The Beyonders Probably Run Linux

First off, this has nothing to do with the Marvel Comics Beyonder. I'm talking about the Beyonders from Iain M. Banks' awesome space-opera The Algebraist. You can read some excellent reviews elsewhere that will describe the story better than I can. Most of these focus on the Dwellers, which are a totally anarchic civilization where everything gets done by the equivalent of Wikipedia contributors or open-source programmers or the good folk of Personal Telco. But the thing that I keep coming back to is the Beyonders. <!-- SUMMARY_END -->

The protagonist in the Algebraist, Fassin Taak, lives in a galaxy-wide civilization called the Mercatoria, which was nearly destroyed by AIs long ago, and which is currently under attack by a bunch of terrorists (the Beyonders). A lot of what we do hear is filtered through the Mercatoria - people describe the beyonders in the Mercatoria's terms because that's what they've been allowed to find out. As the novel progresses, we sift through the propaganda and get a different picture.

Turns out that the Mercatoria which seemed pretty normal and good to most of the people who live there, is in reality the hegemonizing oppressive ruler of the galaxy. The Beyonders live in habitats out between the stars because they've been driven away from the central worlds and that's where they can survive. The glimpses we get suggest that everything we've heard is a load of FUD, and they're actually pretty honorable and cool people. I wish we'd gotten more than a few tantalizing glimpses, but maybe that's what makes them so cool.

The Beyonders really struck a huge resonant chord with me. Not their violent actions (though their violence has limits, unlike other groups in the book), but how they have to hide away just so they can live a life free from control. They make me think of the citizens of Zion deep under the sewers of Machine City, the crew of Serenity, who fought on the losing side of a war against the oppressive, conformist Alliance, the ferals of Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica. Or real world Jews, Mennonites and other underground Christian groups (but without the violence), and lots of other groups who just want to be free and do their own thing.

Oh, and free/open-source software people. To be sure, being a GNU/Linux partisan is a lot safer than following some radical religious or political idea, but it definitely takes sacrifice and work to stay free in the face of slick, seductive proprietary software (I'm not immune - my PowerBook boots OS X as well as Ubuntu and I use Ableton Live for music). Open source people have to carve out their own community and make their own space in the cracks of the harsh business landscape.

So anyway. To Linux, the official OS of the diaspora and the underground. It's probably installed on The Serenity and software libre most probably runs the Beyonders' mesh network.