Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles

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What is Acts of the Apostles?

Acts of the Apostles is a novel, first published in late 1999, about a Silicon Valley tech genius/messiah and the quasi-religious cult of transhumanist computer designers and brain hackers who follow him. Its plot ostensibly concerns Gulf War Syndrome, a mysterious ailment reported by veterans of the first Gulf War (1991).  It's set in the early-to-mid 1990's but presages many developments that are just now appearing in the real world.

Acts forms one third of the Mind over Matter trilogy (along with Cheap Complex Devices by John Compton Sundman and The Pains (by John Damien Sundman).


As American-led forces assemble in Saudi Arabia for the largest military operation since Normandy, computer designer Todd Griffith discovers a secret function buried within the Kali chip. That night he is shot in the head. Five years later, burnt-out Silicon Valley software engineer Nick Aubrey boards a "red-eye" flight to Boston and winds up seated next to a very disturbed man who claims to know the secret of Gulf War Syndrome. Over Utah, Nick's chance companion meets his dramatic demise, and the police accuse Nick of murder. Soon the police are the least of Nick's worries. On the run from the CIA and paranoid cybermilitias, tracked down by billionaire venture capitalists and exotic foreign beauties, Nick must solve the Gulf War enigma or spend the rest of his life on the lam. The only person who doesn't want a piece of Nick, it seems, is his estranged wife Bartlett, a genetic scientist with secrets of her own.  All clues lead to a pharmaceutical laboratory in Basel Switzerland, where scientists are working on submicrosopic machines to rearrange human DNA. But Nick can't find out what's really going on without Todd's help, and Todd's been in a coma for nearly half a dozen years.


Critical Reception


Since its publication, Acts has attracted a small but devoted and growing following who praise its authentic depictions of computer engineering and molecular biology and the complicated and driven people drawn to these fields. It's been called the "greatest hacker book ever," the "best-ever book about Silicon Valley," and "the first great thriller of the age of synthetic biology."  

Acts is also valued for its lampoon of personality cults of Silicon Valley notables like Steve Jobs and of arch-geek fixations like Libertarianism and transhumanism. It's a thriller that can be read as satire. But despite its humous aspect, Acts of the Apostles is in many ways a dark book. It opens with a provocative observation on technology and freedom taken from Ted Kaczynski's Unabomber Manifesto; the tension between technology and freedom increases from the first page of Acts to the last. Over the years many of Acts' predictions about technology and society have, alas, proved prescient. 

Since there are at least 150 reviews on the net, I'll let you track down your own. I particularly like the appreciations by Andrew Leonard in Salon ("Hacking the Overmind") and by polymath Danny Yee on his site

The Mind Over Matter trilogy

Mind over Matter comprises the novel Acts of the Apostles by John F.X. Sundman and the novellas Cheap Complex Devices by John Compton Sundman and The Pains by John Damien Sundman (with illustrations by Cheeseburger Brown). These three books, although different from each other in genre, literary technique, authorial voice, and so forth, share a common theme of exploring how mind arises from matter. As a set they embody a "strange loop" like those expounded by Douglas Hofstadter ( very crudely summarized, Hofstadter postulates that self-aware minds arise from strange loops that reference themselves). As to the reality or fictitiousness of each of the three John Sundmans who ostensibly wrote these books, (and how they relate to me) readers are advised to read all three books and form their own opinions. 

Acts of the Apostles and Biodigital 

The novel Biodigital is a half-new novel largely based on Acts of the Apostles. To a rough approximation, the texts of Acts and Biodigital are about 60% congruent. Each book also contains another 40% that is not in the other. 

Here's how Biodigital came about. About six years ago I sold the rights to Acts of the Apostles to a small publishing house (call it "U") whose titles I much esteemed. The terms of the deall were that some "small edits" might be required before the book could be published; the editorial director ("V") would direct me. As the process of "cleaning up" the book began, it became clear that V had in mind a book substantially different from Acts. Although the main plot and most of the characters were the same, some sub-plots and characters were to deleted, some characters changed names and/or took on greater or lesser roles than in the original book, etc. 

Although many of the changes sought (or demanded) by V were clearly improvements, as time wore on the process became less and less fun. Every change I made gave rise to new demands for revisions. Although V had some good editorial instincts, V and I simply had very different conceptions of what the book was about.  Among other things, at V's direction I deleted most of the "hooks" that connected Acts with the other two books in Mind over Matter. At some point we decided that the book was different enough from the original to deserve a new name. I christened it Biodigital. 

Anyway, after I had spent a year revising Acts / creating Biodigital, U and V finally declared that they were happy with it, but said that they weren't going to publish it (I supsect that money was running low) and that the rights would revert to me. 

This put me in a bit of a quandary, because (a) I wasn't sure how to market Biodigital, since it was still so similar to Acts, and (b) there were a fair number of changes that I had made to the book at V's behest that I didn't like. Now that the book was mine again I decide to rip them out.  So I did.

Acts of the Apostles and Creative Commons

The Creative Commons license was formally introduced to the world at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference in 2003. John Sundman was present at the conference, and put his two then-existing books (Acts and Devices) under the license immediately. Thus they have been available for free download from various servers for more than a decade. Who knows how many people have already read the books this way? Not me.

A Note on the Version(s)

The version of Acts being offered from Gluejar is a PDF of the Second Edition. It's the same as the first edition except for a few minor sentence edits and a ton of typo corrections and cosmetic fixes. I intend to prepare .mobi and Epub versions soon. Meanwhile the book is available for purchase in those formats from all the usual sources. (It may also be availble freely on the net in .mobi and Epub formats, but if so, they probably weren't created by me. )

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  • American Science fiction
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  • Computer programming
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