Glasshouse vs Rainbows End

I recently had a reading binge, getting through two books in as many weeks. Starting with my pre-ordered copy of Glasshouse and then quickly moving on to Rainbows End.

Glasshouse I’d been hanging for since I read about it on Charlie’s blog. Rainbow’s End, I’d only recently learned about. They are both future SF novels, dealing with to a certain extent with the context of the Singularity – Rainbow’s End being set possibly just before it – and Glasshouse being set way, way after it.

I’ll preface my comments by mentioning that what I get the most out of scifi is a new take on the future and/or present, the whole ‘spearhead of cognition‘ thing.

Things that I liked about the Glasshouse:

  • talked about the present from the perspective of the future
  • explored how identity can be affected by the ability to choose gender, or in fact species
  • A-Gates – cool way to transport people / things (basically through controlled worm-holes)

I wasn’t so sure about the whole Memory Editing thing though. Fair enough, people living such long life-spans might want to erase painful memories in order to ‘re-start’ their lives, but wouldn’t a more pressing problem for the lazarus-humans be running out of space to form new memories? Even in Asimov‘s old Robot stories, R. Daneel Olivaw would have to choose what he kept as he up-graded his positronic brain.

I know this is kinda similar, but there’s a philosophic difference here – between deleting memories to re-start, or choosing the subset of memories you can preserve. But, its a minor quibble really..

The issues of Identity were more interesting, and I can’t help feeling the novel was influenced by Philip K Dick‘s work, with it’s whole reality/identity can be totally malleable . And at the same time, the Man/Machine Interface comics of Ghost in The Shell, where the Motoko Kusanagi has become a kind of mega-conciousness, forking off seperate identities to perform parallel missions and then integrating them later. Which ties in to the merging of personality-delta’s, that the character’s are able to accomplish via the A-Gates.

Things that I liked about Rainbows End:

  • the library project – aka how to present past-knowledge to a generation raised with entirely new media, when that knowledge is stuck in comparitely out-of-date formats. (ie when there’s wikipedia now, who looks at encyclopedias.. ditto when you have the internet, why go to a dusty old library?)
  • the depiction of IA and remote collaboration. Cool.

I really didn’t like the Rabbit character – to me it was obviously an AI (some have suggested its supposed to be ambiguous) – mainly because I kept thinking of Bruce Sterling’s comment on AI’s from his Long Now lecture on the Singularity – (in short: why would an AI care remotely about humans, have human concerns etc..) . BUT I discussed this with Charles, and he pointed out the the Rabbit character in the book is just that subset of the AI that is used to deal with humans, being part of a far larger and incomprehensible to us super-intelligence that has its own concerns. In light of that, I can now see how the Rabbit could be that AI-subset that it uses to accomplish its own agenda via manipulation of the humans – ’cause, you know, an AI needs some feet on that ground at some stage I guess.

I also found most of the new-tech presented to be a rather linear extrapolation of current trends. It’s easy to see SMS/IM become secret-messaging (and one can make another GITS comparison here – such messaging is standard in that world). Likewise the transition from MMORPGs to Belief Circles. Event the HUD VR is hardly ground-breaking, see the AR Quake game developed a few years ago now.

Quake AR screenshot
I also had a problem with the whole JITT (Just In Time Training). It just seems such a 20thC concept, too much like the whole ‘uploading’ new skills, a la The Matrix.

BUT – it’s a only a bad book if you’ve got nothing to say about it.. and I do like a good inferential walk.
Think I’ll re-read Accelerando next.

UPDATE – on reflection I realise I forgot to mention how much I loved the way the plot of Glasshouse unfolded, how Robin’s past was slowly revealed to us via a series of flashbacks…

also, re: backup and restore of conciousness, these snippets from Cory Doctorow in his recently re-surfaced 2003 interview seem relevant as he discusses how and why his characters backup their conciousness and how and why backup/restore are used in SF today.

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