the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘aritificial intelligence

ancillaryAncillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

published October 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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The mission of the Radchaai is to bring civilization to humanity. The word radchaai itself, means civilization, implying that anyone who isn’t Radchaai isn’t civilized. Their empire has always expanded, annexing colonies and planets, bringing civilization and culture to the far corners of the galaxy.  Those who resist are taken prisoner, and either destroyed or turned into corpse soldiers, to become ancillaries for the massive AIs that run the Radchaai ships.

Breq is one such AI.  Twenty years ago, Breq answered to the name One Esk, and was the ship AI for the ship Justice of Toren.  One Esk controlled and embodied thousands of ancillaries who ran the ship and served the human officers on board. Twenty years ago an annexation went horribly wrong, The Justice of Toren was destroyed, and Breq was left alone with only one human body, one set of ears, one brain, no friends or allies, and a burning hatred.

Breq is still trying to figure out what happened on Justice of Toren. Yes, it’s true, that ancillaries of the Radchaai supreme leader Anaander Mianaai secretly came aboard and swore One Esk to secrecy, and then possibly changed something in the AI’s memory banks. For twenty years, Breq has been looking for the single weapon that can get past the scanners, get past the security that surrounds Anaander Mianaai.  For the good of Radchaai, Breq is plotting to destroy the creator of their empire.

The blogosphere is much a-fire about this book. Author Ann Leckie should probably start looking at flights to London for next summer:

Ana: Dare I? I can’t really think of a single thing that is not right about the book. So Yeah: 10

Thea: 10 – Utter Perfection

- The Book Smugglers

This is a book to watch out for, and if it doesn’t garner the author a Hugo nomination, I’ll be very much surprised.

- A Dribble of Ink

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice does everything science fiction should do. It engages, it excites, and it challenges the way the reader views our world. . . . Ancillary Justice might be the best science fiction novel of this very young decade.

- Staffer’s Book Review

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clarkesworld4

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Clarksworld Year Four, which includes 24 pieces of original short fiction the digital magazine published during their fourth year of publication.  Never heard of Clarkesworld? Please, allow me to enlighten you,  because these people simply rock it.  A digital magazine featuring original speculative fiction, interviews, and editorials, Clarkesworld published their first issue in 2006 and their original  short fiction has been winning awards ever since. The magazine itself has even picked up a few awards along the way (can you say three Hugo’s!!).

So I don’t have to tell you how awesome this magazine is.

You know how usually when I review an anthology or collection, I only talk about a handful of stand-out pieces, my favorites? Not this time.  The handful of short stories I’ve read so far (or listened to. Yay podcasting! I love you Kate Baker!) are some of the strangest, most out-there fiction I have ever come across. We’ve got McDonald’s terrorists, interstellar runaways, reincarnations of people who aren’t dead yet, the end of the universe, and an AI who thinks she’s a fairy tale.  Because everything in here is just so damn weird, I want each piece to get some much deserved attention.   I’ll review 3-4 short stories at a time, so you, dear readers and followers, can get the full treatment.

Want to make a comment on my review? By all means, comment here. I’ve linked each story back to Clarkesworld, so you can read the whole thing (or listen to the audio) and comment over there and give the magazine some direct attention.

Let’s get started:

Alone with Gandhari by Gord Sellar –  Kenny used to work fast food. He used to be a fat guy. But now, after a therapy that finally worked, with his taut belly and his clown-like facial tattoos, he’s a high ranking follower of Guru Deepak. Like all the other followers, he answers to the name Ronald, even though he prefers Ron. This opening paragraphs of this story were completely off-putting and disorienting to me, which makes the story hard to get into, but I’m happy I kept reading because I really ended up enjoying it, or at least I enjoyed the mental mind-fuck aspects of it.  Guru Deepak wants to help people change for the better, his followers will help him change the world. He is especially welcoming to people who need to stop eating fast food all the time. All are welcome, the blessings of Ghandhari are available to anyone who chooses to listen. The vegetarian lifestyle and meditation is probably good for Ron/Kenny’s health, but he’s unwittingly joined a cult. The hyped up Ronalds commit “Mac Attacks”, terrorizing patrons of fast food restaurants.   Ron/Kenny has been chosen by Deepak to lead an important mission to a corporate farm.  Far worse than eating a cow is abusing one on a farm, but what the Ronalds find on the farm isn’t exactly a cow. Is this a commentary on Fast Food or on food in general? A nightmarish satire? I’m not sure.

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AshbyID

Madeline Ashby is the author of two of my favorite recent novels, vN and iD (links go to my reviews). In the Machine Dynasty series, Ashby envisions a near future world where Von Neumann self replicating androids have become an every-day part of our lives.  They raise and teach our children, take on dangerous occupations, and were supposed to make our lives easier.  Sounds easy, right? not so much, when you get the story from the vN’s point of view.

For more information about Madeline Ashby, her fiction, her travel schedule, and more, I encourage you to visit her website, and follow her on twitter. More than that, I encourage you to read her amazing fiction!

My question/prompt  to Ms. Ashby for her guest post was:

Once upon a time we started with Asimov’s unemotional humanoid robots, and then we evolved to robots who could be tricked/programmed to believe they were human and robots who desperately wanted to be human, and now in the Machine Dynasty series we have robots who know they aren’t human, but tend to feel emotions even stronger and more powerfully than many people.  What’s the next step for robot/AI fiction? Where do we go from here?

And here’s what she had to say:

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Madeline-Low-Res-02-e1348636903481I think robot subjectivity is still a wide open space for science fiction writers. I think the challenge is to actually dig in to the reality of computer vision, and algorithmic detection of motion, affect, and identity. One of the things I beat myself up for is not digging more deeply into those things. There are other writers who just kill it when it comes to that kind of rigorous depiction of another’s consciousness. Peter Watts is probably the best at it — in his stories “The Things” and “Malak,” he’s able to write exactly the experience that an alien and a predator drone would have, from their perspective, without making any room for the human element. If you want it dumbed down or warmed up, well, that’s just too bad. He’s that disciplined in his approach.
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So I think inevitably, we’ll get more of that kind of story. Less anthropomorphizing, and more cognitive re-framing of what “point of view” really means. When you think about it, the robots we work with on a daily basis have a split point of view: there’s what the drone “sees” (white and neon squares on a field of grey), and what the human “pilot” observes (targets). Together, that data and interpretation work together to create what we might call a vision, or a perspective, but by themselves neither component is entirely complete. Sitting at my desk, that’s an interesting challenge. How do I write something so split, so different? How do I write about that kind of sight? How do I establish that type of consciousness as a distinctive, memorable character?

129131The State of the Art (short story collection) by Iain M. Banks

published in 2007

where I got it: gift from a friend

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Iain Banks’ Culture novels were love at first page for me. I didn’t mind being thrown far into the deep end, I was amused by the silly names and dry humor, I adored the drones and the Minds. Succinctly, I love me some Culture books.

But. . . . they are long, and tough to get into, and being tossed in the deep end isn’t for everyone. The State of The Art isn’t entirely Culture short stories, but it’s enough to give someone an easily survivable introduction to The Culture universe and Banks’ writing style. Even better, there’s an entire chapter A Few Notes On The Culture, which is quite a bit more than a few and gives even more indepth info, including what someone can expect if they live in The Culture (and where they’ll live), body modifications, life span, interactions with other civilizations, why everyone has such a long name, and the reason why most Culture novels take place on the edge of their sphere of influence. In fact, I wish I’d read that portion first, even though it’s at the end of the book.  Also, Banks insists on making it very clear that The Culture is completely fictional.  Pretty telling that this is the 2nd scifi book in a row where the author felt the need to do that.

Short enough to be read in a  few sittings, the first story, Road of Skulls, serves as a wry introduction and so should be read first, but other than that you can bounce around and read the rest in any order you please.

here are my thoughts on some of the entries:

The State of the Art – Featuring one of my favorite Culture characters, Diziet Sma, The Culture discovers Earth, circa 1978, and they are trying to decide if they should make contact with us or not. Along with other Culture people who can blend in and look human, Sma and her counterpart Linter are sent to Earth for one year to observe us. Linter goes missing and Sma is sent after him. Has he gone native? Did he fall in love with an Earthling and doesn’t want to leave? What could possibly make an Earth life more attractive to Linter than living in The Culture, where everyone has everything they could possibly want?

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earlier today, my husband randomly asks me “Do you think people could really live with artificial intelligence? Not AI in computers, but real live artificial intelligence?”

So many angles of this question to tackle.  I thought of the movie AI Artificial Intelligence (one of my favorite movies, by the way). I thought of Hal9000. I thought of Data from Star Trek. I’m in the middle of reading Use of Weapons by Iain Banks, so I thought of that, the drones, the Minds.  I thought of Siri. I thought of Madeline Ashby, Ted Chiang,  and every book I’ve ever read where someone began to care for an AI and something went sour.

ai1

And notice he didn’t say “will we”, but “could we”, which got me thinking about how people react when facing a very large change in their life that they have no control over.  What about people who are very religious? Do AIs have souls? will it matter? What about the Amish? Will AIs only be for rich people, or will they be as cheap and available as a pay-as-you go cell phone?  If AIs became commonplace, would people have the choice to interact with them or not?

“Sure”, I responded. “It’ll be just like smartphones. All the kids raised with them will think it’s second nature, but us grown ups will have a tough time getting used to it.”

That was a fairly pedestrian answer.

So now it’s your turn:

Do you think people could really live with artificial intelligence? Not AI in computers, but real live artificial intelligence?

Sudden, Broken and Unexpected (novella) by Steven Popkes

December issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction

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Can music be broken down into ones and zeroes, bits and micro-bits? Can music be written by an AI?

possibly.  sort of.  maybe?

Which leads to questions of how would one program and AI to pass a musical Turing Test, where the music written by the AI is indistinguishable from the creative musical abilities of a human? Is such a thing possible? and if it were, how would the music loving public react?

In Steven Popkes latest short story, Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected,  he takes the above and slowly turns it inside out, in the process creating a highly impactful story.

The story opens with musician Jake Mulcahey taking a job to revise and rewrite some  fairly generic pop music.  In his youth, Jake had gone on the road with his band as they chased the fame of their sole hit single. Jake is still haunted by his bad decisions, the fact that he is the reason the band broke up.  Since then, he’s put out a few studio albums, and stays mostly behind the scenes in the music industry.

Besides, who would want to see an oldster like Jake on stage playing guitar, when instead they could pay to see a holographic Divaloid?  Even better, Divaloids can be downloaded into your own home. They aren’t people, they are licensing and programming. There isn’t anything a Divaloid can’t or won’t do to please a fan.  That’ll start to get creepy once that thought sinks into your brain, and it’s supposed to.

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Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross

published in 2003

where I got it: borrowed

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I used to read a ton of Charles Stross, I couldn’t get enough of the guy.  Over a few years I managed to burn myself out, and recently I’ve really gotten back into him with his Laundry series.  And then I realized, I’ve never read the man’s Hugo nominated debut novel, Singularity Sky.

First off, what the heck is a singularity, and why should you care?  It’s important to know, if you’re interested in understanding the importance of Stross’s singularity themed science fiction.  Broadly defined, a singularity is when the rate of change reaches infinity, it’s the event horizon, the moment when artificial intelligence reaches beyond human comprehension.Those graphs that show a curved line going up and up and up? when that line is perfectly vertical, that’s the singularity. When computers and nanomachines and AIs are crunching information at a speed that’s faster than we can measure, that’s singularity. Some folks are pretty freaked out about the idea of computational ability being stronger, larger, and faster than the combination of all the human brains on the planet, and Stross? He’s the guy dancing on the razor edge of the event horizon.

Singularity Sky takes place in the aftermath of a singularity event which caused humanity to be scattered among the stars.  Martin Springfield, an engineer from Earth, has been dispatched to an out of the way star system called The Republic.  Overly aristocratic and trapped in their neo-luddite ways, the common people of The Republic are ripe for revolution, and in fact, a small rebellion in a little colony on Rochard’s World has already begun, thanks to an entity that calls itself The Festival.

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vN by Madeline Ashby

published July 2012 from Angry Robot Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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I could so easily start every paragraph of this review with “but the best part of the book was. . .” because are just so many incredible aspects of this book – the characters and their lives, the surprising way this future came to be,  the dark subtexts, and the easy to understand technology, just to mention the ones that quickly come to mind. With nods to Blade Runner, Ai, and of course Pinocchio, vN is for anyone who is sick of waiting for the future to get here already. I recently had the honor to interview Madeline Ashby, and if there is anyone knows what the future  brings, it’s her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she edged out Cory Doctorow as my favorite futurist. She’s canny on the uncanny valley, and I think after reading vN you will be too.

First off, the vast majority of the book is from the viewpoint of the vN’s. Ashby immediately puts us behind the eyes of Amy, a five year old vN who has been raised by her vN mother and her human father. Her parents have chosen to raise her as close to a human child as possible, so along with all the other five year old kids in the neighborhood, Amy is in kindergarden at the beginning of our story.

But Amy isn’t a regular human girl. She’s a von Neumann self replicating humanoid. And it’s the “self replicating” part thats only the first brilliant thing in this book. By consuming the correct amount of feedstock, a vN can iterate – create a clone of themselves. Amy is a clone of her mother Charlotte, and every vN of their model has identical physical attributes. Conversely, should a vN want to stay child-size or not iterate, they must literally starve themselves. Amy has been starving since the day she was “born”. So when her grandmother threatens Charlotte, Amy’s first reaction is to disarm her grandmother by eating her.

Kindergardner eats Grandma is a bit of an opening shocker, no?

why yes, yes that was a bit of a shocker.  But a brilliant one.

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Fool’s War, by Sarah Zettel

published in 1997

where I got it: borrowed from a friend (thanks E! I’ll get it back to you right soon!)

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With so many new books that feature female protags who kick ass, sometimes it’s hard to believe books like that have been around for a while.  Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War is one such book,  and in classic Zettel fashion, this is a space opera that will get you thinking about things you weren’t expecting, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  If you are a fan of Kameron Hurley or Elizabeth Bear, or just looking for some damn good space opera, this will be right up your alley.

In this far future, we have colonized a number of star systems, and we have FTL ships and Artificial intelligences. Due to a large enough number of AIs that have gone rogue and slaughtered entire colonies, many ship owners are leery of allowing any kind of untethered AI access to their systems.

Katmer Al Shei is a partner in a timeshare transport ship. Basically, she has the ship for 8 months, and then her brother-in-law has the ship for 8 months. The beginning of the book and the set up for our main plot line has her taking possession of the ship, collecting her small crew, recruiting a new pilot, and accepting the gift of a contracted Ship’s Fool.  Fools – part  entertainer, part psychoanalyst, part ship’s counselor, these are the only people who are guaranteed to keep your tightly wound crew members from going crazy in their tight quarters.  Katmer’s new Fool, Evelyn Dobbs, promises that she’s one of the Guild’s best.

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Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks

published in 2000

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend (thanks!!!)

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This is the kind of book the phrase “space opera” was invented for: a story that sprawls light years and generations, alien civilizations, political intrigue, gigantic constructs that are controlled by semi-retired artificial intelligences, and thanks to some of the most amazing characters you will ever meet, a story that is as addictive as it is easy to follow. A science fiction story where the detailed science lives in the background, allowing the multi-faceted characters to take center stage.

Looking at something like this, even thinking about Banks’ massive creation known as The Culture, it’s easy to feel intimidated. Don’t.  Yes, Banks tosses you in, bodily, into the deep end, but trust me, absolutely everything (ok, nearly everything) is explained in detail before the book ends.   There is so much of, well, everything, that you’ll have to forgive me for not dwelling on the nitty gritty details.  This was my first Culture book, and those of you who have been reading these for years can laugh at everything I missed.

One of the many casualties of the Indiran War, now eight hundred years past, were the two stars Portisia and Junce, along with every creature who depended on those stars for sustenance and survival. Eight hundred light years away is the Culture Orbital Masaq, where much of the population is busy preparing for the social celebration of viewing the light of the twin novae, which has taken this long to reach them. It’s been so long, the horror of the war has been forgotten, leaving only the myths of the war heroes and the supernovae that will soon haunt the sky.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.