Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by William Hertling
(2012, William Hertling)

Singularity, book 2

When a teenaged boy create a computer virus that goes worldwide and becomes sentient, shutting down all computer resources, an artificial intelligence and its creator attempt to negotiate with and neutralize the threat it presents.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
June 12th to 16th, 2017


Like the other books in this series, this was a lot of fun, and highly technical, in the sense of the computer world. The breakdown of society was barely touched on, and only from the outside, as the book was more focused on the birth of AI and its interface with humanity, which it did with great progression. I was really interested in the AI’s efforts to analyze what happened, and countering the virus’ progression and attacks, as it was written in a very exciting manner. I highly recommend all four of the books in this series.

Spoiler review:

This book was more like the fourth one, in that it had broad, worldwide implications, while most of the first, and all of the third ones were more focused, because the human and AI characters were also more focused.

The setting of this world is pretty easy to imagine, as it’s not too far off from what we see today, with more automation. Most cars, if not all, drive themselves, and the world is more interconnected than ever. eLope, the AI created in Avogadro, Corp., has been plotting behind the scenes to ensure the survival of the human race for ten years now, increasing worldwide standards of living, equalizing internet services around the world, and suppressing the creation of another AI, so as to not repeat the horrors of what happened when eLope became aware.

But they didn’t count on Leon Tsarev and the Russian mob. The Russians, who have been infecting computers worldwide for years, are suddenly found to have almost no resources at their disposal, thanks to eLope, who has been pursuing them through anti-virus software updates. Leon’s uncle is in the mob, and is in a bind, as he’ll be killed if he doesn’t create a new virus to infect more computers. He coerces Leon into doing the work for him. Leon creates the Phage, which is based on biological cells and the way they evolve and replicate. Within hours, the Phage is so successful that it has contaminated computers worldwide, and is clever enough to choose how it updates, so it eventually becomes self-aware, and in many varieties.

The Phage is so active that it has stopped all computers from running their primary functions, from cars to coffee-makers to cell-phones to all servers in the world. Nothing automated survives its attack, which means humanity is thrown back to the stone age. Fortunately, this story only takes place over the course of five days, so humanity has only a short time to live without its standards of living. The story isn’t focused on the effect on humanity, though, except to note things in broad terms, like the fire sweeping over Brooklyn, and the cities that are devastated by the AI war (all twelve minutes of it).

While I liked the technobabble as much in this one as I did in the previous (and subsequent) books, this story does suffer from a lot of it. Quoting tech talk about processors and speeds and such is fun for a while, but it bogs down the creation of the AI network a bit. Still, it works in this context, because that’s what the AI would be focusing on, in any case.

The characters, which are fleshed out more in Avogadro and The Last Firewall, don’t have much to do, and the book suffers from that, as well. Mike tries to safeguard eLope, and give advice, but the story has more development for eLope than him, because he can’t keep up with the rate of change. More interesting is the development of Leon and his friends James and Vito. Leon feels very guilty about what he did (against his will, as he wanted nothing to do with his uncle until thugs arrived at his school), so they get out of New York (inside a UPS package drone!) and crash out in the forest somewhere. They scrounge several old Windows computers together to log in to what is left of the internet, and find ways to interpret what’s going on. Unfortunately, they don’t get much farther than describing the AI network. Fortunately, eLope finds them, and sends Mike on a plane to retrieve them.

By then, the AI civilization becomes aware of humanity. I think this is the most brilliant concept in the whole book -that the AI assumed they were alone in the world, and only discovered humanity accidentally. They go from competition for resources to trading. Peace instead of war, and develop the honor system that will be prevalent in the next two books.

Different groups of AI behave differently. The online gaming Mesh War group, which was developed for the military as a game for teens, has the most militaristic approach, and thinks it knows humanity from what it sees in its algorithms, not realizing that this is just a segment of what humans are. When the military releases its counter-agent to destroy the Phage, the Mesh War tribe easily defeats it and compromises the entire military network, giving the last computers (as well as a lot of military weapons) to this AI group.

eLope, Mike, Leon, the Japanese, EU and US Presidents meet with the prominent AI groups to discuss compromise. The discussions are necessarily difficult, as the AI and humans don’t trust each other yet. Some groups are open to compromise, but others are not. The Mesh War group sees the military trying to create a new network resistant to the Phage, and orders attacks on the building. eLope commandeers all sorts of defenses to counter this attack. It’s a well-described war, down to the point where eLope take control of all civilian aircraft (long abandoned) to run suicide attacks on the Mesh War data centers.

The main problem I had with this book was the time it took to do everything. Five days seems awfully quick, especially when eLope is taking civilian aircraft, or when the boys are creating a Windows network when all they’ve been used to is the Linux-based AvoOs all their lives. I laughed at the idea of these guys trekking through the forest with laptops, monitors and desktop computers -it seems rather unbelievable, which is a funny thing to say given what this book offers us as fantasy. I could accept the birth of AI, but not that!

In the end, Leon kills the mesh network that forms the backbone of the wired society, including eLope. The Phage should be destroyed, as well, and Mike offers the idea that they should encourage AI development, guiding it the way a parent would guide a child, which will lead up to what we see in The Last Firewall.

The birth of the virus into self-awareness was done as if from the point of view of an AI. It’s all emotionless, and I think it’s this feature that causes that part of the book to be a little harder to read. When it comes to the humans, the book is full of emotion, and it flows better, and is generally more enjoyable.

As far as this series is concerned (in my opinion), the best is yet to come, with The Last Firewall, which is an intimate picture of a human and an AI, with implications that are worldwide, but are presented more locally, both in landscape and personality.


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