Holiday Sale!

holiday_special3

Just in time for the holidays, The Cronian Incident (my first published novel) is available for free on Kindle! For those who don’t know, it’s a gritty, hard-boiled detective story set in the late 23rd century amid a backdrop of Solar System colonization, terraforming efforts, and factional politics.

The book has gardened a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon. Here’s what the reviewers had said:

“This was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time. Its universe is vast in scope, its plot full of intrigue, its characters delightfully well rounded with just the right mix of flaws and strengths.

“This story was a good read that sucked me in and kept me wondering. I particularly enjoyed the world building aspects, and the overarching storyline which is clearly going to continue in the next book.”

“I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further installments of the story.

“Mr. Williams delivers an exciting tale in this story. It was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.”

“The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy… Williams injects a realism into this splendid science fiction story that is reminiscent of some of the best in the genre.”

holiday_special1

And for a limited time, The Cronian Incident is available with its sequel – The Jovian Manifesto – for the bundle price of $0.99. So far, the book has gained a 5/5 star rating and some stellar reviews:

What’s so good about it? Everything!

“[I]f you liked The Cronian Incident, you’ll enjoy The Jovian Manifesto, so don’t hesitate to check it out and take a look.”

And Professor Loeb of Harvard University described it as follows:

“Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!”

The offer ends December 29th! Get em’ while they’re hot!

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

And I’m back with another entry in the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’ve been very bad at keeping up with these, but I am determined to share my choices for the top ten most influential books I’ve ever read. So what I lack in punctuality, I hope to make up in sincerity and selection :).

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my third selection for the challenge, the post-cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age!

This book takes place in the 21st century after the world has been fundamentally changed by the introduction of nanotechnology. If Eric K. Drexler’s book The Engine of Creation was the authoritative treatise on how nanotechnology would change our lives, The Diamond Age was definitely the fictional counterpart. In this novel, Stephenson treated fans to his usual mix of weirdness, genius, historical and social commentary, education and growth.

For me, this book remains immensely influential, not because it introduced me to the concept of nanotechnology, but because it did so in a way that had such depth. Anyone who reads this is sure to feel that this book came along at exactly the right time to offer commentary on a concept that was slowly moving from the realm of science-fiction to science fact. And as this concept becomes more and more realized, I feel that this book will become required reading for people looking to understand the evolution of nanotechnology.

But, as I said, this book went beyond mere technological commentary, and contained some very interesting thoughts on social change, historical patterns, and the role of culture in development. While I didn’t agree with everything he asserted, it was interesting to see Stephenson detail how specific cultures may go about embracing technology differently, and how the pendulum of history can swing back and forth depending on the time and place and what means are available to people.

If nothing else, it got me thinking in a very serious way, like most of his works. And it was also delightfully fun to read and inspired me as a science fiction writer to take more risks and tackle issues I felt were previously inaccessible to me. Again, I highly recommend this book.

Okay, now for my nomination. This time around, I nominate the Tousled Apostle herself and a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Jamie A. Hughes!

 

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

Hello again, all. First, please forgive my tardiness in posting this. It’s been a busy weekend and an even busier year! I shall try to catch up over the next few days, though I can’t imagine life is going to get any less busy in the near future. Even so, I got plenty more books to talk about that have had a profound effect on me and influenced my decision to become a writer.

But first, here are the rules of this challenge again!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Again, I would like to thank RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for day two of the challenge, I would like to select the book that taught people to take science fiction seriously – Dune!

dune

Much like Lord of the Rings, this timeless classic was one I learned about growing up, but didn’t get around to reading until my 20s. And just like with LOTR, once I did read it, I could see why its influence has been so pervasive. While Frank Herbert wrote many science fiction novels during his lifetime, none have had the same impact as the first installment in his six-book Dune series. And while I myself read all six twice, the first book is arguably the best.

For starters, the story involved one of the richest, most-inspired and most-detailed universes ever created in the history science fiction. Based on the concept of a galactic empire where politics, the economy and all social norms are essentially combination of the futuristic and medieval, the setting of Dune would go on to inspire Lucas’ Star Wars universe, not to mention countless other franchises that combine sci-fi with fantasy. What’s more, many of the planets in the novel have been formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as place names for features on the Moon and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But it was the complex interweaving of real history, religion, environmentalism, resource dependency, and cultural and social commentary that blew me away and has ensured that this book is likely to be included in any top ten lists of science fiction books that you can find – not to mention one of the top ten books people pretend to have read. And to round it all out, it has a very deep plot that examines the enduring mystery of prophets and messiahs in human history, and the paradox of prescience. As Frank Herbert himself wrote, “to know the future is to become trapped by it.”

I could go on and on, but I’ve already reviewed this book more than once and don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t, get on it!

And now it’s time for me to nominate someone new. And so I call upon Lady Muse herself, Khaalidah Mohammed Ali!

Cover Art Reveal for the Future Days Anthology!

Behold! When the anthology drops, this will be the beautiful artwork that adorns the cover! This anthology is a collection of short stories by Castrum authors and is being released in advance of a number of new books by said authors (one of which is the second installment in my Formist Series – The Jovian Manifesto). My wife thinks there’s a strong resemblance between the child wearing the jet pack and yours truly. Yeah, I suppose I can see it too! 🙂

For those interested, my own contribution is the story Jericho, a story that takes a look at a generation ship that arrives at its destination many centuries from now. The colonists are what are known as Seedlings, people who use advanced nanotechnology to seed and terraform other worlds in advance of colonists. When they arrive, their homes, cities, streets, industries, and all the basic amenities are already built. All they need to do is take their places among the colony and get things working.

This story takes place in the same universe as The Cronian Incident, thought not the same time frame. Speaking of which, stay tuned for cover art for the second installment in that series, The Jovian Manifesto!

New Movie Trailer: The Martian

the_martianThe latest trailer for the The Martian has just hit cyberspace! And as you can see, its quite the doozy. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney – a botanist and space engineer who is part of a manned mission to Mars. When an unexpected storm strikes in the course of that mission, Watney is lost during evacuation and presumed dead.

However, the crew soon learns that Watney survived the storm and has been living on the planet ever since. With a return mission expected to take years before it can reach him, NASA must struggle with a terrible dilemma – risk the lives of many astronauts to save one, or let Watney die alone on a distant planet?

I will definitely seeing this movie, but not before I read the original novel! And I can proudly say that after learning about this movie, I ordered a copy of the book a few weeks back and it now sits on my nightstand. I still got finish a few things before getting to it, but I plan to have it read before the movie comes out in October. There is no way in hell I’ll be waiting for this movie to come out on DVD or Netflix!

Featured Guest Post: “Contemporary Dystopian Novels Worth the Read” by Maria Ramos

dystopiaGood afternoon folks! Today, I have the honor of featuring a guest writer, something that I have never done before. Her name is Mario Ramos, a fellow writer that has been following storiesbywilliams and asked to add her thoughts about this contemporary dystopian literature craze. Take it away, Ramos!

*               *               *

The teenage wastelands of The Hunger Games and Divergent have made their way to the big screen and people can’t seem to get enough of it. However, many others seem to think science fiction isn’t what it used to be. Despite the glut of novels and films catering to young adults today, there is still plenty of well-written dystopian novels (without teenaged love triangles). Although they do not fall into the same particular category of classics such as Brave New World, there are still worthy examples written in the past few years. Check out some of them below:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood:

Christian fundamentalists stage a terrorist attack in America, allowing them to suspend the Constitution and install a patriarchal theocracy. This story follows Offred, a concubine for the elite class who undergoes a sexual awakening and joins a resistance movement against the fundamentalists. This critique of repressive religious fundamentalism has taken on added significance since the 9/11 attacks, showing us how a crisis can lead to authoritarianism. Because it speaks to these important issues, the novel remains relevant today. The book was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall.

The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James:

A global disease has made all men infertile, leaving the human race unable to reproduce. Without any hope for the future, English society collapses and falls under the control of a ruthless dictator. Criminals are dumped into prisons to kill or be killed and the elderly are compulsorily euthanized. This book is an admonition against the cynicism of our times. If we lose hope, we accept all kinds of callousness and oppression and lose sight of the human life’s value. In 2006, a film adaptation starring Julianne Moore and Clive Owen was released.

The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy:

A man and his son brave an ashy lifeless landscape populated by cannibals in the hopes of escaping the harsh black winter. Through their actions and words, the man and the boy constantly emphasize love’s power. No matter how bleak things get, the father always looks out for his son and encourages him to maintain hope no matter what. This powerful message resonates with many families, making this novel a contemporary classic. The 2009 film adaptation received critical acclaim with Viggo Mortensen’s excellent portrayal of The Man.

 The Windup Girl (2009) by Paulo Bacigalupi:

In 23rd century Thailand, a genetically engineered humanoid organism, an economic hitman and representative of a biotech mega-corporation, a crooked Chinese refugee, and a leader of an armed environmental enforcement agency cross paths in The Windup Girl. This novel tells a tale of intrigue that critiques environmental exploitation, reckless genetic engineering, the international sex trade, unfettered capitalism, and globalization. The Windup Girl combines a compelling story with dense thematic material, making it a quality science fiction read on par with the classics.

Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline:

In 2044, people spend most of their free time in Oasis — a globally networked virtual reality that transports users to any world they can imagine — as a way of escaping a scrappy existence on an impoverished and depleted planet. The story follows Wade Watts, a high school student that embarks on a digital Easter egg hunt designed by the deceased creator of Oasis in order to inherit his vast estate. Ready Player One shows a world in which people alienate themselves through video games, instead of trying to solve the world’s problems.

*               *               *

Despite recent films focusing on romance and teenaged angst, there are still many novels that generate conversation over our concerns about the world today. This subgenre of science fiction showcases our anxieties about the future and has raised questions surrounding the concepts of totalitarian governments, environmental catastrophes, and technological overreach. Many have become aware of these concerns and have been trying to positively change the way we impact our Earth. From companies making direct energy more accessible to NASA using advanced technology to help the environment, these dystopian fictions are helping save the world — one novel at a time.dystopian list

Accelerando: A Review

posthumanIt’s been a long while since I did a book review, mainly because I’ve been immersed in my writing. But sooner or later, you have to return to the source, right? As usual, I’ve been reading books that I hope will help me expand my horizons and become a better writer. And with that in mind, I thought I’d finally review a book I finished reading some months ago, one which was I read in the hopes of learning my craft.

It’s called Accelerando, one of Charle’s Stross better known works that earned him the Hugo, Campbell, Clarke, and British Science Fiction Association Awards. The book contains nine short stories, all of which were originally published as novellas and novelettes in Azimov’s Science Fiction. Each one revolves around the Mancx family, looking at three generations that live before, during, and after the technological singularity.

https://i1.wp.com/1a3kls1q8u5etu6z53sktyqdif.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Charles-Stross.jpgThis is the central focus of the story – and Stross’ particular obsession – which he explores in serious depth. The title, which in Italian means “speeding up” and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation, refers to the accelerating rate of technological progress and its impact on humanity. Beginning in the 21st century with the character of Manfred Mancx, a “venture altruist”; moving to his daughter Amber in the mid 21st century; the story culminates with Sirhan al-Khurasani, Amber’s son in the late 21st century and distant future.

In the course of all that, the story looks at such high-minded concepts as nanotechnology, utility fogs, clinical immortality, Matrioshka Brains, extra-terrestrials, FTL, Dyson Spheres and Dyson Swarms, and the Fermi Paradox. It also takes a long-view of emerging technologies and predicts where they will take us down the road.

And to quote Cory Doctorw’s own review of the book, it essentially “Makes hallucinogens obsolete.”

Plot Synopsis:
https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0b/Accelerando_%28book_cover%29.jpg
Part I, Slow Takeoff, begins with the short story “Lobsters“, which opens in early-21st century Amsterdam. Here, we see Manfred Macx, a “venture altruist”, going about his business, making business ideas happen for others and promoting development. In the course of things, Manfred receives a call on a courier-delivered phone from entities claiming to be a net-based AI working through a KGB website, seeking his help on how to defect.

Eventually, he discovers the callers are actually uploaded brain-scans of the California spiny lobster looking to escape from humanity’s interference. This leads Macx to team up with his friend, entrepreneur Bob Franklin, who is looking for an AI to crew his nascent spacefaring project—the building of a self-replicating factory complex from cometary material.

In the course of securing them passage aboard Franklin’s ship, a new legal precedent is established that will help define the rights of future AIs and uploaded minds. Meanwhile, Macx’s ex-fiancee Pamela pursues him, seeking to get him to declare his assets as part of her job with the IRS and her disdain for her husband’s post-scarcity economic outlook. Eventually, she catches up to him and forces him to impregnate and marry her in an attempt to control him.

The second story, “Troubador“, takes place three years later where Manfred is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce with Pamela who is once again seeking to force him to declare his assets. Their daughter, Amber, is frozen as a newly fertilized embryo and Pamela wants to raise her in a way that would be consistent with her religious beliefs and not Manfred’s extropian views. Meanwhile, he is working on three new schemes and looking for help to make them a reality.

These include a workable state-centralized planning apparatus that can interface with external market systems, a way to upload the entirety of the 20th century’s out-of-copyright film and music to the net. He meets up with Annette again – a woman working for Arianspace, a French commercial aerospace company – and the two begin a relationship. With her help, his schemes come together perfectly and he is able to thwart his wife and her lawyers. However, their daughter Amber is then defrosted and born, and henceforth is being raised by Pamela.

The third and final story in Part I is “Tourist“, which takes place five years later in Edinburgh. During this story, Manfred is mugged and his memories (stored in a series of Turing-compatible cyberware) are stolen. The criminal tries to use Manfred’s memories and glasses to make some money, but is horrified when he learns all of his plans are being made available free of charge. This forces Annabelle to go out and find the man who did it and cut a deal to get his memories back.

Meanwhile, the Lobsters are thriving in colonies situated at the L5 point, and on a comet in the asteroid belt. Along with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the ESA, they have picked up encrypted signals from outside the solar system. Bob Franklin, now dead, is personality-reconstructed in the Franklin Collective. Manfred, his memories recovered, moves to further expand the rights of non-human intelligences while Aineko begins to study and decode the alien signals.

http://garethstack.files.wordpress.com/2006/12/url-3.jpegPart II, Point of Inflection, opens a decade later in the early/mid-21st century and centers on Amber Macx, now a teen-ager, in the outer Solar System. The first story, entitled “Halo“, centers around Amber’s plot (with Annette and Manfred’s help) to break free from her domineering mother by enslaving herself via s Yemeni shell corporation and enlisting aboard a Franklin-Collective owned spacecraft that is mining materials from Amalthea, Jupiter’s fourth moon.

To retain control of her daughter, Pamela petitions an imam named Sadeq to travel to Amalthea to issue an Islamic legal judgment against Amber. Amber manages to thwart this by setting up her own empire on a small, privately owned asteroid, thus making herself sovereign over an actual state. In the meantime, the alien signals have been decoded, and a physical journey to an alien “router” beyond the Solar System is planned.

In the second story Router“, the uploaded personalities of Amber and 62 of her peers travel to a brown dwarf star named Hyundai +4904/-56 to find the alien router. Traveling aboard the Field Circus, a tiny spacecraft made of computronium and propelled by a Jupiter-based laser and a lightsail, the virtualized crew are contacted by aliens.

Known as “The Wunch”, these sentients occupy virtual bodies based on Lobster patterns that were “borrowed” from Manfred’s original transmissions. After opening up negotiations for technology, Amber and her friends realize the Wunch are just a group of thieving, third-rate “barbarians” who have taken over in the wake of another species transcending thanks to a technological singularity. After thwarting The Wunch, Amber and a few others make the decision to travel deep into the router’s wormhole network.

In the third story, Nightfall“, the router explorers find themselves trapped by yet more malign aliens in a variety of virtual spaces. In time, they realize the virtual reaities are being hosted by a Matrioshka brain – a megastructure built around a star (similar to a Dyson’s Sphere) composed of computronium. The builders of this brain seem to have disappeared (or been destroyed by their own creations), leaving an anarchy ruled by sentient, viral corporations and scavengers who attempt to use newcomers as currency.

With Aineko’s help, the crew finally escapes by offering passage to a “rogue alien corporation” (a “pyramid scheme crossed with a 419 scam”), represented by a giant virtual slug. This alien personality opens a powered route out, and the crew begins the journey back home after many decades of being away.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/d622e-charles_stross_accelerando_magyar.jpgPart III, Singularity, things take place back in the Solar System from the point of view of Sirhan – the son of the physical Amber and Sadeq who stayed behind. In “Curator“, the crew of the Field Circus comes home to find that the inner planets of the Solar System have been disassembled to build a Matrioshka brain similar to the one they encountered through the router. They arrive at Saturn, which is where normal humans now reside, and come to a floating habitat in Saturn’s upper atmosphere being run by Sirhan.

The crew upload their virtual states into new bodies, and find that they are all now bankrupt and unable to compete with the new Economics 2.0 model practised by the posthuman intelligences of the inner system. Manfred, Pamela, and Annette are present in various forms and realize Sirhan has summoned them all to this place. Meanwhile, Bailiffs—sentient enforcement constructs—arrive to “repossess” Amber and Aineko, but a scheme is hatched whereby the Slug is introduced to Economics 2.0, which keeps both constructs very busy.

In “Elector“, we see Amber, Annette, Manfred and Gianna (Manfred’s old political colleague) in the increasingly-populated Saturnian floating cities and working on a political campaign to finance a scheme to escape the predations of the “Vile Offspring” – the sentient minds that inhabit the inner Solar System’s Matrioshka brain. With Amber in charge of this “Accelerationista” party, they plan to journey once more to the router network. She loses the election to the stay-at-home “conservationista” faction, but once more the Lobsters step in to help by offering passage to uploads on their large ships if the humans agree to act as explorers and mappers.

In the third and final chapter, “Survivor“, things fast-forward to a few centuries after the singularity. The router has once again been reached by the human ship and humanity now lives in space habitats throughout the Galaxy. While some continue in the ongoing exploration of space, others (copies of various people) live in habitats around Hyundai and other stars, raising children and keeping all past versions of themselves and others archived.

Meanwhile, Manfred and Annette reconcile their differences and realize they were being manipulated all along. Aineko, who was becoming increasingly intelligent throughout the decades, was apparently pushing Manfred to fulfill his schemes to help bring the humanity to the alien node and help humanity escape the fate of other civilizations that were consumed by their own technological progress.

Summary:
Needless to say, this book was one big tome of big ideas, and could be mind-bendingly weird and inaccessible at times! I’m thankful I came to it when I did, because no one should attempt to read this until they’ve had sufficient priming by studying all the key concepts involved. For instance, don’t even think about touching this book unless you’re familiar with the notion of the Technological Singularity. Beyond that, be sure to familiarize yourself with things like utility fogs, Dyson Spheres, computronium, nanotechnology, and the basics of space travel.

You know what, let’s just say you shouldn’t be allowed to read this book until you’ve first tackled writers like Ray Kurzweil, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, Alastair Reynolds and Neal Stephenson. Maybe Vernon Vinge too, who I’m currently working on. But assuming you can wrap your mind around the things presented therein, you will feel like you’ve digested something pretty elephantine and which is still pretty cutting edge a decade or more years after it was first published!

But to break it all down, the story is essentially a sort of cautionary tale of the dangers of the ever-increasing pace of change and advancement. At several points in the story, the drive toward extropianism and post-humanity is held up as both an inevitability and a fearful prospect. It’s also presented as a possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox – which states that if sentient life is statistically likely and plentiful in our universe, why has humanity not observed or encountered it?

According to Stross, it is because sentient species – which would all presumably have the capacity for technological advancement – will eventually be consumed by the explosion caused by ever-accelerating progress. This will inevitably lead to a situation where all matter can be converted into computing space, all thought and existence can be uploaded, and species will not want to venture away from their solar system because the bandwidth will be too weak. In a society built on computronium and endless time, instant communication and access will be tantamount to life itself.

All that being said, the inaccessibility can be tricky sometimes and can make the read feel like its a bit of a labor. And the twist at the ending did seem like it was a little contrived and out of left field. It certainly made sense in the context of the story, but to think that a robotic cat that was progressively getting smarter was the reason behind so much of the story’s dynamic – both in terms of the characters and the larger plot – seemed sudden and farfetched.

And in reality, the story was more about the technical aspects and deeper philosophical questions than anything about the characters themselves. As such, anyone who enjoys character-driven stories should probably stay away from it. But for people who enjoy plot-driven tales that are very dense and loaded with cool technical stuff (which describes me pretty well!), this is definitely a must-read.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to finish Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, another dense, sometimes inaccessible read!