DayBreak Fiction: “The Human Factor”


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The Human Factor

Susanne Martin

Sometimes (increasingly, more often than not, I suspect), things do improve for the better, and previously underpriviledged people make a move to improve their lot. This has been happening throughout history, and—as progress accelerates—will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Slavery has been abolished, women and people of colour have the right to vote and much more. Yes, there are still many racial and other prejudice issues, but we have come a long way, and should get much further.

Also, there seems to be some, let’s call it resistance or reluctance, in letting people in the third world get access to modern technologies. As Nick Mamatas wrote in his SHINE review on SciFi Wire (commenting on Paula R. Stiles’s “Sustainable Development”):

“[…]especially given the social dislocations that often accompany sudden technological changes. (A quick Google of “Yir Yiront” and “stone ax” would have helped.)”

I fully agree that bringing isolated people into contact with modern technology will be highly disturbing for their culture. However, the utmost majority of third world cultures aren’t isolated anymore: this may or may not be a good thing, but it is an inescapable fact. And these non-isolated cultures can and will use modern technologies, to wit:

And many more. Thinking that modern technologies will either disrupt, or are too complicated for the utmost majority of the developing countries is paternalistic at best and oppressive (‘gotta keep these people in their place’) at worst.

Then there is the ‘Girl Effect’: the empowerment of women worldwide. This is already happening through—what some may find counterintuitive—market forces: when I attended a Triodos Bank presentation, I found out that over 90% of the people that received microcredits are women: because they spend the money wisely (don’t squander it on booze and gambling like most of the men).

Now, what would happen if this trend does indeed continue, and develops to its logical conclusion? Susanne Martin portrays a witty ‘what if’, taking “The Human Factor” into account…

Su Lin emerged from her morning mindfulness practice with a smile on her face. She prepared a pot of Jasmine tea taking care to steep it for just the right time, and activated the work terminal by quoting her favourite line of poetry. The moment she faced the screen, she was assaulted by a stream of data that — though noiseless — shattered the serenity of the morning. Su Lin identified the data as results of job applications at SunTech, the firm she worked for. It wasn’t usually her task to review evaluation data; she was one of SunTech’s senior programmers and specialized in algorithms that translated real life data into meaningful numeric correlations. The only reason for the company to feed the read-out to her screen would be a malfunction of ApSel, the program that generated the data, the program Su Lin had designed. She immediately initiated numerous tests and examined the outcomes. She didn’t detect so much as a glitch, let alone a malfunction. With relief and satisfaction, Su Lin picked up her cup of tea.

An unobtrusive chime signaled an incoming call and Peggy Mei’s image filled the screen. Su Lin greeted her superior with a polite bow that went unnoticed as Peggy Mei had started to talk immediately.

“Su Lin,” she said, “I need you to look at the data. SunTech has placed absolute trust in your program. We have, as you’re well aware, eliminated all other selection methods. And this has put us in a difficult situation.” Continue reading

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SHINE Podcast: “The Solnet Ascendancy”

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As promised in the previous post, here’s a podcast of Lavie Tidhar‘s “The Solnet Ascendancy“, narrated, very vividly, by Ray Sizemore.

Picture credit:

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas Cloud Permutations (2009), An Occupation of Angels (2010), and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He also edited the anthology The Apex Book of World SF (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in Israel. His first novel, The Bookman, is published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint, and will be followed by two more.

Also, check out the exclusive interview Charles A. Tan did with him at SF Signal. Or did he?

Review Quotes:

Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy… what can I say? The guy is bloody brilliant. It’s not a large offering but it’s a story told with impact. It centres around how quickly and easily and with what devastating effect the redistribution of the future (you’ll understand it later) has when it occurs at an accelerated rate in a small backwater. It’s reading stories like Lavie’s that cause you look at technology and progress with caution.

SF Revu;

Perhaps the most memorable is Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy, which describes how the miniscule Pacific island of Vanuatu transforms itself into an information superpower.

New Scientist;

[…] a fair number of them do a credible job of successfully balancing drama and optimism without sacrificing cultural complexity. The stories here that probably do the best job with this complex balancing act are The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar, Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic by Gord Sellar, and The Earth of Yunhe by Eric Gregory.

—Garner Dozois in the April Locus Magazine;

Lavie Tidhar makes a welcome appearance with The Solnet Ascendancy, a humorous story set on remote Vanuatu. It’s a brilliant little story that returns intermittently to see the unfeasible progress made as technology becomes available and local ingenuity puts it to good use. It’s a refreshingly different location for a story and makes for an enjoyable pleasant read.

SF Crowsnest;

The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar is a concise, witty and high impact offering that lures the reader into a thought experiment on the redistribution of the future. It also considers the risks and possibilities of the imaginative exploitation of second-hand technology.

—Interzone;

Despite this, the stories in the anthology show considerable variety. Some are Trickster parables. Lavie Tidhar’s The Solnet Ascendancy neatly reverses the cargo cult scenario, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Seeds describes the perfect blowback, while Alastair Reynolds’ At Budokan updates the impresario concept with panache.

The Huffington Post;

The state is viewed with suspicion, while the market moves so quickly that malevolent corporations die off with a minimum of fuss. China, Brazil, tiny Vanuatu all have powerful roles in a post-superpower future.

SciFi Wire;

The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar and Seeds by Silva Moreno-Garcia are, for the most part, trickster stories, but they work within the context of the theme.

Charles A. Tan;

An interactive map of SHINE story locations:


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The ‘Lost’ SHINE Interview: Lavie Tidhar

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Again my profound thanks to the indefatiguable Charles A. Tan for interviewing all the SHINE authors. Well, all the SHINE authors? Charles missed one, possibly becuase he’s so close to him (relatively speaking: they both post on the World SF News Blog, but live a considerable distance from each other).

I thought about attenting Charles to this (and I will now), but on second thought decided to interview Lavie myself.

So here is the ‘lost’ SHINE interview with Lavie Tidhar (and as an extra bonus tomorrow I will post the podcast of Lavie’s SHINE story The Solnet Ascendancy, narrated, very vividly, by Ray Sizemore):

Jetse de Vries: Actually, I don’t really see you as an ‘optimistic’ writer (at least: the work that I’m aware of). So why try SHINE? Stretch your wings? The challenge? Or do you just want to be published in every publication available?

Lavie Tidhar: It’s interesting — how do you fit into an ‘optimist?’ label? I’m not sure I’d describe myself that way, but with my science fiction work — I’ve been working on my own sort of future-history in a sequence of short stories and at least one novel — and that assumption, that there is a future, that humanity goes on to the solar system and even out of it, that it develops the tools necessary for its own survival — that’s quite optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m not sure the stories themselves are particularly optimistic — which comes down to an awareness that, even if we do go out into space, even if we do develop alternative energy sources and so on — humanity will still remain the same. You’d still have abuse (of people, of power), greed, violence… which means you can still tell interesting stories. I don’t ever see a utopia emerging, but I also doubt we’ll destroy ourselves in the short term.

So — a realist? But I’m pretty sure realists don’t write science fiction…

Maybe the answer is just wanting to be in every publication going, as you suggested! Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”, v2

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Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride

Ernest Hogan

AIs are the aliens of the 21st Century. As both the economics of getting mass out of a gravity well (about $11,000 per kilogram) and the hostile space environment (to which humans simply haven’t evolved…yet) returned space exploration down to near Earth (commercial satellites) after the prestigious — and very expensive — Moon landings, both the interest and the likelihood of aliens dwindled. The fact that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) hasn’t turned up anything in 50 years hasn’t helped matters, either. Humans are, in general, not very patient (maybe a dose of extreme longevity would come in handy).

So if we can’t find the alien, why not create it? Obviously, in the real world this is already happening (although we’re merely at the very start of a long, ongoing process), and SF has already been speculating on the possible outcomes. Precious little science fiction sees Artificial Intelligence as benign or beneficial, though (long echoes of the Frankenstein complex), and even less SF can see the funny side of it.

Not Ernest Hogan, though: with the gonzo aplomb and Chicano chutzpah that are second nature to him, he depicts the technological singularity not as an unfathomable event, nor as the end of the world as we know it, but rather as “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”.

Enjoy!

“GOD DAMN FUCKING TECHNOLOGY!” Victor Theremin screamed.

Then he crossed his arms, admiring the motel’s pseudo-PreColumbian decor, the nearby hoodooistic mountains, the mural of the giant spider, and the sacred Datura growing by the street. Moab, Utah was a nice town. He always thought of it when writing about colonies on Mars.

“Victor? Victor Theremin?” The door did not open. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”

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Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride

Ernest Hogan

AIs are the aliens of the 21st Century. As both the economics of getting mass out of a gravity well (about $11,000 per kilogram) and the hostile space environment (to which humans simply haven’t evolved…yet) returned space exploration down to near Earth (commercial satellites) after the prestigious — and very expensive — Moon landings, both the interest and the likelihood of aliens dwindled. The fact that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) hasn’t turned up anything in 50 years hasn’t helped matters, either. Humans are, in general, not very patient (maybe a dose of extreme longevity would come in handy).

So if we can’t find the alien, why not create it? Obviously, in the real world this is already happening (although we’re merely at the very start of a long, ongoing process), and SF has already been speculating on the possible outcomes. Precious little science fiction sees Artificial Intelligence as benign or beneficial, though (long echoes of the Frankenstein complex), and even less SF can see the funny side of it.

Not Ernest Hogan, though: with the gonzo aplomb and Chicano chutzpah that are second nature to him, he depicts the technological singularity not as an unfathomable event, nor as the end of the world as we know it, but rather as “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”.

Enjoy!

“GOD DAMN FUCKING TECHNOLOGY!” Victor Theremin screamed.

Then he crossed his arms, admiring the motel’s pseudo-PreColumbian decor, the nearby hoodooistic mountains, the mural of the giant spider, and the sacred Datura growing by the street. Moab, Utah was a nice town. He always thought of it when writing about colonies on Mars.

“Victor? Victor Theremin?” The door did not open. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “A Mirror to Life”, v2

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A Mirror to Life

Jaine Fenn

I could tell you a few stories about Jaine Fenn (don’t mention the “Sex and the Singularity” panel), but I’ll refrain and concentrate on the story at hand: “A Mirror to Life”.

There are quite a few tentative links between “A Mirror to Life” and a certain story in the SHINE anthology (I’m intentionally being a bit coy: if you read the antho you’ll know which story I mean) that also involves Artificial Intelligences and religion.

In both stories, the Artificial Intelligences seem to have the best with both humanity and the Earth in mind. One major difference being, that while in the SHINE story the AIs wish to prove themselves as benign, in “A Mirror to Life” the AIs supposedly know what’s best for us.

Humanity, though, might disagree…

Syl wiped the vomit from her chin. The face in the mirror had her own grey-green eyes, sharp chin and broad forehead, but the hair was wispy grey, the skin wrinkled and loose. Though she had been prepared for the difference in years, for a moment she felt cheated. Her youth had been taken from her.

She reached for the water in the jug. It trickled through her fingers. She tried again, more slowly, cupping her palm. The water stayed there at first, but when she lifted her hand to her face it slid away and dribbled down the front of the homespun robe.

So this was gravity. It was worse than she had imagined.

Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “A Mirror to Life”

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A Mirror to Life

Jaine Fenn

I could tell you a few stories about Jaine Fenn (don’t mention the “Sex and the Singularity” panel), but I’ll refrain and concentrate on the story at hand: “A Mirror to Life”.

There are quite a few tentative links between “A Mirror to Life” and a certain story in the SHINE anthology (I’m intentionally being a bit coy: if you read the antho you’ll know which story I mean) that also involves Artificial Intelligences and religion.

In both stories, the Artificial Intelligences seem to have the best with both humanity and the Earth in mind. One major difference being, that while in the SHINE story the AIs wish to prove themselves as benign, in “A Mirror to Life” the AIs supposedly know what’s best for us.

Humanity, though, might disagree…

Syl wiped the vomit from her chin. The face in the mirror had her own grey-green eyes, sharp chin and broad forehead, but the hair was wispy grey, the skin wrinkled and loose. Though she had been prepared for the difference in years, for a moment she felt cheated. Her youth had been taken from her.

She reached for the water in the jug. It trickled through her fingers. She tried again, more slowly, cupping her palm. The water stayed there at first, but when she lifted her hand to her face it slid away and dribbled down the front of the homespun robe.

So this was gravity. It was worse than she had imagined.

Continue reading