Author Archives: Tao23
YE BE WARNED.
Now: Lightspeed puts the word count in the header of each story. I like knowing how long of a story I’m getting into, but a mere word count does not tell all. What is Eve? is advertised as being 10,160 words but I’m having a hard time believing it because I read the thing so fast it felt like 3,000.
This story is a smooth read. Smooth like a bobsled chute. It’s straightforward but not overly predictable. It doesn’t present deep complexity with tons of subplot and twisty turns, but the twists and reveals that are there are effective at building the story, advancing it, and keeping it interesting.
It’s an alien story and a first contact story — old ground for sci-fi. Old ground we keep writing on, because it’s so rich. As usual with these stories, you’ll find some themes and tropes repeated. The value, now that the 1930s and 40s are behind us, is in the particulars of the story.
This story, trust me, has some good particulars. It carries the strong morals of “don’t be a dick,” “don’t be a cynical realpolitiker,” “maybe try treating others with respect,” and “bullshitters get cut, bitch.”
There’s a nice dose of “do what feels right” and “the authorities are probably full of shit,” which as I’m a moderate cynic and long-disillusioned idealist, strikes a chord in me.
The main characters are a twelve year old scion of, basically, The Man — a kid already maneuvering for a shot at a good college with parental encouragement, and, second, a ticking time bomb of some strange creature that Lightspeed’s artist represented with what I’m pretty sure is a red snapper face looming out of a purple dress.
And I can’t swear the image isn’t the right one given the story. Like many good alien creatures, the alien is more human than she (?) looks.
But then, aren’t we all more human than we look?
…anyway, give this one a read. You won’t regret it.
(This post was published on my Patreon a week before you saw it here. Y’all ought to become patrons. Not only could my kids and I use every spare penny possible given that we live below the poverty line, but you get to read stuff early and get free ebook copies of stuff I publish :))
The article pictured above mentions an asteroid large enough to mimic a nuclear airburst, noticed only a day before a close flyby of Earth.
Right now, in the US and UK at least (likely elsewhere, but I’m not politically knowledgeable enough to point fingers in those directions) it’s fashionable to holler “fake news!” if a fact doesn’t agree with one’s assumptions and/or want-to-believes. Mostly on the political right, though I’ve sadly seen some on the left and even center catching the feelings-over-facts bug.
So. Imagine a rock from space smearing a city in a tense nation. The astronomy community says “hey, look, here’s video proof we saw it a day ago.”
And a few influential hawks shout back, sneering: “fake news! Fake video!”
Millions cheer for war. Saner heads are ignored — after all, didn’t Breitbart and Infowars and Trump (or the parallel irgs & people in another nation) say it wasn’t an asteroid?
This is one of the more out-there scenarios — more than likely, the “fake news” conspiracy theorist howl will kill us all.in simpler ways, or even just lock is into an extra-paranoid authoritarian dystopia.
But the end could begin with a real asteroid mistaken (or misrepresented) for fake.
Bank on it: we will set the door to let deliveries in. You think people order a lot of stuff online now? The trend is upward, the Gen-Xers and Boomers who didn’t grow up ordering stuff online and who are as likely to reject online shopping as to embrace it, are either croaking or following their Millennial and Gen Z and — what are the really little ones called? I’ve seen Gen Alpha, but… meh. Hope they think of a better name.
BUT back to the very short and direct point: more online shopping, free delivery will become the law of the land in that delivery charges will become the kiss of death (they’re headed that way anyway, I feel), and there will be ways to buy things we’re not as comfortable buying online.
I’m not comfortable buying shoes online unless they’re the one shoe I absolutely know how they fit me: Chucks.
But if you could project a true-to-life holo of the shoe over your foot and move aside the layers to see how much room your toes had, it might be a different story.
The next 20 years will be a rapid progression of business finding ways to make people ever more comfortable with buying online (assuming, of course, that we don’t find some way to destroy our own civilization).
I mentioned free delivery above. Delivered by flying, walking, and wallcrawling drones of all shapes and sizes, it will become feasible to make a zillion tiny deliveries. I need sugar — hey, SirTanaExa, order a four pound bag of sugar. Oh, this is the last of the vanilla. SirTanaExa, order a four ounce bottle of imitation vanilla. And so on. The vanilla will fly in on the back of a fat metal dragonfly and the sugar will crawl in locked in the basket atop a mechanical turtle.
And we’ll set the door to let it in, because who wants to open the door for drones 87 times per day?
And some burglars, but mostly mischievous kids who can nevertheless walk off with jewelry and drink up your beer, will wait for those drones and jam your front door for the crucial seconds it takes to dart inside…
So I tweeted this in my Tweetmorrow incarnation:
The generation ship is a grand old sci-fi trope. The people on them are always forgetting they’re on one, which seems implausible to me but maybe that’s a subject for a more comprehensive post.
Generation ship yarns are fun and they’re a great walled garden to make stranger, more warped, and more insight-generating societies plausible than would otherwise be possible.
Which is probably why they’re usually depicted as small. Usually a few thousand or even hundred inhabitants.
Good for keeping stories simple. Not for generation-shipping.
For getting somewhere, you want BIG. I haven’t yet written a story around a jumbo generation ship, but I’ve mused and tweeted about it often enough. Hollow out Ceres. Take the Moon. Slap some magictech thrusters on Earth. From the sounds of it we could heat the surface with geothermal taps and keep it up for millions of years in the absence of a warming Sun.
I’m sure we could have Earth basking under a new star in five or ten thousand years. Not bad, really.
Wouldn’t it be funny if Earth ended up running away from the Solar System? We always imagine ships traveling from Earth, not BEING Earth.
Also, this review appeared on my Patreon page ten days before appearing here. Become a patron and you’ll not only help boost me and my POOR POOR SUFFERING CHILDREN toward the poverty line and, hopefully soonish, actually over it, but you’ll get to see a lot of posts way early, plus occasional exclusive posts, and you can even get free ebooks when I publish (and you get those a whole MONTH before the rest of the world! But now, the review:
Containment is an artificial intelligence in a Solar System wide civilization story. It’s also a know thyself story. And a coming of age story in a strange sort of way, and a finding your purpose in life story. Maybe a work-life balance story. And…
…there’s a lot to unpack in this one. The last paragraph makes it sound like the story is a massive chaotic mashup and it definitely is not.
It’s an elegant story. It progresses smoothly. It bears you along like an inevitable word-river. The imagery is not literary or flashy but in this story it should not be. The real beauty and intrigue is elsewhere and too much flash in the outside world would only be a distraction. In this story the author is too smart to distract you.
As I read, I felt echoes of the technological hard science fiction of the masters of the 1950s and 60s, yet it was undeniably modern and accessible. That impressed me and brought out happy memories of myself as a child in the ’70s and a teen in the ’80s immersed in 10 and 20 and 30 year old books and loving them.
There’s an element of mystery in this story, and the eventual revelation of the purpose of the little tower of rocks discovered in the beginning by the Mining Master of Thebe, one of Jupiter’s smaller moons, is natural and smoothly handled, as are the little hints along the way.
Much of the story takes place in the inner world and reasoning of the Mining Master, who is an artificial intelligence (and whose interchangeable purpose-made bodies are an interesting, useful, and story-vital feature). We spend a lot of time in their head before and after the stealthy and subversive upgrade the Master gives himself without permission from his superiors.
While internal impressions and monologue can be boring, it is not here. I found myself fascinated. The protagonist’s inner life is at turns logical and soulful, robotic and humanistic as they cycle from full sentience to blunted sentience to full sentience again and then to something more, something undeniably human.
It’s a what makes us human story, too. And a what could make AI human story. A type of story that has been done many, many times before, but in this incarnation made me stay up reading so late it became early and the birds singing in the dawn made it difficult to fall asleep. Damn your wily storytelling, Susan Kaye Quinn!
A while back I thought, hey, my eroding right hip has started to cause me a lot of pain, like constantly, and I have to lean harder on my cane every passing month. And I’m kinda tired of having one leg shorter than the other, which wasn’t the case before but which is what happens when the cartilage all wears away and the bone underneath starts grinding away bit by bit.
Yep, time for a hip replacement. The specialist who is doing it thought it was past time — “you want to see this thing? It’s quite a sight.” is how I recall him putting it (my memory may not be perfect, but that was the sense of it).
BUT WAIT NOT YET. Because on the other hip, the good one, there was a spot of dead or dying bone. Necrosis. I expected that kind of thing out of my black sheep jerk of a right hip, but not my golden good boy left hip. Geez.
So on Thursday, two days from my writing this, I go in for a “core decompression” on the hip I thought was a nice guy who wasn’t going to give me any trouble, because the osteo specialist figures it’s a good idea to safeguard the health of the better one before replacing the one we already know is getting hacked out with a saw later.
This is a low risk procedure, but of course I’m still a tad anxious. If I croak you’d better buy lots of books so my kids will be able to afford college. I’m counting on you!
(and I’ll see y’all back here after the surgery — never mind my dramatics)
This is becoming something of a miniseries — you can see the post about the maidbot here, and there’s a link to the tinkerbot post at the end of that one.
This post appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago — become a patron and see them FIRST. Also you get a free ebook or an exclusive post sometimes!
But enough about those things. This is about gardenerbots and how I just might be willing to kill for one.
Though, maybe not yet because a ratty old trailer in a rundown old trailerpark doesn’t provide a lawn worth keeping up (barring acts of Murphy, we ought to be taking up residence in a little rental duplex or even a small house sometime in the next 1-3 months. Wish us luck!).
But it would almost be worth if just for my little urban garden that I grow in felt pots (which are awesome — plants don’t get rootbound, they grow well, and if you want to put them away for the winter they fold up pretty well). If a gardenerbot was really cheap, like maybe I found a used one on Craigslist that someone was letting go for a hundred bucks because one arm got smashed in a freak tree-trimming accident, I’d totally jump on it (assuming it was near the beginning of the month and my patronage had just hit my PayPal account — otherwise I tend to spend it on food or laundry soap or a while back I used some of it to replace a dead mouse, or contributing to the internet bill. You know, stuff that being able to afford makes this little trailer a more congenial place to live and write).
I could go for it because my gardening skills are only so-so. When I grow my veggies the yields are pretty inconsistent and I’m pretty sure I lose plants I shouldn’t. But a gardenerbot with halfway decent programming, I’m sure, wouldn’t have that problem. I just might kill for one.
It would be all the more enticing if I had a quarter-acre or so of backyard to gardenify. Even an eighth-acre. Or to mow. I’ve never been a fan of mowing lawns.
In fact, I bet within ten or twenty years of rollout a gardenerbot would be cheaper than a good lawn tractor. Then you wouldn’t have to buy a lawn tractor. Or a tiller. Or even a cheap, crappy version of either.
You could buy the absolute cheapest of each of those. An old-fashioned non-motorized push mower.
Instead of an expensive power tiller (or less-expensive but yearly tiller rental)? A couple of good shovels, a hoe, and a rake.
Because what’s the gardenerbot going to do? Get tired? Suffer heatstroke from overwork in the hot sun? Complain about the long hours during sowing and harvest?
Nope. Because it’s a machine. And in the future if self-aware AI is possible…
…it doesn’t take self-awareness to cut grass and plant bell peppers and fertilize the roses. So you don’t even have to worry about being gardened to death in the robot revolution.
It won’t forget to water the vegetables until the leaves get droopy like I’ve been known to do.
If the vegetables or grass or trees start looking unhealthy it will be able to identify the most likely nutrient deficiency or infestation and treat it. When I have to try to identify that kind of thing, I’m mostly guessing and it’s mostly luck when I’m successful.
If I had more room to garden and more lawn to take care of, it would be worth it and I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot then.
Another benefit I hinted at above: tree maintenance. Bush trimming (I mean shrubs, this isn’t a ’70s porn post — the other kind would be handled by a sexbot or a barberbot), stump pulling, digging where electrical or gas or water lines might be.
You know, the dangerous stuff. Not only would a bot not, you know, die if a tree dropped on it or it jammed a shovel blade into a live power line, but the gardenerbot would have access to online maps of these lines so it could avoid them way better than you trying to figure out exactly how the symbols on the map correspond to locations on your lawn (humans do not have GPS, but a bot would). Surely it could do a better job than you or I referencing multiple utility company maps and trying not to forget anything.
All that, and more fresh veggies and fruit than I can grow left to my own devices? Yep, I’d totally kill for a gardenerbot.
And then someone did invent the robot, and in the last threeish decades of the 20th century it was the biggest story (if underreported) again. People variously blame outsourcing and trade imbalances and minimum wage and unions and other things for the evaporation of middle-class-paying factory jobs, but the fact of the matter is that most of them have given way to automation.
Automation was a major driver in rising income inequality, in the shrinking of the middle class, in the erosion of inflation-adjusted wages, in the increase in part-time jobs and decrease in full-time employment, in the… you get the idea. The ramifications are much wider than we see. Or want to see. Political discourse is still hung up on trade imbalances (I have a HUGE trade imbalance with the grocery store but you don’t see ME crying about it) and tariffs and outsourcing. All those things matter, but not a tenth as much as jobs being replaced by robots that are more cost-effective, don’t call in sick, don’t make worker’s comp claims, don’t unionize, don’t complain about not making enough to pay the rent, eat, and pay for healthcare at the same time, don’t have bothersome events like weddings and funerals to attend, don’t have heart attacks at work which just shoots productivity for the day right down the damn toilet, and more.
Wow, human workers suck compared to workers.
But actually, there are a lot of jobs robots don’t do well. Robots aren’t very adaptable. Robots suck at human interaction. Robots aren’t creative. They just do a simple job or a few simple jobs quickly and well, over and over and over and over and over.
That’s changing. Much like computers that once took up a whole room to serve only as well as the calculator app on the phone in your pocket does today, robots are getting better at their jobs fast. They’re replacing ever more production jobs. They’re making inroads into white collar jobs. They’re heading toward being way more ubiquitous than anyone but a few technologists, futurists, and science fiction writers thought possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
They’re going to end up in places, ultimately, that they really shouldn’t be. And they’ll get there because they will have become way cheaper than now (think of how relatively cheap your smartphone is compared to the supercomputer of the 1990s, which it can outperform) and way more flexible. Adaptable.
People will be up in arms, of course, when robot nurses become common and drive out nearly all the human nurses. Or maybe not nearly, but actually all. Robots can’t show compassion, people will say. They can’t comfort the sick and dying like empathetic humans can. They can’t give the encouragement of conversation and a pat on the shoulder and the presence of another human being.
Consider, for a moment, the ATM (or, for redundancy enthusiasts, which are apparently nearly everyone, the “ATM machine”). Reaching back to 1993, I found an article in Wired that mentions what people did not like about them when they were becoming common. People didn’t like that they were machinelike. The programmed, stilted greetings and prompts. The lack of human interaction. Sometimes, the lack of security — a human presence other than one potential victim may dissuade some criminals from striking, or at least offer up the comfort of perceived safety, where a machine does not.
But they liked the convenience. Bankers liked that they could reduce teller jobs (though my understanding is they shifted employees to other positions like sales instead of reducing headcount — but that reflects human flexibility. Remember what I said up there about automation becoming more flexible? It will.).
And now the ATM is just an accepted part of life, and hardly anyone complains about them seriously as a thing. People complain about the slowness of individual ATMs just as they complained about the slowness of individual human tellers (and still do). People complain about the fees. But people do not complain about the fact that ATMs are the way we make nearly all of our cash withdrawals and a large number of deposits as well.
Automated nurses will be like that. A couple of decades after they’re introduced, people will stop complaining about them and accept them. It will become social convention that human interaction with patients is the job of family, friends, and whatever volunteers care to look in on those without many of those.
I think that will basically suck, but if the money says robot nurses, we will have robot nurses.
The same story, over the coming decades and perhaps into the 21st (robotic flexibility has a long way to go), will play out among firefighters and police officers and short order cooks and fast food staff and store clerks and warehouse workers and postal carriers and parcel deliverypeople and florists and paralegals and lawyers and EMTs and professional drivers of all stripes and and and…
In a hundred years, I think we’ll be talking about whether or not employment numbers are over five percent, not whether unemployment is over five percent.
It will be a strange world to people like me born in the 1970s. Assuming medical science advances fast enough to keep me alive into the 22nd, which I think is unlikely (DAMMIT).
(This first appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago. Become a patron and regardless of the size of your pledge you will see all of my best and beefiest blog posts at least a week before they appear here!)
Luddites are both annoying and fascinating.
They have the corner of a legitimate argument: technology has the potential to f**k us up royally. Yes, yes it does. I’m a Cold War kid. I remember watching The Day After.
I read (and sometimes write) dystopias. I’m a friggin’ science fiction fan and writer, fer crissake! OF COURSE I KNOW that technology has the potential to f**k us up!
So does a hammer. Or a spear. Or an obsidian flake.
Yes, technology usually needs to be managed. For example, in the wake of the invention of the automobiles we passed scads of laws governing their use. Where they can be used, how fast, what safety equipment can be used. Of course, we still manage to kill and injure about a million of ourselves yearly with the things, as I’ve written elsewhere.
As far as I can tell, the Luddite argument against self-driving cars is that they somehow won’t be regulated like every other invention and that they will somehow do a worse job at coordinating traffic safely than millions and millions of unconnected human brains all in various states of caffeine and fatigue and substance intoxication, plus under the influence of things like anger and grief and arguments and shouting children and dropping burritos in their laps.
Me, I think autonomous cars will do better. Sure, they can be compromised. So can your brakes and steering now — there are plenty of problems that will come up. There always are. Once upon a time fire displaced good old eating meat raw, and then someone burnt up their cave and died. I mean, a Luddite ought to be for going back to horseback… wait, you can fall off… I mean going on foot. Safety first! Hide in your cave!
Anyhow. The exchange with Luddites was amusing and silly. Here are a few tweets about it (this would be on my Patreon (sorry, patrons!), but they don’t seem to support links to tweets, so I have to put tweet-based posts here).
So, that happened. Whatever. I wonder why they just don’t go live without technology? I mean, the Amish manage it nicely without talking about it on Twitter, which you think Luddites would despise and not use.
It’s almost like their ideas don’t make sense except in at the shallowest possible glance — which they seem unable to see past.
At least writing this was fun, and I got to look up some cool images, and I got a blog post out of it. I hope y’all enjoyed it.
This is a little bit especially for people in the early days of their sending-their-writing-to-total-strangers-and-asking-them-to-publish-it careers. Which is daunting. It was for me. It was every time I did it, and so far I’ve chalked up around 200 rejections for 4 acceptances, only two of which are still in print (in the sci-fi world, small mags can come and go fast).
Rejection sucks no matter where you find it, but it’s worth it. And it’s just part of the game. An editor gets hundreds of stories for every one they print. Rejection might mean you need to do more work on your story or your writing in general — but it also often means a story isn’t a good fit for the mag, the upcoming issue, or the editor just likes another story a smidge more. Just part of the game.
But anyway, I had this little exchange. Maybe you can take something away from it.
If you’re going to submit stories, and you might have more than one in circulation — and that’s likely if you’re steadily writing. It can take an editor a day or two to reject a story (Clarkesworld, in my experience, was always quick to reject me, and that’s not only because my stories didn’t do it for the editor, but because they have notoriously fast turnaround in general probably due to hard work and fast reading). Or it can take two weeks, or two months for some markets, sometimes even more. Take a peek at the bottom of the landing page of the Submission Grinder — they keep a running list of response times reported by writers. They also maintain a great list of markets to send stories to if you’re doing that.
It’s very easy to end up with multiple stories in play at once.
So you can use a tracker sheet like I do (below). Or keep a digital record on a spreadsheet. Or something else that suits you.
The advantage of the simple little one-story-per-sheet tracker is it’s very easy to see where a story has been so you don’t send it back to the same place twice (which is a no-no 99.9% of the time).
The weakness of this sheet is that you have to look over all the sheets for all the stories that you have out at a time to make sure you are not submitting a second story to the same market that hasn’t yet decided on the first story you sent them (also a no-no 99.9% of the time).
Personally, I can live with that. You may not be so excited, in which case I’m sorry I wasn’t more help!
The notes section gives you a place to write “send more” if the editor says send more, or anything else you think is relevant. It also gives you a place to note the exclusivity period on the story if you’re accepted so you know when you can resubmit it to a reprint market or self-publish it (which, of course, is my personal game).
Here’s the tracker sheet I use. I wanted simple, so I made simple. I just copy-pasted it here — I don’t know if you can copy it and use it in this form. If not, drop me a comment and I can email you the .doc file.