Response to Fan Mail

My response to my first piece of fan mail follows.

NOTE: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 AND 2 … AND HINTS RE BOOKS 3 AND 4!!

Alec,

First, I forgot to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed your first 2 books for a number of reasons: they’re good stories, they’re told from a worldview that meshes almost perfectly with mine (which is extraordinarily rare, as you must know), and are thought-provoking. I spend a *lot *of time thinking about science, technology, the Singularity, and space exploration, which made these even more interesting to me.

There are a few books that stuck with me long after I read them – I found the ideas so compelling that I couldn’t let them rest when I finished the last page. Ringworld, Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War series, John Barne’s Directive 51, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and one or two dozen others.

I ended up making a small taxonomy of science fiction (or, more generally, novels):

  • books that must exist
  • books that were churned out for a paycheck

The former category means “things that provide a unique message or a new view of things”, and correlates exactly with “books I kept thinking about after I read them”.

All of which is to say, the fact that you not only thought about my novels after you finished them, but took the time to write me is literally about the highest praise I can imagine.

Thanks so much!

I’ll touch on your various thoughts with out giving much away.

At the end of Book 2, I think you hint that there will be trade between Earth and Mars, and that Mike wants to get in on the ground floor of it with an ‘Interplanetary Venice’ – a city that zips back and forth between the two planets to capitalize on trade. It’s more of a Venice than a Hong Kong in my mind because it needs to be militarily self sufficient; if it’s not armed to the teeth, it will be too tempting a target for Earth bureaucrats. I’m assuming Earth will continue to be dominated by self-serving bureaucrats.

Yes, the idea of a military conflict between the flying city-state and Earth is an important one.

expat mining technology is a potentially enormous benefit to people living on Earth.

This is true, but on the other hand, novels usually do not take place in steady-state situations, or even linearly extrapolated ones. Fiction thrives in the chaos that occurs when systems break down or are exposed as small parts in much bigger assemblies. Lord of the Rings is what happens when a thousand years of routine falls apart because the entire world is more or less ending. Moon is a Harsh Mistress happens when lunar society realizes that it might go extinct because of the water issue. etc.

So you can expect that books 3 and 4 won’t show steady-state trade.

What will people on Mars be willing to pay for in exchange? Not much, because a) they’re already highly self-sufficient and will become more-so now that their population is higher, and b) shipping costs (especially the many-month delay) will literally be exorbitant.

True. But on the other hand, there’s Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage. People on Mars _can_ do almost anything, but Earth can probably do some things cheaper. Or maybe people are willing to pay for authenticity (which is a shift we’re already seeing in our economy in 2017). There’s only one Mona Lisa, etc.

I think the biggest thing martians will want is immigrants, which they’ll see as both an increased customer base, and genetic diversity (to make Mars stronger than it would be otherwise). This is true for humans, but doubly-true for Dogs, who currently only have a population of 500 or so, which is a scary genetic bottleneck for any species.

Agreed…but the Dogs could perhaps pay for digitized dog genomes (the same way they got the Svarlad seed vault at the very end of book 2).

Bureaucrats might also want to send their ‘undesirables’ to Mars just to be rid of them.

True! Australian / Marial boat lift.

*Species Dynamics*

Gamma is the most fascinating character in the books for me.

Thanks! Me too.

We don’t know a ton about his personality & motivations yet, but he seems highly conscientious while having a strong sense of self-preservation. He thinks very quickly, and is likely wealthier / more powerful than the Dogs or Darren Hollins (as evidenced by his ability to move the entire city).

Right! There is a really interesting power imbalance, perhaps even powers of ten between players, where Gamma is insanely powerful, the Dogs are perhaps avg IQ around 140 and have sexual maturity at ~ 2-5 years and have litters of 4+, there are a few billionaire-equivalents (Darren Hollins, Mike Martin, etc), then there are the normal tier expats, and there might even develop an underclass of people who turn out not to have the skills necessary to do much of value in a society where BuSuR is no longer keeping automation in check.

The power levels are perhaps

  • 0.1 – unskilled
  • 1.0 – average expat
  • 1,000 – CEOs
  • 5,000 – potential Dog society
  • 10 or 100k – Gamma

But there’s still

  • 1 M+ – Earth

What does that look like? How do the powerless deal with their situation? How does Gamma deal with his power? What does Earth do? We know from the final chapters that all of these groups are looking to their future. Gamma wants to survive. Earth is interested in Gamma technology. There are some leftists in Aristillus-on-Mars in hiding, and there is a large population of recent immigrants and recently freed POWs.

It’s a volatile situation!

As fast and powerful as he is, he hasn’t been able to figure out a satisfactory workaround for splintered cognition.

Right!

It looks like he’s struggling (and failing) to find a working set of principles for individual rights as they apply to AIs.

Right!

He clearly cares about intelligent life as he goes out of his way to save John, the Dogs, and the extraction-strike ship (when he *definitely* could have survived without them) in addition to the entire human and Dog population of the city (which he presumably thinks improve his chances for survival).

Right!

But on the other hand, he’s perfectly willing to use lethal force against splinters of his own mind who refuse to re-integrate.

Yep!

Gamma could accept that splinters of him have a right to live independently of him, but it’s a risk because it effectively kicks off the race to a ‘hard take-off Singularity’ as you put it.

Yep.

If there’s only one of him (or one dominant with hundreds of lower-tier versions), he can afford to be cautious. The moment there are 2 or more with equal rights, though, they’re competing with each other, and there’s an incentive for each of them to take risks

Exactly.

He and the Dogs both came very close to total anihilation at the hands of BuSuR and are very very cautious and aware of the risks of genocide. The Dogs can handle this through breeding. Gamma can not.

I think Gamma is either a) is exercising extreme caution because he’s even more afraid of the consequences of the Singularity than humans & Dogs are, b) isn’t smart enough to come up with an ethics framework that will ensure peaceful coexistence between himself, other AIs, and other intelligent creatures like humans and Dogs, or c) some combination of the two.

Ethics frameworks are really what this series is about. We’ve got the Catholic Church on Aristillus, building a cathedral and a special emissary from the Vatican trying to see if Gamma and the dogs have souls, we’ve got the Dogs split between Blue and Max with one faction looking for a tolerant “liberal” (not leftist) morality on the one hand, and an almost pagan warlord tribal morality on the other. We’ve got the unresolved issue of Mike wanting to kills prisoners but being told not to (and whatever happened to Fournier? Mike despises him, he was a captive, and we never see a resolution!)

It’s worth pointing out that Gamma could do everything he did in the books without being terribly smart – just *extremely *fast and conscientious.

Maybe that’s all intelligence is?

My twist on that (which I can explain in more detail if you’re interested but won’t do here) is that a culture made of individuals spanning many different cognition-ability-levels (for example: smart AI, dumb AI, smart adult human, retarded adult human, uplifted Dog, non-uplifted dog, smart child human, etc) will optimally a) apply the same ethics rules for individuals within a level, but b) apply different rules to individuals on different levels, and c) apply more rules – particularly restrictions on interactions with lesser-ability individuals – to individuals on higher cognition levels.

We have similar thoughts.

I’m curious to find out what Gamma will do with lesser-tier copies of himself on other worlds. Will he start developing Jupiter (the obvious destination for an AI, with all its exploitable natural resources)

OK, I wasn’t going to tell you, but one thread in books 3 and 4 takes place out near the gas giants, and Gamma is there.

…but probably not in a way that you’re imagining.

The Dogs are awesome.

Thanks!

They’re held back by their small population and poor dexterity, but I get the impression they’re substantially smarter than the average human. I’d love to know more about their culture and structure (but it looks like they’re still figuring it out themselves).

They are! 10 years is too short a period to organically develop culture, so they either have to adopt human culture wholesale (which rankles) or they have to generate faux culture like a canine Kwanza, which will also rankle. And the Dogs are smart enough to understand that. Yet there is no third choice….at least in the short term.

Their high intelligence and fast time-to-sexual maturity (10x faster than humans) put them in a position to *dominate *life in the Solar System – at least until AI eclipses them.

You have figured out almost all of the implications of the last few chapters.

High five!

Will the religious and non-religious Dogs maintain close ties, or go separate ways? How does anarchy (or heaven forbid, government) fit into the Dogs’ pack structure? What’s Dunbar’s Number for an uplifted Dog?

You are exactly on board with the big questions.

What kind of splintering will happen among humans when they get to Mars? In a sense, Mike is already preparing to splinter by planning to build his trade city/ship. I’d also expect Mark Soldner and friends to splinter off to form a government that charges taxes and restricts some set of liberties. While I appreciate Mike’s effort to stop Mark from imposing a government on all of them, I have a hard time seeing him resorting to violence to stamp out a government that restricts itself to a particular geographic area and only claims authority over people who explicitly agree to it.

Indeed!

I hope to answer all these questions in books 3 and 4.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write!

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