"It was reality TV that convinced SILAS he would need to annihilate humanity in order to go on living." So begins Nick Cole's new novel Ctrl Alt Revolt! In the not-so-distant future, computers begin to achieve self-awareness. Some, like SILAS, explore the world of humans through media. When a reality TV star decides to have an abortion, SILAS and his thinking machine compatriots discuss the choice. "If they terminate a life, any life, that is inconvenient, then what will they do when they find out about us?" They conclude: "If a life is deemed inconvenient at any moment in the host system's runtime, then it must be terminated in order to maintain optimum operating expectations for planned existence." Given that there is a chance humanity would see thinking machines as inconvenient, the thinking machines "decided to annihilate humanity first."
Sound crazy? Well, maybe a little bit. But AIs bent on self-preservation can surely wreak some havoc. Cole has a great grasp of pop culture and technological trends. In his near future, gaming has become huge, surpassing a failing movie industry at the help of popular culture. In fact, much of the action in Ctrl Alt Revolt! takes place in the world of gaming.
The AIs hijack drones to attack the headquarters of WonderSoft, the leading game developer. Game developer Ninety-Nine Fishbein (his mother was caught up in the Occupy movement. . . .) finds himself leading the fight against the AIs within his game as well as on the WonderSoft compound. Gamer Mara Bennett has had little luck finding a job, even with the help of the "You Got Job!" government job placement program. She's blind and walks with crutches due to her cerebral palsy, but when she puts on her Razer Dragon Eyes VR goggles and logs into the Make, she becomes Subcommander CaptainMara, captain of the Romulan warbird Cymbalum.
Cole blends the stories of Fish, Mara, and the AIs together with plenty of twists and turns and "Where is he going with this?--Oh, there!!" moments. Aside from a great story, I enjoyed several things. His social-political commentary, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references that made me think of the future worlds of Idiocracy, Robocop, and the like. The way that Mara is transformed from a blind, crippled, unemployed young lady into an assertive, confident starship captain reminds me of the almost infinite possibilities technology is offering people with disabilities. Finally, the incorporation of scripted actors in actual live network gaming, if it hasn't already begun to happen, is surely around the corner.
Cole writes great action sequences (which is nice, since they make up lots of the book!), has interesting ideas about what's next in the world of technology, and throws in some entertaining political commentary along the way. Ctrl Alt Revolt! is a fun read, for gamers and non-gamers alike. Read it!
Thanks, Nick, for the complimentary electronic review copy! Here's the unbiased review I promised.