I received an advance copy of “Digital Rapture” from the publishers at Tachyon in exchange for an honest review. Tachyon puts out a lot of wonderful books by some of my favorite authors, including Charles de Lint, Patricia McKillip, and Brandon Sanderson, and the fact that there’s a press named after a theoretical particle makes me happy.
“Digital Rapture” is the type of anthology where the order of the selections conveys a greater meaning. The book explores the concept of Singularity, or the idea that humanity might one day be replaced by robots, taking the idea of evolution to a unique but still logical conclusion. The book is broken into four distinct sections: The End of the Human Era, The Post Humans, Across the Event Horizon, and The Others. Each section explores the idea of Singularity in greater depth and at a later point in time. It was interesting to be able to see the progression of the idea of Singularity, beginning from the notion that superhuman intelligences could exist and culminating in “The Inevitable Heat Death of the Universe.”
As with any anthology, there were stories in this book that I loved as well as some that were rather “meh” or just went over my head. I’m going to talk about some of my favorites in the collection. It was hard for me to decide which to discuss here because so many were excellent!
“The Last Human” by Isaac Asimov is written in Asimov’s typical style. Rather than focusing on specific characters, we see the progression and exploration of an idea as different humans throughout history ask a computer whether entropy can be reversed. I loved the ending.
“Thought and Action” by Olaf Stapledon is a selection from his larger novel entitled Odd John. The story explores whether beings with superhuman abilities will be bound by the same morality that we are. In this story, John rationalizes committing a murder, and we see that he truly doesn’t believe that it was wrong.
“Sunken Gardens” by Bruce Sterling is set on Mars. Humans have taken several different evolutionary paths, and each sect has its own strengths and weaknesses. Small sections of Mars are terraformed in a competition in which different offshoots of humanity are in the running for an elevation of rank for their entire faction. The protagonist, a woman named Mirasol, must think outside the box in order to achieve victory.
“The Cookie Monster” by Vernor Vinge begins as a mystery. A new tech support staffer named Dixie Mae gets a message containing information that should theoretically only be known by her, causing her to start asking questions about where it came from. She begins to realize that she’s not real, but rather a conscious simulation in a larger computer program. This story fascinated me because we got to see in detail how a computer could evolve consciousness and yet maintain the patience to communicate with itself after a multitude of life cycles and re-boots. This was one of my favorites in the collection.
Another favorite was “Cracklegargle” by Justina Robson. Also a mystery of sorts, it tells the story of a man who enlists the help of a post-human gargoyle creature to help him find his missing daughter. One of the ideas present in the story is that strong emotions leave a tangible mark on the world, but our own perception is so limited that we can’t see it. The idea of material consciousness was intriguing, and I liked the way that the story played with the kind of ideas found in ghost stories and translated them into sci-fi.
“True Names” by Cory Doctorow and Benjamin Rosenbaum intrigued me, but at the same time was difficult to understand. The story focuses on three primal forces, Beebe, Demiurge, and Brobdignag. Each of those entities is capable of running simulations of the others, and each also contains multiple smaller beings that are capable of self-replication. The story focuses on those self-replicating beings, and how different iterations of the prima donna Nadia, the philosopher Paquette, and Alonzo, the man that they both love, interact with each other. If it sounds complicated, it is, but it was also fascinating, and may merit a re-read or two so I can understand it better.
Overall, I enjoyed this “Digital Rapture” tremendously. It was the kind of anthology that could entertain, but at the same time made me think and ponder the possibilities that the future could hold. I recommend it.