Books by Coppley, Jackson

Coppley, Jackson. Leaving Lisa. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5348-5971-5.
Jason Chamberlain had it all. At age fifty, the company he had founded had prospered so that when he sold out, he'd never have to work again in his life. He and Lisa, his wife and the love of his life, lived in a mansion in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Lisa continued to work as a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studying the psychology of grief, loss, and reconciliation. Their relationship with their grown daughter was strained, but whose isn't in these crazy times?

All of this ended in a moment when Lisa was killed in a car crash which Jason survived. He had lost his love, and blamed himself. His life was suddenly empty.

Some time after the funeral, he takes up an invitation to visit one of Lisa's colleagues at NIH, who explains to Jason that Lisa had been a participant in a study in which all of the accumulated digital archives of her life—writings, photos, videos, sound recordings—would be uploaded to a computer and, using machine learning algorithms, indexed and made accessible so that people could ask questions and have them answered, based upon the database, as Lisa would have, in her voice. The database is accessible from a device which resembles a smartphone, but requires network connectivity to the main computer for complicated queries.

Jason is initially repelled by the idea, but after some time returns to NIH and collects the device and begins to converse with it. Lisa doesn't just want to chat. She instructs Jason to embark upon a quest to spread her ashes in three places which were important to her and their lives together: Costa Rica, Vietnam, and Tuscany in Italy. The Lisa-box will accompany Jason on his travels and, in its own artificially intelligent way, share his experiences.

Jason embarks upon his voyages, rediscovering in depth what their life together meant to them, how other cultures deal with loss, grief, and healing, and that closing the book on one phase of his life may be opening another. Lisa is with him as these events begin to heal and equip him for what is to come. The last few pages will leave you moist eyed.

In 2005, Rudy Rucker published The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, in which he introduced the “lifebox” as the digital encoding of a person's life, able to answer questions from their viewpoint and life experiences as Lisa does here. When I read Rudy's manuscript, I thought the concept of a lifebox was pure fantasy, and I told him as much. Now, not only am I not so sure, but in fact I believe that something approximating a lifebox will be possible before the end of the decade I've come to refer to as the “Roaring Twenties”. This engrossing and moving novel is a human story of our near future (to paraphrase the title of another of the author's books) in which the memory of the departed may be more than photo albums and letters.

The Kindle edition is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. The author kindly allowed me to read this book in manuscript form.

July 2016 Permalink

Coppley, Jackson. Tales From Our Near Future. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4961-2851-5.
I am increasingly convinced that the 2020s will be a very interesting decade. As computing power continues its inexorable exponential growth (and there is no reason to believe this growth will abate, except in the aftermath of economic and/or societal collapse), more and more things which seemed absurd just a few years before will become commonplace—consider self-driving cars. This slim book (142 pages in the print edition) collects three unrelated stories set in this era. In each, the author envisions a “soft take-off” scenario rather than the sudden onset of a technological singularity which rapidly renders the world incomprehensible.

These are all “puzzle stories” in the tradition of Isaac Asimov's early short stories. You'll enjoy them best if you just immerse yourself in the world the characters inhabit, get to know them, and then discover what is really going on, which may not be at all what it appears on the surface. By the nature of puzzle stories, almost anything I say about them would be a spoiler, so I'll refrain from getting into details other than asking, “What would it be like to know everything?”, which is the premise of the first story, stated on its first page.

Two of the three stories contain explicit sexual scenes and are not suitable for younger readers. This book was recommended (scroll down a few paragraphs) by Jerry Pournelle.

June 2014 Permalink