Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel (book review).

Look at the title ‘Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology’ and puzzle over what it means. To me, a singularity is a black hole. Here, editors James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel define it from Vernor Vinge’s essay ‘The Coming Technology Singularity: How To Survive In The Post-Human Era’, another equally baffling title which they explain in the introduction means what happens next in the evolution chain or even by-passes it altogether and we impose our personalities in computer technology. I think I would have put Vinge’s essay before the five sections to doubly make sure that new readers are on their wavelength.

On reflection, this isn’t something that is particularly new. I mean, you only have to look at Frederick Pohl’s ‘Heechee’ books a couple decades earlier to see personalities surviving after physical death in a digital world and certainly the latter ‘The Matrix’ films expounded that in reverse by keeping the bodies alive but imposing their personalities into a virtual reality. I suspect the editors here, judging by the content, are determined to see how far removed from being what is termed ‘human’ will we go.

In the opening section, looking at the end of mankind as it is, diversifies from Asimov to Pohl and is more essay than storylike. There’s a reminder that this book contains essays but I was forever checking the front of the book for the individual copyright dates so I could put everything in perspective. After all, the age of any piece has to be part of the judgement as to what each of the authors thought at the time as to what would happen and I doubt if any of them would deem what they say as being lodged in cement, digital or otherwise subject to current developments in computer science.

‘Hive Mind Man’ by Rudy Rucker and Eileen Gunn is a humorous take on one man’s singular influence would be on a future Internet where his brain is linked to the Net and gaining world-wide popularity. The only problem is the man is a wasteral which turns him into someone recognisable in the rest of the population.

Oddly, an essay ‘The Great Awakening’, from ‘Year Million’ by Rudy Rucker puts some more perspective into this Singularity definition. My main reaction was that I think a lot of his predictions are likely to happen in less than an eighth of that time. What he does lay down are the three most likeliest things to happen but they’ve already been explored rather extensively by Science Fiction writers over the years before Vinge’s 1993 lecture. When it comes to psionics, his description of visualisation of where you want to teleport bears remarkable similarity to Van Vogt’s similarization technique in his ‘Null-A’ novels where lead character, Gilbert Gosseyn, want to go allows the physical body to make the jump to the destination, making the author even more prescient

I’m more than a little unsure about the rest of the stories. I do think Elizabeth Bear in her ‘The Inevitable Heat Death Of The Universe’ with the line ‘You are a God’ inadvertently points out the problem but not the solution. In centuries past, Man has created gods in his own image because it gives better relevance to his own problems. When you have stories that have no relationship to even what we are today, then how are we going to relate to such beings?

I think it might have been better for the editors had they given a more balanced book by having writers included who would have argued against Vinge’s point of view and allow the reader a better opportunity to see both sides of the argument. If, on the other hand, you want stories that have little bearing on current human foibles, then you’ll be quite at home.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Tachyon. 430 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61696-070-4)
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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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