Thursday, February 19, 2015

Like Mind 2: The Serial

If you're like one of the 25 other people who enjoyed my first novel, Like Mind. Then you probably won't be annoyed while reading the sequel, Like Mind 2 (clever title, I know).

I've been posting the chapters of the sequel to my Patreon page, and I'm all the way up to the second chapter (so it's not too late to get all caught up).

If you're curious about what's going on with all of this you can read the interview below.*

Why did you decide to release this story as a serial?

Great question.

Thanks! I thought it was. You're very kind to--

Aren't I supposed to be the one responding here?

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

No problem. Where was I?

Releasing Like Mind 2 as a serial...

Right. I decided to release this story as a serial for a couple reasons. First is that I needed the next project for my Patreon audience. I'm nearly done with the series of short stories inspired by logical fallacies (the collection will be coming out later this year). Second, Like Mind reads a lot like a serial already. It has short, punchy chapters that often end in cliffhangers -- not unlike the traditional serials of old.

You mean like Dickens' David Copperfield? 

Um... sort of. I was more thinking about the later serials, but if you were on the edge of your seat in suspense reading Dickens then I guess it applies.

So... what's with the title?

It's not quite done yet (neither is the cover). So in the meantime I'm just using Like Mind 2 and the doctored cover from the first book as placeholders until I get the new title figured out.

So what's happening with Corey and Anka in the sequel? 

Well, it takes place about a year after the events of the first book. Corey has been working (begrudgingly) for the NSA at a location in Seattle, but Anka was transferred to Helena, Montana.

But weren't they hooking up at the end of the first book?

Yes they were. At the opening of the second book they're trying to figure out how to be in a long-distance relationship while they both work for the NSA.

Sounds complicated.

Any more complicated than any relationship?

Well, the NSA thing adds a level of complexity that most people don't have to deal with. I think that Corey and Anka probably face a much more difficult road, relationally, because they met and fell in love under distress. Research indicates that relationship that start that way tend to--

Hey, aren't you supposed to be asking me the questions?

Sorry.

It's alright.

Thanks.

Sure thing.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just a shameless (okay I have a little bit of shame, but I'm going to do it anyway) plug for my Patreon page. This thing has really transformed the way that I'm able to create since it provides a consistent income from my work instead of me having to deal with all the ups and downs of selling books the old way.

My patrons are awesome, thoughtful, generous people who help me to keep getting better at writing and telling compelling stories. Because of their high-level awesomeness I'm going to give them the first crack at reading Like Mind 2.

What do you mean by that?

Well, I'm going to put up the first five chapters of the story for everyone to read, but after that only patrons will be able to see the rest until the whole story is out and published.

How much does it cost to pledge?

Patrons can pledge as little as a dollar per chapter (I release one a week, usually on Thursdays).

Thanks for your time. 

Thanks for interviewing me. I had a lot of fun.

*I am playing the parts of both the interviewer and the interviewee. Plus other parts as they come to mind. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What Makes a Bad Guy Bad?

The Good, the Bad, and the Violence

A few weeks ago I finally got around to watching the movie The Equalizer. In it, Denzel Washington plays a construction store worker (think Home Depot) who lives a mysterious life (I'm going to spoil some stuff, so if you haven't seen the movie, you might want to stop now).

We find Denzel sleepless and a regular at an all-night diner frequented by him and a young prostitute with ambitions of becoming a singer. When the prostitute is hit by a john, she fights back. When her pimp finds out, he puts her in the hospital. Denzel's character tries to buy her out of slavery, but is turned down by the Russian Maffia.

So far, so good. The script hit all the right notes and set up for some cool (if gory) action. But when the thugs decline the offer to buy the girl out of slavery, Denzel ruthlessly murders them all (I think there were six people in the room).

In response, the Russians send over their best hitman to find Denzel and end him.

Here's where the writers of the movie faced a problem. Denzel was meant to be the good guy, but he committed premeditated murder on more than one occasion in the film (as opposed to killing in self defense). They needed a villain who was worse than that so their Russian hitman is seen at one point killing one of the other prostitutes for no reason.

In order to set up a situation in which Denzel is the "good guy" the "bad guy" has to be significantly worse. If Denzel is a murder, then the hitman has to murder women.

How Good is Good? 

There's a code of violence in fiction that tells us where the characters are on the good-bad scale. A white-hat, pure-good hero doesn't kill. The cowboy shoots the guns out of the hands of the bad guys. But some violence is always to be expected from the hero. The good hero with the truly evil villain will usually see the bad guy die without the hero committing the act. It might be falling off a cliff or crashing in a helicopter while making an escape, but the hero's hands are (technically) clean. The farthest end of the pure-good hero is someone like Batman who refuses to kill, but uses fear and violence with abandon.

Heroes that kill are the majority of the action heroes in fiction. The last-resort killing is the most mild end of the spectrum (like Superman in Man of Steel). The middle of the killers spectrum is those who kill out of self-defense. The bad guys are attacking and the hero won't survive if he (let's be honest, these are mostly men) won't kill them back. War heroes are usually in this segment. We also have the anti-hero who kills wantonly, but according to a strict code. The Punisher or John McClane would be at this end of the spectrum where they kill a lot of people, but only those clearly identified as bad guys.

Gender, Age, and Killing

Heroes are never allowed to kill women or children. That's just too evil for people to stomach. Even the darkest, most anti-hero of heroes can't kill anyone but men. So if we want to show that a villain is truly villainous he'll kill women and/or children, because that's a line that no hero would ever cross.

Male heroes can only kill other men, otherwise they cease to be good. Female heroes (when they exist), can kill both men and women and still remain heroic. Child heroes (e.g. Hit-Girl in Kick Ass), can kill men, women, and children. Child heroes cannot, under any circumstances, kill someone who appears younger than them. So Katniss can't kill the younger kids in The Hunger Games and still be good, but she can kill the kids who are her age or older.

Torture and the Justification of the Means

Jack Bauer is a patriot for beating up a bad guy until he reveals the secret location of the bomb. But Nazi overlord is evil for torturing one of the members of the underground in The Man in the High Castle (which, if you haven't seen it, you should watch immediately).

The means -- torture -- is only justified if the end is good. So Jack Bauer is a hero for torturing someone for the purpose of saving lives, but the Nazi is evil for torturing to try to take lives.

Stories and Reality

All of this makes for a fun examination of fiction tropes, but beyond that it also explains a lot about the shape of our society. Fiction both reflects and refines what's happening in society. 

The spectrum of violence speaks to our need to see morality as relative rather than absolute. We consider a person good if they are relatively better than the person who is bad, not because they hold to an unwavering ideal of ultimate goodness. We also have the need to categorize conflict as between good and bad, right and wrong -- even when neither side is objectively right or good. We simply make the opposition worse so that, by default, our side becomes good. 

The gender and age rules of violence are steeped in our gender and age rolls. For all of the movement toward gender and age equality it's still expected that when a ship is sinking the women and children will escape first. Conversely, it's still expected that a good man will not harm a woman or a child. However, as we have made strides in our society toward greater equality we find that both women and children can become the aggressors in conflict. While we're okay with "strong female leads" kicking butt and killing men as they fight through the hordes of foes, the death of a woman or child in fiction is always a rare and special thing holding to their status as the parties that good men ought to protect. 

Finally, torture in fiction informs our view of torture in reality in chilling ways. Though there is no evidence that information obtained through torture is accurate, we still persist in using torture as a nation (the United States), and many people are okay with that torture because it is for the ostensible purpose of saving lives. 

As an author I struggle with these things regularly. For example, I want to write about women who are equal to men. But then I have to allow women to both kill and be killed by women and men. That breaks the unwritten rules of violence in stories, but it's for the purpose of promoting true equality. 

Is that okay? Am I using the ends to justify the means? 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Strawman

The strawman stands without legs, commands with no voice, and frightens with no emotion.
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The first time you argue with yourself it’s kind of weird.
I remember the first time it happened to me. I didn’t want to do it. I did everything I could to avoid it. But they made me.
“If you don’t have the conversation,” she said, “we won’t be able to let you back in.”
She was talking about the LDN — the Lucid Dreaming Network. I’d been expelled. I don’t really want to talk about it. I guess that’s why they made me.
“Do you understand?” she looked over the rim of her glasses, past the readout projected on the inside of the lenses, and her brown eyes gave the question mark to her words.
“Yeah.”
“Good. Then we can proceed.” She didn’t wait for more of an affirmation from me. I was strapped into a chair, what else was I going to do? Her white coat whirled around her thighs as she turned to the nurse in the room. “Start the drip. Prep the network. And don’t forget the mouth guard this time.”
The young, skinny nurse shambled about his tasks. He clearly didn’t want to be there either. Straps kept me in the room. I wondered what kept him there. His eyes stayed on either the ground or whatever it was his hands were working on at the time. They never met mine.
The doctor kept talking as drugs flooded my system.
“In the past we had therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and they were the substitute for us. They stood in for us so that we could argue with ourselves. Seriously, look it up. It’s trippy. People actually paid other people to pretend to be them so they could talk. They would set up meetings and get into rooms. They had all sorts of rules about confidentiality since that therapist was pretending to be the person they were talking to. They trained, for years, to get a degree so they could argue with people. Now we do what we were meant to do and we just have that conversation with ourselves.” She looked at me as if I cared about her lecture. My vacant stare did very little to dissuade her.
“The LDN is a difficult place for some of us. Sharing all of those experiences with all of those people can become overwhelming. We can forget what’s real. We can forget what’s right. We can forget who we are. So we created this little program as a reminder.” She didn’t mention that it was compulsory for anyone who violated the LDN terms of service to go through, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean ‘we’ in the sense that she’d ever done this before.
“When you go inside you’ll feel like you’re dropping into the LDN, but it’s a solo dream. There won’t be anyone else in there except you. The only difference is that we’ve given you medicine that allows the AI to separate your emotions from your mind. You can talk to yourself in there. You’ll see your emotions as a person. Just talk through the issues with yourself. Once you get things sorted we can reauthorize your LDN account. Yes?”
I nodded. She smiled at me with her teeth. Her eyes were busy reading something on her glasses. She nodded, but not to me.
My world melted away. 

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Read the rest here

Friday, January 9, 2015

Personal Incredulity

When your senses contradict your beliefs something has to give.

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What do you do when something can’t exist, but it does? How does your mind cope? How do you incorporate the knowledge of the impossible into your mundane life?
If you’re like most people, you refuse to believe in what your eyes show you and what your ears hear. Your senses are fallible, but usually reliable. Your eyes usually tell you what you need to know about the world, but sometimes they play tricks on you. Your ears guide you through a world of sound, but sometimes phantom songs float in the ether. You don’t see any problem with that, usually. You accept the fallibility of your senses as a part of life. You accept it as an exception that proves the rule.
So, when you see something so far outside the realm of normalcy, you simply reject it as being unreal. It’s a figment. It’s an artifact. It’s an exception.
But what happens when it’s more than just your eyes? What if other people see it too? What happens when it’s more than just your ears? Other people hear it too. What happens when there’s video? What happens when there are recordings? What happens when there is data to be evaluated?
Again, if you’re like most people, you will still reject the data in favor of an explanation that’s more rational. Most people don’t believe in UFOs or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, but there are pictures, video, and data for them all. Most people look at the data and dismiss it, just like they do for their own vision, as the exception that proves the rule.
You’re skeptical. That’s good. The alternative would be to believe every lie that every scam artist throws at you. You’re better than that. You’re smarter than that.
That’s probably what led you to make this mistake. You rely on your skepticism to guide you. You rely on your mind to tell you when your senses are wrong. You trust yourself. Too much. Now, when there is so much evidence that contradicts what you believe, you don’t know what to do. You could either change what you believe or reject the evidence. You, like most people, choose the latter. It just makes sense.
Dragons do not. 

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Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Begging the Question

Fear is primal. Fear is overwhelming. Fear is human.
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Most people don’t go down the rabbit hole. It’s deep and dark and scary. It leads back on itself. It leads back to our roots. It leads back to our fears. It leads back to our death. That’s why most people don’t go there. But I have to.
The world, or rather the facade of the world, is bland and boring. Sure it looks exciting. Sure it looks like there’s a lot going on, but most of that has been drummed up by the people who want to maintain the facade. Quietly, slowly, the world is changing. We see the sameness paraded in front of us all the time. The sameness is bankable. The sameness is marketable. The sameness is the wool over our eyes.
The same shows. The same news. The same worries. The same hopes. The same fears. The same goals. It’s the rhythm of it all. We — humans — seek rhythm. Each day gives us a rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Each week gives us a rhythm of work and rest. Each month gives us a rhythm of darkness and light. Each year gives us a rhythm of traditions and remembrances. Rhythm is numbing. Rhythm is controlling. Rhythm is life — the beat of our heart and the catch of our breath — but rhythm is death too.
It’s my job, my purpose, to break the rhythm. Not so you can follow me, but so you don’t have to.
See, I’m a stress-tester for the LDN — the Lucid Dreaming Network. Everyone wants sweet dreams, or at least dreams with manageable fears. We want the fear of not making the winning shot in the championship game, not the fear of falling to our death, not the fear of being naked in front of our teacher or boss, not the fear of all our teeth falling out. Those fears are too primal, too close, too real. We need fantasy fears and fantasy joys. But the only way to expunge the real fears is to trigger them. The only way to trigger them is to dream them.
Solo dreams are, generally, only lightly monitored by the LDN. You get in and create whatever you want. You don’t need anyone’s permission to dream your own dreams — which is why most people don’t use the LDN for solo dreams. Once you learn lucid dreaming you don’t really need to hook up to a computer to do it. What you need the computer for is to dream with other people. And when you dream with other people things can get messy.
My job is to have the most terrifying solo dreams possible — while connected to the LDN — so the system can calibrate the group dreams to prevent terror.

You’re welcome. 
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Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Slippery Slope

Cyber warfare knows no borders, respects no treaties, and takes no prisoners.
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The first attacks were secret. The world rarely knew that anything was happening — even though warfare was raging around them — because it was in the best interest of everyone to keep it a secret. Companies attacked companies. Nations attacked nations. Hackers attacked everyone. But they all worked hard to remain hidden. The attacks had goals: blackmail, top secret plans, money, or sabotaging the work of the enemy. Rarely did the attacks become public knowledge. Stuxnet in 2010, was an outlier. They — the US and Israeli governments — didn’t want anyone to know what they were doing. In 2014, the North Koreans attacked Sony over the release of a film mocking their leader. In 2017, India sabotaged China’s currency market. In 2020, Russia uploaded malware to the major solar panel manufacturers in an attempt to cripple the main competition for its oil exports. In 2024, a shadowy group of hackers stole the code for self-driving cars and threatened to cause all the cars to crash if they didn’t receive payment. Those, however, are only the few battles we know about. Many, many more remained hidden.
The war raged, as wars do, and for most people life went on as normal. The battlefield was high-level servers, corporate secrets, and government security systems. Most of the world didn’t notice or care, but for those in the fight it became more and more clear that the war would have to end — one way or another. The alliance formed along predictable lines. The United States and Western Europe stood together. They were joined by Brazil and Japan against the loose coalition of Russia, India, China, Iran, and North Korea. Past hurts led to future attacks. War is war, after all.
For the average person the conflict barely registered. Sometimes people complained about slow internet speeds. Sometimes the self-driving cars failed to pick people up at the appointed time. Sometimes a package delivery drone would leave the item at the wrong address. Minor inconveniences that were easily shrugged off. Now we know — through the hindsight of history — that great battles were raging. The slowing of the internet happened because vast botnets with billions of computers were throwing data at each other and taking nearly all of the bandwidth available. Drones and cars were misled because the GPS system was spoofed and the automated vehicles didn’t know where they actually were.
What we know now is that the allies won. What we know now is that they took steps to ensure such a conflict would never happen again. What we know now is that they were foolish, misguided, and ignorant of history. What we know now is that we are paying for the mistakes of the victors with our lives. 

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Read the rest here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Appeal to Authority

Every technology has its dangers and its benefits. The most beneficial are often the most dangerous… and the most irresistible.
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Dear Madame President,
This moment demands greatness, anything less will fail. Everything we know, everything we hold dear, is at stake. Our nation is at war and we cannot know if we will win or lose, but we do know the cost will be unimaginably high. I have reflected for a long time before daring to write you. Know that my words are chosen with great care, not because of you or me, but because of the country we both serve and the repercussions of our actions that will echo through the ages.
In a previous generation on a previous project at the crux of a previous war a predecessor of mine wrote a predecessor of yours with serious concerns. The United States was about to unleash the atomic bomb on the world. The scientists who were working on the project feared what would happen when such power was unleashed. Some of them even considered the possibility that the atmosphere might ignite and kill all of humanity after the first detonation. Their worst fears proved unfounded, but there were plenty of founded fears that still remained. We suffered through a Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear strikes. We strove to keep the wrong people and the wrong countries from gaining access to nuclear technology — whether for weapons or energy — because we feared what we had created.
You and I stand at a similar crux now. On this day I write to you with all of the same fears as my predecessors. Yet my fears are founded on the cornerstone of history and experience. I have seen what nuclear technology has done to the world. I know the number of lives lost in the attacks. I know the money spent to ensure mutual destruction. I know the constant fear of a bomb or missile falling from the sky and erasing all life. The fears of the scientists working on the Manhattan project were based in theory; my fears are based on fact.
So, Madame President, it is with regret that I must decline your offer. Though I dearly love my country and I trust you as a person, I cannot trust those with whom you would share my work. Nor can I trust your successor, nor the intelligence community, nor the international black market that might tempt the intelligence community. To be sure my work would proceed much more quickly with governmental funding. To be sure I would be able to accomplish more in defense of our nation if I could add to my work the work of others in my field. To be sure the work would get done, but the outcome of that work is far from sure.
I have an obligation — even a sacred trust — to ensure that what I create does not follow the path of history. I cannot start another Cold War. I cannot offer another tool for extremists around the world to vie for. I cannot allow my work to become the death knell for humanity. And that is quite possibly what it could be. We don’t know — just as we did not know if the atomic bomb would ignite the atmosphere and we did not know if the Large Hadron Collider would produce micro black holes with enough gravity to rip apart the Earth — and it is the very fact that we don’t know the worst that could happen that I cannot be complicit in that risk.

As Dr. Stephen Hawking said, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.
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Read the rest here.