The Last Firewall is the third novel in William Hertling's Singularity trilogy. Hertling's writing has evolved over the process of writing these books, becoming more relaxed, more fluent. This third instalment is much more of a page-turner as a result, and the story carries you along powerfully. Two of the characters from the previous books survive into this one and are developed further; important new ones are also introduced.
The book is set in 2035, when humans share the planet with a large and growing population of artificial intelligences. Good behaviour by the AIs is ensured by an EBay-style "currency" of reputation: well-behaved AIs get access to more computational capacity, bandwidth, and other privileges; bad behaviour begets bad reputation, which leads to downgrading.
Many of the humans have implants, which enable them to interact directly with the net and with each other. Like any other significant technology, these implants have both good and bad outcomes. They improve communication, and enhance sex (Hertling plays with sex for the first time in this book - perhaps a sign of his growing confidence as a writer) but they also introduce new ways for people to be controlled and harmed.
Hertling has clearly put a great deal of thought into what the future will be like, and into the crucial question of how humanity can survive the potential arrival of super-intelligence. He seems to view the reputational currency idea as a stop-gap, with brain-computer interfaces as the full solution. The switch into first person narrative for one of the characters towards the end feels like a strong assertion of that view.
The trilogy is thought-provoking and great fun, and also a terrific contribution to the literature which you should read if you are interested in the potential arrival of conscious machines and super-intelligence. And if you aren’t interested in that yet, then come out from under your rock: this stuff is important!
Having enjoyed two emergent AI stories from this author, I rather looked forward to a third possible scenario. Unfortunately, I felt that this book reverts to the hackneyed ideas of mad/evil AI versus humanity plus super-empowered cyber heroine and the action was densely packed with repetitive battles and lists of weapons and assorted robotic soldiery. I'm afraid I was totally unconvinced and unmoved by the heroine's sudden acquisition of fighting skills through her implant. The computer bits were pretty dense and incomprehensible too. In between pages and pages of battles, fights and long dull sections where cyber heroine struggles with evil AI, not to mention the constant taking over of various vehicles and robots by various characters, there was only a very small plot. The ending was desperately saccharine - Oops, nearly did a spoiler there!
This book is soooo exciting you may need to check your blood-pressure regularly. It is a battle between an evil AI and an enhanced super-human. There are exciting chases and last stand shoot-outs with a hint of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Of course good triumphs and the good guy gets the girl. But this is by no means a routine science fiction story. Every single bit of this story is gripping. I definitely didn't feel any temptation to skip to the end. Fabulous.
A well-written and believable, albeit worryingly true, science fiction what if? Like all good storytellers one starts off with a storyline, which quickly develops into many storylines, one of which appears as the main one. An enjoyable read and I will probably be buying the others that William Hertling has written. I like his style.
What a brilliant book! Easily the best so far from William Hertling. An exciting story set a little further into the future than the previous book. AI's have taken over most jobs and most humans access the internet via direct implants in their brains. The details are really well imagined and Hertling makes this imagined future feel very real indeed. The characters are engaging and the plot draws you along at a decent pace. Short chapters make it easy to read a little at a time - very handy if you're busy. The satisfying ending sets things up for adventures stretching even further into the future. I'm looking forward to that!
lots of well paced plot progression, some nice human, and a couple of AI personalities to explore mad this a fun read. Set in a future where emergent AI's and nano tech open up new opportunities, and threats, to humanity. I could half imagine that this was maybe the moment in time where Iain Banks' Culture evolved from… I hadn't realised this was the third in the series, although there was some brief references to earlier times, I didn't note I was missing background of events or characters. marked down to 4.5 because of a little sloppy editing in the last few chapters interrupted the flow.