the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘technology

My local book group is reading Exhalation, the new collection of short stories from Ted Chiang. All of the stories previously appeared in anthologies or magazines, this is the first time these stories are all appearing in one place, with story notes at the end. Chiang’s prose is thoughtful,quietly powerful, and without agenda. He is giving you characters, challenges, and environment, and leaves it entirely up to the reader to decide how (if at all) to react to what is presented. In my experience, much of his work reads like a diary, or a private essay, or a longform article. He is telling fiction, but in a way that makes it feel like you’ve travelled ten years into the future where this technology is just how life is, now. Or in the case of “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny”, that you’ve travelled into the past.

 

Exhalation gives me reason to return to two of my favorite Chiang stories, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” (Subterranean Press 2010), and “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” (Subterranean Online, 2013), both of which I have written about before.  These two short stories have been in my brain for 5+ years now, it’s been fun to chew on them during the years, to discover all the layers as time goes by.

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” reminds me of Blackberries and the online game Second Life.  It reminds me of people who don’t have children, but instead have spoiled pets referred to as “fur-babies”. It reminds me of Asimov’s Bicentennial Man.   At a SciFi Convention a few years ago, in a panel that I was on, we were talking about Artificial Intelligence, and this story came up (I may have been the one to bring it up).  I said the story “was about what happens when our children grow up, and discover adult things”, and a well meaning person in the audience let me know that “that’s not what that story is about.”

 

On the top layer,  “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is about Ana, who is a programmer at a company that makes “digients”.  They want to make AIs that can learn, and are able to easily interact with people, so the programmers and others within the company “raise” the digients, much as you would the world’s smartest puppy – socializing them, teaching them games, teaching them to be patient  when an adult is busy. If you go on vacation, or get bored, just put your digient in suspension until you’re ready to play with it again. Remember Tamagochi’s? Like that, times a million. Technology changes over the years, and not only are the socialized and raised digients ready for sale to the masses, there are now robot bodies that your digient can be downloaded into, so it can experience the real world, and walk around with you.

 

The story jumps ahead –  most of Ana’s friends move on,  they have children of their own, and no time or interest in what to them was never more than a digital pet they were being paid to raise. A friend who is planning family says she doesn’t need digients anymore, because “now she has the real thing”.  Ana feels left behind.

 

Technology changes yet more – the online server where the digients are hosted is so far in the technical past that its user must self fund it. And there are only a few people left.  Is the digient experient over? Should Ana give up on the digient she has raised for over 15 years? If software is not of use, if it can not be monetized, what is the purpose of its existence?  What if you, the “parent” of the software, don’t agree with how it is being monetized?

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installing-linux-on-a-dead-badger-by-lucy-a-snyder-largeInstalling Linux on a Dead Badger, by Lucy Snyder

published 2007

where I got it: purchased (and she signed it!  awesome!)

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How is anyone supposed to say “no” to a book with a title like that??   And I promise, you do not need to know anything about Linux, or be an IT geek or professional (same thing?) to enjoy this book.  All you need to enjoy this  book is a sense of humor.

Weighing in at barely a hundred pages, you can easily read this collection in an evening.  It might only take you an hour or two to read, but you’ll be reading snippets of it out loud to friends and family for at least a week afterwards. The opening chapter is exactly what the title refers to: how to install Linux on a dead badger, with details instructions of which shareware to download for which devices, how to draw the blood rune, what to do with the origami, and most importantly, what to do if something goes wrong (take shelter in the nearest church. You may require an exorcist). I can already see the side of your mouth curling up.   Did I mention the book is illustrated?

Following the technical writing opening is a collection of journalism style articles about the new state of the world. With titles like Dead Men Don’t Need Coffee Breaks, Unemployed Playing Dead to Find Work, and the gut bustingly hilarious Trolls Gone Wild, Snyder takes aim at corporate bureaucracies, human resources departments with good intentions, how to make a fortune with a video camera, jobs you’ll take when you’re really *really* desperate, and how businesses  keep up with the fast pace of changing technology.  There are a few short stories right at the end, but I liked the business magazine article-esque pieces much better.

Satire. This is how you do it.

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2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Published by Orbit Books, May 22 2012

Where I got it: received review copy from the Publisher

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So many books I’ve been reading lately have been fast paced adventures, where characters are scrambling from one action scene to another, trying not to get killed, always trying to get towards the goal. 2312 isn’t that kind of book. The plot and the characters meander, people discuss that they aren’t sure what to do next, no one is scrambling anywhere, no one is in a hurry.  And yet, there is plenty of suspense and tension, just not the kind we are used to seeing in a standard science fiction novel. Again, 2312 isn’t your standard plot-based science fiction novel.

Existentially sprawling, and scientifically fascinating yet completely accessible,  I’m reluctant to categorize 2312 as science fiction. Yes, there is plenty of science and it takes place in the future, but of the three plot lines, only one (and it’s the weakest one) of them has anything to do with anything remotely science fictional. This is more a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world than anything else.

We first meet Swan Er Hong at her grandmother Alex’s funeral. There is some concern that due to Alex’s political connections perhaps her death wasn’t natural. Swan meets up with the Saturnian league ambassador Wahram and police investigator Jean Genette to discuss  the projects Alex had been working on, which leads to a discussion on the bitter feelings of Terrans towards the spacers.  Shortly after the investigation into Alex’s death begins, there is a terrorist attack on Terminator, the rolling city of Mercury. One more thing for Swan, Wahram and Genette to investigate, as it may be connected to Alex’s death. This is the obvious, overt plot line, and it’s the least important and least interesting part of the book.

I was continually amazed at my emotional reaction to 2312. After the attack on Terminator, Swan and Wahram escape into the underground utilidor system. Kim Stanley Robinson may be about to take us on a tour of the solar system, but the most beautiful parts of this book are the intimate moments between Swan and Wahram, which begin in the utilidors under the Mercurial surface.   These slower yet intensely focused tunnel scenes were a blessing in disguise, as without the gorgeous distraction of the cosmos, the reader can more easily concentrate on Swan and Wahram. Swan is whiny, defensive and over dramatic, and Wahram is patient and non-judgmentally curious about her life choices.  Swan never struck me as a very likeable character, yet I found myself completely emotionally invested in her life. Maybe I saw a little too much of my own indecisiveness, my own lack of concern for my own future in her.

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I heard something wonderfully (or frightfully) science fictional on NPR the other day.  They were talking with a security firm who figured out how to unlock car doors via text message.

The firm sounds all Sneakers-esque, and breaking into a car through a text message sounds like something Cory Doctorow or William Gibson would write into a SF book, doesn’t it? And if it wasn’t in the most recent James Bond movie, I’m sure it’ll be in the next one, although sadly not provided by Q.

read or listen to the full story here it’s quick and truly fascinating.

The most fun (or most scary, depending on how you look at it) part of this is thinking about the next step, from both sides of it. Up here in the north, we love our remote car starters. Text message car starting means you can do it from far away. from your bedroom, or your basement, or penthouse apartment, or the luggage pickup at the airport. Claudia (who I adore!!) hacked into someone’s GPS on Warehouse 13 last night . . . .

you see? fun and scary! aannnnddd . . . . .  I think I’ll be walking or biking to work for a little while!

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

first published in 2008

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: I really enjoyed Beukes’ Zoo City

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in a not so distant future, connectivity is everything. Not only does your cell phone connect you to your friends and family (not to mention the internet), but the government and local police use it as a tracking device, and when necessary a punishment device. Disconnectivity by government order can equal a death sentence for some, as your phone is also your public transit pass, your pass to get into work, and your pass to get through certain city checkpoints. It also screams tech-based apartheid. May sound shocking to you and I, But to the youth and 20-somethings of South Africa, they grew up with this – to them it’s completely normal.

ahh, taking technologies and the social order and making their uncomfortable side effects feel normal, that’s just one thing Beukes excels at. All of our characters, Kendra,the art school drop out turned PR guinea pig; Toby, the LARPer  with dreams of taking down the government; Tendeka the children’s charity organizer whose getting sick of losing funding; and Lerato, the programming genius who thinks she knows it all.
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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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