Sep 25 2012

Caricatures Of The Satirists: A Review Of “Rapture Of The Nerds” By Cory Doctorow & Charlie Stross

By Malcolm McCluhan


I’m not a singularitarian, but I am a transhumanist which is close enough for… well, probably for Charlie Stross, who, on occasion, seems to rise up to smite the (defunct) extropians on his blog.  But more than anything else, I’m a man who loves satire.  Satire… ridicule… mockery.  Humans  incite it; every last one of us.  And the closer to home the better.  So, you see, I really wanted Rapture of the Nerds to slap me upside the head and then slap those other guys — those silly singularitarians — even twice as hard.

There’s this thing that happens to me when I read Cory Doctorow’s novels, of which I’ve read a handful.  At the beginning, I find myself thinking, “this is clever, and there are more au courant nerd tropes being dropped than panties at a campus kegger, but is it merely clever?”  And then, somewhere towards the middle of the book, I’m feeling more like,  “Wow. This is really clever and amusing!”… and I stop worrying about whether it’s going deep or not.  And then, by the end, it’s either surprised me by really getting under my skin; or it hasn’t, and it was just pretty damn amusing.  Which is OK. (I’ve only read two Stross novels, so I’ll resist the urge to characterize.)

Rapture of the Nerds is an entertaining romp that ends up in the mere “pretty damn amusing” category.   Its high concept has already been expertly condensed by Mike Godwin in a review for Reason’s Hit and Run, so I’ll spare myself some needless labor and quote from that:

Rapture…is premised on the notion that somewhere around the middle of this century, a “technological singularity” will have occurred, enabling most people on earth to upload themselves to “the cloud,” which at this point is a space-based fog of interconnected molecular computing machines built out of the disassembled inner planets (except Earth) and optimized to capture solar energy. This uploading, which gives the novel its title, leaves roughly a billion people on Earth: the ones who choose not to upload (or at least not yet), and who are taking their time figuring out how to handle all the post-singularity technological advances in their terrestrial, body-bound world.

Some of that technology comes from uploaded minds in the cloud, which occasionally “spams Earth’s RF spectrum with cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.” To manage this problem of “godvomit,” the world government of the unraptured, unuploaded human beings forms “tech juries” to act as gatekeepers—in effect, to hold a trial for any given technology to decide whether the left-behind embodied humans can handle it.

Pretty amusing, huh?  But selfish me — I wanted more.  I wanted to be ravaged.  I wanted to find myself begging for mercy.  I wanted the greatest nerd satire ever. I wanted to LOL!   And all I got was an amused mind and the occasional sideways smirk.

Nonetheless, I commend you to get with this book.  It goes down easy. You won’t be bored and you’ll be wanting more.  Well, actually, you’ll be wishing Terry Southern was still around, but then, that’s life (and death) in pre-singularity times.   Meanwhile, there’s still an opening for the singularity satire that really puts the boot in.

  • By Giovanny, November 18, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Sorry for my delay in reply. First I was gone for the weekend (LTUE writnig conference in Provo really great stuff), then I was distracted from my blogging. Thank you all for the great replies. I appreciate the raising above vs reaching towards our Father argument, and find it quite valid. I would also add to it, Let thy will be done, simply because we’re still quite ignorant children when it comes to information parsing and manipulation of our environment. As far as conformity goes, it’s not that I think we should all strive for a particular form of exaltation, it’s that I feel like striving for it with technology is a little like trying to build a combustion engine with wood.And yet, I also believe we must strive to better ourselves. Look for cures to diseases and improve our quality of life with all the tools we have. Go as far as we can, and God will pick up the slack.

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