Post-Singularity And Transhumanist Fiction I’ve Enjoyed

Everything here has some relation to superintelligence, transhumanism, or the singularity. Note that when I say “the singularity”, I’m referring to the advent of super-human intelligence.

Everything here is something I’ve enjoyed.

Each story has a synopsis. I try, but not very hard, to avoid spoilers.

Much of it is available online.

In approximate order of how much I liked it.

If you’d like to suggest an addition, please send me an email.

  • Basically everything by Neal Asher. In terms of raw enjoyment, he’s my favorite author right now (Dec 2010). The Polity series is about the adventures of various, mostly hypercompetent, beings (mostly human) in a universe where the godlike AIs have decided to let humanity do for themselves in a lot of ways, and all the crazy hypertech is mostly deadly dangerous.
  • Everything I’ve read so far by Peter F Hamilton. I’ve read The Night’s Dawn and Commonwealth Saga serieses, and they were completely fantastic. In particular, Hamilton is by far the best author I’ve ever read at spinning out many many separate plot threads, and then weaving them all back together in the end. I just wish he’d include a glossary of people and places; that would increase my enjoyment of his books considerably.
  • The Golden Age series by John C. Wright is special to me becuase of its value as propoganda: it is the only post-singularity fiction I’ve read that (ignoring the problems the main character has) (1) is a Nice Place To Live (here’s the written form) and (2) the immortal people with no real problems are doing interesting and (to them) meaningful things, not just lying around blissed out. I’ve found at least one case in which someone I had extensively explained singularity related stuff and how awesome the future might be didn’t really get it until he read these books, at which point it all made sense to him. Generalizing from fictional evidence may be bad, but it’s a pretty handy way to paint a clear picture in the mind of your listener.
  • After Life by Simon Funk follows the story of the first upload (who is also one of the scientists that invents uploading), and the society that results from it.
  • The Passages Series by Roger Williams (yes, those are the same link) is something I’ve not actually read the entirety of. In fact, I’ve only read “Passages In The Void” and “The Passage Home”. It’s fantastic. It’s about AI spaceships that save humanity by placing them around interstellar brown dwarfs, stars being too unpredictable, and a group that really wants to see earth anyway, no matter how dangerous it is.
  • The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, also by Roger Williams. Note that besides the general warning there about sex and violence, the final chapter has incest with someone who is (by American standards, anyways) a minor. It is largely consensual (the adult protests somewhat). That sort of thing seems to really upset some people, so you might want to skip most or all of the final chapter; people seem to think it’s fine without it anyways. This is about an AI that is based on Asimov’s Three Laws and discovers a hole in physics that gives it basically unlimited powers to stop humanity from ever doing anything that might hurt them.
  • Lady Of Mazes by Karl Schroeder explores a concept that I find particularily fascinating: given sufficient intelligence, it might be possible to engage in extremely subtle manipulations of very complex systems such that the results would be a new, more complicated system that the super-intelligence understands and controls but that are totally mysterious to humans. Lady Of Mazes is basically entirely about that; the difficulty of communication with the super-intelligences follows from it, and of course The Book is exactly an example of that concept.
    • A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge, which I wholeheartedly reccomond, touches on this concept as well: the Skroderiders response to the Blight, for one, and the formation of the Blight itself for another.
    • Accelerando by Charles Stross also uses this concept, when Aineko talks about exploiting the halting states in the human mind. On a related note, I once heard Stross talk about how to write superintelligences, and he gave an illustrative example, paraphrased: “When I need to take my cat to the vet, I bring out the cat carrier. The cat knows what this means, and then runs for the cat door. He is then very surprised to discover that it’s closed and locked. To him, these two events are totally coincedental. I think that it’s easy to write a story about a superintelligence: just have any humans that try to act against it constantly surprised by apparent coincidences that turn out to all have been the superintelligence’s fault in the end.”
  • The Shaper/Mechanist Stories by Bruce Sterling is, for me, basically technologically heavy teenage male power fantasy porn. That’s probably just me, though; there’s a lot of very thoughtful stuff in here, like discussions about the necessity of intelligence for a technologically advance species. It also does a really fantastic job of showing how relatively normal people could become progressively more and more transhuman. But when you get right down to it, I love this series because my inner 16 year old wants to be the Lobster King.
  • Crystal Nights by Greg Egan is about a man who creates a computer powerful enough to simulate a world and develop intelligent beings within it, so they can help him achieve the singularity. Or so he hopes.
  • Fossil Games by Tom Purdom; there’s a bit of the intro online. Basically two threads: what happens when humanity gets heavily into mental enhancement?, and what happens when a spaceship managed by (something like) Slashdot finds aliens?
  • I enjoyed Beggars In Spain well enough, but it describes a very light progression in intelligence/capability, and I found the political aspects just kind of weird. I simply had trouble seeing what her (the author’s) point was.
  • I’m going to partially disreccomend the Revelation Space series by Alistair Reynolds; I like heroism, and I like the good guys to win in the end. In those rare cases where I enjoy really dark fiction, it’s in short story form; I can’t take very much of it. This series felt to me like a constant slog through awful things happening to people, and I kept expecting it to resolve positively, and it never did, which upset me quite a bit. Having said that, if you like that sort of thing you’ll like this. It’s full of fantastically creative SF ideas, no doubt about it.

Notes on things I need to find/add:

  • three worlds — http://lesswrong.com/lw/y4/three_worlds_collide_08/
  • permanence — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanence_(novel)
  • the infinitely nested simulations story — http://qntm.org/responsibility
  • the Vinge researchers that don’t know they’re uploads story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cookie_Monster_%28novella%29
  • http://qntm.org/transit
  • brin’s uplift series
  • WWW series; need to read more of it first; http://www.wakewatchwonder.com/
  • lots of Egan
  • orion’s arm

Stuff I Should Read:

  • The rest of The Passages Series
  • People have now asserted that Banks’ “The Player Of Games” and “Excession” are safe (the latter was re-affirmed by someone who emailed me privately).
  • From a random emailer: You omitted Richard Morgan (“Altered Carbon”, etc), Wil McCarthy (invention of faster than light replicators - a long series) and especially, Alaister Reynold (all novels incredibly good - space opera at its best).

A long aside:

Those amongst you who are familiar with these genres will notice the glaring lack of any Ian Banks, an omission so severe that I feel the need to apologize for it. I have read exactly one book by Banks, Consider Phlebas. It is one of the few books I genuinely regret having read. He seemed to have a love affair with trying to gross me out, and he succeeded admirably. There was nothing sufficiently excellent in there to make up for the horror of The Eaters. In fact, I can remember almost nothing else about the book. Apparently this is just me, because the WP article doesn’t even mention that section at all. I keep asking people to reccomend Banks that they are sure does not include such deliberate attempts to disgust the reader, but so for no-one has been willing to make such an assertion.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments about the above, so let me expand a bit. The issue there may be totally idiosyncratic. It may be specifically about food; I made the utter error of reading The Jeweller Of Second Hand Roe recently, which is the only thing that I have ever read, that I can recall, that actually caused me nausea. It was all about food.

I am normally quite difficult to gross out; torture doesn’t bother me in the slightest (I enjoy Goodkind, for example), nor does any form of explicit sex. Since I had been grossed out so thoroughly be the bits in question, I therefore concluded that Banks must have gone far out of his way to be really disgusting. Feedback I have since received leads me to belivee that, rather, I was unusually sensitive to it; so far no-one else has mentioned it as having stood out as particularily gross to them. So I’m trying to own this as my own issue at this point.

Having said all that, I would have been OK with it had the segments in question done anything to advance the plot. It was the total gratuitousness that really set my teeth on edge.