Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

If not, it should be. I need more nerd fiction in my life.

And I don’t necessarily mean science fiction, although I wouldn’t necessarily exclude it. I just don’t want far future, space travel fiction.  I want contemporary fiction which happens to focus on AI.

I started with a search for ‘AI fiction’ and then tried ‘artificial intelligence fiction’ because I have been enjoying having AI show up in some of the contemporary fiction I have been reading. Sourdough had a significant AI component. Does that make it science fiction? It is fiction with science in it. The same is true of Lost and Found in Paris. One of the characters runs a tech company which uses AI, among other things.

The books have other elements I would consider nerdy. In Sourdough, there is some nerdy stuff about yeast and bread and mold and cheese and the history of food and the future of food. In Lost and Found in Paris, there is nerdiness about art history and modern art and architecture and even fashion.

I think I am defining “nerdy” as being enthusiastically knowledgeable about a subject. In Lost and Found in Paris, Joan of Arc plays a significant role, especially the art devoted to her. I know a bit about her history, and I know that she is significant to French political history, religious history, and art history, but I was unaware of just how much art is devoted to her.

Maybe I am looking for fiction that will teach me something, but that feels like much too broad of a category. I learn something from every book I read.

The AI part really has me intrigued at the moment because it’s not science fiction anymore. It is science.

I am a bit of a Luddite at heart. (I love my pens and paper, and I read only paper books.) I believe that computers make us stupid. (How many phone numbers do you know any more? Can you read a map without GPS?) But computers and machines can do absolutely amazing things for communication, for manufacturing, for medicine, for textiles, for agriculture. The list is practically endless.

What I found when I searched for AI fiction: 24 Best Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction Books – The Best Sci Fi Books (best-sci-fi-books.com)

20 Fascinating Artificial Intelligence Books, Fiction & Nonfiction | Book Riot

A number of the books on these lists are the same and sound like good recommendations.  I do still need to read Neuromancer, but some of Gibson’s newer stuff might do the trick, too.  I have plenty.  At the risk of insulting the genius and fans of folks like Ellison, Clarke, and Asimov, I want to read books written closer to the here and now when AI either exists or is getting close.  I want more Sourdough, more Lost and Found in Paris, even more Machinehood.

Any ideas or recommendations?

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This book came up in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Truth, Fact post, and at the time I mentioned that it really deserves its own post. Well, today the book comes out in paperback, so now seems like a good time for the post. I will try not to get carried away and spoil anything.

Click on the image to read the first three chapters and the Machinehood Manifesto.

Machinehood is set in 2095. Technology and pharmaceuticals have infused almost every part of everyday life. There are drugs to prevent illness, promote healing, enhance physical strength and skill, and improve cocentration. People have high-tech implants for communication. They broadcast their lives via swarms of micro drones, earning tips from followers. There are machines and robots of varying levels of sophistication everywhere for most every purpose. Suborbital flight is a preferred means of travel. It is a future which is only a few steps ahead of our present for the most part.

Welga Ramirez, a former special forces soldier, is on the verge of a major career and life change. At 35, she is still fit enough for her bodyguard role, but she is being replaced by someone younger anyway. It’s okay, though. She has plans for a quieter life, until one of her last jobs goes horribly wrong.

Someone or something called the Machinehood publishes a manifesto demanding rights for machines with Artificial Intelligence and demanding that production of all of the pills people take be stopped. The group stages violent attacks, killing several pill funders (the people responsible for the production) and then escalate to the technological infrastructure on which everyone and everything is so dependent.

Because of her military background and the ill-fated mission which resulted in her leaving the military to become a bodyguard, Welga is more prepared — and determined — to fight this new threat than just about anyone else, even if it means breaking promises and revisiting a painful past.

The plot is interesting and moves along at a good clip. It’s complex without being overly complicated. The book tackles or at least touches on a host of social and political issues — workers’ rights, financial disparity between races, classes, and countries, political corruption\maneuvering, scientific ethics, religion, personal privacy, and what happens when the line between human and machine gets more difficult to define. But it is the characters and their relationships which really make the book work, and they are why you don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to read and enjoy this book.

Welga is a strong, fierce, smart, funny woman. She is deeply committed to her craft (which I think is a better word choice than career in her case), her colleagues, her family, and her country (though not so much the government). We meet her brother, her father, her sister-in-law, her partner, and become equally immersed in their lives and relationships. These are people living through a major global crisis — technological rather than viral in nature — and still dealing with the every day challenges of getting older, raising children, keeping a marriage\long-term partnership together, and trying to take care of themselves while helping others where they can.

There is a parallel (might not be the right word, but secondary didn’t work for me) storyline of another strong woman, a bioethicist who must make harrowing decisions when her son is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. I’m not sure how to say more without giving too much away, but the point is that it is not only the main female character who exhibits strength in the face of adversity.

I don’t think I fully grasped it until I had finished the book, or was at least close to it, but the women are the strength and driving force in this story, and the men in their lives support them (and I don’t mean financially). That support doesn’t come without challenges or conflict, but at the end of the day, no matter what, the men not only don’t stand in the way of whatever the women want or need to do but do everything they can to help, and they are in no way diminished as a result. It feels so natural and real that it took a while for it to sink in just how impressive and important it is.

I finished reading the book more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about those characters and those relationships. They are going to stick with me for a long time.

Go read the book. You can start here with the first three chapters.

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Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The debate of truth vs. fact has been occupying space in my head for the last several years, and I have been suspicious of statistics ever since I read the book How to Lie with Statistics. I don’t know if it is still in print, but if so, it is worth tracking down and reading. The principles in it are still valid today.

Today I saw a post on social media questioning the decision to read fiction in such perilous times as these when really people should be reading nonfiction in an effort to figure out how we got here.

The first part of my response was easy, and hopefully fairly obvious and not harsh. Reading fiction can provide respite from the stress of where we are and how we got here.

Then I started to get a little twitchy because the author of the post seemed to be equating nonfiction with fact. I have no way of knowing for sure. It was a short post and has since been deleted. Nonfiction books contain facts, but they also contain perspective, bias, analysis, and interpretation of those facts. Or they might not be facts at all. Fiction doesn’t go any further off the rails than books in the fields of political commentary and memoir. With fiction, I don’t have to worry about whether or not to trust the source.

I have been doing “how did we get here” reading, but I am trying to read history not written by the winners because otherwise it could have as much in common with fiction as with fact — not that alternate viewpoints are infallible. After I saw an interview with the author of Watergate: A New History, I decided to investigate in part because I know very little about the Watergate burglary, subsequent cover-up, and investigation and in part because the author made an excellent case for why a new book was warranted. There is so much more information (facts? truth?) to be had than was available for previous histories. My search turned up another book: The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by Jill Wine-Banks, the sole woman on the prosecution team. I was surprised to learn that there had been a woman on the team.

Both of these books are history. Both are nonfiction. Both are important. And I don’t have to read both to know for a fact that they present some of the same information in different contexts and from different points of view. If I read both, and they conflict, which one will I believe?

Not unlike history and memoir, fiction offers reflection and commentary but with the premise that everything is made up. Like the best lies, however, the best fiction has its roots in reality. (Might as well let another worm out of the can.)

I read two books in February: Machinehood by S.B. Divya and Sourdough, or Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market by Robin Sloan.

Machinehood is near-future science fiction set in 2095, and I am recommending it to anyone and everyone every chance I get. The world, politics, and culture are so familiar that you only have to mentally squint a little bit to see it as the present, or at least see how the world could easily end up as it has in the book. Technology is infused into almost every aspect of human life — to the point of a violent uprising — but the characters have not lost their humanity. They are all of the things that the people you know and love are — brave, scared, driven, stubborn, flawed, intelligent, and just trying to do the best they can. (The book deserves it’s own post, but in the meantime, just go read it.)

Sourdough is the story of a talented young software engineer who moves to San Francisco for a high-paying, high-tech job which has her working all hours of the day and night, subsisting on a nutrient paste popular with her co-workers. The schedule and the diet take a toll on her physical and mental health. Some events occur which end up with her becoming the caretaker of a sourdough starter, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for her. The content is lighter than the intense social and political upheaval of Machinehood, but the book offers interesting and entertaining commentary about how we feed ourselves, body and soul, in this modern world. Food for thought, as it were. (Sorry.)

Are these two books any less true or even factual than the history of Watergate? Or the two books of Russian history I have checked out from the library? It depends on your point of view.

Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

-Obi Wan Kenobi

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