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Igms issue 15, p.21

IGMS - Issue 15, page 21


IGMS - Issue 15

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  After a while things quieted down and Deaver stripped down to his underwear and crawled inside his bedroll. He tried closing his eyes, but that didn't take him any closer to sleep, so he opened them again and looked at the stars. That was when he heard footsteps coming around the front of the truck. He could tell without looking that it was Katie. She came on over to where Deaver was lying, his bedroll spread out on the pyramid curtain.

  "Are you all right, Deaver?" Katie asked.

  "Softest bed I've slept on in a year," he said.

  "I meant -- Ollie was walking kind of doubled over, and it looked like he hurt his hand a little. I wondered if you were OK."

  "He just fell a couple of times."

  She looked at him steady for a while. "All right, I guess if you wanted to tell what really happened, you would."

  "Guess so."

  Still she stood there, not going away, not saying anything.

  "What's the show tomorrow?" he asked.

  "The Book of Mormon one," she said. "No decent parts for women. I spend half my time in drag." She laughed lightly, but Deaver thought she sounded tired, The moonlight was shining full on her face. She looked a little tired, too, eyes heavy-lidded, her hair straggling beside her face. Kind of soft-looking, that's how she was in the moonlight. He remembered being angry at her tonight. He remembered kissing her. Both memories were a little embarrassing now.

  "Sorry I got so mad at you tonight," said Deaver.

  "I should only have people mad at me for that reason -- because they liked my show better than I did."

  "I'm sorry, anyway."

  "Maybe you're right. Maybe pageants really are important. Maybe I just get tired of doing them over and over again. I think it's time we took a vacation, did a real play. We could get town people somewhere to take parts in the play. Maybe they'd like us better if they were part of a show."

  "Sure." Deaver was tired, and it all sounded fine to him.

  "Are you staying with us, Deaver?" she asked.

  "I haven't been asked."

  "But if Daddy asks you."

  "I think maybe."

  "Will you miss it? Riding the range?"

  He chuckled. "No ma'am." But he knew that if the question was a little different, if she'd asked, Will you miss your dream of riding out on the prairie with Royal Aal, then the answer would've been yes, I miss it already.

  But I've got a new dream now, or maybe just the return of an old dream, a dream I gave up on years ago, and the hope of joining the outriders, that was just a substitute, just a make-do. So let's just see, let's find out over the next few weeks and months and maybe years just how much room there is in this family for one more person. Because I'm not signing on for a pageant wagon. I'm not signing on to be a hireling. I'm signing on to be a family, and if I find out there's no place for me after all, then I'll have to go searching for another dream altogether.

  He thought all that, but he didn't say anything about it. He'd already said too much tonight. No reason to risk getting in more trouble.

  "Deaver," she whispered. "Are you asleep?"


  "I really do like you, and it wasn't all an act."

  That was pretty much an apology, and he accepted it. "Thanks, Katie. I believe you." He closed his eyes.

  He heard a rustle of cloth, a slight movement of the truck as more of her weight leaned against it. She was going to kiss him, he knew it, and he waited for the brush of her lips against his. But it didn't come. Again the truck moved slightly and she was gone. He heard her feet moving across the dewy grass toward the tents.

  The sky was clear and the night was cool. The moon was high now, as near to straight up as it was going to get. Tomorrow it might well rain -- it had been four days since the last storm, and that was about as long as you got around here. So tomorrow there might be a storm, which meant tying little tents over all the lights, and if it got bad enough, putting off the show till the next night. Or canceling and moving on. It felt a little strange, thinking how he was now caught up in a new rhythm -- tied to the weather, tied to the shows, and which towns had seen which ones within the last year, but above all tied to these people, their wishes and customs and habits and whims. It was kind of scary, too, that he'd be following along, not always doing things his own way.

  But why should he be scared? There was going to be change anyway, no matter what. With Bette dead, even if he stayed with the range riders there'd be a new horse to get used to. And if he'd applied to the outriders, that'd all be new. So it wasn't as though his life wasn't going to get turned upside down anyway.

  Sleep came sooner than he thought it would. He dreamed, a deep hard dream that seemed like the most important thing in his life. In his dream he remembered something he hadn't been able to think of in his whole life: what his real name was, the name his own parents gave him, back before the mobbers killed them. In his dream he saw his mother's face, and heard his father's voice. But as he woke in the morning, the dream fading, he tried to think of that voice, and all he could hear inside his head was an echo of his own voice; and the face of his mother faded into Katie's face. And when he shaped his true name with silent lips, he knew that it wasn't true anymore. It was the name of a little boy who got lost somewhere and was never found again. Instead he murmured the name he had spent his life earning. "Deaver Teague."

  He smiled a little at the sound of it. It wasn't a bad name at all, and he kind of liked imagining what it could mean someday.

  Special thanks to Tor for giving permission for IGMS to reprint The Folk of the Fringe which is still in print.

  Get out of Gym for Free

  by David Lubar

  Artwork by Lance Card

  "All right, you toads -- line up!" Mr. Odzman screamed.

  "What's he so angry about?" I asked.

  "I heard he's always like that," my friend Curtis said.

  "This is going to stink." I got in line in front of the bleachers with the rest of the class. It was the first period of the first day of middle school, and we had gym. I figured the gym teacher would be tough, but he looked like he was about to bite off someone's head and spit it onto the floor.

  "I know what you worms are thinking," he said. "You're thinking gym is going to be awful. But you're wrong. It's going to be worse than awful."

  He paused to stare, one by one, at each of us. As his eyes met mine, I felt all of my organs contract into fleshy spheres. Even my lungs constricted.

  "But you're wrong about something else, too," he said. "It won't be bad for all of you. One of you is going to get a break. Whoever wins the free-for-all gets to skip gym for the rest of the year. Sound good?"

  We all nodded. It's hard to nod and tremble at the same time.

  "I wonder what the rules are?" Curtis asked.

  We found out a couple seconds later.

  Mr. Odzman walked over to the door that led to the locker room. "Last man standing gets out of gym. I'll be back in ten minutes to see who the winner is."

  He step to the other side and pulled the door closed. I heard a bolt slide into place.

  Last man standing? I looked at Curtis. "He's got to be kidding."

  There was something dangerous in his eyes. I leaped back as he swung a fist at my head. All around me, kids had exploded into action, punching or tackling whoever was nearest.

  Curtis staggered toward me, thrown off balance by his missed punch. I bent over and rammed my head into his stomach. He grunted and toppled over. I started to straighten up, but I felt a sharp pain in my back. Maybe using my head as a weapon wasn't the best idea.

  Groaning at the pain, I straightened up. Curtis managed to stand, too, but only briefly. Someone flew past me and tackled him. I spun around, trying to spot any attackers.

  The fight didn't last long. I got knocked down real hard and twisted my knee. I couldn't get up.

  Bobby Soames, who's been lifting weights since he was five, won the battle. He was the only person standing when Mr. Odzman came back in

  "Very good," he told Bobby. "You get out of gym for the year. The rest of you, I'll see you next week. Unless you're too injured to take class. You don't need a doctor's note. I'll take your word for it."

  Too injured? I staggered to my feet and tried to take a step. I felt like someone was using my knee as a knife holder. It would be weeks before I could walk without pain. All around me, kids were limping, groaning, and moaning.

  As we stumbled into the locker room, Mr. Odzman walked over to his office, plopped into his chair, and put his feet up on his desk. "He looks pretty happy," I told Curtis.

  "You'd be happy, too, if you didn't have to do any work."

  "I guess so. I think we're all going to bring notes." I headed for our next class. As I reached the hall, a chilling thought hit me. "Curtis?"


  I pictured gas fires, powerful acids, toxic fumes, and broken glassware. "You don't think it will be like this in science class, do you?"

  Curtis sighed. "I hope not."

  I looked ahead of us, toward the science lab, where a plume of smoke poured out the door. Kids were crawling out into the hallway, crying and moaning. It was going to be a long day.

  InterGalactic Interview With Vernor Vinge

  by Darrell Schweitzer

  The starting point for this interview is an article called "The Coming Technological Singularity" which you may quickly find by doing an internet search on Vernor Vinge's name. It was presented at the VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993. A slightly changed version appeared in the Winter 1993 issue of Whole Earth Review. Otherwise, what you need to know by way of an introduction is that Vernor Vinge has been publishing science fiction since 1965. One early story of his, "The Accomplice" (1967) is remarkably prophetic. Not only does it describe desktop computers and CGI animation, but suggests that this could be used to make a movie out of The Lord of the Rings. His "True Names" (1981) is one of the first stories about cyberspace, hackers, and virtual reality. He has won Hugo Awards for A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), "Fast Times at Fairmont High" (2002), "The Cookie Monster" (2004) and Rainbows End (2006). Marooned in Realtime (1996) won the Prometheus Award.

  He is a retired professor of mathematics from San Diego State University. At the beginning of the Wikipedia entry about him, he is quoted from the Singularity article as saying, "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

  SCHWEITZER: I've read your 1993 paper about the Singularity online. The first question that occurs to me is this: If the future will soon become unforeseeable and unknowable, what is the science fiction writer to write about?

  VINGE: Yes, if there is such strangeness on the near horizon, then much of the classic domain of science fiction can't be realistically written about as long as writers and readers are human scale creatures. Both commercially and intellectually, science fiction writers are the first occupational group to be impacted by the Singularity -- whether or not it actually happens. The Singularity casts a big shadow back upon anyone thinking about tech and the future. You can see the impact in hard science fiction from the 1990s onwards. If you're trying to write about events that would come more than a few decades in the future, you need some kind of explanation, at least implicit, for why the Singularity did not happen, or if the Singularity did happen, why there can still be an intelligible story.

  This is probably true even for science fiction writers who consider the Singularity to be totally bogus. Even those writers, for purely commercial reasons, may feel the need to say why the Singularity never happened. It doesn't have to be explicit; it may be something in structure of the story, just enough to satisfy customers who do find the Singularity plausible. On the whole, I think this limitation may have actually broadened the field somewhat, bringing even more what-ifs on stage. (And of course there is the point that Charles Stross made in a Locus interview a while back, namely that if the Singularity is on the way, then maybe writers will grow into it.)

  SCHWEITZER: If only Philip K. Dick were alive today. He might argue that the Singularity has already happened, but it has been concealed from us, so we'll never know.

  VINGE: Yes. The notion of the "invisible Singularity" comes up in different ways. I'm doing a story right now where decades have passed uneventfully and Singularitarians are mocked because they're hanging on to their dignity by claiming that an invisible Singularity has happened. Unfortunately, it's hard to be dignified pushing a claim like that!

  The first time I used the term Singularity with regard to intelligence was in 1982, at an AAAI conference at Carnegie-Mellon. Afterwards this fellow came up and said, "You know, I think the Singularity has happened already, and it happened several thousand years ago." He said this was because "Nation states are superhuman entities and the first nation states are several thousand years old, so this isn't a new thing after all."

  That's an interesting point of view, but I don't think it has the concrete nature of what we're running up on in our near future.

  SCHWEITZER: Before we proceed further, please define for the readers exactly what you mean by the Singularity.

  VINGE: By Singularity, I am talking about the likelihood that in the relatively near future, we humans, using technology, will either create or become creatures that are superhumanly intelligent. [For a concretely dated form of the assertion, see the 1993 NASA essay.] I think there are several different possible paths to this development: classic Artificial Intelligence, computer enhancement of human intelligence, bio-science enhancement of human intelligence, networks plus humanity becoming a superhumanly smart ensemble, or the development of all our distributed embedded systems into a kind of digital Gaia. Whichever path or combination of paths, the result would be an event with few analogues in the past. One analogue is the rise of humanity within the animal kingdom. Perhaps another is the Cambrian Explosion.

  While the Singularity is a technological event, it's different from previous technological events. You could explain things like television or the printing press to people from earlier eras. You could even explain the social consequences of such technological progress -- though you probably would not be believed. On the other hand, you could not have such a conversation with a goldfish or even a chimpanzee.

  When we talk about what things will be like after the Singularity, we are talking about a world that is run by creatures significantly smarter than human. Trying to explain that world is a qualitatively different problem than trying to explain past technological advances to earlier humans.

  SCHWEITZER: Wouldn't an equivalent of this be trying to explain written language to a pre-literate? Among other things, written language is alleged to have changed certain brain processes, particularly the way people remember. That was how in the old days people could memorize all of Homer, for example.

  VINGE: I don't think the invention of writing would satisfy the "unintelligible future" criterion, but it is more interesting than most inventions. Terry Pratchett may have made the point that writing lets the dead talk to us. That is magical.

  To me, the most important distinction between us and other animals is not language or tool making. Our distinguishing virtue is that we humans can externalize cognitive function. Writing is a great example of that. For instance, there are birds that can remember where they have cached seeds and in far greater numbers that I can remember -- unless I had paper and pencil. Writing is an externalization of memory, not just one's own but all others who have ever written (Pratchett's point). The invention of the computer is another example.

  SCHWEITZER: Isn't painting on the cave wall another one?

  VINGE: I think so.

  SCHWEITZER: If we have artificially-enhanced intelligence in humans, or human-computer interfaces, or anything like that, aren't these advantages only for the rich? You and I may be talking about this, but there are illiterate s
tone-age farmers in Borneo or someplace like that. They don't have electricity or running water. They've never heard of a computer. How does this concern them? Aren't these enhancements only going to be for a small segment of the total population?

  VINGE: The general issue of whether technology and high-tech computer technology is a tool of social division, for the enhancement of rich people to the detriment of poor people, is a very serious question. Leaving aside the catastrophic possibilities such as general nuclear war, I believe that technology in general and computer technology in particular are our best hope for improving the condition of humans. I'll bet that most of the human race lives better now than all but the richest of 500 years ago -- and that's not counting medical advances. The first instances of an invention are usually very expensive. Hopefully the rich people do get their hands on them and incite constructive envy in those not quite so rich. Over and over, this process has driven the price of new gadgets down to very low levels.

  Just in this decade, we've had one of the most spectacular and beautiful examples of this -- the world-wide explosion of cell phone availability. Googling world cell phone population, I see a ton of extraordinary numbers, including a claim of a UN report from March 2009 that says six out ten humans on Earth have a cell phone subscription. Even if that's only counting adult humans, it is still extraordinary.

  SCHWEITZER: I think what they're doing in the Third World is just bypassing the need to put in land lines.

  VINGE: It is that certainly, but I think it is much more. The cell phone revolution is empowering some of the poorest people in the world. For instance, it gives farmers the ability to get market intelligence about things that are happening two or three days' walk away. Where/when smarter phones are available, it can give village medical people expertise and diagnostics that may be thousands of miles away.

  SCHWEITZER: If enhancements get to the point where they makes some people significantly smarter -- not just a matter of better tools, but a significant increase in intelligence -- won't this create, for the first time in history, a superior race? Won't the people who have greater abilities inherently take over and lord it over their inferiors?

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