Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Review: Postsingular by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker is a mathematics professor who has at times made a career of writing with 30 books to his credit, Postsingular being one of his latest. Rucker’s take on the singularity, the oft-considered inevitable merger of humans and computers, draws from an irreverent approach to the world and his background in mathematics and computer science. The result is a mixed a bag of quantum physics, alternate dimensions, nanotechnology, sociopathic megalomaniacs, and cephalopods that just didn’t quite work for me.

Postsingular follows a variable array of characters around San Francisco in a not-too distant future. Through the course of the book, we see two separate singularities occur through the development of nanotechnology – one event destroys everything, replacing it with nanomachines referred to as nants and creating a virtual earth. Another singularity event occurs where nanomachines serve as means for linking humanity through a virtual ‘orphidnet’ that allows for the equivalent of telepathy, mind-reading, and seeing through people’s clothing. The varied cast includes the brilliant, and somewhat absent-minded, inventor of the nanotechnology, his autistic son, his sociopathic, megalomaniac business partner with a tortured past, his wife, friends, visitors from an alternate dimension, and a group of free-loading, orphidnet junkies who augment their intelligence and coast through life. Buried within are love stories, tragedy, and the rescue of the world from real and virtual destruction.

The concept of Postsingular is just the quirky, irreverent take on life and a possible future that appeals to me, making it all the more disappointing when it did not work for me. The two areas that I struggled the most with are the dialogue and the jumbled mess of a plot. In a book that is 320 pages long, at page 150, I could not have told you what the point of it all is; there was no satisfactory idea of what the book was even about. The ideas within Postsingular are great, but it seems that Rucker just couldn’t find a good enough story to go along, or the story that was found is told in such a convoluted way that making sense of it all is too a daunting task.

The dialogue that Rucker forces into the mouths of his characters ranges from merely adequate to flat-out horrible. I suspect that the goal was to be both clever and a bit cheesy in a good way, but I could never get past that cheesy stench. Rather than a smell of the feet of angels, Rucker’s dialogue smells of the feet of bad B-movie directors.

Somewhat, but not completely, redeeming Postsingular are its characters. These are real flawed people. They have real problems, addictions, troubled love lives and often come with a past. There are some surprisingly touching human’ moments that are ultimately spoiled by Rucker’s choice of an ending. Included in the cast of characters are a few clearly satirical leaders that may look familiar. This is just the sort of thing I love in a book, but rather than pulling off a cleverly silly satire, Rucker seems to reach too far, becoming kitsch.

Rudy Rucker’s Postsingular takes some very interesting ideas, mixes them around with some rather interesting characters and attempts to create a brilliant mess of novel. For me it was simply a mess – but it does come with a great cover. 5/10

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