The Rapture of the Nerds – Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

2013_rapture of the nerdsPublished in America last September, this spring has seen the UK publication of this collaboration from Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, chroniclers of the boundaries of technology and how humanity copes with the changes that are forced back upon the creators by their own creations, the author’s collective range of expertise allowing them to write convincing engineering, nanotech, biology, computer science, post human modifications and post singularity geopolitics (and whatever the equivalent term for the rest of the solar system is) with confidence and assurance.

Huw Jones of Monmouth is a stubborn resistor of new technology, content to fund his modest lifestyle through his pottery cottage industry, but when, following a particularly bizarre drunken party, he is invited on tech jury service, participating in the determination of whether a new and possibly dangerous technology downloaded by a pair of precocious brain enhanced toddlers from the cloud of uploaded post humanity which spans the solar system, he enthusiastically embraces the opportunity.

This is a mistake which will have consequences nobody, neither Huw nor the readers of this bubbling technofarce of insane future bureaucracy, will be able to foresee, and our protagonist soon finds he is little more than a puppet whose strings are being pulled from so far beyond his realm of experience that half the time he is only peripherally aware he is dancing as he flees to the shores of the Christian States of America to be greeted by the Fallen Baptist Congregations, a sect not welcoming to “godless Commie-fag Euro weasels,” where he finds a conspiracy theory featuring global warming as a side effect of astronomers attempting to contact alien space bats.

Tied with a mounting conviction that he is being specifically targeted, Huw’s perpetual bafflement in the face of the mounting surreal as he travels in the company of a sentient AI teapot of dubious loyalty do give him a delightful air of Arthur Dent, and the bureaucratic minutiae of heaven as a digital courtroom and constant witty commentary with occasional footnotes do remind of Douglas Adams, hinting that perhaps these gentlemen might have been a better choice to tell us And Another Thing…

2013_part_2_cs rapture usAs the narrative moves to those uploaded in the cloud and Huw finds himself unexpectedly rendered as a female, she discovers the existence of a host of instance sisters, the same root personality but each shaped by individual circumstance and the minor experimental tweaks made to them, the converse of Saturn’s Children, an earlier novel from Stross, where narrator Freya’s sisters diverged by choices made but she could download their experiences. In that novel, humanity was extinct, their artificial creations maintaining their inherited society, whereas here some humans, a largely squabbling minority, remain.

In the cloud, Huw finds evidence that her paranoia may have a basis in fact, but also faces challenges to core beliefs that have shaped her resistance to uploading, faced with an alternate version of Huw of a contrary view who asserts “You have belief and I have log files. Which one of us is more likely to be right?”

Both Doctorow and Stross have visited questions of the flesh versus the digital before, as has Neal Stephenson, whose Snow Crash posited religion as a virus that needs humanity replicate to keep building, here described as a “spiritual pyramid scheme,” and there is also a vibe similar to Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief in the digital manipulations and subterfuge, actions undertaken under the influence of personalities corrupted  by malware.

As insane as the process is, each of the steps is iterative; the end point could not be conceived directly from the beginning, yet given the progress it can be arrived at, though via an insanely circuitous route, but as would be expected from these writers, regardless of how bewildering it may occasionally be, the journey is never less than entertaining.

The Rapture of the Nerds is now available from Titan Books



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