Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Dan and Paul take an in-depth look at the worlds portrayed Young Adult dystopian fiction.
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Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Paul » 27 Apr 2015, 08:00

In a domed city after the apocalypse, a heavy backpack of knowledge that plugs into your neck socket is what separate a Lord from a slave, and whispers an endless stream of propaganda to you. But is it really so different from the devil we all carry in our pocket or purse? Yes, it can't play Angry Birds! In this episode Dan and Paul talk about the classic 80s YA novel by Monica Hughes, Devil On My Back!

"Devil on My Back" song by Hodja / CC BY
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Bergie » 27 Apr 2015, 15:43

Great Podcast! Thanks guys!
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Clypheous » 28 Apr 2015, 06:31

The technology in science fiction books doesn't typically age well, but the concepts here are pretty solid. I've yet to actually have any of these science fiction books or movies really have a world that makes a lot of sense, this one is slightly less non-sensical than most.

I find that most of these books and movies basically intentionally ignore human nature and how societies in the past have formed and how they are still forming today, which always bothers me. Just a tiny bit of research by any of these people on basic sociology I think could lead to systems that could work almost identically in their stories, but that would also not make me want to hurl the book into the fire saying "This is stupid, no actual humans would ever live like this"
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Daniel » 28 Apr 2015, 15:28

I feel you Clypheous when it comes to being annoyed by authors ignoring human nature. That's the only plausibility that really bugs me now, not scientific implausibility. Divergent is a particular offender.

I think Devil on my Back did a better job of explaining the compliance than most, since it required a combination of doctored information, distraction, straight up mind control, and hitting people with clubs to keep the system going. Do you agree? What is one that bugged you like that, and how would you tweak it?
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Lord Chrusher » 29 Apr 2015, 03:44

Dan, you mentioned that you are a scientist. What sort of science do you do?
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Clypheous » 29 Apr 2015, 10:02

Daniel wrote:I feel you Clypheous when it comes to being annoyed by authors ignoring human nature. That's the only plausibility that really bugs me now, not scientific implausibility. Divergent is a particular offender.

I think Devil on my Back did a better job of explaining the compliance than most, since it required a combination of doctored information, distraction, straight up mind control, and hitting people with clubs to keep the system going. Do you agree? What is one that bugged you like that, and how would you tweak it?


I try very hard to suspend disbelief about the science in science fiction worlds, although some of it is just so clearly impossible as to make me a roll my eyes a little (laws of thermo-dynamics making zombies impossible, things like that).

My biggest problems with these books and movies in general is that their societies are built in a way which makes no sense. This isn't an example from this book, but in "The Giver", the book at least, being a "birth mother" job was to have three children, then become a basic drudge worker for the rest of your life. They listed off everyone's career and I thought to myself, at like age 14 or so, "Man, if they do that, 2/3 of women are going to have to be birth mothers to even have population replacement, more if there are accidents or too many 'releases', this just doesn't work".

On back specifically to Devil on my Back, I think that it did do a better job than most of coming up with a system that political science says is realistic. A class that subjugates the lower classes, but keeps them ignorant of the fact that they are actually being repressed. A Brave New World did that with drugs, this does it with access to information. I can certainly imagine a world where everyone had access to wikipedia, but wikipedia was edited for each person so that they would only learn what some leader wanted them to learn. I think that would both be a very simple form of control, and one that would be almost impossible to fight. How would you know if that was happening? How can you prove it's not happening right now in our real world?

Please keep up the great work! You and Paul are now top of my list when I have a podcast to listen to as you talk about all the things that bug the crap out of me about these books but I've never had anyone to talk to about them. Thanks for your efforts and may the random number generator perhaps choose that other guy over there instead of you.

Edit: I completely forgot about my biggest problem with The Hunger Games. If you get something for each "ticket" you have to be drawn for the games it seems like every district should just either put someone up with the best chance of winning, or put up someone who is of no benefit to society and use infinite bread tickets to eliminate poverty. Or just have your own lottery the loser of which has to volunteer as tribute and then you're back exactly where you were, someone gets randomly selected, but you get infinite goodies from the Capitol. I cannot for the life of me come up for a good argument as to why only the first two districts figured this out. OK...I may be done ranting now...
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Master Gunner » 29 Apr 2015, 13:06

Hell, even if the capitol doesn't have to accept a volunteer, just have everybody get as much from the capitol as they can to maintain an even spread of tickets throughout the population - leading to exactly the same situation as no one taking any tickets would. So long as people in the districts are allowed to communicate, there's really no way for any sort of "death lottery" in exchange for goods to work as a means of control.
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Daniel » 29 Apr 2015, 13:10

Thanks for this Clypheous! Very interesting to hear about The Giver birth control problem. In fact that's going to be our next episode, so you'll see what we come up with as plausibility problems.

And Hunger Games, wow! That's an interesting point: if volunteers are allowed, then every district could control who they send. On the other hand, if there's a taboo against this (as one would hope), then at least the lottery removes anyone's sense of responsibility for the choice, which is something that would certainl wound or destroy a community. Imagine that town hall meeting...

In fact there's a version of that information filtering going on right now, which we didn't get into in the podcast but which worries me a lot: http://dontbubble.us/
You can imagine a purely emergent version of the panglossian, status-quo-reinforcing information filter of Devil on my Back coming from Google's blind hunger to show you clickable results: if you only click on results that reinforce your existing worldview, then it will just get stronger, which maybe translates to, "my job is the best and most important." (not to mention my country, my social class, my congressman) From a seemingly innocent point of view, even those buzzfeed lists with names like "21 Things that only Septic Tank Maintenance Workers Understand" may tend to have that effect as they become a bigger part of our information diet.

And thanks so much for the kind words! We know that the premise has a built-in limit as to the number of people it will grab (although hopefully a large one!), but within that, our objective is to get to the point of giving those people a damn rollicking good time, in both thoughts and laughs. And we also wish you continuing luck and safety in the Great Lottery!
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Re: Fight the Future 03 - Devil On My Back

Postby Daniel » 29 Apr 2015, 13:12

Lord Chrusher, I am a cognitive psychologist, focusing on research on visual attention.

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