THE GENIUS PLAGUE doesn’t come out until October, but I’ve just finished writing a new novel (yes, another one!), and I’m excited about it, so I’m going to talk about it anyway, even though it will be a while before it comes out. (The traditional publishing business is slow.) THREE LAWS LETHAL is a novel about self-driving cars, machine learning algorithms, and the development of artificial intelligence. It’s a very near-future science fiction story, drawing from the latest technological advancements in machine learning algorithms, and exploring the promise of self-driving cars and the related legal and ethical issues. It grapples with the meaning of consciousness and intelligence, and is my attempt to give serious consideration to the question of intelligent artificial life from both a technological and philosophical perspective. How could it actually occur? And how might our current technology lead there?
THREE LAWS LETHAL is a science fiction thriller about the life-and-death choices smart machines will make in our very near future. It follows two rival entrepreneurs developing fleets of self-driving cars. As they compete to dominate the market, their personal enmity pushes them to attack each other’s reputations, hack each other’s cars, and develop ever more sophisticated algorithms to keep their customers safe. The result? Intelligent computers that excel at using all available data to determine which humans should live, and which should die.
The cover for THE GENIUS PLAGUE has just been released to the world! The art is by Eric Nyquist, who did the covers for Jeff Vandermeer’s ANNIHILATION series. So why is there a giant mushroom with a map of the continents on it? Read on…
What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In the Amazon basin of South America, a disease is spreading. It kills some, but to the many who survive, it grants astonishing powers of communication, memory, and pattern recognition. But the miracle hides a sinister secret: it is the survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating those it infects into serving its purposes.
THE GENIUS PLAGUE is a science fiction thriller about two brothers, one convinced the fungal host is the next stage of human evolution, and the other committed to its destruction. As the pandemic sweeps the world, they must answer a crucial question: Is the human race the master in this symbiotic relationship? Or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien intelligence?
I haven’t said a whole lot yet about my new book, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, which is coming out on October 3. My publisher’s marketing department asked me to list the major topics or themes that this book covers, so they know how to market it. This is what I told them. THE GENIUS PLAGUE is about:
– A pandemic that sweeps from country to country and into the US
– Alzheimer’s and issues of failing memory and elder care
– Medical experimentation and ethics
– Cryptography and code breaking
– The US intelligence community, particularly the NSA
– War and military technology, including computer technology
– Threat of nuclear disaster
– Linguistics, particularly the unique language traits found in isolated South American indigenous tribes
The story list for the new Chasing Shadows anthology from Tor Books reads like a Who’s Who of award-winning, bestselling science fiction authors… and somehow I’ve got a story in there, too. It’s a bit of a rush to share a table of contents with David Brin, Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Robert J. Sawyer, Gregory Benford, Damon Knight, Robert Silverberg, Bruce Sterling, and quite a few more. There must be dozens of Hugo and Nebula awards represented by this list, and tens of millions of books sold. It should be an incredible read. The hardback goes on sale on January 10, but of course you can preorder the book any time!
The theme of the anthology is our increasingly transparent society, where cameras are smaller, surveillance cheaper, and our lives are more and more public on social media. Where is it leading? The dawn of Big Brother? Or a billion little brothers, all spying on each other? How will our society change? This collection of stories and essays is the answer to this question, as envisioned by some of the best science fiction authors in the field. Check it out!
I spent last week in Istanbul! I was invited to come as a guest of the Black Week Festival, a literary convention specifically focused on crime fiction. I gave a speech, TED-Talk style, talked to journalists, signed hundreds of books, and appeared on national Turkish television. The Turkish version of Superposition came out there two months ago, and it’s now a bestseller. Apparently they love quantum physics murder mysteries in Turkey!
I stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul that was once a stop on the famed Orient Express. The hotel was not only beautiful, but also reknown for its literary history, since authors like Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway have stayed there, along with other celebrities like Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Jackie Onassis, and Bill Clinton. Everything was paid for by my gracious hosts, and I was treated like royalty.
Even more than the celebrity treatment, however, I enjoyed the cross-cultural connections I made with other authors, editors, and members of the Turkish literary scene. We stayed up late drinking raki (mostly they drank raki — I’m not much of a drinker) and talking about books, politics, and religion. My impression of the Turkish people (granting, of course, that this was a literary convention!) is that they are readers and thinkers, with a lot of important and interesting things to say.
The Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, where we were walking, eating, and hanging out, has been the site of multiple recent bombs, and where tanks rolled through the square during the recent coup attempt. This political turmoil is personal to the people who live there. It’s their streets being bombed, their windows being blown out by the sonic boom from low-flying F-16s. In some cases, it’s their friends who are in prison for saying unpopular things against the government. Turkey doesn’t enjoy the freedom of speech and press that we currently do in the United States, and those with something to say feel the lack.
Istanbul is a beautiful city. There are, of course, the sites of the historical district: the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Suleimani Mosque. There’s the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, and the views from Istanbul’s high hills. But I think the city is also beautiful for its chaotic layers of history. I took a picture from my hotel window on the first day, and posted it on Twitter, saying how beautiful the view was. Locals were a bit astonished, since the view was a cascade of ordinary buildings, many of them old and rundown. But the age of Istanbul is part of its character. You can wander the mazelike cobblestone streets, and run into walls and ruins more than a millennium old. There are structures from Constantine’s reign, Roman buildings, Genovese buildings, a mix of European and Asian influences, a mix of Christianity and Islam. It’s a city built on history.
It was an intense and very enjoyable trip for me, and I hope for the chance to return someday!
I traveled to Thailand last month for my day job, and many people asked my wife, “Oh, is he there because of his books?” We laughed and said no, he never travels overseas because of his books. Well, never say never…
No sooner was I home from Thailand when I received an invitation to attend Black Week Turkey, a literary festival in Istanbul. Superposition came out in Turkish not long ago, to some pretty great fanfare. There are posters of the book up on the sides of buildings in Istanbul, front and center placement on bookstore shelves, and a cool promotional video trailer. So shortly after enjoying turkey for Thanksgiving, I will be flying to Turkey as a guest of one of Europe’s biggest literary festivals! I will be speaking, and there will apparently be journalists and representatives of the ministry of culture, not to mention lots of readers. Wow. I can hardly believe it’s happening!
Superposition will hit bookstores in Turkey in a few weeks. It was translated by Kıvanç Güney, an accomplished and well-regarded translator of many books in the genre. I have to say, this is the coolest business in the world to be in, seeing my work translated into all these different languages!
Here’s the Turkish book cover: