In the far future mankind has sent out Von Neumann machines to the stars who have established the Dreamtime, an interstellar network that stores uploaded human minds after their death and reincarnates them later again into the flesh. But something has gone wrong, and now entities with minds far superior to baseline humans roam the Dreamtime and fight against each other, with humans as their pawns, or worse.
Conceptually far above most of his later stuff, Scratch Monkey reads like a dry run for Accelerando (some of the same ideas, but without the concept of the technological singularity taken into the equation, all things happen on a much longer timescale). Written between 1988 and 1993, this could have been, if it had been published as a book, an interesting counterpoint to Egan’s idealistic transhuman vision of uploaded human minds in Diaspora or Permuation City.
Scratch Monkey is everything but idealistic, it paints one of the most horrific futures imaginable. If you want to get an idea how dark it is, it comes close to Stross’s own short story “A Colder War”. While it’s not a happy-reading book, it’s full of neat ideas, every page, like in his later book Accelerando, seems to burst with information that the author seems all to happy to upload into the readers mind. I liked it much more than most of his other, not-so-info-dense fiction, and everyone who thought Accelerando was brilliant should give Scratch Monkey a try.