When David Walton asked me to read a draft of his novel THREE LAWS LETHAL, I said yes without hesitation. The mixture of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and tech start-ups was obviously right up my alley.

I was even more delighted when I read the draft, and found a compelling, thoughtful, and philosophical science fiction thriller about what it means for AI to be alive. While reading I frequently stopped to screenshot passages I loved to send them back to David.

I’ve been waiting excitedly for this book to become available, and now it is. Buy a copy today — you’ll love it.

I asked David to write a guest post for my blog, which you’ll find below.

How might an AI develop consciousness?

It might be the most important question on the modern philosopher’s unanswered list, and it’s certainly the most fascinating. Will Hertling proposed one possible avenue in AVOGADRO CORP: through algorithms developed to improve human communication. In my new novel THREE LAWS LETHAL, I do it through self-driving cars.

We all know self-driving cars are coming; it’s just a matter of how many problems we manage to trip over on the way there. THREE LAWS LETHAL embraces this future in all of its glory: the life-and-death choices of the Trolley Problem, lawsuits and human fault, open source vs. copyright, the threat of hacking, and government regulation.  But all that is just a warm-up for the main event: the development of a conscious artificial mind.

How does a mind develop? The same way it always has: through evolution.

Naomi Sumner, programmer extraordinaire, creates a virtual world to train AIs. Those who perform well in the game world survive, allowing them to reproduce — spawn new AIs similar to themselves. As thousands of generations pass, the AIs not only become incredibly good at the self-driving game, they also develop some surprising emergent behavior, like circumventing the limits on their memory footprint.

They’re very smart, but still not conscious. A few more steps are required to reach that point, steps none of the characters anticipate or plan for. Ultimately, it is the training world itself that becomes self-aware, and all the AI actors inside it are merely elements of its psyche.

But every invention in history, sooner or later, is turned into a weapon. UAVs, drones, and missiles can benefit from self-driving technology as well, especially when trained through war-simulation game play. So what happens when part of this infant conscious mind is partitioned off and trained to kill?

You’ll have to read THREE LAWS LETHAL to find out…

David Walton is a software engineer with Lockheed Martin by day and the father of eight children by night. Since he doesn’t have time to write novels, he trained a world full of AIs to do it for him.

In 2009, in the springtime, I had the idea for Avogadro Corp. I was busy that year, trying to launch a small side project. It wasn’t until December that I had any time to pursue writing, and thanks to a change in the vacation policy of my company, I ended up taking off the entire month of December. I wrote the first draft of Avogadro Corp, finishing it at 11:50pm on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t published until two years later: December of 2011.

Ten years and 50,000+ copies later, I still consider this book to be the accomplishment I’m most proud of. It’s led to countless opportunities, including multiple appearances on national radio, speaking at dozens of conferences, getting to know many luminaries in the tech and writing worlds, new friends, and along with the rest of my books, it even enabled me to buy my home.

And on top of all that, I still think it’s a really great story.

Avogadro Corp. Why not buy a copy for a friend? 

I’ll be at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado next week, from April 9th to 13th. I’ll be speaking on topics including artificial intelligence, social media, data ownership and privacy, writing science fiction, and the role of science fiction in technological progress.

If you’ll be at CWA or in Boulder, and would like to meet up, chat, or get a book signed, please reach out to me. You can find me on twitter as @hertling, or by email at william dot hertling at gmail dot com.


I’ve always been one of those writers who pays careful attention to reviews of my books. It comes at an emotional cost — it’s never easy to read a very critical review. But I believe the feedback is useful both from a writing perspective as well as the impact on sales. I did a second proofreading pass on Avogadro Corp in response to reviews, and then years later even did a full rewrite, and both revisions saw an increase in the average rating and an increase in the sell-through rate to the sequel. Although I think of writing as an art, it’s an art that helps pay the bills, and I like that. It’s good business to pay attention to your customers (in this case, readers) and what they want.

I knew that Kill Switch would be different because I was writing about topics that would alienate some of my core fans: relationships, sexuality, polyamory, kink, and homosexuality. As I wrote about in the afterword, I chose those topics with intention. In part, I wanted to destigmatize those topics by writing about them in an accurate, non-titillating way, to help out people who are currently marginalized. I wanted to challenge readers to think about and possibly accept people that they might not otherwise. And most importantly, and core to the kinds of topics I normally write about, I wanted to draw connections between privacy, risk, and personal freedom, and those topics made for a rich way to explore those threads.

I expected some readers would object, and they did. Sometimes those objections came with direct honesty, such as the person who messaged me that they were an older white male and didn’t want to read about lesbians having sex. Other reviews and messages said that the first half of the book was a little slow and bogged down with relationship and sexual stuff, but that the second half of the book was very fast paced — which I think is a fair and legitimate observation. Many of those latter readers remarked that they were glad they finished, and they ultimately saw the connections I was trying to draw.

But recently there have been several reviews and messages from people saying they didn’t enjoy the book, and it wasn’t the polyamory, kink, or lesbians they were objecting to, but that the book was about relationships. They wanted a technothriller and didn’t feel that Kill Switch delivered on that promise. A few even said they wanted their money back. To me, this feedback feels a lot more critical. If I under-delivered on the story and the tech, that’s an issue I would want to address. I’d also be pretty disappointed in myself if I failed to deliver on that.

I decided to investigate what portion of the book was spent on the tech plot versus the relationships and kink. I went through the chapters, categorizing each as a relationship/kink chapter or a tech chapter or mixed, and listing the word count. The mixed chapters tended to be mostly tech rather than relationship, but for the sake of simplicity, I counted them as 50% tech and 50% relationship, and divided up the word count.

What I found is that there are 105,000 words of tech plot line, and 33,700 of relationship/kink. That breaks down to 76% tech, and 24% relationship/kink. The first half of the book is heavy on relationship stuff (64% tech to 36% relationship), whereas the second half of the book is overwhelming tech (92% tech to 8% relationship.) Further breaking down the relationship/kink/sex scenes, it turns out to be 22,000 words on relationships and 11,700 words on BDSM play (e.g. 16% of the book is about relationships, and 9% about sex.)

Breakdown of word count by topic in Kill Switch

If I was to make a change based solely on those reviews, it would be to cut the amount of relationship/kink in the first third of the book, which is where I’m guessing people are getting bogged down. In the back of my mind, I started to think about making another editing pass, thinning out those topics, even though it might weaken some of the points I was trying to get across. But then I made a surprising discovery…

There’s a very significant bias depending on where the reviews are posted!

  • On Amazon, Kill Switch appears to be deeply polarizing: there are 22 reviews, with 59% being positive (5 stars), and 41% being negative (1 or 2 stars). There is no middle ground: there are no 3 or 4 star reviews.
  • On Goodreads, where there are 62 ratings, there are 76% positive reviews (4 or 5 stars), 17% neutral reviews (3 stars), and only 4% negative reviews (1 or 2). These ratings are very similar to Kill Process, which is 79% positive and 4% negative.

If the writing and story in Kill Switch were deeply flawed, I think I’d see reviews on Goodreads that were more closely aligned with what’s on Amazon. Readers want a good story, and they aren’t going to give good reviews if the story is missing. Based on the word count analysis, I think that story is there: there’s 105,000 words of solid tech plot line. By comparison, my first two novels were under 80,000 words, which means that Kill Switch delivers 25% more tech than those first books.

My working assumption at this point is that a portion of the people who gave negative reviews to Kill Switch were in fact struggling with their acceptance of the more controversial poly/kink/homosexuality topics (whether they were aware of it or not), and they may have couched those feelings in more neutral ways by talking about relationships vs tech plot.

Although I find those negative reviews on Amazon very discouraging, at this time I’m inclined to just leave the book be and hope that eventually it finds an audience on Amazon that resonates more strongly with it, as it clearly has on Goodreads.

In the meantime, there have been some reviewers that have really enjoyed Kill Switch and believe it’s the best novel yet. I really appreciate your encouragement, which makes all the work of writing worthwhile! Thank you so much.

Kill Switch has trickled its way through bookseller’s databases is now fully available. You can buy Kill Switch in the following places:

You can also check out the complete list of where to buy all my books.

Like most of my other books, Kill Switch is designed so that it can be read as a standalone novel. That being said, you’ll get even more out of it if you’ve read the prequel, Kill Process.

I hope you enjoy Kill Switch — and if you do, I hope you’ll tell folks about it!

Kill Switch is here!

Kill Switch is available! Buy it today:

Amazon Kindle



Apple Books

Barnes and Noble

Kill Switch Description

Igloo and Angie are the co-founders of a new social network, Tapestry, based on the principles of privacy and data ownership. Two years later, with Tapestry poised to become the world’s largest social network, their rapid growth puts them under government scrutiny.

Tapestry’s privacy and security is so effective that it impedes the government’s ability to monitor routine communications. Fearing Tapestry will spread to encompass the whole of the Internet, threatening America’s surveillance abilities around the globe, the government swoops in to stop Angie and company — by any means possible.

Under the constant threat of exposure — of Angie’s criminal past, of Igloo’s secret life in the underground kink scene, and of their actions to subvert a FISA court order — they must hatch a plan to ensure the success of Tapestry no matter what pressures the government brings to bear.

Not knowing whom to trust, or if they can even trust each other, Igloo and Angie must risk everything in the ultimate battle for control of the Internet.

I have good news about the Kill Switch release!

It’s been two years since Kill Process was released. Kill Switch was a daunting book to write. It’s 20% longer than Kill Process, which, when it was released, was the longest novel I’d written by far. Kill Switch also tackles new topics that required more research and finesse to handle properly. And while writing this novel, I also bought a house, moved, tackled house projects, switched roles at my day job, and more.

So it is with both excitement and relief that I’m thrilled to finally announce that Kill Switch will be released in October. The proofreading is done. The final formatting is done. The audiobook is nearly complete. The cover design is done. I will have a firm launch date within a week or two.

As usual, Patreon backers will be the first to receive Kill Switch, and they should receive their ebooks the first weekend in October, and the paperback prior to the official launch.

Thank you so much for your patience! I’m delighted to get Kill Switch into everyone’s hands.

The new cover was designed by Jenn Reese, who did a wonderful job. Thank you Jenn!

Kill Switch by William Hertling

Kill Switch Cover



polyamory – supports simultaneous relationships


poly [-dpt]


poly supports simultaneous host-to-host relationships.

By default, poly searches for and upgrades any preexisting monogamous relationship to polyamory. Results may be mixed. To suppress this behavior, use kill -9 to terminate existing relationships first.

Polyamory comes in many variations. Best results are obtained running identical or closely compatible variations. See also: poly-nonhierarchical, poly-hierarchical, and poly-solo. Less compatible variations include: swinging. Poly is not compatible with cheating.

It is possible but not recommended to connect two hosts, one running poly and one running monogamy, but this requires an experienced system administrator and increases the risk of system instability. Resource utilization (see relationship-discussion) will likely be higher with this combination.

It is normal to have one or more relationship-discussion background processes per relationship. In some cases, O(n^2) processes are required for n relationships. These child processes automatically consume all available CPU cycles, and are necessary for system stability.


-p In promiscuous mode, poly will fork additional instances any time it sees an open port on a compatible host. This can be resource intensive and is not recommended to run indefinitely, although it is common for users to start poly in this state.

-d In debug mode, extra relationship-discussions are spawned. Poly is notoriously difficult to debug. If relationship-discussion is insufficient, if CPU utilization is too high, or system instability exceeds comfortable limits, use couples-counseling to process debug output.

-t To prevent errors during initialization and facilitate user adoption, poly supports a -t flag for trial mode. However, this is a dummy flag and has no effect.


Poly by default operates in a time-sharing mode. For real-time relationship parallelism, it may be necessary to install the threesome, orgy, and/or kitchen-table packages.

It is recommended to run sti-scanner at regular intervals while running poly and furthermore to ensure that all relationship endpoints run sti-scanner. Alternatively, you can run poly in a private cloud, although not all benefits of poly are available in this configuration.

It is normal after installing poly to sometimes wish to revert to monogamy, especially after during periods of high system instability. While this works in some cases, running poly modifies many components of the host operating system, sometimes permanently. Results with reverting to monogamy may vary.

Shortly after I published Avogadro Corp, readers would email me whenever there was news related to AI or other technology in my novels. Over the years, we’ve seen data centers in shipping containers, email auto-replies, and countless new AI developments. In the beginning, I’d blog about each of these, but the pace has been accelerating and lately there are too many to keep up with. Here are a few from recent months:

People kicking robots. Will they never learn?

Microsoft puts a data center at the bottom of the ocean:

Facebook develops Tomo’s PrivacyGuard:

Arming robots with lasers:

The GoogleIO Assistant can make phone calls, impersonate people:

Google’s ELOPe, er, I mean “smart compose”:

Spoofing cell phone tower with software-defined radio:

Facebook as Tomo:

Facebook having nation-state level influence:

Reacting to the Facebook scandals:

Reconstructing speech via laser reflections off a potato chip bag:

A redditor asked me about my writing process, and wanted to know if I had any tips for outlining or otherwise managing the complexity of epic stories. Unfortunately, I don’t. But I described my writing process, and then thought it would be a nice blog post. So here’s my answer:

I’m sorry to say that I don’t any tips for managing that complexity. I’m totally a panster. I usually do an outline as I’m nearing the end of my first draft, to see what I’ve written and to help me understand the themes.

As a book gets bigger, it’s more and more difficult to fly by the seat of your pants, because of the growing complexity, but I haven’t found a method of outlining that works for me. I tried outlining a book once, and then as soon as I knew the basic outline of the plot, I had no interest in writing any more. The motivation for me to keep writing is to discover how things will end up.

My partner, Anastasia Poirier, is also a writer, and she uses the process described in Take off your pants!, which supposedly focuses on a style of outlining that doesn’t outline plot, but instead outlines character arcs, which supposedly avoids the problem I described, but I haven’t tried it myself yet.

In general, my method could be roughly described as:

  • Think about who I want the main character to be. Daydream about them, and some specific scenes. Who are they? What do they talk about? What do they care about?
  • Think about core dramatic scenes. For example, in The Last Firewall, I knew starting out that there would be this big showdown attack on the main antagonist AI. (Aka, the lobby scene…inspired by The Matrix.) I always had that in the back of my mind, and was working toward it the whole time I was writing.
  • Also think about moments in which the hero triumphs or falters. Imagine those and how they respond, and keep those moments as something to be worked towards.
  • Once those things are in my head, then I start writing.
  • Focus on keep moving the plot forward.
  • As I write, I’m developing the characters further.
  • Eventually I finish the first draft.
  • Then I reread and think about the core themes of what I wrote. I go back through the novel, strengthening those core themes. Make the characters consistent (i.e. if I discovered something key about them later in writing, make sure their earlier selves are consistent with it.)
  • Send manuscript off to my development editor. Get their feedback on the biggest issues to address. Fix those.
  • Send revised manuscript off to half my beta readers, get their feedback. Address the biggest issues and the easiest issues.
  • Send polished manuscript off to remaining half of my beta readers. Simultaneously, send manuscript off for line editing.
  • Incorporate any critical issues identified by beta readers in at the same time I address line editing feedback.
  • Send off for proofreading, then formatting for print and ebook.

That process usually takes 15-18 months, although this time around it’s taking 24 months. In general, as the books get longer, they are taking longer to write. Complexity and effort seems to increase exponentially after 80,000 words. In general, about two-thirds of the time is spent generating that first draft, and one third in revising and production.