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We have a new book

Yes, it came out a couple of days ago but I didn't have time to blog about it due to bouncing around the United States like a methamphetamine-crazed flea on a signing tour with Cory Doctorow: we have a novel! (Click the image to order it ...)

The Rapture of the Nerds

And here's a short teaser extract, below. (The whole book will be available for download under a Creative Commons license once Cory is in one place for long enough to build the book's website.)




Huw is holding her right hand under the cold-water tap and swearing when there's another a knock at the door.

"Who is it?" she calls down the hall.

"It's the Singularity," a booming voice calls.

"What do you want?"

"Everything is different now!"

"I don't want any."

"If I could just have a moment of your time?" It takes a lot of skill to make a stentorian voicejob emit a credible wheedle, but the bell ringer at the door had clearly practiced it to an art.

Huw turns the faucet back up and puts her fingers back into the cold stream. They're covered with vicious little burns, red welts that her honest, baseline cells will take weeks to properly heal. Of course, she could just ride over to the McNanite's and get some salve that'd make them vanish before her eyes, but Huw's endured much worse and she's still got enough stubborn stockpiled to last her a couple of eons.

There's another thud at the door. Thud. Thud. Thudthudthud. Then a transhuman tattoo of thuds in rising frequency, individual thuds blurring into a composite buzz that gets the bones of the old house rattling in sympathy, shivering down little hisses of plaster dust from the joints in the ceiling.

Huw uses her good hand to wrench the faucet off, then wraps a tea towel around her throbbing, dripping fingers and walks to the door, gritting her teeth with every step as she forces herself not to run. It feels like the house might rattle down around her ears any second, but she won't give the infinity-botherer outside the satisfaction.

She opens the door with the same measured calm. Let one of these fundies know you're on edge, and he'll try to grab the psychological advantage and work it until you agree to hear his pitch.

"I said," Huw says, "I don't want any."

"I'm afraid I rather must insist," says the infinity-botherer through his augmented, celestial voice box. The force of that voice makes Huw take an involuntary wincing step backwards, like a blast from an air horn. "Huw, this is mandatory, not optional."

This is mandatory, not optional. The words send Huw whirling back through time, back to her boyhood, and a million repetitions and variations on this phrase from his—

"Mum?" she asks, jaw dropped as she stares up at the giant borg on the doorstep. It's at least three meters high, silvery and fluid, thin as a schwa, all ashimmer with otherworldly transcendant wossname. It's neither beautiful nor handsome, though it's intensely aesthetically pleasing in a way that demands some sort of genderless superlative that no human language has ever managed. Huw hates it instantly--especially since she suspects that the loa riding it might be descended from one of his awful parents.

"Yes, dear," the Singularity booms. "I like the regendering, it really suits you. Your father would send his best, by the way, if he were still hanging around the solar system."

Huw last saw her parents at their disembodiment; they'd already had avatars running around in the cloud for years, dipping into meatspace every now and again for a resynch with their slowcode bioinstances dirtside. When they were finally deconstituted into a fine powder of component molecules, it'd been a technicality, really, a final flourish in their transhumanifaction. But the finality of it, zeroing out of their bodies, had marked a break for Huw. Mum and Dad were now, technically, dead. They were technically alive too, but that was beside the point.

Until Mum donned a golem and came over for a chat.

"Mum, I don't talk to dead people," she says. "Go away." She deliberately does not slam the door, but closes it, and turns the latch, and heads back to the sink, deliberately ignoring the fragment of cloud wearing her mum's memories. She's gone three steps before the door splinters and tears loose of its hinges, thudding to the painstakingly restored tile floor in the front hall with a merry tinkle of shattering antique glass.

"Love, I know you're not best pleased to see me, but you've been summoned, and that's that."
The spirit of adolescence descends on Huw in a red mist. Her mum has always been able to reduce her to a screeching teakettle of resentment. "Get out of my house, mum! I hate you!"

Her mum's avatar grabs Huw in a vicious hug that feels like foam rubber padding wrapped around titanium armatures. "Poor thing," it says. "I know it's been hard for you. We did our best, you know, but well, we were only human. Now, come along, sweetie."

It's Tripoli all over again, but this time the golem whose grasp she can't escape emits a steady stream of basso profundo validations about Huw's many gifts and talents and how proud her parents are of all she's achieved and suchlike. Huw tries to signal a beedlemote, but her mum's got some kind of diplomatic semaphore that makes all the enforcementware give it free passage. Mum's bot stops at every traffic signal, and several times Huw tries to get passersby to help her, with lines like, "I'm being kidnapped by the bloody Singularity!" but no one seems interested in lending a hand. Even if they did, well, Mum goes about 200 kmh between traffic lights, gait so fast that every time Huw opens her mouth to scream, it fills with wind, and her cheeks wibble and wobble while she tries to breathe past the air battering at her windpipe.

Then they've arrived. The consulate is midfab, and its hairy fractal edges radiate heat as nanites grab matter out of the sky to add to it. The actual walls are only waist high, though the spindly plumbing, mains, and network infrastructure are already in place and teeter skyward, like a disembodied nervous system filled with dye for an anatomical illustration.

The consul is an infinitely hot and dense dot of eyeball-warping fuzz in the exact center of what will be the ground floor. Well, not exactly infinite, but it does seem to bend the light around it, and it certainly radiates too much heat to approach very closely. "Thank you for coming," it says. "You brought your invitation, I hope?"

"Fuck you! No!" Huw screams.

She's gathering breath for another outburst, but Mum shakes her—gently by golem standards, but hard enough to rattle the teeth in her jaws. "Bad idea, darling." A palpable cone of silence descends around Huw's ears as Mum confides, "When I said it was mandatory, I was serious: if you don't comply, it'll delete everyone."

"Fuuu—" Huw pauses. "Delete?" She realizes that everything outside the cone of silence has stopped, stuck in a bizarre meatspace cognate of bullet time: birds hanging on the wing in midair, leaves frozen in midfall, that sort of thing.

"Yes, dear. I'm not exaggerating. It's come to pay us a visit from the Next Level, and faster, smarter thinkers than you or I are crapping themselves." Huw is rattled: Mum always had an accurate appreciation of her own abilities, and as a Fields Medal winner, she wasn't inclined to hide them under a bushel. "But it's playing by the rules, apparently. There's got to be a Public Inquiry. Which means statements by witnesses and friends of the court and so on and so forth—all very tiresome, I'm sure, but it seems your name came out of the hat first. So I'm afraid you're back on jury duty, like it or not. If it's any consolation, I'll try to make this painless."

The birds and the bees resume their respective chirping and buzzing as the cone of silence collapses on Huw like an icy waterfall of fear. "Shitbiscuits!" she screams as Mum gently wraps a band of silvery-shimmering nanomanipulators around Huw's head and saws off the top of her skull ...


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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 7, 2012 2:10 PM.

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