A reference book, very detailed, carefully described, on the technological Singularity (artificial intelligences emergence and post / trans-humanity), its kind the equivalent of what did Kim Stanley Robinson for the colonization of Mars . However, this book suffers from two special features that can hinder you: an ending that raises more questions than it answers, and most importantly, writing almost worthy of Greg Egan (very technical), with a huge glossary at the end , which make it challenging reading (if you read the Office of Atrocities Stross and hated the techno-babble computer geek, this novel is not for you). Conclusion: A very interesting novel, unavoidable even if you're a fan of hard-SF (or ultra-hard-SF to Egan) or fascinated by the Singularity, but ask you some effort to decipher and which do not satisfy necessarily those who are there for the romantic, and not necessarily for the background, so perfectly described may be. But if you liked the transhuman universe Illium / Olympos by Dan Simmons, those of some new Greg Egan or the virtual explorers Sent Sean Williams / Shane Dix, or the worlds of brown dwarfs Karl Schroeder Permanence , this book is for you.
This is clearly a reference book on the subject of technological Singularity, that is to say when the computing capacity reaches a threshold such as post-human intelligences emerge and bring in their wake changes, technological or otherwise, to a not linear but exponential rate and are mainly of the future and the fate of humanity (or more generally of the previous intelligences) unpredictable territories. The description of the stages of the first Singularity, then the following is meticulous and detailed. Because no, the Singularity is by no means a unique process, it is multiple. Intelligences (human or otherwise) from a given Singularity seem incredibly sophisticated, intelligent and rich materially / technologically to intelligence that preceded this Singularity, whereas for beings from the posterior Singularity, those from the first Singularity are arrears to the limit of intelligence and living in a slum. Clearly, Transhumans and the first from the first AI Singularity, with their nanotechnology, are completely overwhelmed at all levels by intelligences from the second Singularity, which are themselves made obsolete by those third Singularity, etc. .
I read a lot of novels about these topics and that of Stross is by far the most ambitious, the most detailed and the most imaginative. Conventional transhumans and IA from computers / software, the author adds a transformation of legal entities Intelligences (bailiffs) or economic (corporations and even pyramid scams!). As in many novels of this type, some planets are dismantled, but not always by which we believe and for the reasons we think: If Mercury is deconstructed, it is by brokering programs become smart energy-aware, and this on their own!
As if a detailed description of the Earth / Human Singularity not enough, Stross adds the description of the technological Singularity elsewhere in the universe, yet passing on his novel a step in the scale of complexity, richness and, I think the interest and greatness. This is by cons I found a flaw in the novel, in the end this plan clearly leaves unsatisfied, all issues are far from resolved.
The description of this context is done in two ways, in standard Stross: through the characters (well described and friendly), so via an "internal" look, Live the life changes brought about by the Singularity, and through "points" regular placing is an external perspective, global and general: we regularly kinds briefing beginning with "x decade of the 21st century: the latest developments are as follows, the situation of the planet z is the following." Personally it does not bother me, but I know some do not like the artificial injection of information whose characters have or not knowledge, and especially dwells on a context that can be too described for those are there for the story and characters (personally, context fascinates me, so no problem).
A final word on the context: it is one of the few SF novels featuring the brown dwarfs and planets wandering (we can also mention the excellent Permanence Karl Schroeder), and this is something that I very much appreciated. Similarly, this book is part of a hard SF current which, if he shows very ambitious things in technology (like wormholes or the deconstruction of planets via nanotechnology), none the less coherent with the theories and laws of physics currently established. No hyperspace or things that science has not been able to prove or theorize so.
Here for the qualities of the novel. Turning to his defects. Stross is a geek, a computer and a follower of techno-babble. And he spent five years preparing his novel. Put all that end-to-end and you get a level language, references to the concepts of math / sociology / psychology / cosmology / data that make reading difficult at best, with constant references to HUGE glossary end of the volume, at worst painful. If you can not stand any of the first fifteen pages, if the effort is too big, abandon the novel, though, you can be certain you'll miss a masterly description of the Singularity and posthumanity. Hats off to the passage to the translator, and this new collection that had the courage to publish this reference book that was lying in the limbo of non-translation from TEN YEARS. Incredible when you think about it and we see significantly more mediocre novels edited easily from their writing, all other publishers combined.
A final word on precisely this new SF collection: two very interesting initiatives to report, and a much more unhappy. Let's start with what angers: the summary on the back of the book includes a huge spoiler that ruins many surprises some of the end. I think it should have been avoided.
By cons, two very, very friendly initiatives: inside front cover includes all the sketches that led to the choice of the final cover, especially inside the back cover has something VERY nice (and hopefully it will be present in all future volumes of the collection) a diagram with four "compass points" representing themes related to that of the novel, and how the books of other authors place themselves in relation to these themes. Very useful if we liked the theme of the novel Stross and want to read other things like it.
Finally, excellent initiative typing in masterpieces like other companies did not have the courage to translate (probably not profitable enough) for info there is a lot of Greg Egan novels that deserve translation in yer heart good ladies m'sieurs, eh tearful eyes * *
In (ultra) short, very interesting, describes with maniacal thoroughness, ultra hard-SF to Egan especially valid for the context but not necessarily satisfy you on the romantic appearance (but very engaging and well described characters) but with the worst Stross writing mannerisms and therefore requiring to hold on to play (or not to accept any understanding by skipping words with an asterisk).