scifi.com (with Charlie Stross)
In spring 2002, Charlie Stross and I co-wrote a story called “Jury Service,” an extremely gonzo post-Singularity story whose writing was more fun than any other story I’ve ever written. Charlie and I pitched the manuscript back and forth to one another in 500-1000 word chunks, each time trying to top the other. We have very little “meta” communication — just sent the story around and rewrote what we had, then added our own bits. I can remember chuckling so loudly while considering what I would do with Charlie’s latest challenge in an airport lounge that the security guard came by to ask if everything was all right.
Stross is amazingly fun to write with. We’ve put together another story since and will be writing some short shorts as soon as both of us can take a break from our novels for a couple weeks.
“Jury Service” was published in four pieces — it’s 21,000 words in all! — on scifi.com, weekly through December 2002. The first chunk went live this morning. I think that this is one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve ever worked on, kind of Rucker-meets-Stephenson-meets-William S. Burroughs. Hope you like it.
Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first century.
Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun. Except for the solitary lighthouse beam that perpetually tracks the Earth in its orbit, the system from outside resembles a spherical fogbank radiating in the infrared spectrum; a matrioshka brain, nested Dyson orbitals built from the dismantled bones of moons and planets.
The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes wander nostalgiawise. When that happens, it casually spams Earth’s RF spectrum with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.
A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there’s always someone who’ll take a bite from the forbidden Cox Pippin. There’s always someone whom evolution has failed to breed the let’s-lick-the-frozen-fencepost instinct out of. There’s always a fucking geek who’ll do it because it’s a historical goddamned technical fucking imperative.
Whether the enlightened, occulting smartcloud sends out its missives as pranks, poison or care-packages is up for debate. Asking it to explain its motives is roughly as pointful as negotiating with an ant colony to get it to abandon your kitchen. Whatever the motive, humanity would be much better off if the Cloud would evolve into something so smart as to be uninterested in communicating with meatpeople.
But until that happy day, there’s the tech jury service: defending the earth from the scum of the post-singularity patent office.