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Friday, March 29, 2019

Digging the Golden Fungus - The SwiftPad Insurgency - Chapter 1

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SwiftPad Bots. But the next generation of bots designed
themselves, and they slowly came back, more stealthy, scary,
and harder to detect.
The app’s Bots often got into arguments with other Bots and
took different sides of real issues, trying to bait “blood-bags” (as
the “Bots” referred to humans) into the fight. There were factions
within factions among the Bots too. There were “Bot” issues,
about which humans were unceremoniously told did not concern
them. The Bots had been designed to fuck with humans. Bots
would slightly lie about real users’ input, the way real people do.
They lied about other users’ input (but didn’t change it) to make
an opposite point. The Bots lied and tried to pretend other Bots
were the real enemy and that they were telling the truth. The
Bots betrayed real users or other fake users (Bots that would then
fake outrage). They would often switch sides in the middle of a
discussion. Since it was impossible to tell who was real and who
was not, this drove people to the heights of ecstatic apoplexy.

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Chapter 1
A Visit to Reigny Deigh
7:00 am, Friday, July 17, 2020

There was a now a huge permanent underclass of homeless Americans, way beyond anything previously, even dwarfing the Great Depression. The man in power, contemptuously called by one and all “Temp-Prez,” had apparently flushed the previous President out in a surprise putsch, and then tried to assume his mantle by continuing his cruel and short-sighted policies. The “Real-Prez” had been on a golfing holiday, when he was somehow convinced to agree (no written agreement has ever been discovered) to “temporarily step down.” His family then had him committed to a “psychiatric facility” in New Jersey hours later.
From The Fall of it All – A History of the Big Dump

What do you know about Cynthia Oglethorpe? Otherwise known as GG.”
Kayla poised the question like a substitute teacher who had only just read the lesson plan. She scanned the room in a vain attempt to make eye contact with someone. Her eyes lingered on Spence.
Spence Stromborn, a.k.a. “Mr. Big Idea,” the “Rainmaker,” silently shook his head and stared out a 27th floor window that overlooked the north side of the city. Swan Island, the 405 bridge over the Willamette, the railroad yard, and even the cliff above the final westward bend in the river, all seemed incongruous with “weird” Portland.
Spence, conceived and storyboarded campaigns for Reigny Deigh Media (RDM), and was meeting his new boss for the first time. Spence didn’t invent “Portland quirkiness,” but via Reigny Deigh’s highly visible national profile, he helped shape and grow it in the online media petri dish that his company kept in the nation’s mini-fridge. RDM’s message - stony, Sasquatchy, gender-bendy, organicy, she's-in-charge-but-still-sexy, and Gen-Y (pronounced in house as “Jenny”) drove many sponsors away, because how do you mass market something that has to be “local sourced”? But RDM’s national profile, and its “bang for the buck” reputation, had brought in more clients than they could handle, even though the country at large was spiraling down the drain.
Spence, 47, as usual, had his Oregon State Beavers baseball cap on slightly crooked, his beard was scraggly and uncombed, and his dark framed glasses were sliding down his nose. He was getting thick in the middle, in spite of his nine-mile bike commute into Portland for work, and then back to Gresham. Sometimes he cheated and took the train in, with his bike, like he did today.
His wife Peggy did Pilates every morning, and they hadn’t had sex in a couple of months, and looking down at his expanding gut, he wondered if that might be part of the reason. Maybe it was the great Oregon beer, even though the hops crop had been miserable last year, because it had just been too hot. It might also be the artisan pizza, and pasta, cheese, and the dumplings, and the peanut butter slabbed on apples and bananas. Well not lately, no bananas, not even in Whole Foods or New Seasons, or any of the other high-end stores. The apple crop looked OK for the coming autumn out of the Hood River. Spence was fit, he told himself. He could ride for hours without tiring. The spare tire around his waist was just latent energy, waiting for a reason to be burned off.
Looking at his new boss, and listening to her yammer on, brought to Spence's mind the fact that the rest of the country thought that the Rose City was full of overly sensitive, politically correct, spoiled, whiny androgynous narcissists. For the most part, it was nothing like that, just a silly stereotype, taken from a silly, out-of-date, cable TV comedy.
Still, it never paid to be too snobby about it. Spence had taken to heart the message of the film Liberty Valance: If the choice was between the truth and the legend – print the legend. The legend had made Portland a top-tier city, and reality had caught up with the legend. Excepting DC, LA and NYC, Stumptown was more influential, with more “soft power” than any other city. The popular TV show, “Rose City Morning” had a huge worldwide following.
Since banning cars in the city proper, a long time drive-time commuter said, “people talked to one another now”. Bicycles packed the bridges at all hours of the day and night. The Trimet, was called, (by a famous Dutch architect) “the greatest mass transit system in the world”. Safe, comfortable, and filled with amenities, (like wine bars and classical musicians), it was a pleasure to ride around the city, whether commuting or just going out. The real “truth” was it really was “better” in Portland.
But everyone knew that the real driver of the “Portland Renaissance” was the mega-millions that SwiftPad had dropped into the city had filled the coffers of every business and entertainment venue in town. Portlanders who had money made more of it. Some of it even leaked out to people who didn't have money. It was just considered incredibly bad form to flaunt it. SwiftPad, for better or worse, defined the nation's conversation with itself. Well, not the whole nation. In RedHat country Portland was Babylon personified. Temp-Prez had recently called Portlanders a “dirty, Godless collection of deviants”. Real-Prez had said much worse, before his forced sequestration.
The river flowing through the city helped feed more than the ducks, fish, and otters. In a world that was drying up, River City was moist with life. The deserts and dry river basins to the south were emptying out and headed north. Tents cities spread in all directions around Portland. And more were coming, and even more were thinking about coming.
Suffering humanity was all around, everywhere, in fact, right outside the downtown building where Spence was working. Back in his yard outside of Gresham, two homeless families, eight people in all, camped in Spence and Peggy’s yard, They used the kitchen and shower and, during the day while Spence and Peggy were working, they used their Internet, and were welcomed in the evening occasionally as guests. It was a tricky balance but they all made it work, for the time being anyway.
Spence wondered if the burden of caring, constantly, unrelentingly, was ever going to go away? There were at least five other homeless families (using the term loosely) living in tents near his house who were mad at him and Peggy, and the “lucky” ones who camped in their yard. They even cursed Peggy as she was leaving the house once. Should they give it all away? Become homeless themselves? They had never had that conversation, but he knew it weighed heavily on Peggy too. It was a conversation that the whole city was avoiding.
A vagabond, a dirty young man, unkempt, in old torn clothes, was contemptuously showing a sullen cop an overflowing wallet; that was the premise of the viral GAP trailer, that RDM had recently produced. Spence of course had created it, and it was playing over and over seemingly everywhere. GAP sales skyrocketed. Spence cringed every time he saw it, and he regretted producing it, even though the bonus he received for it, theoretically was enough for him to retire. As if that would make a difference, he thought.
But back to the question – who was Cynthia Oglethorpe? Most Portlanders knew her as GG, and most everyone in the room had met and talked to her. Cynthia was almost synonymous with SwiftPad. When you thought of Portland, you thought of SwiftPad, then maybe Mount Hood, or the White Stag sign that overlooked the river downtown, or maybe the annual Naked Bike ride, or Nike, or Cascade Sportswear. It seemed impossible to live in Portland and not to know that Cynthia (GG) had been the brains and driving force behind the most successful company in the country.
Spence had once been a close friend of the other SwiftPad founder, Kip “Chubby” Rehain. He got sick every time that thought reared up, because he had turned down a place on the board of directors back when SwiftPad was little more than an idea. He had blown his billion-dollar chance and now he really didn’t want to revive the memory.
The traffic on the 405 bridge over the river was backed up coming into town, as it usually was this early in the morning. Coming in, as Spence had gotten off the streetcar from the Max stop at Pioneer Square, he saw more young, very able-bodied refugees, two, three at a time, heading up the hill toward the tony enclave of Northwest Portland and beyond, into the vast primaeval Forest Park that overlooked the city. Some kind of concert, or Oregon Burning Man? Raining Man? Rain Man?
Normally Spence would be pedaling into work on the Springwater Bike Corridor at this time, but this morning he had brought his bike in on the 6:30 am Trimet Blue Line train from Gresham City Hall to attend the new Creative Director’s ridiculously early meeting. What was the question?
Oh, GG – Cynthia Oglethorpe.
Wasn’t she that GAP underwear model?” Spence spoke listlessly, obliquely mentioning a big client who loved his work, just to let his new boss know with whom she was fucking.
Kayla continued to smile, but with more teeth, and without her Zoloft-like dreamy half-grin.
Charles guffawed into his hand and Joyce snickered.
Alison sat up straight, alertly blank-faced as usual.
Kayla had come from Eastbay Productions. She had a Palo Alto vibe going, with a laid-back Marin County style, but was still Stanford all the way, her hand up and homework done. Definitely not East Bay. Particularly not since the earthquake.
Kayla wielded a highly customized Android tablet like a pro, sliding her fingers over open applets, sometimes pulling one into the other, creating that mirror reflecting a mirror ad infinitum. The tablet projected onto a high def 60” screen, producing a “vision” video, mostly views featuring herself talking. She wore a different outfit in every scene. This morning Kayla wore a plain turquoise blue dress, held up with angel hair spaghetti straps, taken in under the bosom, and plaited down just below her knees. Her wild, dirty blond hair was half controlled by an antique pearl barrette, and her black hiking socks and blue Keen sandals gave her a tacky-retro Portland nerd resemblance.
She was the kind of woman that Spence normally tried to avoid.
Spence was originally from Auburn Hills Michigan, but during his junior year in high school, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, he decided that he wanted to move to the Northwest. Even though he loved literature, and was big in his high school Drama Club, performing a series of soliloquies from various famous science fiction novels at a school assembly, he chose Oregon State, the engineering and agriculture university in Corvallis. Being a bit of a math geek, and having a practical bent to his nature, he studied Civil Engineering, and minored in Computer Science. He discovered he enjoyed writing code too, at first in Perl and Java, and recently in more exotic languages such as SwiftPad-Script.
He married right after college, and he and Vicky moved to 40 miles south, to Eugene Oregon, where Vicky enrolled in a master's program for Ecstatic Dancing at the University of Oregon. Spence got a job at an engineering firm and she got involved in a theater group. About six months later, Vickie, and four other women performed a mimed play at the WOW Hall about patriarchal oppression. Spence had sat in the audience with other boyfriends and husbands, who all applauded enthusiastically. Spence applauded too, but afterwards, he had one or two technical criticisms.
She left him soon after that, and then when he was testing the structural integrity of a concrete sample at his firm’s materials lab, he dropped it on his foot, breaking his left cuboid bone. Even now, years later, his left foot still hurt sometimes. Those were some bad days, he thought.
Now, as he rubbed the top of his left foot with his right heel and looked at Kayla, he realized she had a certain symmetry with Vickie. No physical resemblance, just a resemblance of manner.
A sparklingly fresh addition to Reigny Deigh Media’s collection of quirky creatives,” an IndieWire report said about Kayla Holmes in the “New Faces” section. Quirky creative – the same phrase was also used to describe Spence on Reigny Deigh’s website. Spence thought about what it meant to be a “quirky creative.” Maybe quirky creativity was a condition with the symptoms manifesting as Max Headroom–like spas-spas-spasms?
It was mid-July and the quiet but ubiquitous air conditioning was putting out an uncomfortable chill.
Is anybody cold?” No one answered and Kayla looked around and theatrically shivered. Alison surreptitiously logged into the indoor environmental portal and tuned the temp down a degree. She turned her fone toward Spence as she did it, causing him to stifle a laugh.
Kayla had brought Slashing Queens to Eastbay Productions last year, just before the earthquake, and it was a coup, no question. The Eastbay studio, located in Berkeley, had caused a minor shake-up in the Indie entertainment industry, and Kayla had been its star producer. Second at Sundance, a big write-up in the NY Times. It didn’t make much money, but carried a lot of “cred,” and she had “relationships” with some of next year’s big names, as well as the hottish newbies who often served as the third guest on the late-late night talk shows.
Spence had heard the rumors about Kayla. But neither he nor anyone else even slightly hinted, even in private conversations, how they all thought Kayla had become so successful. Most of her clients (and all of her bosses) were men and – she had that thing…. All this passed through his mind, in and out with no lasting effect. He was going to have to be careful, he thought.
Reigny Deigh Media (like Kayla’s old shop, Eastbay Productions) was putting together deals – movie deals, celebrity partnerships, brand-building, creative “talent scouting,” public relations campaigns, even high-end advertising campaigns for a particular set of indie outfits – bringing talent together, raising money from nouveau riche celebrity stalkers and the young money with Daddy or Mommy issues, mixing it up with West Coast–casual gatherings where wine was drunk out of small mason jars. Customers didn’t flinch at the exorbitant number of hours that were billed for the simplest of tasks, and for the most casual of conversations. Those conditions, combined with the non-negotiable, non-refundable hefty earnest money down payment, weeded out everyone that might have an objection to the RDM experience.
RDM’s founder, Gordy Lobetts, looked 15 years older than he was, and although he had a reputation for being on top of everything, rumors had him stoned (on what? maybe pot, but his occasional manic jags seemed to indicate something else) before and during work, which was only from 10 to 11:30 am because he was usually out of the office every day before noon. Spence, who worked for stock incentives during the formative first six months of the company, still owned approximately 15% of the company – down from 30%, the difference of which he had to sell back to Gordy to pay Vickie’s divorce lawyer.
Spence had met Gordy in Eugene at the WOW Hall – at Vickie’s show. Gordy was on the board of directors, and used the venue to promote most of the out-of-town shows. Much later Spence learned that Vickie had been fucking Gordy on a regular basis way before their final split, but by that time, he and Gordo were deep into some profitable business together and Spence had moved on and just let it go.
Gordy in the meantime got another gig managing talent at a downtown Eugene bar. He had one season of incredible success bringing in low wattage but highly regarded talent. He convinced David Lomberg – the David Lomberg, folk-rock–electric guitar legend – to sign, just after the release of his music video Legend of Squidman, and it was off to the races.
Once Reigny Deigh moved from Eugene to Portland, and became a brick and mortar operation, with an office downtown in the Pearl, Gordy practically disappeared. He sat in the back of the room for some of the get-acquainted meetings, usually for only the first 10 minutes. But beyond that, his company was the crew sitting around that table on the 27th floor of the RDM Tower, with its window overlooking the north side of the city. (Plus about 50 other “support staff” on the 25th and 26th floors.)
Spence had continued to run things at RDM, at least until Gordy introduced Kayla that morning. Spence was wondering if he was on his way out the door, and was sure, as he munched on a double chocolate croissant, that his new boss, Kayla, wasn’t yet 30. Gen X (him) working for Gen Y. Why did this happen, he wondered? Kids born in the late ’80s and early ’90s seemed to have a clear agenda that included no nostalgia, or even much self-awareness, but only their own “bottom line.” Gen Y, being that there were so many of them, like the baby boomers themselves, they had a feeling that history just didn’t exist for them – or if it did, it was irrelevant for the Millennials because they would change history to fit their own needs.
Gordy made it clear that she was to run things, to allow Spence “space” to be “more creative” and to come up with the clever things that made the company what it was. It rang hollow to Spence, because even though Gordy gave Spence a bigger office down the hall from his, and kept him on all the memo distribution lists that Kayla was on, and insisting to everyone that he was the edgy, provocative, grungy, off-the-wall rainmaker he always had been, Spence was still mightily pissed at the new reporting arrangement.
Privately, Gordy told Spence to stop scaring the horses – meaning the money.
(COUGH, COUGH) Kayla continued her presentation.
No. I am pretty – pretty sure Oglethorpe never modeled underwear, although…” she smiled, to let Spence know she was in on the joke, “I do think it would be an incredible GAP trailer.”
GG! Sure,” Spence said, “She’s the SwiftPad chick.”
Kayla’s Zoloft half-smile started to re-appear. “Yes. The SwiftPad chick. Anything is possible though. I mean, once upon a time – I did some modeling…” she said, pausing to allow them to imagine her in gold flaked bra and panties, “…but Spence – didn’t you write the pilot for that TV show – what was it, Sparky something…?”
Sierra Sparks,” said Alison. Kayla turned toward Alison, who had said nothing up to this point.
No, I didn’t write Sierra Sparks.”
Actually Spence was very involved in the development of Sierra Sparks. He wrote half a dozen drafts on the pilot script, in fact came up with the title Sierra Sparks – along with the name of the show’s unreliable narrator, who was always just out of the frame. But when it got to production editing, it was clear Spence’s vision of the project was never going to fly.
Sierra Sparks had a run a couple of years ago on A&E and then had a one-year deal with Showtime. It was now languishing on Netflix. The scumbags at Beezyoo put it together with some older, semi-indie actors and their Santa Monica millionaire friends. It was kind of a Misfits in Mayberry, a “quirky” modern Western with pick-ups driven by the bored wives of ranchers. Some of those ranchers were occasionally off on Brokeback Mountain holidays, or holed up in trailers with child prostitutes, or were PTSD-affected war vets on the verge of suicide. The Indians on the nearby Rez were always outsmarting the rednecks, and a lone sheriff was always fighting for truth and justice. It had a loyal following, but the demographic was fiftyish and rural and they didn’t buy the right stuff, so sponsors lost interest after a short burst of initial enthusiasm.
Sure – great show. But no, I didn’t really – write any scripts. I just consulted and in the end they didn’t listen to me. However – I did bring Nate Schuette in and he wrote some incredible episodes.”
Wait a minute!” Kayla exclaimed like a lawyer who had just caught a hostile witness in a lie. “Schuette? The China guy? No one has seen or heard from Nate Schuette in years. Remember that Vanity Fair article – 'Looking for Nate in All the Wrong Places' – when was that – 8-9 years ago? Ended with the VF writer thinking he might actually be dead?”
I was interviewed by that guy,” said Spence. “I told him that Nate was very much alive, but I wouldn’t help him find him.”
Wow! I was still in school then!”
Spence double-clutched, and shot a glance at Kayla. “I have not seen Nate since 2003. We did correspond through a website when we traded scripts and emails. It was just business. He did it for money. I payed him upfront. Getting the money from the producers was a hassle.”
I thought I read somewhere that you were his friend?”
Spence now gave Kayla a glare that could have burned through a concrete wall. Kayla seemed to lose a little color in her cheeks.
Anyway,” Spence, after taking a deep breath, continued. “Nate’s scripts gave Sierra Sparks a boost – for about four episodes anyway. I mean – you know – it could’ve been…a great series.” Could have been, if the Colorado River hadn’t drained away. The American West was tits up, and no one wanted to be reminded of it by a “quirky Western.”
They made it too homespun…backlit with yellow, brown dirt. Doesn’t pop. The John Ford style doesn’t really work in color, and certainly not on video,” said Spence.
Kayla continued to look at him, waiting, as if she were giving him a chance to apologize for – for what? Spence was getting pissed off and he looked out the window.
What you have to understand, Kayla,” said Alison, “is that Spence is so old school that his ideas now seem new, and that is why it is so strange that his stuff always seems to work.” The room was silent as she paused. Spence looked over at Alison with an enigmatic ponder.
Charles and Joyce, both old friends of Gordy, burst out laughing, then stifled themselves with their hands over their mouths.
In her late twenties, Alison was pretty, in a hard way, with spiky brown hair, faint eyeshadow, and understated, barely dangling earrings. She scared everybody, including Gordy.
Kayla lifted her upper lip and curled the corners of her mouth at Alison’s explanation of Spence’s situation. “Very interesting, Alice.”
Spence smiled at Alison. She said nothing, so he said, “Alison…” and nodded at her. “Not Alice.”
Alison, yes, I knew that – just give me a day or so, I wrote it down here – see ‘Learn their names.’” She held up a piece of paper and looked at Spence. “Thanks, Spencer.”
Spence is fine.”
Well…” again with a dreamy, squinty-eyed smile, that seemed like she was recalling the very first time she had actually enjoyed sex, “Cynthia Oglethorpe – GG as she is known by her techy friends – has just moved back to Portland and is pregnant with one of her SwiftPad colleagues – Jim Hunt. Her experience - what two, three years ago - when she was nearly killed by the madman serial killer – I forget his name – and was saved by then her boyfriend – Kipling Rehain was it? That is a story that is begging to be filmed. It is so…”
She looked at Charles, nodded and smiled.
Spence stifled a scream.
And Gordy wants us to find – or as a last resort to write – the script and put a deal together. Then…” she looked around as if deciding who would get the booby prize, “we go find the money to make the – uh.…”
SwiftPad-C2B script,” Gordy’s disembodied voice reverberated Deus Ex Phonika. “Let’s keep that – story – idea – under our hats – right? Everyone needs to understand – we aren’t quite ready to – but we should know soon. There is something going on tonight that I need…uh,” Spence was not surprised Gordy had been listening, but Kayla appeared a bit shocked. Spence looked at Alison. “Uh…if Spence is still there, could you have him come into my office?” Here we go, thought Spence. “You too, Kayla. Thanks, everyone, we will get back to this later today or tomorrow.”
Kayla and Spence got in the elevator together and gave each other insincere smiles but otherwise rode in silence. They got off at the top floor and went into Gordy’s office, but he wasn’t there. Kayla looked confused and then concerned. She gave Spence a conspiratorial look, which he sardonically returned. Gordy’s face appeared on the 42” flat screen mounted just next to his desk.
He was in his car, and from what could be seen of Burnside street west of I-405 whizzing by, he was heading up the hill toward his condo next to Washington Park.
Thanks for coming up to see me on such short notice. Sorry, I had to – uh – this uh, this – script we need to – uh – it has some…it is going to be…uh – it’s – uh – Spence – well – we have a script request from Telly Haines – you remember Telly? Uh, he is being cagey, he is coming into town tonight, and he wants a meeting pronto. Like tomorrow afternoon. A Saturday! So fucking rude, but…we have that thing, Kayla, so we can worry about that later. After the thing.”
Right. Are you picking me up?”
Uh – oh, pick you up? Right. Telly wants to talk about the Nate Schuette script. You’ve heard of him, Kayla? Schuette?”
She looked at Spence quickly, and looked back at the screen, nodded, and said, “Yes.”
Gordy looked quizzical at her head movements. He took a deep breath, in an effort to pull himself together.
Telly wants Nate Schuette who is…uh…who wrote it, I think. Honestly, I don’t even know if there is a script! But if there is, we want it. I heard that Schuette wrote something about a Howard Hughes super weapon – involving telepathy or something like that. Maybe documentary style, I don’t know. So maybe that can be a bone to throw Telly. Remember, we have to keep Telly at arms’ length and when we land this real SwiftPad story, he must have no involvement – we cut him out. Financially and otherwise.”
Spence looked at Kayla, wondering what the Eastbay wunderkind would say. She was staring at her fone.
Schuette. Yes. He’s – he did some stuff in the ’90s, didn’t he? Wait! Here,” she said, fingering her fone. “Nate Schuette – China memoir – everyone knows about that - here - ‘The Last One In Is a Rotten Egg,’ a fictionalized story about Natalie Wood’s death…”
No, no. He actually wrote it in the ’70s before he went to China,” said Spence.
You mean before she…she drowned,” said Kayla.
Right,” said Spence.
How…?” Kayla began to ask, looking at Spence, to which he smirked, and which she pretended not to see.
Schuette himself showed me his original notes on it.” Spence kept his face neutral and unexpressive. “It was really about something that happened to someone else.”
Well, I am sure you two will – uh –”
What about Telly? Who handles him?” Kayla looked a bit shell-shocked.
None of it matters unless we get Schuette to write the real SwiftPad story for us. You know – GG biting off whatshisname's dick - Spence –”
Yeah,” Spence said. “But what I don’t understand is how Nate Schuette is going to know what to write. Even if he writes it, it would still need to be converted to SP-Script, if we are going to try and run it through the Neural Interface.”
Right,” said Gordy, as if that were just a minor detail.
Fuck, thought Spence, I am the SP-Scripting guy. “I heard that they ran a little test and 19 out of 21 people who were wired up to receive a short SwiftPad-C2B program about snorkeling in Bermuda said they could actually smell the ocean, and they all described snorkeling with a school of yellow reef fish in stunning detail.”
See. I knew it,” said Gordy. “It will be sensational!'”
But three of participants, two women, and a twenty-something man came down with severe headaches afterwards, and one of women is still hospitalized,” said Spence. He really didn’t want to do this.
Oh…” Gordy stopped himself.
How does the SP-script work?” asked Kayla.
It is the same principle as the app’s conversion from text to video – it has an AI lookup function – like an imbedded Google query – and then in real time, it converts that to a “signal” that mimics the brainwave of the same image. So you either need to recreate that image in somebody's brain, and transpose it digitally, or have a library function that had been recreated previously. They still don’t understand how the brain handles it. It comes out slightly different in everyone. There are only about 500 SP-functions available so far, so you almost have to craft new shit from ground zero. And then it has to be run through the C2B interface, which as we know causes problems with some people.”
But no one experiences exactly the same thing?”
No. It is close but different. Anyway, the library of brainwaves is growing,” said Spence. “They are working on a simpler procedure to make new ones. That is the slowest part of the process. You can’t predict what images or other reactions might occur.”
Spence, you will have to make the magic happen,” said Gordy. “And somehow put Nate’s name on it – Johnny loves Nate’s scripts…It will be much more sellable with his name on it.”
Johnny?” Kayla mouthed silently. Depp? Malkovich?
Gordy held up his finger and widened his eyes, as though he were having a brain fart. “…and…uh – Kayla I need you to make him go away. You take care of Telly, OK? You have to use your magic right? But as far as Nate and the script stuff is concerned, Spence, you have control here. You, uh, have a relation – uh, you know him. So, uh… just – uh – run everything by Kayla, OK?”
I haven’t seen or talked to…”
Look, bring in a script.”
A SwiftPad script…”
YES! Of course. So we can plug it into the SwiftPad Neural Interface and then into the C2B! We need to be the first. This is like being DW Griffith. Birth of a Fucking Nation. This is the future.”
Amazon is humping the cheap C2B units!” Kayla was almost hyperventilating. “Six hundred dollars and you can pick up the simple telepathic broadcasts.”
But those things are as likely to burn out all your bulbs - still a science project. Nobody over at SP Central is commenting. Amazon is denying they have ‘enriched the signal.’”
Kayla was gripping the desk. “I agree with Gordon. Even if it fails it will be – really big!”
Exactly. Hold on. I got to pull into the garage.” The screen went blank.
Kayla hit the mute button. She took a deep breath and tried to do her Zoloft smile, but she looked like she was getting her teeth cleaned. “Who’s Johnny?” she asked.
Johnny is this guy none of us have ever met. Gordy seems to run everything by him, he says. Myself, I don’t think there is a Johnny. Who knows? Not sure it matters.”
Great,” said Kayla. Gordy’s head popped up on the screen again. She unmuted him.
“…build on it – two heads better, uh – you know.” Gordy was not in his car, but sitting in what looked to be a fern garden. “Kayla, you need to touch base with me later, OK? If Spence works out the details with the tech people, fine, just – uh, the checkbook is open. The problem is uh – Telly is uh – kind of a loon, kinda right wing – he did that documentary with Whatshisname – the guy – you know – anyway – it was pretty scary,” Gordy started laughing and then started coughing. “He will want to use this – technique – to help his guy in the election if you know what I mean.”
Since the former President got “Sectioned Four-ed” (popular shorthand for the fourth section of the 25th Amendment), Telly Haines had suddenly become known as the media guru for the Acting P (Temp-Prez). That of course, was before the Temp-Prez got beat decisively in the Primaries last spring. No one knew which way Haines would jump now that Temp-Prez seemed out of the running.
Anyway, even if C2B gives 10-20% of people who use it a headache, nobody is going to give a shit. The real money is going to be what we can do with it once this political shit is over with. Think of the possibilities! We could do some politics with it – sex it up, you know. What I want to know – me and everybody else – Will this SwiftPad Interface make you actually cum? I mean, can’t we just somehow associate our candidates with busting a nut?”
Spence shrugged, which somehow Gordy understood.
You two work it out. Bring in Schuette’s script.”
Will do,” said Kayla. “See you tonight Gorden.”
Spence laughed. Maybe it would bring them all down together. Yeah, that might be fun.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cuixin

The Three Body Problem
By Liu Cixin (刘慈欣)

Other than a brief visit two years ago, I have been away from China for 32 years. Before I went, back in the early 80s, I studied the Chinese language for a couple of years pretty seriously. I can still engage in simple conversations, but my fluency has declined, and I periodically dedicate whole weeks to study a little bit every day to maintain my weak grasp on the language.

So, when The Three Body Problem (in Chinese - santi - 三体 - Three Body) came to my attention, I thought I would try to read the Hugo Award-winning Science Fiction novel in Chinese. I read the first three (of some 30) chapters, but even that took me a long time. I had to look up quite a few words and phrases, and I got sidetracked over it, then re-read what I had read, and discovering I really didn’t completely “get” it the first time, etc. I have a friend who has read it, and I wanted to catch up, to have something to talk about. So I switched to the English version and discovered 三体 is a very complicated book in any language.

The Three Body Problem requires its reader to have a bit more than a passing interest in modern physics. I don’t just mean Newton’s classical model, and Einstein's Relativity, but also Quantum Mechanics, the recent discoveries from particle accelerators experiments, String Theory, and it’s associated multidimensional analysis. It doesn’t require the math, fortunately.

The big story is the first contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life. Through an interactive computer game developed by an earth human waiting for their arrival, we learn the “real world” physics problem of a planet that “orbits” three suns. By “orbits”, I mean this planet, Trisolaris, is caught in the gravitational fields of three distinct “suns” (stars) that while also mutually entrapped in each others gravity, vary in every other important aspect (mass, velocity, vectorial direction of movement, etc). Life on this planet is a series of astronomical disasters, and the dominant species has evolved to survive both long and short periods of intense cold and heat and tectonic catastrophes.

The three body problem is a famous physics conundrum, first practically approached by Amerigo Vespucci, the travelling mapmaker, from whom the continents of the western hemisphere are named. The moon, earth and sun are three bodies and Vespucci attempted to use the predicted locations of the moon and sun to determine his position somewhere near Brazil. He predicted wrong.  Newton had not yet been born, so he based his estimate on past locations, and progressions of motion, which don’t really work on any regular basis. In reality, there is not a general mathematical solution to the problem, although there are rules for “special situations” such as the moon, earth and sun, discovered centuries later.

The story is extremely rich in various other physics problems, such as string theory, quantum mechanics, and of course in the general and special theory of relativity. In the English translation of Three Body, the story starts in the 1970s, in China during the Cultural Revolution. I have a Chinese version of the story that skips this beginning, probably because it really shows how embarrassingly awful the CR really was. Ye Wenjie refuses to denounce her father to the Red Guards, and is exiled, and is denounced again when she reads Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring”, and tries to warn people about the dangers to the environment. She ends up with a menial position on the “Red Coast” base with a primitive radio telescope. But her skill and knowledge, (she learned from her father, a famous physicist) mean she is utilized, regardless of her political “unreliability”. Listening to the signals on the radio telescope, she gets the first message from the aliens, the Trisolarians. The sender also warns her not to reply, because the sender is a traitor, and does not want his planet to discover another planet, because Trisolarians will conquer and destroy it. 

One thing I learned in my very shallow and superficial exploration of classical Chinese is that stories have many levels of meaning. Scholars told allegories using figures from the Chinese past to comment on the Emperor's actions.  I am not sure if this was Liu's meaning, but I saw Wen listening for and receiving a message through a radio telescope as a symbol of Chinese isolation from anything in the West. It tells of the longing to make contact with anyone and only having primitive equipment to do it with.  When I lived in Beijing in the 1980s, a decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution, I kept in touch with my family by riding my bike to the telegraph office.

The Chinese version of Three Body starts 50 pages and 40 years beyond all that 1970s history. The full uncensored version, translated to English in the West, is also readily available in Chinese on the mainland, even as a Chinese “Audible”.  Chinese people have relatively easy access to the uncensored version.

But when I did read the first fifty pages in the Chinese version, I think the effect was a more exciting opening, from a story-telling perspective. Its a familiar world, and are thrust into the action, with sharply defined characters, and powerful tension ratcheted up right away at a meeting with an international group of military leaders, scientists, and security experts, American Generals, Russians, Chinese, all scared shitless, trying to come up with a common defense strategy against an undefined extraterrestrial threat. A Chinese detective, Da Shi, a chain-smoking, profane, emotionally calloused, unsentimental cop, is the central character at this meeting. The story started from this point, has a “noir” feeling, kind of Chinese Raymond Chandler yarn. It drags the reader in immediately. But without the background about “Red Coast” base, the reader will eventually be lost, (as I was), because the backstory is critical to understanding why characters act and feel the way they do. It is so much more than a sci-fi “whodunit”.

Once the world knows the invasion is coming (a couple of hundred years in the future, because they are travelling at 10% light speed) we will divide up into factions, one so filled with self-hatred that they will destroy the people of the earth to make it easier for the “Trisolarian” invaders, another that thinks they can help the Trisolarians find a solution to the three-body problem, and somehow not have to invade. And another group that just wants to survive with the Trisolarian as their overlords.

It is the first novel of a Trilogy, and there are two more books to read.  It is definitely not a “beach read’. But if you want to understand the rise of China,, this book will reflect the choices people needed to make it in the peculiar circumstances of China's recent history.  Liu Cuixin's novel starts at the “Frontiers of Science” and pushes borders way beyond what I have read anywhere else.







三体问题是一个著名的物理难题,首先实际上是由旅行地图绘制者Amerigo Vespucci提出的,他将西半球的大陆命名为。月球、地球和太阳是三个天体,韦斯普奇试图利用月球和太阳的预测位置来确定他在巴西附近的位置. 他预测不对。牛顿还没有出生,所以他根据过去的位置和运动的进展来估计,而这些在任何常规的基础上都不起作用。事实上,这个问题并没有一个一般的数学解决方案,尽管有一些“特殊情况”的规则,如几个世纪后发现的月球、地球和太阳。