This book contains “True names”, a novella by Vernor Vinge, and nine essays on deep political and technological issues underlying the novella. As it often happens with true artists, Vinge, who published his story in 1981, predicted a lot of problems that we face today. He was the first to describe cyberspace (although the actual term was coined later by William Gibson). The book poses so many questions that we are asking ourselves still and they, if anything, become more acute.
To what extent shall we cede our freedom to the government in the name of fighting the “four bogeymen”, or what Bruce Sterling characterized as “four horsemen of Modern Apocalypse”: terrorists, child pornographers, drug dealers and mafia? And if the “key escrow” scheme were realized in the USA, for example, how would that not make it a totalitarian state? Besides, if you outlaw the weapon (in this case, cryptography), then only criminals will have weapons, right?
Another interesting issue raised by Vinge is the cyberspace and people’s lifes in it. Almost 30 years later we know that people can get divorced because of virtual reality and even sue for very real money to compensate them for their loss of virtual property. One can be poor in real life (or in “real life”?) and be a powerful magnate in cyberspace. On the other hand, Vinge’s character gets caught by the police because he is wealthy and influential in both the cyberspace and the reality.
The characters of the novella have to keep their true identities — their True Names — secret to avoid prosecution by the “Great Adversary”, the US government that tries to find them out.The police who busts into “Mr.Slippery”’s house one day calls itself Welfare department, and they accuse “Mr.Slippery” of “interference with the instrumentalities of National and individual survival”. The police lets “Mr.Slippery” off the hook but only so he finds out and turns in to the police a certain “Mailman”, another cyberspace character.