Postsingular and its sequel, Hylozoic, represent Rucker's return to the cyberpunk style of his classic Ware tetralogy.
Postsingular takes on the question of what will happen after the Singularity--what will happen after computers become as smart as humans and nanotechnology takes on the power of magic? A mad scientist decides it might be a good idea to create a giant virtual reality simulation that is running a copy of Earth and of most of the people in it. Fine, but in order to create this simulation, the mad scientist plans to grind our planet into a zillion supercomputing nanomachines called nants. Ultrageek Ond Lutter and his autistic son Chu find a way to block the nants--but then Ond can't resist infesting Earth with a congenial breed of quantum-computing nanomachines called orphids ...
Little Chu was Nektar Lundquist’s joy, and her sorrow. The six-year-old boy was winsome, with a chestnut cap of shiny brown hair, long dark eyelashes, and a tidy mouth. Chu allowed Nektar and her husband to cuddle him, he’d smile now and then, and he understood what they said—if it suited his moods. But he wouldn’t talk.
The doctors had pinpointed the problem as an empathy deficit, a type of autism resulting from flawed connections among the so-called mirror neurons in Chu’s cingulate cortex. This wetware flaw prevented Chu from being able to see other people as having minds and emotions separate from his own.
“I wonder if Chu thinks we’re cartoons,” said Nektar’s husband, Ond Lutter, an angular man with thinning blond hair. “Just here to entertain him. Why talk to the screen?” Ond was an engineer working for Nantel, Inc., of San Francisco. Among strangers he could seem kind of autistic himself. But he was warm and friendly within the circle of his friends and immediate family. He and Nektar were walking to the car after another visit to the doctor, big Ond holding little Chu’s hand.
“Maybe Chu feels like we’re all one,” said Nektar. She was a self-possessed woman, tall and erect, glamorous with high cheekbones, full lips, and clear, thoughtful eyes. “Maybe Chu imagines that we automatically know what he’s thinking.” She reached back to adjust her heavy blond ponytail. She’d been dying her hair since she was twelve.
“How about it, Chu?” said Ond, lifting up the boy and giving him a kiss. “Is Mommy the same as you? Or is she a machine?”
“Ma chine ma chine ma chine,” said Chu, probably not meaning anything by it. He often parroted phrases he heard, sometimes chanting a single word for a whole day.
“What about the experimental treatment the doctor mentioned?” said Nektar, looking down at her son, a little frown in her smooth brow. “The nants,” she continued. “Why wouldn’t you let me tell the doctor that you work for Nantel, Ond? I think you bruised my shin.” The doctor had suggested that a swarm of properly programmed nants might eventually be injected into Chu to find their way to his brain and coax the neurons into growing the missing connections.
Ond’s oddball boss, Jeff Luty—annoyingly a bit younger than Ond—had built his company, Nantel, into a major player in just five years. Luty had done three years on scholarship at Stanford, two years as a nanotech engineer at an old-school chip company, and had then blossomed forth on his own, patenting a marvelously ingenious design for growing biochip microprocessors in vats. The fabulously profitable and effective biochips were Nantel’s flagship product, but Luty believed the future lay with nants: a line of bio-mimetic self-reproducing nanomachines that he’d patented. For several months now, Nantel had been spreading stories about nants having a big future in medical apps.
“I don’t like arguing tech with normals,” said Ond, still carrying Chu in his arms. “It’s like mud-wrestling a cripple. The stories about medical nant apps are hype and spin and PR, Nektar. Jeff Luty pitches that line of bullshit so the feds don’t outlaw our research. Also to attract investors. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to program nants in any purposeful, long-lasting, high-level way, even though Luty doesn’t want to admit it. All we can do is give the individual nants a few starting rules. The nant swarms develop their own Wolfram-irreducible emergent hive-mind behaviors. We’ll never really control the nants, and that’s why I wouldn’t want them to get at my son.”