Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rapture of the Nerds - Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

As a fan of both Stross & Doctorow, I figured this book would definitely be worth reading. I wasn't wrong, but instead of combining my favorite aspects of both writers, it wound up combining my least favorite elements of both their styles...which still made for a very enjoyable book.

Humanity has figured out how to upload itself to the cloud, but of course not everyone is ready for that just yet. Huw Jones hasn't forgiven his parents for uploading when he was a teenager, and is attempting to live as technology free a life as possible. Unfortunately for Huw the universe has other ideas and he winds up far more involved than he ever wanted to be. In the process we get to see a little of what has happened to people still living on the planet, which isn't too pretty. The US seems especially bad with its combination of religious cults and swarm of ants which eat everything they can get their mandibles on.

Huw is not especially loveable, and I found him really irritating for the first half of the story. He's being dragged kicking and screaming away from his nice, electronic-free life as a potter, and in the process appears to be complicating things for everyone. Finally things start to make a lot more sense as we find out why horrible things are happening to Huw in particular, and at that point I started to really enjoy the book. Possibly I will like it a whole lot more on a second read.

Unsurprisingly in a Doctorow/Stross collaboration this book explores the implications of life as an uploaded entity. I had never thought about what happens when everyone lives as a simulation in the computer and then you create new simulation - the new sim is effectively a person, they are indistinguishable from all the other folks who consider themselves people, so you can't just go killing them off by shutting them down once you're done, that hardly seems fair. Then what if you spawn other versions of yourself? Your clones become separate entities almost immediately, you wouldn't want to suddenly find yourself deleted as not being quite as up to date as some other version. Also, what about overclocking? If you are running on a really fast computer, you effectively experience time passing more quickly than someone running on a slower processor. How do you allocate resources? Emotional reactions are another thing - when you can artificially modulate your emotions, is this any less valid than someone who has learned to modulate their emotions by meditating?

On the whole, I'd have to say I enjoyed this. The story was mostly fun, the characters got to be more enjoyable as things progressed. Huw is actually a sympathetic character once you finally wrap your head around why he is acting the way he is. Most readers would probably empathize more with his parents than with him, since I assume anyone reading this story would be more likely to upload themselves to the cloud than now, and yet his overreaction to being abandoned by his parents is totally understandable.

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