Monday, July 27, 2015

                                          Building Robot Characters
                                          By John Gaines

                One of the greatest challenges of writing a science fiction novel is designing robots and technology.  Many robots of early science fiction were simple automatons, capable only of silently fulfilling their master’s commands.  From the Mechanical Men Superman once fought in a Max Fleischer cartoon to the imposing Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, early robots served primarily as tools, instruments whose defining characteristics were their physical forms rather than their personalities.  One of the early innovators of robotic characterization was Isaac Asimov, whose Robot series created the first concept of encoded robot behavior (the Three Laws of Robotics) and robots who possessed well developed personalities, dialogue, and characterization.  Asimov’s robotic characters such as R. Daneel Olivaw went on to inspire popular androids such as Data of “Star Trek: the Next Generation” and created a demand in the science fiction fandom for compelling, memorable robots.  Life Sentence and its sequel offer a unique perspective on how sentient robots could interact with humanity in the future, continuing the speculative fiction tradition of questioning the place of robotics and artificial intelligence in the years ahead.

                As we began writing Life Sentence, there were no sentient machines.  The early chapters I worked on took place on the planet of Domremy and had very minimal interaction with robots, as the frontier planet did not have access to high-tech manufacturing.  The few robotic characters I created for the Domremy scenes were service automatons with no free will, simple tools to aid the colonists in various tasks they didn’t have the training to do themselves.  Towards the end of the process of writing Life Sentence, we decided that we finally needed to create a sentient robot for a pivotal sequence.  We created Doctor Torghh, a robotic physician.

                Torghh was intelligent, thoughtful, and unique among the characters we devised for Life Sentence.  He was the only thinking robot we created for the first novel, and we created him as a modular robot who could plug instruments and needed equipment into himself to utilize him—the ideal doctor of the future!  Although Torghh’s appearance in Life Sentence was quite brief, we enjoyed creating the character so much that we decided to give him an expanded role in the sequel, as well as a companion robot named Rack.

                 Incorporating these new characters into the world of Life Sentence has proved a particularly interesting challenge for me.  For the longest time, I had perceived the world of Life Sentence as being one where only humans and other organic characters truly “mattered”; most of my effort went into Klein, Ayan’we and the other organic characters.  After we agreed to utilize Torghh and Rack extensively in the sequel, I faced the difficulty of having to change my own beliefs about the universe we created in order to make Torghh and Rack true central characters.  How would a robot fear for its own mortality? How would it perceive and interact with other automatons?  And how would they perceive the world of living beings around them?  All these things cycle through my mind as I create the sequel of Life Sentence, the possibilities of a world in which robots could be the equals of humankind…or surpass us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Creating Creatures
Jim and John Gaines
              We thought you might be interested to know that we will be conducting a presentation on August First at the Virginia Writers Club annual symposium at the Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottersville, Virginia.  The subject will be "Creating Creatures," and it will draw on classic science fiction creatures of the past, as well as some of our own creatures from the novels Life Sentence and Spy Station.  Here are the descriptions from the symposium program and a set of questions we will be distributing for discussion.

                We will discuss approaches to creating non-human characters in science fiction and other literature.  This will involve both From-Evolution-Out and From-Environment-In techniques, with examples from our Entara & Klein Cycle of novels and other sources.  Participants will be invited to sketch out their own non-human characters based in the FEO and FEI methods.  We will also consider the possibility of non-human-model robotic creatures.

Some Essential Questions

1.       1.  Much modern sci fi assumes that extraterrestrial creatures would be humanoid and largely anthropomorphic in both body and thought.  This was not the case in the earliest sci fi and there is no reason it should be now.  After all, Earth is currently undergoing its sixth extinction period.  Humans were not around for the first five and may not be after this one.  Given the almost infinite possibilities for planetary environments and the extreme unlikelihood that any which developed intelligent life would follow the chance-filled history of Earth, shouldn’t we look at other possible evolutionary scenarios?
2.      2,   Is there any good reason why another intelligent race should have similar values, associations, patterns of thought, and social organization as humans, given the fact that these are not shared by other Earth-bases species?
3.       3.  How would other environments, other evolutions, other histories, affect extraterrestrials and the  way they communicate (or fail to) with humans?
4.     4.  What simple biological facts could influence other intelligent races differently from us?
5.     5.  What possible sources of cooperation and conflict could arise between various different life forms?
6.     6.  What are the possibilities and limitations of comparison with human behavior?
7.     7.  How could other creatures adapt to the exigencies of factors like space travel?

8.     8.  Assuming that some forms of extraterrestrial intelligence may be generally “robotic,” what might the consequences be if they were not created by humans?

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