Looking for some pieces of transhumanist fiction

post by rlpowell · 2010-12-30T16:44:30.626Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 20 comments

The first one: [EDIT: Found it!  Thanks to RolfAndreassen]

This is turning out to be *really* hard to find; I would have made a point of saving it if I'd expected no-one else to have heard of it.  I need to make a page of all the weird singularity/transhuman fiction I've read.  -_-

Anyways, what I can remember:

I think I read this on the web.  I *think* it was a short story; at most novelette length.  This was within the last 5 years or so.

Basically, it's the future, humans have done lots and lots of intelligence enhancement; each generation is smarter than the one before.  Then we find a planet with alien ruins.  There is a ship sent there.  For reasons I can no longer remember, one of the people (female?) on the ship tries to destroy the ruins, and another tries to stop her (pretty sure male).  The destroyer is younger, and hence smarter, than the protector, so he ends up taking lots of heavy-side-effect nootropics to keep up with her.  The war is fought almost entirely by 3-D printed robots from the ships machine shops.

The emphasis is very much on intelligence: that a standard deviation of IQ is going to determine the results of any strategy game (probably mostly true, given equal experience) and that war is basically that (also mostly true in this case, since the robots won't freak out and run).

I particularily remember a scene in which the main character takes a drug that will up his IQ by 20 points or so for a while, at the expense of 12+ hours of very bad (insanity? unconsciousness? can't remember).  Also waves of (remote control?) robots fighting on the surface of the planet below.

The second one: [EDIT: Found!  Thanks to nazgulnarsil]

Humans develop AIs, which are fully benevolent and try to help/protect humanity.  There end up being problems with the sun, and they try to fix it but create a horrible ice age, and eventually they just upload everybody and go looking for something better.  They decide that stars are true problematic, and park humanity around an interstellar brown dwarf.

One particular AI ship is somewhat eccentric and thinks that protecting humans isn't everything.  A group of humans convince him to take them (or rather, their descendants) to earth.  To prove they are capable of the (extremely long) journey, the ship requires that they live on him, without going anywhere, in a functional society for a thousand years.  Then he takes them to earth.

FWIW, I'm trying to make a page of all the singularity/transhuman stuff I've read; it's at http://teddyb.org/robin/tiki-index.php?page=Post-Singularity+And+Transhumanist+Fiction+I%27ve+Enjoyed&no_bl=y (just started).

-Robin

20 comments

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comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-30T18:38:33.432Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

second one is passages series by localroger (author of metamorphosis of prime intellect).

http://localroger.com/

comment by rlpowell · 2010-12-30T18:54:53.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

\o/

Thank you so much! It's fantastic that it's by the MoPI dude.

-Robin

comment by Eneasz · 2011-01-03T04:40:49.320Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ted Chiang's stories are all wonderful, but "Understand" (can be found in Stories of Your Life and Others) is specifically transhumanist. Two agents with exponentially increasing intelligence compete to control the future of humanity. (Compete against each other, as ordinary humans are inconsequential within a few iterations of self-improvement).

Ah, Google reveals that it can be read in it's entirety here

comment by ITakeBets · 2012-11-24T20:55:57.717Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to find a short story about a guy who has a brain tumor as a kid, receives a high-tech immunological treatment which cures his cancer but turns out to destroy his ability to experience pleasure, and ends up being able to configure his own preferences. Written by a dude, no idea who, probably pretty recently. Help?

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2012-11-24T21:05:28.139Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You may be thinking of "Reasons to be Cheerful", by Greg Egan; its publication history is listed on Egan's website.

comment by ITakeBets · 2012-11-24T21:08:27.241Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! That's the one.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2010-12-31T03:22:02.778Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe your first story is "Fossil Games" by Tom Purdom; I haven't been able to find an online version.

comment by rlpowell · 2010-12-31T06:59:31.142Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yaaaaay! That's it. I had it in my Fictionwise account, it turns out. -_-

I think the reason I remember reading it online is that the Hugo nominee stories are distributed that way these days.

-Robin

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-12-31T23:47:31.903Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Half off-topic: Has anyone else here read Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress?

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-01-03T20:48:08.703Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It took me a long time to find a copy of the novel. I bought and read several others by Kress in the course of the search and they were good but not directly on the theme. I will expand on the juicy concepts below the tangent.

Tangent: I found Beggars at Elsewhere Books in San Francisco which is awesome. The store only has scifi/fantasy/mystery, much of it out of print, and the owner has probably read about 60% of the books in the store and is interesting to talk to. Also, there's an encyclopedia of science fiction you can browse at the front desk so you can look up a theme like "time travel" and get a list of books from 1940 to 1985 that dealt with the theme, and then go try to find them in the store.

Kress's other books have actually stayed with me longer because they were unique for science fiction in terms of characterization. Generally there is a strong correspondence between the "reality" of the book and the "mental models" of the main characters, and most characters share deep similarities with each other partly for this reason. For example, in Ender's Game, a basic theory of military strategy and human manipulation are common to many characters, are intelligible across characters even where they disagree, and they all basically work for those characters. The "military genius trait" means that a roughly coherent "military genius skill" is stronger or weaker in people, and it can be developed in a roughly linear way, and the ecological validity of the construct is never seriously in question.

Some of Kress's non-Beggars novels lack this "coherent reality-psychology correspondence" feature more dramatically than anything else I've seen anywhere in science fiction, with "incommensurably alien mindsets" not just between humans and extra-terrestrials, but also between human main characters. It is the best treatment I've ever seen of what it would be like for many people to be both sympathetic to the reader and yet all have a justifiable but vague sense that "the world is mad" when contemplating everyone else in the book.

I found Beggars to be less dramatic in this respect than otherwise -- it had more "incomensurable humans" than normal science fiction, but less than some of Kress's other work. I think part of this may have come from the fact that Kress had to posit a detailed theory of intelligence/sleep/thinking in order to write about humans who were cleanly and objectively superior to baseline humans.

Maybe it constrained the scope of her characterization when some characters were optimized all the way out to theoretical edge cases for the sake of exploring what happens politically and socially when some people having been optimized like this. That is, the story couldn't possibly work unless the superior characters where actually superior, and in order to portray that she had to use authorial fiat to make such-and-such minds find such-and-such traction in the depicted world. Maybe this limited the world and the characters more than was normal for her, so that the story looked more like the rest of science fiction (and thereby won a Hugo and Nebula)?

comment by Sniffnoy · 2011-01-01T06:51:59.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The novel, or the original short story? I read the latter a long time ago, but not the former.

comment by rlpowell · 2011-01-01T02:38:17.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's on my list, actually; several friends have recommended it.

And now it is actually on the list. :)

-Robin

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2010-12-30T19:30:42.683Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assume you looked into the Vinge/Banks/Stross trio already?

comment by rlpowell · 2010-12-30T19:58:10.288Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't read Banks (see explanation at the page I linked to at the bottom of the post, if you care).

I'm pretty sure I'd remember if it was Vinge or Stross, but:

It's not anything at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stross#Short_fiction , and I've never read either of his collections.

Looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernor_Vinge#Uncollected_short_fiction ,there's a tiny chance it could be A Dry Martini, as I was at ConJose, but I would expect that to be food themed. It's not Cookie Monster. I've not read any of the other collections except True Names ... [checking] ... nope.

-Robin

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2010-12-31T02:34:46.478Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't read Banks (see explanation at the page I linked to at the bottom of the post, if you care).

Huh. I read Consider Phlebas, and have no memory of the eaters... or of much else from that book [looks it up] okay, yeah, that was disgusting, just not enough to remember it. I wasn't that into Consider Phlebas anyway. I loved The Player of Games and Excession. Please give them a chance; they are head and shoulders above the others. On the other hand, I may just have a low ick threshold: looking back, there are one or two things in each of those that might be disturbing. Possible gross concepts, rot'13d (description is not graphic): Rkprffvba unf n fcrpvrf jvgu na hacyrnfnag phygher: uvtu yriryf bs zvfbtlal naq qbtsvtugvat/tynqvngbe svtugvat. Gur Cynlre bs Tnzrf unf bar bss-fperra pnfgengvba naq bar gbegher fprar va abg zhpu qrgnvy. Basically nothing as bad as the eaters and nothing significantly worse than what ancient cultures did in real life.

comment by rlpowell · 2010-12-31T07:03:09.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you mentioned there sounds perfectly fine and reasonable. I enjoy Terry Goodkind and Neal Asher, I'm hardly a lightweight in this respect normally. Perhaps I just have more issues with cannibalism and/or disgusting food than other people (the "disgusting food" part seems likely, actually).

I will take a look at them. Thanks.

-Robin

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2010-12-31T18:54:24.516Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm glad I was able to help and I hope you enjoy. Your page of recommendations is a great resource.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-12-31T11:28:02.721Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't read Banks (see explanation at the page I linked to at the bottom of the post, if you care).

You'll want to avoid his recent Surface Detail then. A major plot component is virtual hells built from the religious specifications of multiple civilisations (according to the story, but it looked to me more like Bosch and Brueghel brought to virtual life), in which billions of people are tortured forever. Substantial parts are set within them, described in detail.

I remember the Eaters in Consider Phlebas, but my only reaction to that episode was "why is this in this novel at all?" It served no purpose and could, and I think should, have been cut without leaving a gap.

comment by rlpowell · 2010-12-31T17:13:07.813Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Torture doesn't actually bother me much at all. -_- The more I talk about this the more I think it's just me being weird.

I remember the Eaters in Consider Phlebas, but my only reaction to that episode was "why is this in this novel at all?" It served no purpose and could, and I think should, have been cut without leaving a gap.

That is exactly why it bothered me: it seemed to exist for the sole purpose of grossing me out, with no actual connection to the plot. I can deal with just about anything as long as it advances the plot.

-Robin

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-12-31T09:04:48.984Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't read Banks (see explanation at the page I linked to at the bottom of the post, if you care).

I'm fighting a terrible temptation here to try to convince you that The Wasp Factory actually turns out to be singularity-themed SF two thirds in. (Vg qbrfa'g.)