Apocalyptic Systems Thrillers ⊂ Protocol Fiction?

NYT essay on the genre of “apocalyptic systems thrillers” is very close to what we call protocol fiction around here. A subset.

“It’s a familiar technique; in movies, such titles are often given extra technical sheen with a flashing cursor that prints them out across the screen, a skeuomorphic legacy of teletype and early command-line interfaces. The implication is that diverse situations are being monitored in some way, logged and recorded by a technically proficient authority that sees them as part of a coherent whole.”

“The geopolitical epic is at least as old as “War and Peace,” but there’s a particular kind of novel that came into its own with globalization, taking on new life in recent years. Call it the apocalyptic systems thriller, or, because abbreviations and acronyms are crucial to its aesthetic, the A.S.T.

“ Why is the A.S.T. so salient right now? What itch is it scratching? One of the most astute thinkers about the emergent networked future is the design theorist Benjamin Bratton. In “The Revenge of the Real,” a work of nonfiction published in 2021, he proposes a “politics for a post-pandemic world,” suggesting that Covid has trained us to see ourselves in an “epidemiological” way: Like it or not, we are, inescapably, a population as well as individuals. We have undergone a kind of crash course in systems thinking that will, Bratton hopes, force us to approach our problems at global scale. “It is necessary,” he writes, “for a society to be able to sense, model and act back upon itself, and it is necessary for it to plan and provide for the care of its people.”

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