It is the twenty-third century. Herb, a young entrepreneur, returns to the isolated planet on which he has illegally been trying to build a city-and finds it destroyed by a swarming nightmare of self-replicating machinery. Worse, the all-seeing Environment Agency has been watching him the entire time. His punishment A nearly hopeless battle in the farthest reaches of the universe against enemy machines twice as fast, and twice as deadly, as his own-in the company of a disarmingly confident AI who may not be exactly what he claims... Little does Herb know that this war of machines was set in motion nearly two hundred years ago-by mankind itself. For it was then that a not-quite-chance encounter brought a confused young girl and a nearly omnipotent AI together in one fateful moment that may have changed the course of humanity forever. From the Paperback edition.
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August 28, 2006
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Excerpt from Recursion by Tony Ballantyne
Herb 1: 2210
Herb looked at the viewing field and felt his stomach tighten in horror. He had been expecting to see a neat cityscape: line after line of silver needles linked by lacy bridges, cool silver skyscrapers shot through with pink-tinted crystal windows; artfully designed to resemble the spread of colors on a petal. Instead he saw ' bleak nothingness. Cold, featureless, gently undulating wasteland spreading in all directions.
Something had gone badly wrong. Suddenly the cozy white leather and polished yellow wood lounge of his spaceship was not the safe cocoon he had grown used to over the past few months. Now they would be coming to prize him from this warm, cushioned shell to cast him shivering into the real world, all because he had made one tiny mistake.
Somehow he had made a mess of the code that should have told the Von Neumann Machines to stop reproducing and start building.
Herb's machines had eaten up an entire planet.
But there was nothing to be gained now by crying about it. Herb had known he was on his own when he embarked upon this project. It was up to him to figure out what had gone wrong, and then to extract himself from the situation.
He opened a second viewing field next to the first and called up an image of his prototype Von Neumann Machine. A cylinder, nine centimeters long, with eight silver legs spaced along its body, giving it an insectile appearance. Six months ago Herb had dropped out of warp right over this planet, opened the hatch of his spaceship, and stood in solemn silence for a moment before dropping that same machine onto the desolate, rocky surface below.
What had happened next
Herb liked to pace when he was thinking, and he had arranged his spaceship lounge to allow him room to do so. Two white sofas facing each other occupied the center of the room. A wide moat of parquet flooring filled the space between the sofas and the surrounding furniture that lined the walls of the room. The smell of beeswax polish and fresh coffee filled the cabin. Herb closed his eyes and ran through the order of events after he had released the Von Neumann Machine.