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Postsingular
Rudy Rucker
Tor hardcover $25.95
Free download via: rudyrucker.com

review by Patrick Hudson

The 'singularity' is a slightly mystical concept. It describes the moment of a paradigm shift in technological innovation, the point when, as in physics, it is impossible to make predictions because the possibilities of advanced technology will make nearly anything possible. It's not entirely divorced from Arthur C. Clarke's vision of cosmic evolution eloquently expressed in, among others, Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with god-like computers taking the place of godlike aliens. Rudy Rucker's latest novel, Postsingular, explicitly takes aim at the singularity and shoots through it - Dave Bowman-like - to see what's on the other side.

The novel centres on a struggle to save the Earth from being eaten up by nano-machines (nants), released by the tortured villain of the piece, Jeff Luty. Luty plans to convert the matter of planet Earth into a giant computer that will run a virtual Earth as software that can be edited and improved. His first attempt is thankfully frustrated by a six-year-old autistic maths genius, Chu Lutter, who reverses the nants' programming, causing them to reconstruct the earth exactly as they found it.

Several years later, Chu's father Ond Lutter, a former employee of Jeff Luty, releases his second generation of nano-machines, 'orphids'. Rather than eating the world like the nants, they spread and occupy every surface on Earth, one or two every millimetre. They communicate through quantum entanglement and use quantum computing, which provides sufficient processing power to understand natural speech and individual intelligence the equivalent of a smart dog. The orphids quickly develop as planned, and begin to evolve super-intelligent AIs that grant virtual omniscience, additional memory and intelligence to everyone that wants it.

In the extensive notes on the writing of Postsingular that Rucker has posted online (alongside a free version of this novel), the second item of the timeline of work - after creating the notes document - is a review of Charles Stross' Accelerando (Aug 1 - Sept 5 NYRSF). In particular, he says, "I think one of the really great things about Accelerando is that Stross looks the singularity in the eye and works out what it might be like." This is precisely what Rucker sets out to do in Postsingular, and Rucker similarly never flinches.

He has a whole separate golf bag of ideas from Stross, of course, and both novels are heavy hitters in the concept department. Terrific as Accelarando is, though, I prefer Rucker's book, as I find Rucker's characters easier to relate to. Rucker notes that Accelerando's Manfred Maxx is a descendant of Heinlein's 'competent man' as filtered through Bruce Sterling, contrasting this with his own characters, Phil Dick-types often paralysed by anxiety, who tend to be dragged around by plots rather than making them happen. He's spot on in the comparison with Dick, and one of the great pleasures of reading Philip K. Dick, to me, is his engagingly fumbling and anxious characters.

Particularly appealing are the 'Big Pig Posse', a small group of kiqquies - the youthful generation who have take to the new technology and effectively elevated their IQs into the thousands - who are introduced in part two. Despite their enhanced brains, the happy druggies, struggling artists, misfits, and deviants of the Big Pig Posse don't seem to have any greater grasp of the messy business of love and life than the old fashioned humans they were before. There's a vigorous vein of soap opera in the main character's private lives, partly mocked in the Founders' orphidnet soap that revolves around Ond Lutter and his friends and family. Rucker balances these ordinary lives with his wild scientific and philosophical speculations with great skill, reflecting Dick's ordinary heroes.

Rucker's working notes, a 300-page PDF file almost require a separate review. He notes dryly on the title page: "Number of words: 143,311. (The novel itself is 89,500 words.)" The document provides an amazing insight into the writer's mind at work, revealing the dead ends that had to be removed, the research and thinking behind the concept of pan-psychicism and the 'Lazy 8', notes from Dave Hartwell at Tor regarding earlier drafts, and Rucker's stray thoughts about everything surrounding the novel and the process of writing. A lazy comparison would be with DVD extras, but these notes aren't as refined as that implies. This isn't an explanation or background, but a record of the creative process, and a fascinating thing of itself.

Postsingular is hugely enjoyable. It's never boring, and never gets bogged down in difficult info-dumps. Rucker's ideas are simple and elegant, despite the complex thinking behind them shown in his working notes. Exotic concepts such as shoons, orhipds, beezie and a universe 1.8 Planck lengths away in another dimension all seem natural and logical without the need for dense scientification to justify them. Highly recommended, and when you're done take a look at the working notes for further insight into Rucker's ideas and inspirations.
Postsingular by Rudy Rucker

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