From camp to camp through the foul womb of night The hum of either blog post stilly sounds.

Hello, good day, and welcome to April 2018.

For those of you who might have missed my recent updates and posts:  within the last two weeks, I’ve posted the audio for my short story I for one welcome our new computer overlords on my blog here, and I subsequently made it into a video and posted it on YouTube.  The blog post linking to the video is here.

Don’t misunderstand the fact that the story is posted as a video.  Like many others before me, I simply took the audio and added a single video image—the cover of the e-book, floating in a black background—as the video portion of the file.  This is probably a relief for many; you don’t have to go through the misery of watching my ugly mug as I read the story aloud to you.  I posted the audio story in both places and forms to make it more easily accessible, so that more people who might want to listen will find it easy to do so.  It’s just over two hours long, but YouTube lets you start and stop videos in the middle, so you can pick up where you left off, which is convenient.  If you’re the sort of person who likes to listen to bedtime stories—and there are, pleasingly, many adults who do—then you can set the video playing on YouTube as you lie down in bed and listen to it as you make your way off into Slumberland.  I’m told, by relatively disinterested parties, that I do a decent job of reading people to sleep, and I’m also told (hopefully not just to spare my feelings) that this is a compliment.

In the meantime, I’ve returned whole-heartedly to writing Unanimity, and the first draft should/may be done sometime within the next month or two.  Then, of course, the hard and crucial work of rewriting/editing begins, so don’t get too excited.  Unanimity will not be available as beach reading this summer by any stretch of the imagination, though I do hope it will be out in time for you to consume it on a few dark, wintry evenings as 2018 draws to a close and 2019 begins.  It’s the sort of story best read alone in the dark.

Which brings up an interesting, tangential point:  I’ve noticed that, no matter what time of day I’m writing, even if the blinds are wide open on a sunny afternoon, I always feel like I’m working in the deep dark of a silent night, when everyone else is asleep.  I’m not sure why that is, but it’s consistent.  Many times, when I’ve drawn to the close of a stretch of writing and stood up, I’ve been utterly surprised to find that it’s daytime.  It’s probably something to do with the fact that writing is like hypnosis.  I wonder if other writers experience this.

In addition to writing about three pages a day on Unanimity, I’ve also started something I hadn’t really planned to do.  After completing the audio for Ifowonco, I had originally intended to take a break before doing audio for any of my other works, but I’m afraid that I couldn’t hold myself to that plan—or I didn’t want to and didn’t choose to, which amounts to the same thing—and have already almost completed the first “draft” of the audio for Prometheus and Chiron.  Of course, this is a shorter story than is Ifowonco, so it’s not that impressive that I’m already almost done with that draft.

I expect, given how interesting this process has been, and depending on how many people seem to listen, that I’ll ultimately do audio for all my short stories.  This will take a while, even though I don’t have all that many such stories to purvey.  But then, once that’s completed, assuming it continues, it raises another question that seems obvious to me:  will I do the audio for any of my novels?

One thing is quite clear, I would not be doing such audio in single, whole-book form.  I’m happy to listen to full audio books, especially during my commute, but the file size alone of a complete audio book, even a short one, is daunting.  I can’t even estimate what the comparable video size would be, even if the video portion were just a blank screen.  However, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of doing such audio one chapter at a time.  In fact, that might be kind of enjoyable.  I’m a bit nervous, of course, that doing so would expose me to too many imperfections in my prior works, but if I’m honest with myself, I recognize that collision with imperfection as a good thing.  In fact, that alone might be reason enough to do it, even if not a single person in the wide world listened.

Of course, I still haven’t even begun my planned series of blog posts about my favorite villains.  I haven’t forgotten (obviously), it’s just gotten pushed to the back burner because other plans have gripped me and seemed more urgent.  I may, though, start doing them on a monthly, or perhaps bi-weekly basis, once I’ve completed my series of author’s notes on the works I’ve written to date, and that series will soon be complete.

Well, that’s about all that I want to talk about today.  I wish you all the best, and hope that those in the northern hemisphere are at least looking forward to full springtime and the summer that follows.  Do be good to each other.

TTFN.

Author’s note for “I for one welcome our new computer overlords”

ifowonco final

I for one welcome our new computer overlords was the first new short story I wrote after having completed Mark Red, The Chasm and the Collision, and Son of Man.*  Despite what you might think, this was not a story that driven by its title, though that came along shortly after the story began, and I’ll deal with it first.  The title is a direct quote from Ken Jennings, who wrote it as his Final Jeopardy answer when he and his fellow all-time human Jeopardy champion lost to IBM’s Watson computer.  It was a good joke, referring back to an episode of The Simpsons, when news anchor Kent Brockman mistakenly thinks that a space shuttle mission is being attacked by a “master race of giant space ants,” adding, “and I for one welcome our new insect overlords.”  The obvious joke—particularly funny because Brockman’s conclusion is so ridiculous—is about how real people do sometimes, cynically, and in cowardly fashion, try to ingratiate themselves to powerful ruling classes or individuals.

Peter Lunsford, the main character of I for one welcome our new computer overlords, is no coward.  He’s a seemingly simple man—without college education, a widower, a loner, a phone salesman.  But he’s a voracious reader, and even more, he is a deeply thoughtful and intelligent person.  Because of his own experiences with irrationality, even in people he has loved, he pines for the advent of a higher class of mind, which he expects to come from the eventual creation of artificial intelligence.  But he’s by no means a misanthrope.  He laments the senselessness of much human behavior but has an optimistic attitude toward the possibilities inherent in human creativity.  He also has a deep sense of the tragedy of the loss of brilliant people like his wife who, because of the scars of her harsh background, self-sabotaged her future through a fatal drug overdose.  Thus, when Peter wins a nearly billion-dollar lottery jackpot, he uses it to create an educational program and a scholarship fund to help people like his wife avoid the tragic end she met, and to allow at least some of them reach their potential and make great contributions to the world.

The triggers for this story were discussions by neuroscientist, writer, and podcaster Sam Harris, of whom I am a fan.  Harris began to think publicly about dangers that might be posed to humanity by our possible creation of artificial intelligence; he recommended that we think very carefully about such dangers, so we can avoid potentially irreversible errors.  His concerns are shared by such luminaries as Max Tegmark, Elon Musk, and the late, great Stephen Hawking, in contrast to the quasi-Utopian attitudes of such writers and thinkers as Ray Kurtzweil.  Both points of view are worth considering, and it’s an issue I think we should approach with our eyes as wide open as we can possibly get them.  But when contemplating Harris, et al’s concerns, I couldn’t help thinking that, if a truly superior artificial intelligence were to make humans obsolete, would that be such a terrible thing?  Peter Lunsford is my proponent of that perspective.**

I wanted to write a story revolving around those concerns about artificial intelligence, but I didn’t want to write about a cliché takeover of the world by AI—in this, my title is deliberately ironic.  Personally, I suspect that ethics and morality are generally improved by higher intelligence, all other things being equal, so I think that artificial intelligences might be inherently more ethical and reserved than we humans, with all our non-rational evolutionary baggage.  In this, Ifowonco is a story of wish-fulfillment.  It’s my daydream of the possibility that someone winning a truly gargantuan sum of money might use it to deeply positive philanthropic effect, inspiring others to act likewise, then leading, through that beneficial action, to a great leap forward in intelligent life (yes, I would without embarrassment refer to AI as a form of life).

Of course, you can’t say that Ifowonco is a uniformly happy story.  It entails a (non-nuclear) World War III, the rejection of AI by the human race, and of course, Peter Lunsford’s willful self-destructiveness.  Overall, though, it’s optimistic.  Darrell White is my example of a brilliant, world-changing mind springing from the least promising of seeming circumstances, wanting only the opportunity and nurturing that would allow such a mind to flourish.  He and my imagined AIs represent of my personal conviction that reason and morality and vastly more powerful than their antitheses; I cite as evidence for this the fact that civilization continues to exist and grow, even though it’s so much easier to destroy than to create.

In some senses, Ifowonco is the most personal story that I’ve written hitherto.  Of course, any character in a story must be a reflection of some part of the mind of the author—a person incapable of dark thoughts could hardly write a believable villain, for instance.  But Peter Lunsford is the avatar of a large part of my personality, in both his positive and negative character attributes.  Though I’ve had almost twice as much formal education as Peter, that difference is inconsequential because of Peter’s incessant self-education.  There is, in fact, almost no daylight between Peter Lunsford and me (and what little there is must generally be in Peter’s favor).  I would even like to think that, were I to win a prize such as Peter wins, I would choose to do with it something like what he does; in this, also, the story is a form of wish-fulfillment.

Speaking, in closing, of wish fulfillment:  I deliberately made the reality of the second half of the story ambiguous.  Do Darrell White and his creations, and all that comes with them, even exist in this universe?  Or are he and those subsequent beings and events simply a species of dream that Peter has while his brain succumbs to hypoxia?

I know the answer to this question in the universe of the story—and yes, there is a correct answer—but I’m not going to tell you what it is.  I’d rather have you draw your own conclusions.  I think it’s more fun that way, and it may even be a useful tool for personal reflection, bringing us back to that whole question of consciousness that troubles thinkers like Sam Harris.  I’d be intrigued and delighted to hear any of your thoughts on the subject, so feel free to send them my way, either here, or on Facebook, or on Twitter.  I wish you well.


* Just this week I released the audio of this story, now available to enjoy, for free, here on my blog.

** I don’t have the concerns, which Harris does, about the possibility that AI could be highly intelligent and competent but might nevertheless not be conscious, for two reasons:  First, I strongly suspect that consciousness is a natural epiphenomenon of highly complex information processing involving internal as well as external monitoring and response, though I’m far from sure; and second, I can’t be philosophically certain even that other humans are conscious (I think they are, but this extrapolation is based on my own experience and their apparent similarity to me), but it doesn’t seem to matter much for the purposes of their function in the world.

“I for one welcome our new computer overlords” – The Audio!

ifowonco final

Hello there, everyone.

Here, at last, is the audio version of I for one welcome our new computer overlords, read by the author (me).  You are free to listen to it on this site, or to download it to listen at a later time, and even to share the file with your friends.  You are not allowed to charge anyone money, or to otherwise make money, from that process, nor to pass the work off as your own.  Other than that, however, please enjoy.  If anyone does a dance remix, please let me know, I’d love to hear it.

I apologize for the many imperfections in this audio file – there are inconsistencies in volume and tone, which make it clear where I began new recording sessions, and there is also the occasional air sound on the mic.  As I’ve written before, doing this is a learning process, and I expect that my next audio recorded story (probably Prometheus and Chiron), will have somewhat better production values.  Depending on the reception this one receives, there will be at least some delay before I do that; it’s a time-consuming process, and even though P and C is a shorter story than Ifowonco, on this one I must have put in  ten to twenty hours of work for each hour of the final recording (just over two).  I really must get back into full-throttle writing of Unanimity, also.  However, depending on how enthusiastic the reception is for this audio version of Ifowonco, as well as the inscrutable exhortations of my soul, I may turn to my next audio recording sooner rather than later.  I also plan to turn this audio into a video, which will likely just be the audio track, playing over some fixed image – probably the e-book cover, I shouldn’t wonder.

As you may notice, in order to be able to post the audio recording here, I’ve upgraded my site, and you shouldn’t be seeing advertisements on it anymore.  If you do, in the future, they’ll be ads I’ve put up myself.

And speaking of advertising…if you enjoy this audio telling of my story, I encourage you to buy the e-book version for Kindle.  It’s only 99 cents (in America, with equivalent pricing in other territories), and the Kindle app is free and can be used on any smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet.  Even though one loses the romance of the paper book, the convenience of being able to carry around an essentially limitless library in your pocket is hard to beat, as even Peter Lunsford admits.  I currently lug 118 volumes around with me wherever I go, and believe me, I’m just getting started.

To purchase, or just to peruse, the story at Amazon, just click on the image of the cover above, or on any of the full or abbreviated instances of the title written in this post (similarly, you can see Prometheus and Chiron by clicking on any of the links attached to its title or abbreviation).

Okay, well, without further ado (and there has been much of it, hopefully not about nothing), here is the audio version of Ifowonco, submitted for your enjoyment:

TTFN!

What freezings have I felt, what blog posts seen!

Hello, ahoy-hoy, good day, and Happy New Year to all.

In my neck of the world, we’re currently suffering through a cold front/cyclone system that’s battering the eastern half of the United States with bitter cold and snow; even here in South Florida it got down to 45 degrees (Fahrenheit), last night, and it may get colder tonight.  That probably doesn’t seem very impressive to anyone who lives almost anywhere else in the US, or in most of Europe, but it’s the coldest it’s been here since I moved to this part of Florida.  Remember, I’m at roughly the same latitude as Egypt here, at least according to a map I saw online.*

As you know, last week we released “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” as a 99-cent short story for Kindle (and yes, that is how I’m capitalizing—or not capitalizing—the title).  I’m very happy with the way it turned out, so I’ve already begun arranging the other two short stories which had previously been posted on this blog.

This brings me to an interesting point:  As some of you know, I’d already recorded myself reading the short story “Prometheus and Chiron” aloud, for eventual placement on the blog, but simply hadn’t edited it yet for that purpose.  Well, now it turns out that my procrastination has served me well, since I’m in the process of doing further editing of the written version of that story.  I can honestly say that “Ifowonco” benefited greatly from that extensive re-editing process, and I think that “Prometheus and Chiron” will likewise benefit.  So, of course, I’m going to need to re-record it, and will then prepare that new version for release on the blog.  I’d like to say, or to imagine, that my subconscious was looking out for me in keeping me from releasing the audio before, but I can’t reasonably or honestly draw that conclusion.  I think it was mainly luck.

In any case, “Prometheus and Chiron” is the short story that will be released next for Kindle, and then on audio on this blog, but it’s going to be at least a little bit before it’s available (though we are already working on a cover design for it).

Speaking of audio—I did a bit of ex temp recording yesterday, speaking my thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style, on the dangers of so-called Regressive/Authoritarian Leftism, and especially on the dangers of virtue-signaling, dogmatism about ideological purity, and the in-fighting, denouncements, victimhood hierarchies, and the general level of shrieking hysteria one finds these days in segments of the left.  Quite apart from the impediment such idiocy presents to real, honest, classical-style liberalism—which has much in common with what might now be called libertarianism—and the contribution it made to the loss of the last election for the Democrats (and the possible loss of coming elections, for similar reasons), I have longer-term, possibly more disturbing worries, and I discussed them in brief…with myself, I guess.  Specifically, I pondered historical occasions when such intolerant and dogmatic leftists achieved power, and how those occasions gave rise to such historical horror shows as the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, the slaughter of the Czar’s family and the subsequent gulags and purges of Soviet Russia (and the conflicts between Stalin and Trotsky, which led, among other things, to Trotsky’s murder), and of course, the cultural revolution and the millions of deaths associated with Maoism.  I’m not sure how coherent my speech was on that subject—I just didn’t feel like writing about it at the time, even though writing is almost unfailingly more organized than free-associated speech—but I’m going to listen to it, and if it’s good enough, I’ll edit out the hems and haws, the misspeakings, the false starts, and so on, and release the audio on Iterations of Zero.  It’s an interesting experiment, in any case.

I do still intend to make use of audio in the future with some regularity, though I think I’m going to put the video notion on hold for the time being.  Maybe someday I’ll make videos out of my eventual audio files, attaching them to pretty, nature-oriented background scenes, with flowers, and birds, and bees, and sweet little children.  That way you can keep yourself alert by suppressing your urge to vomit, even as you listen to my riveting words spoken in the dulcet tones of my own angelic voice.

Believe me, it’s better than having to look at my face.

Of course, despite all these other projects, “Unanimity” is proceeding well.  Things have begun to fall apart for the main characters, as it were—though of course, they really began to do that near the beginning of the story, but no one realized it until now—and we are approaching various revelations, confrontations, acts of violence, and ultimately the conclusion.  I won’t quite go so far as to say that no one here gets out alive, but no one will get out unscathed.  The book should be released sometime this year, but I’m not sure exactly when, yet.  Much else is happening, currently, so my writing on “Unanimity” is going more slowly than it might otherwise.

Okay, well, that’s about it for announcements this week.  I haven’t yet begun writing my various “author’s notes,” nor have I decided whether I’ll put them on Amazon, but they will be forthcoming here.  Please stay tuned for them, and at the same time, stay warm everyone.

TTFN


*Upon subsequent investigation, I have confirmed that Florida is indeed roughly at the same latitude at Egypt.  In fact, Cairo is 2 degrees farther north than Orlando, Florida (30.04 degrees north, versus 28.53 degrees).  By comparison, the city in which I live is at 25.98 degrees north latitude, which is just south of Okinawa, and level with parts of Morocco, the UAE, and Oman, among other places.

Give to a gracious message an host of posts

ifowonco final

Hello and good day to you all.  I’m pleased to announce, as the picture above might lead you to believe, that “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” is now available for purchase on Amazon—for the price of a mere 99 cents.  If you wish to go to the Amazon page on which it is available, you need only click the picture above and you will be taken there.  It’s almost like magic, but it’s even better; it’s technology.

This story isn’t going to be available as a paperback in its current form (though it may in future appear as part of a collection).  It is rather long for a “short story,” being just shy of 23,000 words in length (about forty single-spaced pages), but it still just isn’t economically viable to sell as a physical book.  The costs of production would make the necessary asking price prohibitive for almost any sensible purchaser.  So, currently, if you want to read it (and I think that’s a reasonable wish), you’ll have to buy it for Kindle.  In case you didn’t know already, you can download the Kindle app for free, here, to read from any computer, tablet, or smartphone, so there’s nothing to prevent you from enjoying it.  The fact that you’re reading this online suggests that you are amenable to reading works that are presented in electronic format, so presumably you won’t be deterred from reading it by its e-book nature.  Although, interestingly, the main character of the story itself prefers to read books in hard copy format, though he happily reads articles and blogs online.

Oh, the irony.

I have withdrawn “Ifowonco” from its previous proud place here on the blog; I have also unpublished my two other short stories here, “Prometheus and Chiron” and “Hole for a Heart.”  They will both shortly become available on Kindle as well, but there may be a bit of a delay, as I don’t want to slow down the writing of “Unanimity” too much.  I’ve toyed with the idea of assigning two days a week just to the editing of these stories until they are ready for publication, and reserving the rest of the week for the writing of “Unanimity.”  I think I’ll try this out as a possible paradigm for balancing the writing of new material with the editing of completed projects in the future.  Both tasks are essential, but I have learned—from the long process of editing previous books, during which time I held off writing new ones—that I get a bit blue if I’m not writing new fiction.

Those of you who have been following this blog might have noticed that I recently put up four posts that are essentially the same as the descriptions in the “My Books” page about my books that are published and available on Amazon.  I’ll probably do the same for “Ifowonco,” and for subsequent stories as well, and the reason for this is simple:  When I share the location of these books to Twitter directly from Amazon, the tweets occur without any attached imagery, and that makes for a less interesting promotional tweet.  The same problem doesn’t occur on Facebook, but it has its own issues with how links are promoted, so using it requires its own specific strategies and tactics.

I’m still conflicted about posting author’s notes on Amazon in the reviews section, mainly because it would entail giving a “star rating” to the books, and I worry that that might be a bit misleading.  Still, maybe it would be useful as a way of just priming the pump for reviews.

I would like here officially and earnestly to request that any of you who have bought and/or read my books please give your feedback on Amazon.  It’s terribly useful, both for the author and for other potential buyers, to have that feedback on the site, so browsers can decide if the book sounds like the sort of thing they might like to read.  I know it can be a minor pain, and I don’t do it myself for absolutely every book that I buy, but I do try at least to rate the ones that I’ve bought once I have read them, even if I don’t leave a detailed review.  Even a single sentence could be terribly helpful to me, and to your fellow readers.

No matter what, I think I will write an author’s note for each of my published works—including “Ifowonco”—and post them here, for loyal readers to get feedback that might be interesting.  Of course, I’ve written about many of the stories here already, in various places, but to have a specific, dedicated author’s note might be useful, or interesting, or at least entertaining.

Speaking of being entertaining, I’m sorry if this post isn’t as fun or as funny as some of my others—though perhaps no one ever finds my posts funny, I don’t know—but as you are all aware, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I, like so many, am mentally fatigued.  It’s something of an irony that, even at a purportedly joyous time of the year, so many people are heavily stressed.  This is true even for those who have nearby family and friends, and an emotional support system, to share the joys and the burdens of the season with them.  It can be more poignant and difficult still for those of us who do not have those things, especially overlying the dark time of the year as it does, when people prone to mood disorders are more likely to have trouble with them.  Still, the days are now beginning to lengthen, and even if there is no tangible change yet in the duration of the light (we are near the minimum of the sine curve, and the rate of change of the function is almost as low as it gets), we at least have the benefit of being able to anticipate with hope the increasing sunshine to come.

Of course, we would never want there to be no darkness at all.  Darkness can be beautiful, even when it is frightening, even when it is terrible.  Too much of it, though, tends to wither the heart.

Again, please do give me feedback on the author’s note/review notion, if you have any feedback at all to give.  And even more, please do review or at least rate those works of mine which you might have purchased and/or read.  I would be truly grateful…for whatever that’s worth.

TTFN