I am a big sci-fi reader and I love the works of authors like Isaac Asimov, P K Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Harlan Ellison and others. Coming to Rudy Rucker's The Hacker and the Ants, however, was a major step backwards. While there's no denying that Rucker knows his science, his writing is several steps behind. This novel reads like it was aimed at, and possibly written by, young teenagers (if it wasn't for the sexual content I would have assumed that were the case). A potentially interesting concept is let down by massive repetition, bland style, and a predeliction for including completely irrelevant facts and descriptions. I wont be reading any more of these, instead I will stick to the more mature writings of other authors.
This book seems largely an attempt to explain Rucker's ideas about using artificial evolution to create artificial intelligence--the same scientific ideas that underlie his Software trilogy, but here presented in a much more "realistic" setting. I prefer the surrealism of Software (which also packs more of a philosophic punch) but I did enjoy reading this book--as much for the slacker main character as for the AI inspired plot--and would recommend it over Software for those who are mainly concerned about the science in their science fiction.
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Only a few years ago an artificial intelligence engineer and an evolutionary biologist collaborated on a speculation of how computers and humanity will combine, becoming thinking robots. Beyond Humanity:CyberEvolution and Future Minds was met with a fanfare of resounding silence. Well done with strong evidence and good presentation, the book challenged traditional thinking about the separation of machines and humanity. It should have gained greater notice than it did. A pity, for this book should have raised immense discussion. Now, Rudy Rucker has turned the same ideas into a speculative fiction account of a programmer ['hacker'] using evolutionary processes to make robotic creatures biological. As with all evolutionary processes, his program gets out of hand and the creatures run amok, out of control. Only another robotic biological is capable of dealing with them. If Rucker ever produced 'his best book' this is the one that qualifies. Many of his other works are loaded with a sloppy kind of mysticism that seems horribly inconsistent with his profession as a mathematics professor. This book seems to merge an audited biology course with his math skills in producing a plausible scenario of the future. That he makes this future so near makes the book even more compelling. Having railed against 'WHITE LIGHT' and SAUCER WISDOM, it was gratifying to find a work of his that tends to redeem his worth as a novelist. The writing, as always, falls below the worth of his concepts. Still the book made an entertaining afternoon. If you haven't the patience or courage to confront BEYOND HUMANITY, you might try this as an introduction to the possibilities of artificial intelligence. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]