The Use of AI in Science Fiction Stories Has Changed

One of the first science fiction books I read which seemed to make my synapses fire off all at once in a cognitive supernova was William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In it, Gibson presents both AIs Wintermute and Neuromancer as complementary halves of one family’s mega-corporation. In essence, by unifying both the AIs the corporation started by the Tessier-Ashpools, their corporation–and by extension, their family influence–would become immortal.

Sort of like the literalization of a corporation’s “going concern.”

As can be expected, the AIs here are vast demi-godlike entities, alien and threatening by turns.

Re-reading Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” the AI there is more interested in finding ways to please or help different people who post cat pictures online. It’s a cute and very positive story. It also offers a clever explanation for why cat pictures are one of the currencies of current internet culture. The story is told from the point of view of the AI itself, which self-actualizes with no one noticing, able to decide its own purpose and what rules it will follow.

This story predates the release of a twitter bot into the wild. You may have heard how it turned out.

I liked the story quite a bit, but after reading it, was left with questions. Does this mean that AIs–and by extension, corporations–should be viewed as people?

This message sounds familiar.

So, the Hugos. . .

While I enjoyed reading Chuck Tingle’s posts, I must admit that I’m not at a point in my writing career where I followed all of the ups and downs. I also realized that the one thing I read was Naomi Kritzer’s award-winning story, “Cat Pictures Please.”

What I’m getting at is that I’m woefully behind on my reading.

 

Trying My Hand at Interactive Fiction

I worked on converting my story “Choice, In Sequential Order” into an interactive fiction story using a program called Twine. It was somewhat easy to learn the basics, but I want to learn more about both Twine and Inform.

I would love to be able to create something as complex as the old Infocom games using Inform. I remember countless hours in our school’s computer lab, either typing in commands, or huddled around three or more friends watching the story unfold in all its green-screen glory.

This dynamic continued with stuff like Ultima III. I was the cartographer, pushing pins into the cloth map “gimme” the game included to mark locations of secret places, dungeons, etc.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for interactive fiction. I learned that I was not alone. Every year, there are the XYZZY Awards to honor the year’s best in that field. There’s also a new online magazine for interactive fiction short stories called sub-Q Magazine.

At sub-Q, there are several different flavors of interactive fiction, but if you want a head-scratching experience, I can recommend “Lime Ergot” (listed under the horror submenu there). This one awakened the old puzzlehound in me, and I failed to grok it until I noticed one, tiny discrepancy in the descriptions. Go try it out!

I will post something about the Hugos in the next few days, so keep an eye out for my next post!

Maine Vacation

Just like on the tin: I’m in Maine, on vacation for a week.

Some interesting notes, in no particular order.

  • I found out how to actually pronounce the “Ayuh” affirmative, as per the boatload of Stephen King books I’d read
  • Maine loves its ice cream very very much–there are ice cream places all over, sometimes within sight of each other
  • There are thousands of tiny blueberries growing along the sides of the road in many places
  • I saw a young bull moose!

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It was a massive animal, and we kept the car in gear just in case it didn’t like us very much. I feel very fortunate to have seen a moose my first time up here (some of our group hadn’t seen moose in several years).

Now, back to my regularly scheduled vacation.

What I’m Learning From Edgar Wright and “The World’s End”

I watched “The World’s End” the other night, and found it to be an outstanding piece of storytelling. The basic premise is: Gary Knight, wanting to relive his self-professed “best night of his life” cajoles his estranged friends into trying to try The Golden Mile, and complete it this time.

This is told in obvious flashback, where we get to see just-out-of-school Gary, Andy, Steve, Peter and Oliver as The Fateful Night played out. . .

And then, we see Gary King in his present context: telling this to the other participants in some type of group therapy or 12-Step program. He stares off into the distance, a smile frozen on his face. Note: the Golden Mile is comprised of 12 pubs, a detail Edgar Wright likely included in the story as a parallel of the 12-step program.

I won’t go into all the particular layers in the movie (and there are), since they have been covered already–and with much more mastery–over here.

No, after watching it twice, I realized the opening sequence explained the order in which the plot would unfold. It’s all there, with the difference being that the friends are all older, and all of them have grown up and “put away childish things” with the exception of Gary.

The thing is: none of them have changed much at all from their younger selves. Once the friends are gathered, you find that they all harbor bad feelings dating back to their time in school, that they haven’t grown up much at all. At heart, Andy is still holding a grudge over how Gary reacted to an accident Back In The Day. Granted, that Andy may have nearly died and required surgery and physical therapy to get better makes it understandable, but to hold onto that grudge for so very long seems. . . unhealthy. Peter, we find out as they’re already on the Golden Mile 2.0, was bullied throughout school, which hints at what how we see his situation now: hidden from his wife, working under his overbearing father, always a bit of a second-fiddle in his own life. Steve carried a torch for Oliver’s sister since high school. . .

Overall, with these things in mind, it becomes apparent that Gary–despite being a drunk and a bit of a fuck-up–is the only one of them who is honest with himself about living in the past.

There’s little bits about “where have the days of yore gone?” throughout the movie. When it becomes apparent Andy has gone teetotal, Gary makes a convoluted plea involving King Arthur, Camelot and mead being the King of Beers. There’s the nostalgia evoked when they find out the pubs on the Golden Mile have all been converted into cookie-cutter copies of each other. There’s the mutual respect of Peter when he was able to hook up with the “marmalade sandwich” (two blonde girls, with a red-head between them), and the paranoia the remaining companions feel when they reach the Smokehouse.

It’s all there, and I cannot imagine just how crazy-detailed Edgar Wright is to pull it all off. If I can pull off even half of what he’s able to to do, I should be able to make sales left and right. . .

 

Great News! I Made My First Sale to Daily Science Fiction!

It’s been a few days since I got the news, but I was thrilled to receive the news I sold my story “Every Orphan Child to a Good Home Must Go” to Daily Science Fiction.

The story is in conversation with the “Chosen One” tropes in fairy tales, and the people behind the scenes who make sure all those special orphan children destined for greatness achieve their purpose.

 

After Seeing “Captain America: Civil War” I’m Left Wondering Why All the Love?

Full disclosure: I went to go see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” back when it came out and enjoyed it quite a bit. I was a leery of making Hydra a shadow government since I felt it let all the air out of the balloon regarding the movie’s thesis on government power and the politics of fear.

However, the other elements outshone that critique.

Not so with “Civil War”. I found myself having a hard time caring about the characters. The movie felt overlong and bloated as a result. For me, the movie’s climactic moment should have been the airport fight, with a quick winding down as the sides become more entrenched and then carry things over to a future film.

Also, the characters seem to approach every problem as something to blast or punch. I know: it’s a superhero film, but the Avengers are doing triple duty as spies, diplomats and special forces. If there’s no place in the story to show me the Avengers being diplomats or something new, then I’m going to get pretty bored pretty soon.

It didn’t help that I had seen this video earlier in the day, either:

The fight scenes are presented in handheld, presumably to add to the feeling of authenticity. In reality, it seems far more likely the film crew was trying to hide how the actors may not have been coached. As the video states, these scenes can burn up hundreds of takes to get right. I can’t imagine Disney and Marvel allowing their directors to do this, given the grueling schedules they have.

Spoilers to Follow:

Some random things that left me scratching my head were

  • Why did any of the Avengers need to sign the Accords? Whenever Congress or another governmental entity passes a law, we don’t have to sign anything. It’s ratified, and then enforced, depending on the funding earmarked to do so. Dumb plot device, in my book.
  • I would have found Tony Stark’s motivations for signing the Sokovia Accords much more believable if his decision would have been all about how he needed to continue his ongoing contracts with the U.S. government. “You’re threatening to cost me $130 billion,” sounds asshole-ish enough for Tony Stark’s character.
  • Why didn’t anyone suspect the blurry photograph and the fact the Winter Soldier had successfully been in hiding for 13 years? Why didn’t anyone (Cap, perhaps?) bring up that point?
  • Revenge seems to be the sin du jour throughout the movie, with parental figures biting the bullet left and right. I was wondering why they wanted to out-Bruce-Wayne Bruce Wayne. . .
  • Too, too long for me. This has to do with my lack of engagement with the characters, but structurally, I felt that the airport battle is the climactic scene. As a result, the rest of the movie meanders off towards its exit.

did enjoy the scenes with Spiderman and Peter Parker quite a bit. He came across just as enthusiastic and fanboyish as I imagined. My one quibble would be the line about “that really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back”. . . sort of a ham-handed attempt to make him appear young, as well as product placement.

Maybe Marvel’s Cinematic Universe’s has phased me out, or maybe the ensemble format leaves much to be desired, I’m not sure.

 

Balticon 50 is Coming. . .

Within the first year of living in the Baltimore area, I became a member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. I joined because of the space, which I’ve described as a cathedral dedicated to science fiction, and the ancillary activities. Their claim to fame, and what pays the bills, is Balticon.

Confession time: I’m not a big fan of conventions. In part, I think it has to do with lack of conventions in Puerto Rico (it’s become a bigger thing since I’ve left), as well as the demands of being in a public space with large numbers of people. Also, I am a bad fan–too finicky, perhaps. For instance, I like the idea of a show like Star Trek existing than the actual show (in all its incarnations), but rarely watch it. The same goes for most of the touchstones of being a sci-fi or fantasy fan.

All that said, however, I’m excited about Balticon 50. There will be a roster of former Guests of Honor attending, as well as George R. R. Martin. I’m sure it’s going to be a little crazy, but I’m planning on going for a full day to take it all in.

If you’re going to Balticon as well, hope to see you there!

Sweet! Got My Author’s Copy Today.

Nature Magazine April 2016

Not going to lie, it’s definitely a thrill to get to see your published story in hard copy. Got my contributor copy in the mail today, and I’m still thrilled about this.

An Unforeseen Obsession: Page Views

I’ve been following the metrics for my story’s page views in Nature Magazine. It has become a bit of an obsession as I have been somewhat overjoyed to see the page views continue to climb as time passes. There is a two-day gap between the metrics displayed and any given day, but I can’t help but continue to be surprised at the exposure my story, “Choices, In Sequential Order” has gotten.