author: Charles Stross

name: Steev

average rating: 3.81

book published: 2005

rating: 4

read at: 2010/11/11

date added: 2010/11/11

shelves: fun, novels, own-it

I think if I could I'd give this book only 3.7 stars, but I'm rounding up to 5. This is a sprawling, "epic" science fiction novel about "the Singularity." It spans the near, cyberpunk, extropian futurist future of the 2010s to the far-flung, intergalactic, far future of the 23rd or so century. It does this somewhat clumsily by following the path of one family across 4 generations, starting with Manfred Macx, who at the beginning is sort of an itinerant cybergenius hacker/entrepreneur. By the end of the book Manfred's descendants have helped create a deadly posthuman horde of artificial intelligences that have devoured all the mass in the solar system and converted it into tiny nanocomputers so that they can think even faster and better than ever, and meanwhile humans have escaped the solar system out to the stars and learned how to jump great distances using wormholes and interstellar "routers," searching for other "transcended" sapients out there who are no con artists... in between, there are intelligent cats, ravenous intelligent corporate instruments, "Economics 2.0", dominatrixes, floating cities in the clouds of Saturn, laser sail starships, etc etc. It's all a weird mix of "future history" exposition and awkward family drama across centuries of uploaded personalities reincarnating into new meatbodies or flitting around in simulated spaces.

I must say I much prefer Stross's more recent book, Halting State, perhaps because it sticks to a smaller and sooner stretch of near-future time and focuses in more intimately and realistically on a small number of real humans and their relationships, and it doesn't stray into the epic, sweeping historic/apocalyptic narrative that this book does. The concepts are definitely interesting, and Stross gets them across in a better way than almost anyone I've read since Vernor Vinge, but he still succumbs to the same weakness that so many SF writers have: they don't really have as good a handle on how to convey human emotions and interactions as they might, certainly not as well as some more talented, non-genre authors can do it.

The other problem is that the future history depicted in this book seems both too optimistic and yet also too horrible to seriously subscribe to. I just don't think we'll get to the point where we can "upload" ourselves in a truly successful, healthy way, at least before we destroy ourselves and our planet. And the novel shows that even if we do get to this point, we very probably will still destroy our planet, and possibly ourselves as well.