Doctorow aligns himself right from the get-go with an axis of serious jocularity, whose members are such folks as Rudy Rucker, Robert Sheckley, Matt Ruff, Jonathan Lethem and, at his loosest, Bruce Sterling. These authors spin off wild blue-sky ideas in rigorous profusion, as many as any recognizable hard SF author, but couch them in absurdist plots populated by eccentrics and oddballs. (It’s interesting, for instance, to compare Doctorow’s book with John Wright’s The Golden Age [2002]), which deals with many of the same issues of posthuman living, but ! in a sober, leaden tone.) Life is not to be taken too seriously in the works of these writers, and Doctorow has come up with a great objective correlative to this attitude, in the ability of his protagonists to spring back even from explosive bodily destruction, like Wile E. Coyote. (The downloading-into-clones motif was definitively established by John Varley 30 years ago, but even he did not employ it so blithely.)

In any case, what we have here is a rare example of post-Singularity fiction. The Singularity, or Spike, is deemed to be that moment at which mankind emerges into transhuman existence, with or without the help or hindrance of strong AI. (Doctorow eschews the AI, for the most part.) Envisioning such a future is one of the hardest tasks an SF writer can take on, but Doctorow proves himself equal to the challenge. His reorganization of society into ad-hocs craving Whuffie derives a lot from present-day cyber-culture (Slashdot, and all that), and his biomorphic mutability seems positively Extropian. But the exact mix is unique, especially when the fixation on Disney World as a kind of prototype for artificial landscapes is thrown in. And surely Jules’ jazzy first-person narration, laden with future jargon, is essential to the success of the tale. Although readers might initially balk a bit when encountering on the second page of the book a sentence such as “I took! a moment to conjure a HUD with his Whuffie score on it.”

Paul Di Filippo,
SF Weekly