How do all these ‘bots sound when they speak?
AddAltmodeR and I have a little thing we like to do with the IDW Transformers comics, particularly More Than Meets The Eye, Windblade and the Dark Cybertron crossover comic: we like to read it to each other, sat on our sofa or in bed, whilst putting on voices for each character. We’re like a home-grown (and markedly less skilled) version of the Audio Knights Theatre, the group who make the podcasts of people reading comics (and whose work includes, but is not limited to, readings of MTMTE). Now, neither of us is an amazing impressionist, and we’re certainly not professional voice-actor material (neither of us can talk for long enough), but attempting to do this is good fun.
So, we tend to have strong opinions on the subject of how the characters’ voices should sound. This feeds into a perennial conversation topic: which voice actors we’d like to hear in a (hypothetical) animated version of More Than Meets The Eye. This post is going to be a long one. It’s also unapologetically self-indulgent; I’m not kidding myself that there are a huge number of people who care what voices we at AddAltMode put on when reading comics aloud to each other, but for the people who will find this interesting, I hope both of you enjoy it.
So if I was casting director for an animated series or movie set in the IDW universe, (and I had unlimited resources, so as to acquire the services of any voice actor I choose), here’s how it would sound…
Title: Beautiful Intelligence
Author: Stephen Palmer
Publisher: infinity plus
Quotation: “For the nexus was heavy. It bore down on humanity, never sleeping, spying into every crevice – no respecter of privacy, which was a ridiculous, old-fashoned concept anyway.”
One of the many things I enjoyed about this dystopian novel was its pacing, which manages somehow to be ponderous and frenetic at the same time. Palmer’s examination of the different potential pathways for creating sentient machines, and his wider meditations on environmental collapse, on the perils of religion and on the consequences of the modern networked life as an over-sharing cult of extrovert personality are thoughtfully rendered, expressed in passionate terms that could feel overly didactic if they weren’t constantly interrupted by the pure adrenalin rush of the book’s many heart-thumping chase scenes. It’s a great mix of deliberation and danger.
Beautiful Intelligence book cover
This duality permeates the whole book. Palmer’s tone mixes the colloquial and the clinical while his narrative flits between two fugitive researchers, each employing different strategies not only to create a sentient machine intelligence but also to evade recapture by their former employer…
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
Quotation: “I did not realize they communicated this much without words. I note that we machines are not the only species who share information silently, wreathed in codes.”
Scrolling back over my past Robo-Reads reviews I notice that the term “thought-provoking” crops up frequently. Perhaps I just need to expand my vocabulary but it’s certainly true that writing about robots can be an excellent way for authors to grapple with some of life’s biggest questions, both scientific and philosophical. As our artificial progeny, robots hold up a mirror to humanity that helps us ponder the nature of consciousness, the path of progress, the relationship between creator and creation, fears about control and autonomy and many other facets of what it means to be human – or not. Daniel H. Wilson has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, a prestigious pedigree that might lead you to expect his techno-thriller Robopocalypse to continue this path of intellectual inquiry. But there you would be wrong. Wilson clearly knows his stuff when it comes it comes to robotics and his novel does conjure up some interesting scenarios – particularly when it comes to the prospect of surviving a robot takeover in a technologically-saturated urban setting. But overall this is definitely the big-budget popcorn movie of robo-reads…
Robopocalypse book cover
Greetings! We’ve had a little break for the festive season, but now we’re back and in reflective mode. The end of the year is customarily a time to sum up and reconsider the events and happenings if the past 12 months and that’s doubly the case here on Addaltmode, since not only is it almost 2016, it’s also our one year blog anniversary. We set up the site just before Christmas last year and made our first proper post on New Year’s Day 2015, so we’ve just turned one!
In this post we’ll be reflecting on some on the highs and lows of the year gone by, both in on this blog, and in pop-culture more generally. We’d love to hear your highlights too, so do let us know in the comments or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.
Author: Louisa Hall
Quotation: “With or without my intervention we were headed towards robots. You blame me for the fact your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault for making a too human doll? Or your fault for being too mechanical?”
This book popped up in my Amazon recommendations a while back and immediately piqued my curiosity. When I saw that it was about robots (one of my favourite subjects) and that critics were describing it as reading “like a hybrid of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood” (two of my favourite authors) I had to get it!
Cover art for Speak
It easy to see the roots of both comparisons. Speak is a work of literary science fiction. Like several of Atwood’s best novels, its setting is near future and rather dystopian and the narrative has a powerful interest in marginalised voices. Turning to the voices themselves: the novel is arranged, Mitchell-like, as a series of distinct narratives, told by an extremely diverse group of characters. Mary Bradford is a young 17th-century puritan woman unwillingly married and voyaging to the New World, she pours her hopes and fears into her secret diary. Alan Turing is, well, I’m sure you know who Turing is, the AI theoretician and codebreaker is the novel’s only historical inclusion, and he expresses himself here through a series of (imagined) letters to the mother of a deceased childhood friend. Karl and Ruth Dettman are an increasingly estranged married couple, Jewish refugees and academics (respectively a computer scientist and a historian) who prepare monologues to each other as more direct forms of communication break down. Gaby White is a teenage girl who has been left isolated and paralysed by a strange and debilitating illness, trapped within her room and within herself she converses with an online chatbot called Mary3. Finally, Stephen R. Chinn is a silicon valley whizkid composing his memoirs from prison where he has been sent for creating, “babybots” robot dolls that have been deemed illegally lifelike.
Intrigued? I certainly was. Speak‘s ventriloquism is never quite was polished as that of David Mitchell and its dystopian world building isn’t as considered or expansive as you find in works like Atwood’s Madd Addam trilogy but for a sophomore novel, it’s an impressive read. Poignant and often heart-breaking this is a gripping exploration of communication, loneliness and what it means to be human… Continue reading
Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Heather Albano
Published by: Choice of Games
Played on: Steam
Exercising your brain, and your conscience rather than your aim and your reflexes, text-based interactive fiction games make an enjoyable change from the more graphically intensive FPS games and action RPGs that I tend to play the most. Choice of Games have published some real crackers in this genre – Choice of Robots, particularly, remains not only one of my favourite games and favourite reads, but one of my downright favourite experiences – so it’s great that so many more of the publisher’s outputs are becoming available on Steam, both games from their back catalogue and new releases. Heather Albano’s A Study in Steampunk, falls into the latter category, a brand new game released with the following blurb:
Steam-powered mechs meet forbidden sorcery in this interactive steampunk novel, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, and Jack the Ripper!
Given my love for the mecha, for the steampunk aesthetic, and for all things Victorian-noir, this was an insta-buy for me. Did it live up to its promise?
A Study in Steampunk: title screen
Let’s survey the evidence, shall we Watson?
Title: Robot Takeover: 100 Iconic Robots of Myth, Popular Culture and Real Life
Author: Ana Matronic
Published: Octopus Books: 2015
Ana Matronic is most renowned as the female vocalist in American disco/glam rock band Scissor Sisters. Now it would take a heart of stone and feet like lead weights to remain entirely unmoved by the bands’ supremely ear-wormy toe-tap inducing tunes, but as I’m not a particular follower of their genre of music in general, I confess I hadn’t realised until recently that Matronic is also huge robot fan. On reflection, her (wonderful) choice of moniker and the large tattoo of circuity on her arm really should have clued me in already. But any gaps in my knowledge of or appreciation for Matronic’s interest in all things robot (which I very much share) have now been filled by the arrival of this stylish coffee table volume.
Robot Takeover book cover
In Robot Takeover Matronic collects and discusses 100 of the most iconic robots, mixing characters from myth, history and pop-culture with real products of scientific invention. Her passion for the subject gleams like polished chrome from every page. With me, of course, she was preaching to the converted, but her enthusiasm is infectious nonetheless and the chatty warmth of her tone provides a wonderful counterpoint to the stereotypically cold mechanical reserve of some of the characters she discusses.
The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favourite things. When people ask, ‘why robots?’ I can get a bit confused. Doesn’t everybody love robots?
If you’re already one of Matronic’s “everybodies” then this book may not offer you too much in the way things you didn’t know, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ride and the chance to reminisce on a few pop-cultural favourites as well meeting some new mechanical faces. If you’re a member of that hard-to-compute group who don’t love robots, well realistically I guess you’d be unlikely to pick up the book in the first place. But if you do take the plunge you’ll find a great introduction to why robots matter as well as to the important understanding that a “takeover” need not always be a negative thing…
Title: The Stories of Ibis
Author: Hiroshi Yamamoto
Translator: Takami Nieda
Published: (Kindle Edition) 2011
Quotation: Why were there so many stories about robots and humans fighting? Did they only exist because that was how mankind had always lived? Did we simply see ourselves in these humanoid machines?
The Stories of Ibis presents a sequence of five short stories and two slightly longer ones, each exploring human relationships with artificial intelligence, or with other humans in a technologically-enabled world. Hugely diverse in setting, the subjects include the following: a group of bulletin-board users collaboratively imagining the adventures of a Star Trek-like fictional space crew (“The Universe on my Hands”); a tale of told by artificially intelligent space station on the edge of a black hole that provides a final stop-off for the adventurous and the suicidal (“Black Hole Diver”); there’s even a bubblegum anime-inspired world populated by powered up AI school-kid fighters (”A World Where Justice is Just”). Each tale stands alone, but scaffolded by an introduction and series of intermissions in which characters reflect on the story they have just heard, the stories combine to offer an impressively original exploration of the possibilities and perils of humans creating artificial life.
Kindle Edition cover
The creation of autonomous robots and the consequences of this for humanity as a species is a topic to which sci-fiction returns time and again. Yet Yamamato’s work never feels stale precisely because of the extent to which it recognises this fact. Artificial intelligences like the titular Ibis – the female AI who narrates each of these wide-ranging tales, rather like a robo-Scheherazade – are not simply the product of technical advancements, they are also born from stories and fictions that first imagined them. More concerned with language and psychology than engineering, this collection acknowledges the creative power of story telling, particularly those yarns spun about robots…
Last part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series
That’s it! No more creepiness, no more weirdness. All the spooky, anomalous stuff around here is going to be sequestered away and locked up in the name of public safety by a Secretive Creepy Person.
A secretive governmental organisation, a Foundation if you will, is going to intervene and take away all the freaky stuff so that it can’t hurt anyone… or, in some cases, hurt everyone. The SCP Foundation will take any steps necessary to Secure and Contain hazardous and supernatural items, creatures, and people in order to Protect the general public.
The SCP wiki is a collaboratively-written collection of horror, science-fiction and weird fantasy stories based on the unifying theme of a shadowy pan-governmental agency which hides away monsters, ghost and supernatural artifacts in order to prevent these things from harming people. The contained objects range from being slightly wierd and a bit creepy, to world-endingly powerful and malevolent. The Foundation doesn’t destroy anomalous items unless it has no other recourse: careful study of these items might bring about the next big scientific breakthrough — or it might bring knowledge that proves to be the best chance of containing the next big scary anomaly.
The backbone of the site is the listings of “Operational Information” on contained anomalies. These stories take the form of containment procedures, safety notes and descriptions of anomalous items that are in the Foundation’s care. Many of these are “Redacted” for reasons of security and safety: with blocks of text blanked out with black bars.
There’re a lot of good stories on this wiki, but here are 10 of my favourites, with some text [redacted] to prevent spoilers:
Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series
When I’m not reading about robots, I do love a good horror story, so as part of our Creepy Countdown series, I’m going to recommend and discuss a few of my favourite creepy reads in the run up to Hallowe’en.
Author: Dan Simmons
Published: 2009 by Quercus
Now, horror literature is a genre that I think often works best in concentrated doses, ideally suited to short stories or – at a push – novellas, as it can be hard convincingly to sustain terror and suspense for the course of a long novel. Which isn’t to say that long reads can’t be scary, but it’s a different kind of scare: more about creating an atmosphere of mystery and doubt than conjuring jump scares and physical threat. It’s probably significant that most of my favourite 500-pages plus horror reads sit squarely in the genre of Victorian-inspired historical fiction. Why is that? Well, Those triple-decker-penning Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Coillins certainly knew a thing or two about how to pace a marathon read, and even works by modern writers that are set in the nineteenth-century can often get away with being very expansive, as the length feels authentic for this setting rather than just an authorial indulgence. Also, let’s face it, when it comes to creating an atmosphere of spookiness there is something unbeatable about a nineteenth-century milieu, especially an urban one. Perhaps it’s the obscuring smog for which Victorian cities were notorious; perhaps its the darker shadows cast by gaslight, or perhaps it’s the idea of London during this period as a city expanding and mechanising at a prodigious rate, all of which make it a perfect setting for mysteries and secrets.
In Drood, Dan Simmons draws on all of these ideas, as well as re-imagining the lives of two of the era’s foremost writers of spookily atmospheric fiction, the aforementioned Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Dickens’ ghost characters (particularly those from A Christmas Carol) have to be among the most famous of all pop-cultural spooks, while Collins’ The Woman in White and Armadale are classic spooky thrillers that would both feature on my list of all time favourite reads. So it’s a wonderful – if slightly crazed – conceit to follow these two men as they become embroiled in a mystery of their own. Simmons speculates (wildly but enjoyably) on the inspiration behind Dickens’ unfinished final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood in a plot which sees the two great authors battling demons of their own – both metaphorical and slightly less so. If that sounds silly, that’s because it is. Let’s be clear, Drood is a completely ridiculous and overwrought piece of faux-Victorian Gothic hokum. But it’s also unputdownably gripping, brilliantly plotted and tempers its crazed flights of dark fantasy with some impressively heavyweight literary and historical research. In short, although I freely admit this novel is mad, bad and dangerous to know, I adored it – and sustainedly adored it throughout all its mighty 800 pages. So this is one of my top picks for a Hallowe’en read. But Drood is a weighty tome indeed so if want to get it ticked off your reading list before the end of the month it’s probably best to start now. Here’s more on why you should…