As you good readers know, I have had the C.A.T. series of stories published. (Hint for those of you unfamiliar with this delightful character – he’s a robot-cat who, well, he has issues.) It made me wonder if there were any other novels or stories written from an AI point of view… well, there are, including:
- All Systems Red – Martha Wells
- Ancillary series – Anne Leckie
- Sea of Rust – C. Robert Cargill
- Diaspora – Greg Egan
Yes, there are many stories about robots, AI, human imitation uploads, but we don’t usually really get inside the ‘control functioning’ of the main character AI. The stories mentioned above do.
The danger in trying to write a novel from an AI viewpoint is that it is so darned easy to slip into how a human would react. One of the good aspects about writing about a robo-cat, is that even if I did slip away from the AI character, i went into cattish behaviour, which made it still feel unfamiliar. (You have to know how cats behave to do this, and believe me, all my cats have given me an interesting time – including the latest who turns out to be a good future weather vane! – How does he do that?)
But does writing from such an unorthodox point of view (and getting it right) put off the publishing industry?
Let me explain a little of the background to this question. My C.A.T. novel (as opposed to the published short stories) is currently doing the UK agent rounds. I have had one nice reply saying the novel has a lot going for it, but the agent concerned has said it is not the kind of science fiction he can put his heart into and given it a pass. As for the others I’ve sent it to (a limited list), silence.
This is despite the Writers of the Future contest awarding 8 Honourable Mentions for the first drafts of individual chapters when I entered them as short stories and getting very supportive (as well as helpful) comments from my beta readers (some of whom I hasten to add are published authors in their own right – so know the system and what they are talking about).
So I can only assume the answer to my question has to be ‘Yes’. And for me, the writer, it’s depressing.
This does however remind me of why I started writing science fiction in the first place. I felt that the science fiction of the day had gone into rut, writing variations on already well-documented themes. There was little in the way of what I called progressive science fiction – the type where new ideas that are coming through from science and technology, and their impact on humans, are explored. With a few exceptions, I still feel today’s published science fiction is in a rut.
And this really annoys me, because when I’m writing, I see so much potential technology (derived from current research programmes) that is hardly, if at all, explored in the science fiction genre. A few of these technologies can have such a large impact on the way our lives will change in the future. I can say this with confidence because my C.A.T. novel, which contains a lot of the conventionally extrapolated science of yesterday, also contains one new idea that really changes the course of the novel. I’m also writing a novelette (at least I think that will be the word-count bracket it will fall into), which incorporates that idea, but hiding it under a whole heap of, yes you’ve guessed it, conventionally extrapolated science of yesterday. Why? Because I want to see it published. This is clearly a ridiculous state to be in!
What to do about this? It feels like fighting a world tsunami of tradition. (I know, tsunami and rut are rather oxymoronic!)
Part of the problem is that a lot of published science fiction is by vested political interests. I have no issue with these interests joining in, except they are helping to suffocate the technology-forging-ahead science fiction. This is not to their benefit long term because if readers lose interest in science fiction (due to there being so little new to say), then they also will lose their readership.
Another part of the problem is that anything radically new does not have a track record of sales that the bean counters can point to to say this is a safe bet to publish. We’re now in a detrimental feedback loop of publishing the slight variation – readership losing interesting and so on.
A further part of the problem is that self-publishing is swamped by books so much that readers hardly have time to catch their breadth before a new novel comes out. So there is not really the ‘space’ for new entries to be acknowledged, let alone shine.
In short, the science fiction publishing industry seems to be well and truly quagmired in the past.
Which is why I found an e-mail in my inbox of interest. I’ll give you the relevant quote from it:
The holonovel can be seen as a new medium, to be considered not just by engineers and scientists but also by artists, designers and writers.
The holonovel (we’re not just talking about the Star Trek holodeck here) is likely to follow a similar development arc to e-publishing and, being a new medium, will for a few years at least, breathe some life into flagging science fiction publishing industry. So here is a window of opportunity.
As a medium it will alter the descriptive emphasis in novels – there will be more 3-D all round the scene description for instance. But will it change the science fiction stories?
I have a hunch it will. Because the holonovel will have the multi-point-of-view ability, there will be an initial push to move away from the first-person-close point of view to a more panoramic viewpoint. Whether this will stick will be dependent on the technology deployed.
However, the beauty of writing from an AI viewpoint is that the AI can perceive (in its own way) things from far away through internet connections. It can have that more panoramic point of view, albeit it is restricted to what data can supply (i.e. there’s no sense of smell, touch, taste, balance, temperature at the moment).
In other words writing from the AI point of view will help readers edge to ‘reading’ in the new technology of holonovels.
As for my C.A.T. novel – well given my lack of success so far in finding a suitable agent so far, I’m going to have to assume the worst and that it may never get published. So all I can leave you with is a link to the C.A.T. story here