The Rapture of the Nerds is a collaboration between technology journalist and blogger Cory Doctorow, and Scottish science fiction writer Charles Stross. The matt black cover is embossed with concentric circles of zeroes and ones, and it’s categorised by the publisher as ‘a dystopian hard science-fiction adventure’. Having last picked up a science fiction book when I was a teenager, I was slightly apprehensive and rightly so – whereas back in the day you only needed a smattering of scientific understanding to enjoy the ride, if this book is representative of how the genre has moved on, you need serious geek credentials to be able to get the jokes.
The book is set in a post singularity earth. Given that the defining attribute of the singularity (the point at which artificial intelligence becomes more advanced than human intelligence) is that life afterwards will so fundamentally different that we humans are incapable of imagining what it will be like, Doctorow and Stross have set themselves an ambitious task.
In their future reality much of the human race has voluntarily euthanized and uploaded a digital copy of their consciousness to ‘the cloud’. Of those left behind on earth, most have upgraded themselves in some way. Only a few shun technological enhancements completely. Huw is one of these. He lives in his electricity-free home in Wales, throwing pots for a living, until one morning he wakes up in the bathtub following a party at a friend’s house, with the mother of all hangovers and a nasty little technovirus.
The virus turns out to be a summons from the cloud – Huw has been chosen to save the earth from demolition and the human race from vaporisation. Via a series of escapades in horrendous caricatures of future Libya (post-revolution free market free technology free for all ) and the USA (post-nuclear semi barbarian evangelical petrol guzzlers living in a bubble to protect themselves from killer ants), Huw is finally forcibly uploaded into the cloud by the reincarnation of his mother and proceeds to a trial in which he has to prove to the aliens that the human race is worthy of continuing to exist.
Thankfully Huw’s adventures are also quite entertaining, or all but the most dedicated technophiles would be quickly out of their depth (as I pretty much was for most of the book). As it is, the sheer volume of new concepts and nerd jokes make it heavy going.
“Wow.” Bonnie sounds fascinated. “So you’re a designer Ubermensch?”
“Guess so.” Sam says slowly and a trifle bashfully. “After I got the new liver fitted, Dad kept me around to help out in the lab. Never asked me what I wanted, just set me to work. He’s Aspergers. Me, I’m just poorly socialised with a recursive introspective agnosia and a deficient situational relationship model…”
The thinking is vaguely along the lines of Hari Kunzru’s Transmission, or Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, but this is the hardcore tech version. To me The Rapture of the Nerds felt more like a guide to the potential evolution of various technologies disguised as a work of fiction than an actual work of fiction in its own right, although I’m quite willing to concede that bona fide geeks will appreciate the book on a much deeper level.
Any Cop?: If you’ve made it through this review you’ll probably make it through the book.