Every first and third Friday of the month there will be two story excerpts from the Shine anthology. This is the seventh one: “The Solnet Ascendancy” by Lavie Tidhar:
It began, the way these things usually begin, with a Proposal.
This is Vanuatu. A Y-shaped archipelago of islands somewhere in the nowhere, South Pacific Ocean, home to Michener’s mythical Bali Rai, coconut plantations, coconut crabs, a few World War II downed planes, a sunken troop-carrier, volcanoes and coral reefs: its Internet domain suffix is .vu, its capital is the distant Port Vila, described by residents and visitors alike as a slightly dodgy Australian resort town, and known by the wider electronic world primarily for not having certain kinds of laws which make placing off-shore servers there profitable. There is a foreign volunteer for every thousand people on the islands, making Vanuatu the most volunteer-intensive country in the world. Welcome to Vanuatu! AusAid, Peace Corps, VSO, VSA, CUSO, JICA; EU, the Australian High Commission, the Alliance française, the Chinese, the Taiwanese, the Japanese, only the Arabs and the Israelis have so far forsaken Vanuatu – what is the nature of your project? What benefit does it have to the community? What is the amount of community buy-in? Please specify expected outcome and sustainability. How much do you need? What sort of materials?
It began, the way things in Sola usually begin, if they are to begin at all, in the Market House.
“I want e-mail,” Fatfat Freddie says. When he speaks English he has a slight Australian accent, a remnant of his four years at university on the continent, where he did tourism and hotel management. “I want to use the Internet. Can’t you do something?”
His companion is a waetman; the local most recent volunteer; Mike Rowe by name, pale despite the fierce glare of the sun, digging into the local chicken and rice without enthusiasm.
“If only they could actually cook,” he says. Fatfat Freddie nods and shovels rice into his mouth. There are three bony pieces of chicken on Mike Rowe’s plate, sitting lonely and forlorn on a mountain of rice. He pushes the rice with his fork and says, “You could set up a local e-mail network fairly easily.”
“Sure. Get a wireless router, a few wireless receivers, and a server. That might be the expensive bit, but…” he sinks into thought. “If you use an existing PC you won’t even have that expense. Run it on the Province’s generator… I reckon you could cover all the adjacent offices as well. Triangulate.”
The Province’s office sits in the midst of a cluster of offices—the entire administrative centre for Torba Province, encompassing the Banks and Torres Islands, thirteen islands, ten thousand people, eleven phones—and it is in wireless range of the following departments, being: Health, Education, Customs, Police, Court, Bank, Post Office. “Then, we can hook up the server to a phone line, get an Internet account, get it to send and receive e-mail once or twice a week. Turn it into an Internet gateway. Once you do this, once everything is in place, you can add users to the network at no cost, and charge them a membership fee. Piece of piss.”
“Kan,” Freddie says in Bislama, which is very rude. “Then why don’t we do it?”
“Who’s going to pay for it?” Mike Rowe says, and makes the money sign. He pushes his plate—still half-full with rice—away and lights a cigarette instead.
“We can arrange that,” Freddie says. “The EU— ”
“—couldn’t find their ass if they sat on it,” Mike Rowe, twenty-three, cynical man of the world, says with feeling.
Fatfat Freddie smiles. “Let me worry about that,” he says. “Just write the proposal.”
Mike shrugs and waves his cigarette in the air, trailing smoke. “I’ll do it right now if you want to. Go back to the office?”
“Let’s,” Freddie says. He pushes his empty plate away and belches. “I’m finished.”
There is one road in Sola, a long wide track following the shore line, stretching from the little airport, across the Arep School, past shops and the Market House, past the Province office and the rest of the administrative buildings, past the wharf and the football field. As Freddie and his companion walk down it (slowly, for Freddie considers each step carefully before executing it, and when he speaks he stops to rest) they do not yet know that it is towards the future that they are walking.
Excerpt from “The Solnet Ascendancy” by Lavie Tidhar. Copyright © 2010 by Lavie Tidhar.
- Waterfall West Vanua Lava: via Panoramio;
- Solnet logo: via Solnet in Switzerland;
- Solar panel: via University of Lleida;
- Stones: via Aeschlih;
Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas Cloud Permutations (2009), An Occupation of Angels (2010), and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He also edited the anthology The Apex Book of World SF (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in Israel. His first novel, The Bookman, is published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint, and will be followed by two more.
Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy… what can I say? The guy is bloody brilliant. It’s not a large offering but it’s a story told with impact. It centres around how quickly and easily and with what devastating effect the redistribution of the future (you’ll understand it later) has when it occurs at an accelerated rate in a small backwater. It’s reading stories like Lavie’s that cause you look at technology and progress with caution.
Perhaps the most memorable is Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy, which describes how the miniscule Pacific island of Vanuatu transforms itself into an information superpower.
[…] a fair number of them do a credible job of successfully balancing drama and optimism without sacrificing cultural complexity. The stories here that probably do the best job with this complex balancing act are The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar, Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic by Gord Sellar, and The Earth of Yunhe by Eric Gregory.
—Garner Dozois in the April Locus Magazine;
Lavie Tidhar makes a welcome appearance with The Solnet Ascendancy, a humorous story set on remote Vanuatu. It’s a brilliant little story that returns intermittently to see the unfeasible progress made as technology becomes available and local ingenuity puts it to good use. It’s a refreshingly different location for a story and makes for an enjoyable pleasant read.
The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar is a concise, witty and high impact offering that lures the reader into a thought experiment on the redistribution of the future. It also considers the risks and possibilities of the imaginative exploitation of second-hand technology.
Despite this, the stories in the anthology show considerable variety. Some are Trickster parables. Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy neatly reverses the cargo cult scenario, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Seeds describes the perfect blowback, while Alastair Reynolds’ At Budokan updates the impresario concept with panache.
The state is viewed with suspicion, while the market moves so quickly that malevolent corporations die off with a minimum of fuss. China, Brazil, tiny Vanuatu all have powerful roles in a post-superpower future.
The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar and Seeds by Silva Moreno-Garcia are, for the most part, trickster stories, but they work within the context of the theme.
An interactive map of SHINE story locations: