The nerd gods must be crazy: SFaaNM and The Terminal Experiment (1995) by Robert J. Sawyer

TheTerminalExperiment1Always with that contrived, ripped-from-the-headlines-plugged-into-a-thriller-type feel and the distracting sense that his characters are just cameos of folks he met while researching his book, but you would think that after decades (and even centuries) of SF exploring the ramifications of AI and the afterlife, Sawyer would come up with something more insightful than just murderous AIs and an imaginary proof of soul-life resulting from a few taps on the keyboard. Another example of hailed Hard sci-fi that relies on arbitrary fantasy tools and measurements that are just as fuzzy as any magic spell. As a nineties novel, it can be valued for its projections of the current form of the digital age, though most interesting is the optimistic ending for his highly flawed protagonist. Given Sawyer’s commercial success and formulaic approach, it’s hard not to wonder if he and his readers have overlooked the fact of the protagonist’s abominable, sociopathic behavior. But surely… Continue reading

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WWW: Wake (2009) by Robert J. Sawyer

“The sky above… was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.” Wake

When Robert Sawyer winks at this opening line from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, it’s a reminder of how drastically technology has changed over the past 30 years. When Gibson wrote that line in 1984, it was intended to evoke the gray fuzziness of a disconnected screen. Two and a half decades later, Sawyer uses the same line to describe a bright blue sky. For me, five years and an awesome Sony app box later, a dead channel is as black as the night of a new moon (with an HDMI input notification in the top corner).

But that line also illustrates how drastically the cyber SF sub-genre has also changed over the past 30 years. Neuromancer is the seminal piece: dark, edgy, and weird, while Wake is safe, comfortable, and sweet. Neuromancer‘s main character is a suicidal adult male with a drug addiction. Wake‘s main character is an optimistic teen girl with good grades and high self-esteem. Both explore similar themes of emerging technology, primarily human interaction with artificial intelligence, but they go about it in completely different ways. If Neuromancer is cyberpunk, then Wake is cyberpop. Continue reading