Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

Fugitive Telemetry

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fugitive Telemetry [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 6 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Fugitive Telemetry

“I guess the feed isn’t adequate for all forms of communication, particularly those that involve a lot of glaring.” (13)

And I’m all caught up on Murderbot. In this most recent book, it looks as if there might be a significant shift from considering Murderbot someone who commits murders to someone who solves them. The action is restricted to the orbital station of the world Preservation, and begins with fresh corpse, unidentified and clearly murdered.

Jacket copy describes this volume as a “standalone adventure in the … series,” which is intended to hearten anyone who hasn’t read the other five books, I guess. But this one didn’t seem too heavy with orienting exposition, or notably any more independent of the series than any of the other books. While it does document a possible pivot in Murderbot’s professional career, its contribution to the overall character arc and plot development of the series is in fact negligible.

If future Murderbot stories do consolidate the character as a sort of space opera Sherlock Holmes, then this book will probably become an ideal point of entry to the series. In any case, it was interesting to see Pin-Lee in the Mycroft role, and Indah made a good Lestrade. The Watson part went to — Ratthi?

As usual, it was a fast read. I wasn’t planning to read it in a single sitting, but I did.

Network Effect

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Network Effect [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 5 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Network Effect

After the four prior novellas (to be fair, the last two really were full novels, if short ones), this fifth Murderbot diary is about twice the length of any of the ones to precede it. The story makes for reading just as compulsive as the others. In many ways, this one is Artificial Condition 2.0, revisiting and expanding on the protagonist’s relationship with the intimidating research starship AI who had been introduced in the second book.

The functional ways in which sf readers can identify with Murderbot really jumped out at me this time, even though most of them had been present through the earlier stories. In particular, the construct’s appetite for “entertainment media” distractions (like mine for the book I was reading) and its ability to attend to coded inputs outside of direct sensory experience (like mine to the book I was reading) provide a vertiginous mirroring for the reader. The resonance of the Corporation Rim interstellar governance with US-imperial neoliberal nightmare was increasingly vivid, this time amplified with a focus on the dynamics of settler colonialism and its cruelty to the colonists, let alone any indigenes.

One interlude offered a little reflection on Murderbot’s unwillingness to use the proper name of the bond company that originally owned (and presumably built) it. I have been wondering if a future book will include a revelation that explicitly identifies that malefic corporation with some actual 21st-century commercial or political entity.

There were a couple of clever twists, but the plot was pretty well determined and predictable prior to the action climax, which thus had a little premature feeling of denouement. Still, I did enjoy the book all the way to the end. As usual, the AI characters were better defined and more compelling than the humans, but as Murderbot has come to understand itself better, affections and motivations regarding humans in the story have become clearer and more interesting. The arc of the relationship between Murderbot and Mensah’s daughter Amena was a highlight.

Exit Strategy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Exit Strategy [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 4 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Exit Strategy

“Possibly I was overthinking this. I do that; it’s the anxiety that comes with being a part-organic murderbot. The upside was paranoid attention to detail. The downside was also paranoid attention to detail.” (14)

As I had hoped, the fourth Murderbot Diaries volume did break the hardening pattern of the previous books. It is not a matter of the SecUnit adopting a new “family” and protecting them from malefactors. Instead, it concerns Murderbot taking up unresolved relations with humans it knew before, and trying to address a crisis it knows itself to have helped create in the first place.

Although it was a little bit longer than the earlier books, it read even faster, and I basically tore through this one in a single, lightly-interrupted sitting.

Artificial Condition

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Artificial Condition [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 2 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Artificial Condition

This second of the Murderbot Diaries is about the same length and scope as the first, continuing events directly from before. A significant new non-human character is introduced, but this ART (“Asshole Research Transport”) doesn’t seem to be an abiding presence for the next volume. Artificial Condition completes a “contract”-sized plot arc, but the murderbot–who assumes the name Eden in this segment–has entered into a character arc that clearly spans the whole series and reaches no point of resolution here.

The story continues to be fast-moving and entertaining. I read each of the first two novellas in two sittings, and I would probably binge my way through all six books (published so far) in under a week if my pace weren’t moderated by the process of requesting and borrowing them from the public library individually. I assume that there will be an omnibus edition once Wells has finished the series.

There’s always been disaster and war, ups and downs, dark ages and golden eras. It’s not the first time that something’s wiped out a big chunk of life on the planet, either. But each time that happens and the world recovers, some species don’t make it. This time it just might be us.

Karen Traviss, The Best of Us [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Traviss The Best of Us always been disaster war dark ages golden eras not the first time wiped out life planet world recovers some species dont make it might be us

While he wasn’t capable of taking his mind off something like a human would, he could certainly experience things that gave him peace and enjoyment to counterbalance uncomfortable knowledge.

Karen Traviss, The Best of Us [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Traviss Best of Us taking mind off experience peace enjoyment counterbalance uncomfortable knowledge

Accelerando

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Accelerando (Singularity) by Charles Stross:

Charles Stross' Accelerando

 

I’ve read all of Charles Stross’s Laundry novels, which are humorous neo-Lovecraftian espionage adventures. Those involve extensive homages to various earlier writers, with some consequent inflections of writing style. Accelerando is the first of Stross’s straight-ahead science fiction books I’ve digested, and I presume it represents a more direct delivery of his authorial voice. (There’s a simulated Lovecraft cameo at page 337, though.)

In subject matter, this book seemed most comparable to the excellent work of Ian McDonald, with an ambitious 21st-century futurology involving radical technologies of simulation, artificial intelligence, and enhancement of human capability. But true to his title, Stross imposes a pace of change far in excess of what I’ve seen in McDonald’s books. He has evidently taken Moore’s Law of integrated circuit development and its extrapolation in Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns as the axioms of his story about what might become of our species and our planet. Not only does Stross have the intellectual fortitude to narratively stare down the “technological singularity” but he also confronts Fermi’s Paradox. He enlists Ray Bradbury’s notion of the matrioshka brain, Robert L. Forward’s starwisp, and other inventions that seem inevitable in the face of unchecked technological development.

Given some of the topical focus, I was prepared for the futurological flavor of this book to have something in common with Olav Stapledon’s Star Maker. Instead, I was surprised to sense a certain kinship to 1970s-era Robert Heinlein novels. Perhaps Heinlein’s orientation to the aerospace research of his day has its analog in Stross’s own background in software engineering. Moreover, the characters and their motivations are sketched in the manner that reminds me much more of Heinlein than, say, McDonald.

The novel has a triple-triadic structure, with the nine chapters having seen individual publication as short stories prior to their assembly here. As a consequence, there is something of an expositional “reset” at the start of each part, with a little redundancy and narrative hand-holding. But in light of the huge changes in context imposed by each transition from one part to the next, the effect is barely noticeable, and actually somewhat comforting. Another effect of this compositional process is that each chapter seems to have roughly the same dramatic weight as the others. The last of them could be read equally as climax or denouement, depending on the reader’s inclination. Each of the three larger sections is focused on a successive generation of a single family moving deeper into the trans-human condition.

While not as overtly comedic as the Laundry books, Accelerando definitely has its share of laughs, many of them with a black sense of humor, such as the throwaway mention of cannibalistic cuisine on page 262. The characters are strong enough to keep the narrative rolling, despite its frequent interruption with bulletin-style text bringing the reader up to date on the state of (post-)human affairs for the decade in question. The entire book — excepting the occasional retrospective glance — is written in the present tense, and it is a mark of Stross’s artistry in using this unconventional technique for novel-length fiction in English that I didn’t even notice until I had read most of the way through the first large chapter. In the seven years since it has been collected into a novel, history has of course provided some contradictions to point up the status of Accelerando as a fiction, but the sort of events it proposes could still credibly be in our future. [via]

 

 

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