Author: Edwin H Rydberg

Fact

What Lessons Can We Learn from Deepmind vs the…

What Happened?

Recently (in December, although the results were only just revealed Jan 24), a team of Artificial Intelligence agents created by the group at Deepmind — the same group that created AIs to beat the Chess and Go world champions — challenged two Team Liquid Starcraft II pro players (TLO and MaNa) to a 5-game match playing as the Protoss race and proceeded to defeat each player 5-0. A week later, MaNa defeated a new agent 1-0 for humanity’s only win.

What Are the Details?

Deepmind self-training strategy. Human examples to begin, then competition against other AI agents to improve.

Deepmind is an organization, financially supported by Google, that creates self-learning artificial intelligence programs. They’re best known for creating the AI agents that defeated the chess and go world champions.

Since then they’ve turned their attention to Starcraft II. Not only is the e-sport an incredibly fast-paced game with a large number of aspects for the player to consider at any given time but, more importantly, it features ‘imperfect information’ or, as it’s more commonly known, The Fog of War. In other words, while in chess and go the players can see the entire board and judge their next moves using a totality of information that includes the up-to-date position of the opponent pieces, in Starcraft II the only information a player has is what their pieces can ‘see’ on the map at any given moment.

Deepmind began by training an initial AI agent using human replays from all leagues. They used this agent to spawn new agents, which then trained further by playing each other in purely AI leagues. There they learned to develop and counter their own strategies.

Once ready, the Deepmind team reached out to Blizzard for a pro player to test their AI bots on and TLO was the name give. The Little One is a German pro known for his ability to play all races, and for being a generally all-round nice guy. They chose a Protoss vs Protoss match-up to reduce the complexity for the AI agents. A 5-game match was agree upon and played in early December. TLO lost 5-0.

However, it was only revealed after the match that TLO was playing 5 different agents, each with preferred strategies, meaning his standard method of adapting to an opponent wasn’t effective since he was effectively playing five different opponents.

Given that TLO does not play Protoss as his main (he’s a Zerg player), Deepmind then reached out to his teammate MaNa who was also beaten 5-0, this time by a set of agents trained for a week more. Some interesting revelations occured during that match, which led Deepmind to train a new agent, which MaNa managed to defeat 1-0.

What Does it Mean?

To start with, it’s important to note that the single human win was, arguably, the fairest game of the challenge as it used a new agent, trained in one week to only act on what was showing in the camera view of the screen — just like a human player would. It appears this was done because it came to light in the 9th game (4th game against MaNa), that the AI had perfect micro (individual unit control) while managing three squads of units in vastly different parts of the map. Something no human player could do. Presumably, while the original AIs were handicapped to human actions-per-minutes (APM), they primarily used the mini-map to manage units, giving them a massive advantage over humans, who cannot do that (at least partially because the minimap is in a tiny corner of the screen).

The other point worthy of note is that the human players commented that they could not adjust for the AI’s tactics from match to match. It came to light the reason for that was because there were, in fact, five different AI agents, each with preferred strategies, instead of one. This also put the human players at a vast disadvantage because it was equivalent to them playing a team of five pros while not knowing anything about their opponent’s tactics. Something that would rarely happen in human pro matches.

On the positive side, there were some interesting strategies that the AIs used repeatedly. While the human-like AI walled-off, many of the other AIs didn’t. All AIs, however, over-saturated their gas mining in the early game, choosing to expand later than their human opponents. It became clear that this small difference in income ended up resulting in a stronger economy, something underestimated by the human community of Protoss players. Of course, these strategies have only been tested in one type of match-up so it remains to be seen what other interesting strategies the AI will come up with.

Conclusions

This was a very interesting challenge. The main difference between Starcraft II and board games, and the reason the DeepMind team chose this game, was to see if their AIs could perform to human-like capabilities in an environment with imperfect information. That is, anyone who’s played Starcraft knows of the Fog of War, segments of the map you can’t see because you don’t have units there. Entire battle in WWII have been won due to creative use of the Fog of War, so this is not an idle challenge.

Interestingly, and perhaps a bit worrying, the Deepmind agents, once trained, can be installed, fully functional, on laptop computers. That’s right. While the training phase takes a vast amount of resources (equivalent to 50 GPUs for each agent), the finished agent can then function on a device that any person can buy. Scarier still, an agent can be trained from novice to pro in a week, amounting to the human equivalent of dozens, or even hundreds, of years of playing.

While the real-world consequences of this technology are obviously frightening, in game, I’m looking forward to the pros training with AIs to develop new and interesting strategies. Perhaps more feints or double feints, and other bits of misdirection. One strategy the last AI showed itself vulnerable to, and confused by, was oracle harassment of its mineral line. Humans would have dealt with that easily while the AI was confused time and time again. Presumably, future agents trained from this one will not be fooled but it will be interesting to see how man and machine relearn the game together. And I’m looking forward to seeing a single AI agent enter a pro tournament.

Fiction

Specular Superhero Novel Giveaway

As someone interested in superhero stories, even to the level of having published the start of my own superhero series online (Echoes of the Past: Altered Destiny), I love to see stories of new and original superheroes. Enter Specular. Published in August 2018, Specular by L.K.Brooks-Simpson, is the origin story of a hero with mental health issues, in an original setting. If you enjoy superhero stories, there’s an exerpt below as well as a giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Specular
L.K Brooks-Simpson 
(IXI COMICS, #1)
Publication date: August 16th 2018
Genres: Superhero, Young Adult

The first installment of the IXI COMICS series by author L.K BROOKS-SIMPSON

This novel is of the fantasy/superhero fiction genre and tackles some important implications of mental health and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Imagine being afraid to fall asleep in fear that you will not wake up to the life you know. This is exactly what Tre Moon experienced at nine years old. He awakes to his second dissociative identity having set his house aflame. With his home ruined and his parents murdered at his own hands, he is sentenced to trial for a life sentence. Young Tre Moon is forced to walk a path that will change his life forever.

When seventeen year old Tre comes into contact with a prohibited substance called Colloidal Supersilver his life will change forever when he finds out he has the ability to change how light refracts from his body. His new powers come with new challenges to an already complicated life, having battled Dissociative Identity Disorder for the majority of his youth.

Follow the origin story of IXI COMICS first hero as he becomes Indiana’s newest vigilante, Specular! In a city full of crime, recession, drug underlords and other mysterious vigilante’s, the legend of Tre Moon will unfold, all the while, his dark past tries to catch up with him…

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT
CRACK!
The howl of several sonic booms consumed the first room and cocooned Tre in place. The wind came from plates that had unfolded in the walls and by the extreme reverberation, Tre was held prisoner by the process of acoustic levitation. There were immense forces being applied to his body, so immense in fact, that his anatomy was sent into anarchy: his ear drums were tapping out from the sheer volume. He could feel his bones rattling against the surrounding tissue and he was being held in place, against his will. Over the roars of sound, he was sure he could hear a faint alarm blazing from outside the room. Heron’s suit looked fainter than ever through the murkiness of the colliding waves. He struggled to move and to breathe because the power of sound knocked both momentum and oxygen from the stream. Just when Tre thought he would find no salvation from his asphyxiation, calm struck. Gently, Tre returned to the ground and an ever so smooth stream of air was available for him to breathe. When he looked around the sonic shockwaves were still blasting from the folds of the first room, however there was a thin layer between his skin and where the shockwaves would have made contact. This thin layer drowned out the noise around him and gave him peace in the chaos surrounding him. Tre did not question, he merely proceeded to the second room. Once again, his first step was met with instant reaction. In the walls of the second room, seven square folds disappeared and, in its place, seven turrets emerged from within. Without warning, each turret fired a beam of laser directly at him. Tre felt the unknowingly hot singe of the laser for a millisecond before it cooled to a warm ambience that spread to this layer around his body. Unbelievably, the point the lasers contacted his body was only the beginning of a new path, as they were redirected outward. All without leaving a single scratch on the teenager. He noticed that when he moved at certain angles the laser would refract at different angles also. Overcome with the natural urge to do so, Tre opened his hand outward and focused. Suddenly the point of the laser’s redirection changed once again and he watched with his own eyes as the beams slowly crawled across his body like obedient serpents and formed at the destination of his palm. Tre admired the ball of laser; he felt the consistency in his hand and even tracked the harmless trail from the ball, across his body, the point of contact and back to the turret where it came from. It truly was a thing of xenology. Tre squeezed his fist tightly and watched as the lasers fought to free themselves from his hand. They slipped from the gaps between his fingers and shot outward, destroying the turrets that originated them in a series of destructive ricochets.

Author Bio:

L.K. Brooks-Simpson is a native of London, England. He is an English Literature graduate and Film Production student.
Aside from his creative ventures, he is a strong supporter of philanthropy. He cites his biggest influences as J.R.R. Tolkien, Sanyika Shakur, J.K. Rowling, Tsugumi Ohba, Stan Lee and Maya Angelou, among many others.
Three sentences he would use to describe himself – A book is for the mind. Travel is for the heart. Family is for the soul.
Lara has always considered himself a student of literature and story form and for this reason, his taste is eclectic. Ranging from novels to manga – poems to screenwriting and even comic book story boards. Just as genres define certain works, there are a lot of elements that define his creative process. He has aspirations to write in many different genres.

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Fact

Mars, the Moon, Lasers, Oh My!

The space race continues to develop in interesting ways, all of which have been considered in science fiction, but not together, as appears to be happening now. We seem to have three strategies being employed by the main players (China, U.S.A., Space X, Virgin Galactic) each concentrating on a different aspect of space development. It could also be considered that several are developing their niches as a way to counter the others. Here’s how it appears to be playing out so far.

Corporate Interests

Virgin Galactic

Low Earth Orbit Space Tourism Prototype

Virgin Galactic has always been the most money-oriented of the players with, arguably, the shortest-term view of their space plan. Intent purely on making money from space tourism, they appear to have the view that colonization to any serious degree will require centuries and thus will be out of reach for the majority of the planet for that time. So, instead, they’ve chosen to concentrate their efforts on space tourism which, in the present form (and that of the foreseeable future, as I’ll explain) would mean trips to near-Earth orbit with the eventual possibility of an orbital restaurant or hotel.

SpaceX

SpaceX prototype ‘hopper’ rocket.

Instead, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has always had long-term goals. Once they demonstrated that a corporation could develop rockets to travel into space, they began earning their keep by renting said rockets to national interests (at an estimated $12 billion annually) while turning their sights on Elon’s dream of space colonization. Wisely, SpaceX has set their target as the colonization of Mars.

The foresight in Destination Mars has become apparent in the closing days of 2018 and the opening of 2019. Earth orbit and the moon are about to get very political. By choosing a target well outside the current scope of political influence, SpaceX buys themselves time to develop their Mars colony relatively free from influence, as the Earth-based powers begin their fight for the moon. That being said, they will have to hurry, as China has announced an interest in developing Mars once their moon base is up. That probably gives SpaceX a few decades head-start.

The weakness of SpaceX will be their supply chain, which could be interfered with by political interests either from the main space players, or the U.N. itself. They would probably be wise to secure launch sites in areas of the world where this could be minimized.

National Interests

China

Due to immense news coverage, it’s impossible not to have seen the news of China’s landing on the far side of the moon with their Chang’e-4 lander. Not only have they put a satellite in orbit of the moon to allow communications with their lander (which will be out of radio contact with Earth otherwise) they have recently demonstrated the ability to grow plants while on the moon.

Chang’e communication system. Image from The Planetary Society.

While a base on the moon’s far side does offer wonderous scientific opportunities and being free from light and atmospheric pollution half it’s rotation means an unparalleled opportunity to view deep space, other possible motives can’t help but enter consideration. The most obvious of which is that Chinese moon development is now hidden from Earth-based observation. This means China now has an almost completely unchallenged opportunity to develop their base on the moon for whatever purposes they desire — whether as a research station, a colonial expansion, a stepping stone to colonization of the solar system, or a military base to secure the Earth. At the moment, the only possible challenger, it appears, might be India, a rapidly developing country that appears to have an interest in the moon. However, India is not known as a country that rocks the boat and it’s unlikely they would challenge any claim China makes to the moon.

Interestingly, while the name Chang’e is a Chinese goddess of the moon, it can hardly escape one’s attention to realize there could be a dig at the U.S. with the Anglicized pronunciation ‘Change’

The United States of America

Finally, we come to the country that, arguably, started the space race (I’m not meaning to belittle Russia’s contribution in any way, but not only are they not currently a contender, but the ‘race’ aspect of ‘space race’ was formally announced by the American president J.F.K.). Once the forerunner, and the only country to have landed humans on another celestial body, the Americans have seemed content to sit back and let the world play catch-up for the last forty years. Instead, they developed and then abandoned reusable vehicles while posturing about colonizing either the moon or Mars several times in the last few decades. For whatever reason (probably a combination of financial + lack of desire by population), the Americans Dream seems firmly fixed, eye’s wide shut, on the Earth. The latest response to the race orchestrated by the new players in the game has been to suggest a return to a Reagan-like satellite defence program.

Artisitic redering of a space-based defense system, straight out of the 1980”s

Even in the 1980’s there were large, fundamental problems with a satellite defence system. Now that foreign and corporate interests have set their sight firmly on space, the flaws in applying such a system are immense. It’s a true lack of vision on the part of the U.S. to consider a satellite defence system to be anything short of a laughable response to the changing nature of space.

What’s Ahead?

All of this leads us with a very interesting time for the space race over the next few decades. Many of us have been saying China was going to be the country to first develop space. Although, I think even we didn’t foresee the rise of corporations as serious contenders. One thing that has been obvious for a long time to anyone interested in seeing it, is that the first group to develop space will have access to untold riches. Not just in the obvious physical resources such as minerals and gases, but they will set themselves up as the gatekeeper to a new, vast, wonderful frontier that large amounts of the human population would love the opportunity to develop with them.

Fact

An Important Battleline is Being Drawn for the Fate…

cover image from Alternative Press Review Fall 2000
There are many social issues that are dividing our attention as we enter 2019. From Trump and Brexit to climate change and China to the tearing down of historical statues and statutes to the raising up of minorities, migrants, and the marginalized, we can’t escape hearing about one or many of these subjects in any given day and regardless of which position one takes, there is always bad news.
I have come to believe that most of these issues are blown out of proportion and are just the same old fears that always circulate and I intend to ignore virtually all political discourse for the foreseeable future, at least until nearer election time when I need to become more well-versed on the political platforms. This means I will be training Facebook to hide all posts regarding Trump Derangement Syndrome, Climate Change Alarmism, Identity Politics, and Fear of a Brexit Planet. This is partly for personal sanity, and partly so I can direct all such energies toward what I believe it truly the most important issue of our time: Freedom of Speech in Our Digital World. I believe if we lose this fight we lose all meaningful freedom.
The information age / digital era has provide the potential for unimagined freedom. Freedom of creation, freedom of communication, freedom to pursue one’s dreams, and yes, even freedom to be an abusive jerk. That means it is a great threat to those with authoritarian leanings. It’s increasingly obvious, for example, that the majority of our leaders fall within that category, and they appear more than happy to use technology and the internet to finally achieve complete control over us. Such a social engineering experiment is already being attempted in China. If successful, you will see part or all of it rolled out to the West within a few years.
Unfortunately, if the Chinese are any example to go by, and current Western behaviour suggests they are, the majority of people are perfectly satisfied trading their freedom for a gilded cage. But those who don’t rock the boat rarely have any price to pay for their bland, sheep-like existence. Unless they accidentally come on the radar of the authorities. It’s only then that they find themselves completely at the mercy of an unfair and increasingly brutal authoritarian regime. Consider the cases of Tim Hunt, James Watson, Richard Dawkins, Mark Meechan (Count Dancula), James Damore, Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad), Tommy Robinson, Lindsey Shepherd, and Alex Jones – and those are just the high-profile examples of people who have had their lives turned upside-down because they made a comment someone didn’t like. If you are unclear on who these people are or what they were accused of, I respectfully suggest you may already far behind the wave and you may want to inform yourself.
Now, many of your reading this may agree with me that free speech is an important issue, but surely it’s not ‘the issue’. You may consider there are many other very important causes. The media tells us of many of them all the time and how we may only have decades left if we don’t deal with some of them. Or you may think that your favourite cause is morally or factually just and your loud, brutal honesty and passionate discourse combined with the consequences of inaction have convinced the powers that be to act. You may consider this evidence that free speech is not threatened. And you would be wrong. At present, your protest is tolerated only because it serves a purpose. At present, there is only one issue that Western protesters are being punished for – free speech. Consider a few examples to demonstrate my point.

(1) Climate change alarmism. Surely the powers have heard us, you cry. They have summits every few years, they’re making changes, we call out the unbelievers and shame them…. and yet little has changed (except on the most obvious issues like the ozone hole) since the first summits. I suggest that’s because this issue is only important for our rulers in that they can use it to further other agendas — global economic redistribution and social engineering in particular. It has been technological advancements that have spurned on what little change has happened, very few of them can be claimed to have been inspired by direct government action. Our governments main tool has been carbon taxes, a policy that has resulted in companies shifting their money around the globe but doesn’t affect emission levels at all. What change we have seen has largely been driven by an increase in cheap, effective green technology created by industry.

(2) Trump derangement syndrome. A great many people believe Donald Trump is a horrible monster. While the man is definitely not the most likeable of beings, while in power he has done little to actually warrant the immense amount of hatred pushed his way. Many of his most hated policies can be seen to be carbon copies of those of more liked politicians such as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Yet protests and disrespectful discourse continues because we live in free countries, right? No. It continues because the establishment (and perhaps even Trump himself) feel it’s useful. As an example, consider many of the horrible policies of the Obama administration. Yet criticisms of Barack Obama almost immediately lead to cries of ‘racism’ and were shut down. Even during the George W. Bush administration, during the lead up to the Iraq War criticism of government policy was met with condemnation. The lesson is that, if the government allows you ‘the right’ of protest, it means either you’re serving a purpose for them, or they haven’t got around to squashing you yet.

(3) Identity Politics – Sexist / Racist Policies in the name of Equality. In the name of equality we have created not only laws but now entire institutions that create laws of inequality. It’s argued that somehow more equality will equal less equality. To point out the absurdity of this, however, is to labelled sexist, racist, or some type of -phobic. If you fail to cave in to the hateful labels and you still wish to speak your opinion, you are either deplatformed, visited by the police, or even arrested. This even happens to people of those marginalized groups who have a different opinion from what the loudest voices desire, making this the current frontline in the battle for free speech. If you can only offer an opinion that is popular, than you can’t really offer an opinion.
The above examples are the types of issues that have circulated in society for much of the last century. Examples of history repeating. The curtailing of Freedom of Speech is also an example of history repeating, but this is the one issue that binds the others together. It’s the one issue that appears with each new technological advancement. It’s the one issue that, if we lose, we will automatically lose all the others. And we are at a time, once again, when we must fiercely fight for it or we will lose it.
We witness regular examples all around us. From the new Chinese use of mobile communication and facial recognition to police the social interactions of their entire population and the EU attempting to censor the entire internet in the name of copyright protection to British police considering predictive profile to prevent crimes before they happen and the removal of funding options for politically uncomfortable individuals at the request of financial cartels such as PayPal and Mastercard.
These powerful forces – from IT giants, to financial cartels, to national and continental collectives – are currently aligning that threaten our freedom of speech, potentially across the entire globe. They will succeed if we allow ourselves to believe their claims of altruistic purposes and allow them to build their ‘well-intentioned’ road to hell. They will succeed if we fail to realize that we have more individual power and opportunity now than we ever have at any time in the history of our species and that it can be taken away far more easily than it was given.
Or, we can allow ourselves to be distracted trying to save the Giant Panda and making laws to stop men from sitting with their legs too far apart on public transit while our future slips from between our fingers.
Fiction

Newly Released! Waypoint by Deborah Adams and Kimberly Perkins

Waypoint
Deborah Adams & Kimberley Perkins
Publication date: December 1st 2018
Genres: Adventure, Post-Apocalyptic, Thriller, Young Adult

How far will they go to restore the power?

It’s been lights-out for three months and society is already falling into chaos.

Teenage tech-genius Simon Harper and his team of fellow gamers have been searching for the cause of the outage since it went down. Simon and his twin brother West are often at odds, but when the key to restoring power drops into their hands, they’ll risk everything and join forces to bring it back.

Descend into an epic, young adult adventure, featuring family and friendship with a heart-skipping side of romance by debut authors Deborah Adams and Kimberley Perkins.

Mysterious deaths and disappearances are piling up, and unknown enemies are everywhere. As the brothers make their 500-mile journey to Waypoint they’ll have to decide who they can trust, and which secrets can be told.

“Thanks to its tantalizing pace, well-established consequences, and complicated character development, this novel is worth writing home about. I didn’t feel ready for it to end.” -Independent Book Review

My Two Cents
Waypoint is a near-future young adult SF action/adventure story told from the perspective of four teens attempting to survive a hostile new future while uncovering the mystery of how it got that way.

Decades in the future a company will create a technology that provides cheap electricity to the entire globe… only to have the system crash leaving nations without power and collapsing the social infrastructure. Three months later, brothers Alex and Simon are on the scene when a scientist is shot. With his dying breath, he gives them a USB stick with code that can restore power thrusting them into a race across the country in an attempt to get to the mysterious Waypoint and use the USB stick before they are caught and killed by any number of mysterious, violent groups chasing them.

I found that Waypoint started a little slow until the brothers acquired the USB MacGuffin. From then on, it’s a fun ride as the brothers separate paths and race across the country. The addition of two more teens they meet on their trip serves to increase the tension and mystery even further.

I did have some issues with the far-too-pleasant post-apocalyptic landscape of the cities, but I discuss that more in another post. There’s also the issue of why they didn’t copy the USB drive at any of the several chances they had along their trip. I also felt the ending was too sudden and too much of a cliff-hanger (obviously leading into the next book). I felt that at least one plot thread should have been concluded in this book and this would have been fairly simple and still leave room for the ending as it was.

However, nit-picking aside, Waypoint was a very enjoyable read. The story flowed well and once it got going I didn’t feel it bogged down anywhere. If you’d like to get your own copy, it’s now available at several online locations, or you can enter the give-away below for a chance to win a copy.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Author Bio:

DEBORAH ADAMS and KIMBERLEY PERKINS are friends and coworkers. They share a love of coffee, literature, and teenagers saving the world. By day, they work for a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama as the HR Director and an Excel-wielding Analyst, respectively. By night, they build worlds with words and devour stories. For more information about Deborah Adams and Kimberley Perkins and their foray into writing, check them out on social media.

 

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Fiction

Just Out: Sun Scorched by Jen Crane (+ giveaway!)

Sunscorched
Jen Crane
(Subterranean Series, #1)
Publication date: October 23rd 2018
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult

Death at daylight. Danger at dark.

Life can’t possibly get more treacherous than a violent sun allergy in a solar-blighted world. At least that’s what seventeen-year-old Nori Chisholm thought before news of an impending sunscorch delivered her death sentence.

Desperate to survive the scorch, she’s forced to shelter underground and discovers a secret subterranean world where life is hard, and so are the people. Betrayed and left for dead by the man who pledged to help her, Nori is sold to a gritty pit fighting ring. There she makes a friend—and plenty of enemies.

Speeding by motorcycle through the underground world, Nori makes a shocking discovery that shatters everything she thought she knew. Can she use the knowledge to save what’s left of the world?

Winner of the Rosemary Award for excellence in young adult fiction, Sunscorched is a tale of survival and self-discovery at breakneck speed. Fans of Bella Forrest and Marie Lu, who crave dangerous heroes and dark secrets, will love the Sunscorched world.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Author Bio:

Though she grew up on a working cattle ranch, it’s fantasy and sci-fi that shine Jen Crane’s saddle. Her latest novel, Sunscorched, received a Rosemary Award for excellence in young adult fiction.

Jen has a master’s degree and solid work histories in government and non-profit administration. But just in the nick of time she pronounced life *too real* for nonfiction. She lives in The South and creates endearing characters and alternate realms filled with adventure, magic, and love.

Book 2 in Jen’s fantasy romance series, Descended of Dragons, was selected by iTunes/iBooks as “Our Pick” in fantasy/sci-fi.

**Sign up for Jen’s newsletter to get release updates and freebies: bit.ly/Jen_Crane_Newsletter**

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

 

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Fiction

Cover Reveal – Game, Set, Deathmatch by Edwin H…

Here is the cover for my new Science Fiction novel. Based loosely on First Person Shooters, it follows DaemonS and the Apocalypz Cowgirls who find their Death Match hopes derailed by disaster as they uncover a plot to end all life as they know it.

Release Date: November 15, 2018

Fiction

Confessions of a Government Spyder

Personal-Journal.com


Friday 18 November, 2039

It’s not a good sign that I’m writing here again. Seems I only come back when life sucks.

And right now — life sucks.

Okay, that’s not completely true. What I mean is that work sucks. But since work is such a big part of life, it’s almost the same thing.

Wow I’m rambling. This is why I hate journals. I’m going to start again.

Today I was responsible for locking up an old lady. Seventy-four and I helped put her in the slammer. She’s my thousandth incarceration since starting this position two years ago. That sucks.

I can’t believe it either. 1000 people I’ve put away. Garbage men, painters, grannies, priests, cops, teachers, shopkeepers, and so many others. None of them were dangerous. None of them were a threat. They all just wanted to know what was happening with their country. They all just wanted some answers.

They’re not dissidents and they’re certainly not the public menaces they’ve been labelled as. At most they’re just people who are having trouble adjusting to change. And who can blame them? The world is speeding forward at such a rapid pace that beliefs and institutions of a generation are all but dust before that same generation even dies. But as fast as some things move forward, other things move backwards.

So, what did this woman do? She posted to the global MeHIVE one too many comments criticizing our government’s new social structuring policies. And what did she say that was so horrible?

‘Equality used to mean everyone had an equal chance.”

That’s it. That’s what I locked her away for. She would have been safe — well, safer — posting it to a local MeHIVE but the oldies have trouble keeping up with the constant change. This kind of thing is probably the most common flag I receive for the over 60’s. But once they’re flagged, once they enter our web, it’s over for them. No one escapes the government Spyders.

We’ve got access to everything everyone has ever done. All e-mail, all text posts, all images, all audio or video from the time you were born. In fact, we even have your baby pictures. We know all your school grades, we know what you ate every day, we know what time you arrived and how you treated your teachers and classmates every hour you were there. And we know the same about you for every job you’ve ever had. If you’re self-employed, we extrapolate the information from the tone of your social posts. We can even access your private logs without consent if the publicly available ones don’t have sufficient information, although that’s rarely necessary.

We know everything about you. That includes all your crimes, no matter how big or small. And everyone has committed a crime.

I mean that. Literally. Everyone.

The web of laws is so complete now that no one can escape it. If you’re still free it’s only because the government finds you useful or hasn’t found a reason to lock you up. It stopped being about guilt or innocence several decades ago. Now, it’s about ‘keeping the peace’. It’s about creating a docile population that allows the government to do whatever they want. So if you’re useful, they keep you around. If not, as soon as you come onto their radar someone like me starts the data-mining algorithm and you’re found guilty. Yep. I don’t even look at your file. I just plug your name and personal details into the software and it compiles your life story, fitting to it whatever crimes apply. Then we charge you retroactively.

And when you’re proven guilty? All your assets are liquidated. Ten percent is put into holdings for you on the chance you get out and can somehow restart your life. The rest goes to the government. It’s ironic, in a way. It’s the 90% tax rate so many were fighting for, only it applies to everyone, not just the rich. We’re finally all equal under the law. All equally guilty.

Anyway, you’re then sent to a government internment town, one of hundreds around the country, where you’re given a dormitory and a job in your new society. You don’t pay rent, but you don’t make any money either. The number and size of these ‘towns’ are growing incredibly. Pretty soon there will be more of them than free towns. But most of us suspect that’s the government’s plan. This allows them to keep tight order while filling unpopular jobs with unpaid labour. Yep, under the guise of keeping the peace, the government has become the new slaver.

As I said, while tech speeds forward, our social structure speeds backwards. We’re now living in a high-tech feudal society. I feel like a henchman for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Anyway, there’s nothing to be done about it now. It’s just — a thousand! It caught me by surprise. But it’s the weekend now. I’ll drink the feelings away and come in Monday ready for a new week, just like I always do. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy I have a job that keeps me off the radar.

Rant ended.

Perfect time to sign off, I just heard a knock at the door.

Fiction

Out Of Sight book review

Out of Sight
Matthew S. Cox
Publication date: August 13th 2018
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult

 

Most Citizens hold Outcasts in dim regard, but Sima never expected they’d throw her off the planet.

In 2411, overpopulation has spread a plaque of filthy, congested city to the corners of the Earth. Government has raised corruption to an art form, and no one hears the cries of those left to die in the dark passageways of civilization. Following the End of Nations, people cling to the only division left: social status.

 

Sima Nuvari ran away from a dysfunctional home at twelve and has been living as an Outcast on the streets of the globe-spanning city. It’s a dirty, dangerous place where everyone is trying to either use you or kill you and friends are hard to come by. Now, at the ripe old age of sixteen, her best years of begging are behind her — those darned kids are getting all the top ‘glint’ — and she’s faced with the decision of moving forward as either a prostitute, a drug runner, or a member of the strange new government ‘progenitor program’. As it turns out, fate makes the decision for her as she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and is captured by the government security forces.

Out of Sight is an interesting book. It has an intriguing premise, it’s well-written, and has a fully developed world. However, it attempts to sell itself on something it is not. It’s clearly not a Dystopian story, although it’s set in a corrupt, futuristic world. It’s not a story about social status, although that does feature in the story. It’s not really even a story about surviving in the wilderness of a new world, although the characters do undergo that challenge. Rather, it’s a story about finding a family when you had none and learning to take responsibility for others, even though no one has ever taken responsibility for you.

There are many interesting characters in Out of Sight, and the world they live in (both of them) appear to be rich and detailed. The writing was also enjoyable to read. Where I had the most problem with this story was in the pacing. Despite a lot of action, the plot seemed to plod along and I kept waiting for something to happen that would move us from just following the character’s life, to involvement in the plot. I truly believe this book could have worked just as well and been many chapters shorter. Alternatively, the author could have built in a more driving plot throughout the ‘day in a life’ sequences (which were most of the book). I especially would have liked to see more development of the mystery of Mirage. Although I suspect the author will do that in future books in the series, it would have been nice if that was more of a plot line in this book. Having said that, the ending of Out of Sight was satisfying and fit the story well.

Overall, Out of Sight by Matthew S. Cox is a good read filled with interesting characters and well-developed settings. If you enjoy character-driven SF that is light on plot but heavier on relationships, you might want to look at this book.

* * * I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review * * *

Goodreads / Amazon

 

Author Bio:

Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.

Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it. He is also fond of cats. Awards: Prophet of the Badlands (excerpt) – Honorable Mention – Writers of the Future

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

 

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Fiction

Your chance to win Out Of Sight by Matthew…

Out of Sight
Matthew S. Cox
Publication date: August 13th 2018
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult

Most Citizens hold Outcasts in dim regard, but Sima never expected they’d throw her off the planet.

In 2411, overpopulation has spread a plaque of filthy, congested city to the corners of the Earth. Government has raised corruption to an art form, and no one hears the cries of those left to die in the dark passageways of civilization. Following the End of Nations, people cling to the only division left: social status.

Since running away from home four years ago, she’s managed to stay a step ahead of death―or worse. At sixteen, she’s getting too old to survive from begging, despite her best effort to pretend she’s younger. Worse, the sidewalks teem with little kids edging in on her turf, monopolizing Citizens’ charity with their wide, pleading eyes and genuine innocence.

A chance meeting with suspiciously nice cops leaves her more confused than ever. Between deadly gangs, unforgiving security forces, and a terrifying madam eager to exploit a girl her age, merely getting older is the biggest threat to her life. With no good choice to make, she risks the least of three evils.

Sima thought her life on Earth had been dangerous…

She hasn’t seen anything yet.

Goodreads / Amazon

 

Author Bio:

Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.

Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it. He is also fond of cats. Awards: Prophet of the Badlands (excerpt) – Honorable Mention – Writers of the Future

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

 

GIVEAWAY!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

XBTBanner1


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