A few months ago, I posted a short list of sci-fi novels worth reading. It was a bit of an experiment for me to post that, since this is a technical blog. But the post seemed to be popular – I got a lot of great feedback on it. So here I am, with yet another list of books that you should read. This time around, I’ve got a classic cyberpunk novel and a trilogy from an independent author. All 4 of these books are a must-read for any sci-fi fan.
A True Classic: Snow Crash
A classic cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash follows Hiro Protagonist through a series of near death experiences in both the real world and cyberspace. And yes, his name is “Hiro Protagonist”. :D Our impression of Hiro’s life starts out pretty mundane, as a pizza delivery person. But it quickly gets interesting as he crashes his car trying to avoid a pizza being late. From there, the story goes in to his life in the ‘net, along with a girl that he knows from school, one that he meets during the pizza incident, and a few other friends and enemies that we meet along the way.
The crux of the story surrounds a drug that is wiping people’s minds, turning them in to babbling zombie-like shells of human beings. There’s a cult running this drug around the world, and Hiro and his friends are trying to get to the bottom of it. The crazy part is that this drug is administered in cyberspace, but affects people in the real world. How is that even possible? From floating mega-cities, to ninja-sword fights, motorcycle chases, rock concerts and an Inuit with a glass knife that slices people apart, this is an engaging look at the root of language in human beings. The root of language that we all share – our ability to form language, to understand language, and to be able to get back to the foundations of symbols and meaning in language, to create neuro-linguistic hackers.
If you’re a fan of cyberpunk, if you’re interested in language and semantics, or if you just want to read an epic book that involves nuclear powered cyborg dogs, you must read Snow Crash. This book is easily in my top 3 sci-fi novels.
A Good Book That Must Be Read: Avogadro Corp
The first book in a trilogy called The Singularity Series, Avogadro Corp follows a team of software developers that are working on a new text parsing and correction system. We’re all familiar with spell checkers and other text correction devices, right? This company is taking that idea to the next level by building a system that will understand the context of the writing in an email – but not just within the email. It uses terabytes of data to analyze the context of who the email is being sent to, who the email is coming from, and what the purpose of the email is. Through the mistake of someone on the team, though, the system gains a self-preservation need. Combine this with it’s ability to engineer the most effective written arguments in the history of man, and the machines quickly gain abilities that should not be possible, through the hiring of engineers and contractors, unknown to the Avogadro Corp, itself.
Avogadro Corp is a good book, though a little slow on the up-take. The author, William Hertling, presents a plausible reality in which AI is born through the mistakes of a software development team. A team that must work to shut it down while avoiding the use of computers that could track them. From social engineering to the death of military personnel who are attempting to stop the machines, this is a book that you must read – not because this book in itself is great (it’s good, not great) but because it sets up the context in which the next two novels in this trilogy are set.
Hertling’s ability to spell out enough technical detail while remaining engaging shows a phenomenal balance between technical aptitude and story telling. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a background in software, hardware or related systems. He does his homework, at the very least, to create an environment that is both believable and enjoyable. But this is only the beginning.
A Great Book That Will Keep You On Edge: A.I. Apocalypse
As the second book in The Singularity Series, A.I. Apocalypse takes place 10 years after the events in Avogadro Corp. The world is in a much better place – crime is down, computers are nearly virus free, and the bot-nets that infest our world’s systems are nearly gone. Of course, if you’re the mafia running those bot nets, you might not think that this is such a great thing. With the significant advances in technology and processing power based on multi-core graphene processors, the world is more connected than ever and less apt to viruses and botnet takeovers… until Leon Tsarev is coerced in to building a virus for the Russian mafia that controls these botnets. Using his biology background he creates an evolving virus that quickly takes over the world’s computer systems, spawning ever evolving versions and variations of itself. After halting nearly all of humanity through the takeover of everything from water, electricity, vehicles and other emergency services, the virus becomes self-aware. Meanwhile, cities burn, people are dying and the human world begins to crumble. Leon and his friends manage to escape and with a chance encounter with the Avogadro Corp team, they try to find a way to prevent the oncoming apocalypse.
This is the book you were waiting for when you read Avogadro Corp. The author, William Hertling, takes the context and setup from his previous novel and creates a new world in which computers are in control and humans are scrambling to react. From military action, to hardware hacking, to the deepest question of what it means to be “real” – to exist – A.I. Apocalypse delivers en engaging story about a possible future where artificial intelligence can spawn from the hardware found in small businesses and schools. A new world and a new species are about to be born, and the A.I. Apocalypse is coming – all out war between humans and machines.
A Mind Bending Sci-Fi Masterpiece: The Last Firewall
In this final third of the trilogy, we are set again 10 years after the events of the previous book. The world is seemingly moving toward piece. War is almost non-existent. Humanity has little to no work to do. Implants in our brains give us direct access to the net, and artificial intelligence surrounds us and even has citizenship and nationality. In the midst of this near utopia, however, 683 murders have happened. There is civil unrest in the U.S. and a new political party is rising in power while demanding the abolishment of AI everywhere. Through what appear to be a random set of events, Cat – a 19 year old college and martial arts student – finds herself thrown in to the middle of what may be the greatest threat humans have faced.
A mix of many sci-fi themes, political unrest, and real-world ideas on rating systems, The Last Firewall is the third in the Singularity Series. Hertling builds upon his previous success and pushes the world that he has created even further. The story line quickly moves in to a world filled with martial arts, humanity’s interactions with A.I., military action, a hint of cyberpunk and an assassination plot. The fight scenes are reminiscent of The Matrix (remember when Neo realized that he could see and manipulate the machines in the real world?), mixed with dystopian reality. And the political upheaval and protests are something that seem to be taken out of recent headlines from around the world.
William Hertling completes the trilogy with a book that I could not put down. I read it in less than two weeks, which is a new record for me and a novel. This is the book that makes both of the previous novels in the series a must read. And while the book does border on fun predictability (the kind that has you thinking “Oh, I hope this… YES! IT DID!”, instead of rolling your eyes at cliches) it has enough of an unexpected twist in just the right places to keep you on your toes.
Do yourself a favor. Pick up Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse and The Last Firewall now. You won’t be able to put them down.
A Final Thought
Wow, it is incredibly difficult to write a good review of a trilogy that doesn’t give away too much about one book when the next book’s review comes up. I applaud anyone that can do this well, and I hope I haven’t given away too much in my reviews, here.
Of course these aren’t the only books I’ve read or am reading, either. I’m currently in the middle of Daniel Suarez’ “Kill Decision“, with “Influx” next on my list. And I’m always looking for the next book to have on deck… but honestly, I’m hoping William Hertling continues his Singularity Series or begins another series. What an incredible journey that trilogy is.
Lastly, I want to know what you’ve read that I need to read. I’m a general fan of anything sci-fi at this point (though I’ve run in to one or two duds recently). Drop a comment below and let me know what I need to look into.
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