Sunday, June 05, 2005

Since no one else was doing it …

… here’s my Scratch Monkey review. This is post-aingularity (ahh good, it appears I did in fact coin this awful term) sf, circa ’93. I won’t bother with the usual nitpicks, timeline errors and such; this is unpublished work. I must also state my ... significant Stross bias beforehand. But I'll try to be objective.

The story opens fast, a few moments of setup before throwing both protagonist and reader into exegetic hard reentry. Our anti-heroine, Oshi Adjani, is an agent for Distant Intervention … a crew not entirely unlike Special Circumstances. Her mission directive is simple - infiltrate the world of New Salazar and halt the activities of Year Zero Man. Any means neccesary.

In the Scratch Monkey universe, as you'd expect from Stross, we've got all the nifty transhumanist tropes: ubiquitous nanotech, ai, minds are copied and uploaded before, after or, most commonly, during death. Specifically, they are uploaded to the Dreamtime, which is cyberspace, tranportation and digital afterlife all rolled into one. As hard sf, there's no fittling (heehee) not even wormholes so exactly-lightspeed is the best anyone can hope for. Minds (and the virtual echoes of flesh) are launched into the Dreamtime, lasing them across the dark of space to the destination, then the mind is reimprinted onto a genetic duplicate of the original body. Ships are only used for pioneer travel.

The people I work with -- Distant Intervention -- are behind me. We're troubleshooters. We look after the links, even when the local colony world chooses to ignore the vast network they are connected to. It's in everyone's interests to keep travel convenient, to keep the afterlife running, to make sure that the multiplicity of services the Dreamtime provides are available at all times. Sometimes people want to interfere with the system for their own reasons. Sometimes, as with Year Zero Man, the interference is malign beyond belief.

DI's mission statement, as far as we know, is to protect the Dreamtime links from sabotage, accident; anything that intereferes with the free flow of information/people - with uploading, there's no real difference. Those who maintain the Dreamtime (no human webmasters here; way too complex) are the Superbrights, highly superhuman intellects that originated from AI and IA experiments. So are the spymasters of Distant Intervention. As you can imagine, such a balance of power does not bode well for the poor little innocent humans.

Speaking of humans, we have quite a protagonist; she does things like turn crippling injury into an advantage and shiver with nigh-orgasmic release as she kills with her bare hands. Make no mistake: Oshi Adjani is not a nice person. She isn't just an antihero, she is vicious and bleak - much like the narrative itself. Not to spoil the story, ... well, I am spoiling it - if you have a problem with that, ignore the blank region. Yes that's right, don't highlight it. If she and the rest of the colonists do manage to find somewhere to live in peace, she'd most likely be unable to function. To quote Hannibal Tabu, she's "... an agent of chaos, an engine of hatred and destruction. Not the sort... you really want around in an utopia." The term "bleak male energy" comes to mind.

Her greatest tragedy and saddest strength is that Oshi realizes exactly this about herself.

Of course there are flaws; the other characters are unavoidably not as interesting as Adjani, there's very little reason why the true antagonists of the piece haven't already won and it's just plain rough. Nonetheless, this story rocks: awesome action, cool tech (love the climb-spiders) and if you wanna talk ideas, you've got a realistic take on universal translation, nanotech facemorphing, dictatorship as a meme virus (and just wait till you see the tapeworm - oooooh yeah). If pressed to give a number grade, I'd give Scratch Monkey an 8 out of 10. I prefer to just say, go read. Now.


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