Posts Tagged With: singularity

Mini Review: “The Rapture of the Nerds” by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

This post is a part of a series of mini-reviews of books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I received a review copy of The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross while at BEA in exchange for an honest review.

The Rapture of the Nerds is the story of a man who wants nothing more than to be human.  Young Hew is a bit of a Luddite, and remains on Earth even as most other humans have uploaded themselves to the cloud.  The people who have chosen to stay behind are all a little weird, and make great fodder for practical jokes.  That’s why the plans for all new technology must be evaluated by a court to make sure that they’re legit.  When Young Huw is called for Tech Jury Duty, his life is forever changed as he comes full circle with his biggest fears.

The book is divided into two main sections, both of which parallel and build off of each other.  The first half is set on Earth, and the second half takes place in the cloud.  The second half of the book is simultaneously creative and confusing in a way that only transhumanist literature can accomplish.

Singularity fiction is, by its very nature, a bit absurd, but The Rapture of the Nerds takes the cake.  Doctorow and Stross clearly had a lot of fun writing this one.  It’s what you’d get if Douglas Adams was on crack and spent too much time on 4chan, and I mean that as a compliment.  There are a lot of references to both science fiction and pop culture.  At one point, the “rustled my jimmies” gorilla pops up.  The overall tone is satirical, and the plot is used to make fun of attitudes and mindsets present in our own society.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“vN” by Madeline Ashby

I received a copy of “vN” by Madeline Ashby from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Amy Peterson seems like an ordinary little girl, but she’s not.  She’s a vN, short for von Neumann machine, a self-replicating robot.  Her normal childhood is only possible because she’s eating a restricted diet, preventing her from growing at her normal speed.

Madeline Ashby imagines a world where robots are governed by specific rules.  One of those rules, as first laid out by Isaac Asimov, is that a robot cannot harm a human being.  For that reason, all vNs come programmed with a failsafe which prevents them from hurting humans and forces them to be  subservient and non-threatening.  This meant that vNs could become integrated into human society, albeit as second-class citizens.

When Amy’s long-lost grandmother shows up at her kindergarten graduation and attacks her mother, something goes wrong with Amy’s failsafe.  She eats her Grandma and flees from the authorities.  Since Grandma was not a part of her diet, Amy is forced to grow up fast and to realize what a dangerous world she lives in.  Oh, and did I mention that Granny’s still stuck in her head and keeps trying to control her?

Granny was one of my favorite characters in the novel.  Yeah, she’s demented and sadistic, but she says things that need to be said about vN rights.  Violence isn’t the answer, but her ability to speak her mind was wonderful, even though she did a lot of things that were awful and made me feel queasy just thinking about them.  She’s evil in every sense of the word, but you can understand that her reactions are in part based on the extreme injustice found in society.  Her need to hurt and kill humans stems from years of exploitation.  One of the most powerful moments in the book was when Amy was standing in a trash heap filled with the bodies of malfunctioned vN babies, wondering why they didn’t merit a proper burial.  I found myself wanting Granny to take over and go after those responsible, which says something, as I abhor violence.  Madeline Ashby makes you feel outraged for everything the vN are forced to endure, which is the mark of a powerful writer.

One of the biggest themes of the book is the idea of autonomy and free will.  vNs can think independently and make their own decisions, but only to the extent allowed by their failsafe.  Since Amy spent the first six years of her life in a mixed vN/human family, she was raised not to think of herself as any different from her peers.  While on the run, she begins to realize what the other vN go through and how they are taken advantage of, often sexually, even as they are physically unable to speak out against the abuse, and forced at the core of their being to like it.

Without question, this is the best piece of singularity fiction that I’ve read.  It’s extremely well written, and Ashby is able to describe complex technological and futuristic concepts without alienating readers.  (Let’s face it, sometimes singularity fiction does that.  It’s awesome, but some of it makes me feel stupid.)

A big thanks to Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer for turning me on to this one.  It’s unputdownable.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

“Digital Rapture,” edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel

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.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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