on 16 May 2013
Well, I'm a big fan of both Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross and so really looked forward to this book, hoping it would be the best of both of them: Stross's sense of humour and Doctorow's awesome futurology - for instance.
I have in the past several times sat down and read both of these authors' books in a single sitting, being unable to put it down. Sadly with this, it was quite the opposite, I kept finding displacement activities in order NOT to read it. It took more than a week.
I like the whole concept of 'The Cloud', Charles Stross has covered it before of course, but I don't think it was done enough justice here. You don't get the feeling that it's huge, or a revolution in any way. The story told is all quite parochial, and involves only a few quite random characters, many of whom don't really add to the story.
My biggest problem is actually the randomness, it seems like the story changed direction on a whim, with no real progression. At times it felt like the plot was just pinballing around. Lots of interesting philosophical points were raised, but then dropped almost immediately without being exploited.
I won't give it away, but the ending was a complete anti-climax, lots of loose ends and no real build up and release of tension.
I couldn't help comparing it to a book I read a long time ago: "Job" by Robert Heinlein. In that the protagonist also suffered a series of trials as he was whisked along at the whim of others into new and challenging environments.
It didn't stand up well against that 30 year old barely sci-fi book by a borderline nazi, and that makes me sad in so many ways.
Huw is a technophobe, for reasons that become understandable part way though this book. However, he lives post-Singularity. Machine intelligence has fed on itself, starting a chain reaction which has boosted our creations into supergeniuses. Many humans have chosen to have themselves "uploaded" into the virtual world inhabited by the AIs, replacing flesh and blood with simulated instances of themselves. Immortality is promised. So Huw's is a hard position to sustain, but he manages, removing the wiring from his house and making pots for a living - until the day he is summoned for jury service, to help rule on whether a stray piece of technology downloaded from the godlike "cloud" can be permitted on Earth.
This is, of course, only the start of a series of fast moving and deeply convoluted adventures for Huw, featuring religious fanatics, a holographic djinn, Bonnie, his gender-shifting love interest - and that's only the start. It's rather as if Douglas Adams had torn up the first draft of Hitchhiker because it wasn't nearly weird enough. There are lots of allusions to coding, there's lots of metaphorical stuff about the cloud's hive-mind and ant-colonies, and comparisons between the great "uploading" and the so called "rapture" predicted by some sects. It's the sort of book that feels at times like it's trying to twist out of your hands. I wish that, like the AIs described herein, I could slow time (or rather, think faster) when necessary to allow me to absorb events. Indeed, the sheer density of ideas and events may be this book's main (only) flaw - especially in the third quarter, there at times the story completely lost me: most of it made sense in the end, but not all.
I think that Stross and Doctorrow do just about manage to tame their dragon of a narrative and bring it to a graceful landing, with Earth saved (of course Earth was at risk - where would the fun be otherwise?) through humanity not force: but they come within a whisker of burning down the town first - as it were.
on 14 January 2013
I thought that Charlie Stross was like Christopher Lee: incapable of error. Oh how wrong I was.
Revisiting what used to be an old theme of his - The Singularity - and in collaboration with Cory Doctorow, who is one of the great up and coming writers (supposedly - I've not read any of his solo stuff), this should have been not just entertaining but a good read too. Unfortunately it ain't. While it's chock-full of ideas, they're not used well, being just splattered onto the page with apparently little concern for the results, amongst cartoon-like one-dimensional supporting characters and leading to slapstick results. I came very close to not finishing the book.
On the plus side, much of the writing is tight, clear and inventive, as you would expect from two established professionals, but that can't lift a badly plotted story. Not recommended, not even as a legal free download.
on 9 August 2013
I'd been hearing good things about Stross for a few years but had never got around to reading anything by him, and I'd heard good things about Doctorow's Little Brother, so when this book presented itself I thought I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Sadly, this was a mistake.
It took me a long, long time to finish this, mainly because the story just did not get moving until two thirds of the way through. Many, many times I picked this up but could only read a couple of pages before feeling sleepy or wanting to throw the book in the corner of the room.
I got the feeling the two writers had a whale of time concocting this pigpen of a book. They probably LOLed themselves silly emailing chapters back and forth, trying to impress each other, trying to make each other laugh, trying to see how extreme they could be.
The story, such as it is, once you strip away the pointless cyber-tech journalese, the clumsy references and criticism of modern society, and the arch drollness - oh, and if you can skip the first two thirds of the book which are quite ridiculous - is rather basic.
A hundred years from now the majority of the human population has transferred itself into the cloud (yes, just like the cloud storage people use now) which, for power, actually needs to consume planets. Huw is one of a small number of people left on earth. His parents long since left him for the cloud. He is chosen to represent the earth, to argue the case for the human population, when aliens come along looking to wipe us out because they think, given time, we'll cause trouble.
The plot, though, however interesting it might be - and, personally, I thought the plot was something that had been covered a few times in other, better books - is completely secondary to the style of the novel.
I dare say some reader will absolutely love this. They'll lap it up, savouring every reference, every neologism, every bizarre twist and turn. Frankly, sadly, it really just left me cold.
on 5 July 2016
The Rapture of the Nerds owes a lot to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: a misanthropic everyman protagonist, an episodic structure with an anarchic disregard for plot, and unfortunately an overdone finale.
Compiled from two short novellas and a lengthy chunk of new material, it's the opening sections that are the most fun. Huw is a technophobic Welshman who spends his days spinning pots while much of humanity has ascended to an interplanetary collective consciousness. The new posthuman race can't leave well enough alone and insists on bombarding its lessers with incomprehensible revelations that could turn out to be anything from cosmic practical jokes to physics breakthroughs, and perhaps both at the same time. Huw cons his way onto one of the juries responsible for evaluating a new innovation, stumbles into a multifactional anarcho-conspiracist fiasco that defies description, and tries to find his way back to an ordinary, sane, human life.
In true Adams-esque fashion, it's really just an excuse to ping-pong between colourful settings and characters that make a coy commentary on our relationship with science and technology. Whereas Hitchhiker's dealt in science fiction cliches and high-brow metaphysics, Rapture is focused on present-day internet culture, body modification, science fetishism and our timeless need for self-improvement. Wild new ideas are introduced casually and without un-needed explanation; the Huws of this world will grok the meaning from context, while others will reach for their tablets and look up hot new concepts in human evolution.
It's at once thought provoking and deeply amusing, and brings its ideas to life through the bureaucratic structures and modestly unhinged characters who alternately pursue, ensnare and rescue Huw. There's little regard for conventional ideas about plot and character development in this part of the book, with one particularly farcical section seeing the hapless misanthrope frogmarched into and gallantly extracted from the same impending doom three times.
Unfortunately the new material, comprising about half the book, just isn't fun. Characters lose their personalities and distinctive voices altogether, and events begin to revolve almost exclusively around the mechanics of the new posthuman scenario, throwing up double-crosses and betrayals-but-not which frequently need pages of tedious exposition to untangle. There are some cute ideas here, and some honest efforts towards character development, but they don't come together into either a meaningful whole or (more appropriately) a series of engaging vignettes. It's a downhill slide towards a conclusion that is heinously predictable and rote.
I can't be too down on the book given that the opening two novellas are so enjoyable, and they're sufficiently self-contained that I can just ignore (or cut off...) the back half. Don't say I didn't warn you though.
on 26 January 2014
This is a real get you thinking imaginative book worth the read it's fun and entertaining but is also intellectually fascinating the idea of a heaven created by man it's bizarre and brilliant loved it
on 25 June 2015
A well written book with interesting concepts too. A bit of a sideways look at all the singularity / rapture novels out there - very much what I expected from these authors, and I was not disappointed.
on 15 April 2013
The Rapture of the Nerds is a tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations. So obviously there was going to be a lot going on between the covers of this book. I'm not convinced I got every joke or all the science, but I really enjoyed hurtling along with Huw as he fell into one disastrous situation after another.
At the end of the 21st century Huw is one of the relatively few humans still living on Earth. He's a self-confessed, and proud, technophobe, happiest throwing pots the old-fashioned way in his 19th century terraced house. He's gone so far as to eschew electricity, although his push bike has a few more features than perhaps strictly necessary. His parents have long uploaded themselves to the cloud, along with most everyone else. Huw's determined to stay where he is, avoiding unnecessary technology as much as possible. He's thrilled to have been selected for tech jury service; not only can he fend off some useless innovation but he also gets to travel to Libya, and he's pretty excited about that.
Unfortunately for Huw, some joker has scrawled a biohazard symbol on his forehead at Sandra's party the night before. At least he hopes it was just a joke, although the itching and shifting symbol leave him a bit perturbed. Anyway, he has to start his trip in full-on biohazard gear, which leaves him none too thrilled. The journey is not exactly plush, the hotel is even worse, and he meets some seriously annoying people. Still, it'll all be worth it once jury service starts - right? It's not long before Huw's paranoia starts to twitch, and the thing about paranoia is that it doesn't mean they are not out to get you. Before long Huw is in deep deep trouble with just about everyone - he's being chased by various 'authorities', 'helped' by an assorted group of people with their own agendas, subject to physical depredations and seriously confused. Oh, and something is after his body. And something else would like his mind.
Huw is thrown from one dire situation to another, frequently captured, desperate, and rarely in charge of his own destiny for more than a moment. Everyone around wants something from him, the best he can do is figure out who is the least likely to kill him at any given time. He spends quite a lot of the book as a passive figure - stuff is done to him - but later on he gets to make some choices for himself. Not that they always work out all that well, but at least he had a go. It seems that he is far more important than he ever thought, the fate of the earth is on him, whether he likes it or not. Mostly he does not.
The book contains lots of ideas, about the future of the planet and humans, technology, alternative consciousness, and loads more. It deals with all these big ideas in a light-hearted, almost farcical way. Anything that can go wrong, does. This could be irritating, but actually I thought it worked. The story just keeps ploughing along at a fair old lick, dragging the reader along with it. I found it very entertaining, and felt an awful lot of sympathy for Huw and his predicament. He is given a proper character, we get to know him pretty well. Most of the other people are either more transient or simply unknowable in their shifting allegiances and priorities. But, even amid all the chaos there is still space for some very human relationships. Huw finds a little romance, and finally deals with his relationship with his parents. All whilst trying to save his home. Can't be bad!
on 5 January 2014
I have read and enjoyed a few Stross books before, but never any by Doctorow, so was looking forward to this one.
Huw is infected with a technovirus, and his hope to be part of a tech jury defending against the singularity patent office is cut short. He is dragged over to America, which has a really odd version of the church there, and returns to the jury knowing he is the last hope for the universe.
It is packed full of ideas, from parallel memories, uploaded humans, gender changes and a mix of sophisticated tech and steampunk tech. All good stuff, or so you would think, but the characters and the plot really didn't work for me. Some of the time I wasn't completely sure what was going on, and I didn't really get the whole point of it in the end.
on 9 June 2013
After reading Accelerando by Charles Stross I expected The Rapture to have an even more geeky hard sci-fi singularity twist. However, it's not really a sci-fi book, it's more of a collection of non coherent events in a quasi-fantasy convention. To my great disappointment the plot seems to be directed by a random number generator, the characters are flat and in overall it's not good at all.
It might have been intended as a comedy as it feels like a failed combination of Idiocracy and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, not funny. I really tried to read this book but after several attempts I gave up. The first book I haven't finished in years.