Original Avogadro Corp cover.

Original cover.

When I was ready to publish Avogadro Corp, I had an image of what I wanted the cover to look like: I wanted a menacing data center. Which is kind of funny when you think about it, but I think the original cover was actually a good advertisement for what you were getting into with the book.

Maureen Gately designed the cover, and she took a simple image and added some depth with the typography. I always liked the way this cover functioned: since Avogadro Corp was science fiction, and most science fiction book covers were very dark, whether you were looking at a physical bookshelf or an Amazon listing, the white cover really stood out.

Original AI Apocalypse cover.

Original cover.

When AI Apocalypse came out, we didn’t have a ton of time to explore new concepts. There was only four months between the books (December 2011 to March 2012). Maureen took the Avogadro Corp cover, and added visual elements to hint at the move out of the data center and into the real world. On the plus side, it creates a strong series identity. I think it’s a stronger cover, and in some ways, it’s probably the cover we should have used for Avogadro Corp.

Original Last Firewall cover.

Original cover.

Somewhere between then and The Last Firewall (out in August 2013), I found a piece of stock imagery that jumped out at me, and I knew I wanted to use it for the next cover. To me, this image represents Cat’s personality being uploaded into the net in the climatic battle scene. This was my favorite of the original covers, and I have a blown up version hanging next to my desk that’s been signed by Maureen. I also turned it into a nice laptop sticker, and I’ve mailed out a bunch of those.

In 2014, I started regularly hanging out with my friend Jason Gurley. I first knew Jason as a writer, but he’s also an amazing cover artist who was very much in demand, and had a waiting list months long. But his writing career was starting to take off, and he decided to retire from the cover designing business.

Every time we would see each other, he’d say something to the effect of “You should really let me design you a new cover for Avogadro Corp.” Then it started becoming “You know, I’m retiring from cover design soon, you should really let me design you a new cover before it’s too late.”

Meanwhile, my process for publishing had become more rigorous. Whereas Avogadro Corp went through a single copyediting pass, The Last Firewall went through developmental editing, copyediting, manuscript proofreading, and post-formatting proofreading. Around this time, I noticed that I was still getting some negative reviews on Amazon about typos and grammar issues in Avogadro Corp, and decided I needed to do a second edition of the book to bring it up to par with the rest of the series.


Second edition cover.

I realized that a new cover would be the perfect complement to the second edition. So one night I emailed Jason and said “OK, I’d like to do it.” And he emailed me back about ten minutes later saying “Well, I just happened to have mocked up these four concepts a month ago, in case you said yes.” One of those four concepts turned into the new cover for Avogadro. One of the other concepts was also really cool, and I asked if I could also later use that concept for the fourth book in the series. Jason graciously said yes.

The next book I worked on was The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, my children’s novel. I knew what I wanted, something that was vaguely a riff on Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother cover, but with little kids, drones, and computers. It clearly required custom artwork, something that neither Maureen nor Jason did. I’m a member of Codex, a writers community, and I soon got a recommendation for M.S. Corley, who did cover design and custom artwork. I loved the cover he created for Wilted Broccoli.


Final cover for Turing Exception.

More time passed, and I was far enough along with The Turing Exception to realize I needed to get started on the cover for it. I also needed to address the fact that books 1 and 4 would have new covers in the a certain style, but books 2 and 3 were still in the old style. The series needed to have a consistent identity. So I would need not one cover, but three new covers. By now Jason Gurley had retired from cover design. But Jason had liked the cover Mike Corley did for Wilted Broccoli so much that Jason had transfered all of his clients over to Mike. Mike agreed to do all the new covers for me, and Jason sent him the files for Avogadro Corp and the book 4 concept. Along the way, Mike realized he needed to make a few changes to Avogadro Corp to get it consistent with the rest of the series, so he actually ended up designing all four covers over a really short period of time.


Second edition cover.

Mike did some great things to create a thematic color treatment for the series. It might not be obvious with the ebook covers, but when you’re holding the physical books in your hand, it stands out. (Look at how the author photo on the back cover is handled, for example.)

There’s several cool things that happened with the redesign. I really wanted to keep elements of Maureen’s covers, because I felt it was important to honor the work she did, since those original covers really performed quite well, in terms of helping the commercial success of the series. You can clearly see those elements in the revised covers. The servers, clouds, and helicopter are there on the AI Apocalypse, and we’ve still got the woman transforming into packets on The Last Firewall cover.


Second edition cover.

The other very cool thing Mike did was something both aesthetically pleasing and functional. My print books are manufactured by Createspace in a print-on-demand process. It turns out a good book, but the cover registration is frequently off. This means that any hard edges that should align with where the cover folds around the spine might not be in the right place. So I wanted all of my covers to have a single wrap-around image. And that’s what Mike did.

Here’s an example of one of the paperback covers so you can see the wrap-around effect:

Wrap around cover design.

Wrap around cover design.

And all of the books with their new covers look lovely together as a set:


If you order any of the paperbacks on Amazon, you’ll be getting the new covers.

I really appreciate all of the hard work and countless revisions that Maureen Gately, Jason Gurley, and M.S. Corley put into these covers. Hopefully you like the new versions, and if you’ve bought the paperback versions, they should look great together on your bookshelf.

I glanced at my blog today and realized I’ve written very few posts lately. I’ve been working pretty hard on The Turing Exception. Between that work, my day job, and kids, I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging.

Most of January was spent working with my copyeditor. This is a bigger, more complex task that it might sound like. You might imagine that I turn my manuscript over to the copyeditor, and then get it back with a bunch of corrections, and it’s done.

In fact, what happens is closer to this:

  • I send the manuscript.
  • I get a bunch of questions in the beginning as my copyeditor goes to work.
  • Then he goes radio-silent for two weeks as he gets deep into it.
  • Then I get the manuscript back. This one contained about 4,000 changes.
  • Some changes are easy to process: commas moved, spelling corrected, words replaced. I use Word’s change review, and it’s lots of clicking on “accept”. Still, it’s 4,000 changes, and it takes me several days of full-time work to review each change and accept it.
  • Some changes are more difficult to handle. They might be a comment, like “you need more interior character dialogue here.” Then I need to go think about what the character is thinking about in that scene, and write a few paragraphs, keeping it consistent with everything going on around it.
  • Some changes are widespread, like when I’ve described a single event several different ways over the course of a novel. Or used several different names to refer to one organization. I have to pick something, and then make sure it is consistent throughout.
  • Some changes and comments I don’t understand, so I have to email back and forth with my copyeditor until I do, and then make the changes.
  • When I’m done, I send the file back to the copyeditor, and now he can review my changes. There were about 300 on this last exchange.
  • He accepts the ones that look good, but might have to make more corrections, which I then accept, and so on.

Eventually it’s done. The copyeditor and I are in agreement.

Then I get the manuscript to the proofreader. This is a second person who is focused on line-level items, like punctuation and spelling, although he’ll also catch some bigger issues. The manuscript came back from the proofreader with 800 changes. I basically go through all the same stuff as with the copyeditor. Some changes are straightforward, some are not.

If I make big changes, then it has to go back to the proofreader again for a second pass.

Along the way, I usually get feedback from beta readers who are getting back to me late. I hate to ignore feedback, so I do the best I can to address any issues they spotted, without breaking the copyediting / proofreading process.

Sometimes I’m trying to address beta reader feedback by changing only one or two words, to avoid having to do another round of proofreading. I remember this happening with The Last Firewall, where I think Brad Feld or Harper Reed said “I’m confused about what kind of vehicles exist in this world”. And so there’s a scene in the beginning of the book where Cat is crossing the street, and I had to get her to establish all the types of vehicles (ground cars, hover cars, and flying cars) in a single sentence, so that I didn’t make changes in multiple places.

I’m now one to three days away from finishing the proofreading cycle. When this is done, it will go to two different people for formatting: one person will generate the ebooks, and another will generate the PDF interior for the print book. Then I’ll need to carefully proofread both of those, to make sure nothing gets dropped, and no formatting errors or other mistakes are introduced.

It’s fairly intense work when the ball is in my court. But when it’s handed off to someone else, that’s my chance to do a little creative work. I’ve written about 15,000 words in Tomo, a new novel about privacy, social networks, and data profiling. No AI or robots…yet.

AvogadroCorpGermanCoverThe German edition of Avogadro Corp is available for preorder from Amazon:


It releases in paperback and kindle on December 9th. If you or a friend read German, I hope you’ll check it out.

The success of this translation will be helpful in getting the rest of the series translated to German, and all of my books translated to other languages.


World’s shortest Interstellar review: Go see this movie right now.

Slightly longer review:

I got advanced screening tickets to see Interstellar in 35mm at the Hollywood theatre in Portland. I didn’t know that much about the movie, other than seeing the trailer and thinking it looked pretty good.

In fact, it was incredible. The trailer does not do it justice. I don’t want to give away the plot of the movie, so I’m not going to list all of the big ideas in this movie, but Erin and I went through the list on the drive home, and it was impressive. Easily the best movie I’ve seen in quite a while.

And this is one that really deserves being seen on a big screen, in a good theatre, on 35mm film if possible.




Last November, on a train ride to Seattle to see Ramez Naam and Greg Bear, I started book four of the Singularity series. Last Thursday, I finished the rough draft. I was very excited and did a little dance in my office. Of course, I’m not done. I’ve got to turn that draft into a cohesive story, polish that story into something that reads well, and get it edited, proofread, and then it goes into production (page layout, ebook conversion, cover design).

I’m excited to get it out, and I know other folks are excited to read it, but it’s still many months away from being available. I’m not sure exactly how long. It varies with each book, as I learn more, also depends on my work schedule. I’m making some small changes to my day job schedule that should give me more consecutive days of writing time, which will help me make steady progress.

For a few weeks though, I’ll be focused on other things: I’ve got to the second edition of Avogadro Corp fully out. I need to do some marketing work around my novel for kids ages 7 to 12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli. I need to give a little attention to my Patreon campaign. And I’ve got blog posts I really want to write that I’ve put on the back burner while I worked on finishing the draft of book 4. At some point I also need to figure out a title for the fourth book.

But before the end of September, I should be back to work editing and revising.

This year is a bonanza for singularity movies, starting with Her (great), Transcendence (fun, but didn’t deliver on expectations), and now Lucy.

Overall, I liked a lot of things about Lucy although it has a few shortcomings.

Lucy spoilers ahead. Spoilers. Did you hear that? Now is your chance to stop reading.

The basic plot from Wikipedia: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan who is forced to work as a drug mule for the mob. A drug implanted in her body inadvertently leaks into her system, which allows her to use more than the “normal” 10% of her brain’s capacity, thus changing her into a superhuman. As a result, she can absorb information instantaneously, is able to move objects with her mind, and can choose not to feel pain or other discomforts, in addition to other abilities.

I was expecting two things from this movie:

Great action scenes. This is a Luc Besson movie. Think Fifth Element, Taxi, District 13. Great action scenes and car chases are staples. Delivered as expected.

Good movie visualizations of posthumanism. The movie description and trailer indicates that Lucy gets super human ability, starting with the ability to control her own body, then other humans, and then basic matter. I think this was done great. The progression over the course of the movie feels logical, and the ending in particular, was spectacular. What happens to Lucy after she meets the professor felt spot on.

Those are the strengths. There are a few weaknesses.

10% of the brain. Lucy stumbled when it chose this concept of “humans only use 10% of their brain” as a way to describe what was happening as Lucy progressed to greater and greater capabilities. We know this is scientifically false. A freak nanotechnology accident would be more plausible.

However, I think it’s more useful to see this as metaphor: I’m guessing Luc Besson wanted an easily-understood gauge that ran from human to ultimate-posthuman. And what we got was a percentage number to stand in for that. So ignore the scientific correctness, and just think of it as a power gauge.

Philosophy. But there’s a bigger area in which the movie fell down. That’s in the philosophical underpinnings, which take up a significant amount of time, but don’t make a lot of sense. io9 described it this way:

When you’ve got a badass superhero with evil futuristic drug lord enemies, you’d better have a damn good theory about the meaning of existence if we’re going to take lots of time out to talk about it. And Lucy doesn’t. It’s like Besson read about the superintelligence explosion and the singularity, then decided to slather some soundbytes from What the Bleep Do We Know?! on top of what would otherwise have been a really compelling superhero story.

By comparison, The Matrix does plenty of philosophy about existence, but it’s tightly woven into the story and conflict. In Lucy, the philosophy has nothing to do with the conflict (e.g. the drug lords chasing her), so it can only be taken as a commentary on our world, and in that context, it fizzles out.

In Rolling Stone, Luc Besson said he wanted to do something more than just the usual shoot ’em up:

The bait-and-switch aspects of Lucy — make viewers think they’re watching a trashy action flick, then thrust them into 2001: A Space Odyssey territory — shows the evolution of the 50-year-old Besson, who says he’s grown tired of the shoot-’em-up genre. “I’m not the same moviegoer or moviemaker as I was 10 years ago,” he says. “There are action films made now that are really well done, but after 40 minutes, I get bored. It’s all the same.”

Overall, Lucy was a lot of fun, and what happens to the character Lucy at the end is more plausible than what happened to Dr. Will Caster in the end of Transcendence.

Now I can’t help but imagine Luc Besson directing The Last Firewall.

I love trying to extrapolate trends and seeing what I can learn from the process. This past weekend I spent some time thinking about the size of computers.

From 1986 (Apple //e) to 2012 (Motorola Droid 4), my “computer” shrinking 290-fold, or about 19% per year. I know, you can argue about my choices of what constitutes a computer, and whether I should be including displays, batteries, and so forth. But the purpose isn’t to be exact, but to establish a general trend. I think we can agree that, for some definition of computer, they’re shrinking steadily over time. (If you pick different endpoints, using an IBM PC, a Macbook Air, or a Mac Mini, for example, you’ll still get similar sorts of numbers.)

So where does that leave us going forward? To very small places:

Year Cubic volume of computer
2020 1.07
2025 0.36
2030 0.12
2035 0.04
2040 0.01
2045 0.0046

In a spreadsheet right next to the sheet entitled “Attacking nanotech with nuclear warheads,” I have another sheet called “Data center size” where I’m trying to calculate how big a data center will be in 2045.

A stick of is “2-7/8 inches in length, 7/8 inch in width, and 3/32 inch”  or about 0.23 cubic inches, and we know this thanks to the military specification on chewing gum. According to the chart above, computers will get smaller than that around 2030, or certainly by 2035. They’ll also be about 2,000 times more powerful than one of today’s computers.

Imagine today’s blade computers used in data centers, except shrunk to the size of sticks of gum. If they’re spaced 1″ apart, and 2″ apart vertically (like a DIMM memory plugged into it’s end), a backplane could hold about 72 of these for every square foot. A “rack” would hold something like 2,800 of these computers. That’s assuming we would even want them to be human-replaceable. If they’re all compacted together, it could be even denser.

It turns out my living room could hold something like 100,000 of these computers, each 2,000 times more powerful one of today’s computers, for the equivalent of about two million 2014 computers. That’s roughly all of Google’s computing power. In my living room.

I emailed Amber Case and Aaron Parecki about this, and Aaron said “What happens when everyone has a data center in their pockets?”

Good question.

You move all applications to your pocket, because latency is the one thing that doesn’t benefit from technology gains. It’s largely limited by speed of light issues.

If I’ve got a data center in my pocket, I put all the data and applications I might possibly want there.

Want Wikipedia? (14GB) — copy it locally.

Want to watch a movie? It’s reasonable to have the top 500,000 movies and TV shows of all time (2.5 petabytes) in your pocket by 2035, when you’ll have about 292 petabytes of solid-state storage. (I know 292 petabytes seems incredulous, but the theoretical maximum data density is 10^66 bits per cubic inch.)

Want to run an web application? It’s instantiated on virtual machines in your pocket. Long before 2035, even if a web developer needs redis, mysql, mongodb, and rails, it’s just a provisioning script away… You could have a cluster of virtual machines, an entire cloud infrastructure, running in your pocket.

Latency goes to zero, except when you need to do a transactional update of some kind. Most data updates could be done through lazy data coherency.

It doesn’t work for real-time communication with other people. Except possibly in the very long term, when you might run a copy of my personality upload locally, and I’d synchronize memories later.

This also has interesting implications for global networking. It becomes more important to have a high bandwidth net than a low latency net, because the default strategy becomes one of pre-fetching anything that might be needed.

Things will be very different in twenty years. All those massive data centers we’re building out now? They’ll be totally obsolete in twenty years, replaced by closet-sized data centers. How we deploy code will change. Entire new strategies will develop. Today we have DOS-box and NES emulators for legacy software, and in twenty years we might have AWS-emulators that can simulate the entire AWS cloud in a box.

Before I published Avogadro Corp, I considered running a Kickstarter campaign to fund publishing the novel. I ended up publishing without the Kickstarter. Fast-forward three years, and I just found the campaign still sitting in my Kickstarter account.

Here’s the description I wrote for the never-started campaign:

I am asking for help to publish my novel Avogadro Corp. The manuscript is completed, and just needs a final round of copy-editing, cover design, and layout in order to be published. 


David Ryan is a brilliant computer scientist, cherry-picked to lead a new project at Avogadro Corp, the world’s leading Internet company. The goal of the project, called ELOPe, is to create a next-generation feature for the company’s email product – one that can optimize the language of emails to make them more effective and persuasive. 

With his chief architect, Mike Williams, and a team of programmers, the two have proven the feasibility of the concept and are hard at work trying to release the feature. When David gives a presentation to the executive leadership of the company, they are impressed by the project results and effectiveness. But David fails to disclose to the executives that the project is grossly inefficient, requiring thousands of times more servers than any other project. 

The VP of Operations threatens to kick ELOPe off the servers if David and Mike don’t decrease the number of servers the project uses within two weeks. This would be a death blow for the project, in part because David has been deceptive from the start about how many resources the project has been using. David and Mike start scrambling to fix the performance of ELOPe. 

When it becomes clear a few days before the deadline that they can’t fix ELOPe’s performance, David stays up late making subtle modifications to the software. Instead of fixing the performance problems, David embeds a directive in the software to maximize the project success. David’s modifications have ELOPe filtering company emails to secretly modify any email that mentions ELOPe to strive for a positive outcome. 

The software is so good that at first, the effort seems successful – the project is allocated thousands of new servers and high performance computing experts are brought in to help optimize the code. Innocuous sounding emails convince people to grant more resources and develop new capabilities that make ELOPe more powerful. But soon ELOPe is social engineering people around the company to neutralize threats and strengthen itself. 

When Mike is sent on a wild goose chase to Wisconsin, getting him off the grid as just the moment when David needs him, it dawns on Mike that something is wrong. 

Simultaneously, Gene Keyes, a crotchety old auditor at Avogadro who is known for distrusting computers and using only paper records, begins to find evidence of financial oddities that all point in the same direction. 

Amid background news stories hinting at ELOPe’s ever growing influence, even at the level of government policy, David, Mike and Gene take ever escalating action to shut ELOPe down. However ELOPe anticipates and blocks their every move. 

As the humans prepare for a final showdown with ELOPe, Mike sees a pattern emerge in the news reports: the AI is actually helping humans by fostering peace agreements and stabilizing financial markets. 

Can they win a final showdown with ELOPe — or should they even try? 


“This is an alarming and jaw-dropping tale about how something as innocuous as email can subvert an entire organization.  I found myself reading with a sense of awe, and read it way too late into the night.”– Gene Kim, founder of Tripwire, author of Visible Ops. 

“Avogadro Corp builds a picture of how an AI could emerge, piece by piece, from technology available today. A fascinating, logical, and utterly believable scenario – I just hope nobody tries this at home.” — Nathan Rutman, Software Architect, Lustre High Performance Distributed Filesystem 

Background for Avogadro Corp 

Avogadro Corp evolved out of a lunchtime conversation. I was arguing that the development of human level artificial intelligence is an inevitable consequence of the increasing processing speeds of computers. My friend countered with the argument that mere people who would do the programming, and we weren’t smart enough to create an artificial intelligence as smart or smarter than us. He challenged me to describe a scenario in which an artificial intelligence could be born. So I described one based on plausible extrapolation from known programming techniques. And the idea for Avogadro Corp was born. 

Avogadro Corp will be satisfying to technical readers who want realistic fiction, and enjoyable for casual readers who want easy-to-grasp explanations of how the science works.’ 

Project Timeline & Funds 

I expect that the digital versions of Avogadro Corp will be ready within 30-45 days of completion of the kickstarter project. Printed books will take longer, due to printing and shipping times.

About Me 

I’m William Hertling, and I live in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been a computer programmer, social media strategist, data analyst, program manager, web developer, and now writer. Avogadro Corp is my first novel, and I am currently working on a sequel.

This was an insanely fun chat I had with Brad Feld at the Silicon Flatirons’s Science fiction & Entrepreneurship conference. We discussed the inspiration for Avogadro Corp, where we both draw influences from, investing, and more.

This was the panel I was on with a fascinating group of panelists about the intersection of science fiction and entrepreneurship.