Scratch Monkey is the early Charles Stross novel which never was, or, at least, hasn't been so far. It was written 1988-93, and nearly saw the light of day in 94, but things didn't go to plan, as Charlie outlines under the title "How not to sell a Novel" on his Fiction Index page...
As a result this is available as a download from his website (book link at the bottom), under a Creative Commons License. When reading this it is worth remembering that this is most likely an edit/review/final edit cycle (or something similar) away from a publishable form - you're looking at an unpolished stone so to say, the final produce would (will?) be different.
Scratch Monkey is a post-Singularity novel, with free-roaming, superior-to-human AIs (Superbrights) and their progenitors, the Ultrabrights, also on the loose. We follow the story of Oshi Adjani, who works for Distant Intervention, who maintain and defend the Dreamtime, usually under the direction of a Superbright. A lot of this seems to be hands-on, bloody intervention on the ground, reminiscent of Bank's Special Circumstances in the Culture universe.
The universe it plays in has an interesting setup – the sphere of human dispersal, continually and automatically expanded by Newtonian probes, is suffused in nanites who connect all humans to huge, moon/planet sized processors through their brain implants (thus enabling ESP-like communications and data/application access called 'Wisdom'), and which uploads the final mind states and memories of everybody who dies to this huge distributed network, the Dreamtime. Superbrights and Ultrabrights are purely Dreamtime denizens, although they can and do grow and control remote bodies.
The Dreamtime also facilitates inter-stellar travel for physical humans – by scanning them, transmitting the data, and then growing them a new body at the place of arrival, into which their mind state can be downloaded. Which also means that yes, there is an afterlife, both in the Dreamtime (which acts as an immersive simulation environment) and in new bodies. If you're lucky, and nobody messes with the Dreamtime and your upload...
I won't go deeper into the story, or the world; it's an interesting and well worth reading book, even if it shows that this was never polished to full publishability level, and is of course very early Stross, too.
What I found whilst reading this was that the book, in its current state, felt disjointed, and it took me nearly ¾ of the story until I got a feel for what was going on and what the main threads of the story were – this is unusual, and I'm not sure it's entirely intentional on part of the author, either. There are lots of flash-backs, intended to show the history of the main protagonist and explain her developments, hang-ups etc. These were too long for my taste, breaking the flow of the main story significantly. Again, this might simply be the less experienced writer and lack of editing showing through, as much as with the occasional info dumps which felt clumsily executed.
The other thing that struck me was how clearly other references, in both time directions, came through whilst reading. As already indicated, Distant Intervention has something of Banks, whilst the Dreamtime work etc strongly reminded me of the current, Hugo-nominated short story Palimpset (same Author, great story!). The way the Distant Intervention agents were portrayed as post-human and damaged (by origin) and deformed (by Superbrights and DI) reminded me more than a little of Peter Watt's Rifters series (which is more recent, though). Good touchstones, actually, and all on my reading list...
This is not an absolute must read, but fun and engrossing across most of it. For Stross fans, completists (you will have to read on screen or print it yourself!), or of course for any fan of the genre!
Title: Scratch Monkey
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publication Date: not
Review Date: 100818
Book URL: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/fiction/monkey/index.html
Author URL: http://www.antipope.org
Pages: depends on your formatting
Topic: Space Opera
More Charles Stross