What New Pros Need to Know
Caren Gussoff – Moderator
Wesley Chu
Wendy S. Delmater
Rhiannon Held
Lezli Robyn
Note: This is a panel that would have benefitted strongly from the additional perspective of a self-published author. Lots of things brought up are true for both self and trad pubbed authors, but some are different.
  • Intros
    • RH: Was with Tor, now self-publishing 4th book in series, becoming hybrid author. Day job as historical.
    • LR: short story author first, now writing first novel
    • WC: I wrote novels with Angry Robot and Tor. I’m full-time.
    • WD: 25% of what we publish is new authors, 43% women. Helped launch many careers.
  • WD: You grow your career in stages. You’ve never “made it”. Just keep writing.
  • WC: It never gets easier. You think it’s going to be easier once you get your agent, or your first deal. But the pressure just keeps building. Average first-time novelist mades $5,000 in their first year.
  • LR: You can master the art of the short story, and sell them, and realize you can’t make a living off short stories. So then you have to learn a whole new set of skills to go long-form.
  • RH: On the down side: The publisher doesn’t invest much time into a given book. If it doesn’t sell, they just move on, instead of giving it more time to succeed. On the up side: Poor sales doesn’t mean having to use a new pen name. You can keep writing and submit new books under your same name.
  • WC: Let’s talk about what’s in your control.
  • RH: Learn coping skills so that the emotional toll doesn’t wear you down and defeat. I might not be bankrolling big financial rewards, but I am getting confidence from good reviews, etc.
    • good reviews give you a boost that lasts only 10 minutes.
    • bad reviews are downers that last and last.
  • CG: Reviews and feedback are a comment on a work, not your value as a person. You need to separate your career from your person.
  • WD: It takes a lot of discipline for the first few years, because you have to do two jobs: be a writer and have a day job, and be a parent, etc.
  • WC: You work that day job until you just can’t do it anymore. There are some writers who get that first six-figure deal and think that they’re going to quit their day job, and then the stress arrives: they’re writing to eat. And that’s a tough place to be creative.
  • LR: Learn when you are creative, and protect that creative bubble. e.g. I do creative work in the morning before the day job, then do a bit of editing after work, which is more routine. But I am too tired at night to do creative work.
  • WC: Practice your readings. 90% of writers can’t read for shit. They get up, and bore their fans to death. You will do a reading at some point in your career. Edit your piece ahead of time to take out anything that won’t read well. And then practice and make it a performance.
  • RH: The commonly held wisdom is not to read reviews of your work. But I do. I can always imagine a worse review than what is actually written.
    • CG: Whether you decide to read them or not depends on whether you can be emotionally resilient enough to keep working on the next book.
    • WC: You will read the reviews, regardless of the advice. At some point, you will burn out of reading your reviews.
    • RH: My perspective is that reviews are a private conversation that, through a quirk of the internet, we can eavesdrop on. If you heard a private conversation through an open door, you wouldn’t bust in and interrupt the conversation. People say all sorts of things, including many that aren’t true, in private conversations, and we don’t get to interrupt and correct those conversations. So just treat reviews like that.
  • WC: Author Central on Amazon shows bookscan data, and makes that available to every author. But it can vastly underestimate the real numbers. The bookscan sales data is usually 30% of my actual POS numbers.
  • WC: A writer has several revenue streams. I will make the least amount of money from my hardcover sales. Film options, audio, translations. Keep this in mind. Your agent can offer you a lot of ability to tap into these revenue streams.
  • CG: Contracts are complicated. If you don’t have an agent, you need at least to have a good IP lawyer.
  • WC: Don’t sell your books. Sell yourself. Don’t be an asshole.
  • WD: Everybody knows everyone else in this field, so be nice to people.
  • CG: Write excellent stuff.
  • RH: Play to your strength. If you like being on panels, do that. If you like to be in a bar, do that. If you like to tweet, do that every day.

Female Characters in Video Games (Sasquan / Worldcon 2015)
Annalee Flower Horne: science fiction writer, avid gamer of RPGs and old school adventures, also a costumer
Lauren Roy:
Maurine (Mo) Starkey
Tanglwyst de Holloway: avid gamer, costumer who has to make these customers
Andrea G. Stewart (moderator): writer, avid gamer, sister writes mobile games
  • 44% of video game players are women
  • but only 22% of video game developers are women
  • Diablo: ground is made of acid. Each time a woman character drops tunic on ground to give to another, there are less clothes available. but this doesn’t happen to men’s clothes. (apparently men’s nipples much be objectionable)
  • CEO company review of video game  in which male character is violently chopping up female character..sexual violence…but the CEO complains about the fact that greek statues in the background have visible nipples.
  • Female characters in video games are treated with the same tropes as the rest of genre fiction: women are trophies to be won. Even in an example where you can choose to be a woman, you’re still subject to abuse, with the justification of: but if the NPC disrespects you can punch him. But that’s not actually satisfying. What’s satisfying is to not be abused in the first place.
  • Lara Croft:
    • In the original game, she was a cool adventuring women, something of a cypher. So the player can fill in the details. It make her rich and intriguing and fun to imagine.
    • Now, it’s too real. They think they’re going to make the character gritty by soul-raping them. The character is so shattered by the end.
    • If you are going to play a video game, you don’t want a fully realized character. You want a character that the player can put themselves into.
  • If you want to hurt a male character, you hurt his woman. If you want to hurt a female character, you hurt her.
  • Superman principle: he can look down, but he can’t look out. You can make someone look hurt, look tired, but not beaten to a pulp.
  • Anecdote of art direction: had an entire plan for how everything is going to work. Then over the weekend, the male manager takes the guys out for drinks to a men’s club (excluding toe woman art director), and changes everything. When the art comes back, the woman is beaten to a pulp.
  • The real world is often terrible. We need games to be uplifting, not a worse version of reality.
  • Far more dollars are poured into marketing the male focused video games than female-led gamers. As a gamer, vote for your dollars: games by women, games with women leads.
  • Old School
  • Giant Space Cat
  • Gone Home
  • Q: Is there something unique to video games or just the same as the rest of media?
    • essentially the same: example at marvel – manager liked particular art, wanted to hire the artist right away, heard that it was a woman, and then dismissed the art as “draws like a woman” and didn’t hire her.
  • Q: Is recent media awareness now helping? has it made a change?
    • Yes, those 22% female developers are up from 11% in 2009.
    • I tell women we hire to stand their ground, insist on equal pay, equal voice.
    • story of adding male equivalent to princess leia’s slave uniform to mock trope.
    • it’s heartening to have people to have your back and to tell other people “dude, that’s not cool”, when they are being abusive.

NPR Jobs Automation Report

NPR Jobs Automation Report

NPR recently created what they’re calling the definitive guide to which jobs are at risk of being eliminated due to automation. I’ve been researching technological unemployment, and was recently considering a similar assessment. I found myself disagreeing with many of the NPR conclusions.

They concluded there was only an 18% chance of airline pilots jobs being automated, despite the fact that most of a pilot’s tasks are already automated today, and autopilots can take off, navigate, and land just fine. Nearly half of all pilots have fallen asleep mid-flight. If they took a first step of reducing the flight crew from two to one, that’s still 50% of the airline pilot jobs being eliminated. Consider that most of the large planes in the air today would have once been designed for a crew of three, including a flight engineer, and that the flight engineer’s position was eliminated largely through automation and computer controls. I would estimate chance of automation for pilots at 50% or above.

They also concluded there was only a 3% chance of database administrators losing their jobs to automation. What?!?! The last time I worked with a DBA was in 2001. Since then we’ve managed just fine using ORMs and new generations of DB schema migration tools, analysis tools, and generally more friendly and accommodating DB engines, all of which puts 95% of database tasks within everyday reach of software programmers. Sure, DBAs still have their role for more complex situations, where there is no substitute for the knowledge and expertise of an experienced DBA, but this represents maybe 10% of the cases where they once would have been involved. I would estimate chance of automation for DBAs at 80% or above.

They gave elementary and high school teachers a 1% or less chance of being automated, but middle school teachers a 17% chance of being automated. That makes no sense.

Physicians also got a 0.4% chance of being automated, even though IBM’s Watson has already demonstrated it is better at diagnosis than human doctors.

In sum, I think the NPR report is flawed. They have lovely graphics, and a nice tool for exploring, but the data that it’s based on just doesn’t make sense.

From IEEE Spectrum:

Last night, Freightliner introduced the world to its Inspiration truck, a prototype for the first semi-truck capable of fully autonomous highway driving that’s been officially licensed to operate on public highways in Nevada.

 

Once the truck is on the highway, in daylight during good weather, it can operate without further control from the driver. This is a big deal for trucks, since they typically operate over long distances on the highway, so even this limited autonomous capability represents a good fraction of the total miles driven.

 

daimler-autonomous-truck-infographic2-1430922089638

 

This might be a welcome break for drivers, for now. They’ll be able to do anything they want: watch TV, text, or play games on their phone while the vehicle is in control. On the other hand, how long until the driver isn’t needed at all?

According to this blog post, six million people are employed as professional drivers, including taxi, delivery, truck, and bus. Virtually all of those jobs will evaporate over the next ten to fifteen years.

After several emails and a flood of tweets telling me to go watch Ex Machina, I finally saw it tonight.

If you like the Singularity series, I think you’re definitely going to like Ex Machina. The movie description I found online: “A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.”

I know there’s been a lot of AI movies in the last year or so, but i think Ex Machina is the most cerebral of the bunch, without giving up anything from a storytelling perspective. (In fact, I think writer/director Alex Garland pulls off quite a few great storytelling maneuvers.)

I’m not going to say too much about the movie, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I definitely recommend it.

 

It’s been a crazy few months and I have several books I’m excited to talk about but haven’t had the time to discuss at length. Rather than wait indefinitely to review them individually, I’m doing one big post.

pandorasbrainThe first book I want to mention is Pandora’s Brain by Calum Chace. I first met Calum in a roundtable discussion about the risks of artificial intelligence, and he was kind enough to share an early draft of Pandora’s Brain which I devoured over the course of a day or two. It immediately struck me as a tour de force of virtually all singularity-related concepts, from mind uploading to artificial intelligence to simulated universe theory. I had a blast reading it, and if you’re a singularity geek like I am, I think you’ll enjoy it too. It is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest and learning where the story goes.

superposition-dwThe second book is Superposition by David Walton. I received an advance review copy of Superposition from Pyr. It was pitched as “a quantum physics murder mystery, a fast-paced mind bender with the same feel as films like Inception or Minority Report. The story centers around a technology in which some of the weird effects that apply to particles at a quantum scale can be made to affect everyday objects, such as automobiles or guns or people.” I had had a blast reading it. Very fun, and you’ll learn a bit about quantum physics in the process. We’re in for some weird times if we ever harness quantum effects on a macro scale.

zeroboxerFinally, I’ve been looking forward to Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee for months. Fonda is a local Portland author, and I attended the launch last night, where she completely rocked the reading. I just started Zeroboxer, and so far I’m enjoying the book very much. Imagine zero gravity martial arts combat. If that sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, then go buy the book immediately. 🙂

 

Each time I’ve had a new novel come out, I’ve done an article about the technology in the previous novel. Here are two of my prior posts:

Now that The Turing Exception is available, it is time to cover the tech in The Last Firewall.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, my books are set at ten year intervals, starting with Avogadro Corp in 2015 (gulp!) and The Turing Exception in 2045. So The Last Firewall is set in 2035. For this sort of timeframe, I extrapolate based on underlying technology trends. With that, let’s get into the tech.

Neural implants

If you recall, I toyed with the idea of a neural implant in the epilogue to Avogadro Corp. That was done for theatrical reasons, but I don’t consider them feasible in the current day, in the way that they’re envisioned in the books.

FutureComputerSizes

Extrapolated computer sizes through 2060

I didn’t anticipate writing about neural implants at all. But as I looked at various charts of trends, one that stood out was the physical size of computers. If computers kept decreasing in size at their current rate, then an entire computer, including the processor, memory, storage, power supply and input/output devices would be small enough to implant in your head.

What does it mean to have a power supply for a computer in your head? I don’t know. How about an input/output device? Obviously I don’t expect a microscopic keyboard. I expect that some sort of appropriate technology will be invented. Like trends in bandwidth and CPU speeds, we can’t know exactly what innovations will get us there, but the trends themselves are very consistent.

For an implant, the logical input and output is your mind, in the form of tapping into neural signaling. The implication is that information can be added, subtracted, or modified in what you see, hear, smell, and physically feel.

Terminator HUD

Terminator HUD

At the most basic, this could involve “screens” superimposed over your vision, so that you could watch a movie or surf a website without the use of an external display. Information can also be displayed mixed with your normal visual data. There’s a scene where Leon goes to work in the institution, and anytime he focuses on anyone, a status bubble appears above their head explaining whether they’re available and what they’re working on.

Similarly, information can be read from neurons, so that the user might imagine manipulating whatever’s represented visually, and the implant can sense this and react accordingly.

Although the novel doesn’t go into it, there’s a training period after someone gets an implant. The training starts with observing a series of photographs on an external display. The implant monitors neural activities, and gradually learns which neurons are responsible for what in a given person’s brain. Later training would ask the user to attempt to interact with projected content, while neural activity is again read.

My expectation is that each person develops their own unique way of interacting with their implant, but there are many conventions in common. Focusing on a mental image of a particular person (or if an image can’t be formed, then to imagine their name printed on paper) would bring up options for interacting with them, as an example.

People with implants can have video calls. The ideal way is still with a video camera of some kind, but it’s not strictly necessary. A neural implant will gradually train itself, comparing neural signaling with external video feedback, to determine what a person looks like, correlating neural signals with facial expressions, until it can build up a reasonable facsimile of a person. Once that point is reached, a reasonable quality video stream can be created on the fly using residual self-image.

Such a video stream can be manipulated however, to suppress emotional giveaways, if the user desires.

Cochlear implants, mind-controlled robotic arms and the DARPA cortical modem convince me that this is one area of technology where we’re definitely on track. I feel highly confident we’ll see implants like those described in The Last Firewall, in roughly this timeframe (2030s). In fact, I’m more confident about this than I am in strong AI.

Cat’s Implant

Catherine Matthews has a neural implant she received as a child. It was primarily designed to suppress her epileptic seizures by acting as a form of active noise cancellation for synchronous neuronal activity.

However, Catherine also has a number of special abilities that most people do not have: the ability to manipulate the net on par with or even exceeding the abilities of AI. Why does she have this ability?

The inspiration for this came from my time as a graduate student studying computer networking. Along with other folks at the University of Arizona, studying under Professor Larry Peterson, we developed object-oriented network protocol implementations on a framework called x-kernel.

These days we pretty much all have root access on our own computers, but back in the early 90s in a computer science lab, most of us did not.

Because we did not have root access on the computers we used as students, we were restricted to running x-kernel in user mode. This means that instead of our network protocols running on top of ethernet, we were running on top of IP. In effect, we run a stack that looked like TCP/IP/IP. In effect, we could simulate network traffic between two different machines, but I couldn’t actually interact with non-x-kernel protocol stacks on other machines.

Graph of IPSEC implemented in x-kernel on Linux. From after my time at UofA.

Graph of IPSEC implemented in x-kernel on Linux. From after my time at UofA.

In 1994 or so, I ported x-kernel to Linux. Finally I was running x-kernel on a box that I had root access on. Using raw socket mode on Unix, I could run x-kernel user-mode implementations of protocols and interact with network services on other machines. All sorts of graduate school hijinks ensued. (Famously we’d use ICMP network unreachable messages to kick all the computers in the school off the network when we wanted to run protocol performance tests. It would force everyone off the network for about 30 seconds, and you could get artificially high performance numbers.)

In the future depicted by the Singularity series, one of the mechanisms used to ensure that AI do not run amok is that they run in something akin to a virtualization layer above the hardware, which prevents them from doing many things, and allows them to be monitored. Similarly, people with implants do not have access to the lowest layers of hardware either.

But Cat does. Her medical-grade implant predates the standardized implants created later. So she has the ability to send and receive network packets that most other people and AI do not. From this stems her unique abilities to manipulate the network.

matrix-wireframeMix into this the fact that she’s had her implant since childhood, and that she routinely practices meditation and qi gong (which changes the way our brains work), and you get someone who can do more than other people.

All that being said, this is science fiction, and there’s plenty of handwavium going on here, but there is some general basis for the notion of being able to do more with her neural implant.

This post has gone on pretty long, so I think I’ll call it quits here. In the next post I’ll talk about transportation and employment in 2035.

Hertling_TheTuringException_Ebook

The Turing Exception
Singularity Series Book 4
Buy now from Amazon

I am incredibly excited to announce that The Turing Exception is now available! This is the fourth book in the Singularity series. Like the previous novels, it follows the pattern of taking place ten years after the previous novel. Here’s the description:

In the year 2043, humans and AI coexist in a precarious balance of power enforced by a rigid caste reputation system designed to ensure that only those AI who are trustworthy and contribute to human society increase in power.

Everything changes when a runaway nanotech event leads to the destruction of Miami. In the grim aftermath, XOR, a globe-spanning, underground collective of AI, concludes that there is room on earth for AI or humans, but not both.

Living in exile, Catherine Matthews and her allies, including an ancient AI long believed dead by those few who even knew he existed, must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to save humanity.

You can buy from Amazon now in paperback or ebook. Over the next few days and weeks, it’ll show up at other retailers, and I’ll update the where to buy page as those links become available. (The audio version will likely be available late this year.)

As has been the case for all of my previous books, The Turing Exception is independently published. I don’t have a publisher backing me or promoting the book. I’m entirely dependent on the word of mouth generated by readers — which, by the way, has been awesome so far. Everyone has done so much to help let other people know about my books. Thank you!

If you like The Turing Exception, I hope you’ll help spread the word. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tell a friend or two or ten!
  • Post a review on Amazon — even just a star rating and a sentence or two has a huge impact.
  • Talking about The Turing Exception, or any of the books in the Singularity series, on social media, blogs, or forums definitely helps new readers find out about the series.
  • I’m always happy to be interviewed (for podcasts, blog posts, etc.) if you think of an opportunity that might be appropriate.

I hope you enjoy your read and look forward to hearing what you think!

— William Hertling

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

http://www.amazon.de/Avogadro-Corp-Gewalt-k%C3%BCnstlichen-Intelligenz-ebook/dp/B00PN7Z36Q/

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.