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Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams

Aristoi (original 1992; edition 1992)

by Walter Jon Williams

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558417,869 (3.91)4
Authors:Walter Jon Williams
Info:New York : TOR, 1992.
Collections:Your library, Read
Tags:science fiction

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Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams (1992)

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    The Golden Age by John C. Wright (whiten06)
    whiten06: A similar view of transhumanism and augmented reality.

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Interstellar meritocracy where the elite of the elite control nanotech to prevent repeat of "gray goo" which ate Earth. One of these "Aristoi" goes bad and creates whole worlds of humans to experiment on - whoa!
  Clevermonkey | May 29, 2014 |
It's rare that I read something different enough to be considered unique, but the society and culture painted in this book is something I've never encountered before.

The world building is truly stupendous. A distant future humanity, scarred by the accidental destruction of Earth, rebuilds a new civilization. One of the core values of this civilization is that information must be free, but technology has become powerful enough, dangerous enough, that it can only be wielded in all its glory by gods. So the Aristoi are created, gods among men, to play the role of the divine (though perhaps they are are best viewed as philosopher kings).

Williams describes the Aristoi, saying: "Without doubt she would achieve the rank of Ariste: the long-latent synthesis, the tumbling-together of ideas, had begun. The integrative thinking of the Aristoi, wherein each thought, each skill and idea, began to expand and multiply and reinforce the other." Describing their relationship to the rest of humanity, an Aristos states: "We dominate humanity because we can't help it, and because the others couldn't stop it even if they wanted to."

The result is a society that is simultaneously a techno-utopia and a radical authoritarian dystopia (fascism without the nationalist connotations), made all the more frightening because the thought of disobedience to an Aristos is literally inconceivable to the vast majority of indoctrinated humanity.

This marvelous world building creates a set of main characters (Aristoi and their senior bureaucrats) that is simultaneously fascinating, desirable, and appalling. They believe they are superior and entitled...nearly godlike...and the reader has a hard time disagreeing, while all the while rebelling against such a notion notion as anathema to our current liberal society based upon the notion that all are created equal.

Combine that with the strange psychology of the characters (the society believes that multiple personalities - inner demons - are to be encouraged, named, and treasured, in order for multifaceted individuals to fully unlock their true potential), and this book is well worth reading. ( )
  eviljosh | Mar 31, 2013 |
Having read and enjoyed "Voice of the Whirlwind" and "Hardwired," both by Walter Jon Williams, I expected to like "Aristoi." Unfortunately, I gave up on it after 132 pages (just under 1/3 of the way through). The book tells a story about a group of humans, the Aristoi, who possess godlike technological powers with which they reshape entire worlds as they see fit. They admit new members to their ranks seldom, on the basis of difficult tests which seem reminiscent of the SATs, and they put new members through bizarre psychological trials to help them develop "daimones," alternate personalities which speak to an Aristos inside his/her head. Why this group exists, why it has so many bizarre rituals, and how the Aristoi prevent more widespread use of their technologies all go unaddressed.

The main concern of this group of all-powerful planetary lords is to attend an endless series of virtual cocktail parties with one-another, showing off their avatars and making passive-aggressive chit-chat. The main character, Gabriel, reminds me of a sex-obsessed, passive version of Corwin from Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. When not attending virtual cocktail parties, he is primarily concerned with a few artistic pet projects and pursuing enjoyable sex.

When the action finally starts, and an Aristos is killed in a sneaky self-replicating nanobot attack, I expected the pace to shift dramatically. I was horrified when the next thing Gabriel does is attend another darn cocktail party. Surely more action is coming in the book's remaining pages, but I have already concluded that Williams' fictional universe is implausible, the organization of Aristoi is weird simply for weirdness' sake, and his main character is sleazy and unlikable. If I want a fun outer space action story, I can find better elsewhere.

I am sorry to give "Aristoi" such a bad review, since I enjoyed Williams' other works. If you want a clever space action story with intrigue and plotting, give Williams' "Voice of the Whirlwind" a try and leave the Aristoi to their cocktail parties. ( )
  jrissman | Nov 4, 2012 |
In a future world the Aristoi are the ones who, through genetic manipulation, control the worlds configured in reality and in simulation (think Second Life with tactile and odor added). The Aristoi are encouraged to call up their inner daemons (the more the merrier) and do whatever pleases them. This can and does lead to abuses. It can also lead to boredom and confusion on the part of the reader.
  datwood | Jan 4, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Walter Jon Williamsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At Graduation, every five or seven or ten years, the Aristoi celebrated in Persepolis.
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Written with care, intelligence, and grace, [Aristoi] depicts a future society based on highly developed computers and biological engineering, the key skills of which are controlled by an elite known as the Aristoi. This world is depicted meticulously and vividly, and so is the near war of all against all that is unleashed when one of the Aristoi falls prey to the corruption of power. A fine, thoughtful work, highly recommended; Williams seems to grow with each book. ---Roland Green, Chicago Sun-Times Beneath the facade of universal prosperity, however, lurks a tide of dissension and madness that can only be fought from within. Williams tests the borders of imagination in a novel that combines brilliant hard science and speculative vision with a firm grip on the central humanity of his characters. A priority purchase for sf collections. ---Library Journal In this complex and rewarding novel, Williams has created a future which features many of the wonders SF has been promising us for years: virtual reality, genetic engineering, faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, telepathic links with computers, and more. ---Publishers Weekly Gabriel is one of the Aristoi, the elite class that hold dominion over a glittering interstellar culture, their rule more absolute than that of any Old Earth tyrant. When another of the Aristoi is murdered, Gabriel finds that the foundations of his civilization are tottering, and that his own power may have its roots in the greatest lie in all history. In order to defend himself and the interstellar order, Gabriel must go on a quest into the heart of barbarism and chaos, and discover within himself his own lost, tattered humanity.… (more)

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