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Customer Review

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.
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