For Feòrag, with love
This book took me five years to write – a personal record – and would not exist without the support and encouragement of a host of friends, and several friendly editors. Among the many people who read and commented on the early drafts are: Andrew J. Wilson, Stef Pearson, Gav Inglis, Andrew Ferguson, Jack Deighton, Jane McKie, Hannu Rajaniemi, Martin Page, Stephen Christian, Simon Bisson, Paul Fraser, Dave Clements, Ken MacLeod, Damien Broderick, Damon Sicore, Cory Doctorow, Emmet O’Brien, Andrew Ducker, Warren Ellis, and Peter Hollo. (If your name isn’t on this list, blame my memory – my neural prostheses are off-line.)
I mentioned several friendly editors earlier: I relied on the talented midwifery of Gardner Dozois, who edited Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine at the time, and Sheila Williams, who quietly and diligently kept the wheels rolling. My agent Caitlin Blasdell had a hand in it too, and I’d like to thank my editors Ginjer Buchanan at Ace and Tim Holman at Orbit for their helpful comments and advice.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who e-mailed me to ask when the book was coming, or who voted for the stories that were shortlisted for awards. You did a great job of keeping me focused, even during the periods when the whole project was too daunting to contemplate.
Portions of this book originally appeared in Asimov’s SF Magazine as follows: “Lobsters” (June 2001), “Troubadour” (Oct/Nov 2001), “Tourist” (Feb 2002), “Halo” (June 2002), “Router” (Sept 2002), “Nightfall” (April 2003), “Curator” (Dec 2003), “Elector” (Oct/Nov 2004), “Survivor” (Dec 2004).
Part 1: Slow Takeoff
Part 2: Point of Inflection
Part 3: Singularity
PART 1: Slow Takeoff
“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.”
– Edsger W. Dijkstra
Chapter 1: Lobsters
Manfred’s on the road again, making strangers rich.
It’s a hot summer Tuesday, and he’s standing in the plaza in front of the Centraal Station with his eyeballs powered up and the sunlight jangling off the canal, motor scooters and kamikaze cyclists whizzing past and tourists chattering on every side. The square smells of water and dirt and hot metal and the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells of trams ding in the background, and birds flock overhead. He glances up and grabs a pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he’s arrived. The bandwidth is good here, he realizes; and it’s not just the bandwidth, it’s the whole scene. Amsterdam is making him feel wanted already, even though he’s fresh off the train from Schiphol: He’s infected with the dynamic optimism of another time zone, another city. If the mood holds, someone out there is going to become very rich indeed.
He wonders who it’s going to be.
* * *
Manfred sits on a stool out in the car park at the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, watching the articulated buses go by and drinking a third of a liter of lip-curlingly sour gueuze. His channels are jabbering away in a corner of his head-up display, throwing compressed infobursts of filtered press releases at him. They compete for his attention, bickering and rudely waving in front of the scenery.