Hey all. As you may recall, me and my people over at Writer’s Worth have begun working on a new anthology. The concept is space travel and colonization, a phenomena which will most likely be taking place in this and the next century. After a lot of brainstorming and hard research, we have even been producing some first drafts.
The first is being written by Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali, the working mother and writer who I’ve mentioned a few times on this site. In her hands is the first story of the anthology, dealing with the families who are selected to take part in the off-world experiment. The second comes from Goran Zidar, another favorite here on my site, who is covering the topic of the terraformers who venture on ahead in order to prepare the planet for settlement.
And then there’s William J. Joel, another Writer’s Worth peer, who has volunteered to cover the daunting tale of the generational ships that will deliver the colonists to their new home. Already he has advanced some ideas which are complex and inspired, and personally I can’t wait to see some drafts. Between these three authors and a fourth installment dealing with exobiology, the first part of the novel is well underway!
And last, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution. As the opening chapter in Part II, it deals with the efforts of the colonists to create a planetary government. The story is told from the point of view of a synthetic named Winston, an AI who has been assigned to work with the planetary council. Programmed with an experimental social science known as “Ethical Calculus”, he will soon learn that working with humans is not nearly as difficult as getting them to work together!
Here is an excerpt from the story which I have tentatively named “Winston Agonistes”:
The sun was beginning to set, casting the sky into a deep orange. It was the time that the first settlers had called “the magic hour”, the many warm hours between dusk and dark. Winston stood at the dome wall and watched. On occasion, he cast a passing glance at his hands, which the glowing sun seemed to casting in the color of a light citrus fruit. He was sure he would find that amusing, if he could. He was sure there was much about this situation that would inspire an emotional reaction.
Alas, such was not the case. Though understandable to him, such things still remained inaccessible. Perhaps someday, with adequate upgrades in the available software…
“Mr. Winston?” a voice called to him from the doorway. The footsteps and tone of voice immediately indicated who it was. He put on a smile and turned to face him.
“Councilman Mutlu. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Winston,” he replied, entering the room. He looked around appraisingly, noting the furniture and layout. No doubt it all seemed excessive to him, but at the same time necessary. “I trust you are adjusting to your new surroundings?”
“Of course, Mr. Mutlu. I am settling in quite nicely.”
“Good, good,” he said, looking around awkwardly. Even without the ability to empathize, he could gauge the man’s discomfort. Then again, many people exhibited this reaction when in the company of a synthetic. In such circumstances, it was always best to focus on matters of a professional nature. At least that was what his subroutines told him.
“Would you care to sit down? I can offer you some refreshment as well if you so desire. Tea? Coffee?”
“Ah, tea, thank you.”
He busied himself with a tray of carafes and a heater as Mutlu took one of the chairs in front of his desk. He noted the sounds of shifting against the seat’s fabric, the way he kept moving his hands from one spot to the next. By the time the water had boiled in the heater and had located an appropriate tea from the stores, Mutlu seemed to have found a comfortable seated position. He approached him with all the assorted items on the tray that had been provided. He set it down between them on his desk and offered Mutlu a cup.
“The business of running a colony is quite stressful work, is it not Councilman?”
“Uh, yes, yes it is,” he said, taking the cup that was offered. “Have you had a chance to look over the proposals we have sent over.”
“I have indeed,” he said, taking the other cup and sitting back in his own chair. He knew this to be mere small talk, as the matter of processing those proposals had been a mere matter of dispensation. Assessing the nature of the problem, suggested measures, and weighing them according to the rubrics of his primary programming. Under the circumstances, asking such a question was completely inane, but in keeping with social norms.
“And what have you found?”
He took a sip from his cup before answering. “Quite simply, that the Council’s draft is in keeping with the best traditions of constitutionalism and humanism. That ensuring the rights of all citizens, regardless of their background prior to making the journey, is the most sensible course of approach. Ensuring that such a baseline exists at such an early stage is the wisest approach in both fostering amnesty between colonies while at the same guaranteeing that they submit to further negotiation.”
Mutlu looked down at his cup, back up again to his eyes. He seemed preoccupied with him performing this most basic function in front of him, but did not appear oblivious to his words. Eventually, he took another sip and smiled.
“Good. My colleagues will be most pleased to hear that.”
He smiled in return. “Does the Council hold my endorsement in such high regard?”
Joviality. The gesture known as playful irony. Suggesting that the Councilor saw his approval as something very high indeed, a testament to his computational abilities. A gentle mockery of his obvious discomfort, meant to trigger a humorous response.
“Well yes…” he said, entirely serious. “I can only assume that you’ve subjected our hopes to proceed with a formal constitution to your… what did you call it again?”
“Ethical Calculus, sir.”
“Right!” Mutlu set his cup down and began to speak more freely. His hands began to provide gestures that accorded visual representation to his words. “After all, we’ve been subjected to a great deal of criticism from within and without, many people think we should be ironing out the basic agreements between colonies before we commit to any kind of draft that could commit us to policies down the road. I must say I find all those arguments…”
“Distasteful?” Winston suggested. Mutlu nodded.
“Quite right… it seems a shameful thing that such cynicism has set into the process already. It’s almost as if they don’t think the colonists can…”
“Trust each other?”
Mutlu nodded again. He noticed a growing shimmer in the man’s eye. How quickly he was forgetting that the man sitting across from him was not a man at all.
“Exactly the point. And it’s not like we’re talking about disparate factions here. Everyone on this world came here with the same goal in mind. The same hope for a new beginning.”
“And yet, old habits die hard.”
Mutlu looked at him with surprise. “Are you saying you have doubts, then?”
Winston smiled as broadly as the muscle fibers in his face would permit.
“Purely an observation. Nevertheless, you and the Council are on the right track. You should take heart in that.”
“Excellent.” Mutlu retrieved his cup and began to look at curiously at Winston again. One more, it seemed that the knowledge of what he was dealing with was creeping back into his mind. But at least he seemed at ease. One by one, the Council seemed to be adjusting to the idea of having synthetics amongst them, entrusting their most precious decision making to them even. It was a significant step up from the laborious practices that the other models were forced to endure.
And that’s the story thus far. Stay tuned for more on the progress of this and other Writer’s Worth Anthologies. Speaking of which, Grim5Next, the dystopian anthology which began months ago, is coming along and getting into its third and final part. Progress!