Living with Robots and Cyborgs
By David G. Hartwell, Senior Editor
The title of this article is the subtitle of the book, Beyond Human, by Greg Benford and his wife, Elisabeth Malartre, and I use it for this piece because that’s really what the book is about. Greg and Elisabeth are both scientists, and both believe in science as a way to ameliorate and improve the human condition. Sincere belief is a really strong underpinning for a book, of whatever kind. Facts are facts, but belief can transform them into interesting patterns.
What Greg and Elisabeth have accomplished in this fairly short book is to assemble a lot of evidence, including interviews with other scientists, that makes you reassess how close the wild and imaginative future they are talking about is. The real surprise, when you stand back from the book, is that most of it is happening now, and we are living with it already.
Last year, for instance, we heard of Oscar Pistorius, whose legs were amputated when he was an infant. Using artificial replacement limbs, Pistorius wanted to run in the Olympics. He was initially prevented because he could run too fast—the artificial legs were faster than real human legs and constituted an artificial enhancement. That makes him a cyborg. We’ve come a long way from Long John Silver’s wooden leg.
Most of us know someone with a pacemaker, or a hearing aid—does that make them cyborgs? Maybe it does. As for myself, I have had an angioplasty that resulted in stents in my heart valves. I suppose I am a cyborg in a small way too.
Real robots are something else—no human parts. But there are a lot of them helping the war effort in Iraq now. They aren’t artificial intelligences—maybe they are artificial stupids, but they can do one or two things sufficiently well to be a real help. There has been a lot of talk, only some of it in science fiction, about artificial intelligence and nanomachines and life extension—and some form of all of that is with us now. And there will most probably be more improvements in our lifetimes.
Greg Benford wants to live forever. He may not get to do that, but he really wants it, and that is part of the motivation behind this project. He would also like superintelligence, and almost transcendent powers. And you know, this is not entirely implausible for him and for all of us.
Beyond Human is a book full of things we already know cast in a new light, and some real surprises. It is popular science the way I like it.
Beyond Human (0-7653-1083-X / 978-0-7653-1083-5, $15.95 US / $17.95 CAN) will be available from Forge in December.
Cherie Priest discusses Fathom and writing with Kat Richardson
This interview was conducted by Kat Richardson, New York Times bestselling author of the Greywalker series
Kat Richardson: Did writing this book present any significant challenges?
Cherie Priest: Oh God yes. I’d been working on Fathom for nearly ten years. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it but the novel began with a dream, which evolved into a ninety-page fragment that I truly loved…but I struggled to turn that fragment into a full-length work for years. It wasn’t until I ran through it with my editor, Liz Gorinsky, that I was finally able to pull it together. Maybe this one just needed a ten-year incubation period, I don’t know—but it’s definitely the toughest thing I ever finished.
K.R.: Most authors say all their stories are personal. Is this true for you? In what way?
C.P.: If I was being flippant I’d say that I, personally, wanted to tell a big messy epic with monsters, pirates, delusional cultists, unjustly treated elder gods, and the occasional squicky murder. And that would be totally true; but it’s also true that this particular novel is much more personal than that.
I was born on the Gulf Coast of Florida—and although I haven’t lived there since I was a teenager, I wanted to write a novel about “home.” My first three novels were set in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I resided for over a decade. I loved Tennessee but I missed the ocean. At heart I’m a water baby, I suppose, and the Tennessee River is mighty, but it wasn’t the big, sunset-swallowing tide I grew up with. I wanted to tell a story about the capriciousness of the sea, and this is that story.
K.R.: What sort of research did you have to do?
C.P.: Really, I just went home. My mom and grandmother now live in Avon Park, Florida—not terribly far from Lake Wales, where part of the book is set. I went to the Bok Tower gardens and collected every stray pamphlet I could get my hands on, maps and whatnot, and then back out to Anna Maria Island, where the rest of Fathom happens.
I first went to Anna Maria during my senior year of college. I stayed with friends in an old Victorian cottage. We found a boarded-up house from the 1920s a few blocks away and wanted to get inside, but there’s a big difference between “trespassing” and “breaking and entering,” so we restrained ourselves.
It was a beautiful old place, and I always said I was going to set a story there, someday—though last time I went to the island, the house had been torn down. This is my way of remembering it.
K.R.: So what’s next?
C.P.: I’m moving my fiction to my newly adopted home port of Seattle. I love the way the steampunk movement has really taken hold here, and I intend to capitalize upon it with my next novel, Boneshaker.
A couple of years ago I came across a conversation on the web about how all the American steampunk fans were posers, because you couldn’t have proper steampunk without a Victorian London setting, and I begged to differ. I think the record will reflect that America had a big messy war and a whole lot of wild frontier action going on at the same time Victorian London was so very hip, and I’ve found that Seattle is the perfect place to explore a good alternate history/science fiction/steampunk universe. Boneshaker is chock full of zombies, outlaws, awesome steam and clockwork-powered tech, poisonous gas, war dirigibles, and mad scientists, so really—there’s something for everyone. (Boneshaker will be out in 2009 from Tor.)
Fathom (07653-1840-7; $25.95) will be available from Tor in December. You can visit Cherie Priest on the web at cheriepriest.com.
Something new on the Web: Tor.com!
By Torie Atkinson
On July 20th, 2008, we at Tor celebrated two things: the 39th anniversary of the man setting foot on the moon, and the launch of Tor.com.
For those of you who have not yet stumbled across our red rocket, Tor.com is devoted to news and discussion about science fiction, fantasy, and all the things that interest SF and fantasy readers. It is an initiative of Tor Books and Macmillan but those writing for the site include a wide range of bloggers, editors, and authors published by many other houses and from all corners of the science fiction and fantasy field.
Each month, we offer a free electronic download of a science fiction or fantasy novel, without DRM and in a variety of formats. Our September giveaway honored the first married couple to both be nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel: Emma Bull (for Territory) and Will Shetterly (for The Gospel of the Knife). We gave away a pair of classics: Bull’s War for the Oaks and Shetterly’s Dogland. The current book available for free download is Jane Lindskold’s The Buried Pyramid. These books are only available to registered users for a limited time, so sign up today!
In addition to our ebooks, we publish original short fiction from award-winning authors in speculative fiction, each accompanied by one or more beautiful illustrations. So far we have published stories by such luminaries as Elizabeth Bear, Terry Bisson, Cory Doctorow, Steven Gould, Rudy Rucker, John Scalzi, and Charles Stross. Our most recent story, “A Water Matter,” comes from Jay Lake, the 2004 Campbell Award winner for Best New Writer. Each story can also be downloaded in a variety of ebook formats or as an mp3 read by the author.
And fiction is only the beginning: Tor.com presents original comics and sequential art ranging from webcomics stars such as Emily Horne and Joey Comeau of A Softer World fame, and relative newcomers like Wesley Allsbrook. We just wrapped up a six week serial titled “Better Zombies Through Physics,” by Jim Ottaviani and Sean Bieri, a comic that Schrödinger himself would have enjoyed. Comics are only a fraction of the art available in Tor.com’s extensive galleries, which feature impressive illustrators of the fantastic like Dan Dos Santos, Eric Fortune, John Harris, and Greg Ruth.
And finally: our blog. Tor.com is the only place where you can see Jo Walton, Jane Lindskold, and John Joseph Adams rubbing elbows on the front page, bringing you news and commentary on everything from cute robots to the rise of Twitter, from a review of the latest Pratchett novel to the future of the Singularity in fiction. But most importantly, Tor.com is a community of fans and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Stop by for a while. You can comment on our blogs and stories, talk to the authors, connect to other fans, and even start your own conversations. What do you have to say?
The aim of Tor.com is to provoke, encourage, and enable interesting and rewarding conversations with and among its readers. We hope that you’ll join us, and that you enjoy the many things we have to offer.