Author Archives: Kevin Ikenberry

Artificially Intelligent Liars

One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie (and novel) 2010 comes when Dr. Heywood Floyd, Dr. Walter Curnow, and Dr. Chandra discover the reason for the HAL 9000’s actions in 2001 aboard the USS Discovery. As the ship’s near-AI system monitor, HAL 9000 killed three crew members in hibernation and caused the death of astronaut Frank Poole before being disconnected by Commander Dave Bowman. The lingering question in the nine-year intermission was “Why?”

As it turns out, HAL 9000 received two sets of instructions and the logic between them did not compute. As a result, he was forced to interpret the results as best he could…and he learned to lie.

The concept of an artificially intelligent liar is one that’s been around a long time. I can think back to an 80s movie called D.A.R.Y.L. where a defense robot with an AI capability was built with a body of a young boy. I admit that seeing the kid wearing an orange high-altitude pressure suit and flying an SR-71 was really cool having been fairly young myself, but the scene that strikes me the most fro that film is DARYL learning to play baseball.

He’s a natural. He hits every pitch a mile and instantly becomes the star player and the coaches love him, but the kids don’t. Especially his best friend on the team. So, DARYL learns to lie and in the big game moment, the whole “bottom of the ninth and the score is tied” trope, DARYL strikes out.

HAL 9000 and DARYL both learned to lie in order to deal with complex human relationships. While HAL’s is extreme, DARYL’s is one that captivates us as the robot asks and answers the question “What does it mean to be human?” in a way that we can all understand. How many of us have had that big moment and failed? I’d venture to guess that we all have.

Now, there are other examples of artificially intelligent liars (CLU from Tron: Legacy) who lie to humans to get the humans to do something in particular and humans in those films are gullible enough to do it for them. Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE Tron fan, and the concept was great in Legacy, but would Sam really go to the arcade? Wouldn’t Alan just call the number? Anyway, I digress…

The artificially intelligent liar found its way into my own writing. When I sat down to write the original version of Sleeper Protocol, my plan for Mally (the artificially intelligent protocol) was to simply act as a benevolent character looking out for Kieran Roark as he tries to discover his identity. When the book stalled in Act Two, I knew that my chosen antagonist wasn’t doing enough to hamper Kieran’s development. The lightning bolt of realization that Mally could become the antagonist accelerated the re-development of the book and I pounded through a new, longer draft in less than two months. And guess what? Mally became the artificially intelligent liar and the story was better for it. I’m looking very forward to Vendetta Protocol‘s release later this year as Mally learns about what it really means to be human.

Lying is a just part of being human. Isn’t it?

 

The Best Beer I’ve Ever Had

Three years ago tomorrow, I enjoyed the best beer I’ve ever had. I’ve always liked finding a good beer and sampling them responsibly. One stands far and above the others.

In 2014, as Saint Patrick’s Day rolled ever closer, I was depressed and with great reason. In late February of that year, I contracted a necrotizing fasciitis – a skin eating infection – that nearly killed me. When I was discharged from the hospital at the end of February, I was a mess. Sitting in our basement on the reclining couch, I spent hours staring out the window. The couch was the only place I could sleep without being completely flat on my back – which was a “no-go” and despite all the things we’d done to finish the basement and make it part of our home, it wasn’t. I was in another world down there – visited by family several times a day as I alternately slept and pondered why I hadn’t died. I was starting to find myself in a bad place, and two things happened that both pulled me out of depression and set the course for my writing career.

They were completely unrelated.

The first I’ve written about one of them before. I owe a substantial part of my recovery to my friend Neil Clarke. Neil is the editor of Clarkesworld Magazine and the editor of the SFWA Bulletin. I met him on an airplane to San Antonio for WorldCon a few years back. He’s also my celebrity stalker – but that’s an entirely different story. Neil also survived a life threatening event a few years before my episode. So, one dreary March night, I did something I never dreamed I would have done. I wrote an email to Neil and asked him how he’d been able to come back from his massive heart attack. I needed some kind of touchstone to help light a path from where I was. In the months prior to my illness I’d written the first drafts of TWO novels in the space of about six months. My productivity levels had been amazing. Yet, sitting there on my ass with nothing to do but let my skin recover, I found I could barely watch TV or play video games much less write. So I emailed Neil.

And he wrote me back. His words, very simply, lit the tiny little flame that became my lantern out of depression. I saw Neil at WorldCon in Kansas City last year for the first time since my illness. We both held back tears. I am forever grateful to him for simply saying “it will be okay.”

As I recovered at home, I had a wonderful nurse named Paula who came by every day, and then every other day, and then a couple of days a week as things stabilized. I found out she was a retired Army nurse, and we got along swimmingly. On St. Patrick’s Day, I joked that I’d love to have a beer. I was on intravenous antibiotics at this point (2X per day) and they were very potent. Paula looked at me and winked – “I think you could split one today, as long as you get outside and walk.”

That day, I took my wife’s arm and walked to our mailbox and back. It’s only about 300 meters roundtrip, and it was hell, but we took it slow and I walked. When we got home, I texted my friend Scott and told him I’d walked outside and was feeling better. And I told him that Paula had said I could split a beer.

His response? “I’ll be right there.”

And he was – carrying a couple of bottles of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Double-Wide IPA. My wife got the glasses out and we poured it out and shared a beer – sitting on the very same couch where I’d doubted my very existence in late nights of little sleep. It was the best beer I’ve ever had in my life. From there, things came around quickly. Having been an active duty Army officer, I knew that when my medical situation hit the Army’s system there would be chaos, but it took more than a year for my infectious disease specialist to release me from treatment. I relapsed and spent another agonizing night in the hospital. I took antibiotics for more than eleven months. As I recovered, I was promoted a final time. I sold my debut novel to a very strong small press. Most importantly, I kept digging out and the light was just as bright as I remembered.

I came away from my experience valuing a lot of things, and friendship is right near the top. My writing buddy Amity Green came to my hospital room with other friends in tow and then showed up one day to sit on that basement couch and write with me. We really didn’t write much – crying a little was the order of the day. My writing group, Fiction Foundry, came to our house and crowded around me on the couch to do our critiques. My writing friends help to save my life, including a man I call my brother, James A. Owen.

James has a penchant for sending out positive memes and quotes on a daily (hourly sometimes!) basis. He sent one in particular that essentially slapped me in the face and said – “Get back to it.” I’ve included it below:


I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of friends in the writing world and every single one of them are a vibrant part of my life. We’re not alone on this writing journey and the more Tribe you can build, the better it will be.

How I’ll Remember 2016

So, we’ve come to the end of December and the end of 2016. To say that 2016 has been a difficult and challenging year, one so closely aligned with the loss of larger-than-life personalities and rampant disagreement, would be an understatement. As for me, 2016 has been a year of change and a recognition that I’d crossed the line from aspiring author to author.

While riding the wave from the release of my first novel, I was retired from my service in the Army Reserve. I spent the last third of my career on active duty and after surviving a necrotizing fasciitis, the demands of service were deemed to be too much for me. After almost 24 years in uniform, my life experienced a huge change to say the least.

Over the following months, my writing career gained steam. In April, I qualified for full Active Membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. I had an unexpected email from David Brin that complimented my writing ability and my book. In June, Sleeper Protocol was featured in a BookBub ad. The resulting promotions shot my novel into the top #115 books on all of Amazon and #1 in three categories. It sold over 2,000 copies that month alone. One of my friends, Aaron Michael Ritchey, told me point blank that I was no longer an aspiring author. Halfway through 2016, I had no idea the biggest moment of my year was still to come.

When I was an ROTC instructor, teaching the next generation of Army officers at a small university in Indiana, I frequently recommended two books to my cadets. Twenty years earlier, as a cadet myself, I’d first read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein while in the midst of my junior year. That year, called the MS3 year, is arguably the worst for a cadet as it culminates in a summer training program designed to rank all cadets in the country from 1-n for assignments in the Army post-graduation. My junior year was not great by any means, but Starship Troopers stuck with me. As an MS4, a senior, I first read another book that would change my perception of military service. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman was equally important to my development as an officer. Starship Troopers taught me how, if necessary, to go to war. The Forever War taught me how to stay human and how to come home. They are the two most influential books I’ve ever read and they occupy a shared space on the bookshelf next to my desk. I’ve never been a real “fan boy” but I think I came really close in August.

I made the decision to attend WorldCon in Kansas City at the last possible moment. There were two major factors: my wife put off a foot surgery that opened the possibility, and then my friend Lou Berger made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It went something like this – “How’d you like to go to lunch with Joe Haldeman?”

I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

So, we went to lunch with Joe and Gay Haldeman. During the course of lunch, I actually got a chance to tell Joe how much The Forever War had meant to me as a young cadet. We had an incredible conversation about it, his upcoming works, and then my book. Gay asked to see it, so I got a copy out of my pack and handed it to them. At that exact moment, Greg Bear and his wife stopped by. Greg patted Joe on the shoulder and then pointed at my book.

“That’s a great cover!” he said.

I started to shake. Gay and Joe had to run to a panel, but they told me they’d find me at the WordFire booth the next day. Leaving lunch, I couldn’t thank Lou enough. I hoped to see the Haldemans again, but I knew how crazy WorldCon was and tried to just bask in the conversation we’d had and my personal time with Joe.

The next day, they came by the WordFire booth where I’d spent my time camped out next to Chuck Gannon, Larry Dixon, and Mercedes Lackey (which was incredible to say the least). Gay walked up, gave me a hug, and said “We want your book.”

With shaking hands, and vision blurred from threatening tears, I signed a copy of Sleeper Protocol to Joe and Gay Haldeman. We then took pictures together and both of them hugged me before they went on their way. We’ve even since maintained email contact, which is mind-blowing. To say that meeting one of my inspirations was the highlight of 2016 would be a gross understatement. I left there energized and ready for the remainder of the year.

Since WorldCon, I’ve completed the edits for Vendetta Protocol and been hard at work on an alternate-history novel that’s been a real ass kicker. It’s a moment of change for me as it diverges from everything I’ve written up to this point. But, there’s also been a recognition that this is part of that whole writing “thing.” Challenge is always out there. We’re fortunate that so many of our inspirations and our favorite authors are approachable and willing to help – sometimes they even go to lunch with you. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

I hope you have enjoyed our December “Year In Review” posts. From here, I transfer things over to the amazing Sean Golden for next month’s theme: Starting Over.

Happy New Year!

Writing for Academia – Guest Post: Amanda Faith

Writing for Academia is Writing

Amanda Faith

There is something about starting a new year with goals and expectations. Although I have never really been one to set a “new-year resolution,” I find myself at least looking ahead to what I want to accomplish for the upcoming year. I like making lists, so I start planning and developing ideas. I research to see what markets are available to submit my works. Somehow, life has a sense of humor and decides it wants to play its own games. This year has proven to be no exception.

After being in the classroom for over 21 years, I decided to make a career change. I wanted to be a librarian. This required me to go back to school, a decision that took a lot of soul searching. I already had four degrees. Did I really want a fifth? Did I really want to be a student again taking graduate-level classes? I took the plunge and started January 2016.

My days of writing creatively dwindled away as my time was overtaken with homework, projects, and papers. It didn’t help any that I was working two jobs; I taught both high school and college English. I graded a lot of essays and other homework, tests, quizzes, and projects. Some days I thought my head would explode.

I would guest blog here and there. I would create and send out a short story or two. I would start outlines or jot down story ideas, but never quite finished them. As the days wore on, I was becoming depressed. How could I find more time to write? I wanted to finish a book or complete more short stories…anything to be writing again. It seemed that I would never find the time or energy to get it done.

Then I had an epiphany sometime this summer. I was writing. It’s just in a different format.

I started looking over all of the essays, journal entries, discussion boards, and projects I had been creating. They were products that took a lot of work that I was proud of. I reread the feedback I received. Feedbacks are a lot like reviews. So many of my “reviews” were along the lines of “what great insight I had” or “I never thought of it quite like that.” Some of my classmates could tell that I was a published author. Some of them even commented that they thoroughly enjoyed my postings as they told a tale of the antics of high school happenings. Even though my postings were true tales, they still told a story. I made them entertaining. Some were funny. Some were heartfelt. All of the entries had a style that reflected a part of “me.”

That lifted my spirits. I was writing. Granted, it wasn’t creative writing or writing for pay. It was writing for a reward, for progress, and for completion of my goal of graduating. It was getting those words down, planning and revising, and submitting that final draft. There was still the anxiety of waiting on the “publisher” (aka, my professor), to determine how well I had done. It was still the same process as writing and submitting a fantasy or mystery. It was academic, which is just as rewarding.

The year is almost over, and I have accomplished a lot. I will graduate in December this year with my new degree. I just passed the state test to become a Media Specialist. I will achieve my dream and start my new adventure. All because I am a writer.

Writing for academia is writing.

 

Amanda’s Bio:

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way. Loving a good puzzle has always been a fascination, and writing gives her the outlet to put all the pieces together.

Being adventurous and loving to try new things, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves in unusual situations. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how they interact, taking them on journeys they would never have normally experienced.

Teaching high school English by day, college English by night, writing, and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.