THE LIFECYCLE OF SOFTWARE OBJECTS by Ted Chiang [Book 9 of 2011]

I can’t remember the last time I read a novella. But ya’ll know how much I’ve loved i09’s reading suggestions so far — they were the ones that hepped to be both A HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N.K. Jemisin and my favorite web comic of 2010. So when they started raving about THE LIFECYCLE OF SOFTWARE OBJECTS by Ted Chiang (which can be read for free HERE), I had to give it a chance.

What It’s About: A laidoff zookeeper is recruited to help with the development of of a highly interactive and consumer-programmable animal and robot avatars.

What Makes It Different: You know how most future fiction says that robots will eventually take us over? This says the opposite of that. It’s kind of like Spielberg’s AI, except it’s not precious or mind-numblingly illogical.

What I Loved: It really made me think about the emotional side of technology. It also made me think about human nature, how some of us fully commit to certain devices, and how some of us (including me) jump from gadget to gadget searching for that next big thrill, without a thought for the gadgets we leave behind me. It also made me feel bad for MySpace — you’d have to read this to understand why.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Try focusing on the gadgets. So many books and movies use technology as either a cool trick or a villain that we have to vanquish. I always find it intriguing when an author or screenwriter zeroes in on one piece of technology. Think Pixar’s WALL-E or THE TRUTH MACHINE (a now hopelessly out-of-date book that hung its entire plot on the near-future development of a piece of technology that allowed people to¬†irrefutably¬†tell whether others were telling the truth — of course this changes the course of humanity forever).

Sci-fi verite. I love it when we get heroes doing jobs that you often don’t see featured in stories. In LIFECYCLE, instead of the usual hero battling the evil “lone” developer, we get a stripped down story, featuring real developers as the heroes. These developers work with a team — much more realistic than the corporate head that’s somehow responsible for both running the company and developing its main technology [looking at you TRON]. Unlike most futuristic sci-fi, LIFECYCLE feels like a completely real set of circumstances that could and might really happen. Call it sci-fi verite. It made me want to see more future ordinary people in future ordinary situations. And it was really quite fascinating to think about what our future technology might look like, without all the world-ending, dystopian rigamarole.

Finish your effing love story. I think all authors should think about how they use love stories. If you use a story and then don’t follow it through, you might think of it as “art,” but to the reader if feels like you’ve tricked us by asking us an engaging story question that you weren’t fully planning to answer, which leaves us dissatisfied and wondering why you asked the question in the first place if you weren’t going to satisfy us with a complete answer. This for whatever reason is a problem that plagues male writers and in my opinion the literary equivalent of trailing off right when you get to the good part.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Novella: Anyone Who Works at or Used to Work at MySpace, People Who Used to Own Digipets, Futurists, People Interested in Our Probable Immediate Future.

Click on the pic to read the novella!