Book Review: The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

The Rapture of the Nerds, CoverI hate to admit it, but The Rapture of the Nerds is a book I thought I wouldn’t like.  It should have been a must read for me, but I waited quite a few months before picking up a copy.  It’s by two of my favorite authors, Charles Stross, creator of the Laundry books and the excellent Accelerando, and Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and generally good guy.  Cory’s even shown the good humor to let me bot-ify him, which is a project I need to get back to.  I was just… worried.

It may just be my religious upbringing, but the title of Rapture of the Nerds carried a ton of baggage with it.  When you couple the singularity, which has gotten beaten up a lot lately, with a religious concept like the rapture, from these specific authors, it seems like a recipe for some lets-make-fun-of-the-utopian-nerds riffing.  That’s kind of in vogue these days, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to think you could make a novel out of it.  Reading a whole novel of that really didn’t appeal to me, but it turns out the book isn’t about that.

While there’s undoubtedly a subtle undercurrent of it in The Rapture of the Nerds, what we really have is a tale of a luddite’s gonzo journey to the heart of the post-singularity, complete with mommy/daddy issues.  You could call it Boy Meets Post-Singularity World, and that would probably be more accurate.  There’s some gender morphing, militant deep south isolationist conservatism, hyper-intelligent ant farms, and bio-tech viruses.  There are also a lot of scenes in courtrooms.  All in all, par for the course for a world where technology makes anything that can be imagined happen.

The Rapture of the Nerds really reads like a looser Charles Stross novel.  His space opera titles like Saturn’s Children are usually really tight, this one’s more loosey goosey like a Laundry novel, probably the result of bouncing back and forth with Cory.  If Cory’s written much beyond-the-horizon sci-fi, I haven’t read it, so this novel seems more Strossian than Doctorowian to me.  I think some of the flavor may have bled from or to The Apocalypse Codex, as well, given that novel’s bad guy.  This book seems more brainstormed over lots of pints down at the pub than carefully planned.

There’s a lot of the third act of Accelerando here, or the first bits of The Quantum Theif, if that makes sense.  A good chunk of the novel takes place in… well… cyberspace.  There’s a love story, and a happy ending, both things I appreciate (I’m looking at you, Paolo Bacigalupi.).  It’s a lot better than I was worried it would be, though it probably isn’t either of their best.  There’s a post-singularity Lovecraftian dread throughout this book that Stross has really nailed with the Laundry novels.  In this book it isn’t so much defeated as just… survived.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy (and I’d certainly recommend it if you like gonzo post-singularity fiction), you can pick up a copy at the usual suspects.