Singularity + Sci-Fi = My Nerdy Request
March 30, 2008 8:57 PM   Subscribe

What are some good sci-fi stories (both short and full-length) that explore the idea of singularity?

There's a lot of good sci-fi out there, and googling leads me to chase red herrings while trying to find summaries of collections and novels that aren't yielding what I'm looking for...

Ideally I'd like the story to outline Terry Gorssman's idea of singularity arriving in stages:

"According to Grossman and other singularitarians, immortality will arrive in stages. First, lifestyle and aggressive antiaging therapies will allow more people to approach the 125-year limit of the natural human lifespan. This is bridge one. Meanwhile, advanced medical technology will begin to fix some of the underlying biological causes of aging, allowing this natural limit to be surpassed. This is bridge two. Finally, computers become so powerful that they can model human consciousness. This will permit us to download our personalities into nonbiological substrates. When we cross this third bridge, we become information. And then, as long as we maintain multiple copies of ourselves to protect against a system crash, we won't die."

But I'd also settle for immortality and the possible dystopian nature of it. Macabre and tragedy yield brownie points.

What can you wonderful sci-fi-natics dig up for me?
posted by pedmands to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
This might not be what you're looking for, and you've almost certainly read it already, but the Hitchhiker's Guide books are all basically built upon the singularity of the "infinite improbablity drive," which was reached when the creation of the finite improbability drive allowed someone to calculate the probability of the (seemingly impossible) infinite improbability drive, which was then created, and changed universal history.

It's all an elaborate joke, of course, but it fits.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:05 PM on March 30, 2008

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by Class Goat at 9:10 PM on March 30, 2008

Best answer: You would be looking for Accelerando...available for free download here.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:10 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is available online.

Circuit of Heaven is a book that explores similar themes.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:16 PM on March 30, 2008

Asimov's The Last Question. Apparently it was his favourite.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:43 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Poul Andersen's Heechee Saga has some stuff about a guy whose consciousness lives on inside a machine.
posted by Ryvar at 9:45 PM on March 30, 2008

0xFCAF beat me to it! FWIW, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is by mefi's own localroger. It is delicious.
posted by mindsound at 9:45 PM on March 30, 2008

I 2nd Accelerando by Charlie Stross (also a mefi member)
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:45 PM on March 30, 2008

Dresden Codak has a number of strips dealing with a technological singularity. I'm not sure if you want only written stories though.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:48 PM on March 30, 2008

Best answer: You should check out some Greg Egan.
I dont remember him having any stories dealing with the exact time of a singularity, but he does have a bunch set before and set long after.

His before the singularity stories have people copying into software, but initially they can only run 10 or 30 times slower than flesh. Permutation City and there were other short stories that I cant find.
Here is one of his short stories online Extras, with a different and more disturbing form of immortality.

His after singularity stores take place long afte. Like Diaspora
posted by Iax at 9:53 PM on March 30, 2008

Also, Ian M. Banks' Culture novels have a society of Minds, which are so intelligent as to be completely bored with actual reality. Their consciousness exists primarily in a life of the mind which they call the Land of Infinite Fun. Many of his novels deal with these Minds as primary characters, while also alluding to Sublimed species — civilizations which have so far surpassed the constraints of lifeforms in our sphere of perception that they have effectively absconded to a higher plane. The Sublimed are incorporated in the Culture novels mostly as an enigma. As far as I have read, they're never detailed.

The contrast between the Minds and the Sublimed is a strong subtext of his work, IMO — the minds (I gather) could easily Sublime and move on to higher planes, but they maintain an explicitly busybody interest in our Einsteinian physicality.

In summary, Banks' Minds give a cool perspective on circling the drain of a technological singularity. If that's your interest I'd start with Excession since it's all about the Minds and it's one of his best.

I hope that all makes sense because I am thoroughly drunk. :(
posted by mindsound at 9:56 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Earth, by David Brin.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 PM on March 30, 2008

Best answer: Since you ask about immortality without singularity as well, I suggest Brian Stableford, who has a series of novels which take progression toward immortality as one of their central points. He coins the term "emortality" for this life-extending application of technology, and the series is generally referred to as the Emortality series. You needn't read them in order, but Stableford's wikipedia entry provides one, if you want it. They are: The Architects of Emortality, Inherit the Earth, The Cassandra Complex, Dark Ararat, The Fountains of Youth The Omega Expedition.... eh, I won't link them all. They're available in the usual places. Stableford doesn't take us to the singularity, as I recall, but definitely into the realms of very long life, and how those long lifetimes affect our social structures, etc. etc. They're generally future-mysteries, as I recall them, so its sortof a Caves of Steel vibe, which I like.

For other forms of immortality-without-eschaton, I'd say the Takeshi Kovacs novels (Altered Carbon et al.) by Richard Morgan are good, too.

Mefi's own John Scalzi has written Old Man's War (and The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony), wherein there's some crazy-awesome medical technology. That might as well make you immortal, even if it's not generally used toward that end.

Hell, I think an awful lot of science fiction rather supposes the slow climb to immortality through life-extending technology. It's not always at the center of things, but usually there's an undercurrent of "we have the technology" don't you think?

Stross' stuff is great, as has been mentioned above. It's decidedly more ZOMGSingularity.

On preview, reading mindsound's comment maybe I need to give Ian Banks another try. I tried reading Excession years ago and hated it. Why I couldn't say, though... virtually all I remember about it is thinking that it really should've been titled Excretion.
posted by mumkin at 10:04 PM on March 30, 2008

One more on the topic of dystopian immortality. The end of Stephen Baxter's novel Ring has the information-theoretically preserved consciousness of a human observing the heat death of the known universe, and it's fairly depressing. Ring is a pretty windy novel and Baxter isn't a terribly compelling character writer, but the scaffolding of ideas is totally awesome.
posted by mindsound at 10:06 PM on March 30, 2008

Vernor Vinge, "A Fire Upon The Deep"
posted by sourwookie at 10:18 PM on March 30, 2008

Also "Rainbow's End" by the same.
posted by sourwookie at 10:19 PM on March 30, 2008

Postsingular by Rudy Rucker could prove fruitful. I mean the short story, not the novel of the same name (which I have not read), which takes place immediately following said short story.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:21 PM on March 30, 2008

I mean, I guess the novel might be helpful as well, I just haven't read it so I can't recommend it.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:22 PM on March 30, 2008

Eon and Eternity by Greg Bear
posted by dasfreak at 10:39 PM on March 30, 2008

Dan Simmons' Ilium & Olympos involve a post-singularity, post-technological group of humans exploring the artifacts of the singularity-era society that led to their creation, and some immortal posthumans on Mars living out lives as Greek gods. It's pretty neat.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 10:58 PM on March 30, 2008

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctrow, which takes place post singularity process is over and whuffie, a social value meter, is the only currency.
The book takes place in Disneyland and is great fun.

You might also want to check out Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross. They describe a society going through the process of singularity, which is rained upon them from spaceships inthe form of telephone-booth-like replicators. However, I've mainly found these books mainly confusing [perhaps, as confusing as going through the singularity?].
posted by ye#ara at 11:13 PM on March 30, 2008

Blood Music by Greg Bear.
posted by seanyboy at 12:13 AM on March 31, 2008

Damien Broderick had a book of essays on the Singularity some years ago. If nothing else, it would serve as a useful set of pointers.
posted by outlier at 12:47 AM on March 31, 2008

Best answer: just in case you wanted it, "rainbow's end" as recommended above is available completely online ( i got this from a previous sci-fi discussion on ask mefi). I'm still reading it in bits, but it does seem to deal with the themes you're looking for.

rainbow's end
posted by galactain at 1:22 AM on March 31, 2008

Best answer: I'm surprised no one has mentioned Vernor Vinge's Marooned in Realtime, which deals with the human survivors of a technological singularity. The singularity (so-called) happens off stage -- the survivors are all people who, for various reasons, were inside of impenetrable stasis fields when it occurred.

Seconding the Greg Egan suggestion. Be sure to check out "Learning to Be Me", a short story about technology that allows the human brain to be replaced with a permanent inorganic "jewel".
posted by The Tensor at 2:36 AM on March 31, 2008

Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series touches on the singularity - in particular run-away AI civilizations - In particular The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division but you want to start with The Star Fraction
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:44 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Accelerando.

Karl Schroeder's Lady of Mazes is post-singularity but deals with questions that arise in the 3rd part of Accelerando: what happens when people control more and more layers of their reality?

Rudy Rucker asks also very good questions and offers some interesting (and fun) solutions.
posted by bru at 5:51 AM on March 31, 2008

Thirding Egan, and mainly commenting to note that the Ndoli device of 'Learning to be Me' appears in several of his other stories too.
posted by edd at 6:17 AM on March 31, 2008

Seconding Marooned in Realtime. Vinge's other novels mentioned here are also excellent. You might also enjoy The Physics of Immortality (non-fiction), the gist of which is a variation on Clarke's law: a sufficiently advanced civilzation will be indistinguishable from God.
posted by zanni at 6:20 AM on March 31, 2008

Response by poster: A treasure trove! The green never disappoints- at least when it comes to my sci-fi nerdom. Anyway, I think I'll start with Marooned in Realtime and Accelerando. Those sound very much like what I was picturing. I've read Doctorow once before (after reading Boingboing for years, and was a bit skeptical) and enjoyed Someone comes to town, so I'll probably pick up on "Down & Out" after those first two. From there, I've got a real gold mine to pick from. Thanks guys!
posted by pedmands at 8:45 AM on March 31, 2008

Greg Bear's Queen of Angels, /, and Moving Mars are sort of about being caught in the middle of a slow singularity.

Wil McCarthy's Bloom has runaway wossnames. And his different series starting with The Collapsium are pretty definitively postsingularity. Lost in Transmission, IIRC, is probably the most interesting since it deals with people falling backwards through the singularity as they can't support and maintain their technological infrastructure.

Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series touches on the singularity

If you want a more compressed story with some similar ideas, and also some real differences, try his Newton's Wake.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:50 AM on March 31, 2008

Accelerando would probably fit the bill, but I'd also suggest the follow up book: Glasshouse. I just finished it and found it to be more accessible. It deals with the same ideas, but as a novel, rather than a string of loosly connected short stories.
posted by Crankatator at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2008

Please Please Please Please go read Accelerando right now. Everyone that suggested it is 100% spot on. It was such a wonderful eye-opening read.
posted by mincus at 10:25 AM on March 31, 2008

A kind of post-human godlike humanity story I loved was Walter Jon Williams's Aristoi. Very nifty stuff about technologically assisted dissociative identities, and a big contrast between the Aristoi and regular mortals.
posted by cereselle at 2:12 PM on March 31, 2008

Cryptonomicon has a couple of characters who plan to be cryogenically frozen when they die because they believe the singularity is coming soon and it would be a shame to miss it. It's tangential, but there.
posted by Addlepated at 3:14 PM on March 31, 2008

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