I was all excited to pair Ready Player One with Mogworld—look, two different ways of utilizing video games in fiction!—before I realized that I’d already featured Mogworld, excited as I am to read it. So I’ve paired it with The Lifecycle of Software Objects, as both are influenced by MMORPGs instead. Compromise!
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
What’s the best way to create artificial intelligence? In 1950, Alan Turing wrote, ‘Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.’
The first approach has been tried many times in both science fiction and reality. In this new novella, at over 30,000 words, his longest work to date, Ted Chiang offers a detailed imagining of how the second approach might work within the contemporary landscape of startup companies, massively-multiplayer online gaming, and open-source software. It’s a story of two people and the artificial intelligences they helped create, following them for more than a decade as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of software. At the same time, it’s an examination of the difference between processing power and intelligence, and of what it means to have a real relationship with an artificial entity.
I’m interested in the development of artificial intelligence and how that sentient being’s identity would differ from our own, hence my interest in this title. I’ve heard good things about Chiang, but I think I’m also attracted to this title because I think it’ll give me what Galatea 2.2 didn’t.
Niall at the Speculative Scotsman truly enjoyed it, although he points out that the human characters are downplayed in favor of the AI creations. Pat at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist found it thoughtful and thought-provoking. And it’s apparently free to read on Subterranean Press’ website, so I’ve nothing to lose.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects was published on July 31, 2010.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.
It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
The blog Better Book Titles christened this book VH1’s I Love the 80s. Considering that’s how I fell in love with the eighties, that’s not a bad thing at all. I can’t really articulate my desire to read this beyond “it sounds cool!”, really; it appeals directly to my preteen self. (…go get a haircut, kid, you’re not doing yourself any favors.)
Ready Player One was published on August 16.