First Place Winner– Micah Joel

I am excited to be finally sharing the story story that won first prize in the Singular Source contest. When you read it, you’ll see that it’s a perfect fit for our book. The author is Micah Joel from (where else?) Silicon Valley. As with the other winners, here is a short interview to introduce Micah to you.

Susan Elliott Sim (SES): Tell me a bit about yourself. (Do you write full time? Do you have a day job? How long have you been writing?)

Micah Joel (MJ): I’m a classical Silicon Valley geek, although I’ve only lived in the
valley for about seven or eight years. Career-wise, I’ve done all
kinds of geeky things, from working on portable heart monitors to
e-forms to mobile web sites to search engines and most recently, NoSQL
databases. Oddly enough, I’ve never worked with AI, despite how often
it comes up in my work. I’ve been writing semi-seriously since the
early 2000s, but getting into the Viable Paradise workshop at Martha’s
Vineyard in 2010 really kicked things up a notch for me.

SES: What got you into writing science fiction?

MJ: I’ve been a fan of SF for as long as I can remember. I have fond
memories of waiting in line to see Jedi, or watching cheesy Buck
Rodgers or Star Trek reruns, or later first run episodes of TNG or
DS9. I’m an idea person, and writing SF is a such a good fit for that.
I can’t see myself writing much fiction that’s not speculative in one
way or another.

SES: Where did you get the idea for “Ritchie Boss: Private Investigator Manager”?

MJ: This story is actually a sequel to another story of mine, in which
Judith of 2017 does some shady things to smuggle the technology she
co-developed out of the lab. I liked the idea of picking up on that
plot a few generations later, when the whole world of technology has
shifted in a way nobody had foreseen. The pseudo-noir angle appealed
to me too. I can’t get enough Bogart movies.

SES: Is the story set in the future or in a parallel universe? Or both?

MJ: I’ve always envisioned the universe both of these stories are set in
as an actual future, possibly reachable from where we are now, absent,
of course, any catastrophic discontinuities (or singularities, if you
prefer that term).

SES: What do you hope to achieve with “Ritchie Boss: Private Investigator
Manager”? And with your writing in general.

MJ: Let me pause for a second here and give some props to the Creative
Commons set of licenses. I love this entire concept. I love to see
what creative things others can do with accessible art. So I’m really
happy that this story is getting released this way. I’m likely to use
it as an introduction into self-publishing, possibly in a bundle with
its prequel story. If enough people take advantage of the license and
do cool things with it, who knows? Maybe an anthology is in order? I’m
currently working on a number of short stories and a Sumerian epic
time travel novel.

Our Second Place Winner – Rev Orion

I’m sharing with you today the story that won second prize in the contest. It comes from Rev Orion, a teacher who is aspiring to be a full time writer.

Susan Elliott Sim (SES): Tell me a bit about yourself.

Rev Orion (RO):  I am a math/science teacher.  I am currently without a teaching job, so I work as a teaching assistant at a mental health hospital.  I wish I had more time to write.  I am working on my second master’s degree and my energies go to that during the semester, although I take notes on stories all the time.  I have always liked to write and written. I don’t really consider myself a writer until I earn a living from it.

SES:  What got you into writing science fiction?

RO:  I read a lot of it.  I love the possibilities of science and imagination.

SES:  The original solicitation for the contest asked for stories about future programming. It seems to me that in “Autobiography of an Automatic Mind” future programming is more about choosing experiences for machines. Can you say some more about this?

RO:  When I first read the flyer, the whole story appeared in my head.  After I wrote the story, I reread the request and saw that I may not have created exactly what was requested.  With AOAAM, I was exploring the possibility of programming technology in ways similar to the way human personalities and emotional responses are programmed.  I also wanted to explore the role of abuse in programming the obsessive drive to please and succeed in some.  Is the abuse necessary?  Is the abuse worth it? Should the survivor be thankful for it?   What if it is just a “synthbrain” that perceives the abuse, rather than an actual human experiencing it?  Does that make a difference?  Do the ends justify the means?

SES:  At the end of the story, the main character “Robin” writes “Tell dad that I am sorry…” What was that about?

RO:  It is supposed to allude to the fact that Robin also has personal experiences that drive her to please or seek to please.  If the story was longer, she would probably discover that her own memories are just electronic programs and that she is a product of what she thought was under her control.

SES:  What do you hope to achieve with “Autobiography of an Automatic Mind”? And with your writing in general?

RO:  I’m writing a novel on modern humans invading Europe and killing off all the neanderthals, and I wanted to work on something else for a break.  I also wanted to get some response to my work.  I let some friends read some of my stories, including AOAAM, and they gave me notes that were very helpful.  The problem with friends is, I never really know if something is good or if the reader is just being nice.  I wanted an authentic response from something like this contest.  My goal is to write for a living.

Our third place winner – S. Gill Williamson

Today, I’ll be sharing with you the short story awarded third prize in our contest. The story, “The Avatars Remember Nothing” was written by S. Gill Williamson. Gill is a Professor Emeritus in Computer Science and Engineering at University of California, San Diego. His research areas included combinatorial algorithms, design and analysis of algorithms, and algebraic combinatorics. He has published seven nonfiction books for mathematics and computer science,  and one novella, The Observers (2009).

Here is a short interview with Gill.

Susan Elliott Sim (SES): What got you into writing science fiction?

S. Gill Williamson (SGW): In 2002, I was designing a course for a freshman-seminar series on the future of computers and robotics. My idea was to write an essay (nonfiction) for the students to read to get the discussion started.   After spending six months without producing something that satisfied me, I decided to switch to fiction.  This turned out to be horribly difficult for me as it is so different from writing mathematics, etc.  The end result, The Observers, was finished after I retired and way too late for the freshman course.

SES: Where did you get the idea for “The Avatars Remember Nothing”?

SGW: This short story gives an example of how the human race could spawn a separate, non biological, highly intelligent life form with it’s own purposeful goals.  The key to this happening is the creation of sentient virtual beings embedded in virtual worlds of our creation.  Such a technology is a certainty within the next 100 years.  The problem addressed in the short story is how sentient virtual copies of humans, including virtual copies of deceased ancestors, could escape the computer and become physical beings in our world.  Such a civilization is called a “synthetic civilization” by SETI researches (e.g.,  Seth Shostak) and may, due to their longevity (lifetime, L, essentially infinite in the Drake equation), be the most common type of advanced civilization in the universe. They may also be very hard to contact. My primary purpose in writing this short story was to give a scientifically accurate and fun example of how our culture might generate such a civilization.

My secondary purpose in writing the short story was to partially answer a question about The Observers posed by several readers:  how did the Observers come to be and why did they destroy their biological creators two billion years ago?

SES: What do you hope to achieve with your fiction? And with your writing in general.

SGW: I hope my fiction writing will encourage readers to think about the issues I raise on their own and give me their feedback.  I have received many interesting comments, some of which are included at the end of The Observers in the Author’s Notes section.  I have tried to encourage reader participation by using understated humor and mild satire. Almost all of my characters, including the aliens,  have basically benign goals to which they are devoted.  They all would prefer to be left alone to do their thing, but such is not to be ….

The purpose of my writing in general is to generate thought and discussion.  I am a firm believer in the Creative Commons.  All of my nonfiction (but one, I’m working on that) is freely available on my website and modularized there for easy download and usage.  Both The Observers and The Avatars Remember Nothingare there for free download.  The Observers is a large pdf file. Some readers prefer a more compact format which can be purchased online (e.g., Amazon).

What happened to the freshman course never taught?  It is online also: