Lobsters • 2001 • Near future novelette by Charles Stross

★★★★★

Synopsis: Manfred Macx is a genius in coming up with ideas, and realizing them instantly to patents, only to giving them away to other people to get rich off, and also to the public. He doesn’t earn money but lives comfortably off the generosity from his benefactors, e.g. a provided luxury appartment in a hotel, free public transport, free shopping. The setting is a near future Netherlands somewhere shortly before the singularity. Uploading minds is nearly there and already started with an experiment of uploading lobsters (“one neuron at a time”) and turning cats into war machines. Exactly those lobsters contact Manfred to help them escaping humans into space. Meanwhile, Manfred’s ex-financee Pamela visits him and tries to change him to a responsible, capitalistic life.

Review: A revised version of this novelette started Stross’s famous novel Accelerando.

The story is chock-full with futuristic ideas which superpose content and characters. The author’s staccato of futuristic terms will probably be hard for most readers, a Bruce Sterling on crack, similar in style to Hannu Rajaniemi.
I found the concept of exponentially accelerating development very convincing: The novelette was published more than 15 years ago. In that decade, technologies developed and spread out that nobody really believed in then: Smart phones, natural language processing, machine learning, autonomous cars, robotics, just to name a few. That kind of acceleration is visible right now. People in general can only extrapolate linearly, they don’t grog an exponential development; The Second Machine Age : Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies names that acceleration as “living in the second half of the chess-board”.
Yes, the time-frame of the novel seems a little rough – uploading minds or reaching singularity within only a couple of years from now on seems as unbelievable as converting the planets of our solar system into a single computronium within a hundred years. In this, the author succeeds: exponential acceleration taken to extremes, invoking scepticism.
Although the concepts in this story are extremely dense, other qualities are fascinating as well. One is the contrasting juxtaposition of the characters of innovative Manfred and conservative Pam, bound together in a SM bondage relationship. In the end, it is a romance fiction. The other is the storytelling with its perfect timing, ending in an unexpected but satisfying plot twist.

Meta: isfdb. Its novellized form is available online at the author’s website.

 

 

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