They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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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!
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
Tags: books, haikasoru, reviews, sf

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