"Gumal, I want to thank you for introducing me to Doctor Ragwell," Colonel Gorn said as he shook Ragwell's hand. So, Doc, are you fellows going to let us have your nobot technology?"
"Well, Colonel, there's a very big problem with that, a grave danger to you if we did. A danger we only recently discovered, and it's too late for us. Odd that a protohistorian should discover a secret of nobotics and an engineering principle that we programmers didn't have a clue about, but that's exactly what Rority did.
"It's sensible that tools and other machines be designed to be as safe and efficient and easy to use as is possible, and that is where the trap lies.
"It's been a design and engineering axiom for millions of years that machines do nothing to harm human beings or let them come to harm, to follow humans' instructions to the letter unless of course it would harm a human, and of course to avoid destruction unless it was ordered or if the machine's destruction would keep a human from harm. I was the fellow who found this programming, after Rority enlightened me about the three principles of engineering, and it's an impressive piece of work.
"Comments in the code indicated that these design principles didn't come from an engineer, but from a protohuman biochemist who died centuries before the principles were actually feasible. Gumal's friend Rority found the answer - the protohuman who came up with the concept wasn't just a biochemist, but a writer of both nonfiction and fiction as well. These principles were first put forth in several of his novels. Rority is a fan of the biologist's fiction, it seems.
The principles are called 'the three laws of robotics', despite the fact that they're not really laws, just design specifications, and they apply to all machinery, and not just robots."
"But I don't understand," interrupted Gorn. "That seems perfectly logical."
"Yes," said Ragwell, "and that's the trap. We can't live without the nobots; they're inside us, millions of them, keeping our biological machinery healthy and in working order. Without them our lifespans would only be maybe a century, and I don't think there's a human Experimental alive that young. We're trapped in an array of cubes. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is controlled by the nobots. You see, we can't know what's real and what's not.
"And the nobots aren't sentient, although they certainly can seem to be. They're just microscopically tiny computerized machines that are all networked together into a collective.
"They can't be bargained with. They can't be reasoned with. They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until they are dead!
"We're safe in our cubes, but we really aren't free. There's been little real scientific or technological progress in we're not sure how long. For all I know, this whole thing could be fiction."
A horrified look crossed Gorn's face. "How... oh, no. Nobots were here! They'll construct a matrix and imprison us!"
"No," said Ragwell. "Our species diverged millions of years ago. To the nobots, you're not human."
Gorn looked even more alarmed. "They'll wipe us out as a threat to you!"
"No," Ragwell said. "A 'respect'... not exactly an accurate word, by the way, since they're machines and can't feel respect; I'm anthropomorphizing here... a 'respect' for all biology has been programmed into them. They wouldn't harm you even if you were a grave danger to us. Look at the Venusians, they wanted to kill everybody on Earth and Mars, but not a single Venusian died. At least, not from anything except other Venusians, the GRB, and the ones headed for Earth that you fellows killed. The nobots didn't harm a single one."
"What about the Venusians? Are they still a threat?"
Ragwell laughed. "They never really were. Not to us, anyway, although they were to you. But no more. The Venusians don't know it yet, but their weapons no longer function; nobots have disabled them all. They're stuck on their own planet now and can beat on each other with sticks and stones as long as they want to stay stupid.
"I shudder to think what would have happened had they developed nobots first, no way would they have developed the three principles. But that's another reason you shouldn't have nobots; if you stagnate, the Venusians may some day catch up to you, and that would be the end of Earth and Mars."
"What about the Amish? Did the nobots assimilate them, too?"
"No, of course not. Changing them with technology would destroy their culture, which would run afoul of the first principle. They would not be themselves without their culture. The nobots actually perform 'miracles' for them to strengthen their faith."
"Their faith in what?"
"Their faith in the fact as they see it that what they believe is true, that the universe is an artificial construct made by a supernatural being, whom they worship. There's a lot more to it, of course, and we're just now learning about them. That's Rority's and Gumal's field of study."
"Well," said Gorn, "I'm sorry about your imprisonment, not knowing what is or isn't real..."
"Don't be," replied Gumal. "Nobody has ever really known what was real and what wasn't, anyway. There's no way for you Martians or anyone else to know what's really real, either. For all you know you've been in nobot cubes yourselves all this time and never knew it, just like we were.
"We're happy. Even though giving you nobotic technology would be the worst thing we could do to you, at least we can give you spacewarp technology. And stratodoober technology, too. Here, have a toke!"
What you have read is the rough, crude first draft of the book, with little proofreading or editing. The final version will be slightly different from what you've read; there are inconsistencies and other errors that need to be cleaned up, dialogue to be added, paragraphs to move, clumsy sentences to change, etc. It's sort of a Reader's Digest version, only without their famous censorship; the manuscript is already five or ten thousand words longer than what you've read. It stands at about 35,000 words now, quite a bit longer than what you've read, and need at least another five thousand more to be a full science fiction novel.
This is a Slashdot book. This isn't just my book, it's our book. Had it not been for slashdot it might not have been written at all, and certainly would have been a lot different if it had been. I think it wouldn't have been nearly as good without slashdotters' input.
The first chapter was my second or third sci-fi short story, Hadron Destroyers. It was prompted by a comment by Abreu in the story LHC Knocked Out By Another Power Failure. It's hard to believe that I've been working on this thing since 2009! If I remember correctly I was down with the flu at the time I wrote that first chapter, and hacked it out in maybe ten minutes for a cheap laugh.
If you read the comments to the various chapters you can see the input you, my fellow slashdotters had. One comment about the Titanians gave me the idea, not fleshed out in the draft but already incorporated into the manuscript that prompted a misdirection; the reader is led to believe that Rority and Gumal are from Titan. I haven't worked it out completely yet.
There was a little editing in some online chapters -- for instance, one chapter had a "Scotty error", mixing thousands with millions, that I changed to look less stupid after a reader pointed it out. I want to thank all of you for your input.
What would I like to get out of this? Well, a Hugo and a spot on the NYT best seller list would be nice, but I think the odds of that are greater than me finding a winning lottery ticket laying on the ground. What I expect to get is what I've already gotten, the sheer fun of writing it.
When I wrote (and am still working on) this, the goal was to write what I'd want to read; entertaining, amusing, and thought-provoking. I'm not sure how successful I was at that. I also wanted to pay homage to some of the science fiction and fantasy authors whose books and DVDs grace my shelves and whose works undoubtedly influenced my own writing.
I wanted to write the science fiction novel, full of rockets, time travel, and of course lots of real astronomy, physics, astrophysics, chemistry, and other sciences in general; most of the science in the book is real and based on real scientific principles. Yeah, grabonic radiation and one or two other things are made up, but you can find most of it in wikipedia.
I wanted to get it right. I learned a lot while writing this, and of course as a nerd, you know that the learning was half the fun.
I also wanted to come up with the meanest, nastiest, most sickening bad guys ever. I probably failed at that, too, but I tried.
I hope to have the finished version in paper form this year. I'll be letting the e-book form go out with a noncommercial license and will put it on The Pirate Bay myself when the finished book is available.
If you liked this book, please tell all your friends. If you hated it, please take a toke off your stratodoober and wash it out of your brain.
Again, thanks for reading it!