the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Artificial Intelligence

Woah! How did it become December, like, when did that happen?

I could put myself under a ton of pressure to write thousand word reviews that won’t get read . . . or I could write some low-pressure mini-reviews.

Mini reviews it is. (I mourn my loss of review-writing motivation. I really do)

Here are some mini-reviews of books I read this year and enjoyed. If you read them, I’d love to know your thoughts! If you aren’t familiar with them, do they look interesting?

The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken – the direct sequel to Kunsken’s break out novel The Quantum Magician. I am a sucker for heist stories, and I am a sucker for when the con artist gets conned. This second novel in the series is quieter than the first, less action, less gigantic set pieces. And in the quiet spaces, we really get to know Bel and Cassie, and the family they came from. I’m not going to give away any plot points, because if you haven’t read the first book they won’t make any sense. If you like smart science fiction, if you like physics that is on the edge, if you like stories about science meets capitalism and human greed, and oh, if you’re looking to scratch your Locke Lamora itch, this is the series for you.  Seriously excellent in every possible way. Def gonna want to reread this and tease out all the cool dimension hopping physics and cultural and family obligation stuff, and just totally cool shit on every page.

And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I loved this book. It was fun, it was super sexy, the characters were great, I enjoyed the story, I loved the idea of a sanctuary community that is run and governed by AI’s who rebelled against their human owners. But this isn’t a story about AI’s, it is a romance. Orfea and Krissana have history, oh do they have history. And the only thing they have more of than history is chemistry. If you don’t like romance and sexytimes getting all squished up in your scifi, this isn’t the book for you. Enjoy ultra smart scifi characters who also get to have romantic relationships and sexytimes? This novella is the gift you give yourself. Even better news? Sriduangkaew recently published Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster, which is same world, different characters. This is a huge sprawling space opera world that Sriduangkaew has created, there are endless stories she could tell.

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts – Ok, so I read this one a few months ago, and don’t remember a ton of the details. I remember that it had a rough start, but found its bearing pretty quickly, and that I enjoyed it enough that I’d read it again. Deena has some hella cool superpowers that she can sort of control, her story line felt X-Men and edgy, as if she was some mutant kid who got recruited into Magneto’s crew and didn’t really know what was going on. I remember really liking her as a character and rooting for her. And there was this crazy twist at the end that came out of left field, but at the same time made a ton of sense because there had been some clues all long. Yep, just gonna have to read this one again. If you can find a copy of this book, I recommend it.

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We watched the Netflix movie I Am Mother the other day.    Deceptively simple, the movie takes what looks like an unbelievable simple plot, and actually doesn’t do a ton with it.  This movie isn’t going to win any awards, but it was a good use of my 2 hours, and I’d watch it again.  The robot was hella cool!

 

And yet.

 

The movie is more about what isn’t ever said, and what isn’t ever explained.

 

I keep thinking about this movie, and I can’t get it out of my head.  I like that I’m thinking about it, and i like that i’m thinking about everything that was never explicitly mentioned,  all the negative space, all the showing instead of telling.

 

In my opinion, the best stories are hiding in plain sight, in the negative space.

 

Do you have teenagers in the house?  Have them watch this movie, and then ask them what the movie is about.  Younger kids can watch it too, but they might get bored. Adults can watch it too! But I categorize I Am Mother as great for teenagers, as this really is a YA story.

 

don’t know what I’m talking about?  I Am Mother is a netflix original movie.  A young girl, known as Daughter, is being raised in an underground bunker by a robot, known as Mother. They are alone in the bunker,  Mother will not allow Daughter to go outside due to dangerous contagions.  Daughter is a happy, well adjusted, obedient child.  You know immediately that Mother is hiding information from Daughter, perhaps waiting for the right time to tell her.   As Daughter is preparing for an important exam, there is a knock on the front door of the compound. A woman is begging to be let in, she has been shot in the leg, and is hoping there is antibiotics in the compound.  When the woman sees Mother, she freaks out.  Daughter is pulled between curiosity of the outside world, the strangeness of their visitor, and her love of Mother.

The movie feels a little like the movie Moon – as in for most scenes you only see a human character and a robot character. . .  and that’s it.  It also felt a little like a sanitized version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – very sparse, very quiet, a parent protecting their child.

 

I don’t feel like writing a review for this movie, but for some weirdo reason I feel like writing a study guide / guided discussion questions?  Not sure how that happened, but here you go!

 

(Spoilers ahead!)

 

 

I thought it was neat that none of the characters have names.  The robot is “Mother”, the child being raised by Mother is referred to as “Daughter”, and the woman they give limited refuge to is never named.

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Rogue Protocol (Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

published 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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Murderbot needs to stop hanging out with humans.  You hang out with humans too much, and they start to rub off on you, and you start to think that maybe not all humans are awful, that maybe it is possible for a bot to be treated kindly.  You start getting spoiled, you start getting used to sleeping on soft beds and having access to niceties.

 

You hang out with humans long enough, and even their gross feelings and emotions start to rub off on you. Feelings like  anger. Loyalty. Envy.

 

Plot-wise, Rogue Protocol doesn’t offer much we haven’t seen before.  Murderbot is going somewhere to get more information about GrayCris, and will have to pass as human (or at least pass as anything other than a SecUnit) to be successful, all while keeping dumb humans from getting killed by their own stupidity. There is interaction with another bot, whereby Murderbot learns that not all bots have the same experience with humans, and not all humans are awful.  I didn’t feel the connection with the characters as much in this book as I did in previous installments, making Rogue Protocol feel like it suffered from “middle book syndrome”.

 

When I say that so far this is my least favorite Murderbot book, what I’m saying is that Rogue Protocol is better than 75% of the books I’ve read this year. And the way this book ends? I know I am in for some spectacular Murderbot-ness in the next installment!

 

I appreciated that Murderbot has no idea how to feel about Miki, the other bot.  Miki is privileged, and maybe a little spoiled by her humans. Should Murderbot feel envy? Miki also isn’t very smart, her programming isn’t very complicated. Should Murderbot feel pity? She’s too dumb to really understand what’s happening (although she has got the 3 laws of robotics down pat), so maybe ignorance is bliss.  Her programming keeps her rather childlike, almost the way you and I keep our pet cats and dogs in a state of permanent pre-adolescence so they can stay tame, cute, and domesticated. Hmmm… maybe that’s the trick to humans treating their bots with kindness – in your mind, the bot is a pet cat. Some cats are very smart, but I’ve known some pretty dumb indoor cats who would have died without a human to care for them and protect them.  There are plenty of dogs out there with jobs, but also plenty of really cute and dumb dogs.  it’s surprisingly easy to keep a pet cat dumb, or pet dog dumb.

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Artificial Condition, a Murderbot Diaries book, by Martha Wells

published May 8th 2018

where I got it: Purchased new

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If you’re not on the Murderbot bandwagon, start here. You’re welcome.

 

Also, I fucking love novellas. Running 80 – 200 pages, I can read the whole thing in a day or two, magically feeling like the world’s fastest reader. Recently, I’ve been needing to read a book twice before writing the review. So anyway.

 

I finished a reread of Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition same day my husband brought the video game Detroit: Become Human home.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who are designed to look human, sound human, move like a human, and sorta kinda act like a human.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who must obey human commands. Even when the commands are stupid. Going against your programming (responding to something in a human way) requires you to hack your own software, break yourself, doom yourself to being reprogrammed, or all of the above.

 

My experience with Detroit: Become Human consists of watching my husband play it for an hour or two, it’s a super high tech choose your own adventure story – to obey your asshole human owner but endanger the little girl, turn to page 8. To punch your asshole human owner and save the little girl, turn to page 12.  Every choice you make as you are playing the ‘bot immediately and directly affects the story, and you can replay scenes over and over again to see how your different choices will affect your character’s future. It’s way cool!

 

In Artificial Condition, Murderbot  is afraid of just about everything. Afraid of being caught and having a human tell it all the awful things it did. Afraid of being near humans and hurting them. Afraid of someone else figuring out it’s afraid.  All Murderbot wants is to be left alone, where it can’t hurt anyone, and where no one can hurt it. Murderbot has vague, half memories of murdering a bunch of idiot humans. But only half memories. Did everything happen in the order it remembers? Did it happen at all? Is Murderbot maybe not the vicious killing machine it thinks it is?  Murderbot needs to know what really happened.

 

Murderbot teams up with ART (ok, so maybe “teaming up” isn’t exactly how that goes? If I was more specific it would wreck everything) to get back to where it all began. I did get a chuckle out of Murderbot’s and ART’s conversations – these are both fancy pants AIs, so they aren’t exactly speaking out loud, it’s a silent room full of conversation. We’re actually nearly there in real life.

But Murderbot needs a way onto the industrial station where it became a killing machine, and the easiest quickest way to do that is to get an employment contract.  To do that, Murderbot will need to talk to. . . people. And act like a . . . real person.

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Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Published Aug 1 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Stories about generation ships are nothing new, we tend to see a good crop of them every year. The novel might focus on the disenchanted middle generation that didn’t leave Earth, and won’t see their destination, or perhaps deal with a mutiny, or a malfunction on the ship, or the fact that their destination planet can’t support human life.  What I’m saying is that for the most part, many of us have seen this story before.

 

In Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter goes in a somewhat different direction, and succeeds through the magic of ultra-fast pacing. It sounds counterintuitive, right? Speed up the pace of a story, to tell the story better? In Noumenon it works, and creates a unique situation for what might have otherwise been a forgettable novel.

 

The first few chapters race by – an interstellar mission is funded, a subdimension drive is invented and tested and engines are built, an AI is designed around a common personal assistant program. In these early chapters you’ll find yourself turning the pages faster than you realize. The prose is easy on the eyes, the characters are easy to get along with, we see everyone at their best, and we’re science fiction fans so of course we’re cheering for an interstellar mission!  And before you know it, we’re in spaaaaaace!

 

A few decades later, the implications of the twist start to hit.  These aren’t just any regular people on a colony ship.  Don’t think I’m spoiling things, because this is the least of the spoilers – the ship is crewed by genetic clones of the people who were chosen to go.  When those clones age and “retire”, new clones will be born.  If “Bob” is a biologist (making that up as an example) then every Bob who is every born on the ship will always grow up to be a biologist.  The colony ship will always have just as many pilots, communications experts, doctors, teachers,  sanitation workers, and scientists as it needs.  Only one “Bob” is ever alive at a time, but there’s usually always a Bob walking around somewhere.  Pretty interesting idea!

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All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

published May 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Yes, yes, I know I’m late to the Murderbot party. A while back my twitter feed exploded with things like “I love Murderbot”, and “I want more Murderbot!”, and just shook my head in confusion. I’m actually doubly late to the party, because I’ve now read this novella twice in the last month and am only writing about it now. My lame excuse is that All Systems Red was the August book for my local book club and I wanted to wait until after our book club met and discussed the story to write my review. Also? I’ve been too busy watching Master of None, Arrested Development, and GLOW to give a shit about what anyone else wants.

Much of the fun of our book club meetings is seeing who enjoyed the chosen book, who didn’t, and what people liked and didn’t like. We all have different tastes, and it’s rare that everyone comes to the meeting saying “I loved this book!”. All Systems Red is that rare book. Everyone loved it, we couldn’t stop talking about, and everyone was thrilled to learn that Martha Wells has more Murderbot novellas planned. The bookstore where our book club meets is located next to a police station, and I fear to think what those cops thought when they heard cheers and giggles coming from next door as we all cheered “Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot!”

So, what the hell is this Murderbot craze all about?

Murderbot is a Security Unit bot. You want to explore or scout an unexplored planet? Your contract with the company requires one SecUnit per ten humans, and all sorts of other required equipment of dubious quality. Until said equipment craps out, leaving you to die on a deserted planet, it will record everything you do and say with plans to sell the data later. HubSystem does seem to have a “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” type of personality.

The members of the PreservationAux exploration team have no idea their SecUnit has hacked it’s own governor module, and that this SecUnit helps them and saves their lives because it feels like it, not because it has to. These humans are on a deserted planet with a SecUnit who refers to itself as Murderbot. A SecUnit who has deleted as much data as possible to make room for more downloaded soap operas and other serial entertainments. Murderbot is socially awkward, anti-social, and couldn’t care less about the goals of squishy humans. Murderbot simply wants to be left alone so it can watch downloaded TV shows (huh. wanting to sit around and stream TV shows all day? that sounds, um, familiar)

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Herbert Ransom Jesus IncidentThe Jesus Incident, by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom

published in 1979

where I got it: purchased used

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I didn’t realize The Jesus Incident is the 2nd in a series of four. I thought it was the 1st in a series of three, that had a prequel, Destination:Void, that could be read separate. So, I’ve read them out of order, and seem to have done OK. And now that I’ve read The Jesus Incident, I’m excited to read Destination:Void, if only to yell at the characters “no! don’t do that! don’t you see how this could end?”

 

When you think of artificial intelligence, what do you think of?  Do you think androids dreaming of sheep, Madeline Ashby’s vN series, Data from Star Trek, Mindships from Banks’ Culture books, and the like?

 

When Earthlings escaped an Earth’s whose sun was about to go nova, their goal was to create a living ship, an artificial intelligence that would take them through the galaxy, and take care of them.  They succeeded, and countless generations later, their ship became Ship, their god, complete with prayers, proper education, sacred areas, sacred rites, and honored people who Ship speaks directly to.

 

Ship takes care of the people, feeds them, clothes them, ensure the life support system and hydroponics gardens continue to function. And in return it demands to be worShipped.

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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.