The Ring of Envy (Short)

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The Ring of Envy is another short story in my summer series. This is an interesting one that I wrote sometime in 1998 or ’99 and sat on it for over 15 years. Upon opening the text for the first time in all those years, I realized there was a story here that just needed a little help and I like how it turned out after a minor revision.

Jake’s father gives him an unusual family heirloom, a ring with an enchantment that works only once per generation. But, there’s a catch, and what may appear to be a gift might be a curse in disguise.

This short will be published in a collection volume later this year. It’s a good quick read so check it out on Amazon!

 

The Light of Truth (Short)

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New short story is now available: The Light of Truth. Interesting story behind this one–inspired by Robert Heinlein’s “Life-Line”. I wrote it from inspiration to polish in about 8 hours in a single day–the fastest story I’ve ever written.

I humbly submit this story, inspired by Robert A. Heinlein’s “Life-Line”. To turn his phrase, I “stole from the best and filed off the serial number” (I would prefer to say “borrowed”). Heinlein fans should recognize the spirit of the story. I felt that the ending wasn’t quite right (dare I say!?). The ending written here is what went through my mind as I read “Life-Line” for the first time, and there was no alternative but to write this version—written from scratch with a few phrases and surnames borrowed. Although the original ending was predictable, it was good enough for John Campbell to publish in Astounding in 1939.

Pick up your copy of The Light of Truth on Kindle today!

(4000 words, ~16 pages)

The Journal of Dr. McFadden (Short)

I wrote this short story 16 years ago and never released it so here it is today. It’s a bit odd but I think you’ll like the suspense and devastating ending! The theme is related to A.I. singularity theory with a hint of cyberpunk and dash of horror.

A neuro-scientist in the late 1990s is performing neurological research into solving brain disorders when she develops a radical new technique for treating—possibly even curing—Alzheimer’s Disease and ALS. She first experiments with a mouse, then a cat, and successfully uploads treated neuron data back into the test subject’s brain. The next logical step will be human trials, but to take that step, she must first demonstrate that her technique works without injuring the test subject. That takes time and funding, and there’s one big problem—animals don’t have a human cerebral cortex.

The Journal of Dr. McFadden

 

Solid State Rhyme (Novelette)

Solid State Rhyme OTHER SITESThe new standalone prequel to The Mandate of Earth is now available for Kindle! This is my first novella-length work of fiction, and was actually my first fiction story, originally written in 1997 but never released. This was the inspiration behind the novel so it’s a fitting prequel.

If you read Mandate already, this novella will give you a sneak peek into the lives of several important characters who played a big part in Mandate. If you have not read the novel already, then this is a standalone novella of about 100 pages and is an enjoyable story on its own. It was highly technical until reviewers suggested bringing down the reading level a bit. Now there’s still some tech here–after all, it is a cyberpunk story–but the coding chapters are not as intense. Best to get on with the story than get bogged down into such details. I love the tech, personally. :)

Daniel Grant is a quiet teenager with a penchant for mad science–computer science and robotics, that is. His “A-Life” project, based on a genetic algorithm he designed, wins first place in his secondary school technology competition. He keeps working on the project, obsessed with his “Bots.” One night, the bots begin to multiply and evolve, and they discover the Internet.

At first, a new software virus is reported, hitting networks around the world. They invade government and corporate computers indiscriminately. But the “virus” behaves strangely–rather than causing harm, the bots improve computers, replacing error-prone human code with their own. As cyber security experts around the world hunt them down, the bots must learn to adapt in order to survive.

Grab yourself a copy right now for Kindle!

The Mandate of Earth (Novel)

As I completed the final sentence of The Mandate of Earth, I sat back in my chair and breathed a sigh of relief. 12 years of struggle finally over. I started writing this novel in 2003, inspired by a lifelong love of science fiction, a fascination with artificial intelligence, and even to a small degree, a video game called Homeworld (by Relic Entertainment).

I had been writing short stories for a couple years, and didn’t try very hard to get published, mainly due to a heavy work schedule. Which never did let up over the years, from one job to the next, at times a software engineer, sometimes a teacher, always tired. Every so often I would open it up and dream of finishing the story, and never quite sure about how to conclude it.

I rewrote it many times, I suspect due to self confidence. Meanwhile, I began a side career as a technical writer and now have 19 books under my belt, some of which have been revised several times, 2nd, 3rd, 4th editions. In late 2012, I decided to retire from technical writing and use that energy reserve to return to fiction. It worked. I still worked full time as a programmer but was able to muster the energy again for the novel. So, for 15 months, I labored, first to fill in the story, add details, and then to come to a satisfying conclusion. For some writers, this is no big deal, but this had been on the back burner for so many years that it was tough to finish it.

I don’t write once-through, I use the iterative process of a programmer: write a rough working piece, then revise, revise, revise until perfect. Or, functional, anyway. So that’s what I did. I did about four complete revisions, the last one being more of a read-through, not requiring any major edits. I was able to add consistency among characters and scenes and fill in a back story, and bring the characters even more to life. The protagonist really isn’t a hero, he’s just a man with flaws and weaknesses. Aren’t we all? During the last revision I was also able to get it proofread by beta readers which added quick strength.

So what’s this story about? It’s epic in scope, traversing a man’s lifetime from childhood dreams to old age. The story is set in the near future with familiar themes like private spacecraft, a difficult economy, global tension, corporate espionage, government corruption. But overshadowing these issues are grand ideas about man’s future in space. The story begins with a devastating tragedy that changes the landscape of the United States in many ways–geographic, political, and economic.

In the wake of that disaster, Jack Seerva rises to the top of the aerospace industry with innovative new booster and spacecraft technology. His vision is to expand into space, far beyond Earth orbit, to keep the human race from an extinction-level asteroid or comet impact. He meets great resistance to that goal, and in many ways, is defeated by his rivals, without a Randian-style deus ex machina to save the day. This is a real world, and this is hard science fiction. There’s no spring in front of his hurdles.

The old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention,” truly applies to the events in this story. Certain new technologies are needed for long-term living in space. And yet, without making the effort to branch out into space, there is little motivation to create those technologies, which become synergistic and lead to spontaneous artificial intelligence. And that development is a real turning point that changes everything. Will humans be rendered obsolete, replaced? Will there be a war?

None of that pessimistic, cynical view of A.I. is found here. Not a hostile, cold mentality–more like a brilliant child, that comes to think of itself not as superior to people, but a fellow child of Earth, with the same responsibilities, and then some. The A.I. eclipses humans, Kurzweilian-singularity style, but remains accessible. Ancient, yes; brilliant, yes; psychotic, not at all. Instead, A.I. leads humanity into a new age of high technology that redefines industrial production, and eventually eliminates mining on Earth. And, with that tipping point comes a new player in human affairs with a devastating threat.

Get your copy today from Amazon in Kindle or Trade Paperback.

Review: Methuselah’s Children

Methuselah's ChildrenMethuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is extraordinary considering it was first published in 1941! The ideas and concepts presented are far beyond anything Heinlein’s contemporaries DARED to talk about in their work–like how a starship might go FTL. Not that the concept makes any sense to a physicist, but that he TRIED and that it still stands up today–good grief, it’s been 70-something years! Most sci-fi from the 1940s is embarassingly bad. Even Asimov’s Foundation series didn’t dare get into the tech, he kept it strictly “soft” sci-fi, except when describing portable nuclear reactors. For which, I really believe Asimov had no idea how even the big ones worked in the 1950s.

I was thinking, while reading this, that it might have come out sometime in the 1960s. Wow, was I surprised to learn the actual date!

The novel sets the stage for the Lazarus Long series, followed immediately by [b:Time Enough for Love|353|Time Enough for Love|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1218664355s/353.jpg|75443] (xx years later, that is). The Long character is not one of my favorites in sci-fi. He’s just a cranky old bastard, set in his ways, and that’s supposed to make it alright. Fine, he’s got the old grandpappy thing going on which Heinlein thought was funny. I’m not a fan, but enjoyed the ideas and situations.

This novel, specifically, deals with longevity, with an extended family that has used selective breeding to produce new generations of uber-humans with exceptionally long livespans. Long himself is 240 years old in this story. Pretty far fetched for just 3 generations of breeding healthy people? Completely unbelievable but Heinlein liked the idea, ridiculous as it is today. In the 1940s, genetic profiling was popular, even scary since the government got involved in sterilizing certain groups of people (yes, in the USA!). This was his take on that, and it’s not satire.

p.s. Read Revolt in 2100 before this for a better introduction to the Long series, as this novel follows events in that one.

 

Review: Friday

FridayFriday by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent longer than usual reading “Friday” by R.A. Heinlein, pausing occasionally to run a self-diagnostic on how I feel about the issues presented in this controversial novel. So many people hate it with a vengeance that I wanted to be objective.

I had started reading it 15 years ago, and just don’t recall anything after the halfway point, so for whatever reason I didn’t finish it last time. Back then I was pretty heavily into Greg Bear, Asimov, Clarke, Baxter, and hadn’t gotten into Heinlein yet–he is so different from his contemporaries. So, apparently, I got distracted. I do remember enough to say I wasn’t upset with the book, did not stop because I hated it, just didn’t finish. There is a point half-way when the book slows down a bit.

(NO SPOILERS HERE)

The story takes place on Earth about 200 years in the future (as of 1980 when it was published), possibly later. We know the Boss’s birthday is 9/9/99, though the century is not given. So it’s at least 2099, perhaps 2199, given that FTL has been invented and nearby stars have been colonized.

Many critics judge Heinlein for the character Marjorie Baldwin aka Friday, for her promiscuity and attitude about being raped, saying that’s a man’s idea of a female character. Don’t jump to such conclusions!

First of all, Heinlein writes repeatedly–as if to remind the reader–that Friday is NOT HUMAN. She knows it deep down, can feel inside herself, that she doesn’t share human tendencies, emotions, attitudes.

Secondly, she was created in a lab and knows it. She has no delusion about being born to deceased parents. She’s not even an orphan, she’s a creation like a robot with the best genes of every race. Imagine how that might affect one’s sense of self worth, self confidence.

Imagine how she might work very hard to be accepted, to feel validated as a human being–knowing she is super-human, i.e. not human. She tries very hard! Sex is a tool sans ethics sans morals. I can accept that in a society 150 years hence without the psychology of a genetically engineered human.

Friday is an artificial person (AP), born in a creche, a lab, but she’s enough of a human to want to belong, and spends most of the story trying to belong, to feel like a member of a family.

(SPOILERS HERE)

She is so eager, desperate, to feel connected that she cries bitterly when Boss posthumously calls her his daughter, says he is proud to have been her adopted father. She also latches on to the artificial “home” she shares with Goldie, pretending to be a housewife to the working woman, makes a big deal out of buying a frying pan.

This is a good, well-developed character, not just a misogynistic whore the way she’s portrayed by ignorant reviewers who allow their own flawed morals get in the way of actually seeing this character for what she is–that’s called transference, I think.

That being said, I don’t find Friday a very likable character, though. I accept that she’s real in the story, not cardboard, not a sexpot written by a dirty old man (as Heinlein is sadly and wrongly portrayed by some critics). No, this is a complex character with complex psychology and sexuality is more a cultural thing than a personal one (some reviewers would call it a flaw). It doesn’t matter that everyone else around Friday acts the same way. Let’s just paint Heinlein as a corrupt old man. How disappointing that someone would be turned away from this novel because of another reviewer wearing their flawed morals on their sleeve. She is interesting, but not particularly likable. That also isn’t a mandate for a protagonist–she’s not a heroine, she’s pretty selfish at times, and conceited, and a bit entitled due to her rough past.

There is one thing I like a lot about this story. In an age where every sci-fi novel is written to be grandiose, and operatic, Friday is more like a memoir of a day in the life of a genetically engineered person in the 22nd century. There’s no galactic war, but sadly, humans don’t seem to have evolved collectively either, still fighting, still killing each other without remorse. But Friday never leaves Earth during the main plot so it’s not space opera.

There are a lot of future ideas Heinlein gets right and a few he gets wrong, but you can see his gears working on the harder ones. Banks merged with credit card companies. Corporations becoming larger and more important than governments, even waging war against each other, and paying for damage done to citizens. Gold as hard currency will never happen, but back then, “Gold” and “Platinum” cards actually meant they were backed by those metals; today they’re just marketing words and anyone can get a Platinum Visa in the name of their dog today.

He didn’t foresee government getting in bed with banking like it is today, with the legal extortion and credit blackmail and exclusions for bankruptcy. He was mostly on track with computer networks being global but failed to predict e-mail and cell phones. Which is strange because he did predict pocket phones in his 1951 novel “The Puppet Masters”.

I recommend this book but not as a Heinlein first-read. For a first-read I recommend “Starship Troopers” (which has nothing in common with the movie by that name).

 

Review: The Science of Interstellar

The Science of InterstellarThe Science of Interstellar by Kip S. Thorne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an outstanding science textbook filled with beautiful color illustrations. The emphasis is on the movie, Interstellar, but the science is real and drawn from Kip Thorne’s prior published books, plus new content specifically from the movie. It’s a TOUGH READ, though! It takes a while to get through it if your brain is engaged while reading. I found that I could only read 5-10 pages at a sitting before becoming tired. It’s tough material but only because it’s innovative and complex. I’m learning a lot of useful information. This is also an excellent science reference for anyone writing hard sci-fi.

Super-intelligent Robots?

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A friend shared this terrific article with me today:

The Dominant Life Form in the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

which, of course, I found to be wonderfully relevant due to my recently-released novel, The Mandate of Earth, which deals with similar issues in A.I. I spent a decade working on the mystery of what I personally consider the key to conscious A.I. It’s not just due to the number of transistors in a processor or writing the right kind of code to organize information. That’s all very “computer-sciency” and completely off track because it doesn’t mimic nature. How does human thought work? We are not a single thread, we are comprised of many threads that collectively become the self-aware “you.” This is how Decatur arises.

What is the “mandate” anyway? To learn more, pick up the novel!