Day of the Living Ted
Perhaps the best short story writer in contemporary Science Fiction is an unassuming, soft-spoken man named Ted Chiang. He easily holds the highest ratio of works written to awards received and prior to the Minicon this spring here in the Twin Cities I had never heard of him. I know, I’m lame like that. I like to think I have clever tastes when it comes to books, but the truth is I am horribly mainstream. The good news for me is that I got to discover a great new author and I also got to meet him and hear his thoughts on the science fiction genre and folk biology.
Mr. Chiang primarily writes short stories, but at least one of his works is long enough to have obtained novella status. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a short story about Artificial Intelligence, which is one of the authors favorite topics. The story is a realistic look at how intelligent programs might come to exist. Without giving too much away the story is about starting with a program from ground zero and then teaching it and growing it so that it learns like a human or a pet would. They are initially marketed as a novelty item and during the first half of the story I was pretty convinced that Mr. Chiang got the idea from the very popular Tamagotchi toys. All of my kids owned one of these virtual pets at some point and I could see this working in a virtual space as well. He even talks about having to feed them virtual food, which is true with the Tamagotchi as well. He pushes the concept much further than that and I enjoyed seeing the typical battle of marketing vs. quality that exists in the real software industry. There are real world issues that come up like platforms becoming extinct and having to port code from legacy systems. I believe he purposefully glosses over the moral issue of creating life and focuses on the mechanics and emotions that go into such a project. The novella won both the Hugo and the Locus award in 2010 so it is no revelation that the story is well crafted and a pleasure to read. I have already added Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others, to my Kindle.
There can be some work involved in planning and writing this blog so I am happy when I do fun things like go to Minicon to see a great author. I may have gone anyway, but it was on Easter weekend which was pretty busy already. It was a great escape and I enjoyed walking around in a place where I got compliments on my w00tstock T-shirt.