Inside the firewall the city is alive. Buildings breathe, cars attack, angels patrol, and hyperintelligent pets run wild in the streets.
With unbridled invention and breakneck adventure, Hannu Rajaniemi is on the cutting-edge of science fiction. His postapocalyptic, postcyberpunk, and posthuman tales are full of exhilarating energy and unpredictable optimism.
How will human nature react when the only limit to desire is creativity? When the distinction between humans and gods is as small as nanomachinesor as large as the universe? Whether the next big step in technology is 3D printing, genetic alteration, or unlimited space travel, Rajaniemi writes about what happens after .
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Hannu Rajaniemi, author of The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince, and The Causal Angel was born in Finland and completed his doctorate in Mathematical Physics at the University of Edinburgh. His works have received Finland’s top science fiction honor, the Tahtivaeltaja Award, as well as the John W. Campbell Award for the best first science fiction novel in the United States. Rajaniemi lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and will be moving to San Francisco, California in 2015.
Read an Excerpt
By Hannu Rajaniemi
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2015 Hannu Rajaniemi
All rights reserved.
Deus Ex Homine
As gods go, I wasn't one of the holier-than-thou, dying-for-your-sins variety. I was a full-blown transhuman deity with a liquid metal body, an external brain, clouds of self-replicating utility fog to do my bidding and a recursively self-improving AI slaved to my volition. I could do anything I wanted. I wasn't Jesus, I was Superman: an evil Bizarro Superman.
I was damn lucky. I survived.
The quiet in Pittenweem is deeper than it should be, even for a small Fife village by the sea. The plague is bad here in the north, beyond Hadrian's Firewall, and houses hide behind utility fog haloes.
"Not like Prezzagard, is it?" Craig says, as we drive down the main street.
Apprehension, whispers the symbiote in my head. Worry. I don't blame Craig. I'm his stepdaughter's boyfriend, come calling during her first weekend leave. There's going to be trouble.
"Not really," I tell him, anxiety bubbling in my belly.
"Anything for a quiet life, as my gran used to say," Craig says. "Here we are."
Sue opens the door and hugs me. As always, I see Aileen in her, in the short-cropped blonde hair and freckled face.
"Hey, Jukka," she says. "It's good to see you."
"You too," I say, surprising both myself and the symbiote with my sincerity.
"Aileen called," Sue says. "She should be here in a few minutes."
Behind her shoulder, I notice Malcolm looking at me. I wink at him and he giggles.
Sue sighs. "Malcolm has been driving me crazy," she says. "He believes he can fly an angel now. It's great how you think you can do anything when you're six."
"Aileen is still like that," I say.
"She's coming!" shouts Malcolm suddenly. We run out to the back garden and watch her descend.
The angel is big, even bigger than I expect from the lifecasts. Its skin is transparent, flowing glass; its wings pitch-black. Its face and torso are rough-hewn, like an unfinished sculpture.
And inside its chest, trapped like an insect in amber, but smiling, is Aileen.
They come down slowly. The downdraft from the micron-sized fans in the angel's wings tears petals from Sue's chrysanthemums. It settles down onto the grass lightly. The glass flesh flows aside, and Aileen steps out.
It's the first time I've seen her since she left. The quicksuit is a halo around her: it makes her look like a knight. There is a sharper cast to her features now and she has a tan as well. Fancasts on the Q-net claim that the Deicide Corps soldiers get a DNA reworking besides the cool toys. But she is still my Aileen: dirty blonde hair, sharp cheekbones and green eyes that always seem to carry a challenge; my Aileen, the light of the sun.
I can only stare. She winks at me and goes to embrace her mother, brother and Craig. Then she comes to me and I can feel the quicksuit humming. She brushes my cheek with her lips.
"Jukka," she says. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"Blecch. Stop kissing," says Malcolm.
Aileen scoops him up. "We're not kissing," she says. "We're saying hello." She smiles. "I hear you want to meet my angel."
Malcolm's face lights up. But Sue grabs Aileen's hand firmly. "Food first," she says. "Play later."
Aileen laughs. "Now I know I'm home," she says.
Aileen eats with relish. She has changed her armour for jeans and a T-shirt, and looks a lot more like the girl I remember. She catches me staring at her and squeezes my hand under the table.
"Don't worry," she says. "I'm real."
I say nothing and pull my hand away.
Craig and Sue exchange looks, and the symbiote prompts me to say something.
"So I guess you guys are still determined to stay on this side of the Wall?" I oblige.
Sue nods. "I'm not going anywhere. My father built this house, and runaway gods or not, we're staying here. Besides, that computer thing seems to be doing a good job protecting us."
"The Fish," I say.
She laughs. "I've never gotten used to that. I know that it was these young lads who built it, but why did they have to call it Fish?"
"It's a geek joke, a recursive acronym. Fish Is Super Human. Or Friendly SuperHuman Intelligence, if you prefer. Lots of capital letters. It's not that funny, really."
"Whatever. Well, Fish willing, we'll stay as long as we can."
"That's good." And stupid, I think to myself.
"It's a Scottish thing, you could say. Stubbornness," says Craig.
"Finnish, too," I add. "I don't think my parents are planning to go anywhere soon."
"See, I always knew we had something in common," he says, although the symbiote tells me that his smile is not genuine.
"Hey," says Aileen. "Last time I checked, Jukka is not your daughter. And I just got back from a war."
"So, how was the war?" asks Craig.
Challenge, says the symbiote. I feel uneasy.
Aileen smiles sadly.
"Messy," she says.
"I had a mate in Iraq, back in the noughties," Craig says. "That was messy. Blood and guts. These days, it's just machines and nerds. And the machines can't even kill you. What kind of war is that?"
"I'm not supposed to talk about it," says Aileen.
"Craig," says Sue. "Not now."
"I'm just asking," says Craig. "I had friends in Inverness and somebody with the plague turned it into a giant game of Tetris. Aileen's been in the war, she knows what it's like. We've been worried. I just want to know."
"If she doesn't want to talk about it, she doesn't talk about it," Sue says. "She's home now. Leave her alone."
I look at Craig. The symbiote tells me that this is a mistake. I tell it to shut up.
"She has a point," I say. "It's a bad war. Worse than we know. And you're right, the godplague agents can't kill. But the gods can. Recursively self-optimising AIs don't kill people. Killer cyborgs kill people."
"So," he says, "how come you're not out there? If you think it's so bad."
Malcolm's gaze flickers between his sister and his stepfather. Confusion. Tears.
I put my fork down. The food has suddenly lost its taste. "I had the plague," I say slowly. "I'm disqualified. I was one of the nerds."
Aileen is standing up now and her eyes are those of a fury.
"How dare you?" she shouts at Craig. "You have no idea what you're talking about. No idea. You don't get it from the casts. The Fish doesn't want to show you. It's bad, really bad. You want to tell me how bad? I'll tell you."
"Aileen—" I begin, but she silences me with a gesture.
"Yes, Inverness was like a giant Tetris game. Nerds and machines did it. And so we killed them. And do you know what else we saw? Babies. Babies bonded with the godplague. Babies are cruel. Babies know what they want: food, sleep, for all pain to go away. And that's what the godplague gives them. I saw a woman who'd gone mad, she said she'd lost her baby and couldn't find it, even though we could see that she was pregnant. My angel looked at her and said that she had a wormhole in her belly, that the baby was in a little universe of its own. And there was this look in her eyes, this look—"
Aileen's voice breaks. She storms out of the room the same instant Malcolm starts crying. Without thinking, I go after her.
"I was just asking ..." I hear Craig saying when I slam the door shut behind me.
I find her in the back garden, sitting on the ground next to the angel, one hand wrapped around its leg, and I feel a surge of jealousy.
"Hi," I say. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Go ahead, it's a free patch of grass." She smiles wanly. "I spooked everybody pretty badly back there, didn't I?"
"I think you did. Malcolm is still crying."
"It's just ... I don't know. It all came out. And then I thought that it doesn't matter if he hears it too, that he plays all these games with much worse stuff going on all the time, that it wouldn't matter. I'm so stupid."
"I think it's the fact that it was you telling it," I say slowly. "That makes it true."
She sighs. "You're right. I'm such an arse. I shouldn't have let Craig get me going like that, but we had a rough time up north, and to hear him making light of it like that—"
"Hey," she says. "I've missed you. You make things make sense."
"I'm glad somebody thinks so."
"Come on," Aileen says, wiping her face. "Let's go for a walk, or better yet, let's go to the pub. I'm still hungry. And I could use a drink. My first leave and I'm still sober. Sergeant Katsuki would disown me if she knew."
"We'll have to see what we can do about that," I say, and we start walking towards the harbor.
* * *
I don't know why a girl like Aileen would ever have taken an interest in a guy like me if it hadn't been for the fact that I used to be a god.
Two years ago. University cafeteria. Me, trying to get used to the pale colours of the real world again. Alone. And then three girls sit down at the neighbouring table. Pretty. Loud.
"Seriously," says the one with a pastel-coloured jacket and a Hello-Kitty-shaped Fish-interface, "I want to do it with a post. Check this out." The girls huddle around her fogscreen. "There's a cast called Postcoital. Sex with gods. This girl is like their groupie. Follows them around. I mean, just the cool ones that don't go unstable."
There was a moment of reverent silence.
"Wow!" says the second girl. "I always thought that was an urban legend. Or some sort of staged porn thing."
"Apparently not," says the third.
These days, the nerd rapture is like the flu: you can catch it. The godplague is a volition-bonding, recursively self-improving and self-replicating program. A genie that comes to you and make its home in the machinery around you and tells you that do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. It fucks you up, but it's sexy as hell.
"Seriously," says the first girl, "no wonder the guys who wrote Fish were all guys. The whole thing is just another penis. It has no regard for female sexuality. I mean, there's no feminist angle at all in the whole collective volition thing. Seriously."
"My God!" says the second girl. "That one there. I want to do him, uh, her. It ... All of them. I really do."
"No you don't," I say.
"Excuse me?" She looks at me as if she's just stepped in something unpleasant and wants to wipe it off. "We're having a private conversation here."
"Sure. I just wanted to say that that cast is a fake. And I really wouldn't mess around with the posts if I were you."
"You speak from experience? Got your dick bitten off by a post girl?" For once, I'm grateful for the symbiote: If I ignore its whispers, her face is just a blank mask to me.
There is nervous laughter from the other girls.
"Yes," I say. "I used to be one."
They get up in unison, stare at me for a second and walk away. Masks, I think. Masks.
A moment later I'm interrupted again.
"I'm sorry," the third girl says. "I mean, really, really sorry. They're not really my friends, we're just doing the same course. I'm Aileen."
"That's okay," I said. "I don't really mind."
Aileen sits on the corner of the table, and I don't really mind that either.
"What was it like?" she asks. Her eyes are very green. Inquisitive, says the symbiote. And I realize that I desperately want it to say something else.
"You really want to know?" I ask.
"Yes," she says.
I look at my hands.
"I was a quacker," I say slowly, "a quantum hacker. And when the Fish-source came out, I tinkered with it, just like pretty much every geek on the planet. And I got mine to compile: My own Friendly AI slave. Idiot-proof supergoal system, just designed to turn me from a sack of flesh into a Jack Kirby New God, not to harm anybody else. Or so it told me."
I grimace. "My external nervous system took over the Helsinki University of Technology's supercomputing cluster in about thirty seconds. It got pretty ugly after that."
"But you made it," says Aileen, eyes wide.
"Well, back then, the Fish still had the leisure to be gentle. The starfish were there before anybody was irretrievably dead. It burned my AI off like an information cancer and shoved me back into—" I make a show of looking at myself. "Well, this, I guess."
"Wow!" Aileen says, slender fingers wrapped around a cup of latte.
"Yeah," I say. "That's pretty much what I said."
"And how do you feel now? Did it hurt? Do you miss it?"
"I don't really remember most of it. The Fish amputated a lot of memories. And there was some damage as well." I swallow.
"I'm ... It's a mild form of Asperger, more or less. I don't read people very well anymore." I take off my beanie. "This is pretty ugly." I show her the symbiote at the back of my head. Like most Fish-machines, it looks like a starfish. "It's a symbiote. It reads people for me."
She touches it gently and I feel it. The symbiote can map tactile information with much higher resolution than my skin and I can feel the complex contours of Aileen's fingertips gliding on its surface.
"I think it's really pretty," she says. "Like a jewel. Hey, it's warm! What else does it do? Is it like, a Fish-interface? In your head?"
"No. It combs my brain all the time. It makes sure that the thing I was is not hiding in there." I laugh. "It's a shitty thing to be, a washed-up god."
Aileen smiles. It's a very pretty smile, says the symbiote. I don't know if it's biased because it's being caressed.
"You have to admit that sounds pretty cool," she says. "Or do you just tell that to all the girls?"
That night, she takes me home.
We have fish and chips in the Smuggler's Den. Aileen and I are the only customers; the publican is an old man who greets her by name. The food is fabbed and I find it too greasy, but Aileen eats with apparent relish and washes it down with a pint of beer.
"At least you've still got your appetite," I say.
"Training in the Gobi Desert teaches you to miss food," she says and my heart jumps at the way she brushes her hair back. "My skin cells can do photosynthesis. Stuff you don't get from the fancasts. It's terrible. You always feel hungry, but they don't let you eat. Makes you incredibly alert, though. My pee will be a weird colour for the whole weekend because all these nanites will be coming out."
"Thanks for sharing that."
"Sorry. Soldier talk."
"You do feel different," I say.
"You don't," she says.
"Well, I am." I take a sip from my pint, hoping the symbiote would let me get drunk. "I am different."
"Thanks for coming. It's good to see you."
"No, really, it does mean a lot to me, I—"
"Aileen, please." I lock the symbiote. I tell myself I don't know what she's thinking. Honest. "You don't have to." I empty my pint. "There's something I've been wondering, actually. I've thought about this a lot. I've had a lot of time. What I mean is—" The words stick in my mouth.
"Do go on," says Aileen.
"There's no reason why you have to do this, go out there and fight monsters, unless—"
I flinch at the thought, even now.
"Unless you were so angry with me that you had to go kill things, things like I used to be."
Aileen gets up.
"No, that wasn't it," she says. "That wasn't it at all!"
"I hear you. You don't have to shout."
She squeezes her eyes shut. "Turn on your damn symbiote and come with me."
"Where are we going?"
"To the beach, to skip stones."
"Why?" I ask.
"Because I feel like it."
We go down to the beach. It's sunny like it hasn't been for a few months. The huge Fish that floats in the horizon, a diamond starfish almost a mile in diameter, may have something to do with that.
We walk along the line drawn by the surf. Aileen runs ahead, taunting the waves.
There is a nice spot with lots of round, flat stones between two piers. Aileen picks up a few, swings her arm and makes an expert throw, sending one skimming and bouncing across the waves.
"Come on. You try."
I try. The stone flies in a high arc, plummets down and disappears into the water. It doesn't even make a splash.
I laugh, and look at her. Aileen's face is lit by the glow of the starfish in the distance mingled with sunlight. For a moment, she looks just like the girl who brought me here to spend Christmas with her parents.
Then Aileen is crying.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I was going to tell you before I came. But I couldn't."
She clings to me. Waves lap at our feet.
"Aileen, please tell me what's wrong. You know I can't always tell."
She sits down on the wet sand.
"Remember what I told Craig? About the babies?"
"Before I left you," she says, "I had a baby."
Excerpted from Hannu Rajaniemi by Hannu Rajaniemi. Copyright © 2015 Hannu Rajaniemi. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsDeus Ex Homine, 1.,
The Server and the Dragon, 16.,
Tyche and the Ants, 27.,
The Haunting of Apollo A7LB, 44.,
His Master's Voice, 53.,
Elegy for a Young Elk, 68.,
The Jugaad Cathedral, 86.,
Fisher of Men, 103.,
Invisible Planets, 119.,
Ghost Dogs, 128.,
The Viper Blanket, 137.,
Paris, in Love, 147.,
The Oldest Game, 165.,
Shibuya no Love, 177.,
Satan's Typist, 184.,
Skywalker of Earth, 186.,
Neurofiction: Introduction to "Snow White Is Dead", 225.,
Snow White Is Dead, 227.,
Introduction to "Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories", 238.,
Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories, 240.,