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Tom Maddox – HaloHalo is the debut (and, so far, only) novel by Tom Maddox, writing partner of William Gibson and friend of Bruce Sterling (the book bears endorsements by both, which is what made me pick it up in the first place!). The book is a Cyberpunk classic, with a story revolving around AI and machine self-awareness, artificial life, immersive spaces, and Zen.

Mikhail Gonzales (‘Gonzales’ to his friends) works as an auditor for SenTrax, a fully global company. He is answerable to Frederick Lewis Traynor, ruthless, ambitious, and a candidate for the SenTrax board, whose members seem to be above the law (and about everything else). Traynor sends Gonzales to Halo, an artificial habitat in space, shaped like a wheel with six spokes. Halo has rotational gravity, and a computer, Aleph, running every function. Aleph is a distributed AI – he’s not just running Halo, he IS Halo, and Halo is him, intertwined, one the expression of the other. Gonzales is sent there to witness an attempt by Dr Diana Haywood to assist the transformation of Jerry Chapman, her former lover, into an artificial being by Aleph.

How this is to happen is not clear to anyone, and has never been tried before, but Jerry is dying, is dead, after imbuing mycotoxin from a truly bad oyster, and is being kept alive by Aleph. Aleph, and the Memex, Gonzales' AI advisor, as well as Traynor’s advisor have begun to develop (learn or emulate, no one is all that sure) personalities and self-awareness through their close interaction with humans over the years. Aleph has assembled, for (his own) learning purposes, a cadre of misfits, damaged humans, and people with special abilities, known as the ‘Collective’, who converse with him, in real space as well as in a kind of cyberspace which can be accessed through neural access sockets at the base of the neck whilst resting in an enclosing environment, the ‘Egg’.

Sound breathless? A lot of the story is exactly that. Great drive, and more than a few great ideas which have been repeated ad nauseum meanwhile. A few of the core concepts are:

AIs to run Biospheres, and as personal advisors. I like the take that they don’t just develop personalities and higher level functions, they learn them from the humans (who have these things, sometimes in abundance) they interact with.
Directly connected to this are the eternal questions of ‘what is life’, what does it mean to be alive, what is real – especially with immersive VR, and the attempt to transfer Jerry completely into Aleph’s spaces before his ravaged body gives out completely
Neural interfaces – complex connectors at the neck, with trees of connections running into the brain, sound much more realistic than ‘trode nets in Gibson’s Sprawl series

Through the book, intertwined with the stories, and the efforts of the Ais and the humans to understand what is happening, runs a thread of Zen philosophy, embodied in Toshi, a Zen Philosopher living on Halo, but in effect and quoted nearly everywhere, including chapter titles – chapter 14 is titled ‘The mind like a strange balloon mounts towards infinity’!. Very well executed indeed!

This is Maddox’s first, and to date only, novel. All he’s written besides Halo is a number of acclaimed short stories – no idea why there isn’t more available, telling from Halo he can write, and write well, indeed. Most of his work is available on the internet, in multiple copies (he’s made it available for reading and copying), go search if you want to save some pennies! Although I have to warn you – the online text is a different edition than the one I read in book form, and I prefer the book!
If you enjoy(ed?) cyberpunk, Zen, and discussion on reality, life, and awareness of machines then this is an essential book, but even if this is not your core area of interest I can recommend the book – a great read with a good drive, and not much in terms of ‘filler’.


More Tom Maddox

Title: Halo
Author: Tom Maddox
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Century/Legend (Tor imprint)
Publication Date: 14 Nov 1991
Review Date: 20 December 2006
ISBN: 0712636706
Price: UKP7.99
Pages: 216
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: AI
Topic: Virtual Reality

 

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