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Literature / The Rapture of the Nerds

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The Rapture of the Nerds is a 2012 novel written by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. It is available DRM-free, like all of Doctorow's works, here.

In the late 21st century, Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining the swarming densethinker clades that have consumed every stray molecule of matter in the solar system not in contact with the homeworld, fogging the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick it obscures the sun.

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And on this Earth, technophobe Huw Jones is having a rather bad month. First he wakes up drunk with some crazy nano-infection, then he has to take a flight on a scuzzy airship to Libya so he can serve on the "Tech Jury Service" that decides whether some bit of technology or another from the Cloud gets adopted. And then, he finds himself in the middle of a spontaneously organized conspiracy that could decide the fate of humanity itself.

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  • Added Alliterative Appeal: From Judge Rosa Giuliani concerning the South Carolinans: "There are rumors about the depraved and perverted practices of the pulchritudinous protestant puritan plutocratic penis-people priesthood, of shadowy bacchanalian polyamorous practices."
  • Bio-Augmentation: Everywhere on Earth, even a Luddite like Huw has cholesterol and aging hacks so he can eat seven flavors of grease at breakfast, when he's in his 60s, without having a heart attack by noon.
  • Brain Uploading: Most of the world's population has uploaded. The process, when shown, is quite messy though.
  • Clones Are People, Too: In New Libya Huw meets four members of a clone family, and in South Carolina Sam is Doc's very tweaked clone and treated as his son/lab assistant. Though decerebrate clones or individual body parts are treated as somewhat disposable. But those in the Cloud fork themselves all the time and put them in dead storage or outright delete them once they're no longer needed, to no one's dismay but Huw's.
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  • Dumb Muscle: Subverted by Sam, he's big and rarely speaks more than a few words at a time and in a thick Southern accent, but he has a lot of cognitive enhancements and learned a lot in his gestation tank, his first act after being decanted was to perform a liver transplant on his "pa".
  • Enforced Technology Levels: The remaining un-"raptured" population who have chosen not to join the densethinker network enforce a ban on similar technologies through a "technology court". Citizens are randomly signed up to serve on this court (as per the book's origin as the short stories "Jury Duty" and "Appeals Court" would imply), and their job is to evaluate the random bits of super advanced flotsam-and-jetsom that occasionally fall to Earth as "gifts" from the nanomachine network. The technology court is tasked with determining what new technology's effect on society at large will be, and anything too dangerous or too advanced (that might cause another singularity in the remaining population) is destroyed. Notably, in practice this technology ban results in bizarre communities based on special interests rather than draconian police states - anyone, at any time, can upload themselves to the network simply by speaking of their desire for such, as the entire planet is kept under constant surveillance for that purpose alone.
  • Evil Twin: Instance 639,219 was a fork of Huw who supposedly embraced their transcendence and the idea of destroying the Earth, and was substituted for Huw at the Committee meeting. Huw is convinced she is an AI or rewritten or something. Eventually they manage to have a fairly civil chat and compare brains, 639,219 turns out to have a rootkit but is killed shortly after.
  • The Fundamentalist: All of South Carolina. They burn "godless Commie-fag euro-weasels" at the stake.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Rapture Of the Nerds.
  • Gender Bender: Bonnie changes sexes at least three times in the novel, and halfway through Huw is turned into a girl by the Hypercolony. He is changed back near the end though.
  • Hive Mind: Most of the North American continent has been taken over by a "Hypercolony" of cyborg ants and someone in the Cloud wanted to speak to it.
  • Humanity on Trial: The halfway point of the novel is Huw being forcibly uploaded to the Cloud to testify before a Committee on whether to disassemble Earth or leave it be. Then it turns out the Galactic Federation is evaluating humanity's potential as a member, or a threat.
  • Me's a Crowd: Cloud people can "fork" multiple instances of themselves with little trouble. When Huw is uploaded, s/he is forked trillions of times, and most of them go catatonic or commit suicide. Huw "Prime" is the one who instead used the tutorial program to simulate her old house in Wales, while Instance 639,219 supposedly embraced transcendence fully. Huw tries reactivating her catatonic selves and organizing them into an army to fight 639,219, but they're stopped in their tracks by a resources audit.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Huw Jones is the non-magical version. Both his parents were jet-setting transhumanist researchers... and he throws pottery. He was barely out of childhood when The Singularity happened, and his parents uploaded to the swarms almost immediately; he insists on seeing it as them committing suicide.
  • Nano Machines: Everywhere on Earth, Utility Fog, medical bots, prank infections...
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Aiden eventually figures out that Huw is being deathly serious when she doesn't react to his aggravation.
  • Older Than They Look: Huw is near 60 at the start of the book, in his original body still, but has a longevity hack in his genes.
  • Remote Body: The Bishop of the First Church of the Teledildonic teleoperates many bodies that mostly have multiple limbs, and orifices and other appendages, so that he / she / it may "tend" to their many scattered flocks.
  • Shout-Out: Judge Giuliani at one point goes out in a heavily armed "pepperpot"-shaped minitank that does leave her head visible though. And when she is uploaded she uses a "cheap off-the-shelf" avatar that compulsively screeches "EXTERMINATE!" every couple seconds.
  • The Singularity: After the Singularity. Every rock in the Inner System except Earth which might change has been converted into a Matrioshka brain inhabited by trillions of uploaded and forked consciousnesses and AIs. Earth is a reservation for the few who wish to remain meat.
  • Uplifted Animal: The airship from Wales to New Libya is crewed by uplifted Muslim Gibbons.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Examined, played with, played straight, and subverted. Much of the story is essentially Huw's internal debate on the answer to this question (are uploaded human minds still people). Uploaded humans can run parallel instances to speed up tasks or achieve other ends; when not needed, other instances are frozen and filed away or deleted (i.e. killed off). The fact that this sometimes involves ending billions or trillions of lives is a source of horror for Huw, who nevertheless does exactly that on multiple occasions, while also falling "victim" to duplication as a result of this not being done to one of his instances.
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