[LMB] Banks's Surface Detail OT: was BD: TSK:

Martin Bonham martin at bonham.net.nz
Thu Apr 7 12:26:30 BST 2011

In a post I read in Lois-Bujold Digest, Vol 71, Issue 24
desala <desala01 at gmail.com> asked
> Can someone explain to me how the Hells actually work?  Please?  Because
> right now they don't make much sense.  Aside from, um, aesthetic objections
> (fire and demons?  Seriously?) I have business-side ones too.  One assumes
> someone is making money off these (I think I know who) because they do have
> costs in design and upkeep.  Government money perhaps.

Concerning the Hells in _Surface Detail_ by Iain M. Banks,
the short answer is to read the series of six or so explanatory
'infodumps' in Chapter Eight.

That chapter is mostly Vatueil's point of view in one of the battles in the 
contest being fought as a war in VR, but interleaved into it is a series of 
pieces of explanatory infodump.  I think I count six, in my dead tree edition 
from page 120 to 134.  Finishing with one that explains the origin of the Hell 
vs anti-Hell war in VR and later in real life.

It is hard to resist the temptation to quote from all of them,  but I think I 
will mostly paraphrase instead, with a few quoted sentences.
Bank's complete explanation is far more eloquent and better written.

Over the billions of years of galactic history, most technological 
civilisations reach a stage where they can copy and upload a creature´s mind-
state.  Some people will want to spend time in VR when alive, others after 

their original body dies, some as a backup incase of accident.
Of the multitude of VR environments for the after-life, some will be patterned 
after each Race's religious concept of a heaven.
A lesser number of races and religions will think that the idea of VR heaven 
requires a corresponding VR Hell.

Either as a religious requirement, or a secular way "to continue persecuting 
those thought worthy of punishment even after they were dead, a number of 
civilisations - some otherwise quite respectable - had built up impressively 
ghastly Hells over the eons." ...
"This led to trouble, in time. Many species and civilisations objected 
profoundly to the very idea of Hells, no matter whose they were." ...
"Eventually, though, a war was agreed upon as the best way to settle the whole 
dispute. The vast majority of protagonists on both sides agreed they would 

fight within a controlled Virtuality overseen by impartial arbiters and the 
winner would accept the result; if the pro-Hell side won there would be no more 
sanctions or sanctimoniousness from the anti-Hell faction and if the anti-
Hellists triumphed then the Hells of the participating adversaries would be 
shut down. "

As regards money, the Culture is past such crude ways of limiting resources, 
but the less advanced civilisation providing the computing substrates hosting 
most of the hells, does, and this is an issue with someone working with both 
sides of the conflict, originally intending to make money from hosting the 

hells, then wanting them destroyed to escape the no longer attractive 
contracts, and from the insurance payout, and from the aftermath of the VR war 
spreading into the real world, with spaceships attacking planets etc.

"Happily I own most of the major space-debris-clearing, satellite- and ship-
building and soletta-maintenance companies. I expect many lucrative government 

In present day concepts, could the Hells be profitable if we had the VR and 
upload technology ?
It is very possible to generate income from popular entertainment, religion, 
and life prolongation treatments so yes.


ps: does the soletta reference count as an obBujold ? (in this case is just a 
tiny bit of world building and is a sun shade, not a mirror).

Martin Bonham, Auckland, (Aotearoa) New Zealand.
Home of Middle Earth, Whale Rider, and now also King Kong and Narnia.

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