Originally published in 2017, Rob Myers’s sci-fi novella Bad Shibe (Torque Editions) explores the themes of artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and decentralized networks — predating the mainstreaming of AI-saturated tech discourse by a half-decade. Adeptly combining science fiction with social commentary, it’s a thought-provoking short novel that emerged from the early heady days of crypto. Bad Shibe served as a prequel to Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain, previously covered on JCC.
The story takes place in a dystopian future where most of humanity has been wiped out, society has collapsed, and those surviving have formed decentralized networks to rebuild society. In other words, everything is…pretty bad.
Inspired by Dogecoin, which launched in December 2013 as a joke cryptocurrency based on a dog meme, this dystopian world is home to many shiba inu puppies. The protagonist, Young Shibe (YS) lives in a postgender, post-fiat money era where, in between classes, people work in orchards. Throughout the story, YS offers a running commentary.
This commentary and speech are depicted in the style of Dogecoin, the token of which is encircled by the words “very currency wow much coin how money so crypto plz mine v rich.” The writing, also, covers every action and opinion, in an unfiltered manner that evokes the chat rooms of early virtual worlds:
But what would I tip them for? Amaze nomming? Sitting amazely? Thar they be, Mr. Phone. Tip them for being an amaze sitter. LOL. Like that would work.
In a world with fully financialised, planetary-scale automation, we begin to question what is right and what is wrong. Decontextualized information runs through society, and as Ruth Catlow points out in the afterword, this information gluts “electronic superhighways and neuronal byways, [and confuzzles] global populations.”
While crypto evangelists do look towards the future of an information economy built around “trust,” even today, Bad Shibe turns this on its head to consider the not-so-utopian future that may lie ahead.
Underpinning this world is an intense confusion. Obscured both by the unfilterable language and running commentary, everything is just a little bit fuzzy. One clever detail is YS’s youth and seeming inability to control their phone, meaning they lack the ability to understand the world around them, which makes the narration even more unreliable.
While Bad Shibe may be a relative oldie in online terms, it’s still a goodie; and a clever little throwback read for anyone who wants to explore the tension between decentralization and power that we see playing out in the Web3 space today.