I finished reading The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl last night. I also just got the book yesterday morning, so that really tells you what I thought of it. I can definitely see why it passed the Immerse or Die test.1 Which is, incidentally, how I wound up hearing about the book, as a tangential reference from an author I follow who has a book in the Immerse or Die StoryBundle. I’ve been meaning to get that book2 and read it at some point, and the descriptions of some of the other books fascinated me.3 So I dropped enough money on it to get the full bundle, Bonus Books included.4 And now, having burned through the first of those books in a single day, I figured, clearly I enjoyed reading it enough to ignore a bunch of my responsibilities5 and curl up in a chair and read for hours on end, so I should probably do it the honor of a review.
Now, I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a good reviewer of any kind of media. I am, as far as I’m concerned, too easy to please. I make enough mistakes that I’m not just willing but downright eager to look past the mistakes other people make. That disclaimer made, I’ll go ahead and say that I loved Bryce Anderson’s The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl.6
There’ll be a little bit of spoilers ahead, but I’m going to try to avoid anything that would’ve come from anywhere past the first couple chapters or so. You’ve been warned.
The book opens with a chapter title that told me, right off the bat, that this was being written by someone with a sense of humor at least somewhat similar to mine: “Corpsicle.”7
With that bit of a hint, I was suspicious when the grad student showed up, acting fairly… suspicious8 upon seeing her professor. It took a bit to figure out what exactly was going on with him, and to be honest I had gathered an entirely wrong set of assumptions until I was set right about halfway through the book, but suffice it to say he was in a fairly bad emotional state, and it makes sense that he didn’t pick up on what was going on. Still, his obliviousness made for a lovely sense of dramatic timing as he ran from his office, through the halls, and found the grad student just in time to not save her life after she very deliberately froze herself to death. At which point the book shifted perspective to the grad student, where a good bit of confusion ensued.
A couple of things that I thought were executed very well, here: first, the timestamps work well to give the book (reading it, as I am, in early 2015) a sense of separation from reality, which helps it get away with a bit of hand-waving ‘oh we solved that technologic problem a few years ago’ issues. The other thing I love is the occasional Wikipedia inclusion, which would be weird and lead me to trying to fact-check were it not for the fact that they all come with a nice citation:
Ice Cream Headache (research project). From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 04, 2037, from grid://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Cream_Headache_(research_project)
Note: The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the talk page.
I’m hoping the citation for that citation is fairly obvious, but in case it isn’t, it’s from the second edition of the book being discussed here.9
It works well, though, to include that citation that makes it clear what’s going on, when you are, and, if you’re like me and notice these things, that the HyperText Transfer Protocol has apparently been replaced – not exactly a minor plot point later, but distinctly not a major one. Basically, some hand-waving happening there, but I accept it, because it makes everything else work fine.
And then it gets fun. Because the titular Singularity Girl10 is, it turns out, our dead grad student.
“Whaaaaat?” you’re saying. Okay, probably not, because killing off the main character, while not exactly cliché, is distinctly on the way to becoming a cliché. But the way it’s done here is nice, because she comes back a little bit at a time, over the course of a couple years, slowly ramping back up to normal time. It turns out that her death wasn’t precisely suicide, it was a very deliberate, though fatal, donation to science. She flash-froze her brain, providing the first example of a human brain that could be scanned with a level of detail normally reserved for lab rats, and only then when PETA isn’t looking.
And then the computer science folks stepped in and made a simulator in which that brain could run. And the fact that it took years to get her up from a 0.05 seconds per day to an actual real-time interaction is totally realistic, because the sort of processing power it takes to simulate a human brain is staggering.
And after that, we get to see the story of the first post-human. Someone who died and was brought back, and has to endure life with all the strangeness that being a mind living in a brain that’s really just a stack of servers brings.
That, for me, was enough to capture my interest. The main conflict in the plot didn’t show up until, oh, halfway through the book or so. And I don’t mean ‘didn’t show up’ as in ‘building in the background,’ I mean ‘didn’t show up’ as in ‘hadn’t even begun to build in the background.’ It was a beautiful amount of building a fascinatingly realistic setting, and it captured my interest so thoroughly that I can totally understand how someone made it through a 40-minute workout without losing immersion. I went through a full day without being able to pull my thoughts out of this world enough to put the book down.
At this point, I feel like I’ve run out of useful things I can say without getting into spoiler-y territory, so I’m going to stop here. Go check the book out, it’s amazing. Preference goes to the StoryBundle link, since that gives more of a charity donation and gets you a bunch of other books, but I’ll also include the Amazon link since the StoryBundle is a limited-time thing and I’m a forward-thinking guy like that.
- Which is actually a really great way to both read and exercise more, so I might wind up doing the same sort of thing. ↩
- It’s Pay Me, Bug! for those who’re wondering. ↩
- I also spent half an hour fascinatedly clicking through Immerse or Die and reading the reviews of all the books that passed. I picked up The Five Elements after finding the review interesting, read it in about two days, and found myself very depressed. That book was downright mean to the protagonist, who was too likeable for the sort of stuff that happened. There, a very short and spoiler-free book review. Boom. ↩
- And made sure to do the ’10% to charity option.’ I’ve gotta say, StoryBundle, I like the way Humble does it better, with a charity portion on by default and the split sliders letting you choose how much goes that way. ↩
- What do you mean, homework? ↩
- I had to pull up Amazon to see the author’s name, because I’m incapable of remembering things like that, and I will happily admit that I don’t love the cover, although it does represent some of what happened fairly well. ↩
- Thank you for trying, autocorrect, but I really don’t mean ‘corpuscle.’ ↩
- I was trying to avoid word repetition, but my mental thesaurus has failed me, and using Google would be cheating. ↩
- I was trying to find it in the Amazon ‘online preview’ whatever that they have for Kindle books, but that’s the first edition and doesn’t include the Wikipedia things. The second edition is, apparently, much nicer. ↩
- A name which, I should note, never actually appears in the book, so the guy from Cinema Sins will have to wait until the credits roll to say ‘roll credits.’ He’ll be so disappointed. ↩