Dead Men Season 1 is out in the wild.
I've spoken about this one at length already, so I'll just say that I'm pleased this is out now.
I really like the characters and the world. I like the pulpy action of it. I like the links it has to the Isaac's Story series, despite the difference in tone. I like Captain West.
Amazon is having some problems at the moment, so the description on the product page is screwed, which is awesome. Updates just aren't going through. This means anyone finding the book organically thinks I'm an idiot. Deep joy.
It's on special for now, selling for 99c for the rest of the week.
Go read a book
How likely is my world?
A core concept of the world of Isaac's Story: London is the automation of everything. All physical labour is done by machines (except combat) and expert systems are able to do most of the knowledge work as well. By the time of The City (book 3) they're even taking over the creative industries.
Let's start with the physical: Could machines really take over all physical labour?
There is nothing a human can physically do that can't be done by a machine. Today we need specialist machines to complete individual human tasks - one machine that can run, one machine that can throw, one machine that can catch - but that's just engineering.
We are biological machines. We're very complex, but we're still machines. All that running, throwing and catching operates on simple principles that we understand completely, which is why we can replicate it. Better yet, when we replicate it we can make it better, and faster, and cheaper. It'll cost a billion dollars to create the first machine that can approximate the physical functionality of a human. The next model will be half that, then half that again. And they'll get better in the process.
They won't be smart enough to take over from humans on, say, the building of a skyscraper. There are too many dangerous and complex moving parts to that environment. But that isn't the question here. The question is, could they physically do what a person could do, assuming they had a brain? I can't see any reason why not, and I don't think it'll take that long to achieve. We're building them now and we're getting better at it as we go. There are stumbling blocks and difficult steps, but they aren't insurmountable. If it can be done by a squishy meat machine then we can replicate it, we just have to work out how.
They don't have to look like people, they just have to live in our world. They don't have to have hands or faces, just like planes don't have to flap their wings to fly. These are all engineering problems; we'll solve them for the military, or for the aged care industry, or for space exploration. There are pressures to get it right, and we've only got to solve it once. From there it gets easier and cheaper. It becomes unstoppable.
What about our great big brains? Don't we need a full, complex, general purpose AI to do what we do?
Being a chess master today means spending your life practicing, working hard, expanding your problem solving abilities and mastering the nuances of a game, only to be beaten by a mobile phone. We used to think chess mastery would require a complete AI, but it was just a series of problems we could write algorithms to solve. Now we treat it like it isn't a big deal because it no longer is. But once it was seen as impossible.
More impressive is Watson. Until IBM pulled it off, until the moment that show went on the air, nobody thought what Watson did on Jeopardy could be done. It didn't require an AI, just processing power and algorithms. The machine doesn't need to understand what it does, it just needs to be smart enough to do it. It needs an algorithm it applies to input in order to produce the desired output.
Think most knowledge work can't be boiled down to input > algorithm > output? Tell that to the chess guys. IBM are moving Watson into fields more impressive than game shows. Read the Wikipedia article, knowledge workers, and shiver in your boots.
The world of Isaac's Story: London is based on the idea that we'll get machines capable of a full range of human motion, as well as the grandchildren of Watson capable of replicated the knowledge side of things. No need for AI, just complex systems running on powerful hardware.
Our friends from earlier working on that skyscraper? The machines might not be smart enough to deal with the environment, but they don't need to be. Put a brain on the ground and a powerful wireless network to connect it to the robots, and we've replaced the workforce. Those robots provide the input, the brain on the ground handles the algorithms, sending back the output. A building is constructed without a single person.
Agriculture used to tie up half the population; now we manage it on 5%. Those people moved on to factory work and the industrial revolution, and were replaced by assembly line robots. So they moved into the gaps where machines couldn't manage what a person could, or they moved into knowledge work.
In Isaac's Story: London, those gaps have been removed, and the knowledge work has followed. It's a world of 95% unemployment (and higher as the series goes on), but there's no fighting in the streets or widespread starvation. This is thanks to the social and governmental systems that form the final part of the foundation of the world.
But this is already too long so it'll have to wait until my next post. I've got art to do, before the machines are able to do it for me.
Go read a book.
How am I doing: Editing. So much editing.
No, I asked how, not what: Edits. Just...so many edits.
I'm only barely coherent on this blog-shaped thing at the best of times. I could write pages and pages of stuff about my books, the writing process, the weird shiver of pleasure I get when I hit publish on a paperback, or the awesomeness of holding that paperback in my hands.
(Also, the more awesome feeling of knowing there are complete strangers, out there in the real world, who have bought those paperbacks and now have them on their bookshelves. That's a weird one, because I don't get the same feeling from selling an ebook. There's an essay in there about why I think the paperback isn't going away any time soon, but I won't bore you (with that, anyway).)
That isn't what this blog thing is about though. I don't want to write about writing because everyone (for a specific definition of everyone) writes about writing. There is nothing I can add to the conversation. However...
Fuck it. I'm going to do it anyway, if only this once. This is for writer-types, and it's just me blathering. If you don't give a shit, that's cool. Go look at the lovely book pages elsewhere on the site. Click that button in the menu bar up there, the one that says books. Go ahead, click it. Mmmmmmmmmm, books.
We good? The normal people gone? Let's go.
(Warning, there's some swearing coming up. If you're not an adult, read around the "bad" words (I probably should have put this warning higher in the post. Oh well))
A novel has to have structure; a beginning (things are normal, but there's this cloud on the horizon that looks funny), a middle (oh my god why is everything going so fucking badly), and an end (I won? Shit, that was close. Fucking clouds).
I've just finishing putting together Dead Men Season 1. Dead Men is a serial, and not one of those chopped up book kind of serials. Each episode has a slightly truncated version of that novel structure. West's life is ticking along, she gets a job or something happens to annoy her, things escalate, she kills people, she goes home.
The majority of the episodes do that, and there are 8 episodes, so it really doesn't work as a novel. I wrote it live (releasing it as it was written) and I had the idea of structuring it as a TV show, so there are episodes that have nothing to do with the overall story.
Here's my writing tip: Don't do that.
The overall story in Dead Men is great (he says modestly), and ends really well (just...so modest), but there are meandering parts that wouldn't be there in a novel.
If you're going to do a serial (if you are you should probably stick to erotica or something, not science fiction), then plan it in advance and do a tighter structure than I did. Omit episodes that don't add to the whole, because when someone reads the season in one go those episodes will stand out. They'll feel jarring.
You can see this is TV shows that are meant to be watched in one go, compared to regular network shows. Orange Is the New Black is a pretty good example of a show that wouldn't work on a weekly schedule. It works really well if you binge watch it, whereas most regular TV shows don't necessarily.
So here's how you structure a science fiction serial:
Remembering that you'll be releasing it in one go, as a season (or compilation, or boxset, or whatever), work out the shape of the entire thing in advance. You need the same beginning, middle, and end as a novel (or any other story). Things are great, something shitty happens, we persevere (or not).
Now you need to plot out some episodes and have them fall within the arc. When I write Dead Men Season 2 I'll probably only do 5 episodes, and each episode will fill one of the parts of an overall arc. No standalone randomness.
Each episode also needs to have that same structure, for the most part. At the end of the episode there needs to be some closure, or all you're doing is writing a weirdly structured novel. If you're releasing it all in one go you can end it on a cliffhanger without feeling like a complete asshole, but it still needs to have closure.
The last three episodes of Dead Men were written like this and I really liked it. Bad things happened and weren't resolved by the end of the episode, but there was still closure. You still felt like you got a story, you just needed to read the next one.
So now when you write each episode you know what it needs to achieve:
And each episode has more or less the same structure.
That's how I'm going to do Season 2 anyway. The episodes stay more or less the same length as Season 1, but I cut out the extra stuff and stick to the core of the story. It means I'll keep writing in a format I'm enjoying, which is the whole point.
Hopefully it also means people will like it more, and so give me all the accolades in the world. I wish to be buried under a sea of trophies (they hand those out if people like your stuff, right?), struggling to keep my already large head from popping.
That's it. I'm done with advice. The next post will be about some game I played or movie I watched, and I'll complain about it. Because I'm old.
Go read a book. (Mmmmmmmm, books)