The Rapture of the Nerds
By Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
When the videogame industry outgrew Hollywood a few years back it was one of the most significant cultural watersheds of the past century, revealing a new direction of creative influence. With their heavy use of CGI and other digital effects, movies have increasingly taken to imitating the look of videogames (not to mention borrowing their characters and plots).
A similar impact can be seen in a lot of today’s SF, where characters are being replaced by avatars and events often seem to transpire in a plastic cyberspace, with reality constantly morphing into new shapes and forms.
One is reminded of this when reading The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, a rollicking (and not entirely coherent) story that begins with Huw Jones waking up in a bathroom that used to be a bedroom just the night before. At the end of the twenty-first century homes and even bodies mutate and transform almost instantaneously. Huw himself spends the first (and best) part of the novel male, and the second, after being uploaded to a vast virtual-reality cloud, female. The cloud being a place of “infinite mutability” filled with “CGI renderings” and conscious borrowings from films like The Matrix.
The survival of the cloud — “a diffuse swarm of solar-powered nanocomputers” that marks “the apex expression of humanity’s extended phenotype” — is, alas, under threat from an even bigger cloud that wants to turn our solar system into computronium (the fuel that runs its servers). Huw, a bit of a luddite with a nostalgic fondness for his/her “meatbody,” doesn’t want that to happen. This is the basic conflict to be overcome, but a lot more is thrown into the mix in a complex plot that also includes a hypercolony of omnivorous ants, a breakaway republic of fundamentalist rednecks, and the avatar of Ayn Rand.