Tag Archives: Robert Heinlein

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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Popular Classic Science Fiction

IMG_0174In my previous blog, I picked five science fiction novels to read for 2013.

Now I’m picking five more.

For me, finding books to read involves a lot of chance and serendipity. Take for example these five books.

After years of saying I was going to join a science fiction book club, Leah Day said I should join the Powell’s group. Now Leah is an extraordinary woman of intelligence that houses 24,700 plus novels in her home. She knows her science fiction and has Beta read for Ann McCaffery and now Nancy Scarborough. She has CRED!

So I showed up. What a great group. The Powell representative, Peter, also knows his stuff and is on top of our local scifi writers. Occasionally, we get new releases or uncorrected advanced copies to read. So the stack next to the bed is building up.

Then I turned to my writers group of science fiction enthusiasts and asked them what their top favorites were. Imagine my surprise when four of the five books they mentioned sat on my night stand ready to be read.

Serendipity. Fate had spoken. I bent my head to the omens and here are the picks.Ice and Shadow

#1. Andre Norton–suggested by Chelsea from my writers group. Andre Norton has been rattling around in my mind as someone I should read. For some reason, I never got around to it.

Now, one of the consequences of the changing landscape of publishing is that a lot of well known authors are dusting off their old backlist and the publishing houses are eagerly reprinting, repackaging and reselling popular authors or novels and putting them out on Amazon. It used to be that novels were regarded in the same category as fruit, where if they didn’t sell in four weeks time off the shelf, they were considered spoiled and thrown away.

That is no longer the case. The novel now has a long tail and can survive quite nicely for years without even bruising, thanks to Amazon and other publish on demand distributors.

They don’t rot or get bumped off the shelf due to lack of space. No need to rip them apart and throw them away.

Enter Ice and Shadows by Andre Norton. Take Ice Crown by Andre Norton published in 1970 and Brother to Shadows, also in the Forerunner Universe, slap them together, put on a stunning cover and give it the title Ice and Shadows.

Viola! Baen book publishes it in 2012 as a new novel.

Okay. I’m in.

Imperium#2. Top choice by Clayton in my writers group was Keith Laumer. Here again are three novels packaged into one. Assignment to Nowhere being published by Berkley in 1965, but showing up with a hot new cover, and now titled Imperium. So be careful when you reach or click what might seem to be a new novel out by a favorite author. You might be getting a repackaged deal that you have already read.

With ebook publishing, the cost of publishing is negligible and old stories are finding new readers. Publishing houses are realizing that rights to the electronic version that used to be thought worthless, are now quite valuable. Once denigrating electronic publishing, publishers are jumping in with full force. Money is to be made.

Buyer beware.

But I hadn’t read Keith Laumer and was looking for a good scifi military story. Clayton is active military, and was very enthusiastic about Laumer, so I put it on my list.

And while I’m talking about Clayton Callahan, he just announced that he sold his short story, “Probing Aliens.” Congratulations! A new author is born and I envision that he will be very popular. Keep an eye out for future stories.

Ganymede copy#3. Ganymede by Cherie Priest. This is an uncorrected advance reading copy and I’m very interested to see what the writing looks like. Cherie Priest lives in Seattle, which is nearby, so this is also a “support your local author” attempt. Her novel Boneshaker was nominated for both a Hugo and Nebula, but I wasn’t a fan. She writes in the world of Steampunk of which I blow hot and cold. However, here in the Northwest, there are avid fans of the genre and a number of cons where everyone dresses up and has a great time.

#4. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Imager. Modesitt is a favorite of mine. I have read most of his other series and I like him a lot. This is the first book in his new Imager series and I have been putting off starting it. No more. I’m taking the plunge.Imager

#5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. This novel appears on most top one hundred science fiction novels again and again. Some of the Heinlein I read, I liked, while others, not so much. He got weird later in his career. However, this was selected by my reading group and I’m willing as it is an early novel with an intriguing story line.Moon is a Harsh Mistress

So that’s it.

Except, I have a few others I’m looking at. Next week, I’m thinking about talking about anthologies. I have noticed an increase in their popularity because of POD publishing. I recently received a compilation entitled Legacy of Stars that looks interesting. So stay tuned for that. I enjoyed Wool by Hugh Howey and he is getting quite a following. I was impressed by his marketing strategy and will probably read the next episode.

Into the silo I’ll go and most likely peer out and wonder what is out there.

What’s on your scifi list for this year? What books do you want to read in 2013? How did you decide?

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