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Postsingular by Rudy Rucker
Cover Artist: Photo: Georgette Douwma
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318725
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

[Editor's Note: We're rerunning Ernest Lilley's review of the hardcover edition from our February 2008 issue.]

Rudy Rucker doesn't try too hard to disguise his bad guys in this weird variation on a nanotech-embedded future. One's a software billionaire from Silicon Valley and the other is the rerun of a none too bright president. Hey, Rucker's a radical math professor in SF (the city) besides being an SF (the genre) author. Postsingular takes everything a step further but it travels in directions orthogonal to what's come before. Wacky, gnarly, fun, and chilling all at the same time, this is the story of when Nants ruled the Earth ...

Rudy Rucker's view of the universe is phase-shifted from anyone else's. It probably seems less warped if you live in San Francisco, where Rudy does and this story is set. In fact, it's set in several San Franciscos, one for each reality that the story takes place in. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the very near future, a computer scientist named Jeff Luty creates sentient, cooperative, parallel processing nano-thingys he calls Nants. Jeff gets the government to send them to Mars to turn it into a giant ball of computing and advertising. When his creations try to engulf the Earth, absorbing everything and everyone into a vast virtual sim-earth, they get stopped by a virus hidden inside the mind of an autistic child. This happens in chapters 2 and 3 (first published in a different form as "Chu and the Nants" in Asimov's).

Luty is nothing if not determined, so back to the drawing board he goes to create a new Nantian way to take over the world, or at least charge it for it. Again he's foiled when one of the workers on the project releases it as shareware, joining humanity in a vast telepathic net connected through little nano-bits of stuff. You can access the global mind, known as the big pig, or you can shut yourself off from it, at least to a degree.

For most folks, this would be enough of a story to tell. Rudy tells it with imagination and insight into the social consequences involved. Not that he's the first to think along these lines. Clarke and Baxter did a nice job of it via a different technology in their 2000 work Light of Other Days where everything that ever was is viewable via nano-wormhole technology. It's not as internal, but the same themes -- loss of privacy and shared reality -- come up.

Rucker isn't most folks, though, so there's more. Much more. There's a parallel world, populated by magic-wielding giants who can pop back and forth from here to there and are eager for us to accept their solution to our problems, to bring the entire world into awareness.

Good SF should be mind-expanding, by which standard Rucker couldn't write bad SF if he tried. Postsingular, which appears to be but the first of several books, offers a wild ride into a future too big to predict, accessible to most of us only in dream-state but to the author in waking, or at least lucid dreams.

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