Red Plenty

by Henry on July 27, 2010

I get far more free books from publishers than I can read, let alone write about (a source of persistent, if mild guilt). And this book I haven’t read yet, since I only got it this morning. But I have been wanting to read it ever since I read Ken MacLeod’s brief account ; how it is that the publicity department of Faber and Faber discovered this entirely unexpressed desire of mine, I don’t know. Ken:

It’s a fictionalised account, or a non-fiction novel, about the project in the early 1960s to use computers to plan the Soviet economy. A key figure is the genius Kantorovich, who invented the mathematical technique of linear programming in 1938. (We follow his mind as the idea dawns on him, on a tram.) He and other real characters such as Kosygin and Khrushchev mingle with fictitious characters – some based on real people, some not, but all convincing. It’s a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin – or maybe a mashup of all them; full of arguments between passionate and intelligent people, diverting (in both senses) infodumps, and all about something that actually happened – and, more significantly, about something that didn’t happen, and why it didn’t.

Worth noting that the cover is far spiffier looking than a compressed jpeg can convey. Worth also noting that MacLeod’s own recent novel, The Restoration Game looks like a lot of fun; since it doesn’t appear to have a US publisher, I’m waiting till I get to Ireland next month to pick it up.

{ 25 comments }

1

Darin London 07.27.10 at 4:09 pm

unfortunately, according to worldcat, the only libraries that have this are The British Library, and the Timaru District Library in New Zealand :(

2

ECW 07.27.10 at 5:00 pm

“It’s a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin”

Holy cow. I’d best order this ASAP.

3

dsquared 07.27.10 at 5:19 pm

unfortunately, according to worldcat, the only libraries that have this are The British Library, and the Timaru District Library in New Zealand :(

that’s because it hasn’t actually been published yet as far as I can tell – still waitlisted on Amazon.

4

ejh 07.27.10 at 5:53 pm

It says here that it’s due to be published on 19 August.

5

roac 07.27.10 at 7:51 pm

A grumpy observation about the typography: Am I the only one who is annoyed by the use of characters from another alphabet to stand in for Latin characters to which they are not in any way equivalent? I have seen this before, where a designer has replaced uppercase E with uppercase sigma in order to signal that something is about Greece. I find it cheesy.

6

David 07.27.10 at 8:02 pm

Cool cover and sounds to be worth looking at. Bummer about the new MacLeod, though.

7

ejh 07.27.10 at 8:50 pm

roac – no, you’re not the only one. It’s lazy, clichéd and wrong.

8

Alex 07.27.10 at 9:40 pm

Oh, for fuck’s sake. How much interest-free credit do I have to give Amazon.com, Georg von Holtzbrinck, et al, before an actual fucking book shows up?

9

Davis X. Machina 07.28.10 at 1:32 am

I find it cheesy.

Literally. Here you can buy ‘FΣTA’ in little tubs in most any supermarket.

10

krhasan 07.28.10 at 6:49 am

Sounds interesting, and I’ll look out for it.

Back in the days when I was taught linear programming, Kantorovich was never mentioned as its inventor. Dantzig was given credit (along with some input from Von Neumann). Could someone more knowledgeable in LP clarify?

11

Walt 07.28.10 at 7:07 am

Much of the mid-20th century work on optimization occurred on two separate tracks, one American and one Soviet. Since optimization has military applications, the early work was funded by each government for its military applications. Kantorovich is considered the first to initiate the theory of linear programming. Dantzig introduced the simplex method, which is the first practical algorithm for solving linear programming problems. Kantorovich won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work. There was controversy that Dantzig did not also win.

12

ajay 07.28.10 at 8:54 am

It’s a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin – or maybe a mashup of all them

“Let me describe at great length how my terraforming plan will help rebuild society!” explained the hermaphrodite.

13

Julian F 07.28.10 at 4:06 pm

Apparently there were other socialists (Chilean ones) who had the same idea. I’d never heard of these guys before:

“Project Cybersyn was a Chilean attempt at real-time computer-controlled planned economy in the years 1970–1973 (during the government of president Salvador Allende). “

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Cybersyn

14

mds 07.28.10 at 4:28 pm

I nominate ajay for the next round of ARPANET awards.

15

Adam Roberts 07.28.10 at 4:34 pm

I read this novel, in order to review it for Strange Horizons (the review should be up in August, I think). It struck me as deeply brilliant; although it didn’t in the least strike me as like a mash-up Kim Stanley Robinson/Neal Stephenson/Ursula Le Guin. But, really, I can’t recommend it to CT readers enough.

16

Jeff 07.28.10 at 8:34 pm

Fascinating — but not available in the United States? I expect I’ll need to wait for the movie starring George Clooney.

17

Ken MacLeod 07.29.10 at 7:02 am

Why it struck me as ‘a bit like’ reading these authors is roughly as follows: some of Ursula Le Guin’s characters are very like anguished dissident Russian intellectuals or cynical Russian official intellectuals (e.g. in The Dispossessed); KSR’s Mars novels have several such characters (and others, of course, mainly Americans) co-operating and arguing about big technical and political projects; and Neal Stephenson – as you know, professor – gives good infodump.

18

otto 07.29.10 at 8:14 am

Spofford’s previous ‘Backroom boys’ – on ‘boffins’ in the post WW2 UK – was very good.

19

ajay 07.29.10 at 8:39 am

Spufford also wrote “I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination”, which is very readable. He is a good thing and to be encouraged.

20

Adam Roberts 07.29.10 at 8:51 am

Ken: you’re right of course that Red Plenty has something of the intellectual ambition and political canniness of those three writers. It did seem to me tonally rather different to them, though.

I also second Henry’s recommendation of The Restoration Game incidentally: another title that CT readers will absolutely want to read.

21

bianca steele 07.29.10 at 4:41 pm

Ursula Le Guin’s characters are very like anguished dissident Russian intellectuals or cynical Russian official intellectuals (e.g. in The Dispossessed)

In fact, in Malafrena, the protagonist is a vaguely specified dissident intellectual jailed in an imperial town something like Budapest.

22

PaulB 07.30.10 at 2:33 pm

I’m late on this, but using Cyrillic “Ya” in place of Roman “R” marks the book out as too stupid to read. On the other hand, my sister who works in publishing tells me that the author may have had little or no input on the cover design.

23

roac 07.30.10 at 3:57 pm

The author may have had about as much control over the cover as the sheep did over the package of F∑TA cheese (see no. 9).

24

Francis S 08.04.10 at 4:49 pm

The author in fact tried his damnedest to get the ‘Ya’ removed from the cover, but was told that it represents indispensable marketing shorthand for Russian-ness.

25

ajay 08.04.10 at 5:19 pm

“Sorry, Mr Spufford, but it’s either that or a bear in a fur hat holding a bottle of vodka and playing a balalaika.”

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