Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Alternate Reality Ain’t What It Used To Be
By Ira Nayman
Published by iUniverse 2008
Now I can stop searching for a source book of writerly ideas for future stories. Ira Nayman has a genius for pulling zany ideas out of the ether and populating his books with them. Not that any of the ideas are incredulous, most are a logical pursuance of what is already here. For example technology has already produced clothing into which sensors can be placed to detect body temperature, pulse and other biometrics. You can purchase a garment with enough computer parts sewn in to write this document, save it, edit then email it to anyone on the web. Nayman takes this to a logical conclusion (though I’m sure he’d insist that it wouldn’t be a conclusion, more a staging post on the way to infinite possibilities in our multiverse) in the Alternate Reality News Service report by Hal Mountsauerkrauten (I’m sure his mother used to do our washing – GN) entitled: A New Meaning Of The Term “Undercover Operation”. In that report an undershirt gives evidence in court against its former wearer in a murder trial. The manufacturer said that its intention was to use nanotechnology to create smart clothes that were friendly to their owners and hoped they’d do no worse than occasionally drinks a little more than he should and although happily married just sometimes look at other women. The undershirt was dismayed to discover its owner drank far too much and its auditory sensors detected his wearer committing murder to solve a debt problem. No one expected smart clothes to develop a conscious but this one did, gave evidence in court and expected collaborative evidence from other smart clothes such as the jacket, shirt and trousers. Amusing all this is but questions are suggested such as what is conscience and how do we develop them?
The book is arranged in bite-sized chunks making it easier to read and digest a few at bedtime or for inspiration at a dentist waiting room. Many of the pieces relate to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the wonderful ramifications that brings. Some also uses gaming technology. A marvellous piece is in History Is Made At Night in which a treaty between Worlds of Warcraft – oops sorry, Wowcraft, and Star Blap Online, which allows characters and citizens of those completely different gameworlds to travel to and wreak havoc in each other’s domain. Negotiations had to iron out problems of weaponry, spells and laws of physics-free-zones as well as the thorny issue of monetary parity. For the uninitiated many such online games allow players to win credits and spend them to acquire weapons, property, armies, etc.
The above leads nicely to the One Singularity Situation. Virtual commodities and finance such as in the economics of Wowcraft will soon outgrow real life economics (indeed there may not be much difference when you read CNN and BBC accounts of gameworld players using real money to buy advantage in their virtual worlds). Real life depends on finite sources such as fossil fuels, capital and labour but there is no limit in the virtual world. Scarcity raising the price by demand is a totally intellectual concept in those games but with the fuzzy interweaving with the real world we could see Ira Nayman’s visions become reality. Or as one of his fictional pundits says: ‘It’s all smoke and mirrors but not even with real
Speaking of pundits, explore what would happen if they along with politicians caught a virus so they couldn’t speak? The Voice Of Sanity Gets Its Chance does just that – a wonderful vignette ending with ‘Everybody was unavailable for comment.’
There are about 80 mind-stretching nuggets in this book, which should be on every science fiction and deep thinkers’ shelves. My favourite has to be the Trial Of The Nanosecond. This is about the discrimination in the HiveMind made up of digital consciousnesses. Some individual identities feel they don’t have equal access to as many computer cycles as pure AI spawned ‘in silico’. A fascinating argument occurs taking a couple of pages. When the trial is over we learn it took 0.0000000034768 seconds.
Or is my favourite The Bots Are Back In Town? This is where hate literature claims by a Human Rights Commission considers the book – How To Survive a Robot Uprising. The point of view of the robots makes you think.
Or it could be the mini series of Lives Unlived. So much. So worth having.
Some readers prefer their fiction populated by main characters, a plot arc, and conflict along with resolution. This isn’t that kind of fiction – more a fictionalised collection of alternative news reports. It can be hard going if you hope for a light read, but chilled in a comfy armchair and your mind will open.
If you can’t wait to buy this book, or his other on my shelf waiting to be read – What Were Once Miracles Are Now Children’s Toys (2010), then leap over to his website at www.lespagesauxfolles.ca
About the reviewer: Geoff Nelder lives in rural England within easy cycle rides of the Welsh mountains. One humorous thriller novel, Escaping Reality has been published, and his recent novel is a science fiction mystery, Exit, Pursued by Bee, published by Double Dragon Publishing. Other SF/F novels are hungry to be published following a minor deluge of humour, crime and horror short stories. Geoff is an editor for Adventure Books of Seattle.