Category Archives: artificial nature

Current Science Concepts or Themes in Science Fiction

IMG_9503Have you noticed?

I have.

Certain current science concepts and themes are cropping up in best selling science fiction.

One theme sparked by current science discoveries is the search for new habitable planets. Thanks to the Kepler mission, scientists are now sorting through hundreds of possible candidates for a new Earth.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/18/us/planet-discovery/index.html

Interestingly, our scientists are sending robots first to investigate other worlds…just like the alien robot that crashed onto my world of Alysia.

Hmmm. Maybe it came from Earth?

Because that’s what we’re doing now on Mars.

Nanobots is also a current theme. I sent a link two blogs ago on remote control miniature robots. One of my favorite scenes in my forthcoming novel Touching Crystal (out in November 2013) concerns saving two hostages using remote controlled flying nanobots.

Lots of fun.

The Risen EmpireScott Westerfeld has a great scene in his Risen Empire that also does this, only he sends in a horde of nanobots and you don’t get to sit in the “cockpit” with  Richard Steele like my readers do in Touching Crystal.

Several recent novels by well known prolific writers touch on the theme of robots that are self-replicating and can reconfigure themselves into whole new forms as their environment changes.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/07/m_block_self_assembling_cube_robots_mit/

Self replicating nanobots are the source of possible world disaster in Larry Niven and Matthew Harrington’s new novel The Goliath Stone.

The Briareus mission took nano machinery out to divert an Earth crossing asteroid and bring it back to be mined, but things go wrong and nanobots go wild, creating a whole new entity that threatens Earth.The Golith Stone

Dr. Toby Glyer, is the genius behind the nanotechnology and uses it to effect miracle cures on Earth…long life, disease free humans with strong libidos. Now he must find his partner, William Connor, and stop the incoming danger.

While the concepts and technology of this novel were intriguing, the dialog and action bogged me down.

A lot of sitting around and guessing what game the elusive William Connor played.

New EarthWell known and prolific writer Ben Bova just came out with his newest in a series called New Earth. He uses both the theme of discovering habitable planets and medical nanotechnology that enables health and long life.

Of course, everything gets carried much farther than current technology.

Science fiction writers do that….Until eventually, it becomes reality.

Like Niven, he ascribes a dangerous element into his nanobots, but does not ban them from Earth like Bova does.

Maybe he should have.

In both, the current themes and science are interesting, but the writing could have been better and more engaging.

In Bova’s New Earth, a long term exploration ship is sent to an exciting new world that appears habitable for humans. While the eighty year trip to New Earth takes place, the passengers are put in a cryogenic sleep, unaware of a global warming crisis on Earth.

Here is another current theme much discussed nowadays…global warming.

In the story, global warming has caused Earth’s cities to be inundated and weather to shift. Economies are on the brink of disaster.

A global weather shift is also a theme I use in my forthcoming novel, Touching Crystal, but that event is caused by a destructive comet.

Several popular movies, Deep Impact and Armageddon  in 1998 portrayed how we might respond to an advancing asteroid or meteorite. Recent asteroid activity and the crash of a meteorite in Russia has reignited this theme. (See Feb. 2013 blog)

In the novel New Earth, the political leaders choose to abandon the expedition in order to attend to their own world crisis.

The expedition lands and discovers highly advanced friendly aliens that carry human DNA. The natives claim to have been born on the planet, which turns out to have a hollow metal shell. They deny having interstellar travel capability, but insist that they are human. Everyday technology is highly advanced, yet no cars, or manufacturing are visible. Nothing adds up.

The Earthlings are suspicious and the exploration team divides into several factions. The main character falls in love with one of the human appearing natives and trusts their leader’s offer of friendship. Other factions in the landing team mistrust the natives. They continually warn that the natives have ulterior and dangerous motives. The story sets up a nice conflict among the two groups as to who can be trusted and what motives drive both humans and aliens.

While parts of the story bog down a bit, Bova throws in a surprising twist towards the end, which keeps the reader flipping the page.

For me, what carried the story were the interesting dynamics of psychology: from the world leader abandoning the expedition for his own local concerns to the whole exploration of the human psyche and how various individuals reacted to first contact.

Humans can be a bit paranoid when confronted by new and unknown things…and aliens, well, who knows whether they can be helpful friends or world destroying enemies?

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Transhumanism in Military Science Fiction

IMG_0165What if the next step in human evolution is not crafted by Mother Nature, but birthed from our own science labs?

If you follow Ray Kurzweil at all, you know there are amazing things happening in science around the world.

We are already on the path to Transhumanism.

My fellow blogger Veronica Sicoe recently did an amazing blog on this topic. She defined it as “Transhumanism is a movement that aims at upgrading humanity through technology and scientific advancements. The idea is to enhance the human body and mind, from the development of advanced life-like prosthetics to repair damaged functionality and the development of life-prolonging technologies, to customizing healthy body parts on demand and adding new functionality, and even merging humans and machines such as by uploading yourself into a computer or sharing your neurological hardware with an AI. Transhumanism means basically anything that would make humans faster, smarter, longer-lived and more versatile than nature could ever achieve within foreseeable time.”

http://www.veronicasicoe.com/blog/2013/07/transhumanism-superhuman-or-inhuman/

Science fiction provides a fertile ground for exploring this topic. War is horrible, but the many casualties returning to society have pushed science to develop more and more sophisticated medicine and technology. We now can control a prosthetic hand through thought.

Think about that!

No wait! Don’t.

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33701/title/Thoughts-Control-Robotic-Hand/

Also, no longer clunky metal apparatuses, prosthetic limbs often look and feel real.

What about an embedded computer in a human brain? Coming up in my next novel, I do this to a clone. Stretching to the future as my timeline extends, I am now writing about the next step in human development, evolution?, and it is exciting and challenging.

What can and will we do to extend our lives, our capabilities? And what are the moral and ethical questions that go along with altering what it means to be human. Science fiction often explores this question of, what is human? At what point do we say a downloaded brain into a computer interface is no longer human? Or do we call a cryo-frozen brain implanted into a cloned body, human? Is the identity of the original still legal? Or considered another identity entirely? How should society’s laws regulate what is acceptable or not? Should we rigidly determine what is acceptable or let science flow free to find its own limits?

And then, there is the dark side.

What uplifts us, can also destroy us. Embedded weapons can not only shoot at the enemy, they can be used for criminal activity. People can be cloned, or in desperate circumstances, donate body parts to black markets. Already many are on a list, waiting for a donated heart, liver, lung and would be willing to pay a lot to get one. Opportunity for criminal activity.

Death's Head Again, the military provides fertile ground to explore transhumanism, and I have found an undiscovered gem in David Gunn’s Deaths Head: Maximum Offense. 

I stumbled upon this  novel while searching through the new arrival shelf at my local library.

Yeah, yeah. I go there occasionally.

This is a part of a series, and I encourage you “balls to the wall” scifi military fans to check out the others too.Death's Head 1 If you are all posies and flowers fantasy, this isn’t for you. But if you like a badass protagonist who is 98.2%  human with enhanced healing ability, superior strength, unusual agility and sociopathic tendencies, well then, pull up a chair and check this one out.

It reminds me of Peter Hamilton’s Mindstar Rising, only a little more gritty.

Oh yes, he also has a lethal parasite that resides in his throat that bends time and space, and talks directly to AIs. Yet most of the beings he deals with consider him little more than a Neanderthal creature.

So there are aliens that are even more transhuman that try to manipulate him…oh heck, kill him.

The United Free are immortal, arrogant, and can bring back the dead…

And do. More than once.

The other end of the Galaxy’s Spiral is home to the Metalheads or a race of cyborgs who are very lethal and aggressive.

And his enemies.

The protagonist, Sven Tveskoeg (what is with strange scifi names?) is given an assignment to lead his ragtag unit called the Aux (auxiliaries) into the artificial world of Hekati and find a missing citizen of the United Free. What he finds is the StarFist, an enhanced military force, seriously mean inhabitants made up of abandoned miners, illegals and misfits, and a situation set up to kill him.

Day of the DamnedHis unit contains Haze, his intelligence officer, who’s brain is cybernetic and can control computers and machines. Rachel is his sniper with deadly skills, Neen, his first officer who wants his position and Shil.

Oh yes, and a seventeen year old greenhorn colonel, Colonel ViJay, is put in charge of the group who has no combat experience whatsoever. Sven has to follow his frustrating orders until partway through the mission he realizes that ViJay is the son of General Jaxx, one of the most powerful men of the Octovian society. The situation demands that ViJay learn quickly what it means to be a soldier, or die. And Sven gets to be responsible for him.

Worse than that, Sven’s gun is sentient, a free citizen that constantly backtalks at him using heavy sarcasm.

I did say gun.

All makes for an interesting, and riveting transhuman experience in the military genre.

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Filed under alien life forms, Aliens in Science Fiction, artificial intelligence, artificial nature, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, gene modification, genetic manipulation, military, military science fiction, modifying humans, Robots in science fiction, Science Fiction book review, science fiction science, science fiction series, Science fiction world building, Transhumanism

Future Forward: Notable Science Fiction

IMG_0174First off: Happy Fourth of July. As much as the news criticizes our government and claims we are as bad as Orwell’s 1984, I am still glad that I live in America and was born to my parents. I am lucky.

More than the government, I fear a relative or friend posting an awkward picture on Facebook, or quoting a tweet out of context. More than the municipal camera on a street corner are the millions of cameras in the average person’s smart phone ready to snap any local event or action. We resent government interference, but embrace everyone else… Amazon, Facebook, Linked-in, etc.

Nowadays we can’t hide from each other.

Nor do we seem to want to.

I just returned from Nashville where I attended a special wedding of my nephew and a book signing.

Text messaging enabled me to stay abreast of all activities and be where I needed to be. My whole dynamic of communication shifted.

I learned a few lessons about doing a book signing. Last time I came to this group, I contacted the organizer well ahead of time and she got me on the regular calendar. The room filled with over fifty people and was immensely successful. I sold every book I brought and then some.

This time I hesitated to contact the organization ahead for various reasons. My old contact had left and someone new ran the activities. I didn’t have her number, would they even want me to talk again? By the time we connected, the normal calendar had gone out. But, she was enthusiastic and we discussed an intriguing title.

Which didn’t get published.

Instead, I was billed as Sheron McCartha discusses her second career as an author, and a small flyer went out to a limited number of people. Needless to say, the attendance was not the same.

BUT…

There is nothing that beats face to face contact with a reader. Everyone in attendance bought a book and I made some wonderful friends and met some really nice people. I had a good time and would do it again.

The moral is to get out there, but make sure you’re well publicized first. Don’t be shy. People can be really nice.

As I was sitting on the plane traveling out, I remember gazing out the window and seeing the cotton white clouds, thinking of the settlers trudging westward over a hundred years ago. Did any one of them stare up into the sky and imagine large metal birds flying high overhead at incredible velocities packed with passengers of all types that stared at iPads and kindles, and paperbacks, passing the time sipping various drinks and eating peanuts? I took six hours to travel coast to coast where early settlers took many months, and most died in the attempt. I went in comfort and barely felt the heat outside. Did any one of those early settlers envision this future or even have the capacity to understand what it might be?

And a hundred years from now, how might my descendants be traveling, and what might they look like? Hopefully not baggy shorts and Nike t-shirts.

Spin StateIf you would like to imagine a far future where faster than light communication is enabled through Bose-Einstein relays that use special crystals that involve entanglement, and genetically designed and tanked beings, part human, part cyborg exist, then I recommend Chris Moriarty’s Spin State.

Spin State is a detective story with Catherine Li as an augmented investigator, born out of the mines of Compton’s world, where the precious crystals that enable worlds to connect are found. She escapes the crushing poverty of the mines, buys a new face, cutting tech augmentation, joins the military and becomes a hero, a major and finally a UN Peacekeeper.

Now she is sent back to her home world to investigate the death of a dead physicist, called Sharifi, who turns out to be her cloned twin. And what was called an accident is looking more and more like murder. But over thirty-seven faster than light jumps has erased most of Li’s memories and every corner she turns deep inside the mines of this alien world holds deadly secrets she must unravel. The critical crystal may be alive, but dying, and a missing data set could change the balance of power and bring about a war.

Li engages the help of a one of a kind artificial intelligence that is programmed with human emotions. Cohen is her strange lover who uses various human bodies and downloads into them as he helps Li solve her mystery. He can access places no human can go and process data in a blink of an eye…but can she trust him? His motivation is suspect as he also wants to find what Sharifi has discovered and use it for his own purposes. Secrets are everywhere. And the witch Bella, created and tanked by the Synthetic worlds who want to take over humankind, has her own reasons for finding out what Sharifi uncovered deep in a mine’s glory hole. For her, the crystals sing.

An intriguing mix of mystery, quantum physics, evolved humans and artificial intelligences, I found Spin State an engaging read and recommend it. This book is first in a series that I want to bring to your attention. Spin Control and Ghost Spin continue the tale of Catherine Li and the struggle between artificial intelligence and humans. I am looking forward to reading these also.Spin Control

Spin State received a nomination for the 2003 Philip K. Dick award and was the top ten editor’s pick for Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2003.

And made the time pass swiftly and enjoyably while I soared overhead.

Ghost Spin

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Filed under alien life forms, artificial intelligence, artificial nature, award winning scifi, Best selling science fiction, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, gene modification, genetic manipulation, hard science, Hard science fiction, modifying humans, Robots in science fiction, Science Fiction Detective Story, Science Fiction Mystery, science fiction science, super computer, Uncategorized, virtual reality

Award Nominated Science Fiction

IMG_9512The Locus Award nominees are out.

http://www.geekexchange.com/2013-locus-award-nominees-58521.html

I find that certain awards contain a goldmine of good science fiction: the Hugo Award, The Nebula Award, The John Campbell Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Locus Awards.

However, be wary of just any award as sometimes they are scams and not handed out by qualified people. The other problem with even the well known and prestigious awards is that they are dominated by traditionally published authors. Self published authors often don’t have the contacts or the knowhow to get nominated that the big publishing houses do.

I certainly don’t have any of the committee members on speed dial.

I foresee that eventually the self published author will take a more prominent position in the awards programs, but right now I don’t think the big houses want that to happen. Sometimes that means the reader misses out on some good science fiction. The current self published author is still trying to figure out this marketing thing and how to get in touch with his/her readers. Hello.

Use of WeaponsOne of the top names on the nomination list for the Locus Award is Ian Banks. I read Matter and currently have Use of Weapons on my reading table. His winning a nomination has encouraged me to read that and look into his Culture Series. So stay tuned there.

I recently did a blog on detective science fiction and an associate from my book club e-mailed me to suggest The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Reynolds has won the British Science fiction Award and been nominated three times for the Arthur Clarke Award and once put on the short list for a Hugo. He writes a hard science space opera story.

The kind I like.

He also has a PHD in Astronomy and has a day job as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency.

So there’s hard science involved.

The PrefectThe Prefect takes place in the Revelation Space universe, but is a stand alone novel. Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect whose beat is the Glitter Band, a teeming swirl of habitats that orbit the planet Yellowstone. This is a multiverse of space habitats that cater to all and any quirk of human nature.

Some of them very strange.

Dreyfus’s deputies are Sparver, a hyperpig and Thalia, a human, who is daughter of a cop supposedly gone bad. Law enforcement officers carry a whiphound as a weapon of choice and deal with everything from downloaded personalities to genetically altered humans. Be prepared to encounter an evil entity that is an uploaded consciousness trying to destroy humans, a computerized and murderous being called the clockmaker, a top level lawmaker who is a mole for evil who makes him believe he is doing good, and various odd habitats including one for sadists. Thalia, his deputy, gets trapped in a habitat that has a robot uprising and has to fight her way out using her creativity.

All good science fiction stuff.

I found the novel intriguing for its fast paced action and futuristic setting and technology.

Meanwhile, I’m having fun working  in edit mode on my next scifi adventure–Touching Crystal. I plan this one to come out in November after it goes through the meat-grinder of my writers’ group.

I have already submitted it to an outstanding Beta tester and the Orycon Professional Workshop Critique. Using their comments, I am making it even better.

Whereas in Space Song Richard Steele uncovers a secret genetic human modification program, in Touching Crystal, he has to deal with the impact of the sentient crystal beings who augment certain humans, giving them extraordinary powers. Stay tuned.

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Filed under alien life forms, Aliens in Science Fiction, artificial intelligence, artificial nature, award winning scifi, Best selling science fiction, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, gene modification, genetic manipulation, hard science, Hard science fiction, modifying humans, Robots in science fiction, Science Fiction Detective Story, science fiction series, Science fiction world building, Space opera

A Science Fiction Murder Mystery

IMG_0174If an author writes more than two books, most likely he/she is hoping that you’ll like one and move on to read the others. Often readers choose a book because they’re familiar with the author and want to read other works by that author.

That’s my cunning plan, anyway.

That’s often how I choose what to read.

Readers often start  a new author because a friend recommends them. In my case it was a neighbor. My next door neighbor is a highly intelligent avid scifi reader, so I asked him what he liked. He introduced me to Peter Hamilton.

Whoa Nelly!

Mind Star RisingI first read Mindstar Rising. Loved it! This is an early work when Hamilton wrote normal sized novels. I raced back and delved into Nano Flower and Quantum Murder. Awesome. Then I waded into his the Night’s Dawn Trilogy and liked it, but felt like I had over eaten at the banquet table. (three really large novels)The Neutronium Alchemist

So I digested for several years until Great North Road caught my eye. Here’s a stand  alone novel that involves a dynasty of clones and a murder mystery. Yea!

Great North RoadAngelo Tramelo is a one-in-ten, which means she looks like twenty, but is much older and has a life span in the hundreds. (my fantasy) She’s witness to a brutal mass slaying at the mansion of bioil powerhouse Bartram North, one of three surviving cloned brothers from which several generations of clones have sprung, creating a few edit errors along the way. Angelo is the sole survivor of this mass murder and in her defense, she claims that the murderer was an unknown alien.

Yeah right.

No one believes her and she’s off to jail. Twenty years later another North clone is murdered in the same manner…five whirling blades to the chest, and Angela is pulled out of prison to help solve the crime. By now the three brothers have established Northumberland Interstellar Corp. that funds gateway systems manufacture and opens gateways to worlds throughout the galaxy. Brother Augustine stays on Earth, brother Bartram heads to St. Libra to establish the algae paddies for a bioil conglomerate (and is murdered) and Constantine launches a Jupiter habitat.

So the story is rich in high tech gadgets, future medical and energy advances and galaxy spanning action.

Enter detective Sidney Hurst. He is given the case of the murdered North mystery clone.  Methodically he fights the city’s bureaucracy to try to solve a murder case that just keeps getting more and more complicated and weirder. He’s very much your stereotypic detective who plods along, but is smart and a great family man and you’re just rooting for him to succeed against ridiculous odds. He just won’t give up until the case is solved.

Hamilton does a nice job of balancing the clues so that the reader goes back and forth wondering if it’s a North Dynasty power struggle or a possible weird alien involvement, or maybe both.

I have noticed a number of science fiction murder mystery/detective style novels lately and I enjoy this sub genre. Katherine Rusch does a nice job with her Retrieval Series and Jon Courtenay Grimwood also with his Arabesk Series (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen). I really liked his Nine Tails Fox that had a detective solving his own murder after being downloaded into another body.

Extremes-K.Rusch

See earlier blogs for detailed reviews.Pashazade

Needless to say, I was up until 1:30 last night trying to finish Great North Road.

I liked the action that keeps ramping up as the story progresses. Unfortunately at 948 pages, Hamilton could have used a good editor to hone the story a bit. I would get a piece of action in the mystery and then, a flashback to a whole block of earlier events in a particular character’s life.

This time, however, the number of characters were manageable, except for the clones and that was helped by the fact that if the clone was a clone of Augustine, his name began with an ‘A’ . Bartram’s clones began with ‘B’ and Constantine with ‘C’. Of course, since they were all clones and looked alike, those labels were not always truthful. Shuffling around clones can get a bit confusing, especially if you can’t identify the victim exactly, much less discover a possible elusive alien murderer.

Needless to say, it’s a good story. The ending could have been pared back as Hamilton goes on and on after the action is done about what happens in the future. Nice to know, but it gets to be a bit much. Besides, by then, my eyes were blurry and needed  rest.

All in all, though, I highly recommend the novel and hope you enjoy it.

I am in the proofing stages for Space Song and expect the book to be published soon. Looking over the several books, I noticed that they each have a subgenre. Caught in Time is a time travel romance, A Dangerous Talent for Time is a  time travel with scavenger hunt/riddle, Cosmic Entanglement is a mystery at a Space Academy and Past the Event Horizon is a space adventure involving alien first contact. Space Song is a genetic mystery with an alien invasion threat. So, hopefully, one of them will strike your fancy.

If you like one, then tell your neighbor.

He or she might appreciate it.

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Filed under artificial nature, Best selling science fiction, environmental issues in science fiction, first contact, gene modification, genetic manipulation, Hard science fiction, modifying humans, Science Fiction Mystery, Science fiction world building, terra forming, Uncategorized

Steampunk: Yes and No.

IMG_9518One of the more popular genres, particularly here in the Northwest is Steampunk. This is a growing sub genre of science fiction that is getting a lot of attention. What actually is it? That’s subject for hot debate.

See this link for an idea:

http://etheremporium.pbworks.com/w/page/10454262/What%20is%20Steampunk

One of our own Northwestern writers is Mary Robinette Kowal whose series Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass and now her new novel, Without a Summer are considered in the Steampunk genre because of its Victorian flavor and scifi story.

Glamour in Glass

One of the main criteria for Steampunk is the Retro or Neo Victorian period of the novel. Usually there are factors of steam, (hence steam punk) or gears and levers in the technology. Many times dirigibles are used as travel and rebellion (hence punk) or a “grand adventure” is the plot.

The heroine or hero often is portrayed with leather helmet and round metallic glasses. Alternate history or time travel is used to arrive at the Victorian styled culture.

But what criteria makes a Steampunk novel is still being hotly debated.

AngelmakerEnter the novel Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway that I put on my list of to reads. An awesome cover with an intriguing title and the possibility of Steampunk drew me in. The writing started out rich and delicious. Joe Spork is a clockmaker in a Victorian styled world. He is happy fixing clocks in his lab tucked away in the city.

His father, Mathew Spork or “Tommy Gun,” now dead, was a notorious gangster and bits and pieces of the gang still linger about. One involves him in delivering an odd book that turns out to be a part of a doomsday device.

Also in the story is a retired international spy agent and spinster, Edie Banister.

The entire story is told in the third person present, which makes it sound like a manuscript for a screen play, i.e. “Joe Spork walks into the room and gazes about…”

Wore me out.

The initial dive into the novel was exhilarating, a quarter of a way through, I was  exhausted and put it down. The rich descriptions bogged down and the action struggled along. It had a cloud of Victorian haze over the story and I wasn’t sure what was going on…neither was Joe Spork.

If you are a Steampunk enthusiast, you may fair better. I was disappointed.

shipbreakerShip Breaker by Hugo and Nebula award winner Paolo Bacigalupi also skirts the boundaries of Steampunk. Often in Steampunk you find orphaned children and rebellion against the establishment. However, like his other novel, The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi also makes a strong comment on the environment. In this future, the seas have risen and drowned the coastal cities. Climate change has spawned “city killer” hurricanes.

The protagonist is Nailer, a teenage boy, who scavenges for copper amid the hulks of beached oil tankers. He struggles to meet his gang’s quota so that he can survive one more day. Off in the distance, he watches the clipper ships that use large high atmosphere balloons to pull them along at incredible speeds, and wishes that he could sail on them rather than scrounge in tight oily corridors of dead tankers.

One day he is reaching for a line of copper and falls into an oil pool and almost drowns. A teammate sees him, but abandons him, hoping to gather his “Lucky strike” for herself. This sets up the theme of loyalty in the face of adversity versus everyone for himself, let everyone else fall.

After a “killer hurricane” rips through the area, Nailer and his friend Pima comes across one of the beautiful clipper ships wrecked on coral from the storm. Excited at the rich find, Nailer also discovers a beautiful young daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate who is running from her father’s enemies and is badly hurt and trapped in the sailing ship. Nailer has to decide whether to let the daughter die and strip the ship of its luxuries, or save the “swank” girl and give up the claim to her as the rightful owner.

And even if he does that, he has to figure out how to keep it a secret from his drug addicted and brutal father who is definitely out for everything and anything he can get for himself.

Unbeknownst to him, there’s also an internal struggle within the powerful shipping company, and an assassin is out to kill or capture the young girl to protect other interests in the company.

ShipBreaker is a page turner and has several serious themes running through it.

Where it falls short is under the Young Adult category, so that while it has some violent action and important comments to make, you come away with the strong YA flavor to the novel.

Still, I couldn’t put it down.

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Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, artificial nature, Best selling science fiction, environmental issues in science fiction, science fiction, Steampunk, YA science ficiton

Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction

IMG_0174Artificial intelligence…dangerous enemy or friendly helper?

Science fiction has been debating this question for years. As early as 1968, Robert Heinlein wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress where a High Optical, Logical Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, or Holmes IV, is installed on Luna base to compute ballistics for pilotless freighters and control their catapult. This used only 10% of the computer’s capacity, so Luna Authority keep adding on  hardware and decision boxes and additional duties until by year three, it controlled all the phone systems, other computers, air, water, sewage, temperature systems for all of Luna. It had voder-vocoder circuits that supplemented all read-outs, print-outs and decision making boxes.Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Then it woke up.

Became self aware and took an interest in good jokes and pranks.

One which was issuing a paycheck to a janitor in Authority’s office in Luna City for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15. (the last five digits being the correct amount) So Luna Authority privately contracts a Manuel Garcia O’Kelly to figure out what went wrong and he discovers that the computer has become self aware. Rather than tell anyone, he starts to converse with the computer and names it Mike, after a Mycroft Holmes character.

The story is about the friendship between an incredibly powerful, but lonely computer and Manuel O’Kelly, or Man as everyone calls him

And how they engineered a rebellion on the Moon to gain freedom over Earth’s totalitarian control.

There is some magnificent politics in the story. To date, Luna has been a dumping ground for criminals, reminiscent of Australia. They are under the boot of Earth Authority like all good colonies, and are tired of the treatment. Problem is that they cannot transition back to Earth because of the long term effect of Luna’s light gravity and Earth’s heavier gravity. After living on Luna, their bodies cannot handle Earth’s heavier gravity and consequently once stranded on the moon, they cannot return to Earth.

Unfortunately, it’s a hard story to get into because of the dialect. Manuel tells the story in first person narration with a heavy Russian accent that throws the reader out of the story time and again. Maybe it’s Heinlein’s joke to have a Russian engineer the rebellion. Remember back then (1968) Russia and the U.S. were racing to be the first on the moon. Also, “Mike” (the computer) constantly refers to Manuel as Man.

You think you’re on an L.A. beach.

Hey, Man. What’re you doing, Man.

It took me a while to warm up to this classic story of computer and man (Man), but eventually after swimming through all the dialect and political theory, I ended up liking it.

Heinlein has a radical life philosophy, so be ready to read with an open mind and enjoy the intricacies of orchestrating a Lunar rebellion, complete with a Russian accented computer contractor that shouts slogans such as, “Give me Liberty or give me death.”

DragonshipThe other book that I read recently from the 2013 list is Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It made an interesting contrast to Heinlein’s story. Both are about self aware, super powerful  computers that interact and become “friends” with a particular human.

For those of you who have criticized the Liaden stories as “romance science fiction,” this isn’t the case here. The protagonist is Theo Waitley who is now grown up and captaining her first starship. This ship is from “old tech’ that is forbidden and dangerous. The ship’s original design was to service a now dead trader. The self aware computer that runs the ship has been out in the deep waiting for its captain for centuries. It wants a reason to exist. The captaincy key makes it way to Theo’s hand and she takes on a trading route with the ship for the Korval clan that is fraught with danger.  She also takes on an ex-lover who is being eaten alive by a nano-virus and is secured in the ship’s medical unit fighting for his life.

The computer not only acts very human, but creates a second persona when Theo needs more crew. This second self aware entity has feelings, a job description and to all intents and purposes the rest of the universe thinks it’s another human on the ship.

This is fifth in the series and I recommend you read the earlier ones. I love the Liaden stories and always look forward to the newest one. I love the strong family ties in their story, the emotional hook and the interesting tech. This one has all three…

So enjoy.

Veronica Sicoe posited the question on her blog  What if the Internet became self aware?

This was interesting because it appears that the fear of an aware internet lies in the elusiveness of its existence. A supercomputer that has boundaries can be overcome.

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

And next you know Hal is singing “Daisy, Daisy.”

“War Games” was an interesting movie that had an aware computer using real missiles for his “game.” That was frightening, but checkers proved the solution.

But an aware internet has no central core, no rack to unload, no central hub to disengage, no trick game to occupy it and consequently, is unassailable. There may be no solution if a self aware internet goes rogue.

And who wouldn’t with the crap that humans often put on it?

You can start with the porn.

Do you think that we will, sometime in the future, have an aware supercomputer, and will it be friend or foe?

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Discovering the Science Fiction Anthology

IMG_9512Okay, so many science fiction readers are busy people and don’t have time for a Peter Hamilton tome or a Patrick Rothfuss compendium, but prefer to get their science fiction satisfaction a gulp at a time.

What to do? What to do?

How about a well thought out anthology?

Now, I’m not usually an expert in this field and there are many anthologies out there. I’m the doorstop novel kind of reader. However, I wanted to cover this topic and present three varieties of anthologies, with the caveat that there are many others out there.

But here’s three.

Legends1. Legends edited by Robert Silverberg.

I received this as  a Christmas present in December 1998 and it blew away my mind. If you want an anthology organized around the heavy weights in the field, then here are eleven stories by world famous science fiction/fantasy writers. The list starts with Stephen King and includes Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist, Orson Scott Card, George R.R. Martin, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, Tad Williams…with illustrations by Michael Whalen. Need I say more? Although published over fourteen years ago, the stories are still timely. And subsequent Legend volumes have come out since.

Legacy of Stars2. Legacy of Stars  by Danielle Ackley-McPhail  Maybe you just want some science fiction military stories with a  kick-ass heroine. Enter  Katrion Alexander who never does what is expected.  With forwards by such notables as John G. Hemry a.k.a Jack Campbell (Lost Fleet Series), Jack McDevitt, Bud Sparhawk  and others. This collection of stories focuses on Private Katrion Alexander and hard science military. In fact, the first story in the anthology, (but not the novel) is entitled “Carbon Copy” and has quite a nice twist to it that would please any hard science/military scifi reader. Interspersed between Katrion’s  adventures in the Alliance Universe, are other military science short stories that will have you turning the pages just as rapidly. Several thought provoking poems break up the action between stories, and all in all, provide the military scifi reader with a well balanced read. A hidden gem.

http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-Ackley-McPhail/e/B002GZVZPQ

Levine-SpaceMagic_600x900 copy

3. Space Magic by David Levine. Sometimes you are a short story superstar like David. You have won a Hugo for “Tk’ Tk’ Tk’, published over forty short stories, many award winners, and now it’s time to wrap them all together and put out your own anthology. Anthologies can be a way to develop  a platform for further work.

Linton Robinson of LinkedIn blogging notoriety has an excellent blog on this idea and I encourage you to read what he says in the link below. He has started a thread on LinkedIn for authors interested in writing for anthologies and anthology editors looking for submissions. Check that out too.

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/12/24/anthologies/

Now, I’m lucky enough to know David, so I asked if he would subject himself to an interview by me and he graciously obliged.

David’s stories plumb the depth of character, both alien and human and sometimes the interactions between them. Start with a story that takes place in the mind of a starfaring alien, visit a very unusual junkyard and check out “I Hold my Father’s Paws” that introduces, not transgender, but transpecies medicine. Walk with a salesman trying to sell on an alien world and meet a fairy like no fairy you have ever met before. His stories are different, fresh and provocative.

So here now without further ado, is David Levine.

Welcome Hugo winner David D. Levine who has just launched his new anthology, Space Magic.David Levine

Sheron: It seems to me that I ‘m seeing more and more science fiction anthologies coming onto the market. Do you agree, and why do you think that is?

David: If you’re seeing more SF anthologies — and this is not a phenomenon I’ve observed — it’s probably because the market for SF short stories is in transition. Although science fiction and fantasy is one of the few places in literature today where you can still get paid for a short story, and the main print markets (Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF) are still going strong, a lot of the other markets that were out there five or ten years ago have vanished and many new ones have appeared.  With all the changes in this area, it’s not surprising that a lot of writers and editors have decided to release their short stories in anthology form.

 Sheron: You’ve had an interesting and successful writing career, writing over 40 short stories, writing for George R. R. Martin in his Wild Cards series, handing out the Hugo for short stories in 2012 and even winning a Hugo in 2006 for “Tk’ Tk’ Tk'” yourself. What would you say was one of your best moments as an author? And what would you say to encourage other writers in this genre?

David: Winning the Hugo was an awesome, overwhelming career highlight (you can see my overwhelmed response here:  http://youtu.be/q7cnM3ra79o  Selling my first story (“Written on the Wind”, to Beyond the Last Star) and my first acceptance at a major magazine (“The Tale of the Golden Eagle” at F&SF) were also fabulous moments, and getting a good review is always a thrill.  These moments are really brief, and it’s important to keep them in the back of your mind and haul them out whenever the writing feels like a pointless slog.

Sheron: I hear you there. We always need those moments to keep us going forward. Where do you get your inspiration? Or what got you started on this career path?

David: I’ve been writing SF stories since I could hold a pencil. I still have a two-volume SF novel I wrote in fourth grade (it was two volumes because I filled up the first spiral notebook) and a disturbing little book called “The Boy Who Could Fly” that’s considerably older than that.  But, although I took an SF writing class in college and was encouraged to submit my work, I got into technical writing as a career and that consumed all my writing energy.  I didn’t write a lick of fiction for about 15 years, during which time I met my wife Kate, so that when I declared in 1999 that I wanted to spend my Intel sabbatical at Clarion it was a surprise to her. But I did go, and I learned a lot, and I started selling shortly thereafter.  I’ve been selling 3-5 original stories each year since then, plus reprints.

Sheron: Why did you decide to publish Space Magic and where can it be found?Levine-SpaceMagic_600x900 copy

http://www.amazon.com/David-D.-Levine/e/B00A3F05FW

 David: People have been asking me for several years now whether Space Magic was available as an ebook, and I think it was in 2010 that I took some of the stories off of Fictionwise (which required exclusive rights) so that I could produce an ebook of my own. But there were a lot of options — should I do the work myself, or pay someone to do it, or send it to an e-publisher? — and I waffled for years.  Then, back in October, I had a really bad day. I got four novel-related rejections in a period of three days.  (Despite my success with short stories, I’ve been trying and failing to sell a novel since 2006.)  I got depressed, and then I got angry, and then I decided to channel the energy of that anger into areas I could control. I started up three major projects that week: my new website (daviddlevine.com, which went live in December and looks fabulous), the Space Magic ebook (which launched on January 15), and a video of my story “Letter to the Editor” (which goes public on January 21).  Now that all of those are out of the way I hope to be focusing my efforts on another novel.  Hope springs eternal.

http://www.daviddlevine.com

Sheron: Rejection in all kinds of forms seems to be part of this business. It’s those that listen to the ideas, incorporate the helpful comments to make their work stronger and keep on trying that eventually become successful. If you’re looking for constant accolades, take up another career. Kudos to you as Space Magic is the result.

So, what’s next?

David: I’m working on a YA Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure, which takes place in an alternate English Regency that includes airship travel to Mars and Venus (which are, of course, inhabited).  Arabella is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world.  Born and raised on Mars, she was hauled back home by her mother, who didn’t want her two younger sisters turning out as wild as Arabella had.  She finds England’s gravity, climate, and expectations of women stifling, and when she learns that her cousin Simon plans to kill her brother, still on Mars, and take control of the family fortune, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of a Mars-bound merchant ship in order to save him.  But pirates, mutiny, and rebellion stand in her way.  Will she arrive in time?

Sheron   Sounds terrific. I look forward to publication. Thank you David.

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Can We Crinkle Space?

According to an article listed in the Kurtzweil Newsletter, professors at UC Davis say we can.

 http://www.universetoday.com/96526/a-crinkle-in-the-wrinkle-of-space-time/

If you are not familiar with this free weekly newsletter and are a science geek, let me suggest it. Go to http://www.kurtzweilai.net.

Ray Kurtzweil wrote the stunning book, The Singularity is Near that is a non-fiction discourse on what our future may be. He bases it on current science discoveries and projects.

Very thought provoking for the intellectually ambitious.

Immortality, human-like robots, nanotechnology and much more…Science reality.

The newsletter contains current projects and experiments and is where I saw this article claiming that we can crinkle space. We are nowhere near the scope found in Frank Herbert’s Dune where space travel is managed by folding space, but it’s a thought-provoking article, nonetheless. My current characters in Past the Event Horizon are dealing with the vast distances of space and the difficulty that poses in getting around.

I mentioned last week of accidentally discovering Jon Courtenay Grimwood and now I find him on the Locus Online’s short list for best books of 2011 with the book The Fallen Blade. Might be worth a look.

Browsing in the library, I also found 9Foxtails by Grimwood. This is an even better book than the others that I read with the intriguing premise of a murdered cop finding himself in another body who then decides to solve his own murder.

With his murdered persona inside a strange body, he hears how others have perceived him. His estranged daughter, his ex-wife, his police partner, his boss, the list goes on as he listens in shock to what others say about him.

Wouldn’t that be fun? Or would it? What do you think people would say about you if they didn’t think it was you they were talking to?

There are several diverse strands in the story that I was sure would never come together…but they do…eventually at the very end…and in a believable and satisfying way…much to my surprise.

A combination of Scalzi (downloaded personality), Gibson (tone and technology), Modesitte (tone and mystery), and Kris Rusch (scifi mystery)

A similar problem of solving his own murder confronted Harry Dresden in Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story that I reviewed earlier. As a ghost, Harry has a corporeal problem to getting a handle on things, while Bobby Zha just has people writing down psychiatrists’ phone numbers when he tries to tell them he is really the murdered man, never mind the most recent funeral.

I also just want to mention a scheduling detail. I recently read a blog in Indies unlimited http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/07/21/an-analysis-of-best-practices-for-social-media-marketing/ that said most people read blogs Monday through Fridays. Saturday and Sunday were considered the least read days. Since I believe everything written on the Internet (wink), I have moved my blog to Mondays. It’s a good rationalization. One I’m comfortable with.

However, they also mentioned that ten o’clock was the most often read time. Since, I’m out in the Northwest, this isn’t going to happen. I’m a committed blogger, well, committed was the word mentioned, but not at seven o’clock my time. I can hardly roll out of bed in the morning, even when gravity is in full force.

Since I’m in full edit mode and sliding backwards, I thought Indie editing might be a good topic for next week and some interesting information on habitable worlds, along with some more scifi book ideas. See you then.

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Bending Genre

It used to be that if you wanted to be accepted by big house publishers, you had to fit into a certain genre category: Mystery, science fiction, romance, main stream. If not, you were rejected. Book stores wanted to know where to put the book on their shelves.

With the advent of ebooks and self publishing, this is no longer the case and while cross-genre books have existed for ages, now cross genre books no longer have to fit onto a specific shelf. I predict an upsurge in cross genre novels.

So, I went to Powell’s Bookstore thinking that I was going to see Richard Morgan of Altered Carbon fame, and instead, stumbled into a mystery group that was reading speculative mysteries. Morgan was just mentioned on the calendar because he was their author that month.

Serendipity. And I went with it.

Ever since reading the Celestine Prophecy, I have become more open to the unexpected happening. There’s a novel with no particular genre, that was originally rejected, but became popular through self-publishing until it was bought by a traditional publisher.

They handed me a Jon Courtney Grimwood novel called Pashazade and I gave it the old squint. However, last week I was having trouble finding something that looked interesting, so I read it.

Wha la! I liked it.

It was a genre bender in that the protagonist, sometimes called ZeeZee and sometimes known as Ashraf al Mansur, is accused of the brutal murder of his aunt. However, events take place in an alternative universe where the Ottoman Empire never collapsed and the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I. The setting is essentially Alexandria, Egypt, which is called El Iskandryia and forms an exotic Mid-Eastern backdrop to the novel.

ZeeZee, as an American street tough, working for a Chinese mafia out of Seattle, is sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Or doesn’t think he committed because he isn’t quite sure. He isn’t quite sure of anything about himself as we learn that he may not be who he thinks he is. He is sprung from prison by unknowns, given an unlimited credit card and new, or possibly old identity, by his supposed aunt stating that he is the son of the Emir of Tunis and arrives in El Iskandryia at her home just in time for her murder. Naturally he is suspect number one by lead detective and fun character Felix Abrinsky.

ZeeZee, now Raf, has to do some fast dancing.

However, Raf is more than he seems, if he is what he seems at all, and he has augmentations that kick in to save his life when things get dangerous, never mind the fox he keeps hallucinating about that gives advice. Unfortunately, the high tech corporation that imbedded these goodies into his head is out of business, and things are deteriorating. The warranty is up. Reality is becoming confused.

So, to avoid prison in El Isk, and uncover his true identity, Raf has to solve the murder of his aunt, and a few others that crop up along the way. Also involved, is the young half sister who the aunt kept in her compound and who has never left the premises, and the young girl of a wealthy industrialist who he wants Raf to marry in order to acquire some social  prestige along with his fortune. Raf, his supposed half-sister, and the renegade daughter Zara  bond together to solve the mystery, with occasional shouting matches and hand waving.

You can see the confusion. The reading group did, and there were complaints.

I loved the tangle and the mystery. If you like Kristine Katherine Rusch’s speculative mysteries in her “Retrieval Artist’ series, then this might be a surprising, unexpected find for you to read.

If you want ends all tied neatly up, maybe not.

I’m intrigued enough to read the next in the series called, Effendi. The third in this trilogy is Falaheen .   I am tasked to read it and report back, hopefully with some answers to dangling threads of the story.

Genre bending is also occurring in speculative romance style novels. The series that comes to mind there is the Liadon Universe series that I have already mention several times. The Hunger Games is a bit of science fiction combined with romance also. It doesn’t fit into a well defined category.

Someone made the statement that science fiction is about things and romance and mystery novels are about people. Sure, we like the interesting technology. How does the ship go? What does the A1 do? How can you live on an alien world? Science fiction has always appealed to the science minded reader. But I don’t think you can have a good novel that doesn’t have character development and interaction with other characters, even if they are alien. As one editor said to me, “You need a person in a place with a problem–one the reader can understand.” If your alien is too alien, then the reader can’t relate.

Now, the paranormal, supernatural has been wildly popular over the last few years. Urban fantasy al la Jim Butcher. The detective who is a supernatural crime fighter. Very popular and his series is fun to read. Fantasy mystery.

I think more and more we are going to see the mixing of genres that will create a richer reader experience and open up new exciting areas of reading. The book no longer has to sit on a specific shelf and the traditional publisher is no longer traditional.

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