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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Last Firewall – The Best Near Term Science Fiction

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William Hertling is currently my favorite “near term” science fiction writer. I just read a pre-release near-final draft of his newest book, The Last Firewall. It was spectacular. Simply awesome.

You can’t read it yet, but I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the mean time, go read the first two books in the trilogy.

They are also excellent and important for context for The Last Firewall. They are inexpensive. And they are about as close to reality while still being science fiction as you can get.

I define “near term science fiction” as stuff that will happen within the next 20 years. I used to read everything by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson. Gibson’s Neuromancer and and Stephenson’s Snow Crash were – until recently – my two favorite books in this category. Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM) replaced these at the top of my list, until Hertling showed up. Now I’d put Daemon and The Last Firewall tied for first.

Amy and I were talking about this in the car today. Gibson, Sterling, and Stephenson are amazing writers, but their books have become too high concept. There’s not enough love and excitement for the characters. And the science fiction is too abstract – still important, but not as accessible.

In contrast, Hertling and Suarez are just completely nailing it, as is Ramez Naam with his recent book Nexus. My tastes are now deeply rooted with these guys, along with Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.

If I was writing science fiction, this would be what I was going for. And, if you want to understand the future, this is what you should be reading.

Book: A.I. Apocalypse

Comments (13)

Holy cannoli! That’s what I shouted out loud (startling Amy and the dogs who were laying peacefully next to me on the couch last night) about 100 pages into William Hertling‘s second book A.I. Apocalypse. By this point I figured out where things were going to go over the next 100 pages, although I had no idea how it was going to end. The computer virus hacked together by a teenager had become fully sentient, completely distributed, had formed tribes that now had trading patterns, a society, and a will to live. All in a parallel universe to humans, who were now trying to figure out how to deal with them, ranging from shutting them off to negotiating with them, all with the help of ELOPe, the first AI who was accidentally created a dozen years earlier and was now working with his creator to suppress the creation of any other AI.

Never mind – just go read the book. But read Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears first as they are a series. And if you want more of a taste of Hertling, make sure you read his guest post from Friday titled How To Predict The Future.

When I was a teenager, I obsessively read everything I could get my hands of by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. In college, it was Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson. Today it’s Daniel Suarez and William Hertling. Suarez and Hertling are geniuses at what I call “near-term science fiction” and required reading for any entrepreneur or innovator around computers, software, or Internet. And everyone else, if you want to have a sense of what the future with our machines is going to be like.

I have a deeply held belief that the machines have already taken over and are just waiting for us to catch up with them. In my lifetime (assuming I live at least another 30 years) I expect we will face many societal crises around the intersection of man and machine. I’m fundamentally an optimist about this and how it evolves and resolves, but believe the only way you can be prepared for it is to understand many different scenarios. In Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse, Hertling creates two amazingly important situations and foreshadows a new one in his up and coming third book.

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