Paradox: Book One of the Singularity Chronicles - Book Afterthoughts

Book Afterthoughts on a Hard-scifi military fiction novel
Paradox: Book One of the Singularity Chronicles - Book Afterthoughts

Book Review

This novel has a lot to say about the role of technology in our current and future society. It's science fiction meets military action in a way that will have you questioning whether all the hype around technology like AI is leading us to a dream existence or destruction.

My favorite parts were the reflections on society and who we are as human beings. (I'm a little biased because I write about similar things.) Runner-up is the military action. There is some really visceral imagery in this book, especially towards the middle when the action really starts popping off.

I was in conversation with the author as I read it, and it's clear he's a man of many talents, interests, and a great deal of life experience. The military sections are true to life, drawn from his real life career in the U.S. Army. Descriptions of weapons, military movements at the tactical and strategic level made me nostalgic for my time in the military. And the hard science fiction really goes in deep. From quantum mechanics, neuropsychology, classical, theoretical, and space physics (among many others): Woudenberg doesn't shy away from the technical details. His greatest feat is flinging the curtain back to reveal how artificial intelligence is no magic. It's a technological approximation of us humans, with all the faults amplified by enormous amounts of compute and hardware. I took notes during these sections to take back to my own stories.

That said, the first quarter of the novel is very theory heavy. I found the long scenes where characters explained concepts like bias or different kinds of AI to each other were somewhat dry. They read like a string of essays at the beginning of a novel - a necessary addition given the subject of the story, but a pace drag all the same. These sections would have benefited from more strategic character color. But this was a small complaint. I think the average reader who likes hard sci-fi will enjoy the greater scientific context provided as opposed to the more fantasy focused sci-fi I write. It comes down to your preference.

Characters are solid throughout, with the brother Noah emerging as my favorite. Kira is likeable, but is single-minded in her objectives (for the most part) which made her far less interesting to read. As a pair they are the perfect metaphor for artificial intelligence. One is driven mostly by logic; the other is more emotional and human. Not sure if this was the author's intent, but that was my read.

Together, they also form the heart of the pro vs. anti-AI debate that emerges as the key theme throughout the entire story. (A very timely conversation.) Whichever side you are currently on, Paradox displays a mostly balanced look at the potential of the technology to heal and harm humanity. You might walk out with a different opinion than what you started with.

Really recommend this one for fans of hard-sci fi, military action, adventure, and philosophy.

4 stars.


Book Afterthoughts

Review of Paradox

I just finished writing a review for Michael Woudenberg's debut novel, "Paradox: Book One of the Singularity Chronicles." It took me a while since I was trying to avoid spoilers, especially on Amazon. Most people don't like spoilers, and I get that. Personally, I don't put much stock in reviews when buying things, but I know many do.

I prefer discussing what I liked and found thought-provoking. This review was a unique experience because I was in conversation with Michael throughout reading his book. It was cool that he was open to feedback, something I'd love for my own books. It's rare to have someone share their thoughts as they read along.

Michael writes hard sci-fi military fiction, while I lean towards fantasy military sci-fi. Despite this, our styles overlap significantly. The Singularity Chronicles would fit well into the military game tech fiction universe, but that's another discussion.

The book starts with a bang—literally—with an explosion in a lab. It's a mystery why Kira has gone back; we just know things have gone terribly wrong. She's bleeding out, the lab's on fire, and she’s almost dead. The quote "Humanity was always at war with humanity" hooked me immediately.

Kira sends her digital self back in time to rerun a simulation, which we realize by the end of the book means the entire story is a simulation rerun. The first few chapters are heavy with technical details but still packed with good ideas.

In chapter four, there's a quote: "Humans are coded biologically to process data well enough not to die." This resonated with me as it reflects on our expectations of technology versus our natural capabilities.

Chapter five introduces Kintsugi, a Japanese concept of repairing broken pottery with gold. Living in Japan, I appreciated this cultural touch. Chapter six brings Noah into the picture, and from there, Kira and Noah represent two sides of the same coin—logic versus emotion.

Kira is initially robotic and single-minded about saving her mother and fulfilling her father's vision. Her character evolves emotionally as she faces more personal challenges and steps aside for Noah’s military-focused storyline. The narrative shifts to World War III—a nuclear war that devastates Earth’s most significant regions.

The character Mother is an AI reforming healthcare, lifting people out of poverty, and fighting corruption globally. However, human fear of AI triggers global conflict—an ironic twist highlighting humanity's role in its downfall.

The story transitions from macro-scale wars to micro-level survival akin to "The Walking Dead," depicting fragmented societies and new power structures post-apocalypse.

Chapter 17 titled "Inhumanity," explores dark themes of suffering in a post-nuclear wasteland—a stark reminder of war’s brutal reality.

Michael smartly addresses legal debates about AI sentience in court, raising ethical questions about eliminating sentient beings and drawing parallels to human rights. This adds depth to the narrative, exploring potential future societal shifts due to AI.

Overall, "Paradox" is a compelling read with profound messages about technology's impact on humanity. It left me eager for the next installment in the series. Great job, Michael!

Original Transcript


All right, so I just finished writing a review for Michael Woudenberg, I think is how you say his name. Sorry if I'm saying it wrong, Mike.

His debut novel, Paradox, Book one of the Singularity Chronicles. And it took me a while, it always takes me a while to write the review because, you know, people, most people don't like spoilers and I was writing it on Amazon.

So I was dodging around stuff that I really wanted to talk about.

And to be honest, I don't really like reviewing books or movies or things like that because I don't I mean, a lot of people place a lot of emphasis on reviews and I don't I don't really buy things based on reviews.

But anyway, I'd rather talk about just things that I liked things that were thought provoking. And this was cool. This was a really cool experience because I got to I was actually in conversation with Michael the entire time as I was reading his book, which I think that was just really cool.

One for him to just be open to the feedback and two to I don't know, I it's it's something that I wish somebody would do with with my books is actually read it and tell me what they thought as they go along. It's such a rare thing.

And I think that's why I did this, because, yeah, I think it it is nice when somebody's actually enjoying your book, but then.

It's a bonus because I actually have experience writing fiction in almost the exact same genre that that he writes and it's funny because he writes in he writes in more hard sci fi military sci fi. I write more fantasy military sci fi.

So there's a lot of overlap between our styles. I think the Singularity Chronicles would fit well into the military game tech fiction universe, but that's another conversation for another day.

But I wanted to take some time to just talk about some things because there's a lot of good things in this book, just so many good ideas. And I'm looking at my notes right now and I'm just going to comment on a few things.

The Opening Chapters

The chapter, the beginning starts out with a bang.

It really starts out with just the explosion in a lab. It's a huge mystery. You don't really know why she's gone back. You just know something has gone really fucking tits up.

And yeah, it's she's bleeding out and the labs on fire. She's almost dead. And I wrote down this quote, war.

Humanity was always at war with humanity.

And I knew once I read that quote, I was like, oh, man, OK, I'm in the right book. I'm in the right place. I really I really love that.

So she sends herself back, essentially back in time, which now we know. And if you're listening to this, I put the notice, there's going to be fucking spoilers in this.

So if you want to read the book, turn this off, go read the book.

If you don't, then keep listening. So she sends herself back and we know now it was a simulation the entire time.

Basically the entire book was a simulation and she was sent back. She sent herself. She uploaded herself to rerun the simulation.

So what we're seeing is a run of the simulation, the entire book. I'm assuming that's what it was based on the ending of of the way it went. But. The first few chapters, as I as I wrote in my review, kind of slog to get through some of the really technical, crunchy bits of it, of the hard sci fi stuff.

But there's still a lot of good ideas in there.

Quotes and Themes

I wrote down a quote in chapter four, humans are coded biologically to process data well enough not to die.

We expect computers to do things that we'd like to do, but we don't naturally do.

And I like that this this is in the beginning when we see a young Kira, she's in college and she's having a lot of these conversations about, you know, what exactly is this technology she's learning?

But at the same time, it's it's it's some of it's confirmation of what she's starting to experience in her life and see different things in that vein. I'm scrolling through here and seeing some of my notes here.

This is why I like to take notes, because novels are so long and there's so many good things in the moment that if I don't take notes, then I just forget, like, man, I remember that was cool.

Shout out to chapter five, Kintsugi, which is a Japanese concept.

I actually did a traditional Kintsugi demonstration last year. I went to Kanazawa. I currently live in Japan right now.

So anytime I see something which Japanese in Japan, it's always like, oh, that's a nice touch. It's really cool for him to put that in there. I thought it was a well done chapter.

Character Development

Let's see. Chapter six is really when when Noah comes into the picture for the first time, the first five chapters are basically Kira, and it's funny thinking back because I wrote in my review how they're both basically two sides of the same coin.

Kira is the super logical.

She's basically single goal oriented the entire time. The first half of the book is she's trying to figure out the puzzle of mother, like, how do I save mother? How do I realize her father's vision?

And then the second half, it's all about the emotions. She's trying to find that way. And in that way, thinking about it now, that's kind of her way back to her own emotions, because in the beginning, she's very robotic, almost to where she's really hard to read.

I gave Michael this feedback. She doesn't really display any emotions.

There is some background or some boyfriend or something, and she almost got married or whatever, but it's not very detailed or anything.

We don't see until towards the end of the book where she's really taken out of play and it becomes Noah's show, basically, when we get to more of the military operations and the war, actually, that pops off is essentially World War III.

The AI and Global Conflict

That is a nuclear war and destroys basically more or less the most important parts of Earth, at least from the Western perspective, the biggest players.

And so, yeah, she's kind of taken out for many chapters towards the end, because her role was basically in the beginning to establish the...

Basically, she's the light side of AI. She's seeing all the good things it can do. She's trying to get people to understand what it is, what it's about, and why it's helpful.

And then there's a chapter towards the middle where Mother... He chose a really good name, Mother, because every time it's just like everybody has a mom or mom figure, right?

And so Mother, of this benevolent, all-seeing, all-knowing being, just like a human mom, is just cleaning things up. She's reforming healthcare.

She's lifting people out of poverty. She's saving people money. She's standing up corrupt, fixing up corrupt governments and all this stuff around the world.

And there's this chapter where it's just kind of utopian. But then there's a tipping point to where it's actually a rogue actor who believes that Mother is eventually going to do something bad.

They do something bad, and they kick off... This is the Prometheus Collective. They kick off basically the global conflict, which is in an ironic twist that he's sure to point out in the book, that it's us again.

It's humans again. AI didn't do it. It's the humans fearful of the AI doing something that causes the global catastrophe. And I thought that was a genius way to have this conversation.

The Post-Apocalyptic World

And he does this on the macro scale with the war and with obviously nations and the fighting.

And then he goes into the series of chapters where it basically becomes like the fucking Walking Dead.

We've got new little fiefdoms that have stood up, and the United States is fragmented. The world is limping along, slowly dying a slow death.

And then there's groups like Noah's group, Hyperion, who are like the freedom fighters, equivalent to Rick Grimes' group in The Walking Dead.

And they go through the countryside, and they help some people, other people... It's a rough call, that type of a deal.

But anyway, from the macro, big picture, to the micro, all the way down to different organizations, different people.

You see people on different sides of this. Really, it's rarely the technology. The technology's in the middle.

The technology is the gun.

And it's the person who wants to grab the gun first and shoot it, and the person who wants to grab the gun and dismantle it and throw it away. And the technology is really, it's not agnostic, it's actually beneficial.

Author's Intentions and Themes

And knowing, you know, just the conversations that, brief interactions I've had with Michael and the subject matter of his newsletters and things like that, I know this is very deliberate.

This is very smartly well done.

Just the messages that he had in the story were just really spot on.

I really like this meditation.

In the middle, and even chapter eight is where, is basically the end of Kira's section in Prelude to War. And we see something that I've seen a little bit about, but I haven't really seen much, is like, how do you deal with AI as a legal entity?

"By proving that Mother was sentient in court, they then had to argue why it was okay to eliminate sentient beings."

And so then, does that mean you can take out humans that you don't like too, because they are doing something? And it's going to be different.

I firmly believe, and I've explored this a little bit in my books as well, that there's going to be a different class of people eventually. It just has to be, because we can't have them operating by the same rules as us.

They're not human, but then it's so similar, but that's further on down the line.

Closing Thoughts

Let's see, chapter 10, good stuff there.

Yeah, chapter 12 was really the utopian part, and then he's got this autoimmune response where things aren't working.

Yeah, and I like the way some of the deaths were handled too. I mean, he kills off a lot of characters, which I'm always clapping when authors kill characters, especially more major characters too.

Because a lot of authors, they be too sweet on their characters and too afraid to do shit to them. And it's like, nah, they're in this story, so shit can happen to them. And that means they can die too, even if they're main characters.

And yeah, I like the way those were handled. And I thought that was just really cool.

And then we really get into, chapter 17 is so dark. It's called Inhumanity, and it's just all these dark moments of the character just going in this wasteland, and these people that are suffering after the nuclear war, and nations are falling apart, people are sick and just dying. It's just horrible.

And I mean, I was all for it. I was like, yeah, I'm a military veteran as well, and this is what happens.

And I think people forget about these things. And that notion of forgetting about things, I think to fast forward to the end of the book, I think that's a really big part of what he wanted to say with this book, is that we do forget with all this technology, with social media, with AI now, with smartphones, we see it all the time.

I've seen it in my lifetime to where people just don't... You don't talk to people the same way.

You're out and people are staring in their phones instead of being more open to having a conversation.

Because before it was finite.

The newspaper, you can only read it so many times. You can only read a book so many times.

But now the phone's just always infinite. It's always on. There's always something to watch, something to read.

And it really has changed the way we relate to each other. And that's a big part of the message in this book, and how whichever way this shakes out with AI, you can't deny that we've lost a couple of things.

And we might argue that some of those things were essential to what made us human, to the human experience. And it's different now.

And yeah, we relate in different ways. But I think many of us, it's not natural on at least an unconscious level. And many are conscious of it now.

We just see, he talks about it, mental health, how it goes down actually after the apocalypse. Because people are forced to talk to each other again.

They're forced to deal with each other again. And then people will start to plug in again. And we see this second collapse. But I really like this book.

I have so many books that I want to read. But man, I'm curious about the second book now. Because I like the way it ended with this kind of just reset.

Which if ever such a thing were possible, it might not be a bad option if we ever got that far along. And we were that far gone.

Just to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Great job, Michael.

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