M a r k   E v e r g l a d e

Night Sky Mine - First Impressions of Melissa Scott's Book

Cover of night sky mine

Night Sky Mine is a cyberpunk book by Melissa Scott from 1996 that’s set in space. Ista is trying to find herself and returns to her origins, but encounters an interplanetary conspiracy revolving around an interstellar mining corporation. A spin on Genesis starts it off,

In their beginning was the machine…and the sparks were the first form…and became lines and then webs, and those webs knit and tangled and became greater than the sum of their parts. And the invisible world remained invisible except by metaphor…and so it was named virtual…Yet the invisible and visible are both there, and the opposite of real is not unreal.

There’s a tremendous amount to unpack in passages such as that -- the virtual being a play on the idea of the simulacrum, yet the virtual also reflecting the social reality we create. The opposite of real is not unreal represents a subjectivist view of reality here, where the virtual constructed reality still has an impact on the real, and so cannot be said to be unreal. This is true cyberpunk, and note that it’s not all guns and sex appeal – our genre runs deeper than its surface aesthetics.

Society in the book needed more complex programs, so they allowed programs to evolve to create themselves through machine learning, which was a disaster. The book represents these programs as flora and fauna in a solarpunk vibe, a world where a beetle can be a “netminder,” and malicious programs represented by weeds spreading could only be countered by having the right language. Scott doesn’t mean just language as in code, she’s using the virtual as a narrative device to represent our constructions. She uses the idea of a program to represent that which is antithetical to nature, artificial, but ultimately still natural.

Animals are saved in Scott's world by downloading them into the real world, effectively making them real through collective social acknowledgement regarding their value, one could argue. The book’s solarpunk imagery is highly creative, and the philosophy will lend itself to continual analysis. I look forward to reading more!