the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘robots

No review this week, but lots of books to talk and think about.

 

I just finished reading Nexhuman by Francesco Verso, wow, what a book!  A gripping (and maybe creepy?) plotline, a future built around so many “what if” questions, discussion of the unintended consequences of uploading our minds into robot bodies,  this book is like a keystone for so much other science fiction that I’ve read. Lots of hard science questions and possible answers presented in a social scifi / coming of age / doomed romance (maybe they are doomed?) novel that doesn’t shy away from visceral violence. Still thinking about it and putting my thoughts together, and I will probably have to read portions of the book again before writing a review.   Anyway, if you’re looking for something different and smart, something that puts the pieces together, keep your eye out for Nexhuman, out in August from Apex Books. Full review coming soon, when I’m able to talk about this book in coherent sentences.

Needing something a little easier on the gut, I picked up Shadows Over London, by Christian Klaver.  He’s famous for his Supernatural Sherlock Holmes novellas, and I’ve had this Victorian urban fantasy on my shelf for a while.  Christian is a super nice guy, and it’s been too long since I read something of his. 70 or so pages in, and I’m up to my eyeballs in the Seelie Court, the Unseelie Court, a stained glass prison, four siblings who give me some super happy The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe vibes, and way too many cats.  Kinda worried now that this isn’t a happy little Victorian urban fantasy with faeries, kinda thinking there is plenty of violence and death in these pages?  And sorta wanna reread Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks all of a sudden.

On the short fiction front,  I found my way to Cat Pictures Please, (Clarkesworld) by Naomi Kritzer, and Fandom for Robots, (Uncanny) by Vina Jie-Min Prasad.  Stories told by sentient AIs? I can’t get enough of it!  A robot figuring out how to act like a human, how to understand all the weird shit humans do. . . it helps me feel normal that sometimes even I don’t understand the weird shit humans do.   You should go read those short stories I linked to. Each one is a five minute read, but they are so good you will wish they were longer. It’s ok, you can read them again.

 

I promised you pigs and jellyfish princesses, didn’t I.  Pigs first! If you are as obsessed with Fullmetal Alchemist as I am (omg, did you see? They are releasing hardcover editions!  Goodbye $300!), then you know the creator behind that series, Hiromu Arakawa, has another manga series called Silver Spoon.  Silver Spoon is just a high school slice of life story – no magic, no fantasy, nothing supernatural. All these students are at an agricultural high school, many of them are expected to take over their family’s farms and agro-businesses. The main character is a city boy, and he chose this school to get as far away from his overbearing parents as possible. He doesn’t know the first thing about chickens or horses or pigs, and he finds himself fascinated by understanding more about where our food comes from.   

 

So much food and animal science, I love it!!! This is a great manga if you don’t think you like manga. It has ZERO annoying tropes, great characters, excellent art, and food science! Like why you need to age pork for a few days.

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So, I finished We Can Build You, by Philip K Dick.

 

There are spoilers ahead. #SorryNotSorry.

 

This book started out so interesting!!  Lots of cool ideas,  simulacrum robots who can pass for human (oh, hai cylons!), there was so much potential for conversations about what makes us alive and how would you know you were a simulacrum, and if you were a simulacrum how would it change you life and maybe it wouldn’t change your life at all. Could you convince yourself you were a robot? Could a robot convince themselves they were a human? My brain was overflowing with hope for interesting ideas.   There is an Edward Stanton simulacrum, and then they make an Abraham Lincoln. Even more possibility for cool things to happen!

 

And then Louis had to decide he was in love with Pris.

 

Louis’s business partner is Maury, and Pris is Maury’s brilliantly creative but mentally unstable 18 year old daughter.  She’s cold towards Louis (because why would an 18 year old be interested in her dad’s buddy? oh, that’s right, she isn’t), and the colder she is towards him, the more he becomes obsessed with her.

 

All those cool ideas? All those cool possibilities? The idea of Abraham Lincoln having to navigate the modern world?  All out the window because Louis chases Pris all over the place, even though she is in a relationship with someone else, even though Maury forbids Louis from being in a relationship with his daughter.    Really, the second half of this book was so fucking boring.  I’d read like 5 pages and then fall asleep.

 

I guess if I read between the lines as far as possible, I could pull something out of this near-future society’s obsession with right thinking and skewed mental health,  that we are being programmed to think and act a certain way, the way a robot is programmed, and when we aren’t acting correctly, when something is wrong with our mental health, we have to be institutionalized to be “reprogrammed”.   Maybe that is what this novel is about?  I had to get through what felt like 500 pages of Louis chasing and threatening people for Pris’s attentions, to get to that?

 

I was really hoping that at the end there would be some big reveal that Louis was a simulacrum, or maybe that Pris was.  Spoiler! that doesn’t happen.

 

I got a few more Philip K Dick books floating around, I hope they are better.

 

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A few months ago, the ads started popping up on Amazon for their original series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.  The ads actually were not very compelling, so I didn’t even notice when the series loaded up.  Some friends mentioned their enjoyment of it on twitter, so a few weeks ago I gave it a try.

 

I’ve only seen three episodes so far, and they were excellent. They aren’t teleplays of PKD stories, but they play with many of the ideas he presented in his fiction.  The show is completely episodic, it is like an anthology, with each episode a self contained story. Maybe later in the series they connect?

 

So, I watch these 3 episodes over the course of a few days,  I pick up We Can Build You and The Game Players of Titan at the used bookstore, and then a couple of days after that I have my first ever ocular migraine.  The good thing about ocular migraines is that they are relatively painless and mine was harmless.  The bad thing is that you can have pixelated visual distortions, which are basically a blind spot in your peripheral vision. It was weird AF but harmless.

 

Yeah, so pixelated visual distortions after watching a few of episodes of Electric Dreams was seriously the most fucked up thing I have ever experienced.

 

To add to the weirdness, I started reading We Can Build You a few days ago. It is so readable and accessible, are we sure Philip K Dick wrote this? Like, I don’t have to work at all to figure out what is going on and what the characters relationships to each other are! Granted, I am only 5 or 6 chapters in, so who knows what will happen later.

If you don’t want to know anything about We Can Build You, stop reading now.  This might turn into a series of posts like the ones I wrote on  Book of the New Sun that had a lot of spoilers.

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Open Road Media is publishing the complete short fiction of Clifford Simak’s short fiction, so far there are twelve volumes. From what I can tell, the first three volumes are available in print, and right now the rest are only e-book.  The short fiction isn’t in chronological order, for example, this first volume, titled I Am Crying All Inside and other stories showcases fiction from as early as 1939’s “Madness from Mars” to “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” that was written in 1973, but hasn’t been actually published until 2015.

 

I bopped around the table of contents in this collection, and read whatever caught my fancy. Some stories really grabbed my attention, and others were great fun, but forgettable.

 

I quite enjoyed “Small Deer”, in which a mathematical genius and an engineer create a time machine, and the engineer goes back to the days of the Dinosaurs. He discovers something horrifying about the history of life on Earth. What he learns is so outlandish, who would possibly believe him?  Can a horror story be gentle? This one is.  I always get a kick out of time travel stories, especially when weird Kage Baker or Ijon Tichy stuff starts happening.

 

“I Am Crying All Inside”, is well worth a read, and deserving of being the title track. What will happen, generations from now, when we’ve all left Earth for somewhere better? What will happen to the people and robots who get left behind? What kind of society will they build? Told from an obsolete robot’s point of view, this poignant story feels a little like the movie Wall-E, only much, much sadder.

 

“Ogres” was a super fun, and super smart story about what a vegetable society might be like. We’ve landed on a planet and are trying to figure out what we can exploit, sort of “Little Fuzzy” style. The intelligent species on this planet are all plants. No bones, no vertebrae, no central nervous system, no wheel, no invention of fire. Lots of telepathy and strange music. Maybe we can export the musical trees!  Nothing is what it seems, and the human explorers eventually figure out something fishy is going on. But what threats could we possibly make that would scare a planet full of trees and vegetables? Hmmm…   I loved the evolutionary ideas in this story, and I got a laugh out loud chuckle out of the end.

 

Usually fun, smart, and gentle, Simak stories always feel timeless. Give him a try if you haven’t.

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Bicentennial_man_film_poster

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Bicentennial Man is a 1999 film directed by Chris Columbus, and stars Robin Williams, Embeth Davitz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt and Hallie Kate Eisenberg. It’s based on the 1993 novel The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, which was an extension of Asimov’s 1976 Hugo and Nebula award winning novelette The Bicentennial Man.  I’ve read a lot of Asimov (and a middling amount of Silverberg), but I haven’t read either the award winning novelette or the later written novel. So this review will be just of the movie, I can’t even speculate what scenes from the books the screenwriters skipped or expanded upon.

 

200px-The_bicentennial_manThe story opens with an android being delivered to the Martin residence. Through the young daughter’s mispronunciation of the word android, the robot gains the name Andrew.  Only Mr. Martin is excited by their new “gizmo”, and after the daughters both try to damage Andrew, the new family rule is that Andrew must be treated with the same respect due any member of the family. Soon the girls start treating him like a visiting cousin: someone who can help them with their homework, but someone they shouldn’t bother unnecessarily. After all, he is a “household robot”, he was purchased to help with housework, clean, garden, and fix things around the house. as the years pass, the youngest daughter, whom Andrew refers to as Little Miss, forms a special bond with him. (And yes, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are very quickly presented, but never dwelled on).

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Asimov’s guesses about the future were entertaining and fascinating for me. The opening scenes take place in 2014, and commercial androids are commonplace and becoming popular for wealthy families to have at home.  But there are no cell phones, no digital cameras, no facebook, no big screen tv’s, no home computers, very little digital technology. Even later in the movie, as the decades pass, flying cars and holograms make an appearance, but no mention of suborbital anything, or smart phones, or genetic modifications, or social media. And as the decades go by, even robots go out of fashion.

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apex book of world SF 3The Apex Book of World SF 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar

published June 2014

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

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This newest anthology from Apex opens with  poetic visuals and then gently whirls around the planet – touching on ghost stories, political skewerings, the surreal and the horrific, and finally the whimsical. This is Lavie Tidhar’s third World Book of SF, and if you are looking to expand your international speculative fiction reading, this series of anthologies is a perfect place to start.

 

I love that we are getting more and more World Science Fiction. When I read the first Apex Book of World SF, I think I recognized two authors in the Table of Contents. I’m not suggesting you read a particular anthology only because you recognize names in the ToC, but my point is that it’s nice to see more and more non-anglo and non-Western authors known more widely every year. You’re sure to recognize a number of authors in the ToC of the third volume in this series: Benjanun Sriduangkaew is on this year’s Hugo ballot,  Karin Tidbeck garnered a lot of attention for her 2012 collection Jagannath, Xia Jia and Ma Boyong’s stories were originally published in Clarkesworld, and Biram Mboob and Uko Bendi Udo’s stories first appeared in Afro SF.

 

For the most part, the stories are subtle and understated, often with meanings that bloom in your mind a few hours or days after the reading, (excepting of course, City of Silence, which bashes you over the head in a darkly humorous way with what’s going on). The prose is often lush and poetic, with slang terms that taste exotic and  maywill have you googling a word to learn what it means. And it’s ok if you don’t know all the words you come across.  Aren’t we reading science fiction because we want to learn something new?

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Robot-UprisingRobot Uprisings edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

published April 2014

Where I got it: purchased new

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Robots are supposed to help us, right? they’re supposed to do the jobs that humans don’t want to or can’t do, right? and thanks to Asimov’s three (four!) laws, there’s nothing to worry about.

 

right?

 

wrong.  Leave it to folks like Alan Dean Foster, Seanan McGuire, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, Ernest Cline, Nnedi Oforakor and others to remind me that robots do exactly what we program them to do, and in many cases this is fucking terrifying.

 

I just about every story in this anthology, we played God. We created something, typically in our own image, that would be able to do things we couldn’t.  Our creations raise and teach our children, solve our computer programming issues, clean up radiation, do jobs that are too dangerous for humans to do, protect company assets, keep us healthy, etc. When we’re so sure our inventions will help us towards a better world, what could possibly go wrong?

 

But lets say we succeed. the computer programming issue has been solved, the kids are grown up, the asset has been protected, diseases have been cured, the radiation has been cleaned up. What do we do when our problem is fixed and our shiny tools are no longer needed?  Robots are designs to work. they are not designed to stop.

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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.
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