book review: the fractal prince

In order to get my copy of Hannu Rajaniemi’s latest book The Fractal Prince I had to learn how to pronounce the author’s surname. Luckily, the owner of my local bookstore is of Finnish descent and could help me out with that. In return, I will talk about mad science fiction with her customers if she asks.

And The Fractal Prince is kind of an insane book. In the best possible way.

It’s the sequel to The Quantum Thief and it’s again about cryptography as the key to an information-based future. While the Quantum Thief was about a score on Mars, this book heads back to Earth, which has a tiny part of it being preserved for people with bodies they don’t jump into and out of as needs must.

There are two parallel storylines going: one follows the thief who must return to Earth to… do stuff, and the other follows the daughter of a politician who is kind of disgraced because she loves monsters. Technological informational djinn who roam the desolate parts of earth. The more advanced technological civilizations (like the thief’s) who don’t usually bother with things that aren’t already virtualized get infected by the code running wild on earth.

What I love about this book (and its predecessor) is how you’re dumped into these mind-bending realities and forced to absorb and deal with them. Part of the genius in how that’s done here is that characters are recognizable as humans in the way that they need stories and metaphor to even explain to themselves what the hell they’re doing.

So it’s a book about cryptography, but it’s a book about djinni who whisper secrets. It’s great (and would have been on my top 12 books of 2012 if I’d finished it before making the list), but would be a terrible first science fiction book for someone used to more recognizable humans.

book review: diaspora

A friend and I briefly engaged in a dialogue a while back about the difference between those who believe in the singularity and transhumanists. While I think my distinction was lacking (since basically I see singularitarians as millenial/religious transhumanists) Greg Egan’s Diaspora is the picture of what I want transhumanism to be. See, I’m not about the superpowers so much, I’m about not worrying about these arbitrary biological restraints, which I’m sure amount to the same thing.

Diaspora is so beautiful in what it does with these decreasingly biological entities that may be our descendents though. All I really want is to be one of them. The first chapter of the book is about the creation of an orphan AI, one which goes through the stages of development until it is finally self-aware. This character, Yatima (which, incidentally goes in the file of “if I ever have children some day here are the geeky names I may fight tooth and nail for”), then deals with an apocalyptic (to biological life) event on Earth and then engages in exploration through physical and non-physical methods of the universe and the different layers within and around it, trying to make sense of life’s place. (Dave, seriously, read this book.)

By the end I was so caught up in the loneliness and wonder of everything that had happened. You know how in some books you know in the very first bit what you’re in for. This book shifts with each chapter. Timescales skew, universes change, yet some characters stick with tradition, immortal though they may be. Fuck, this thing was so good. It pains me that McNally doesn’t have copies of everything Greg Egan has ever written. I mean, I couldn’t read a regular SF book after this. Everything would have felt so four dimensional. (Seriously Dave, let me know when you’ve read this book. It’s in the library. I just returned it.)