“Ringworld” by Larry Niven.

Larry Niven’s Ringworld is a piece of classic science fiction that everyone interested in the genre should read. Here’s my review.

The year is 2850 AD. Louis Wu is celebrating his 200th birthday. To make the day last as long as possible, Louis moves west1 through transfer booths, when one of them suddenly malfunctions. He finds himself in a hotel room with a Pierson’s puppeteer, a peculiar-looking, two-headed alien. The puppeteer has an offer for Louis, and it’s an offer he can’t refuse.

The puppeteer propose that Louis joins him, and two additional, unnamed, crew members on a journey to an undisclosed location. Louis reward, should ha accept the mission, will be access to a space ship with quantum II hyperspace shunt engines. These engines, developed by the puppeteers, will cut travel time through space to a fraction of what it currently is. Any race with access to the engines would find themselves in a superior position compared to races that only have access to conventional, hyperspace shunt engines.

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“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

The year is 2044. The world has gone to shit. Unemployment. Civil unrest. Famine. Pollution. Overpopulation. War. People’s only escape is OASIS, a digital utopia where you can forget all about the real world.

OASIS is a digital virtual reality simulation, accessible to players by using a visor, and haptic technology. The few rules that apply inside the simulation were defined by its creators James Halliday and Ogden Morrow1. Concerned people were using OASIS to escape the real world, Morrow leaves its parent company, Gregarious Simulation Systems. Halliday remains the sole owner of GSS and OASIS.

Upon his death, Halliday announces a competition: Whoever manages to find an Easter egg his has hidden inside OASIS will inherit GSS, OASIS, and Halliday’s entire fortune. To find the it, the egg hunters, quickly nicknamed gunters, first have to locate three keys that open three different gates. Soon, everyone and their grandmother are searching for the egg. It become apparent that Halliday’s affection with the 1970s and 80s of his childhood is the right path to find the egg. With enough knowledge of 70s and 80s pop culture and nerd trivia, and the ability to connect the dots, a player should be able to find the keys, the gates, and thus the Easter egg, and Halliday’s big pile of dough.

But the first key proves to be hard to find, and years go by without any progress, until suddenly, one day, a name appears on the top of the Scoreboard: Parzival.

Parzival is the avatar of young Wade Watts. An orphan living with his doper aunt in the stacks surrounding Oklahoma City, Watts uses the OASIS to attend high school. It’s also his escape from the real world. For Wade, and most people of his generation, OASIS is in many ways more real than reality itself. His mother used OASIS to raise him, and OASIS is where he spends most of his time. And for Watts, Halliday’s Easter egg becomes an all-consuming obsession.

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“Animal Farm” by George Orwell.

The animals of Manor Farm are tired of living under the tyranny of the farm’s owner, Mr. Jones. One evening, the boar Old Major summons the animals of the farm to a meeting. He tells them the story of a wonderful world where farms are run by the animals themselves. Old Major also teaches them a revolutionary song called “Beasts of England“. With hope for a better life for all the animals, they revolt, and drive Mr. Jones away from the farm. From that day onward, the farm is known as “Animal Farm”. It will be run by the animals, which will all be considered equal.

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm during World War II. Being a not-so-subtle satire about the Russian revolution, the Soviet Union, and Stalin’s expulsion of Trotsky, Orwell had a hard time getting it published. Since the Soviet Union sided with the Allied powers during the war, the manuscript was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers. It was not until 1945, only weeks before the war was officially over, that the book was published. It then became a commercial success, partly to changing international relations, and the Cold War.

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“Neuromancer” by William Gibson.

William Gibson‘s Neuromancer is considered to be the genesis, and by many people, the very definition of the cyberpunk genre. The 1984 novel takes the reader into a neon lit world, where man and machine has merged into one. Hackers fight drug induced wars against their own kind and powerful artificial intelligence in a virtual world called the Matrix2.

We meet Case, a burnt out hacker on the verge of putting a gun in his mouth, and pulling the trigger. Currently residing in the dystopian sprawl of Chiba City, in Tokyo, Japan, Case gets by doing low-level hustling jobs. Returning to the Matrix is out of the question: After steeling from an employer, he gets parts of his central nervous system fried with a mycotoxin. The damage permanently closes Case’ access to the Matrix. Or at least, so he thinks. On a job he stumbles across Molly Millions, a street-samurai, an augmented mercenary for a shadowy ex-military officer named Armitage. He offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. The deal sounds almost too good to be true, and it quickly turns out that’s exactly the case.

Thus begins Case’ action-, drug- and sex-fueled adventure across the globe, inside the virtual world of the Matrix, and even up, up, and away in the sky to Freeside, a cylindrical space habitat, which is pretty much Las Vegas in space.

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“Robopocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson.

"Robopocalypse" by Daniel H. Wilson.In the not-so-distant future, robots are prominent. Most of the cars drive themselves, domestic robots that help around the house are commonplace, and our wars are more frequently fought by robots.

All is fine until the artificial intelligence (AI) Archos R-14 becomes self-aware, and starts to infect every connected device around the globe, from smart elevators in Japan to airplanes in the sky above Paris, and autonomous land mines in military warehouses across America. Archos’ grand plan? The elimination of human civilization, and the birth of a new ecology where the organic is being merged with robot technology. And when Archos starts his attack, it gets very ugly, very quickly.

“Robopocalypse” is written much in the same way as Max Brooks’ 2006 novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War“, a book I read a few years ago, but never got around to review. They are both a smorgasbord of short stories set in a world facing destruction by a seemingly unstoppable force – runaway AI and zombies, respectively.

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