Science fiction hasn’t been a monolithic genre for a long time, if it ever was. So, speaking about the next big thing, the big theme everyone is talking about or referencing to some degree just doesn’t make much sense. Even when everyone was talking about the singularity, the majority of the published books and stories just outright ignored it, which was IMHO a very good thing. On the other hand, you still have currents, topics that get widely discussed.
One of those topical discussions in recent science fiction was the one about the nature of consciousness and free will, though with only two writers participating (there again is the limit of how much stuff one person can actually read, so there might be others I’ve overlooked), it seems only like a small current. We have Peter Watts, which his major work Blindsight (2006), and his most recent media-tie in Crysis: Legion (2001). Then there’s R. Scott Bakker with Neuropath (2008).
Project Itoh’s (aka Satoshi Ito) Harmony fits perfectly well into that discussion, though with its own, unique spin on the whole topic. What makes Ito’s book so interesting is that I doubt he actually read Blindsight, which would make it seem like the whole topic has reached critical mass in some sense and managed to influence two writers independently (writers from two different countries and only one of them speaking English as a first language) to write about a universe where consciousness is not a requirement for intelligent life.
The rest of the book is good too, mostly because the analogy to nanotech-driven political correctness gone mad is both darkly humorous and yet convincing enough to make me just a bit uncomfortable. Sure, I don’t have a problem with banning stuff like smoking, but I have enough vices of my own I don’t want to see banned, even if they kill me one cell at a time. I can easily see people going along with an evermore extreme definition of health in our present society.
But to connect this urge to an outsourcing of body functions via technology, and then following this line of thought to its logical conclusion and reframing the whole mind over matter approach that drives so much of trans-human thinking as something that’s really a matter over mind problem, that’s nothing short of brilliant. Twisted and disturbing sure, but mostly brilliant, in the same way that Scott Bakker’s and Peter Watt’s book were. Not an easy read, but entirely satisfying.