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Breaking the future: chip rot

In the future history of my Restoration stories, the United States (and the rest of the world) is in the midst of new Renaissance. To have a Renaissance–a rebirth into enlightenment–there must first be darkness. Here’s an overview and a closer look at one of the destructive elements I used to break the world.

(PS: I don’t know why my worldbuild stuff comes out in a boring, pseudo-academic writing style, but it does. Every time. #Sorrynotsorry)


The true costs of the Revision Years won’t be tallied for generations. Countless biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were created and released worldwide during those years. On top of those self-inflicted damages, natural diseases arose in the seething poisoned wreckage left after riots, uprisings, and insurrections.

Somewhere in that polluted patchwork landscape chip rot was born, and it is not hyperbole to say its birth was nearly the death of modern civilization.

First off, what chip rot isn’t: it isn’t a single-source problem. It isn’t one plague. It is many. The demon’s name is Legion, and that is why to date, more than forty years after its first catastrophic appearance, researchers are only beginning to successfully combat its root causes.

The name is a  designation assigned early on,  while it was erroneously thought to be a terrorist nanoweapon. Like many inaccurate designations (see “patient Zero” for the AIDS epidemic) it was catchy enough to stick in cultural memory long after its inaccuracy was exposed. Multiple groups claimed responsibility, but none of those claims held up under scrutiny–and the scrutiny was intense.

It’s easy to understand why early conclusions pointed to a manufactured or engineered contagion.  While the damage spread in ways that mimicked a virulent disease, the results made no biologic sense. And if someone did design a weapon to destroy modern civilization, it would probably look like chip rot.

Timing saved the world. If the initial disaster had hit a few years earlier, technological advances might have been erased along with much of the infra-structure required to rebuild it.  But chip rot appeared after the Global Restoration Conference. For all the havoc it wreaked and all the research shelved  in the wake of its appearance,  the crisis it caused was the making of many a fledgling government. It was exactly the kind of crisis citizens  could rally to fight together.

In that first incarnation, the organic frameworks used for common components throughout the electronics industry literally rotted away.  Another early chip rot plague targeted metal alloy materials, oxidizing and eroding disk storage and tape collections as well as processors themselves. Priceless decades of information dissolved overnight. A third wave went after materials commonly used in optical data transmission.

Computers were affected of course, but communications systems fell silent too, and power grids went down and stayed down for months when multiple units critical to the intricately-balanced  distribution systems lost their electronic minds. At its first appearance, hysteria and speculation added to the difficulty of addressing the issue. The silicon scares and the aluminum riots, for example, all did irreparable damage in their own right.

But ingenuity won the day–ingenuity, inspired guesswork, and  profligate use of component stockpiles to keep research going ahead of the destructive curve.

Detection marked the first breakthrough, a victory won even as the sophisticated laboratory microscopes used to locate and identify the contagion were lost. From there, the development of chemical identification tools and strict epidemiological protocols allowed for prevention and then containment. Humanity’s overall technological baseline slipped back decades– a century or more in many areas–but the foundation systems under the electronics had been built to last. Brute force engineering solutions were seldom pretty or maximally efficient, but they could keep the lights on and the water flowing.

All three initial variants of chip rot were caused by prion-like molecules that bonded with their target material and disrupted other molecular bonds. To date those variants remain the hardest to protect against and to eradicate when outbreaks occur. Its origin has yet to be traced.The time elapsed between first reports and total collapse of affected systems was so short it seemed to spring up everywhere at once, but recent epidemiological  research has narrowed the field to “somewhere on the Pacific Rim in the northern hemisphere.”

The particles at fault could be transmitted by unwitting users, contaminated tools and cabling, even through close proximity over a long enough time. Draconian measures are required to contain the spread when chip rot crops up, and it still does, and will, until someone finds a way to attack and neutralize.

And those forms aren’t the only types of chip rot, only the first and worst. Regional outbreaks of component failure are an inescapable fact of modern life. Thirty eight different transmittable biologic contagions have been identified since Restoration.

Battling chip rot is just a cost of doing business, one more hazard of living in the electronic recovery. Software issues are still common too, so malicious programming  is a constant danger as well. Often forensic investigation must be done in conjunction with with technical analysis  to determine the cause of a given system failure.

Biologic solutions which would have been obvious a century ago were rejected for ages for reasons that had nothing to do with rationality. All the other plagues released during the Revision Years put biological manipulation and genetic modification  firmly into the unthinkable taboo category. Those fields of research are so tightly regulated and circumscribed with legal restrictions that the potential losses far outweighed the possible gains–until quite recently.



 

The plots of Controlled Descent, Flight Plan and Novices all touch on the effects chip rot would have on the tech base–from the cost-effectiveness of retail gadgetry  to the availability of air conditioning.  Since Flight Plan’s plot is the one most closely tied to chip rot, that’s the title I’ll plug today.

Flight Plan. Available in ebook, paperback and audio.

 

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