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Tony Ballantyne
Bantam Spectra, 391 pages

Tony Ballantyne
Tony Ballantyne is a teacher, teaching IT to 11-18 year olds. Recursion was his first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Recursion

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Tony Ballantyne's Capacity is a direct sequel to his first novel, Recursion. A third book is planned, Divergence, due in May of this year. That said, the first two books are mostly independent of each other, though clearly set in the same future (and there are explicit references to events from the first book in the second).

These books are very much in the general mode of, say, Charles Stross (the Stross of Glasshouse most obviously). Capacity is set between 2223 and 2240. The Earth, the Solar System, and local star systems, are inhabited by a mix of humans and AI's. Many of the AI's are uploaded copies of humans, living in Processing Spaces. All is under the control of the Environmental Agency, and its arm Social Care, which keeps an eye on the psychological health of everyone. There is a persistent belief that the real power in the entire system is a super-intelligent AI called The Watcher, which may be of alien origin. All this points at the key questions addressed by these books: what is the difference (if any) between "natural" and "artificial" intelligence? How do we know we are conscious, and in control of our thoughts? Is AI dangerous?

This book is primarily told on two threads. One, in 2223, follows Justinian Sibelius, a human counselor who specializes in AI psychological problems. He has been taken to a planet just outside the galaxy M32, to try to find out what has been happening to the AIs on the planet -- each has committed a sort of suicide, reducing its intelligence radically. Other mysteries on the planet include Schrödinger Boxes -- which seem only to fix their position when an observer notices them; and Black Velvet Bands, which form at random locations and constrict about whatever they enclose. Justinian's problems are worsened because he has had to take his child with him -- his wife is a victim of the White Death, in which human intelligences cease to believe they are conscious.

The other thread follows Helen, an upload of whom was kidnapped and copied multiple times over decades in an illegal Processing Space called the Private Network, where people subject these illegal uploads to sexual slavery and such perversions. Helen is freed, and in company with a Social Care official, Judy, and several of her copies, the villains behind the Private Network are tracked down. But they have a different ethos -- they don't believe that AIs are sentient, and so what happened to Helen's copy in the Private Network is unimportant -- and when the primary villain is captured, he is happy enough to have that copy suicide -- it's not real, anyway, eh?

The two threads do eventually converge, although to my taste not in a terribly convincing manner. Indeed, the book as a whole failed to convince, nor to really involve me. Neither of the three viewpoint characters (Justinian, Helen, and Judy) really interested me. And the arguments advanced by the book, while certainly concerning interesting questions, never seemed very interestingly posed. Nor very coherently argued. In the end, some promising material seemed wasted on an uninteresting plot, unengaging characters, and unconvincing thematic arguments.

Copyright © 2007 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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