The only reason I came across this book was that it was mentioned on the site iO9, which is one of my favorite sites for a variety of reasons. If you have never checked it out you should, they always have some cool and interesting articles. As always the title, which is basically the Apocalypse for nerds, really struck a chord with me so I knew I had to read it. What I did not realize was what the book is about, which I will get to in a moment.
This one is going to be a little harder to critique as it is a collection of short stories from many different sifi writers. This is the first time I have read anything by Vernon Venge and Charles Stross, both are pretty famous, especially Venge. There are so many more including Isaac Asimov, Rudy Rucker, and one of my favorites Ray Kurzweil, who offers a chapter from one of his books about the singularity. The book tries to use the different stories to build a time line from before the singularity to the inception of the technological singularity, then finally post singularity, which makes for some pretty bizarre stories.
As I mentioned above when I purchased this book I was under the impression that I was buying a different type of book, which is my own fault. I thought that this was a nonfiction book that consisted of essays or just writings from some scientist and others that are ingrained in technological advancements. However, I was wrong, this book is filled with a variety of short stories dealing with topic ranging from the singularity, artificial intelligence, simulations, and so much more. There really is something for everyone if you are interested in any of these topics. While reading this, one of the stories mentioned was Microcosmic God, which I recently read and did a review on. Check it out if you get at chance as it is one of the more famous short stories.
Trying to review a book of short stories is pretty difficult. I will say that there was one story in particular that I felt was awful and really brought down the book as a whole. It was called True Names, and is by far the longest story in the book. I just could not get into it whatsoever. I felt the story itself was very creative, but just too long and not interesting enough for my liking. I felt the writer tried to introduce too many new things to the reader. Everything had its own different name and there was a lot of stuff going on, I just could not get into it.
With that being said there were some stories that I really enjoyed. My favorites are The Cookie Monster by Vernon Venge, which sounds like a silly title until you read it, then it totally makes sense and it pretty clever and really makes you wonder when you get to the end. I also enjoyed Greg Egan’s Crystal Nights, this was a very interesting story that I felt had some good parallels on AI that relate to the real world. Those two are by far my favorites. Rudy Rucker’s Hive Mind was a good story as well, it is normal Rucker and if you are familiar with the writer you know what I am talking about. Day Million was certainly interesting as well and makes you think about what our lives will be like socially should we make it to the far future. David Levine’s Firewall was a neat story as well, this one as well had some cool ideas on AI and the reminded me a lot of 2001 for some reason, although I have no idea why. I think the ending of both stories have a lot in common, albeit they are still different but not as much as you think. Regardless if you decide to check this one out I suggest just reading these stories if time is limited as they are certainly the best the book has to offer.
I also liked an excerpt from Ray Kurzweil from one of his other books. This was a nice mix up nonfiction thrown in and after reading this I think I may eventually check out his book, I think it was The Singularity is Near. While reading I also came across a book called Year Million, which is what I thought this story was, a collection of essays and talks about technology. I think eventually I will also check that one out as that is what I was originally after when I purchased this one.
Sifi is a very unique genre, and one of the few that has so many good and very famous short stories. This is what makes the genre so interesting among so many other things. This is the first short story collection I have read, I would not be opposed to reading another one, it is a good place to read an gather ideas for stories if you are a writer. It is also a nice change up to read something different every few days and not have to fully invest hours into a novel, or if you read as slow as I do, weeks. A few years ago I read a short story collection about time travel, that was pretty good.
All in all I would say that if you are interested in this topic that this is one you should check out. There are some really cool stories that really make you think. The only down side to this one is that it is pretty lengthy, about 430 pages, but because most of the stories are pretty short it goes pretty quick. However, the worst story in the book (True Names) is about 60 plus pages and it made the read so much longer and near unbearable. It really made me want to put the book down and read something else. I would recommend skipping True Names if I were you, it will make your reading experience so much better. So if you like this type of stuff you should check this one out, just know what you are getting into.