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[personal profile] krpalmer
The Digital Antiquarian led off an eight-part series on Tetris with an introduction describing the first computers in the Soviet Union (which helps show how plenty of things could be said about that game) and their initial application to cybernetic economic planning. That did sort of surprise me by itself. Aware of how mainframe computers in the West could be viewed with suspicion ("Big Blue," after all, has the same initials as "Big Brother"), it had been easy enough to suppose that had some bearing on things over in the "Mirror World." (As it turned out, though, a later entry in the series did touch on attempts to apply computers to surveillance...)

The discussion that followed that first part made several references to a book by Francis Spufford called Red Plenty, described as a historical novel footnoted with hard research about the Khruschev thaw and the years when it had seemed the Soviet Union was growing faster than capitalism could manage. Looking up more information on the book, I became interested enough to order a copy through the nearest bookstore.

The book is a series of vignettes featuring historical figures from Nikita Khruschev on down and humbler fictional characters, so in some ways it felt different from a novel. I was also a bit conscious of how it would get thinner boiled down to hard facts, even with the endnotes explaining just what had been fictionalised for effect. All the same, though, it was an interesting series of pieces offering subtle perspectives on something I hadn't thought a lot about before. If I had reacted to the Digital Antiquarian post that had provided the first introduction to the target by seeing the contrast with Nineteen Eighty-Four's technological surveillance, now I was contrasting plans for "true communism" and unlimited prosperity by 1980 with the utter deprivation of that novel, even if that had been explained as part of a deliberate strategy to maintain a power structure that seemed to have no justification beyond the infliction of pain, less a "blow-the-doors-off expose" than a warning of darkest possible outcomes. I did also think a bit of the 1950s and 1960s having inspired a lot of speculation about "leisure societies" in the capitalist world as well even as the book trailed off not just with "the era of stagnation" now made a big deal of (where in the 1980s there'd still been a lot of warnings the Soviets couldn't be trusted and would surely make much of their simple but ruggedly dependable technology competing against arguments we'd just have to get back around to peacefully coexisting) but with oil money keeping things going.

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