The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross
The Rapture of the Nerds (2012) is an odd duck, and that’s probably the reason I’m struggling so much to write this review. On the one hand, there are some deeper themes that are absolutely fascinating. On the other, the book feels like a mashup of as many clever curses as the authors can possibly think of, with some odd situations thrown in. Is this good or bad? I can’t even seem to decide. There is a place for fun and funny books, but sometimes a person could wish for the substance to be a little less subtle and the humor to be a little less in-your-face. Basically, I think this is one of those books that will sink or swim based on the mood of the reader.
Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross are not newcomers to the speculative fiction game. Both are well-known authors with large numbers of fans. They’ve played the game before, and the writing shows. The Rapture of the Nerds is worth reading just to enjoy some of the hilarious, off the wall descriptions and some of the most creative curses I’ve ever been introduced to. I can only imagine how much fun this must have been to write. The humor is thick, and sometimes it does distract from the plot, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Readers in the mood for a fun read might have more tolerance for this than readers who want something a bit more serious.
The Rapture of the Nerds can be divided into two parts. The first part is fast-moving but can be rather confusing and disjointed. Occasionally I had to reread parts to understand what was happening. Things move fast, and some of it won’t make sense until later in the book. The second part is where everything starts tying together. The book becomes less frustrating, and less about the humor and more about the plot and characters. As for characters, our protagonist, Huw, reveals more of himself as the book progresses, growing and developing nicely with the plot. By the end of the book you will feel like you know him quite well, whereas at the start he feels a bit like a stranger. It takes time for him to warm up, but he deserves it.
The world the two authors have created is fascinating, and it deserves attention. In a future version of earth, most humans have been uploaded into a gigantic cloud and only a billion humans remain on earth. Occasionally technology gets introduced to earth, and juries get called up to decide if these contraptions should be allowed into society or not. Huw is averse to technology, and even lives in a house without electricity to prove it. He volunteers for one of these juries to hopefully help minimize the damage from technology on the planet, and all hell breaks loose.
Buried beneath the humor and the myriad awkward, almost unbelievable situations, are some deeper questions that will probably pick at your brain a bit if you let them. One thing I’ve noticed in my science fiction reading is that the idea of consciousness being downloaded into another system is becoming rather common. Doctorow and Stross toy with this quite a bit, and it’s interesting to see the questions they raise. Besides that, there are obvious themes regarding technology, privacy and how the two affect each other in our rapidly advancing world — despite the fact that some of these ideas are buried under the levity. These science fiction ideas are often explored in incredibly serious, door-stopping books, so it was a nice change of pace to read a book that facilitates both deep thought and plenty of laughter along with it.
The Rapture of the Nerds didn’t take me long to read. It is an enjoyable book that is well worth your time, for the humor and descriptions alone. However, the first half can be rather plodding, confusing and lacking in substance. The second half is where the plot and deeper themes really start to hit home and everything starts to tie together nicely (where plenty of “A-ha!” moments happen). When I finished the book I realized I really only had one complaint. While enjoyable, the humor can, at times, obscure a fascinating plot. However, at the end of the day, Doctorow and Stross have managed to marry complex and deep science fiction ideas and themes with some incredibly clever writing. This makes The Rapture of the Nerds a very quick, laugh-filled read that will stick with you long after you finish the book.