The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (Books 2016, 3)

I read this about a month and a half ago, and already it has slipped quite far from my memory. That’s not a good sign, is it?

I’m also almost sure I wrote about it already, but it seems not. I certainly can’t find anything on either my Mac or iPhone.

But never mind. It’s Stross and Doctorow. What’s not to like? It’s also, I think, something of a fix-up. I certainly felt that I had read the early part of before.

We’re in a near-future, post-singularity world, where our hero, Huw, wakes up with a hangover to find that he has been invited to do jury duty. But rather than determine the guilt or innocence of alleged criminals, this jury’s job is to determine the desirability of a piece of new technology.

Huw is a singularity refusenik, who wants to remain on Earth as a baseline human, rather than take advantage of the ability to upload his personality and live forever in the orbital cloud. The jury’s job is to assess whether a piece of new tech should be allowed to come back from the cloud to Earth.

At least, that’s the theory. It goes a long way from there, as you might expect.

It’s good, but as I suggested above, not that memorable. On the other hand, that could just be my memory.

ThiGMOO, by Eugene Byrne (Books 2008, 11)

This is, in effect, a “Singularity”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity story, though a rather gentle, slightly comic one.

The AIs that gain self-awareness and seek to achieve independence and change the world, start out as part of an educational project called the Museum of the Mind. In this construct there are a number of simulations of figures from history (mostly fictional, like the victorian prostitute). School pupils, students, researchers and others can interrogate them about life in their time.

It’s interesting that Byrne has them start to gain self-awareness after their systems get infected with a religious program: a virus that tries to ‘convert’ them to Mormonism. I don’t know whether Byrne is trying to tell us that religion is necessary for self-awareness, or if it just seems like a useful trigger to give the programs some extra input and start them asking questions.

Anyway, one of the erams, as they are called (eletronic recreation of a mindstate) is based on an early-20th-century socialist activist. Shocked with apparent absence of socialism in the world he sees outside the computer networks, he organises his fellow erams, and sets out to change the world (and protect their very existence along the way). The title stands for “This Great Movement Of Ours”, which was once a common phrase in speeches by Labour activists, apparently.

It’s good fun, if lightweight. It was published in 1999; I wonder what’s happened to Eugene Byrne since then?

Newton’s Wake: A Space Opera, by Ken Macleod (books 2008, 7)

A scorching, searing cyberpunk space opera. It has _everything_ in it: FTL starships, uploaded minds, nanotech, the Singularity, wormhole gateways… Absolutely stunning stuff.

Though on the downside, I did find it bit hard to follow some of the plot twists and turns. Specifically, it wasn’t always immediately obvious to me why some of the alliances and disputes between the various factions happened. I expect a more careful reading, or retracing of my steps, would have resolved those difficulties. But such was the pace of the plot that I didn’t want to.

I loved some of the terminology. Travelling faster than light, for example, is called ‘fittling’ (from FTL). The “technological singularity (what is this singularity thing, anyway?)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity is called the ‘hard rapture’. I especially like that Ken has grabbed the term ‘Rapture’ from the weirdo fundamentalists christians who believe Jesus is going to come back and sweep them all up to heaven. The “Googleplex (where Google live)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googleplex (for example) becoming self-aware and sucking up everyone’s mindstate is far more likely, if you ask me. Which is not saying a lot about its likelihood…

One of the groupings of humanity that have survived through the hard rapture, and remain players on galactic stage, are called the Carlyles. They started out as a Glasgow gang, basically. They were based in something called ‘The Castle on the “Clyde (Glasgow’s river)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Clyde ‘, which I’d like to hear more about. Then there’s AO: America Offline. They didn’t get uploaded because they weren’t connected to the net.

This means that the two main dialects of the language everyone speaks are called ‘American’ and ‘English’; but the ‘English’ is rendered partly in Scots. Good fun.

I haven’t read any of Ken’s stuff for a while (aside from “his blog (Ken MacLeod’s blog)”:http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/, obviously). That’s a situation I need to put right forthwith. But first I think I should go back to the start, and dig ??The Star Fraction?? out of the attic.