Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by William Hertling
(2015, William Hertling)

Singularity, book 4

Relations between humans and AI deteriorate after an attack on American soil, after which countries have outlawed AI and the world has limited their abilities.


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


Globe-spanning, and insane in its ambition, the book is able to balance personal efforts with the global events, though the latter are often too objective for such an emotion-driven novel.

Spoiler review:

From the previous book, The Last Firewall, I’ve always liked Catherine Matthews, or Cat, as she likes to be called. Whereas in the last book, she was just discovering her powers, here she’s in full control, having experimented with them for the last ten years. The world has also changed, with humans augmenting pretty much every part of themselves.

And yet, there is still some fear and resentment. Some people don’t have implants, and many people still blame AI for the huge amount of unemployment. On the other end of the scale, many people have some sort of backup of their personalities, and some have forsaken their biological bodies altogether, in order to live in virtual reality.

I wasn’t fond of Cat the SWAT team at the beginning of the book. Nanotech is a substance that could easily become unstable, eating everything in its path, including the Earth’s core. So when a huge swath of it is found in Miami, Cat is sent in with Helena, the battle droid who helped her at the end of the last book. Normal in this universe is the ability to connect to the net and run thousands of simulations of events, to ensure Cat’s choices are good ones. When the American government considers the nanotech swath a terrorist act by AI, due to its very nature, they send in a nuclear bomb, which will destroy the physical structure, and an EMP, which will destroy any electronics nearby. Miami is destroyed, and Cat barely survives. But she had the chance to override the programming of the missiles. She didn’t because she saw a huge war with billions dead if she let the nanotech survive.

What happens here is barely better, but at least there are survivors, due to the extra two years of planning.

I don’t have a good grasp of eLOPE, the very first AI ever created, because that happened in an earlier book in the series, one that I haven’t read. Having escaped from a virus into space at that time, he now returns when the US starts broadcasting using radio again. eLOPE guides Cat through some dangerous missions throughout the book, and organizes the mass evacuation at the end. He has unique properties because he doesn’t require modern software or data centers, which are all prone to attack.

In the wake of Miami, the USA and China have shut down all AI, and no longer allow people to upload themselves. The American President was ousted and the Senate suspended because they were all augmented, which is now illegal. The rest of the world is constrained by these two nations to limit AI at class II, to prevent them from taking over.

Of course, suppression of rights has never worked in favor of any group, and the AI are fighting back. XOR is created, and fueled by the overly-restrictive laws enforced by humans. These AI believe humans are inferior, and convince even sympathetic AI to come over to their cause, the same way humans subvert normal people into cults. Their arguments sound so logical, and they deflect attention away from inconvenient facts by questioning those who dig up the facts. This could be an analogy to what’s happening in our world today, but without the AI.

The American President Reed, who was so far down the Presidential chain that she never would have expected to be in that position, is forced to deal with war-monger generals who are actively pursuing an agenda to wipe out AI from the world. Their methods probably save the human race in the end, but they are the ones who pushed XOR over the edge in the first place.

When the action or mood spans the globe, the story gets a little too impersonal for me, moving into “news” mode, and without a lot of emotion to go with it. The President offers some of this, but she is just a pawn until the end. There is an AI who is brought into the XOR fold, James, who offers an AI perspective, and that’s very interesting.

The best parts of the book, however, deal with Cat. I kind of liked it when she was finding her way in the last book, and had to grow into her character here. She’s always certain of herself, but as the story continues, she becomes less so. She, Mike and Leon have moved to Canada, where AI is still legal. They live on a small island off of Vancouver Island. Cat sneaks into the US to rescue AI and uploaded personalities. My favorite part is probably where she breaks into Disney Animation Studios to get a storyteller she needs for a private side-project, a last resort in case the AI win. She encounters not-insurmountable obstacles, and it’s fun to watch her. Of course, at that time she is critically injured because of a careless mistake, and eLOPE needs to rescue her, getting her out of the heavily-defended borders of the country.

The story works because of the personal connection. Cat and Leon are a normal couple, and Cat lives to try and make the world a better place for their daughter, Ada. She loves Leon too, but I wonder if he’s just a convenience at this point. There is a short scene where Cat goes for a nude swim with her old friend, , who lives permanently in a VR world. They share a passionate kiss with their bodies pressed together, and I wondered if Cat would leave Leon to go to her. I’m not sure what the point of that scene was, and it’s a lost opportunity in that Cat never goes in search of her after the end of the world.

As with the last book, the technobabble about networks, defenses, EMP and matter manipulation sounds authentic, and the author doesn’t try to slow down and explain any of it, assuming we know almost as much as Cat and the others. In the last book, it was fun. Here, it went a little over the top for my tastes, as if the author was trying to find out just how much logical nonsense he could put into a book. But the very human nature of Cat, Ada and Leon make up for a lot of it.

In the end, XOR does attack, in response to American aggression. Even though Mike and Leon try to offer the AI Mars, they see the reverse as true, that they should have Earth. In response to the AI aggression, America launches millions of nuclear bombs, and billions of EMPs. The AI are stopped for a bit, but it turns out not to be enough.

So it’s a good thing Cat had been running simulations and creating backup plans. One of these involves getting six spaceships into orbit with mainframes. She helps deploy nanotech throughout the US, while drones do it over the rest of the world. In a last ditch, worse-case scenario, little nanotech flies will hatch and sting everyone who doesn’t have an implant, so they can be uploaded. And while the surface of the Earth is transformed into an AI-supporting structure of solar panels, eLOPE is able to back up every human on the planet and launch them out of the solar system. Talk about ambitious! I hadn’t expected that scenario, but the author went big- about as big as he could.

The other really personal scene that I enjoyed was Cat’s time after she crashes the ultra-stealth airplane, while deploying the fly-makers in the US. She’s distracted by an XOR attack on the island in Vancouver, which means Ada. Cat abandons everything to get to Ada and save her. She opens herself to the net in US territory, blows out every circuit between Texas and Winnipeg, then to Cortez island, where she is able to turn away the attack. It’s a moment of pure rage, where saving her daughter is more important than anything in the world. It’s a pure parent’s thought, and with Cat’s abilities, she can take it further than anybody, human or AI.

She travels across the US, north to get back into Canada using a float plane across Lake Superior, where she gets her implant repaired. In burning out the net, she also overloaded her implant. Now she’s more normal than she’s ever been, which I think I prefer.

Except that now she and everybody else on Earth are digital simulations of humans, out to find a suitable planet, or maybe to wander the galaxy forever in a digital realm, if they can’t.

I’m not sure how I feel about the duplicate Cat being killed. It makes life easier for everybody of course, but I wonder how Cat would get along with herself. I wondered, given the earlier scene with her friend, if Cat would even end up leaving Leon to become intimate with herself. But I guess that’s too over-the-top, at this point.

I think it’s now time to turn my attention to the earlier books in this series. I like this world, and I think I would like it in a simpler time, as well. My favorite of the series is still The Last Firewall, but this one is good, too, but of a different, more grand, nature.


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