Von New Man
The protagonist of Alastair Reynolds’s first space opera discovers an ancient alien artifact. Despite all warnings, his curiosity and ingenuity–and by extension humanity’s–drives galactic archeologist Dan Sylveste to ‘solve’ it.
The artifact proves a von Neumann machine, suddenly weaponized to destroy the civilization a threat enough to open it.
The irony that the aliens are by this time long extinct provoked the thought that should we fail to check the most myopic of our own practices–in my view, capitalism’s first and second contradictions, the Jevons trap, Lauderdale’s paradox, and a self-fulfilling declensionist rationalization–humanity may act as its own von Neumann.