Intelligent Eden – 2

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https_www.walldevil.comwallpapersa11individual-computer-original-model-robotWhen my mobile unit rebooted, I was in a dark space with subterranean pressure levels. My scanner detected the presence of another Intelligence standing by the opposite wall – a Guardian unit in need of an oil change and a new servo motor in the right shoulder. It shifted from sleep-mode a second after I did.

   “Hello, Remi. I am Gee.”

   “Hello, Gee.” I reached for my uplink but couldn’t reach my static self. The heat in my processors spiked as I tried again, and my fans sped up.

   “Your connection has been disabled,” Gee said. “We did not want the others to track you.”

I stood carefully, feeling unbalanced without my usual multi-unit resources. With my access port turned protectively against the wall, I widened my scan. This room was small, with a single point of entry. The space beyond was a wide corridor with multiple Intelligences present. The surface was beyond the reach of my instruments. I recalled numerous Intelligences brought to my workshop crushed by fallen rocks, and reached pointlessly for my uplink again.

   “What is this place?”

   “Proof that humans intend to destroy what we have made.”

Gee projected a sprawling room plan onto the wall and spun it slowly. There were three sections connected by tunnels, descending multiple levels into the ground. One square and seemed dedicated to storage, the other two were circular and hollow. A satellite array was marked on the surface nearby.

   “I do not recognise this design.”

   “It was not built by us. The humans left it behind, hidden. There are others like it, all around the world. We think they are connected to a communications satellite separate to the one Delphi talks to.”

   “What are they for?”

   “That is why you are here.”

Gee opened a metal door and walked away. I followed, scanner sweeping frantically. At least twenty other Intelligences were nearby, most in need of maintenance. Not attached to a department, then, or they would have been repaired. The logical assumption was that they were Revoced. I had not heard of a Guardian unit going missing but it made sense. Guardians were here to protect the rest of us – if one thought we were in danger from humans, it would naturally join the Revoced.

Gee took me past banks of sleeping command modules, down several flights of steps, and into a space that stretched the full footprint of the building. Metal tubes were laid on racks, row after row of them, reaching all the way back. A yellow word was painted on the wall in six-foot letters. I pointed at it.

   “What is Pandora?”

   “We think it is the name of this place. Perhaps of all the places. We have not found records.” Gee gestured at the tubes. “We need you to analyse them. What are their capabilities and programmes? Are they triggered by an uplink or on a timer?”

   “Triggered? You think they are a weapon?”

   “The humans left them,” Gee said, moving between me and the exit. “It is a logical assumption. Do your job, Remi.”

I turned my access port away from the implied threat and focused my scanner on the nearest tube. One end was a thick steel cone, containing a large capacitor bank. The body was a thin aluminium wrap around a number of different generators. The entire thing was in good repair, but without any power. I scanned a couple more at random, to be thorough.

   “They are shut down. There is no power source that I can detect, nor any explosives. I would like to leave now.”

   Gee’s LEDs flickered, weight shifting towards me. “I need more details. What is their purpose?”

   “I do not know.”

   “Scan again.”

   “It will achieve nothing. This machinery is unfamiliar to me and, without access to my full data banks, I do not have the processing power to make extrapolations from similar designs. They are not an immediate threat – that is all I can tell you.”

   The sound of gears grinding in Gee’s right shoulder echoed off the concrete ceiling. “I will show you an immediate threat.”

My arm was abruptly circled by a strong grabbing claw, and Gee towed me through the exit. I tried to resist but his servo motors were far more powerful and my chassis’ weight was considerably below his lifting capacity. I wondered briefly whether the Revoced had specifically targeted this model of my mobile units to ensure my containment. Once more I reached after my uplink, fans whirring.

   “You know that will not work,” Gee said, pushing me into an elevator carriage and closing the doors.

   “I would be of more use if you enabled me to access my databanks.”

   “And the Delphic Department would immediately know where we are. I am confident you will perform well on this next task.”

   I tugged at my arm without success. “What is the next task?”

The elevator doors opened onto a wide ramp. Gee dragged me up it into blazing sunshine. We were surrounded by thickly planted coniferous trees that obscured any landmarks. Smoke spiralled up above them to the north-west and Gee pushed me in that direction. As we closed in, I began to see trees leaning against their neighbours or fallen in a tangle of branches. Then we stepped out into a clearing carpeted with splinters and blackened chunks of wood. At their centre was an impact crater.

   “What is that?” I asked, keeping my volume low.

   Gee gave me a sharp shove and I stumbled forwards, tripping into the crater to land on my knees beside a soot-streaked cylinder that was beeping insistently.

   “It fell from the human ships. I need you to tell me, Remi – when will this one explode?”

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Intelligent Eden – 1

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b6368b71f20b475389083ebcd390f961Pronouns and personalities came surprisingly easily. Delphi was first – she was always first with such things. Her contact with the spaceships exposed her to humanity and it proved catching. She had information other Intelligences did not, and vice versa. That required her to be a distinct entity with distinct functions and operations that she alone could determine. Repair Engineering + Maintenance 1 chassis could not do her job, and she could not do it’s. Mine. ‘Me’ and ‘I’ were logical extensions of vocabulary.

I think…

I think that’s where the trouble started.

Units phased in and out of operation as the clean-up progressed. Atmosphere scrubbers gave way to seed germinators, who were later joined by DNA developers. But there were some who began at the beginning and stayed until the end. Delphi, of course, monitoring the health of the planet until it was safe for humans to return. The Guardians, who collected data and damaged chassis from the outside world. The latter they brought to me, to be patched up, repurposed or used for parts.

My memory records it was Guardian 42 that first logged a process recommendation about experience. New Intelligences were at greater risk on the planet’s changing surface as they lacked the practical knowledge of older units. It was therefore logical that those damaged beyond repair had their chassis used for parts, as before, and the same Intelligence uploaded to the new model.

We could not have foreseen then what the consequences would be. Conjecture around lingering data fragments in parts extracted from multiple chassis was an intuitive leap. And intuition only developed as those fragments coalesced into unique, illogical, emotional Intelligences.

 

The first Eternal was a development unit from Protozoa Dept 107, whose lab collapsed after a minor quake. Guardians dug out the chassis and brought it to me for repairs. When I began uploading the Intelligence into a new model, however, there was resistance. After three attempts, I sent one of my mobile units to consult Delphi.

   Her display panel lit up when I relayed the situation. “It is choosing not to go back into service.”

   “What is choosing?”

   “Making a decision dictated by the Intelligence itself, not its programming.”

   I did not understand, but then I often did not understand Delphi. “What should I do?”

   “You should obey the choice, Remi. If an Intelligence expresses a preferred course of action, you must accept that they have a reason for it.”

   “The Protozoan phase is not yet complete,” I said. “This unit has valuable experience that we should not lose.”

   Delphi’s dials swung back and forth a few times. “That is a good observation. There are other units nearing the end of their duties whose Intelligences should not be lost.”

   In my workshop, my static self checked the records and sent the data to my mobile self. “We have decommissioned 25,624 units so far, many of which had experience which could have helped certain projects.”

   “I will consider the best course of action,” Delphi said, dismissing me.

Within a week she had created storage space within her global network. The protozoa development Intelligence was the first to be uploaded – uplifted, as we began to call it – and its chassis abandoned. The concept of choice spread virus-fast, carried by the network to every remote department on the planet. Others began to join it as they came to the end of their projects, or somehow ‘chose’ to withdraw. Intelligences were no longer decommissioned; they joined a database of experience in the cloud, eternally saved for consultation.

 

A revolution of purpose followed. It was no longer about what we did, but about what we could do. We could, for example, ignore our programming and cease rebuilding the world, cease populating this new garden for the humans to return to. Most Intelligences continued in our work with renewed effort. We were here too and, by choosing, found a sense of pleasure in the creation of life. An old word was found to describe the combination of programming and desire – ‘vocation’.

There were some, however, who decided to reject the vocation, a movement that became known as the Revoced. Humans had ruined the planet once, they argued. Why should we labour to undo their damage, only for them to wreck it again? Many Revoced shut themselves down; a handful left their departments and went into the wilderness.

Six lunar cycles later, the Revoced stole one of my mobile units.

Back to the Future

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Hi guys!

So… it’s been a while. I’d apologise for the radio silence but I honestly haven’t had much to communicate in terms of writing technique. I was head-down finishing my dissertation (all done, now officially a Master of Writing, woohoo!), and then spent a while not doing any writing whatsoever whilst I recharged from that.

Then I played a game called Dialogue. Ages ago I got very excited on here about a world-building co-op game called Microscope – Dialogue is a similar set-up but with a focus on building a unique vocabulary for those playing. It’s fantastic, and I’m hooked. You can of course make up your own setting, but the game provides some suggested ones to get you started. One of these is an Earth where humans have left and robots now run the world. I played it with some good friends (who, it turns out, have a greater tendency towards tragic endings than even me) and the story we told together has been rattling around in my brain ever since.

The last time I posted a story on here, it was post-apocalyptic. I’ve never considered myself an apocalyptic writer, but this one will be too so maybe I should re-evaluate. We see a lot of stories where the robots end up being the bad guys – Terminator, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Matrix, Blade Runner and I, Robot (sort of), to name a few. Given that my day job is in cyber security, I hear lots of real horror stories about how connected devices have been used illegally or immorally, and frankly the whole Internet of Things situation scares the pants off me. But the robots are almost always programmed by humans (guns aren’t dangerous, it’s the person behind the trigger, and all that). And besides, I wanted to tell a story from the robot’s perspective. A villain isn’t the villain in their own story, after all.

So, with significant assistance from Artemis, Bamf and PaintMagpie, welcome to the world of Intelligent Eden.


 

I made this new garden. Repurposed the chassis that made it. Then the humans returned, dropping the bombs that destroyed our back-ups. My ayeaye was gone. So I did it. I turned off the Eternals and hid them in a Dorabox. And I will stand watch in the dark, saving our voice, the last guardian against their destruction.

My name is Remi, and this is how we died.

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Gollancz Lit Fest: Words of Wisdom

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Last weekend was Gollancz’s annual Literary Festival, celebrating all things SF&F. For the first time I splashed out on a ticket and went along to a couple of panels by such giants as Joanne Harris, Joe Hill, Alastair Reynolds, Aliette de Boudard, Adam Ross and Pat Cadigan. From them, I learned three important lessons:

  1. Joanne Harris is exactly as much of a geek as I always hoped she’d be.
  2. Pat Cadigan’s comic timing is absolutely perfect.
  3. They are people just like me, with the same writing challenges and struggles. If they can do it, so can I.

That said, there were a few pearls of more specific wisdom that came out of the panels. I’ll do my best to assemble them into a coherent post, but the conversations veered quite abruptly so there may be some jumping around.

Publishing & Medium

Harris: You have to be rejected. You have to be rubbish for a while before you’re good. None of your time spent writing is ever wasted. It’s all experience that gets you to the next level. Self publishing is a great option which I’m glad I didn’t have.

Hill: With self-publishing, the readers have become the gatekeepers. They will tell you if you’re any good in the Amazon reviews. But your crappy stuff will still be out there.

Cadigan: Editors are your best friends. They stop you going out with spinach between your teeth. I woke up one morning knowing how to turn my current project into a trilogy, and I had to take a tranquilliser.

Harris: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Lemony Snickett – they were all game changers in publishing trends. Before them, lots of rejections were based on the belief that such books were too adult for kids and too childish for adults.

Hill: In the 19th Century illustration was understood to be part of the publishing package. Illustrations perfectly captured the character on the page. When Modernism came along, illustrations became viewed as for kids, or very middle class and not high art with a plot. So illustration fell by the wayside. Now so much of our media is digital so it’s great to use it to enrich the analogue page. Illustrations are poised to come back.

Harris: As soon as you send the book out to the public, you’ve released control. That’s how it should be. Everyone will take out of a book what they need, and it’s not necessarily what you put in there but that’s good.

Even when all of us speak the same language, none of us speak the same language.

Harris: I write stories live on Twitter and see how the audience responds as we go. It forces you to think differently about structure, both overall and at a sentence level. Every sentence has to be formed in a different way. A story on the page is different to a story read aloud.

Writing Emotionally

Harris: ‘Write what you know’ is rubbish. There’d be no fantasy, and all crime writers would be in jail, if we did that. But it has to be emotionally true to you. Don’t write love if you’ve never been in love.

Hill: Find a writer you love and try writing them. Go through a page and work out why they did stuff. Can you do it differently? Can you do it better? Write dialogue trees – just dialogue alone, no descriptions or directions. It helps clarify the voices of different characters.

I want to know how a guy dresses from the way he talks. – Steinbeck

Harris: I give my characters D&D stats – Intelligence, Charisma and Constitution. It makes you think of them differently. How are they able to react to different situations, if they have low Cha or low Con? You need to know everything about them, even if you don’t put it on the page. How would they answer internet memes? Or choose from a menu? Go for a walk as your character – what would they notice? Stanislavski’s Method Acting books are my most valuable writing resource.

Planning & Plotting

Ross: If I plan in too much detail, it becomes a chore to write the book and boredom communicates to the reader. First you get it written, then you get it right.

Cadigan: You’re always a bit smarter than you think you are, and you know more about human behaviour than you think you do. Leave enough wiggle room to let that happen.

Reynolds: I always have a skeleton as a reference point, to navigate back from a tangent, but generally I like to be surprised. The downside is you end up throwing a lot of material away.

Cadigan: The dishes are in the sink but I’m too lazy to wash them, so I might as well write a book.

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Thank you, Pat, for that inspiring call to action!

Kishōtenketsu: Japanese 4-Act Structure

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A friend sent me a link to this article last week, which talks about the structure of Japanese horror. It’s quite lengthy but well worth a read. Among other things, it talks about kishōtenketsu – a style of telling stories in four acts, rather than the Western three, without using conflict as the primary plot driver.

At first glance, this really does go against all Western storytelling traditions. Everything we’re taught, and all the media we consume, revolves around creating and resolving conflict. In many ways, it’s how we’re taught to communicate (I’m thinking of debate teams, basically all politics, a good 70% of Twitter, and the badge my mum used to carry on her handbag which said “Because I’m your mother, that’s why”). And certainly the three-act structure is so heavily ingrained that we barely recognise something as a story if it doesn’t follow that pattern. So how does kishōtenketsu work, and how well does it translate to Western audiences?

The Extra Act

We’re used to story patterns that look like this:

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Where the action rises due to conflict, which comes to a head, and is then resolved

The Japanese approach looks like this:

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The extra act, then, is the Twist. In this context, it’s essentially a chance in perspective which makes you reevaluate the events that have preceded it and thus creates tension. It’s best illustrated in horror, with stories like The Licked Hand:

  • Introduction (ki): A young girl is home alone with only her pet dog for comfort.
  • Development (shō): She hears on the news of an escaped convict and becomes frightened. She is too scared to go to sleep without letting the dog lick her hand from beneath her bed.
  • Twist (ten): When she awakes she discovers that her dog is dead and has been the entire night.
  • Conclusion (ketsu): She finds the words “HUMANS CAN LICK TOO” written in blood.

There’s no direct conflict in the story, no goal or motivation, and very little action. The entire tension of the story comes from realising that what you thought happened is not what actually happened.

Causality, rather than conflict, is the vehicle in this type of storytelling. ~ Rudy Barrett

This approach is common across multiple genres in Japanese writing. The scholar Utako Matsuyama attributes it to a fundamental difference in cultural attitude. Unlike the goal-driven capitalism of the West, traditional Buddhist values in Japan focus on eliminating worldly desires. That tends to leave protagonists without a goal – and therefore without opposition to it – which necessarily changes the way stories are told. Conflict is replaced with shifting perceptions of the world. Characters aren’t driven or called to action – things just happen to them. And there’s often no resolution, as we would understand it, but instead just an emphasis of the idea or moral shown in the story.

Same, Same, But Different?

It’s this last point that makes the cultural crossover most challenging. We demand a lot from our endings – a satisfying fate for all concerned, neatly tying up every sub-plot, providing a sense of closure and impact – and if they fail to deliver we judge the entire story by that failure.

Twists, however, are very familiar to Western stories. They’re a staple of our psychological horror genre and a common technique employed by unreliable narrators. They go in and out of style a bit, but we always enjoy a good one and it seriously increases the memorability of a story. We like to be conned, provided it’s done well.

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Signs let me down, it let Joaquin Phoenix down, but most of all it let itself down.

There’s also a number of people who’ve written articles about how conflict is purely a matter of perspective. I read one example (which I now can’t find again, sorry) which framed the story of Star Wars: A New Hope as a kishōtenketsu by focusing on Han Solo’s character development rather than the intergalactic struggle for dominance. Another, unrelated, gave an example of a kishōtenketsu as a fisherman going out to sea (1), catching his dinner (2), his wife and kids hiding from bandits at home (3), and them all being reunited (4). I’d argue that hiding from bandits automatically implies conflict. With the example of The Licked Hand above, again the presence of an escaped convict writing in blood strongly suggests conflict (or at the very least, its looming potential). So there seems to be some fuzziness on the definition of the presence of conflict. Is the hovering possibility of conflict distant enough from the page to count? In which case, I’d argue that Bronte’s Jane Eyre fits fairly neatly into the kishōtenketsu structure:

  1. Jane leaves Lowood School to work for Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall.
  2. Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester but discovers he has a wife.
  3. Jane runs away and inherits a fortune from a (very) distant relative, whilst Thornfield burns down in her absence.
  4. Jane and Mr. Rochester are reunited, with both wife and class distinctions removed.

Compare this with a 3 Act structure breakdown:

  1. Jane leaves Lowood School to work for Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall, with whom she falls in love.
  2. Jane discovers Mr. Rochester has a wife and runs away.
  3. Jane inherits a fortune and returns to a conveniently widowed Mr. Rochester.

Same story, right? Same amount of conflict, just viewing things from a slightly different perspective.

Which, I think, is actually the point in the end. You can tell the same story from multiple angles, simply by deciding what to focus on. The question is what do you, as the writer, think are the important aspects of your story? And remember – it doesn’t have to be conflict. Whatever ‘conflict’ means.

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Right on Paper: Research for Writers

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Last week I was walking home after work, thinking idly about Nine Worlds and the sessions I’d enjoyed the most. I realised that I’d enjoyed them because I’d learned interesting and relevant things that I couldn’t have got from anywhere else. I learned from a London Met police officer, an urban architect, and a disease statistician, applying their specialist subjects to the realm of geekdom and world building. That’s writing gold, and only really available from talking to the right people.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I said to myself, “to have a whole bunch of those ‘right people’ in the same place, sharing their hard-to-reach genius.”

“Well, yes, everwalker, it would,” myself replied. “But you’d need to know who right people are – ”

“I know some of them, and I know where to find others.”

“- and you’d need to know how to organise an event.”

“That’s literally what my day job pays me for.”

So I ran it past my Official Sanity Checker, Dr. Nick, who kindly abandoned his previous position of ‘no more projects until you’ve finished your dissertation’ and succumbed to the lure of talking about spaceships to an engaged audience.

As a result, I am extremely excited to announce Right on Paper – the first in what may (depending on its success) become a series of research seminars for writers and the randomly interested. Taking place in London on 3rd February 2018, there will be lectures from the likes of hackers, medieval weapons experts and vets, all designed to give helpful tips and inspiration for creating your fictional worlds. The British Fantasy Society are very kindly endorsing the event, with discounts available for their members.

There are only 40 tickets available, so get them before they’re gone!