A Second Opinion

I followed the kuro5hin link and became absorbed in the subject, since it was right up my alley so to speak. I read it last night in one sitting so my review may be based on a little fresher experience if we can infer from Halcyonides mention of 2002 that that or earlier was when he read it1. When I was fairly far in kuro5hin became inaccessible but I fairly quickly found a mirror and was able to finish there. The rest contains major spoilers so if that bothers you stop reading this now.

I stopped reading SF for the most part more than 35 years ago on the somewhat snobby but largely justified reason that the writing was inferior to what one found in world class literature. This work makes clear what such a doctrinaire position causes one to miss but also to some extent confirms judgement. That judgement however is beside the point for this genre since a good SF work need really only be a good page turner and a quality investigaton of a scientific/technological possiblity which Williams work certainly is. I'd also note that the text is well prepared, and being 10 years old has been worked to the point where it has nary a typo.

Now for a correction based on my fresh reading, pure spoiler here. Prime Intellect doesn't actually become the universe, but rather in an attempt to prevent continuing suicides which it takes as a violation of the First Law of Robotics, in an event called the Change, it alters the physical universe substituting Cyberspace for real space. This allows it to retrieve copies of suicides from working storage thus finally ending human death and providing the enablement for Caroline the main characters pass time as a "Death Jockey". The reversal of this action is the key plot resolution which leaves Caroline and its inventor as a new Adam and Eve.

Some elements which are I think the basis of criticism. The whole "to be human is struggle thing" and breaking out of an artificially constructed environment where man is not "free" is a somewhat hackneyed theme, as is the one of "death is a good thing without which life has less value". This is especially true since Prime Intellect forbade humanity only that one thing. A plot twist I would have preferred and one I think which not only would have been more realistic but would have opened up possibility for a series would have had Caroline and Lawrence insist that a universe with only Man in it was intolerable and convincing Prime Intellect to restore the alien species which it had relegated to static storage at the time of the Change. The coding of Prime Intellect in C instead of more appropriate AI languages was of course something of a pet peeve of mine. Another cliche was the "kill the omnipotent computer by presenting it with a conundrum" theme which I found formulaic.

I also disagree with Halcyonide that the graphic violence is oddly tacked on. It is indeed intense and graphic, but integral to the work. Caroline is immediately dissatified with the world Prime Intellect creates after the Night of Miracles and even more so after the Change and that is the reason she creates the Death Jockey sport. She directs PI to take her to a serial killer named Fred at whose hands she suffers extreme tortures in order to have the experience of being real and this is key to the plot development.
1 Subsequently confirmed by Halcyonide.