Blindsight, Peter Watts
Eighty years in the future, Earth becomes aware of an alien presence when thousands of micro-satellites surveil the Earth; through good luck, the incoming alien vessel is detected, and the ship Theseus, with its artificial intelligence captain and crew of five, are sent out to engage in first contact with the huge alien vessel called Rorschach. As they explore the vessel and attempt to analyze it and its inhabitants, the narrator considers his life and strives to understand himself and ponders the nature of intelligence and consciousness, their utility, and what an alien mind might be like. Eventually the crew realizes that they are greatly outmatched by the vessel and its unconscious but extremely capable inhabitants.
When the level of this threat becomes clear, Theseus runs a kamikaze mission using its antimatter as a payload, while Siri returns to Earth, which, as he grows nearer, it is apparent has been overrun by vampires. Non-sapient creatures are beginning to exterminate what may be the only bright spark on consciousness in the universe.
Ventus, Karl Schroeder
Ventus is well-written and fun, as well as having IME the most realistic treatment of nanotech I've yet encountered in SF. Schroeder is definitely an author to watch (this is his first novel). The setup is that some agents from the local galactic civilization have come to an off-limits world hunting a powerful cyborg who may be carrying the last copy of an extremely dangerous AI god. The tough part is that the world is off-limits because the nanotech on that world is controlled by AIs that destroy all technology not made by them, and aren't terribly human-friendly.
Crisis in Zefra, Karl Schroeder
In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a. The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency. The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.
Accelerando, Charles Stross
The first three stories follow the character of "venture altruist" Manfred Macx starting in the early 21st century, the second three stories follow his daughter Amber, and the final three focus largely on her son Sirhan in the completely transformed world at the end of the century.
In Accelerando, the planets of the solar system are dismantled to form a Matrioshka brain, a vast computational device inhabited by minds inconceivably more complex than naturally evolved intelligences such as human beings. This proves to be a normal stage in the life cycle of an inhabited solar system; the galaxies are filled with Matrioshka brains. Intelligent consciousnesses outside of Matrioshka brains may communicate via wormhole networks.
The notion that the universe is dominated by a communications network of superintelligences bears comparison with Olaf Stapledon's early science-fiction novel Star Maker (1937), although Stapledon's advanced civilizations communicate psychically rather than informatically.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang
A triumphant combination of the rigorous extrapolation of artificial intelligence and artificial life, two of the high concepts of contemporary SF, with an exploration of its consequences for the ordinary people whose lives it derails. Ana Alvarado is a former zookeeper turned software tester. When Blue Gamma offers her a job as animal trainer for their digients--digital entities, spawned by genetic algorithms to provide pets for players in the future virtual reality of Data Earth--she discovers an unexpected affinity for her charges. So does Derek Brooks, an animator who designs digient body parts. The market for digients develops and expands, cools and declines after the pattern of the software industry. Meanwhile Ana, Derek, and their friends become increasingly attached to their cute and talkative charges, who are neither pets nor children but something wholly new. But as Blue Gamma goes bust and Data Earth itself fades into obsolescence, Ana and the remaining digient keepers face a series of increasingly unpleasant dilemmas, their worries sharpened by their charges' growing awareness of the world beyond their pocket universe, and the steady unwinding of their own lives and relationships into middle-aged regrets for lost opportunities. Keeping to the constraints of a novella while working on a scale of years is a harsh challenge. Chiang's prose is sparse and austere throughout, relying on hints and nudges to provide context. At times, the narrative teeters on the edge of arid didacticism; there are enough ideas to fill a lesser author's trilogy, but much of the background is present only by implication, forcing the reader to work to fill in the blanks. (Indeed, this story may be impenetrable to readers who aren't at least passingly familiar with computers, the Internet, and virtual worlds such as Second Life.)
The Island, Peter Watts
"The Island" is a standalone novelette. It is also one episode in a projected series of connected tales (a lá Stross's Accellerando or Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles) that start about a hundred years from now and extends unto the very end of time. And in some parallel universe where I not only get a foothold into the gaming industry but actually keep one, it is a mission level for what would be, in my opinion, an extremely kick-ass computer game.
The Things, Peter Watts
Divided by Infinity, Robert Charles Wilson
In the year after Lorraine's death I contemplated suicide six times. Contemplated it seriously, I mean: six times sat with the fat bottle of Clonazepam within reaching distance, six times failed to reach for it, betrayed by some instinct for life or disgusted by my own weakness.
I can't say I wish I had succeeded, because in all likelihood I did succeed, on each and every occasion. Six deaths. No, not just six. An infinite number.
There are greater and lesser infinities.
But I didn't know that then.
Crystal Nights, Greg Egan
Vernor Vinge x Greg Egan crackfic.
Concepts contained in this story may cause SAN Checking in any mind not inherently stable at the third level of stress. Story may cause extreme existential confusion. Story is insane. The author recommends that anyone reading this story sign up with Alcor or the Cryonics Institute to have their brain preserved after death for later revival under controlled conditions. Readers not already familiar with this author should be warned that he is not bluffing.
A story to illustrate some points on naturalistic metaethics and diverse other issues of rational conduct.
Features Baby-Eating Aliens.