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Charlie Stross and I are hitting the road this September 5-9 for a mini, post-Burning Man, post-WorldCon book-tour for our collaborative comic novel of the Singularity called Rapture of the Nerds. We're coming to Lexington, KY; Brooklyn, NY (a stop at MakerBot's BotCave, where there will be a very special surprise!), Brookline, MA, and Rochester, NY. I've never been to Lexington or Brookline, so this is doubly exciting to me!
And tonight, of course, I'm appearing (solo) at a Long Now talk in San Francisco.
Tor.com's just published an excerpt from Rapture of the Nerds, the comic science fiction novel that Charles Stross and I collaborated on, which comes out in September. Booklist just gave it a starred review, saying "Doctorow and Stross, two of the SF genre’s more exciting voices, team up to produce a story that is mindbendingly entertaining but almost impossible to explain….Peppered with references to pop-culture staples (The Matrix, Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and drawing on concepts from hard SF, cyberpunk, and videogames, the novel is a surefire hit for genre fans, especially those familiar with the works of its coauthors. Fans of Adam Roberts' elegant, intellectually challenging SF will also be on firm ground here."
Huw awakens, dazed and confused.
This is by no means unusual, but for once Huw’s head hurts more than his bladder. He’s lying head down, on his back, in a bathtub. He scrabbles for a handhold and pulls himself upright. A tub is a terrible place to spend a night. Or a morning, come to think of it—as he blinks, he sees that it’s midafternoon, and the light slanting in through a high window limns the strange bathroom’s treacly Victorian fixtures with a roseate glow.
That was quite a party. He vaguely remembers the gathering dawn, its red light staining the wall outside the kitchen window as he discussed environmental poli- tics with a tall shaven-headed woman with a blue fore- lock and a black leather minidress straight out of the twentieth century. (He has an equally vague memory of her defending a hard-core transhumanist line: Score nil–nil to both sides.) This room wasn’t a bathroom when he went to sleep in it: Bits of the bidet are still crawling into position, and there’s a strong smell of VOCs in the air.
Bruce Sterling gave a speech at the North American Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (NASSLLI) on the eve of the Alan Turing Centenary, and delivered a provocative, witty and important talk on the Turing Test, gender and machine intelligence, Turing's life and death, and art criticism.
If you study his biography, the emotional vacuum in the guy’s life was quite frightening. His parents are absent on another continent, he’s in boarding schools, in academia, in the intelligence services, in the closet of the mid-20th-century gay life. Although Turing was a bright, physically strong guy capable of tremendous hard work, he never got much credit for his efforts during his lifetime.
How strange was Alan Turing? Was Alan Turing a weird, scary guy? Let’s try a thought experiment, because I’m a science fiction writer and we’re into those counterfactual approaches.
So let’s just suppose that Alan Turing is just the same personally: he’s a mathematician, an early computer scientist, a metaphysician, a war hero — but he’s German. He’s not British. Instead of being the Bletchley Park code breaker, he’s the German code maker. He’s Alan Turingstein, and he realizes the Enigma Machine has a flaw. So, he imagines, designs and builds a digital communication code system for the Nazis. He defeats the British code breakers. In fact, he’s so brilliant that he breaks some of the British codes instead. Therefore, the second World War lasts until the Americans drop their nuclear bomb on Europe.
I think you’ll agree this counter-history is plausible, because so many of Turing’s science problems were German — the famous “ending problem” of computability was German. The Goedel incompleteness theorem was German, or at least Austrian. The world’s first functional Turing-complete computer, the Konrad Zuse Z3, was operational in May 1941 and was supported by the Nazi government.
So then imagine Alan Turingstein, mathematics genius, computer pioneer, and Nazi code expert. After the war, he messes around in the German electronics industry in some inconclusive way, and then he commits suicide in some obscure morals scandal. What would we think of Alan Turingstein today, on his centenary? I doubt we’d be celebrating him, and secretly telling ourselves that we’re just like him.
Suicide Girls has published an excerpt from Rapture of the Nerds, the novel Charlie Stross and I wrote, which will come out in September. Charlie and I will be touring the book together briefly after Labor Day. The details are still being settled, but there's going to be some very exciting stops!
Rapture is the novel-length version of the two novellas Charlie and I wrote, Jury Service and Appeals Court. For this volume, we re-wrote those two, and added a long third section, Parole Board, from which the Suicide Girls excerpt is drawn. It's a comic novel of the Singularity, party mash-note to technophilia and part indictment. As the title suggests, we're both a little ambivalent on the idea of machine transcendence.
Of course, the sim is far too realistic. A virtual champagne bath should somehow manage to keep the champagne drinking-temp cold while still feeling warm to the touch. And it shouldn’t be sticky and hot and flat; it should feel like champagne does when it hits your tongue—icy and bubbly and fizzy. And when Huw’s nonbladder feels uncomfortably full and relaxed in the hot liquid and she lets a surreptitious stream loose, it should be magicked away, not instantly blended in with the vintage Veuve to make an instant tubworth of piss-mimosa.
This is what comes of having too much compute-time at one’s disposal, Huw seethes. In constraint, there is discipline, the need to choose how much reality you’re going to import and model. Sitting on an Io’s worth of computronium has freed the Galactic Authority—and isn’t that an unimaginative corker of a name? — from having to choose. And with her own self simulated as hot and wide as she can be bothered with, she can feel every unpleasant sensation, each individual sticky bubble, each droplet clinging to her body as she hops out of the tub and into the six-jet steam-shower for a top-to-bottom rinse, and then grabs a towel —every fiber slightly stiff and plasticky, as if fresh out of the wrapper and never properly laundered to relax the fibers—and dries off. She discovers that she is hyperaware, hyperalert, feeling every grain of not-dust in the not-air individually as it collides with her not-skin.
Daniel Wilson's latest novel is Amped, a post-apocalyptic high-tech apocalypse cast in the same mold as his spectacular debut novel, Robopocalypse. Wilson is a roboticist by trade, and he combines his background in science and engineering with a knack for fast-paced narrative.
Amped begins on the day that the Supreme Court rules that "Amps" -- people who've had neurological amplification -- aren't entitled to the same rights as "normal" people. Amps are a motley bunch. The amping program started out as a form of "government cheese" -- a welfare handout for the poorest Americans, to help their ADD kids focus in school, to uplift the kids with fetal alcohol syndrome, to give new, functional limbs to shell-shocked veterans rotting in VA beds. Over the years, the amping program is extended to blind people, people with epilepsy, and other people whose disabilities can be overcome with the right combination of new neurocircuitry and physical prostheses.
But, of course, an amp doesn't correct a disabled person's disability up to the level of an able-bodied person. An amped eye isn't a mere substitute for a 20-20 eye -- it blows right past the limitations of our meat-eyes, adding computational pattern-recognition, digital storage, focus at great and close distances, and senstitivity into spectra denied to us poor baseline humans. Likewise amplified cognition, limbs, and so on.
America -- uncomfortable with questions of race and class at the best of times -- goes insane. Suddenly, the privileged elites of America are physically weaker, intellectually slower, and generally less fit than the teeming underclasses whose badge of shame is a tell-tale data-access port on one temple. Laws demanding "equality" for unenhanced humans chip away at the social contract, and a demagogue senator sees a political opportunity and seizes it. The book opens with a front row seat for the Amp's Kristallnacht, and we watch as Owen Gray, the son of a surgeon famed for his R&D efforts on the amp program, races from tragedy to terror. Gray is a schoolteacher whose epilepsy has been treated with an amp, and the book opens with him climbing out on the school roof to try to talk down a formerly learning-disabled amped girl whose machine-enhanced intellect has told her that she will soon be torn to pieces by jealous classmates, who are riding high on a new court ruling that excludes her from the public school system.
When she jumps to her death, Owen is blamed for it. He races to his father's lab, only to find the old man sitting amid a wreckage left behind by a FBI smash-and-grab raid. The political tide has turned. His father orders him to seek out an old colleague in Iowa, and Owen takes to the road. Quickly, he is embroiled in a civil war. As one of the book's antiheroes puts it:
"Look at us. Amps. We're morons smarter than Lucifer. Cripples stronger than gravity. A bunch of broke-ass motherfuckers stinking rich with potential. This is our army. Our people. Strong and hurt. We're the wounded supermen of tomorrow, Gray. It's time you got yourself healed. New world ain't gonna build itself. And the old world don't want to go without a fight."
Wilson has done a very good job with Amped. It's a lot more allegorical and a lot less scientific than Robopocalypse -- the action more about the drama than any kind of rigorous extrapolation. But Wilson taps into something primal with Amped, some of the deep questions about medical ethics, the social effects of technology, and the way that class and politics make technological questions much harder to resolve.
Matt sez, "Hey, it's Matt at the Disinformation Company, and I thought that you'd enjoy the lengthy interview I did with Warren Ellis for the DisinfoCast. We talk about aliens, space travel, the singularity and more. We even squeeze in a second or two for talk about comic books."
Tom Scott's Welcome to Life is a clever and chilling short film about the EULA you will be asked to click through when you die. It paints a picture of an afterlife run on the kinds of shitty, non-negotiable terms as today's social media sites.
If you liked this, you may also enjoy two novels that provided inspiration for it: Jim Monroe's Everyone in Silico, where I first found the idea of a corporate-sponsored afterlife; Rudy Rucker's trippy Postsingular, which introduced me to the horrifying idea of consciousness slums.
Madcap science fiction paragon Paul Di Filippo's column in the latest Fantasy and Science Fiction takes the form of a short story demonstrating a new (to me) potential consequence of lifetime-based copyrights, human longevity, and the idea that copyrights should be extended to benefit a creator's descendants.
By all rights, Rajah Robot and Poxy Toff belonged to me, as Arden Pence's only relative! But the immutable laws of ownership and copyright—unchanged since the distant twenty-first century, thanks to the Disney corporation and pals: life plus seventy years!—insured that Rajah and Poxy would remain in my father's negligent and uncaring hands. How very unfair!
My father had certainly derived enough income from them already, enough to sustain him for the rest of his immortal years, and plainly he had no more interest in crafting exciting new adventures for his widely beloved characters. I, however, had great ideas about how to revive the franchise, and place it once again at the top of the entertainment pyramid. A complete reboot, employing the writerly skills I had inherited from Dad, but had never been able to utilize. Rajah Robot would no longer have access to multiple bodies, you see, while little Poxy Toff would have to grow up at last into attractive womanhood. As for Flora Aurora and Badfinger Bill—
But it pained me even to contemplate these thrilling changes. I would never get to initiate them, so long as the stubborn and passive old man lived. He was an insurmountable roadblock to my own happy future, and to the potential new enjoyment of billions of eager percipients.
And so I saw no other recourse than to commit a despicable patricide.
Plumage from Pegasus (Thanks, Paul!)