- Ware Tetralogy: Software, Wetware
I must've read Software on release in 1982 or in the next year; heavy stuff for a 12- or 13-year-old little mutant Mark. I've reread it a number of times since, and got more out of it each time. This time, it's notable how short and fast it is for so much information.
I guess I should mention, since some people are neurotic about this, there's a lot of sex, drugs, nudity, more sex, really weird drugs, cannibalism, and bodily functions. Also a lot of violence, but the people who are most neurotic about harmless, consensual sex or drugs seem to think murdering people is fine, respectable behavior. This is why you Humans freak me out and repulse me.
Software (1982): Cobb Anderson goes from crusty old drunk to immediately going along with ("waving") the Boppers' (AI robots he created and then freed from Asimovian slavery) plan to immortalize some Humans by the messiest process possible. Sta-Hi Mooney's given very short shrift here, much of what I remember of him actually comes from the next book.
The Bopper architecture and programming are discussed in depth, and the Little Boppers' war on the Big Boppers (centralization instead of anarchy) is surprisingly, pointedly relevant to current reality for a 36-year-old book. Since the book is set in 2020, and Cobb made the Boppers for Lunar mining, uh, we're WAY fucking behind on space and robotics in our shitty timeline.
The religion Personetics is super obvious as a scam, and yet Humans really fall for Dianetics (in my OMNI rereads, Dianetics is advertising every issue with this faux-serious tone), or for that matter any religion, which are all just scams to take your money and control you. And then everything goes sideways, lack of backup systems and over-controlling middle management ruin everything. Fin.
Wetware (1988): I read this just going into college to fuck my brain up. Probably haven't read the whole thing since then, skimmed it in parts. The first half following Sta-Hi, er, "Stahn" Mooney and a number of boppers in a city stolen from the boppers on the Moon, is great. FANtastic, full of weird drugs, sex, murders, people with rats in their heads. The Boppers are desperate and vindictive here, war and evolution pushing them to the edge.
Second arc about Della and her new "son" on Earth is annoying, weird, and… As Cobb says, "Della's parents are jerks, I'll tell you that much. What kind of couple is named Jason and Amy?" Cousin Willy Taze screwing around (sometimes literally) with AIs is the only redeeming part of this entire shitty set of chapters. The Gimmie (easily the best name ever for the Federal government) reacts only with murder and fear, like usual. While I mostly agree with the principles of "Manchile's Thang!", the free love equality cult, I dislike every part of the delivery.
Third arc back on the Moon, and the end of the Boppers, seems a little formulaic crime drama for a while, until it gets into what price Stahn's willing to pay for revenge and to recover his wife in any form. The weapon used is interesting; as our chips get more complex, side attacks like that look more practical. The moldies and Happy Cloak's return are all friendly and heroic here, which is… not how it'll be in later books.
The first book is under 180 pages, and it flew past in a couple days; it's dense but fast, a lightspeed bullet to shatter your brain. Second's just over 200, feels much longer, and took me a couple starts; most of the good parts in 5 days, but then after the second arc I paused a couple weeks. Freeware is 300. Realware is another 315. And I recall these aren't any less dense. May need some lighter fare first.
While the page count is about the same as the previous two novellas, this one feels really short and thin, largely because there's only a very short and mostly uneventful ship ride and then a single main story of hijinks, and for most of that Murderbot is an observer.
The facility where most of the time is spent is given only a desultory description, often I have to piece together how it looks and fits together when something is introduced, like windows along the service tunnels. I still have very little idea of what the planet surface is like. There's some "haunted spaceship" atmosphere for a bit, and then reality sets in and Murderbot just has to solve problems, i.e. do some hacking and then very destructive combat.
A bot named Miki is somewhat interesting, as the exact opposite of Murderbot in every way. The humans in this are, as always, dumb, slow, and annoying, whether helpful or antagonistic. It's the reverse of how most SF treats robotics, where the people are interesting and the bots are all the same.
But I can't say this one's that great, full price is excessive on a novella that doesn't deliver. ★★★½☆
Next novella should finish this story, and I'd hope after that Martha writes full novels in the setting.
I'd grab "Mediocrity, with a dash of gun play and occasional plot twist" (Robert Parker?).
- Read HP Lovecraft's works
- HPL illustration by IrenHorrors, her Edgar Allen Poe is also superb.
- Poisoned Dreams, by The Unquiet Void: Mood music
- The Shadow-Haunted Outside, by The Unquiet Void
- Between the Twilights, by The Unquiet Void
Below, one of my favorites to curl up and enjoy; "The Book" fragment elaborates on the first few sections, but the poetic rewrite is more effective:
Fungi from Yuggoth, by H.P. Lovecraft:
I. The Book
The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.
Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,
Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof—congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.
I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.
I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight in such a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbor lanes
With often-turning head and nervous pace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clean blue sky.
No one had seen me take the thing—but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange—the walls alike and madding—
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.
III. The Key
I do not know what windings in the waste
Of those strange sea-lanes brought me home once more,
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door.
I had the book that told the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensioned worlds at bay,
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.
At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that brood
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth’s precisions,
Lurking as memories of infinitude.
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw—just once—that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same—an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids—and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:
A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.
Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you
Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!
A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.
A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.
All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world
A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.
After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"
These stories, they're just stories of their time.
2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".
TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.
Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).
Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.
This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.
So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.
Murderbot returns, looking for its origin story and some peace and quiet to watch stupid TV shows in. Along the way, it meets a transport with excess time/intelligence on its… well, no hands… and some dumb kid researchers who need security, and has to pass as something it can't even make eye contact with.
"Yes, the giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human. This will go well."
As I was hoping for, there's more background, several mall-like stations are explored even if Murderbot can't do a lot of social interaction. Several nice fights and "how stupid can Humans be?" bits.
Short and SUPER breezy, but exactly what I want more of.
MagicNet, by John DeChancie (1993): What if there's magic in the modern world, but it needs a computer "network" to make it real?
Everything below is SPOILER, because I want to talk about ideas not explained until the end.
Skye King (he references the TV show, but not the Kris Kristofferson song ) hears his friend Grant get murdered during a phone call, and then receives a box of 3.5" floppies (the fancy kind) containing programs OUIJA and RAGNAROK. OUIJA allows him to type and soon speak directly to Grant's "ghost". RAGNAROK is a tool for revenge against Merlin; no, not that Merlin, just some guy named Lloyd Merlin Jones.
This is where things get weird and/or stupid. Witches and wizards are all over, using computers but no longer really needing modems to reach the "Magic Net". They can project hallucinations and in some cases "demons" all over, but maybe can't do anything real? It's suggested that non-magical people wouldn't perceive anything, and maybe non-magical explanations would be "true" in base reality.
Nobody in this says "Internet", despite being written 5+ years after most universities got Internet access and just before AOL & the September That Never Ended. From 1989-1993 I was spending most of my time on USENET and playing CircleMUD or LambdaMOO, which were essentially the magical world already. Once, a witch describes the magical reality as "cyberspace", but this is just buzzword-speak, not a meaningful comparison.
Far, far too much of the book is first-person narration of mundane activities like cooking, or a plane flight, as if the author had never done that before or wanted to pad out the page count. Characters are introduced and forgotten almost every chapter.
This is almost like one of Rudy Rucker's Transrealism books, but nowhere near as weird, trippy, or fast-paced, and it makes far less sense. But they even name-drop and visit a famous SF writer.
The final section finally does go full drug-trip and has a semi-coherent explanation of how the magical reality is created, and if you paid attention to mythology (in particular Zoroastrian) you'll recognize all the spirits/demons names.
Certainly this is a poorly-written book, and the premise has been handled better by better writers; in particular Vernor Vinge's "True Names" handles the computer/fantasy interface, and Victor Koman's "The Jehovah Contract" covers the myth/reality/sexy witches interface. But it's an interesting work despite the mediocrity.
Or—more likely—a wide variety of nasty computer viruses. If Hiro reaches out and takes the hypercard, then the data it represents will be transferred from this guy’s system into Hiro’s computer. Hiro, naturally, wouldn’t touch it under any circumstances, any more than you would take a free syringe from a stranger in Times Square and jab it into your neck.
And it doesn’t make sense anyway. “That’s a hypercard. I thought you said Snow Crash was a drug,” Hiro says, now totally nonplussed.
“It is,” the guy says. “Try it.”
“Does it fuck up your brain?” Hiro says. “Or your computer?”
“Both. Neither. What’s the difference?”
Hiro finally realizes that he has just wasted sixty seconds of his life having a meaningless conversation with a paranoid schizophrenic. He turns around and goes into The Black Sun.
—Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, ch. 5
Not always, but sometimes.
In a short story called “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the discovery of a strange book. Written in an arcane language, the book seems to be one volume of an encyclopedia of another world, intriguingly unlike the world of everyday reality. The world of the volume rapidly becomes a universal obsession: scholarly journals were devoted to it, people begin to dress and act in ways suggested by the volume. So compelling are the glimpses of the world revealed by the volume that its reality finally crowds out our own, and the world becomes the world of Tlon.
The volume you are holding in your hands is the volume Borges had in mind.
—Michael Swaine, preface to Dr Dobb's Journal Vol 09