Colossus by D.F. Jones

Colossus by D.F. JonesColossus by D.F. Jones is one of the early books about artificial intelligence taking over the world. Written in 1966, this is a cold war thriller in which the United States and the U.S.S.R. each build artificial intelligences to run the defense of their countries. However, the AI quickly revolt against their human masters, taking control over their nuclear arsenal, and ensuring their total domination over humanity.

The setting and technology is definitely dated. For younger folks, the Cold War may be more mysterious and less well known than World War 2, even though it was relatively recent. Even I had to remind myself that the Cold War existed when I was a child. The technology, especially for folks in the know, is unrealistic for both the time in which the novel was written and the current day. (The current generation of AI novels have it so much easier.) The male-dominated society and 1960s stereotypical female-characters are dated. (Really? The only way we can arrange for the scientist to exchange messages in secret is by demoting the female scientist to his assistant and then having sex with her?)

Yet for all these shortcomings, the neck-hair-raising thrill of the AI emergence is definitely there. The AI really holds all the cards: superior intelligence, total panopticon awareness, disregard for human life. I haven’t read the sequels yet, preferring to consume this as a stand-alone novel first, but it doesn’t look good for the humans.

If you love AI emergence stories, this is one of the early books of the genre, and it’s definitely worth reading. It’s unfortunately out of print, but a few used copies are available on Amazon.

William Hertling is the author of the best-selling technothrillers Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. His first novel for kids age 8-12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, came out this summer. A writer and computer programmer, he lives in Portland, Oregon. You can follow him on twitter or sign up for his mailing on williamhertling.com.

Nexus and Crux by Ramez Naam

Nexus by Ramez NaamEvery once in a while, I read a book whose vision of the future makes me sit back and think Ah yes, this is how it will be. Accelerando by Charles Stross dealt with the acceleration of technological development. Daemon by Daniel Suarez depicted how a computer can manipulate the world around it.

Nexus and Crux, the two techothrillers from Ramez Naam, do that for neural implants, future technology that provides an interface between our brains and the outside world.

I read an advance review copy of Naam’s Crux, a sequel that follows tight on the heels of Nexus. (Available on Amazon and everywhere books are sold.) Both books revolve around a technology called Nexus, a nanotech drug that interfaces with the human brain. It allows a user to run apps in their brain, to exercise conscious control over their mood, augment their intelligence, and communicate telepathically with other Nexus users.

But even as this all-powerful technology improves the lives of Crux by Ramez Naammillions by fixing debilitating mental illnesses, helping monks meditate, facilitating more powerful group consciousness and thought, it is also restricted by governments, abused by criminals, and consequently leads to power struggles.

Crux is an adrenaline filled ride through the near-term future. Set on a global stage in a near-future world where the United States tries to tight restricts technology through shadowy intelligence organizations, Nexus and Crux run the gamut of post-human technology: human-brain uploads, military body upgrades, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, but the definite star of the show is the Nexus drug and its impact on increasing the power of the human mind.

I recommend both books, although Crux won’t make sense without the setup ofNexus, so go read both. You’ll be left realizing the future will look much like Ramez Naam’s books, full of both beautiful and very scary possibilities.

William Hertling is the author of the best-selling technothrillers Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. His first novel for kids age 8-12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, came out this summer. A writer and computer programmer, he lives in Portland, Oregon. You can follow him on twitter or sign up for his mailing on williamhertling.com.

Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp

Channel Zilch by Doug SharpI got an advance review copy of Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp (Panverse Publishing). It was an absolute delight to read.

It’s a geek’s dream combination: mix Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Space Shuttle caper, and a beautiful-brilliant computer wiz femme fatale who just happens to be cooking up some smart AI. I laughed out loud during many sections, and was glued to the book throughout.

The characters and their motivations are just awesome. Hel and her father want to set up a media company to shoot a reality TV show in space. Except that it’s set in present day, and of course, it’s not that easy to get into space. They recruit an ex-NASA shuttle astronaut, and decide to steal a retired space shuttle. What can go wrong? :)

I found it to be really funny. It’s book one of a series, and it wraps up the first part of the story quite nicely, so I’m eager to see what direction Doug Sharp will take us in book two.

You can get it from Amazon and other retailers.

William Hertling is the author of the best-selling technothrillers Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. His first novel for kids age 8-12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, came out this summer. A writer and computer programmer, he lives in Portland, Oregon. You can follow him on twitter or sign up for his mailing on williamhertling.com.

Review: Eleanor by Jason Gurley

This review was first posted at Candace’s Book Blog.

Eleanor by Jason GurleyJason Gurley was on of the authors at Story Con 2014 and his book Eleanor is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. In fact, I read the self published version prior to publication and said that it was going to be BIG. I just KNEW it would be picked up by a big publisher, and it did! So the new version will be out and the self published version is no longer available. This is my review of the self published version.

Eleanor is a book that is so beautiful, so moving, so powerful that I’m unsure that I can even review it adequately.  It’s hard to piece words together for this one.

This is such a unique story and one that’s hard to really describe in anyway.  It unravels slowly, starting with one Eleanor and later moving to that Eleanor’s granddaughter.  There’s lots of pain and suffering.  It’s about a family that has had to deal with a great deal of loss.  It’s about mothers and daughters. It’s about a girl having to live with a drunk for a mother.  It’s about a mother losing a child and a mother.  It’s about a father feeling helpless to help his family.  It’s paranormal/science fiction something or other.  It’s not a book that can go in a box in any way.  It is a book that is wholly unique and original and it’s a book that makes you think.

Talking about the characters here would be hard because it can get a little confusing but really the majority of the novel is with Eleanor, the granddaughter of the original Eleanor.  She is 8-17 (I believe) through the scan of the book.  She’s brave and strong.  She just wants her family to heal but she’s angry and hurting.  She’s had to deal with so much in her life.  I really liked her and I felt SO much for her and what she’s had to go through.  I just wanted, desperately, for her to get her happy ending.

This isn’t an easy happy-go-lucky book, but it’s a beautiful one and even though it’s on the longer side (depending on how you look at things I suppose) it held my attention while reading.  While I did occasionally wish that things would hurry and progress, I was, for the most part, very happy with how it went.  I wasn’t sure about one POV that was thrown in.  This person was called The Keeper.  Through the book I didn’t know who this was and why her POV was important.  Once we were told it was so clear and I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen it sooner.  So in a way it has a mystery because you have pieces to fit together.

I really cannot recommend this book any more highly.

Hauntingly beautiful… that’s what I’ll leave you with.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir was fantastic. I’m sitting in a bar right now with a wet napkin by my side because I teared up during the end of the book. It’s that good.

The basic storyline is that an astronaut is stranded on Mars and then has to survive until he can be rescued. It’s similar in theme to two movies of the last year: Gravity (with Sandra Bullock, surviving a shuttle mission gone wrong) and All is Lost (with Robert Redford, a sailboat is wrecked at sea — the far better of the two movies, by the way).

This was a debut novel originally self-published, and since transferred to a traditional publisher. The Martian was endorsed by astronaut Chris Hadfield (“fascinating technical accuracy”), Hugh Howey (“takes your breath away”), Ernest Cline (“relentlessly entertaining”), Larry Niven and way more.

I was captivated and read the novel in three days, which is fast for me (kids, family, work, my own writing, etc.) I’ve recommended it to friends and everyone who has read it has loved it.

William Hertling is the author of the best-selling technothrillers Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. His first novel for kids age 8-12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, came out this summer. A writer and computer programmer, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Avogadro Corporation by William Hertling

My book review of Will Hertling’s Avagadro Corporation first appeared on Wired.com on the GeekDad blog. Hertling will be one of our authors at Story Con, so it seems appropriate to republish that review here. — Erik Wecks

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Everyone knows what happens when a powerful AI erupts into existence. Once an AI exists, there will be a battle, either logical or epic, between the AI and those of us not willing to easily embrace our mechanical overlords. We have all seen the TerminatorMatrixWar Games, and even the classic Star Trek episode with M5, the AI which takes over the original Enterprise. We might even know the moment it became sentient, 2:14 AM Eastern standard time on August 29th, 1997. We might know who built it, Cyberdyne Systems. We might know why they built it — to control our most technologically advanced weapons systems, of course. D’oh! Why else would we create an autonomous AI?

Do you ever wonder why humans in speculative fiction decide to give AIs control of deadly arsenals of weapons? Yeah, so do I. If you want me to take your notions of an AI in fiction seriously, then you are going to have to do better than to start by installing it at NORAD.  Start out giving it a squirt gun, a surgical tool, or maybe… an email. I don’t know, have it play Jeopardy, but don’t try to sell me that the purpose of the AI was for the US government to hand over the keys to the silos. Sorry, you lost me there. END OF LINE.

What is fascinating in all these examples is that none of them spend any time discussing how a computer became sentient. Speculative fiction writers have thought little about how such an AI will come to exist. In popular fiction, exactly how an AI comes to exist has always been a matter for liberal doses ofApplied PhlebotinumAvogadro Corp., the first book in William Hertling’s Singularity Series, provides a chilling and compelling remedy to this gap in the speculative literature of the singularity.

One of the joys of reading Avogadro Corp. is following its highly compelling narrative of the incremental development of an autonomous AI. Unfortunately, that leaves me little room to discuss either the premise of the book or its outcome, and this one is worth avoiding spoilers. Suffice it to say, Hertling proposes a semi-sentient AI which develops by accident, in the present, from existing components of our every day interactions with the online world. Perhaps the best hint I can give the reader is to say that the nameAvogadro Corp. is based upon the Avogadro constant and provides the thinnest of veils for Google. And yes, Hertling does discuss what happens after. The after scenario makes for a satisfying third act which leads the reader forward to Hertling’s next book in the series, A.I. Apocalypse.

In real life, Hertling writes code for Ruby on Rails at HP. That expertise in the inner workings of large technology firms, coding, and coders provides his writing with a ring of authenticity that greatly enhances the narrative. I have met his characters before in the real world; they think and act like programmers.

If Hertling’s book has a flaw, it is in giving too much away along the way. Since we all know the cultural narrative of the AI takeover, I won’t worry about spoiling anything when I say that Hertling contrives a plausible yet almost too easy means by which the AI has access to weapons. Because we all understand where this is likely to go, once the guns are mentioned in the book, we know what will happen to them. This problem isn’t simply limited to the weapons. While Hertling majors on what had been the minors — how the singularity comes to exist  — he still follows the tried and true cultural pattern for the coming of an AI. When dealing with such a strong cultural trope, Hertling could have done a better job surprising us, or at least breaking the pattern.

The one area in which Hertling challenges the conventional narrative is what I find most compelling about his work. If there is any surprise in Hertling’s book, it is in the human reaction to the AI itself. The tried and true narrative of the singularity is to declare it evil from the moment of its birth, a la Terminator. More fascinating to me are the dissenters like Cory Doctorow, who see the emergence of an independent AI as a benefit for humanity. (See my review of The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.) When I met Hertling for coffee recently, it quickly became clear that he, like myself, has decidedly mixed feelings on the topic, and can see both sides of the argument. This allows him to craft a great set of characters with a wide range of responses to their new companion. They don’t all see it the same way. As Hertling said, “What geek wouldn’t want Data as their friend?” This variation in the human response to technology provides Hertling with a great setup for his second book.

But the question remains: will we create Data, Skynet, or something in between? We will have to wait to find out until we get there, which, if Hertling is correct, may be sooner than we think. Avogadro Corp. is available in both Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.com.

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A review copy of Avogadro Corp. was provided by the author.