A little over a year ago I cooked up this little free short (you can read it here, complete and no download needed) in connection with a creative writing class in the MA program I’m finishing up now.
The protagonist is Ms. Gaither, an eighty-five year old woman, and she came out of more than just the proverbial sugar and spice and whatever we associate with little girls who grow up to become elder women. Wisdom and medication, I suppose?
As a character, she was born from something I have plenty of. Worry. My worry shaped a big chunk of her, and worry is something that, if I’m not careful, can dominate my mood and thoughts and pretty much everything in my life. I’m a bit less consumed by worry than I was a year ago. It’s still there, and some of it is still justified, but I’ve managed to let it become less of a distraction and more of a constructive caution. But I have always worried too much and I probably always will.
She also comes from my love of history — I probably spent an hour looking at vintage soda vending machines in connection with a scene in this story, for example. The first three minutes of it were necessary, the rest was just me having fun.There are a few other things in there.
The science fiction (maybe just science — plenty of debate to find, though I’m not well equipped to judge how seriously it’s taken) notion of alternate timelines, or maybe the science fantasy notion of psychic perception of the future — it’s unclear, deliberately. My mild fear of growing old and feeble (one of my hips is already feeble, how soon will the rest of me follow?), and my greater fear of *not* growing old and feeble because, you know, that damn death thing. Ick.
And the whole premise of the story, as well as Ms. Gaither’s role in it and her role in the lives of the father and daughter she meets, come out of something that comes to me as naturally as breathing: considering risk. It goes hand in hand with being, as my grandmother used to say, a “worry-wart.” When we drive farther than the store down the street part of me considers that we might break down, so I don’t dress to drive to the store, I dress to walk back or change a tire. I’m the one who checks batteries in the smoke detector and worries about the lint buildup in the dryer because fire. I’m first to move something away from a space heater or follow the little ones closely at the beach whether the waves are heavy or not. None of this is to say my wife and older stepson are careless. They’re not. Nor is it to say I never take risks, even foolish ones. I have and I do. I’m just the one who thinks of all of the unlikely things that can go wrong (which brings anxiety) and all of the unlikely things that could go right (which brings longing over stuff that’s probably not happening).
Pretty much every time someone writes, they leave a chunk of their psyche on the page. Sometimes writers who write about awful stuff get accused of believing or wishing they could do the awful stuff on that basis, which is very often wrong.But the writer is in there somewhere. Look for them when you read.
(This post first appeared on my Patreon page on May 6th. Patrons get to see most posts three days early and new ebooks THIRTY days early. Plus they get a FREE copy even if I’m charging for it elsewhere. They’re also a hell of a big help to my household, a boon to me as a writer and a human being, and wonderful people. So, you know… *nudge*)
Posted: Monday, August 7th, 2062
Three pedestrians were killed Sunday when a self-driving car’s operating system was compromised outside a weekend farmers’ market in Weston, a wealthy suburb of Boston. Two local teens in the car were also treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries. Witnesses said the vehicle did not slow as it mounted the sidewalk and struck the victims, stopping only when it struck a line of heavy hedge at the end of the block. The names of the deceased are held pending notification of next of kin, and a Boston Metro press officer declined to identify the teens.
The officer did confirm that the teens were “on the younger side of teenage” and are the subjects of an investigation. No charges have been filed at the time of this report.
The teens’ attorney released a short press statement suggesting the car driving the teens had been hacked by an unknown party.
“It’s entirely possible the vehicle was hacked,” Boston Metro Chief of Police Esmerelda McLeod said in a press conference this afternoon. “On the other hand, there have been incidents of individuals deliberately using “spoofing” programs to subvert self-driving software and enable manual driving from a pocket tablet or phone. We have a very capable data forensics team working on the car’s systems to discover the truth.”
The three deaths bring the count of vehicle-related deaths in Massachusetts to 25, slightly above the generally accepted 1/8 standard as compared to vehicular deaths in the bloody pre-mandatory-autodrive era.
The self-driving car is coming. As quickly as the automobile replaced the horse in busy city centers where a spooked horse would present a public danger, the self-driving car will replace the manually driven car in those same places and for the same reason.
It has already been discussed for some time that a computer-operated vehicle is vulnerable to hacking, malware, viruses, what have you in the realm of scary things that make your computer go AIIIIIIIEEEE and stop working the way it’s supposed to. Even now, with vehicles not driven by software but many of their systems controlled by it, it has already been demonstrated that a WiFi equipped vehicle is vulnerable to hacking.
And of course, like any computerized device, vehicles are already vulnerable to the knowledgeable subverting their programs.
People worry over this sort of stuff. And it’s worthwhile to worry about. A vehicle out of control, self-driving or not, is dangerous. Deadly.
And yet, over a million people yearly die in automobile accidents. Thirty thousand-ish of those are in the United States. Most of those deaths are caused by driver error or driver misuse. I went over the subject not too long ago in a post about a worker having to take a sick day because his/her car had come down with a virus.
So before I retread that same ground too heavily, I’ll just say that I bet self-driving cars will still kill people. I bet the first few times it happens there will be a public outcry and great consternation. And I bet that in the end, self-driving cars will still kill WAY FEWER PEOPLE. And once the last people who remember how often people died in manually-driven-car accidents, I bet there will be a cohort of “manual driving truthers” who will protest that history is misrepresented and lobby for “safer” human-controlled driving.
Stick around for a century or so, you’ll see.
(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page three days before it appeared here. Even one slender buck pledged per month gets you my fiction & writing posts 3 days early and ebooks 30 days before they’re released and FREE regardless of what I charge elsewhere. Woo-hoo!)
This post first appeared on my Patreon page on 16 Jaunary 2016. If you’re a Patron, you get to see blog posts before anyone else — and when I publish a new short story, you get to read it at least 30 days before it appears elsewhere!
Arcology Designer Bootlegged
12 March 2094
United Nations Secretary for International Software Regulation Gianetta Fleur’s office released a statement in response to inquiries from agencies regulating human personality download in both the North and South America regulatory unions as well as the EU, alleging that illegal copies of famed arcology designer Santiago de las Casas have been made and distributed beginning as long as four years ago.
Santiago de las Casas died outside of Nairobi in September of 2088, of injuries sustained when his personal transport drone encountered one of the swarms of locusts that devastated Kenyan crops in 2088 and 2089. In accordance with international law regulating software-based human consciousness, de las Casas’s last personality backup of July 2088 was activated within the EU Virtuality, where he continued his six-decade long career as a master designer of arcology habitats for regions rendered unlivable by the advance of climate change. His most recent design, an inverted dome-on-stilts with upper decks devoted to agriculture and a green ‘roof’ planted with wind-resistant GM tuber-bearing supertropical reeds, opened last year to property-owning citizens of the Miami metro area whose primary landholding is tidally or permanently submerged or projected to become so in the next five years.
Regional officials became suspicious that de las Casas’s personality had been illegally copied and distributed following groundbreaking for arcologies in coastal southern India and northern Australia in 1990. Officials cited distinctive design characteristics as the basis of their suspicion; in 1990 the Vice President of Design for South Seas Major Construction corporation stated that any similarities were simply acknowledgement of and tribute to de las Casas’s industry-changing innovations. The press offices of SSMC did not respond to a request for a statement regarding this story.
Also not responding to requests for a statement were the offices of Transpacific Human Habitats, which broke ground for de las Casas-styled arcologies in Vancouver (2093) and upslope from Nagasaki (April of this year).
The statement from Gianetta Fleur’s office alleges evidence that both corporations are in possession of activated and running copies of de las Casas’s personality, and that agents of one or both knowingly participated in obtaining those copies.
Under international law, such actions fall under the definitions for human trafficking, slavery, violation of intellectual property rights, and software piracy. In a personal addendum to her office’s statement, Gianetta Fleur cautioned any individual, corporation, or government running de las Casas’s personality that once running, terminating or deleting the program could be considered an act of premeditated murder.
I’ve been posting a piece of microfiction each month for Patreon patrons (a whole buck a month is the minimum pledge to see them) since March. This month’s offering is a vignette about a young man fishing in a place that makes the familiar Earth seem very alien indeed. It’s about hope and death and life and duty, and maybe a few other things, too. While a vignette isn’t quite a story of its own, this one sketches the edges of at least three big stories for your — and maybe my, in future works — imagination to work on.
You should read it. I think it’s worth seeing.
CHICAGO-MILWAUKEE-GARY (CMG) METROPLEX – 6 June 2115
Early this morning, Law Enforcement Droid 6338-CRN-7b1 deployed a “taser slug,” or kinetic impact capacitor delivering an electrical stun charge to the target, against a citizen whose name is witheld due to status as a legal minor. The citizen was allegedly engaged in committing an assault of unstated nature upon another juvenile citizen at the time.
CMGPD administrator in charge of android officer operations Perkins confirmed that the citizen was declared dead at the scene. Cause of death has not been officially determined. “The citizen did not have an upload archive active and could not be saved by transfer to an artificial mind,” Perkins added. Personality upload archives are generally installed when a citizen reaches the age of majority at 35.
Although Perkins was in charge of the officer in question at the time of the shooting, officers in CMGPD have been autonomous since 2081 and Perkins was not personally involved in the incident. Perkins, in his 63rd year of service, will not face disciplinary action.
The officer droid has been removed from service pending manual review of its onboard recordings and AI hardware.
This fatality marks the 3rd this year in the greater CMG metro area. Mayor Patel’s office stated that the Mayor was especially concerned with police department fatalities and will be exploring the possibility of a “top to bottom” review of Police Department operations.
“This is the worst year for citizen deaths due to police operations since the 2090s,” the mayor’s statement read. Following the complete automation of patrol officer ranks in 2081, fatalities fell steadily through the 2090s, which ended with 6 police-related citizen deaths in 2099, a number which has not been matched since then. “Halfway through the year, we appear to be on track to match the bad old 2090s. Last year, the number was 4, which was worse than any of the five years previous. We’re doing something wrong, and we’ll find out what it is and correct it. These numbers need to be trending down, not up.”
With this latest, I have published 40 titles through Smashwords. Generally, one number is as exciting as another… at least in absolute terms. But this is a round number, and people love round numbers. We all freaked out for the year 2,000. When people own cars they tend to notice when they hit 10,000 or 50,000 or whatever (personally, I’ve owned exactly one car in my life that had mileage under 100,000… and I noticed when I hit 100,000. Because it was a big round number.)
I think round numbers feel like completion to us. They have a certain symmetry to them that tickles our sense of esthetics. They’re psychologically satisfying, much like a good slice of pie after a meal.
So here’s my latest slice of pie. I think you will find it both bitter and sweet, so maybe there’s a cup of espresso on the metaphorical side.
Here’s Pixel People, prequel to Adversary—you can explore that aspect of it in the post before this one.
Find it on Smashwords (and additional outlets to be updated below as distribution proceeds).
7/17/13: It’s on Kobo.
7/19/13: Barnes & Noble has it, too.