In his New Book, Douglas Lain Asks if the ‘Singularity’ will Bring Man’s Salvation–or Endless Rounds of Mario Kart

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The technological “singularity” is a popular topic among futurists, transhumanists, philosophers, and, of course, science fiction writers. The term refers to that hypothetical moment when an artificial superintelligence surpasses human intelligence, leading to runaway—and unpredictable—advances in technology.

Among the biggest unknowns is whether or not the superintelligence will turn out to be benign of malevolent.

Douglas Lain

“All sorts of visions arise, one of which might be the total annihilation of humanity by [artificial intelligences] and robots. Another might be that we all get to live forever as the robots and A.I.s overcome aging and help us launch into space,” Douglas Lain tells me in the new episode of New Books in Science Fiction.

To some, Lain’s vision of the singularity in Bash Bash Revolution might sound benign. It involves an idealistic government scientist, who designs an artificial intelligence named Bucky to prevent the apocalypse; in short order, Bucky decides the best way to do so is by enticing people to play augmented-reality video games.

But things turn dark when people abandon their ordinary lives—including jobs and families—to don virtual-reality headsets and become their favorite characters in retro video and arcade games.

Told through the social media posts of the son of Bucky’s inventor, Bash Bash Revolution is set in today’s America, with Donald Trump serving as Bucky’s most urgent problem. “It’s a race between Trump’s stupidity and the A.I.’s ability to transform society to make Trump irrelevant. That was certainly how [Bucky’s inventor] conceived of it. His task was to help the A.I save us from ourselves and save us from Trump,” Lain says.

Lain was a guest on New Books in Science Fiction in 2016 to talk about After the Saucers Landed, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. He is also the publisher of Zero Books, which specializes in books about philosophy and political theory.

A student of philosophy, Lain was partially inspired to write Bash Bash Revolution by philosopher and Marxist Guy Debord who argued in The Society of the Spectacle that images had become the ultimate commodity. “I thought ‘What if you really took that to heart?’” Lain says. “This concept of the singularity and being absorbed into virtual reality and video games and augmented video games is what I came up with—what the society of the spectacle would really be.”

Another inspiration for the book was his frustration with always losing to his son at video games. “I wanted to tell a story about a middle-aged father who could beat his son at Super Smash Bros. Melee,” he says.


Anti-Patent Pirates are the Cure to Capitalism’s Ills in Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous

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Jack Chen is a drug pirate, illegally fabricating patented pharmaceuticals in an underground lab. But when she discovers a deadly flaw in Big Pharma’s new productivity pill, corporate bosses hire a team of assassins to silence her.

Annalee Newitz’s novel Autonomous isn’t only a fast-paced cat-and-mouse story. It’s also an exploration of the rapaciousness of capitalism and its ability to turn everything, even freedom, into a commodity.

Annalee Newitz

Her first novel, Autonomous has been widely acclaimed, receiving Nebula and Lambda Literary award nominations.

“I’ve written a lot about patents and how they affect innovation and how companies use patents to screw customers over,” Newitz, a journalist and founder of io9, told me on New Books in Science Fiction. In Autonomous, she highlights how “something dry and wonky like patent law has a life or death hold over us.”

Newitz also turns the idea of robot rebellion on its head. “I wanted to tweak this idea that is such a big cliché in science fiction about a society that builds a bunch of robots to be their slaves, and these slave robots rise up and enslave humanity.”

In Autonomous, which is set 150 years in the future, robots and human are in the same boat—both subject to servitude. “As soon as we can quantify something that we’re saying is equivalent to human life—we’re saying these robots are human equivalents—it’s super easy legally and ethically … to put a dollar value on human life.” And when that happens, “everyone will end up being enslaved,” she says.


Becky Chambers, Author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Enjoys the Short, Well-Earned Way to Success

In the new episode of New Books in Science Fiction, I interview Becky Chambers, author of the Wayfarer series. Her first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Harper Voyager, 2016), was originally self-published then quickly picked up by a traditional publisher, garnering numerous accolades. It was shortlisted for, among other things, the Kitschies, a British Fantasy Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her second book, A Closed and Common Orbit (Harper Voyager, 2017), was nominated this year for a Hugo for Best Novel and won the Prix Julia Verlanger.

Billed as a space opera, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet does the unexpected: rather than focus on battles or threats to civilization it offers an intimate portrait of the relationships among the nine members of the Wayfarer spacecraft’s multi-species crew. And with A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers does the unexpected again: rather than follow the Wayfarer’s crew on a new adventure, it focuses on two of the lesser characters from the first book, offering poignant coming-of-age portraits in a far-flung corner of the universe.

In the interview, Chambers discusses how she creates new species and cultures in such convincing detail, why she decided to place humans in the humbling position of being a minor species in the universe, how being gay informs her sensibilities as an author, and the journey the The Long Way took to publication–from Kickstarter campaign to international acclaim.