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!
It’s going to happen sooner or later. The only question is, will throwing rocks at populated areas like Earth or space habitats or settled moons and asteroids be viewed as an over the top measure and approached with extreme reluctance like nuclear weapons have been following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or will our future Solar-system-wide civilization degenerate into an orgy of caveman rock throwing?
Only time will tell.
SFNN> Classified> Off-Earth > Outer System> Kuiper> Pluto> Jobs> Technical> Supervisory
HYDROPONICS AND RECREATIONAL GENERALIST (HRG)
Salary Band 8(b)
This is a position with the Eurasian University Cooperative (EUC), Facilities Maintenance Division.
Successful applicants must pass a comprehensive full-record Onboard DNA-ROM Codex (ODNARC) examination. Felonies of any nature and offenses of any level of or related to plagiarism, intellectual property theft, academic/research honor code violation, or violence are disqualifying without appeal.
Primary operating languages:
English, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi
Linguistic mastery of 2 or more Eurasian languages independent of translationware a plus
Successful applicant without onboard translationware will receive a discounted (66.67% discount) academic/professional grade global and dialectical translationware implant compatible with their current prefrontal bioprocessor OS. OS must be up to date with active and EUC-approved malware and spyware protection. Translationware purchased by this method will be billed in 50 weekly installments during first year of service at 0% interest. In event of early termination or resignation remaining balance will become due immediately with pending balances at 30% APR calculated on a weekly basis.
Hydroponics tech certification (6-year instructional program), reduced gravity environment safety and competence certification (with residency). Recreational design certification (2-year instructional program) may be earned via VR learning during first two years of service. 3.25 GPA minimum to proceed; unsatisfactory progress is grounds for termination after 2 quarters academic probation.
1 year small team (2-20 individual) supervisory experience required, performance must be verifiable through 2 or more professional references.
Duty schedule, salary, benefits:
The HMG manages 2 subordinates at 5 days of 10 hours weekly and 0-5 educational or apprenticeship interns at 3 days of 5 hours weekly. The duty team includes 5 pre-AI android semiskilled laborers at 6 days of 15 hours weekly.
The HMG is on-call 24 hours with scheduled duty hours of 4 days at 10 hours plus 1 day at 5 hours weekly. Off duty/on-call days shall be contiguous except in EUC-valid extenuating circumstances and shall advance 1 calendar day per week to improve whole-community access to the HMG. Example: week 1 off-duty FRI-SAT becomes off-duty SAT-SUN in week 2. Likewise, regular scheduled duty hours shall advance 2 hours per schedule week. Example: Week 1 10-hour days of 0700-1500 become 0900-1700 in week 2.
The HMG is budgeted 260 hours of Paid Time Off (PTO) yearly accrued at 5 hours per calendar week of employment. No more than 90 hours shall be taken consecutively. PTO shall not accrue above 260 hours. Earned PTO not accrued due to accrual cap shall be paid at the end of each calendar week at a rate of 1.5x hourly pay as earned.
The HMG receives priority-personnel-beta (Band 2 of 5) for recreation (alpha priority (band 1 of 5) in the facility they manage), medical treatment and disaster relief.
EUC contribution to retirement fund is 7.5% of salary accrued weekly; HMG may choose to contribute a maximum of an additional 7.5%. Funds are limited to EUC-approved savings, bond, and securities instruments. Investment diversity is recommended.
The HMG will maintain a hydroponics facility rated to serve a population of 10,000 individuals. The hydroponics ecosystem includes standard, drip, and mist components and includes composting, incinerating, and recycling human and animal waste and garbage.
Bacteria, fungus, plant, fish, amphibian, bird, and small mammal populations are part of the hydroponics ecosystem and must be managed and harvested for edible and otherwise useful biomass at optimal levels.
The hydroponics environment includes public-accessible parklands with maximum occupancy of 500. Parklands must be managed to optimize environmental support, recreational value, aesthetics, and agricultural performance.
The HMG is expected to optimize and improve the performance of the hydroponics facility on an ongoing basis through research, innovation, and implementation of upgrades, redesign opportunities, and integration of new discoveries in the fields of hydroponics and recreation.
The EUC utilizes the Global Blind Application System (GLOBAS) which strips demographics-revealing data from applications. If you believe your circumstances may confer priority status upon your application you may not state so to the EUC but must apply to GLOBAS for pre-GLOBAS prioritization. Making an assertion of priority status to the EUC regardless of veracity will result in disqualification.
The EUC has zero tolerance for harassment of any variety and utilizes an all-Artificial Intelligence 3rd party service for adjudication of internal incidents.
[As usual, please share the story image above anywhere you wish, if you so wish]
I like my 13 word stories the best when there are multiple interpretations and implications — so this is one I like quite a bit. I’d figure this one has to be set a bare minimum of two centuries in the future — but for Earth to have a single planetary government or even a functioning worldwide confederation of sovereign nations in that time, and for an off-Earth settlement to have grown to the point where its prowess in space exceeds what Earth is capable of, suggests a longer timeframe unless something absolutely revolutionary happens. Which is always possible; you can’t predict an unexpected breakthrough.
So I’m thinking five hundred-ish years ahead, something like that. Titan has more on the ball than Earth in the asteroid-deflecting department. That suggests places closer to Earth like Mars or major asteroids like Ceres likely have at least equal capabilities. There are lots of people who don’t live on Earth and weren’t born there, either. Humanity on Earth probably isn’t outnumbered or anything — it’s still a hell of a big biosphere compared to ones that have to be built by hand. Any technology advanced enough to make that factor not matter implies something like Star-Trek-ian replicators that can coalesce matter out of energy and vice-versa — and that would make deflecting a mere dinosaur-killer asteroid child’s play. So that doesn’t exist.
Earth has probably suffered some sort of stagnation or regression. I’ve often thought that one possibility of an Earthly nation or corporation or whatever successfully beginning a large-scale self-sufficient colony off of Earth could be a pulling back, a sense among the Earthbound that they had done their part and sent the pioneers off, the eggs were no longer all in one basket, and the next step is to concentrate on Earthly concerns. At best, on feeding and housing and educating everyone at something approximating a first-world standard. At worst, settling old scores with the ultimate stakes of nuclear or biological warfare lowered — a war that ended the human race on Earth wouldn’t end all of the human race.
And poor Earth, whatever her status in this story, it’s not quite clear, but she’s not quite the self that sent humans off to make Titan a great power anymore. It’s implied Earth knew a massive asteroid was on the way to flatten them, but directly said that Earth couldn’t do anything about it. So good old Titan steps in to save Earth’s bacon.
But not for free. Resources still matter. It’s hard to imagine them not mattering — short of technology indistinguishable from magic. So Titan lays claim to — what, exactly?
That could be read as the asteroid. Ouch, that would hurt Earth. To watch untold trillions of dollars worth of resources zip past, almost close enough to touch, with a greater power shepherding it off to their own benefit.
But that’s not the only reading. Maybe Titan is claiming Earth. Hey, you’d all be dead down there if we hadn’t saved you. That means you belong to us now.
Sometimes in history, the tables eventually turn. The balance of power shifts. What happens in that future often depends on the past the new power remembers.
I hope the future salvaged Earth was humane to their Titan colonists, now that the Titan masters have arrived.
[This story appeared first on my Patreon page — patrons see my regular posts three days or more ahead of everyone else. When I publish an ebook, they get a copy THIRTY days early, and for FREE! Plus my patrons get extra, heartfelt thankyous for helping me keep my household afloat — since my hip stopped working right and my former gig in retail management became impossible, it has been my goal to make writing into a home-supporting concern. Being a patron is being part of that effort. I’d love to see you over there!)
So, today NASA announced the presence of liquid water on the surface of Mars, in the form of seasonal saline (brine) flows. Which is exciting. And maybe a little disappointing, too.
A seasonal brine flow doesn’t exactly sound like something you could find life in at all — consider that salting is a pretty darn effective way to preserve food here on Earth. The salt prevents bacteria from thriving in the food. An old-fashioned salt-cured ham can hang from a rafter in your basement for 20 years and still be fine to eat. Not that I particularly recommend that experiment.
You’re certainly not going to find seaweed growing in a seasonal brine flow. Much less fish, and even less likely Tars Tarkas riding a thoat.
So it’s pretty cool, but it’s not super-exciting, because no life, right?
Maybe so. But then again, maybe not.
There are super-saline environments on Earth, too. And there are some extremophile single-celled life forms called halophiles (which means salt-lovers, big surprise) which appear to live in them. I say ‘appear’ because there is still some debate surrounding their existence and status as actual life here on Earth. Mostly because they live in rare difficult-to-access locations even here on our home planet.
But it looks like salt-loving life probably lives here. I lean that way, because life has a way of surprising us with its ingenuity. Life finds a way. Life has been found clustering around thermal vents on the ocean floor, thriving next to plumes of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur-laced water at 350 degrees Fahrenheit — the same temperature you use to bake a cake on land. There are forms of algae that thrive on snow, somehow, in some of the most frigid environments in the world.
There’s no guarantee life has found a way in or on or under those saline flows on Mars. But I have high hopes. Life, from the single-celled to the more complex forms like humans, have a way of enduring hardship.
And if it turns out, in the end, that nothing’s alive on Mars, there are always the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. There’s gotta be some extra-Earth life around here somewhere, if we rummage around the Solar System enough.
Taifun Arrives in Lunar Orbit
L5 News & Entertainment Network
14 January 2357
Taifun took its place in Lunar orbit today, as projected. The asteroid, 9.8 kilometers in diameter, was first discovered in November of 2271. Its original trajectory was a near-certain direct hit on Earth in 2340 and would have generated a force roughly equal to what was produced by the Chicxulub impactor which was a factor in the decline and extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago.
Project Jade Emperor, named for a figure of ancient Chinese mythology who vanquished a primal and destructive evil from heaven and earth, began its work altering the trajectory of Taifun by 2280. Enormous on-site ion drives were built on Taifun’s surface; the first was ignited in 2288. Those same ion drives, the majority now over 8 decades old, have fallen silent. The work of establishing mines to take advantage of Taifun’s trillion-plus tons of rock, nickel-iron, and rare earth metals is projected to begin within 2 years. The ion drives will remain in place and are undergoing overhauls so they can be used for course corrections during the decades that Taifun will remain in lunar orbit; finally, they will be used to expel the mined-out remains from the Earth-Luna system.
More than 300 universities throughout the solar system have requested permission to set up research stations on the surface of Taifun, most applications being submitted within the last decade. Selection of approvals, anticipated to number 20 or fewer, will be announced in early 2358 according to a press release from United Nations Deimos Annex.