Works of art are no longer produced to quench a bored populace, who thirst for the type of content that frees them from their mundane lives, enhancing their outlook on life with fascinating stories, old and new, inspiring them to understand their lives and the world they live in.
Post-2016, works of art have degenerated into force-fed garbage that nobody wants, needs or trusts anymore. Deranged by political agenda or succumbing to incompetence, producers still want your money but aren’t willing or capable of delivering what the consumer wants.
I once bought a novel,Robopocalypse (2011) by Daniel H. Wilson, at an airport bookstore for a fast, time-killing read and while I wasn’t totally disappointed with it, it left me once again tackling the question about this robocalypse that everyone is fearful about.
As for the book itself…
It’s about robots taking over the world.
The narrative unfolds via the use of archives of electronic media recordings chronicling the fall of human civilization at the hands of this belligerent AI named, Archos R-14. Each chapter is or tries to be inventive in finding a unique point of view, ie surveillance cameras, blogs written by characters, making the book perfect for killing time on long flights, vacation interludes, stopovers. This format, linked short stories from different perspectives, allow the reader to pick up the novel at any time without losing too much of the flow. It’s a mindless activity facilitated by minimal creativeness or inspiration within the pages.
The chief nemesis was a major letdown. Archos felt bland, a cliche of all the other cliches before it. When one is familiar with other maligned A.I’s like Proteus (Demon Seed by Dean Koontz) and Bomb #20 (Dark Star by John Carpenter) and the “the Zookeeper” from (Ghostwritten by David Mitchell), yeah and of course HAL, and how can I forget the robots and AI’s that populated the (Fred Saberhagen’s Berzerker series), one can’t help but feel that a big opportunity was lost here. I found Archos predictable and boring and somewhat unthreatening. Which is sad, because the rest of the writing here was otherwise fun and enjoyable, and the premise even more so.
Same with all the robots. Sure they were all kinda spooky and frightening acting as representations of Archos but none had their own personality. Robots should have personality; even the dodgy B1 battle droids from The Phantom Menace possessed some personality. Another missed opportunity. As for the human character’s; the testimonies and transcripts felt a little unnatural.
Still, a good airport novel, and even though it was the only scifi book in the airport newsstand it was worth the buy.
Four Steps from Robogeddon
So an artificial intelligence wants to wipe out human civilisation. I believe this is highly unlikely that such an entity would go down this path, but let’s just say Archos did decide to do it. The book describes, in great detail, how it would instigate and execute such an eradication program. But before we even get to that stage, what technological environment would Archos R-14 require to be able to embark on such an operation
For any robocaust to occur, the following parameters must be met before some ‘sentient’ artificial intelligence can instigate the rise of machines.
An artificial intelligence must be able to modify or reprogram itself, and keep this ability and subsequent modifications secret or hidden from human engineers.
Proliferation & Dependence
The communication and operating system within the global infrastructure must be unified. Every chipset must run on the same platform that the artificial intelligence can access. Every single human network must depend on this universal platform.
The artificial intelligence must be able to create backdoor access into every human system, integrate it into its own communications mesh, and be able to conceal this from humanity.
Design and Production
The artificial intelligence must have overwhelming control over design and production. It must create generations of machines with hidden capacities and dupe humans into using them and the new systems they operate in.
It will be our laziness that will ultimately allow such a malevolent cyber-entity to get away with such an operation. Our desire to automate everything and future economic model will push us towards such a scenario.
We won’t only be handing over physical labour to these things, but also our creativity. Algorithms will be able to design and create independently. They will be designing new (but bland) architecture, products; they will also be able to write books :(.
In the begining, we will be specifying to these artificial creatives what we need and want.
But in the end, with algorithms already telling us what news, food, travel or content we want, constantly telling us ‘you might like this… ‘ and getting it right, then all human labour will vanish into history, forcing our political/economic paradigm to evolved to accommodate this new state of humanity.
Under these conditions, Archos R-14 can achieve its goals. Or at least cause a major extinction-level headache.
Whenever Joe Haldeman author puts out something, I read it. So, when each of these following novels came my way, I didn’t hesitate. His books feature plausible and ingenious technological and scientific ideas, so you can’t go wrong entering his worlds.
The Forever War
No one keen on hard science fiction should skip this novel. There is a reason it has garnered all those awards and accolades since it was published.
The reason: It tells a ripping story.
William Mandella is a school teacher who’s drafted to fight in an interstellar war against the alien Taurans. He survives battle after battle, but due to time dilation and space travel, hundreds of years go by between each mission. During this time, he experiences humanity morph into something he and his fellow veterans don’t recognise. All he hopes for is to survive the war and be reunited with his wife. But each battle is an evolution of warfare, becoming more deadlier than before.
This novel has it all. You care for Mandella. The battles are as gripping whether they take place on some outpost planet or in deep space. The finale is as satisfactory as one would want it, considering our journey through space and time.
This will turn you into a fan.
The premise revolves around two alien beings, both shape-shifters but of a different variety, who have been on Earth for aeons and whose futures are interlocked. The protagonist alien’s character develops with each page turn. The pace in which the story unfolds is gripping, so too is the action, and there is mounting excitement and tension as the decades pass and the two diametrically opposed mimic’s paths intersect. (Highlander) tropes abound as both have embedded themselves into human history, making do with their special shape-shifting abilities.
All this was very cool.
Now, if it weren’t for the central human character and his middle-age crisis story arc, and the ‘tired and contrived’ (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) ending, this could have been an outstanding work of SF. The evil alien antagonist wasn’t helping either. Where there was scope to explore some genuine villainy, instead the character delved into the cliche world of Nazi bad guy strudel.
I enjoyed this read immensely but it remains for me a major ‘if only’ science fiction novel.
Was it worth the read? Yes, with a smidgen of disappointment.
Haldeman fans will forgive, others may not.
There Is No Darkness
This novel was my first introduction to the Haldemans. Coauthored by brothers Joe and Jack, it is still one of my favourite works of science fiction.
Carl Bok is a student of Starschool. Because he’s from Springworld, a heavy gravity planet with harsh weather and wildlife, he bigger than your average pupil and a lot poorer. All he has is his pride and something to prove.
On the Earth leg of the excursion, he gets involved in prise fighting, unintentionally roping in his roommates. They fight tournament after tournament, but even though he loses in the end, Carl learns a lesson in fealty.
Next, they visit a planet called Hell. This is where sovereign governments go to fight their conventional, regulated wars. Carl and his colleagues, who are now his friends, are kidnapped and forced to serve in a mercenary army.
Then they travel to The Construct, an ancient alien artefact that has become a hub for hundreds of alien species who’ve set up shop to trade information.
The best aspect of this book is Carl’s growing friendship with the other students. They are each funny and charming in their own way, as they band together to face a brave new universe.
This will resonate with fans as much as any other of his work.