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Mailing Date:
30 August 2005

Locus Magazine
Damien Broderick: Spikes and Cycles
Damien Broderick was born Melbourne, Australia, and raised Catholic, attending a Jesuit school and a junior seminary before chosing academia over priesthood, earning a B.A. in English from Monash University in Victoria. His first stories were published in 1964, and he's worked variously as a critic, reviewer, editor, research academic, and fiction writer ever since.

His novels include Ditmar Award-winning The Dreaming Dragons (1980), a John W. Campbell Memorial Award runner-up; Transmitters (1984), a mainstream novel about SF fandom which won a Special Ditmar Award; Ditmar and Aurealis Award-winner The White Abacus (1997); Aurealis winner Transcension (2002); and Godplayers (2005), as well as YA novels and several collaborations with Rory Barnes. K-Machines, a sequel to Godplayers, is forthcoming. He's also published short story collections, nonfiction
Photo by Beth Gwinn

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including Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995), The Spike (1997), his take on the Singularity, revised and expanded for US publication in 2001, and x,y,z,t: Dimensions of Science Fiction (2004), and has edited several anthologies, most recently Earth Is but a Star (2001).

Broderick won a Distinguished Scholarship Award at the 2005 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and was recently named fiction editor for Cosmos, a new Australian science magazine. He lives with his wife, Barbara Lamar, in San Antonio, Texas, and Melbourne, Victoria.
Excerpts from the interview:

“I was the eldest of six kids. My father was obsessed with politics -- terribly upset about the atheistic Communists who were going to subvert and take over Australia (this was in the '50s). He found me totally weird, incomprehensible. He liked sports, playing cricket and tennis. I never had any interest in that. I couldn't play sports (half blind, asthmatic), and if you're an intelligent person that means you turn to books and the imagination. So I sat around reading, especially science fiction comics. My father thought this was some absurd weakness of character, and not only that -- this stuff was going to corrupt me and make me an atheist. Luckily, he was right!”


“I became attracted by the idea of the Vingean Singularity, which I considered a great SF trope but also probably true of the real world. I consolidated an enormous amount of material from the Web and wrote a book about it, The Spike. I coined the term 'Spike' just because 'Singularity' seemed kind of clunky; Spike was concise and visually interesting, with an edgier feel. ... The idea of the upward-curving, accelerating pace seems to be the absolutely significant thing about our epoch. It's true that the technological substrata of culture have been accelerating exponentially since 50,000 years ago, but the early parts of the curve were moving slowly over many generations and millennia, whereas now we're at the point where the changes are becoming perceptible in a single lifetime.

“Once you've got unlimited computational power that's affordable by ordinary people, a machine that has (to begin with) the computational capacity of a human brain, history really goes discontinuous. That assumes we'll have adequate software to make it the equal of the human brain. This is the key to Vinge's original proposition. People airily question Vinge's authority, dismissing him as just a computer scientist or mathematician, but it seems to me that, even more than biotechnology, computers will give us the option of increasing manifest intelligence to beyond the human level.

“At that point, there's no obvious reason why runaway change has to stop. If we're sharing the world with hyperintelligences all bets are off, particularly as they probably won't have much in the way of analogs to our own unconscious processes, our mysterious ape ancestry and legacy code. One way science fiction deals with this crux is by proposing they'll be strictly unintelligible to us. (We're intelligible to them, but they don't give a shit.)

“In my novel Transcension, I postulated that at the moment of the Spike the transcension intelligence gives everybody the opportunity to be uploaded into a superior, highly gratifying form of retro-reality and most of them accept it. But it might not be like that. It might be more like Lem's Golem-XIV, where the supercomputer AIs go mad or switch themselves off or physically disappear. Or, as in Godplayers and K-Machines, they actually rewrite the computational basis of reality.”


“We've probably got two or three decades where we have to solve the urgent problems of the world as it is -- Third World poverty and misery, pollution, greed, mad dog corporatization. I think a lot of these problems might go away with emerging technologies, as I discuss at considerable length in The Spike. When you're 12 years old hyperspace and wormhole battles are exciting, but it's pretty silly -- or terrifyingly upsetting, if warfare does come to that. The urgent question is whether we can get through the decades needed for the beneficial technologies to be developed.”


“In the meantime, we SF writers can dream up versions of it and sell lots of paperbacks, assuming anyone wishes to read any longer as interactive games become ever-more enthralling. The singular thing about the Singularity is that it did come out of a science fiction writer's head. Vinge just had this idea and tried it a number of different ways. If he turns out to be right, nothing will ever be the same again. And we skiffy writers and readers knew about it before anyone else!”

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