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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Postsingular by Rudy Rucker

Postsingular by Rudy Rucker. New York: Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7653-1741-4

This is a wild and wacky SciFi romp through the realms of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. I've not read any Rudy Rucker before, but obviously, I probably should have. He is said to have won the Philip K. Dick award not once, but twice, and this story does justice to that kind of reputation.

The book does have the appearance of having started out as a short story or two, which then get expanded into a short, albeit, novel-length effort. Each chapter introduces new and stranger characters than the previous one. First we have a warped Silicon-Valley type genius (warped because he accidentally killed his best friend when he was 17) who invents the “nants,” intelligent nanobots, which threaten to take over the earth.

Literally take over, as in devour the earth and turn it into billions upon billions more nants, running a simulated earth, that their creator promises will be “a virtually identical simulation of Earth. Virtual Earth. Vearth for short. Each living Earth creature gets its software-slash-wetware ported to an individually customized agent inside the Vearth simulation.” Supposedly no one will notice any difference, except that you now have eternal life inside the simulation.

This diabolical plot is stopped, reversed actually, partway through the process, when another computer programmer, co-worker actually, works with his autistic son to loose a virus on the nants that literally forces them to run the process backwards.

This all happens in the first two chapters, in a mere 36 pages. That's when it starts to get interesting. Next come the orphids. Orphids are like nants, only better. They “self-reproduce using nothing but dust floating in the air. They're not destructive. Orphids are territorial; they keep a certain distance from each other. They'll cover Earth's surface, yes, but only down to one or two orphids per square millimeter.”

Further, “Orphids use quantum computing; they propel themselves with electrostatic fields; they understand natural language; and they're networked via quantum entanglement. . . And as the orphidnet emerges, we'll get intelligence amplification and superhuman AI.”

Essentially, it's like a virtual Internet that exists everywhere—on your skin, in the air. Everyone connected to everything, all the time. All information that ever existed immediately accessible via your brain. How people actually live and interact within this new paradigm is a good part of what the rest of the book is about. It's very much in the cyber-punk kind of tradition.

Of course, there's also lots of sexual interactions going on at the same time. More lust than lechery, but enough of both to go around. The sex is kind of soap-operish, but it does seem true enough to the kind of characters Rucker is depicting.

And there's a good story line, with a fair amount of suspense to keep you going, wondering if the heroes and heroines will be able to save the world, or if everyone and everything will get swallowed up by the latest attack of the nano-machines.

Definitely recommended, especially for cyber-punk fans. Amazingly, you can read this ENTIRE novel online, if you have the patience to do so, at the author's website.

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