Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer
“The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 3
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“The Singularity is in Your Hair”
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“Will You Meet Me There, Out Beyond the Bend?”
Nightmare Magazine 63
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Smokopolitan nr 10
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“The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Bifrost
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“In Memory of a Summer’s Day”
Mad Hatters and March Hares
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“The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Tor.com
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“Love Engine Optimization”
Lightspeed Magazine 85
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“One Spring in Cherryville”
Available in most ebook formats
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
XB-1
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“The Singularity is in Your Hair”
Cyber World
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)
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“The Problem of Meat”
Grendelsong
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2016
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“Demon in Aisle 6”
Nightmare Magazine 38
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
World Chinese SF Association
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“The Thing in the Refrigerator That Could Stop Time”
Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest
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“Marie and the Mathematicians”
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #26
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“The Writing’s on the Wall”
Farrago's Wainscot #5
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“The Sembla”
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Hatter Bones
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“Saving Diego”
Interzone #221
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“The Spaces Between Things”
Electric Velocipede 17/18
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Apex Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 3
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“The Suffering Gallery”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 57
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Magazine #42
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“The History Within Us”
The People of the Book
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“The Hands That Feed”
Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
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“The Bricks of Gelecek”
Naked City
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“The Hands That Feed”
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk
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“The Suffering Gallery”
The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three
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“The Great Game at the End of the World”
After
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Lightspeed Magazine and io9.com
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Year Four
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“The Last Probe”
Launch Pad
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“Pheth’s Aviary”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 133
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Clarkesworld Magazine #92
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
XB-1 Issue 8/2014
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Космопорт (Kosmoport)
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“The History Within Us”
XB-1 Issue 11/2014
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“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”
Clarkesworld Magazine #98
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2015
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
Clarkesworld Magazine
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Advice for Millennials (and Anyone Else, Really)

I am not a Millennial. I’m Generation X1. And don’t worry, this is not a “Get off my lawn!” post or “I walked to school uphill both ways in fifty feet of snow!” post either. I’m here to talk to you about manipulation. Specifically, the manipulation of You.

I was born in the mid-70s. My first computer was a TRS-80:

 

 

Tandy Radio Shack's TRS-80

Tandy Radio Shack’s TRS-80

It had 4K of RAM. To understand how small that is, know that the image of the TRS-80 above is 128K or, 32 times more than the entire memory of the computer.

I took a few programming courses in the early 80s. This was an exceedingly rare thing to do in the 80s, especially for someone as young as me. (I thank my friend Jay L. for introducing me). I was about 8 or 9 and the class was (to my recollection) mostly 14-18 year olds. We programmed Commodore PETs and sometimes Apple IIs. This is what they looked like in all their green-screened 8-bit glory:

 

 

Commodore PET 4032

Commodore PET 4032

 

&

 

Apple II

Apple II

 

Back in the early 80s, this is what the Internet looked like:

 

The Internet, circa 1983

The Internet, circa 1983

In other words, there was no Internet. Okay, there was ARPANET, and universities already had a basic working model of TCP/IP, but for the bulk of humanity, the Internet wasn’t even a gleam in their eye.

When you wanted to find out what was going on in the world, you consulted a newspaper:

New York Times 1983

New York Times 1983

Or the TV:

 

And lots of people got their news via the radio too. Things weren’t better then. They were just different.

This is what the Internet looks like today:

The Internet, 2017

The Internet, 2017

It’s a planet-sized nuclear gigaton of overflowing exploding rainbows. Back when I started programming in 1983/4 there were maybe a few hundred Internet nodes in universities and the military. Today, that number 3.58 billion, and climbing. Note that there are approximately 7 billion humans on the planet, so that means nearly 50% are using the Internet.

When I went off to study Computer Science in college (go figure), the gospel you often heard in the department halls among starry-eyed freshman was that mass connectivity would bring out a new golden age in human communication. But there was always one pesky problem they didn’t consider. The signal to noise ratio.

“The Web will have a profound effect on the markets and the cultures around the world: intelligent agents will either stabilise or destabilise markets; the demise of distance will either homogenise or polarise cultures; the ability to access the Web will be either a great divider or a great equaliser; the path will either lead to jealousy and hatred or peace and understanding.”

—Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

In any free and open medium, there exists the potential for abuse. Take for example email, which was originally developed as a way for university professors to communicate more easily. Who would have thought that by 2017 we’d be sending 269 billion emails per day and almost 50% of them would be spam. The only reason email is still a viable communication option is that our filtering systems have gotten so good at deciding what we don’t see.

Remember this point. I’ll be returning to it in a moment.

Today, when we get online, it’s a bit like being shot in the face with a firehose:

Getting online in 2017

Getting online in 2017

There are massive streams of information forced into our eyes from, well, everywhere. With all that noise, it can be hard to determine what’s important and what to ignore. 

The problem is, we’re not deciding. And what do I mean by this? I mean that more than two-thirds of adults get at least some of their news via social media. And they are deciding what we see.

I follow thousands of people on Twitter. I have a metric crap-ton of Facebook “friends.” I can’t possibly read all of their updates and posts. There isn’t enough time in the universe. So to prevent me from being sprayed with the firehose of information, social media sites curate what I see. Now, remember what I said about our filtering systems.

Via some hidden mechanism, I am shown only what the social media sites decide is relevant for me. To do this, they use Coca Cola and Pop Rocks and ancient black magic, and nineteen sacrificial goats, and unicorn fairy dust, and well — any and all of this could be true, because the truth is we have no idea how social media sites filter what we see.

This is what their filtering algorithm looks like:

The Internet, circa 1983

Information redacted

 

Their filtering methods are a big black box that we can’t peer into. Oh, we’re given a few hints here and there as to what might get our posts and Tweets “seen” by more people. But the truth is, we don’t know how they are filtering what we see. And we don’t know what they are filtering.

And this is really, really, really bad.

This is bad because it gives them all the power. We already know that Facebook experimented with manipulating people’s moods. We already know that social media ads targeted to specific individuals were used to influence the 2016 U.S. elections. But this is just what we know for sure. So consider this: Do you honestly think with so much power to manipulate people there isn’t someone using it? No, of course they are. 

You are being manipulated. Period. 

I’ll let that sit for a minute. Then I’ll say it again.

You are being manipulated. Doubt me? Read this.

The bottom line is, if you get most of your information about the world through social media (and any other “curated” sites) then someone else is deciding what’s best for you, i.e. they are manipulating you. You are giving someone else immense power to shape your opinions, often without you even realizing it’s happening.

You might not think you’re being manipulated. But you are. Every day.

You should be concerned when the creator of the Like button bans himself from social media.

As someone who has seen the world shift from no Internet, to billions of Internet users, I’ve witnessed this change. And it’s alarming, to say the least. You might counter that back in 1984 that the same thing was going on, that with only a few local newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasts, the narrative could be shaped just as easily. And you’d be right. There’s a reason why many social justice issues didn’t reach the light of day until the rise of the Internet. The media ignored them, and therefore so did most everyone else.

But what’s being hidden from you now? And what is being shown? Are you deciding what you see? Or are you letting someone else? Don’t mistake your glass-walled prison for freedom.

Our current era of modern connectivity gives us near unlimited power to communicate. But by narrowing our communication channels into increasingly fewer and more powerful companies, we are ceding control to entities who remain unaccountable to us. We have no reason to believe they have our best interests in mind, especially when they try to shape those same interests.

It would be a waste of energy to petition the companies to make their filtering algorithms public. A private company has a right to keep its algorithms proprietary. Instead, I believe the only viable solution is to willingly disengage ourselves from these mammoth, monolithic social media entities.2 

Suggested further reading:

1. I loathe the generalization of generations into neat little marketing pockets like “Millennial” and “Generation X”, but I got your attention now, didn’t I?

2. Some readers may note that I still use social media. This is true. And I’m trying to disengage from it. It isn’t easy. In the end, I plan to use social media only as a way to announce significant professional events in my life, and to share occasional bits of information I find useful. But I do not plan to use it as a primary information mechanism. I’d much rather use other methods of information gathering that are not opaquely filtered.


Reading at Line Break

I’ll be reading at the Line Break reading series in Astoria, Queens on November 4th. The series is hosted by Bill Shunn. Joining me are: Peter Bryce, Austin Grossman, Sam J. Miller, David Mills, and Kem Joy Ukwu. Hope you can join us! 


Deciding Which Humans AIs Should Kill

Humans rarely have time to make ethical choices before car accidents

First, read this article, “What Would the Average Human Do?” at The Outline. I’ll wait here.

Finished? Great!

So: it sounds scary, teaching some mindless AI program to execute an ethical routine that coldly calculates who should live and who should die, like a digital Unetaneh Tokef. But it shouldn’t, because this is exactly the same thing we do with children. We impart our cultural values and morals onto our offspring, and we hope that when the time comes, they will make the same ethical choices we would.

Yes, the ethical sampling pool in the above article may have been self-selected, but isn’t it always true that, when imparting values onto children, the pool is small? Who imparts ethical values onto children? It’s the ones closest to them: their parents, their closest friends, their teachers. Maybe a few significant persons in the community such as a rabbi, priest, or friend. All they are doing differently with AI is transferring that ethical knowledge onto an algorithm, for quick access.

The other important thing to point out is that in the milliseconds of reaction time a human being has to decide how to react in an accident, they are not pondering a long Talmudic list of ethical dilemmas, so that they may decide on the best course of action. They are slamming on the breaks, they are swerving, and reacting primarily from instinct. Yes, that instinct can be affected by one’s morals, but in general an AI performing this ethical calculation can do so much faster and in much more depth than any human could. By imparting our ethical codes into a machine, we actually make the world more ethical (and safer) than if a human was behind the wheel.

Yes, my ethical code may not overlap 100% with yours, and probably doesn’t overlap much at all with someone from ISIS, but in any society, there is usually a strong general consensus about what is considered ethical behavior. So for example, cars in Italy should have ethical sampling from mainly Italians. Cars in Saudi Arabia, from Saudi Arabians. Etc. At the end of the day, these machines will just be extensions of us. There is no cold, brutal calculation here. These are our values expanded into the world.

We should welcome this.    

 


Geeks Guide to the Galaxy podcast on Blade Runner

In this Geeks Guide to the Galaxy episode, host David Barr Kirtley speaks with Sara Lynn Michener, Daniel H. Wilson, and myself about Blade Runner, the original and the recently released sequel.

Listen here.


What It Means to Be Human: Five Works of Fiction That Explore Blade Runner’s Core Themes

From an article I recently wrote for Tor.com called “What It Means to Be Human: Five Works of Fiction That Explore Blade Runner’s Core Themes”. Continue reading via the link below.

“One of the reasons the original Blade Runner film has endured as a classic is its compelling exploration of what it means to be human. As the replicants struggle to extend their artificially brief lifespans, the seminal film probes our notions of empathy, slavery, identity, memory, and death, in profound yet subtle ways.

Blade Runner asks many questions of its audience. Does our capacity for empathy correlate with our humanity? Are we the sum total of our memories, or something more? Do our lives have meaning if no one remembers the things we’ve seen and done when we’re gone? How does questioning someone’s humanity perpetuate the institution of slavery? And what do our fears of a robot uprising tell us about our own human insecurities?

How one answers the film’s many questions is a Voight-Kampff test in itself. Blade Runner, in other words, is a two-hour long Rorschach test—no two people respond alike. We may see ourselves in the replicants, born into broken worlds not of our making, impressed with cultural memories, struggling to find meaning and connection in our all-too-brief lives. This, perhaps more than anything, explains why the film has resonated with so many. We paint our memories and prejudices onto the screen, and what we take from it is uniquely ours.”

Keep reading at Tor.com.


Story sale: “The Marsh of Camarina”

I’m happy to announce a new short story sale: “The Marsh of Camarina” will appear in the Canadian anthology SHADES WITHIN US: Tales of Migration and Fractured Borders, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law. Revenue from this anthology will go directly to support the mental health and community food growing programs provided by Mood Disorders Association and Alex Community Food Centre. In addition, the publisher, Laksa Media will donate CAN$1,000 upon the publication of the anthology.

“The Marsh of Camarina” is about artificial intelligence, job replacement, universal basic income (UBI), and seeking purpose in a world where traditional modes of work have become obsolete. 

I’m happy to be a part of this.