The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations
by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
Review by Benjamin Wald
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329103
Date: 04 September 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Rapture of the Nerds is a collaboration between Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. The novel is a fix up, combining Doctorow and Stross's previous linked short stories "Jury Duty" and "Appeals Court" with a lengthy third chapter entitled "Parole Board". Both of the co-authors are highly acclaimed, and both share a certain style of evoking the complexity of the future by cramming their stories full of a dizzying number of ideas and a certain wry sense of humor whereby the future is sharing all of the banality of the present despite the wonders on display (as evidenced by the title). This makes their collaboration feel very much in the voice of both authors, and it shares many similarities to the work of the two authors working separately. It harkens back a bit to earlier work by both authors, works such as Accelerando for Stross and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for Doctorow. Fans of either author will enjoy the madcap adventures and unabashed far-futurism of this novel.
The novel follows the escapades of Huw, a neo-luddite who vehemently rejects the wonders of the cloud, a vast network of uploaded minds and AI's that has dismantled all of the inner planets to make into computronium and who offer immortality and more to anyone who wants to upload their mind into the clouds' computers. Huw is summoned to be on a "tech jury", which is jury of consumers who decide whether or not to authorize new and potentially catastrophic technologies gifted to earth by the superhuman intelligences of the cloud.
The plot quickly defies summary, as Huw finds himself inhabited by a nanotechnological ambassador from the cloud, and factions come out of the woodwork to try to turn him to their own purposes. Each subsequent story layers yet more complexity onto the story, tacking Huw to a North America rules by a bizarre mixture of Randian philosophy and evangelical Christianity, and from their out into the cloud itself where he must try to protect the Earth from destruction.
The plot is constantly in motion, with reversals and revelations coming at a pace of one every few pages. It is to Doctorow and Stross's credit that this works as well as it does, as they do a good job of keeping the reader up to date with the latest permutations, but at times it does get to be a bit much, and some quite interesting and promising plot threads get abandoned in order to make room for new stuff. Still, this does give the plot a kind of manic energy, and allows the authors to introduce a dizzying array of fascinating ideas (although a few of them will be familiar to readers of the authors earlier works).
Behind the surreal and occasionally humorous bubblings of the plot, there is a notable streak of melancholy mixed with awe. The future will be awesome, the book seems to say, but it will come at a high price. Humanity will remain its own worst enemy, and no matter how high we rise, we will bring our cruelty and our limitations with us. This makes for an interesting undercurrent beneath the rather lighthearted surface of the novel.
Overall, this novel shares both the virtues and the flaws of both authors. The voice is familiar, sounding perhaps a bit more like Stross overall than Doctorow, but not a major change from what fans of either author will be used to. I appreciated getting a chance to read more far-future work by these authors, as both have lately been focusing more on the near future, and this collaboration is an excellent example of the work that has won both Stross and Doctorow such high acclaim.