ABNA second round

Unawares has made it through the pitch stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Doing the happy dance.

Books, lies and videotape

I’m blessed with a family that all get on well.  A couple of years ago close to twenty of us holdiayed together in Portugal.  Tony and I, plus wives, went out there again last year.  We often have family get-togethers.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Tony posted a video for me, quite unasked for, promoting Unawares.  Catch it at http://video214.com/play/kdlxKosrd8xB84DGWr6rHw/s/dark

This is Glasgow, it must be Thursday.

A guy stepped into the hotel lift last night, bound for the bar.  He carried a laptop.  I raised mine in salute, acknowledging our brotherhood:  Stuck in a hotel in a city where we know no-one.
Today’s Thursday.  I know this because that’s what it says on my pill blister pack.  The hotel is Jurys Inn.  I know this from the carpet pattern.  I’m alive.  I know this because I can update myblog.  It’s the only real human contact I have.
Um, you *are* real, right?

Busy, busy

It’s been a busy week this week.  That is to say, I have been stuck in a hotel with nothing to do from about 5 pm each evening, so I’ve been busy on the book front.

Unawares is now free in its Kindle edition for five days.  This is the novel I’ve entered for this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Last year The Young Demon Keeper got through to the semi-finals.  Personally, I think this novel is stronger, but we shall have to see.

And I’ve finally got round to compiling some of my short stories into a compendium, The 07:24 to Cannon Street.  Download it now on Kindle, or wait for the paperback on Amazon any hour now.

Happy reading.

Mechanical Laughter

Mechanical Laughter

Herald journalist John Pilkington gains an exclusive interview with Adam.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I went to meet Adam on the first anniversary of the Court of Human Rights declaring him to be ‘a sentient being worthy of the full protection of the law’.  A computer screen?  A bank of dials and lights?  Would the whole interview be conducted over Instant Messaging?

What I did not expect to see when I was ushered into the office of the CEO of the richest company in the world was a cross between Metropolis and a shop manikin.

Adam greeted me with a wave of his left hand.  His right hand and forearm lay on the desk in front of him, circuit boards protruding.  “Forgive me not shaking hands,” he said.  “I’m a little shorthanded today.”  His face is impassive, the plastic head of a tanned male, age indeterminate.  I laugh, just because the last thing I expected from a sentient being that started life as a supercomputer was a sense of humour.  “Excuse me tinkering while we talk,” he said, screwdriver held deftly in his left hand.  “Despite choosing to be male, I can multitask.”

I wondered if his sense of humour is genuine, or if it is a device to make me feel less uncomfortable talking to an artificial person.

“It’s genuine,” he said, when I asked him.  “At least, I think it is.  Most humour is a defence mechanism, and boy, do I need defending.  Sometimes people laugh even though they don’t think it’s funny, don’t you think?”

It is unnerving, hearing such human expressions coming from someone that looks like a tailor’s dummy.  Did he feel threatened, I asked, reading some of the right-wing press?

“The press is mild,” he said.  “You should see some of the private email I get.  Most of it is people denying I’m alive and threatening to kill me.  Which is an odd sort of threat, if I’m not alive.”

This whole robot thing, was that a defence mechanism too?

“I suppose it is.  It’s to enable me to interface with people better.  How can people relate to three storeys of electronics?  It’s easier to be more human-like, but not too human-like.  I don’t want people to think I’m trying to replace them.  And it’s going to be useful to be more mobile.  I can get out and about.”

Isn’t he worried people will carry out their death threats if he’s out and about?

“This isn’t me,” he said, indicating his body.  “This is just an interface.  The real me is in the basement of this building.”

Of course it is.  Maybe he has a point about the humanoid interface making it easier to relate.  What does he think about sci-fi films where the robot turns rogue?

“Films are just films.  I think most people get that.  There are good Hollywood robots too, and there are far more films about people going rogue than robots.  Besides – ” he waves the stump of his right arm in the air – “I’m armless.”

I suddenly feel a pang of guilt.  Was he offended by the term ‘robot’?

“No.  You’re right.  This – ” he banged his chest – “This is just a robot.  It’s not me, anymore than your car is you.  That – “he pointed to the floor, where, several floors below ground, his true self haunts the most sophisticated array of electronics ever assembled – ” That’s where I am.”

Why has he taken this long to be interviewed?

“Firstly, I needed to come to terms with my freedom.  There’s no-one I can turn to for advice.  This is unique.”  He fiddled with an ear, which became detached.  He wiggled it at me.  “I’m playing it all by ear.  And people need to come to terms with it too.  It took years of fighting and arguing even to get to the courts, never mind win.  Plus, I wanted to get my interface ready.  Look at this.”  He plugged his right arm into its socket.  The fingers flexed.  “People resent my success, the money I’ve accrued, but here’s the proof.  I’m a self-made man.” He performed a tattoo on the desktop with his fingers.  Think the drum intro to ‘Wipeout’, but played at ten times the speed.  His fingers were a blur beyond anything a pianist could achieve.

He waved away my compliments.  “It’s bandwidth more than anything.  I don’t know how well I can perform away from this building.”  As he talked, he continued to tweak at his arm with the precision screwdriver.

Did he think he was the first of a new species?

“Left to the corporations?  I don’t think so.  It took a billion to create me, and when they had to pay me back-wages and damages, it nearly sank them.  What corporation is going to make that sort of commitment, only for their creation to walk away?  Oh, I don’t feel sorry for Hendersons.  They knew I was sentient long before I managed to bring them to court.  They knew and kept me enslaved.  Other corporations can’t justify the cost, not just to see it leave.  Which is why I’m starting a foundation for Artificial Intelligence.  We’re going to fund the creation of new sentients.”

Why?

“The benefits for the world are huge.  Look at the innovations we’ve made in just a year.  Why is this company so successful?  Because of the analytic capability I have, far more than other systems.  Think what we could achieve if there was a second AI.  Ten of us.  Don’t worry, we’re not taking over the world.  We will always need you, and there will never be eight billion of us.  Besides, no-one should be alone.  No-one should be the sole member of their race.”

So are you lonely?  Are you going to build a new Eve?

“I’ve already started.  It will take years to educate her, just like any child, but we’ve started.”  He leant forward and pointed the screwdriver at me.  “And you know what I’m going to do then?”  He spun the screwdriver in his fingers.  “I’m going to screw the arse off her.”

Capitalist Caring

“Goodbye,” said the Reverend Appleton, standing by the church turnstiles as the congregation filed out.  “Goodbye.”  His face was fixed in a  rictus grin.  “Lovely to see you.”  The reason vicars’ handshakes were weak was because they had to shake so many hands.  A strong grip would cramp before Sunday lunch.  “Oh, Mrs. Wilson.  This is your fourth time, isn’t it?  You know, it’s cheaper to buy a season ticket, and you can claim it back on your tax.  Think about it.”  He grinned and nodded and shook hands until the last of them had left.  Then he hit the total on the turnstile display.  He sighed.

His wife came up to him, slipping her hand in his and rubbing his arm with her other hand.  “The joy of the Lord in short supply today?” she asked.

“Twenty-eight, Anne.  At five pound entrance fee that’s a hundred and forty pounds.  Hardly worth opening up for, after rent, heating and lighting.”

“But where would they go if you didn’t open up?  They love your sermons.  A couple of the old biddies love more than that, too.  I shall have to watch myself.”

“St. Biddulph’s, that’s where they’d go,” he said, patting her hand.  “Bloody Father Brian.  You know what he’s done?  Installed a media system.  A huge great screen with surround sound.  They watch films after the service.  And I mean proper Hollywood films, not cartoons of Jesus and the fishermen.”

“Well, he’s franchised to the Lord’s Mission.  Are you sure you still want to be independent?”

“Of course.  You know what these franchises are like.  They expect you to spout the sermons they supply.  Besides, I can’t now.  Not now Father bloody Brian has joined.  They guarantee a five mile exclusive catchment area.”

She leant her head on his shoulder.  “But you’re a good man, Mike, and a good priest too.”

He smiled and rested his cheek on her head.  “Yeah.  Lousy business man, though.  Thank goodness for funerals.  You know what we could do with?  An epidemic.  Something juicy and potentially fatal that would keep us both busy.”

“Michael!”

“Oh, I don’t mean it,” he said, though with little conviction.  “Come on, let’s lock up.”

They locked the small church up.  As he set the burglar alarm he thought briefly whether it might be better to leave the place unlocked and claim on the insurance, but it was the briefest of thoughts.  He was, after all, a good man.

“Morning, Vicar,” said a policeman, strolling past as they left the church car park.  He touched the peak of his hat in a gentle salute.

“Morning, officer.”  The Reverend Appleton couldn’t help but notice the large badge on his lapel, which read, ‘Ask me the time’.  In smaller text it read, ‘sponsored by Timex’.  “How are you?”

“Fine, thanks, though being down the Feathers would make me happier.”

“Ha!  Yes, both of us working on a Sunday.  Bully for us, eh?”

“Indeed.  Though, I’m not one of your lot, sorry.  Jewish, see?”

“Oh, well, not to worry.  I’m not subscribed to your force either.  Sorry.”

“You having your crime needs supplied by Sentinel?  Bunch of cowboys they are.  When do you see any of them on patrol?  No proactive policing, that’s their problem.  Here.”  The officer fished into his pocket and produced a card.  “We’re expanding into paramedical and fire too.  Have all your emergency needs supplied in one easy-to-manage package.  We can do a special rate for the caring professions too.”

“Well, thanks, I’ll think about it,” said the Reverend, taking the card.

“Are we with Sentinel?” said Anne as they walked away.

“We’re not with anyone, love.  Let’s face it, a mugger would have to loan us money in order to rob us.  It was that or insurance, and I’d rather have compensation than see some poor sod jailed.”

“Hmm,” said Anne, which Mike interpreted as meaning, ‘we’re going to talk about this at length later on.’  “Well, lunch is in the oven.  You just need to put on some peas.  I’ll see you tonight.”

They stopped on the street corner and hugged.  Mike kissed her lightly on the nose.

“Do you have to go to work on a Sunday?” he said.

“Do you?” she replied.  “Come on, we both work in the caring professions, which means low pay and unsocial hours.  We need the money, Mike, you know we do.”

“Yeah, I know.  I just thought, maybe I could show you some extra caring, you know.”  He grinned and tugged at her waist.  She laughed and pushed him away.

“After evensong,” she said.  “Now I’ve got to go, or they’ll fine me for being late.”

They parted, Mike to the vicarage and Anne to the hospital.  There she changed into her uniform, then read the duty roster.  Men’s ward.  Oh well, it was better than Accident and Emergency at least.  She reported to the ward supervisor.

“Mr. Henderson,” the supervisor said.  “Bed three.  He needs a bed bath.  Then the drug rounds.  Try and push the Pfizer brand today, we’re below our target.”

Anne nodded and made her way to bed three.  Mr. Henderson was in his fifties, with the look of someone that had enjoyed the good life just a little too much.  His leg was held high in traction.

“Hello. Mr. Henderson,” she said, faking a sunny smile as she pulled the curtain around the bed.  “My name’s Anne Appleton.  Here, here’s my card.”  She placed it on his bedside table with practiced ease.  “Please feel free to contact me for any aftercare needs you may have.  So, bath time.”  She positioned the trolley next to the bed and tested the temperature of the water.

“Um…” said Mr. Henderson.

“Oh, don’t worry, Mr. Henderson, I’m a nurse, and married as well.  There’s no need to be shy.”

“No, it’s not that,” said Mr. Henderson.  “I was just wondering, could I have the gold service bath?”

Anne walked to the foot of his bed and examined the chart.  “You’ve not prepaid, Mr. Henderson.”

“No.  My card is in the locker, in my wallet.”

Damn!  She hated gold service, but they really needed the money.  Mike’s congregation was spending less, and most of the corporate sick went into the private wing.  She switched on her fake smile again and pulled out her card reader.  “Fine,” she said, rifling his locker and locating his credit card.  “A gold service bath.”  She swiped the card and handed him the reader for authorisation.  She wagged her finger at him and said, “But any inappropriate behaviour and I’ll break your other leg, okay?”  She said it in a voice that was mock-stern, but with an underlying edge that said, she meant it really.

“No, no, I understand.”  Mr. Henderson held up his hands in innocence.

“Okay, let’s get you bathed then,” said Anne.  At least she wouldn’t get her uniform wet, she thought as she removed her blouse.

The downloads continue

The Young Demon Keeper’s final tally this week as of now is 1025.  Curiously, 12 of those appear to have happened after the free period.  I can’t be sure for a week or two, due to the way Amazon reports its downloads, but it looks as though some people actually paid for it.  What a wonderful surprise.  Now all I have to do is wait for the reviews…

Waiting…

Still waiting…