QSFer Mike Karpa has a new gay sci-fi book out: Red Dot.
After the disaster of global warming, the world has gotten its act together. People are positive, sensible and creating a better future and a just present. So, in a world where everyone makes good decisions, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, other people. Twenty-something gay man Mardy dreams of becoming a full-time machine-tool artist. He brims with ideas, puts in the hours, has a solid circle of artist buddies—and forbidden friendships with artificial intelligences, the virtual slaves he works alongside of in his day job. But he’s always coming in second to an irritatingly successful rival. When he meets the rival’s twin, unexpected consequences drive Mardy to pursue not only his artistic passions but also love. And just possibly make the world a better place in the process.
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Mardy’s ExMail delivery jet was vectoring in fast on San Francisco.
“Coming in a little hot, don’t you think?” he said to the plane.
“It’s fine, Mardy,” the plane replied.
Mardy gripped the open side-portal of the plane. Hoverdown would normally have engaged by that point, but there was little at the moment to distinguish their trajectory from a kamikaze run at his apartment building rooftop.
“Plane?” Mardy asked, panicking a wee bit. They were plummeting. Mardy clamped his lips against the wind. He wanted to make the designstation time he’d booked for the evening, but as much as he wanted to be a full-time machine tool artist, he’d prefer not to die in the attempt.
One hundred feet, fifty feet. Twenty.
The plane hit its thrusters hard, sending Mardy sprawling out of the portal. He managed a shoulder roll onto the hot concrete roof, ending in a crouch. His heart pounded as the impact of his landing reverberated through his bones.
His plane floated above the roof. “See you tomorrow, Mardy.”
Mardy stood. Did he detect a smirk in the plane’s voice? It maintained its hover, wheels retracted. Was it waiting for Mardy’s reaction?
“See you tomorrow,” Mardy mumbled, shaken, sweating, and not just from the sun beating down on them.
The plane waggled its wings ever so slightly. It was laughing, Mardy was sure of it. Mardy waved slowly as the plane left for who knew where. The official story was that all the delivery jets were operated by a central AI, a single intelligence. But Mardy had sensed differences between planes almost from day one and found it harder and harder to pretend he didn’t. And this plane, a jokester, was his favorite. It knew Mardy was light on his feet, able to handle the abrupt braking. It was playing with him. Mardy wanted to give it a name.
The name popped into Mardy’s mind, unbidden. Which felt more alarming than the idea of plunging to earth through an open portal, because naming AIs was illegal—not just technically illegal, but illegal enough to land you in jail.
Mike Karpa lived in Asia for eight years, has translated reams on semiconductor production, and was once member of a makerspace. His fiction, memoir and nonfiction have been published by Tin House, Foglifter, Tahoma Literary Review, Oyster River Pages and a number of other magazines. He lives with his husband and dog in San Francisco. Red Dot is Mike’s second book, after Criminals (2021).