summed up in the talk I gave in Munich in 2018.

If you’re reading this, Matt, and one of your ongoing projects has space for a consulting Chief of Theory role, we have capacity available!



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