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.

I just finished Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. I’m not sure where I heard about Red Sparrow. Possibly from Brad Feld?

After a little bit of a slow start, I really enjoyed it. The last half of the book is extremely hard to put down. I’ve long been a fan of spy thrillers, and Red Sparrow delivers this well. I especially liked how Jason Matthews brought the US-Russia relationship up to date, and was able to deliver a plausible cold-war style thriller in a very modern politically current story.

A lot of the technology was really interesting as well: the tracking dust to determine which Russians had come in contact with CIA agents was brilliant. I have to assume this really exists.

There’s some head-hopping that goes on, which is a style of writing that’s largely fallen out of favor. It took a little while to adjust to switching the point-of-view character midway through a scene, but Matthews handles switches reasonably well, and by the time I was a third of the way into the book, it was mostly invisible to me.

This is the first book in a series, and although I’m often reluctant to recommend a book when the whole series isn’t out yet, in this case I think Red Sparrow is enjoyable enough on its own.


Last year I read the manuscript for Eliot Peper’s then unpublished Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 and loved it. FG Press, the publishing company launched by Brad Feld, went on to publish it, and it got a lot of great press, because it blended the world of tech startups with a conspiracy thriller. It’s the first book in a three book series.

As soon as I read it, I asked Eliot was he was working on, and he mentioned a different writing project. I can’t remember my exact words, but I told him to drop everything and get to working on book two. He did, and FG Press published Uncommon Stock: Power Play right around Christmas, and it’s been sitting on my bedside table since.

Well, I read it this weekend and loved it, even more than book one. I tore through the last three-quarters of the book. The stakes have really been raised for Mara Winkel and her financial fraud detection startup as they identify one of the largest money laundering rings in the world. It is again an awesome blending of thriller and tech startup novel.

If you haven’t done so, go buy a copy. But start with Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 if you’re new to the series.

Eliot, I hope you’re writing book 3 right now. 🙂

Cory Doctorow was in Portland promoting his new book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free (Powells, Amazon).

Here are my notes from his talk at Powell’s Bookstore:

Cory and I at his booksigning.

Cory Doctorow and I at his book signing.
(Photograph by Erin Gately)

Cory Doctorow

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free
Creativity in the Twenty-First Century
  • If you don’t earn your living online now, you probably will in the future
  • It’s hard to generalize a single way to earn a living in the arts
  • Most people who set out to make money in the arts ends up losing money
  • Living in the creative fields and earning a living there is way out there…it’s a six sigma event.
  • Imagine millions and millions of people flipping coins… a few have coins that land on their edge. some people have this happen many times. The only thing that unites these people is luck.
  • But when artists make money, we treat them with reverence. But fundamentally they are just lucky.
  • But we put them on magazine covers, and try to figure out which business models serve artists the best.
  • But any business model will be quickly copied by thousands of new artists.
  • And business models change. they can’t stay the same.
  • The artists of yesterday want the business models of yesterday to stay in place. it’s like last year’s lottery winners wanting to win the lottery every year.
  • Three Laws
  • First Law: Anytime someone puts a lock on something and doesn’t give you the key, the lock is not there for your best interest.
    • (Funny anecdote about Cory’s literary agent, who also represented Arthur C. Clarke: “One thing I learn is that you always have to have three laws.”)
    • DRM: digital rights management.
    • DRM works by scrambling the creative work you upload, and then giving the audience/customer a player than can descramble the work, but which won’t let them do anything you don’t want: copy it, save it, play it in the United States.
    • But DRM only works if nobody can find the key, which has to be embedded in the player. So its trivial to find. Inevitable…
    • But it’s illegal thanks to a 1998 law.
    • As soon as Adobe, Amazon, or Apple puts DRM on something (and those are just the As), you’ve lost control over it. And your customer too.
    • Customers can only read the books in the ecosystem in which you bought them.
    • It’s like having a room in your house to only read Barnes & Noble books. But then if you bought books from Powell’s, you’d need to have another room to read them. And you couldn’t move the books from one room to the other.
    • Audible has 90% of the audio book market, and they have DRM, and they’ve locked up that market.
  • Second law: Fame won’t make you rich, but you can’t sell your art without it.
    • Tim O’Reilly said “The problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”
    • We’re left with: Five publishers, four labels, and five studios.
    • The contracts that exist today with the above are all screwing the artist, and it reflects that it’s a buyers market, because these companies own the market.
    • Lots of abusive terms, and lots of non-negotiatable.
    • It’s a competitor of last resort. The worst deal the traditional publishers can offer has to be competitive with what they think they can make indie.
    • The indie sector is at the end of a 15 year war with the traditional pubs.
    • Viacom wanted Google to have an army of lawyers to check the 96 hours of video upload to YouTube every minute. There aren’t enough lawyers in the world. You’d get to the heat death of the universe before you could review all the video.
    • There’s more efforts coming to attack the indies. We’re just seeing the beginning of it.
    • (lots of trade agreements cited.)
    • What happens with Viacom and cable is that the army of lawyers can’t be hired. So the content producers have to provide insurance that their content doesn’t infringe. And only rich people can afford that.
    • And so there is lots of other content rules coming like this.
    • What the Internet does, the primary purpose, is to make copies, as quickly and effortlessly as possible, and with high fidelity. Trying to make the internet copy stuff is like trying to make water less wet.
  • Third law: Information Doesn’t Want to be Free.
    • I invited Information out to the weekend at the Hamptom’s.
    • Information doesn’t want anything.
    • This isn’t about information.
    • This is about people.
    • People want to be free.
    • When we live in an information age, that means they want their information to be free.
    • When we put DRM in software and content, then we are taking freedom away from people.
    • Programmers are fallible. They make mistakes. And those mistakes can compromise your privacy. Your phone is a supercomputer in your pocket with a microphone and camera that you take into the bathroom and bedroom and that knows who your friends are, and what you talk to them about, and what your lawyer told you.
    • But the DRM laws make it illegal to talk about those mistakes. Which means that your phone can be attacked.
    • University of Michigan video showing a bluetooth hack with a pacemaker in which they cook bacon.
    • What happens when technology moves inside your body. Your future hearing aide isn’t something in your ear, it’s something in your mind. What will be the model for that? It is a device you control? or a device you don’t control? “You can’t do that Dave.”
    • The internet has tons of daily business, not just the “important stuff”, but also the banal stuff. But the banal stuff is important to. When I saw “how did you sleep?” to my wife, I know how she slept. My saying that is my way of saying “how are you? i care about you? i’m here for you.” it’s the soil from which everything grows.
    • In New Zealand…3 strikes rule that says that if you are guilty of copyright infringement 3 times, they take away internet access from your family.
    • Did study in the UK… People who have internet access have:
    • better health
    • better jobs
    • more civic-ly engaged
    • more politically engaged
    • better student grades
    • They passed the digital economy act: 3 strike rule.
    • Which means that they aren’t just taking away the internet access. they are taking away health, jobs, political engagement, and student grades.
  • How do you deal with self-criticism as you write?
    • Don’t revise until I’m done.
    • Don’t look too closely at what i’m doing.
    • Looked back at quality of what I wrote when I thought I was doing well, and when I thought I wasn’t doing well, and found no correlation. Had to do with how I felt, not what I produced.
  • Is there a parallel between the history of human cognition and the history of computer development?
    • (missed lots of good stuff here.)
    • we have no shortage of minds we are creating that think like people. we call them babies.
    • we need things that think differently than us.
    • to think computers will think like us is to think that airplanes will fly like birds.

There were many more great questions and answers, but that was the hardest part to capture.

The Martian by Andy Weir was fantastic. I’m sitting in a bar right now with a wet napkin by my side because I teared up during the end of the book. It’s that good.

The basic storyline is that an astronaut is stranded on Mars and then has to survive until he can be rescued. It’s similar in theme to two movies of the last year: Gravity (with Sandra Bullock, surviving a shuttle mission gone wrong) and All is Lost (with Robert Redford, a sailboat is wrecked at sea — the far better of the two movies, by the way).

This was a debut novel originally self-published, and so the protagonist’s character development and emotions are a bit on the weak side. However, I know my novels suffer from this as well, and its shouldn’t be a deterrent from reading.

I was captivated and read the novel in three days, which is fast for me (kids, family, work, my own writing, etc.)

The Martian was endorsed by astronaut Chris Hadfield (“fascinating technical accuracy”), Hugh Howey (“takes your breath away”), Ernest Cline (“relentlessly entertaining”), Larry Niven and way more.

And many thanks to whoever recommended this to me!

I’m a big fan of Charles Stross’s science fiction. He’s absolutely brilliant (listen to some of his talks on YouTube if you get the chance, or go read his blog posts), and it always comes across in his fiction.

On one level, Neptune’s Brood is a classic space opera novel involving interstellar space travel, colonization, and space battles.

On another level, Neptune’s Brood is a careful study of what you get when you rigorously think about how economic principles, human uploading, transhumanism, the limitations of light speed, and the cost moving matter apply to developing an interstellar civilization.

In other words, it’s the type of very smart fiction you expect from Charles Stross.

The occasional pitfall of uber-smart fiction is that it can sometimes be a challenge to read. If the ideas come too fast or require too much effort to grok, the reader ends up working so hard to understand things that the reading loses its fun. Stross manages to avoid that pitfall here. It’s an enjoyable, straightforward read underlaid with a foundation of brilliance.

You can get Neptune’s Brood on Amazon, and I’m sure everywhere else as well.

If you’re a fan of science fiction space epics, stop reading now, and go buy Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

I can’t recall whether I discovered Ancillary Justice because of the front cover blurb by John Scalzi, or this compelling synopsis:

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

It’s a really interesting premise with great execution. The story alternates two timelines, both told from the protagonists point of view. In one, the protagonist is the starship’s AI that controls both ship and thousands of human-bodied robot soldiers. In the other, taking place twenty years later, the AI has been reduced to just a single one of those bodies, carrying out her mission over twenty years.

Ann Leckie masterfully describes the underlying culture and politics, tying together both plot and cultural details and values. Although space empires are a common setting in scifi novels, making up an entire subgenre, the storytelling is fresh and wonderful.

Now I just have to go see about getting an advance review copy of the next novel…

Kobo Books is a great ebook retailer with worldwide distribution, their own reader-focused ereaders, and reading apps for all major platforms (iOS, Android, Mac, PC, and web).

Free on Kobo through the
end of September 2013 with
the coupon code elopesgift

Kobo is also an indie-bookstore friendly company. Their devices are sold in indie bookstores, and many indie bookstores have an affiliate relationship with Kobo. If you care about DRM, my books are all DRM-free on Kobo.

Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall are all available from Kobo.

And now through the end of September 2013, Avogadro Corp is available free on Kobo with the following coupon code: elopesgift

Just enter the coupon code before checkout and Avogadro Corp will be free!

So if you or a friend want to pick up Avogadro Corp or just check out an indie-friendly alternative to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, go visit Kobo today.

Last month I got an advance review copy of Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp (Panverse Publishing). It was an absolute delight to read.

It’s a geek’s dream combination: mix Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Space Shuttle caper, and a beautiful-brilliant computer wiz femme fatale who just happens to be cooking up some smart AI. I laughed out loud during many sections, and was glued to the book throughout.
The characters and their motivations are just awesome. Hel and her father want to set up a media company to shoot a reality TV show in space. Except that it’s set in present day, and of course, it’s not that easy to get into space. They recruit an ex-NASA shuttle astronaut, and decide to steal a space shuttle. What can go wrong? 🙂
I found it to be really funny. It’s book one of a series, and it wraps up the first part of the story quite nicely, so I’m eager to see what direction Doug Sharp will take us in book two. Either way I’m looking forward to it.
You can get it from Amazon and other retailers. 

Every once in a while, I read a book whose vision of the future makes me sit back and think Ah yes, this is how it will be. Accelerando by Charles Stross dealt with the acceleration of technological development. Daemon by Daniel Suarez depicted how a computer can manipulate the world around it.

Nexus and Crux, the two techothrillers from Ramez Naam, do that for neural implants, technology that provides an interface between our brains and the outside world.

I just read an advance review copy of Naam’s Crux, a sequel that follows tight on the heels of Nexus. (It will be available August 27th, but you can preorder a copy now on Amazon.) Both books revolve around a technology called Nexus, a nanotech drug that interfaces with the human brain. It allows a user to run apps in their brain, to exercise conscious control over their mood, augment their intelligence, and communicate telepathically with other Nexus users.

But even as this all-powerful technology improves the lives of millions by fixing debilitating mental illnesses, helping monks meditate, by facilitating more powerful group consciousness and thought, it is also restricted by governments, abused by criminals, and leads to power struggles.

Crux is an adrenaline filled ride through the near-term future. Set on a global stage in a near-future world where the United States tries to tight restricts technology through shadowy intelligence organizations, Nexus and Crux run the gamut of post-human technology: human-brain uploads, military body upgrades, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, but the definite star of the show is the Nexus drug and its impact on increasing the power of the human mind.

I recommend both books, although Crux won’t make sense without the setup of Nexus, so go read both. You’ll be left realizing the future will look much like Ramez Naam’s books, full of both beautiful and very scary possibilities.