Monday, April 12, 2021

Necrogarden

 


Necrogarden (Book Two: NeuralTech Rising Series)


Necrogarden, the second in Bryon Vaughn's trilogy, moves straight into the action as agents Landry and Mack give chase to Jenny and Leo. They, against the odds, escaped the Garden, a terrifying, secret technological construct powered by human minds. 


As the title implies, Necrogarden takes a sinister turn from its prequel, Neurogarden, introducing a dark assortment of antagonists, Takahiro and Mack, both prepared to unleash brutal violence on their targets, "seeking the next level of pain". The quick move to action grips the reader from the beginning, although it helps to have read book one. 


Brenna, the ruthless CEO of NeuralTech, barely holds the reins of her company. Now she enlists Artificial Intelligence, in the guise of her virtual assistant, Hal, to run the Garden. However, Hal goes rogue, carefully manipulating all around him to gain control.


All the main characters from the first book, Brenna, Jenny and Leo, are unwittingly caught in Hal's deceptive web, challenging their motives. Other characters, such as Brenna's father, are seamlessly linked into the story without any drop in pacing.


Vaughn's novel takes a decidedly dark turn from the first novel, moving more to horror than science fiction, but it's the thriller elements that bind this fast-paced story. For those who like their antagonists with a sadistic bent, this novel is for you. 4 STARS



Neurogarden (Book One: NeuralTech Rising Series)


Neurogarden, Bryon Vaughn's imaginative debut novel, delves into the possible future of AI technology. The theme is a familiar one: the corporate impulse to exploit profit and power no matter how questionable the technology versus those who see the moral disadvantage. It reminds me a little of Neuromancer, but with less tech and more of the thriller element. 


The CEO of NeuralTech Corporation, Brenna Patrick, has developed the world's most effective and accurate facial recognition system. Unsurprisingly, it has attracted the Department of Defence's collaborative funding, but the company's operations are not what they seem.


The antagonist, Brenna Patrick, possesses a ruthless ambition and superior intelligence that drives her to succeed no matter the cost, both to herself or those who dare to cross her path. A perfectionist at heart in all things, Brenna possesses a selfish streak that ultimately leads to her downfall.


The protagonist, Jenny Marcado, loyally supported by her grad student friend, Leo Marino, inadvertently fall into Brenna's dark web whilst innocently pitching their business acumen to NeuralTech. Jenny's presentation fearlessly speaks the truth to power, impressing Brenna and sparking an interest between them that extends beyond professional competence. A fatal attraction develops.


Jenny and Leo are drawn ever deeper into Brenna's shadowy corporate web, leading to a thrilling cat and mouse game between those who wish to expose NeuralTech's secrets and those who want to protect them.


I enjoy the new wave of tech science fiction, exploring the impact of new technology on society. Vaughn's take on 'The Garden' was an intriguing and imaginative journey. It took some time to reach the action as it introduced character backstories, unnecessarily slowing the pace. That said, the second half of the book quickly gathers momentum. Vaughn's atmospheric prose soars when it reaches the beating heart of NeuralTech's technology, 'The Garden'. The imaginative dreamlike experience is effectively counterbalanced with thriller elements, making for an entertaining and thought-provoking story.


Fans of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and Philip K Dick's Minority Report should enjoy Neurogarden. 4 Stars


Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Australian and British Science Fiction Awards 2020



Australian Science Fiction Awards


The Aurealis Awards are an annual literary award for Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. It was established in 1995 by Chimera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis Magazine.


The Aurealis nominations are out for the best science fiction novels for 2020. There is a good mix of new writers and previous winners and nominees.

The nominations are:


Ghost Species, James Bradley;


Aurora Burning, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff;


Fauna, Donna Mazza;


The Animals in That Country, Laura Jean McKay;


The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall;


Repo Virtual, Corey J White.



British Science Fiction Awards


The 2020 British Science Fiction Awards (BSFA) are awarded every year by the British Science Fiction Association based on the votes of BSFA members, and in recent years, members of the British National Science Fiction Convention, Eastercon.

The 2020 awards will be held online from April 2 to 5, 2021. The nominees for all categories can be viewed on this link.


There’s an interesting group of science fiction novels this year and I have read one of the nominations. 

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. 


Two more interesting standouts for me are:


Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffany Angus; and 


Water Must Fall by Nick Wood.






Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chandelier



CHANDELIER is the genre-bending follow-up of Michael Leon’s 2019 fantasy-romance novel, PHANTOMS. 


Set a hundred years into the future, AI has achieved super intelligence and surpassed human knowledge, and yes humanity’s existence had been challenged. However, AI developed a solution, residing in their own ‘Virtual Earth’, leaving humans, now a minority, to share an environmentally damaged Earth with post-humans, technologically enhanced humans who are the dominant species. 


This uneasy alliance is governed under the watchful eye of AI. AI sentients, near perfect human replicas, have been developed as a method of better understanding humans. They possess only some of the vast cognitive powers of AI’s residing in Virtual Earth. Unaware of their origins, they believe they are human. 


This is the story of one such sentient, Benny, a talented musician, who is hired by a famous opera singer, Madame D’Arenberg (Diva), to help fulfill her final performance at the Garnier. Benny initially welcomes the opportunity, before he is swept up in the Phantom’s world, exposing him to the deadly web cast over two centuries and the awful truth about Diva’s life.




Read Excerpt One: Benny and Diva

Hotel patrons streamed in from all corners of Paris SC (Super City) into Benny's world. The high-level retreat filled with an atmospheric fog, not from long-banned substances, but personal coms, permanently activated by the long-haulers, post-humans who congregated after a fifty straight hours shift. Some welcomed Benny's music but most preferred the personalised entertainment from their com. A few humans, 'old gen's' were scattered around the room, mostly aids accompanying wealthy post-humans, the new elite. 

Benny practised scales masquerading as background music before turning his talents to playing neoclassical noir in an attempt to break through their digital wall of indifference. Halfway into the musical arrangement, he scaled up the digital accompaniment, unable to play the piano's challenging set. The loss of control baffled him. What was usually easy could become an alarming challenge as his mind struggled to connect the paper's voluminous notes with his hand coordination. He played the more straightforward accompaniment with his good right hand. No one seemed to notice his struggle. He glanced across to the best tables, lining the panoramic view of the whirlpool of districts spiking web-like across the super city, housing the vast majority of the French population. They weren't even interested in Paris's most lovely view. Why should they care about his music?


The views that evening offered a special treat. Stars momentarily appeared in the sky, a rare event as the permanently thick cumulus layers choked the Earth's post-industrial stratosphere. A clearer view lay below. Climate roads cut green lines between a vast sea of regenerated buildings. Their cloud scraper fronted a 'farmlane', the largest of the old highways approved for farming under artificial 'sunstrips' where autonomous croppers tended to the super-city's food chain. 


Benny was the only unaccompanied human in the house. He relished the challenge of drawing post-humans attention from their virtual lives, but most nights, he failed, playing his heart out to phantoms, no longer fascinated by the natural world. Surprisingly, one table was taking an interest. 



Listen to the Podcast: Benny and Diva

Like the excerpt? Listen to the PODCAST Benny and Diva, and hear the song that motivated the story, CHANDELIER. (Note: the podcast is still being developed and will be available in April)



The Prequel: Phantoms

If you like the sound of CHANDELIER, read the prequel, PHANTOMS, available in Amazon. Click on the book cover for details.





Win the tour prize!  Go to the LINK to enter.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Time Gatherer



Book Overview


Coming of age as a time traveler isn’t easy. Young George St. James gets help from a magical medieval monk and a 23rd century geneticist. But they can’t keep him safe from a secret society dedicated to eliminating time travel. When love unexpectedly arrives in a distant century, George must use all his skill to thwart his foes while trying to save his beloved from their malice.



My Review


The Time Gatherer, a prequel to Rachel Dacus's novel, The Renaissance Club, explores the backstory of George St James, the leader of the Renaissance Club, a group of historians touring Italy. I didn't read the earlier novel, but it wasn't necessary to enjoy its prequel.


The Time Gather provides the YA reader with an enjoyable journey into the world of Renaissance art and time travel. George, the protagonist from 2073 AD, is dealing with the changes of adolescence and a genetic ability to skip through time with a single thought. 


An ensemble of mentors, Sanders his butler, Dr Zheng a 23rd-century geneticist and Bernardo, a medieval monk, assist George. However, George is an impatient student who allows love to get in the way of rational decision making, often running the gauntlet of time travel and the inherent risks, notably being discovered by The Optimalists, who want time gathering outlawed.


He adventures across generations of the creative arts world, from twentieth-century rock music to the seventeenth century's Renaissance art, meeting an assortment of beautiful women, ultimately falling in love with Elisabetta, a gifted Renaissance artist.


The Time Gather is a well crafted YA story that captures the frustrations faced by this very stubborn protagonist. Dacus's vivid and painstakingly crafted descriptions of the art of painting was a joy to read. Whereas her portrayal of time travel training was less convincing and at times rushed. That said, the Time Gatherer is an enjoyable romp for young readers with interest in romance, art and Renaissance history.


Fans of Tempest by Julie Cross and The Here and Now by Ann Brashares should enjoy this book. 4 STARS



Excerpt 


Her hand was limp in his, and her eyes had ceased to move under closed lids.


“Elisabetta?”


He couldn’t take a breath until she took one, but her breathing was shallow and slow. George finally inhaled, a lump in his throat. But he couldn’t allow the tears. Not yet. Not while she lived. 


A single window above her bed let in a feeble shaft of light, but not much air. The stone walls oppressed him. This backward place. If only he could have transported his beloved to the airy apartment he lived in, four hundred years in the future. She could have recovered there. No one could get well in this backward century. 


He had offered to take Elisabetta with him, knowing that she would die of this unknown disease. In his time, they might have been able to cure her, but she’d refused. He wouldn’t force this brilliant young painter to leave everything she’d ever known when that might ruin her and disturb history. 


This was all his fault. If George hadn’t allowed his teenage passion for rock and roll to lead him to an even deeper passion for delving into history, he might not be sitting in this stone-walled room in the seventeenth century, keeping vigil at the bedside of the only woman he would ever love. 


He could jump right now to the future and ask Dr. Zheng for another remedy, but since this one had gone so wrong, the next cure could be worse. And he couldn’t leave Elisabetta alone now. 



Author Bio and Links


Rachel Dacus is the author of three novels touched with the supernatural, The Time Gatherer, The Renaissance Club and The Invisibles. Magical realism also runs through her four poetry collections: Arabesque, Gods of Water and Air, Femme au Chapeau, and Earth Lessons. Her writing has appeared in many journals, including Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Gargoyle, and Prairie Schooner, as well as the anthology Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a tiny but feisty Silky Terrier. She loves exploring the outdoors and raising funds for good causes.

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Friday, January 29, 2021

Ancillary Justice

 


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is set thousands of years into the future when the Radch Empire is the primary galactic power of human-occupied planets and security is maintained by AI-led spaceships with AI-controlled human soldiers (ancillaries).


The main character, Breq, appears to be a soldier seeking revenge, but in reality, she is the last remnants of an AI mind in charge of the starship, Justice of Toren. With only partial recall of her circumstances, Breq pieces together the events that led to her fall, before undertaking a bold quest to kill the all-powerful Lord of Radch Empire, an AI ruler inhabiting multiple bodies.


The plot switches between two timelines. Breq's present-day quest for justice after her ship's destruction, and flashback to the past events leading to her fall.


This deserved winner of all the major SFF awards in 2014 showcased Leckie's writing skills. She is just as assured in her intricate character study of Breq and her reluctant companion Seivarden, as she is with her sweeping space-operatic world build. If not for the demanding and sometimes confusing first section, I'd give it a top rating. 4.5 STARS

Monday, December 28, 2020

Artificial Intelligence

 


A.I. Science Fiction


My next novel, CHANDELIER, will blend science fiction (AI) with classic fantasy (Phantom of the Opera). This year's blog pages will review any activities related to developing my new novel, including interesting SFF books and science articles. I welcome any feedback from fellow SFF readers. If you like what you read, feel free to follow my Twitter and Blog.



Review of Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan


I'm a fan of Ian McEwan's fiction, so I was interested to see how he tackled the Science Fiction genre. As expected, his portrayal of human frailties was well crafted. So, I wasn't surprised when one of his characters, a machine sentient, struggles to make sense of an imperfect world. They couldn't understand us, because we couldn't understand ourselves


Charlie Friend rents a London apartment where he tries to scrape out a living from trading shares. It's 1982 in an alternative history world where Britain loses the Falkland war, John Lennon and Alan Turing are both alive, and the latter is a revered AI scientist who has successfully developed humanoid robots - 13 Eves and 12 Adams.


The world build was creative, but I found the alternate history descriptions mostly an unnecessary annoyance, slowing the main story. Charlie receives an inheritance and given his interest in computing, purchases an Adam. In no time, Adam fits into Charlie's world, including Charlie's neighbour and lover, Miranda. Adam soon falls in love with her, creating an unusual love triangle. The consequences are daunting, leading to spirited discussions, ranging from philosophical to political, and a final confrontation with Adam's maker. 4 STARS



Listen to Ian McEwan talk about AI 














A.I. Science Fact


There are many vital technologies already in the late development phase. Here below are some trends of particular relevance to my new novel CHANDELIER.


Personal Decision-makers

We will be increasingly inclined to surrender our decision making to AI technology. Spotify is an example of this with seamless music categories organised for the listener's pleasure and recommended albums based on your current preferences.


Human Robots

Currently, this demand is for specialist requirements such as sex robots. The market for human-like robots will only grow as society becomes more accepting of robot relationships, just as society adapted to gay relationships. As new frontiers of artificial general intelligence (AGI) stretch, it's inevitable human-like robots will demand similar protections for their human rights.


Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

AGI is the point where AI gain the capability to learn like humans. Rather than one specific task, AI will multi-task, but at far greater speeds than a human brain. Once achieved, machines will teach other devices, hastening their development and quickly overtaking the human capacity to evolve.


Nanites

This technology will enable swarms of intelligence rather than a centrally controlled system. Nanotechnology will build quantum-level technology to replicate and adapt, bringing solutions to the environment; curing illnesses; preventing catastrophic weather and exploring planets. It will change the world with the advent of comprehensive 3D technology that will print any carbon-based material from building supplies to food.


Immersive Reality (IR) and Brain-Computer Interfaces 

IR  is a step further from Augmented Reality.This technology injects another reality directly into a humans brain, giving them superhuman capabilities. For example, reading a thousand books in one second! Ultimately, it will provide humans with the power to communicate telepathically.


Mind Upload

Human consciousness has to reside in information. Technology will allow our consciousness to move beyond the biological substratum's constraints to information bits such as the USB stick, allowing the consciousness immortality of sorts, storing the lives of all who pass in a digital virtual world.


A New World

The above technologies will change our world beyond recognition. Cities will be larger and higher, but they will be quieter at ground level as more autonomous electric vehicles and underground rapid mass transit vehicles appear. The skies will be busier as autonomous flying vehicles develop rapidly. Complicated supply chains will disappear as 3D printers come online with the capability to supply anything on request promptly. Cities will be cleaner, environmentally friendlier and less cluttered as marketing is directed to virtual and augmented reality rather than signage. 


Humans will have greater control of what they see, along with a broader choice of subject matter limited only by their imagination. Mind sharing will be commonplace, and humans will better control their internal environment, appearing superhuman with capabilities to change their health, even genes just through thought. 


Given safety challenges are addressed, AI will have the capability to make improved, unbiased and ethical decisions, resulting in a better and safer world. It will allow humans the capacity to detach from the real world and live in virtual machine generated worlds. AI will master the molecular engineering of living and non-living systems; intelligence engineering will gain full telepathy. In time, as AI exponentially evolves beyond human comprehension, they will develop their own virtual Earth, Universe and Multiverse, pursue their politics, institutions and government. In short, they'll build a unique alien race.



Thanks for visiting my blog! I'd value your feedback, including thoughts on good AI science fiction novels to help me complete CHANDELIER in 2021!



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Review: Machines Like Me

 


I'm a fan of Ian McEwan's fiction, so I was interested to see how he tackled the Science Fiction genre. As expected, his portrayal of human frailties was well crafted. So, I wasn't surprised when one of his characters, a machine sentient, struggles to make sense of an imperfect world. They couldn't understand us, because we couldn't understand ourselves


Charlie Friend rents a London apartment where he tries to scrape out a living from trading shares. It's 1982 in an alternative history world where Britain loses the Falkland war, John Lennon and Alan Turing are both alive, and the latter is a revered AI scientist who has successfully developed humanoid robots - 13 Eves and 12 Adams.


The world build was creative, but I found the alternate history descriptions mostly an unnecessary annoyance, slowing the main story. Charlie receives an inheritance and given his interest in computing, purchases an Adam. In no time, Adam fits into Charlie's world, including Charlie's neighbour and lover, Miranda. Adam soon falls in love with her, creating an unusual love triangle. The consequences are daunting, leading to spirited discussions, ranging from philosophical to political, and a final confrontation with Adam's maker. 4 STARS