December 17, 2020

Review: Anthropocene Rag

Anthropocene Rag Anthropocene Rag by Alexander C. Irvine
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one weird little book. It takes place about the end of this century, I believe, and has a post climate change setting of an America turned upside down by invasive nanotech. This is the "grey goo" variety that can deconstruct DNA and organic bodies down in an instant and remake it. The "replicators," plicks for short, have formed a hive-mind sentience. We gradually learn over the course of this book that the seemingly omniscient narrator is in fact this sentience, known as the Boom. The Boom has an uneasy coexistence with humans (although the US government is no more and the country is broken down into independent little fiefdoms), and in this story it is trying to bring together six chosen people to a semi-mythical town known as Monument City.

This is all okay, and most of the story recounts the journey of these six people to Monument City. The characters are adequately drawn, although as the book progresses it becomes evident that the central "we," the voice of the Boom, is the most important. It's the point the book is building towards that is lacking, to me. As far as I can tell, the entire basis for this story is that the Boom is having an existential crisis.

We did not bring you here to give you a gift but to take from you what we needed. But even now, with our being infused by quanta of your selves, we do not have it. We are afraid that we were wrong and we have come too far to begin anew.

Don't you see you are not here for answers, but to ask the question we cannot? Ask. One of you knows. One of you must.

Please ask.

Which is fine if you want to debate meaning, purpose and value with billions of intelligent self-replicating machines. As a story, not so much.

I suppose in this case, the journey itself would be the story. There's probably something to that too, for those who enjoy it. I grew more dissatisfied the further I read, and while the world is interesting--and horrifying--the payoff simply isn't worth it.

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