Hello, readers. This is your slightly sunburnt host, Cheeseburger Brown.
I'm hard at work making preparations to launch our next serial adventure. In the meantime, I'd like to initiate an experiment in broadening the mandate of this blog. In the past this blog has (almost) exclusively been a dissemination point for new original content. The showcasing of serial stories will continue, but I'm also going to add more meta-content concerning the process of how the stories are actually built.
For my first contribution in this vein I'd like to offer up my raw story notes for the most recent novella to run on this blog, Idiot's Mask -- my planned Valentine's Day tale which, due to a confluence of meatspace circumstances, took far longer than anticipated to conclude (four months rather than, say, four weeks). Life can be like that.
Please do let me know in the comments whether you find this exercise to be a good or bad addition to this blog. Is this kind of thing interesting to you, or just an annoying distraction? Be candid.
Without further preamble, here is the first in our series of peeks under-the-hood at the works of the Cheeseburger Brown Storytelling Factory. Be sure to heed the warnings of any Oompa-Loompas you may encounter along the way.
UNTITLED VALENTINE'S STORY
2 February 2009
This is a love story. Our boy is a member of revolutionary forces; our girl is the victim of a kidnap plot designed to put pressure on the government. When the plan goes awry, our boy and girl escape together and live in happiness awhile before their secret is unmasked and jutice meted out.
Greater Metropolitan Fingal, Planet Penardun, at Dzigai Star
Ilbis and Penardun are two Solar worlds orbitting the Dzigai Star. The system also features a Jovian world, Hoj, with several moons inhabited by workers of commercial and industrial interests. For the most part, the labourers are Ilbisi and the managers are Penardu.
A century before the events of this story, Penardun seized military control of Ilbis after a collapse of the latter's economy. The Hojan moons, heretofore only loosely organzied under Ilbisi stewardship, are taken over by Penardun who restructure them into efficient and highly profitable enterprises benefitting the entire system.
As a consequence, Dzigai becomes very wealthy very quickly. The standard of living on all worlds in the system is raised. However, as the decades pass many Ilbisi become increasingly concerned as executive power is concentrated in Penardu hands. As the new society coalesces and hardens, barriers to entry prevent or discourage Ilbisi from positions of influence. Cultural legitimacy is eroded as rich Penardu increasingly view their Ilbisi brethren as crude and anti-intellectual, leading to parody and mockery and, ultimately, systemic denigration and bigotry.
Now, a new generation of angry young Ilbisi are fomenting rebellion: staging work stoppages, sabotaging equipment, and even committing acts of terror against the government and military. The political arm of their movement demands a permanent seat for an Ilbisi voice in parliament, regardless of whether the critical mass of voting Ilbisi could support their election. To this end, they have engaged in a continuous series of dramatic manoeuvres in order to force the hand of the ruling party.
Penardun culture traces its roots back to an ancient movement once known as Commercial Islamic Futurism (q.v. Two Moments of Invention).
In its original inception, members of a CIF community gave away all expectation of personal privacy within the community in exchange for having their behaviour continuously monitored by all other members of said community. In this way, each man carries a mass-conscience with him to warn him away from sinful or blasphemous pursuits. As the same time, he can never be falsely accused of a crime since he always has a cohort of witnesses to back up his testimony.
The modern variant on Penardun is called Social Futurism. The key distinction is that citizens are only mass-surveilled when outside the home, by a community of their choice. Many conscientious communities of differing moral systems live side by side on Penardun, each policing their own via apparatuses fitted as heavily stylized masks (basically portable Roman Lararia).
All Penardu people have a series of lares/masks, worn to fit different social occasions or protocols. To appear outside the home without a Lar is not only illegal, but scandalous and obscene. A Lar is capable of relaying perception streams from the wearer directly into the appropriate mass-conscience, thus assuring that the wearer violates no rules. The wearer is also subject to random streams from other citizens, which they judge as either good or bad. Their judgements are tabulated and weighed to achieve a mass-conscience score communicated to the originator of the stream to inform them of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their actions.
There is a niche of the criminal underground that specializes in pseudo-Lars which permit an illegitimate person to move about socially, or a legitimate person to commit secret acts.
A strong tradition of iconoclasm means that human-form robots are not employed on Penardun, though they do exist on Ilbis and exist in great numbers on the Hojan moons. So entrenched is the semantic importance of Lar-based visual conventions that a younger tradition has evolved with Lar-like faces affixed upon everything from vehicles to appliances, in order to convey their function, mood and appropriate use to citizens.
Lithloric "Idiot" Waterpipes.....Our boy
Venus Constant.....Our girl
Vizier Victor Constant.....Our girl's father
Brigadier "The Fist".....Revolutionary
* We introduce the telling, and hint at the predicament of the narrator.
* He sets the scene and the times: it's a hard life on Ilbis...
* ...But The Fist provides him an enticing opportunity.
* The job is already underway. Narrator waits with his unit until the kidnap victims are delivered, then they transport them into the mountains.
* On the way it feels like a summer road trip.
* They arrive at the enclave, and the prisoners are loaded into an underground vault, shielded and secure. One breaks away. He is the girl's bodyguard. He mocks The Fist, who executes him, sobering the mood.
* Narrator describes his shifts watching over the female prisoner. Over the course of days, they begin to chat some. She finds his ignorance about Penardun amusing, and he finds her grace hypnotic.
* The Fist is furious. The authorities do not even seem to be LOOKING for the girl. No reply has come to the ransom demands. The media is silent. Narrator is awoken as The Fist roars into the enclave and begins beating the prisoner.
* Narrator interrupts, and is himself assaulted. At this point the girl says she will tell The Fist why no one is looking for her: because she isn't really here. She is, in fact, a facsimile created to replace her already dead self for the sake of her grieving father, powerful enough to own a sophisticated robot despite the law.
* The Fist is scared. This means they aren't facing police or parents, but rather the vizier's shadow guard. The Fist has no bargaining power: they will be massacred if they are found.
* All are distracted by the sounds of forces storming the compound above. Narrator is left behind while the others move to investigate and retaliate. Terrible noises sound from outside the enclave.
* They wait a long time in silence before the narrator emerges to look. Everyone is dead, and the attacking forces have withdrawn. Already, rude scavengers are wandering closer to sift the debris.
* He covers her in shielding and together they set off on foot into the night...
* "Why bother with me?" "I don't know. Should I let you go?" "I don't know."
* They share a modest flat rented to them by Mr. Lifeloaf. Narrator carefully shields her before they go out of doors, so that she cannot be detected. They cannot pinpoint exactly when they have fallen in love.
* They wear counterfit Lars.
* Lifeloaf explains to them the nature of a prison, and how one's heart may make it so. His life, while poor, is good: his boys go to school instead of work. They can choose.
* She has encouraged him to find a proper job, and he has: first as a humble labourer, but then working with delinquint youth. They form a dream and a plan: to save up the funds they'll need to leave this world forever.
* At his encouragement, she begins to craft original musical compositions.
* It's a wonderful life.
* Until in public she is de-Larred by a revolutionary as they storm the city, thereby making her detectable. In obeyance with her programming, she self-destructs.
* Narrator knows he will take her dying note to his grave...and he does.
* The narrator is visited in prison by the vizier.
* His crime is a capital one, and there is nothing to be done, but before he is executed the vizier wishes to know where the compositions found in his flat came from. Narrator explains that the robot daughter gained the ability to be creative.
* The old man laments his attempts to thwart time and make statues of living moments, and suggests he should melt down the current model. Narrator objects: "No, she can be happy! I've heard her laugh! We've even...made love."
* The vizier comes to understand that the version of his daughter really did forge a meaningful connection with the narrator, and grew beyond her static form. And so, after a thoughtful silence, the vizier asks if the narrator would help him arrange it so that she could feel and act that way again: by submitting to be replicated as an illegal robot companion for her in secret, before his real self is terminated.
* He agrees.
Possible Themes to Explore
1) Tension between iconoclastic and iconophilic facets of Penardu culture existing simultaneously, encouraging strange civilization-wide fetish-like behaviours with respect to faces, images, reproductions, anthropomorphicism and verisimilitude (q.v. Plato's Cave, Byzantine/Muslim purges, Russian ikons, Baudrillard).
2) Reductionist versus Gestalt interpretation of objects or events (definition via underlying structure versus definition via emergent behaviours). Which is closer to the Platonic Idea-in-itself of a given phenomenon: the molecules of a virus or the symptoms it causes? Further: can they be meaningfully distinguished at high levels of complexity?
3) Choice and freedom: can they be understood without context? If all choices ride on the backs of underlying foundations of previous choices (and so recursively ad infinitum), in what sense are they artifacts of will versus artifacts of circumstance? In a chaotic universe tumbling along according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is it arbitrary/illusory to define objects and events as in any way discrete post-First Cause?
4) The relative pragmatic value of truth and falsehood in terms of understanding relationships and the world: can willful ignorance be useful and good? Could it be that the Penardu are over-educated to the point where they cannot recognize the most salient aspects of their own society? Could the narrator's simplicity be a blessing?
"Trust is not a factor if the mind is revealed to you."
"You can fellate my pony, sphincter!"
"Never tell a dying man to be patient; it is unkind at best, and perhaps even dangerous."