Re: BOOKS: Dropping the Attanasio meme

Anders Sandberg (
17 Feb 1999 20:12:11 +0100 writes:

> I must admit that in *Centuries*, Attanasio does not do the best job of
> capturing the superior intelligence of his metasapients, but then most authors
> usually have problems in representing more-than-human intelligence. Walter Jon
> Williams did a good job of it in *Aristoi*, as did Charles Sheffield in
> *Proteus*, but I know of few writers who succeeded. Any names?

I think Vinge did a nice job in A Fire Upon the Deep, but mostly because he managed to keep the superintelligences off-stage and cleverly suggested through various contrasts the difference between human and superhuman intelligence. The prologue however describes a Power directly.

Zindell has several superhumans in his books, although they tend to be so quirky that it is hard to see the superintelligence behind their games.

David Brin had some interesting descriptions of post-singularity humans in his short story "Stones of significance" (not sure if it is published).

John Barnes has perhaps the so far most vivid descriptions of transhumanization in _Mother of Storms_ (I found myself jumping over lots of sex, violence and bad weather to read more about the posthuman subplot).

> Though I see nothing wrong in plots that pit heroes against villains, I don't
> think *Centuries* is reducible to this pattern. Attanasio does a very good job
> of presenting the motivations of the imploders, and though they may be
> considered as callous on a cosmic scale, I think Attanasio really manages to
> make them ambiguous, given that death is not final, that there is a
> multiplicity of universes, and that they are after eternal bliss itself,

This is the neat thing about the story: the philosophical situation is non-trivial. You can really see the point of the imploders and anti-imploders, and even the Kaliesque mother is in some sense right (although hopelessly deluded). What I disliked was that Attanasio fairly quickly took sides, and then allowed the hero to "save the day" in a manner any superintelligence would have figured out in nanoseconds (I certainly did, long before the plot got there). If I had written it, I think I would have played up the dilemma further instead.

> BTW, when I characterized "Inherit the Stars" as one of the worst novels on
> the Extropian reading list, I meant "Voyage to Yesteryear", which I found
> unreadable and totally devoid of dramatic interest. "Inherit the Stars", on
> the other hand, though not great literature, is a very pleasant mystery novel
> on the scale of a planetary system.

Yes, I liked it. It is pleasant in the same way as the movie _The Andromeda Strain_ (based on Crichton's book): the plot and acting are forgettable, but it really manages to show the scientific method in action, a kind of xenomedical detective story (this movie likely contributed to me becoming a scientist; when I saw it again recently I was amazed to notice how many scenes and concepts had influenced me deeply when I originally saw it as a small boy).

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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