October 18th, 2015


It's All About The Rice, Grasshopper

Haikasoru is an imprint from VIZ Media specializing in bringing Japanese novels in English translation to the American market. Internet friend Nick Mamatas shepherds these. Indeed, he asked me to do a science consult on the English translation on Toh EnJoe's Self-Reference ENGINE, which was a really fun experience.

Then there was the Tom Cruise blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow, which came from Haikasoru's All You Need Is Kill / Hiroshima Sakurazaka and obliquely All You Need Is Kill [Graphic Novel] / Based On The Novel by Hiroshima Sakurazaka, Adapted by Nick Mamatas, Art by Lee Ferguson(DW)

I mention all this because I was digging through my pile of Really Should Read Now / Really Should FINISH Reading Now books, when I ran across another Haikasoru title. Plus it was one of the rare instances when I won a contest. In anticipation of this summer's release of Gene Mapper, Nick was looking for "What emerging technology are you most interested in? Frightened of?" As a Physicist and SF writer, I couldn't ignore this! And he liked it. (grin)
Then there is Dr. Phil, who managed to terrify us with a future without backwards compatibility. How would you like to be a 3G phone, forever?
What I wrote:
Dr. Phil says:
06/01/2015 at 11:54 am

Human machine interfaces are coming. WiFi, USB cables — it might be like living in the world of Ghost in the Shell. But... what terrifies me is the unanticipated costs to early adopters. What if it’s addictive? What if long-term it shorts out or calcifies the neural networks? What if there’s long term scarring, irritation, infection intrusions, corrosion through the interface graft? You could die, be damaged or, after seeing the new world, be disconnected from it forever. What (about) version 1.0 adoptees? Having done one operation, you might never be able to get 2.0. What if in a world of 2.31 users, they drop support and access for 1.01 users? What kind of person would volunteer for version 0.91? 0.77?

Would you get the plug with a 10% risk of failure? 1%? 0.1%? Would you do it in a mall kiosk (w)here it’s affordable, but has a higher failure rate? What if you get hacked?

This is way beyond PDAs, smartphones/watches/glasses. Or cochlear implants.

It’s coming. It could be wonderful. How would you know when to adopt?

Dr. Phil
I started right in when I got the book on 15 June 2015... and put it down about one-third of the way through because I loaded it in my day bag as we ventured south to North Carolina and back. Managed not to pull it out once, which isn't surprising. And then it's lurked on the pile glaring at me, a red warning LED slowly pulsing on its spine, mocking me. Finally I picked it up and polished it off Friday night.

Gene Mapper / Taiyo Fujii. San Francisco : Haikasoru, 2015.
Trade paperback, $14.99.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is always a great way to start a SF novel, especially one about emerging technologies. And Taiyo Fujii has painted a very nice extrapolated future. Remember those annoying animated cereal boxes and other hyper advertising in the movie Minority Report? Or giant fields in Europe cut to form a SwissAir logo visible from... other airlines? All those annoying people talking about how wonderful Second Life was going to be for virtual reality? Supergrains to feed the world? GMO plants? Imagine all of that not only working, but way over-the-top working in the way we always manage to overdo everything.

What could possibly go wrong?

Gene mapper Hayashida's greatest contract job combining a megacorp's super rice with advertising visible from space is suddenly unraveling. Is this super resistant rice suddenly susceptible to pests? Are its genes spreading out beyond the fields? What the hell is going on in the giant corporate rice field in Vietnam?

Virtual reality meets augmented reality. Hayashida not only has to find out what's going on, but he has to actually travel to the site. Always worrying me in the back of the head is that he is an external private contractor -- if shit goes south, I don't think he's thinking completely about the shitstorm that the world can dump on his head.

This free-and-easy use of VR/AR in its many forms has complications -- and nicely done is that the different levels have different cost structures to them, as do the rates for connections in differing countries. Not just relying on the computers to provide on-the-fly language translations in both directions, emotions and emotional feedback can also be generated or substituted so the avatar you present to someone and the inputs you receive back are not trustworthy.

Steve Buchheit's Linkee Poo the other day included this:
The PBS special on the Brain, with David Eagleman. Some of you have heard me go on about how your vision (and perception of reality) isn't some movie playing on the back of your eyes. Instead it's a construct of your brain, a 3D holographic projection filled with emotional meaning with several extra dimensions that exist only in your head. Oh, and most of it is preprocessed information your brain pulls from memory routines, instead of reprocessing what your eyes (and other perceptions) are seeing. Just in case you ever thought I was full of shit. Well, at least about this.
I mention this because this question of visual processing becomes very important in this book. How the hell do you trust when you're not sure of the reality you're being presented with? How do you figure out the truth?

And once again I find the mix of globe hopping -- real and virtual -- and trying to keep track of who is and is not the good/bad guys reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Wim Wender's Until The End of the World. Futurists like company, I suppose. (grin)

Then there's the whole dumpster diving of the "old" Internet, which had eventually collapsed under its own weight and hacking. Somehow the collapse of computers was turned into a new beginning. But, like those poor quality baseball highlights from 1974 -- early video era tapes with shoddy images compared to modern recordings and older film -- we've lost a lot of information. Some of which might hold the answers to what's happening in Vietnam.

THEN there's the third act, where Chechov's grasshoppers from the first act, suddenly embark on a completely new direction. The reality distortion field created by both people and technology keeps us from seeing where this is going, but given the logic and completeness of Fujii's world, the ending satisfies. You can be forgiven if not understanding why the obvious retaliation to the big reveal doesn't happen, because it is effectively neutralized in one sentence. And by gosh, it works.

I suppose it's reasonable to ask if I want to live in this world? Hard to say -- there's a lot going for it. But at the same time, I'm not in control and inevitability is going to take us to the future whether we want it or not. In 1980, we had no idea we wanted an iPhone or Facebook... or Windows 10.

Bottom line -- Gene Mapper is the most original hard SF book I've read this year.


Dr. Phil

UPDATE: Nick Mamatas featured my review on his LJ blog. I appreciate when others review my stories -- I definitely appreciate when someone likes my reviews. Thanks, Nick!
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Crossposted on LiveJournal

A Pleasant Saturday Night


(1) Morning temperatures Saturday morning low enough for a smattering of snow, though we didn't see any. (2) For the lack of a better term, we've both had some kind of respiratory thing.

By Saturday afternoon the coughing and nose running abated enough that, seeing as it was a lovely late afternoon and October Game Night had an early 4pm start time, we figured just to go. Barbara was hosting in a condo in Kentwood SE. Mary and Ed brought a folding plastic table, I brought a sturdy folding chair and a seat cushion. Mrs. Dr. Phil made a batch of our lovely bourbon franks.

Composite of two photos using Wendy's little Canon SureShot A550. Matt, Ed, Leah, Mary, Mrs. Dr. Phil, me. We're playing a time travel card game. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

We came in just as they were starting this time travel card game. You play cards to change or patch things, collect stuff, steal it, make it go away. There are multiple ways to win... or lose. It's rather fun and challenging, because flipping the state of one card has cascading effects through the time line. WW III in the early 60s locks out all the later cards until that issue is resolved. Killing Hitler in the 30s also has a lot of cascading events. Which meant I had a lot of fun repeatedly reviving him and restoring the timeline. And who knew that if the Hindenburg doesn't burn that North Korea will develop Zeppelins? Or that if Titanic doesn't sink there's no Great Depression? (grin)

The main deck goes from Lincoln to 1999. Turns out Matt had a small expansion pack which added five dates in the 2000s -- we threw those into the last of four or five games. I managed to draw a task which required two patched and one straight post-2000 events. And no one is drawing the cards from the expansion pack. FINALLY, someone flips Bush v Gore in 2000 and then someone adds a woman president in 2008. And I draw a card which lets me look through the whole draw deck for any card I want. I find the card to patch 2003 and I win! Alas, the card isn't there. Mrs. Dr. Phil wins -- she had my card. Ah well... Mary had won the first game -- if she hadn't I had the cards to win after her turn. So... (Ah well.)²

What made the evening exceptionally pleasant was this game wasn't so intense that you couldn't hold conversations. And though there was another table, we ended up with five playing the game and five sitting out. Some swapped in and out of the game, others were content to just be. One guy had a smart phone and was updating us with the MSU-UMich game, as well as Cubs-Mets. Besides our bourbon franks, there was a stuffing, an artichoke dip, a hummus platter, some yummy cookies and some sort of pumpkin cake which came from the new Trader Joe's in Grand Rapids. Barbara's kitty Holly Golightly actually stayed around and sat on some people.

We all had a lovely time. No doubt we'll play something more cutthroat next time, but this was way beyond okay, too.

Sunday night, it was already 38°F by 8pm. And now at 10:40 it's 33°F. Everybody is making the "Winter is Coming" jokes. So, I suppose you can consider it made. Feeling better today, I should be able to survive this week. Flu shots scheduled for two weeks. Exam 2 week after next. The semester rolls on.

Dr. Phil
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Crossposted on LiveJournal