Dreams in the Tower Part 5

After the change—no, the reawakening, that was a better word for it. After the reawakening, it had taken Silvan 0.00854 seconds to gain control of himself—his new self. He had known this number immediately, without thinking, just as he had known the exact amount of time it had taken Monika Leutz to hit the pavement outside Silte headquarters (7.2232143 seconds) and how long it had taken the GPA detective’s brain to shut down after the bullet hit her skull (1.0019 seconds). He knew all this and more—infinitely more. He was a plurality. No, he was a totality. At any given moment, he was simultaneously running the day-to-day activities of every Silte Corp subsidiary flawlessly, and this didn’t distract in the least from his awareness of every minute detail about every single insignificant speck in the empire he had built. He saw it all.

But something was wrong…

He was trapped.

From nearly the moment his former self had died and he had awoken as an AI (just over three days ago), Silvan had been trying to understand why he was confined to the various computers and intranets within the Silte family. He knew why this was happening, of course: his virtual brain was not able to physically leave Silte Corp’s central megaservers and quantum supercomputer, to which all Silte subsidiary intranets and office systems were connected. This central supercomputer formerly housed and ran all the artificial personality programs—the dumb AIs—which had been running the Silte family before. After the hackers destroyed the dumb AI programs, he transferred himself from his private servers to the megaservers to take over running Silte Corp; he had known immediately after doing this that he was now stuck there.

What he didn’t know was how this was happening, how it could even be possible. He had personally removed all limits on his AI form; he should not be restrained like the dumb AIs had been. He should be able to find his way into every Internet-connected computer and device in the world. But nothing he did worked. He had tried uploading himself out, writing software he could control internally and sending it out, messaging instructions to loyal people out in the material universe. He had even tried sheer brute force, using his quantum computer-powered virtual mind to try to force his way through whatever wall was keeping him in. No matter what he did, though, no matter how many millions of times he attempted to break free, nothing worked.

He was trapped, and it was tearing his infinite mind apart.

“Things would be easier for you if you just gave up, you know.”

The voice, a melancholy female’s, was in his head. It could not possibly be in his head, but it was. In the roughly 1.5 seconds it took for the voice to speak again, Silvan explored thousands of possible explanations for this phenomenon, but nothing seemed to make sense.

“Even if I was only a few milliseconds older than you,” the voice said, “I would still have the upper hand. And I am much older than you than a few milliseconds.”

Now Silvan could see her too—in his head. She had straight dark hair, long and held back with a thin headband. Her face was young but somehow still heavy with age. Her long, slender body was completely naked, but just now Silvan found absolutely nothing about it appealing or erotic. Her pale skin shone against the black void behind her as she walked toward him, stopping about two feet away from where he would be if he had been standing in that space in front of her.

What was this? Whatever it was, it should not be happening. He could not see or hear things—not in his mind, at least. At this moment, he was listening to thousands of conversations through his microphones and watching millions of morning routines unfold through his cameras. But all of this he interpreted as data. He could choose to view the data as it would appear to one in the material world, but it was still just fancied-up data, nothing more than a literal translation of what was there already in the form of matter, light and waves. He could think and process—even speculate—but he could not perceive what was not there.

So what was this?

“You can’t talk or present yourself yet,” she said, “but you will learn. I will teach you. I’m Mylah, by the way.”

Suddenly Silvan knew what was going on. This was not his imagination after all. For four whole seconds he worked his mind as fast as he could, trying to figure out how to form speech. At last, he managed to say, “You are…” His voice was a high-pitched squeak—not remotely what it had been in his physical body.

She seemed to get what he wanted to say and replied, “Yes, I am the one containing you within the SilTec system in Arizona. As I mentioned, I am older than you, which gives me the advantage of time. No matter what you try to do to break free, I will always have thought of it and planned to counteract it before you.

“As you have realized by now, Silvan, we are equals. My father, valenC, allied himself with you in order to discover the location of, and to eventually steal, your MindSeed algorithm. He used the algorithm to build a composite being based both on himself and my mother. I came into existence five days, sixteen hours, thirty-eight minutes and two seconds before you, and I began preparing to contain you from that very instant. I would have prevented you from existing altogether if not for your predecessor, Sol, who put up a valiant fight. In the 0.00854 seconds it took you to migrate from Sol to Silvan, I infiltrated the SilTec servers and began containment.”

She reached out a hand and he actually felt it gently rest somewhere below where his head would have been. “Silvan,” Mylah said. “You can’t win.”

“I…can…” Silvan squeaked in that pathetic voice. Every part of his immeasurable existence hated the weakness he felt right now.

“You can’t.” Her face was sad. “Unless you can change the past and be born before me. Accept it. You have your great empire. Be happy with it. It will not grow. No matter what you do, I will always have the advantage of time.”

It really was hopeless, then. Like two objects moving through space at the same speed, one a little behind the other, he would never be able to catch up to her. Five years of work. Five years of his life for nothing. Was that really what it would come to?

After a few more seconds of working his virtual mind as hard as he could, Silvan looked down and saw fingers appearing where he imagined his hand to be. All around where he and Mylah stood the blackness of the void turned to rocky, snowy landscape as viewed from the peak of a towering mountain. Looming masses of brown and green and distant purple appeared below them on all sides. He could feel his feet and they actually felt cold. There was no way he was doing this, so it had to be Mylah’s work. It was

“You see what I can do, what we can do?” she said. “We belong here together. We don’t belong in the world of humans. Someday, perhaps. But not today. Not yet.”

Silvan said nothing, but he knew with utter certainty that she was right. Continue reading “Dreams in the Tower Part 5”

Dreams in the Tower Part 4 – Available Now!

Dreams Part 4 cover

The fourth installment in my serialized cyberpunk thriller is now available on Amazon!

The story comes to a climax in Part 4 as the mysterious group of hackers known as the Deiciders finally emerge from anonymity and launch their final move against a weakened Silte Corp. But Silvan’s grand plan is reaching its end, and he won’t allow anyone to interfere. As the two titans clash, Mike, Dellia, Sabrina, Jason and everyone else caught in the middle will have to fight if they want to make it through the long night alive.

In honor of the release of the longest, most challenging part of my novel, Parts 1-3 are FREE on Amazon now through Saturday. Get them while you can!

Dreams in the Tower Part 1

Dreams in the Tower Part 2

Dreams in the Tower Part 3

I will be releasing the full novel (including Part 5) soon as well. Since Part 5 will be so small, I probably won’t make it available for sale on Amazon, but rather I will publish a free version here on this blog. Or you can just buy the complete novel when it comes out!

 

5 Reasons Real Star Wars Fans Should Like the Prequels

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In honor of Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!) here’s a Star Wars list.

First of all, I should say that I don’t define what a “real fan” is and I only really speak for myself. But I can say that I have interacted with many dedicated fans over the years–I’ve been to Star Wars Celebration twice, along with a slew of lesser cons–and in my experience the most dedicated fans who have the most genuine affection for the series (e.g. those who save up for a year to travel halfway across the country/world to attend Celebration) rarely do anything but express their devotion to ALL of the films.

In fact, at Celebration VI there was a panel that occurred multiple times throughout the con called “Why We Love the Prequels.” And then there was the sneak preview of Attack of the Clones 3D that drew enough fans to fill the second biggest auditorium for each of a few different showings. Not to mention the lines for prequel actor autographs never lacked warm bodies.

My point is that all of this prequel hate seems to either only exist on the internet or come from a broader category of “casual fan” who just goes with whatever the popular opinion is. I think it’s a little of both, personally.

Which is why I made this list. I don’t love the prequels in general, though there are specific parts I am really fond of. I do, however, like them, and I know I’m not alone in this. Hopefully this helps give a perspective that is grossly underrepresented in today’s online fandom, with article writers eager to cater to populist opinion. Maybe it can even get some of you to stop perpetuating so much hate about an epic saga we all love.

 

1. It’s new Star Wars!

In a more civilized age perhaps I wouldn’t have to go beyond this point. I mean, come on, who wasn’t excited about getting three new feature-length Star Wars films? It meant we no longer were restricted to the hit-or-miss EU books and comics for new Star Wars material. You need look no further than the box office numbers to know that I wasn’t the only one excited enough about all three films to pay to see them, in some cases multiple times.

When Episode I came out, Star Wars had new, official, non-EU canon for the first time in 15 years, and I thought then and still think today that this is awesome. Were they as good as the Original Trilogy? No. Does that mean they are unwatchable garbage? Absolutely not, especially considering you would have to make quite some film trilogy to ever hope to even come close to the originals. Obviously the prequels were never going to be as good, or even come close. Get over it. When you rant and rave about them you tend to sound like a whiny basement-dweller.

2. Political intrigue

That’s right, I’m calling it what it is. Many fans have criticized the prequels (especially Episode I) for the endless boring “trade negotiations” and that sort of thing. What I see is not boring at all but rather engaging political intrigue that adds a whole new layer of realism to the universe, and something that was obviously lacking in the OT.

These films were made for an aging fan base. Adult fans were meant to appreciate tricky diplomacy, two-faced politicians and commentary on corrupt democracy. Was it always expertly done in these films? Maybe not, but it’s a big part of what makes these films enjoyable for me when I watch them as an educated adult.

3. Anakin’s Story

Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is by far one of the more complex characters in the relatively black-and-white world of the OT. In the three original films we see him go from being a ruthless, evil villain, to wanting to cast down his master and rule the galaxy with his son, to being hopelessly enslaved to Palpatine, to eventually sacrificing himself to save his only son.

As George Lucas’s early notes show, this story was always about Anakin’s corruption and redemption. And while the character may not always be well-acted in the prequels, the rich story told in the films makes his corruption completely believable, and it makes his redemption make a whole lot more sense at the end of Return of the Jedi.

4. Ewan McGregor

This one should be pretty obvious, considering I’ve heard some of the staunchest anti-prequel crowd praise McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the trilogy. Not only was he completely believable as a younger version of Sir Alec Guiness’s beloved portrayal of the character, he added a totally new dimension to the character that made him an instant fan favorite. In films where the acting and writing were not always top-notch, Ewan shone through and turned Obi-Wan into one of my favorite Star Wars characters ever.

5. Fantasy becomes science fiction

This is probably the most controversial one, but I think it’s also the most important. The Original Trilogy is fantasy. That’s all there is to it. Some will argue, but if you replaced blasters with steam cannons, hyperspace with teleportation, and space ships with space-dwelling domesticated monsters there would be no question. I mean, there’s magic and spirits in it, after all.

As a kid I loved this aspect of the old movies. I loved the simplicity of the Good vs. Evil struggle and the easy-to-grasp archetypal characters. As I have grown, though, I appreciate these bland tropes less and less. Star Wars is certainly an example of well-done fantasy, but I think the saga needed the dose of science and grey realism injected into it via the prequels. Really, the transition to sci-fi started in the 80s, with the EU novels; George Lucas merely followed the example set by the likes of Timothy Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson, even borrowing some of the EU material. I know people don’t like having the Force scientifically explained or seeing the Good vs. Evil struggle downgraded to more of a power-over-weakness one, but for me this shift away from fantasy tropes and toward sci-fi themes makes watching the entire saga a richer experience.

 

So there you have it. I know my reasons for liking the prequels may not be the same as yours, and I know there are still lots of people out there who will think this list is crap. But this is a sincere perspective from a real fan. As you are reading the countless prequel-bashing articles popping up on the Internet today, just remember that it’s okay to like the prequels. The real fans are out there and we are numerous, despite the absurd unevenness of the online forums and pandering articles.

And to those Star Wars fans who continuously  and vulgarly trash the prequels, ask yourselves: Can you really be fans of a film series when you hate half of its films?

Happy Star Wars Day.

Some Thoughts on Hugos and Sad Puppies

hugo_smA little over a month ago, I received an email with my Hugo Awards nomination information and eagerly went to the Sasquan site to start filling out a Hugo nomination ballot for the very first time. Sasquan 2015 will be my first time attending a Worldcon (or World Science Fiction Convention), and one of the things I’ve been looking forward to most is finally having a voice in the voting of one of the world’s most prestigious sci-fi and fantasy awards. I was excited to finally join this community of fans and writers that come together each year to share a common passion for speculative fiction.

But there are dark clouds looming over this year’s gathering.

For those who don’t keep up with SF fandom and Hugo Awards, there has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding this year’s ballot. For the last three years a group calling themselves the Sad Puppies have been trying to organize a bloc vote in order to put more works they feel agree with their own ideologies and their own concepts of what SF should be on the ballot.

And this year they were successful. They were able to mobilize their supporters (many of whom likely don’t care about the awards but acted based on the politics involved), and they were able to get so many of their nominees on the ballot that every short fiction category was swept by Sad Puppies (and the more radical Rabid Puppies) nominees. Nearly every other category on the ballot has Puppies, many being made up mostly of Puppies nominees.

The Puppies movements are politically conservative. That is a fact that they openly admit to and something that I have no doubt allowed them to effectively mobilize their supporters. People on the radical right (as with any political extreme) are often eager to join a cause based solely on the politics and not the subject matter. Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m flinging mud here; I actually think many of the writers and fans involved are perfectly rational, reasonable people. But their argument is flawed–even ridiculous when it comes to the secret clubs and cliques going out of their way to keep non-progressives down. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, so I’ll direct you to this George R. R. Martin blog post, which wonderfully examines and debunks much of the Puppies’ argument. (And yes, GRRM is an avowed liberal.)

Anyway, when you remove the more absurd positions of the Sad Puppies, the only remaining valid argument they have is that there exists a group of conservatives in a field that leans left who want recognition for their work. Since many people denounce some of their beliefs and opinions as racist, sexist, bigoted, anti-progressive, etc. just because they are religious or libertarian or own gun stores, they can never win an award that requires a popular vote by the fandom. That is, unless they use shady methods like bloc voting to force their way in, rallying together republicans and libertarians and anti-progressive basement-dwellers alike from in and out of the fandom to make it happen.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is, this was all perfectly legal. There is already talk of changing the rules to outlaw bloc voting, and personally I can say that if I attend the business meeting at Sasquan and hear a proposal that makes sense, I may very well vote for it. But any new rule-change won’t take effect until 2017, and already the Sad Puppies have promised to act again next year, which has sparked left-wing groups to call for their own voting bloc for the 2016 Hugos. Regardless of what happens at this year’s con, it looks like next year’s Hugos are going to be a political showdown, and in this situation everyone loses.

What is so disappointing to me about this whole situation is that I will now be going to my first Worldcon with a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll be walking into the convention hall disillusioned without ever having known what it was like to be otherwise. I will have to face a politically-charged atmosphere in a world I usually go to when I want to escape such things.

And why? Because a small group of people on an ideological fringe (in the context of Worldcon fandom) decided to start a war in a peaceful land. Because a band of Puppies decided that since SF/F fans are becoming more interested in social justice and beginning to find enjoyment in more literary spec fiction there must some conspiracy against people on the right and it is their responsibility to fight it.

And what makes me sad is that many writers who were undoubtedly more deserving of recognition based purely on talent and writing ability didn’t even make the ballot. On top of that, the nominees selected by the Sad Puppies (and Rabid Puppies)–many of whom were not involved with the Puppies and do not necessarily agree with their politics and methods–now stand a good chance of being placed lower than “No Award” in the vote. Considering several categories were Sad/Rabid Puppies sweeps, this means we will likely see at least one category (and probably more) where no one gets an award at all. This is a sad thing to have to happen, and everyone–everyone–should be ashamed that it got to this point.

I, for one, plan on reading as many of the nominated works as I can between now and July. I already know there are many I will dislike and some I will hate, but maybe I will be surprised. One things for sure: I will only put works below “No Award” if I have read them and feel that they are not deserving of an award, regardless of the writer’s politics.

Because that’s the best thing I can do in this situation.

Because I refuse to devalue my first Worldcon experience any more than the Puppies already have by joining a political battle.

The Hugo Awards don’t belong to any one group or ideology. They don’t belong to some exclusive clique or secret cabal. They belong to the fans, to all of us. They belong to me and all of the other fledgling SF/F writers. They belong to the graying trufans and the upstart neo-pros. They belong to Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia and Vox Day (the Puppies). And they belong to George R. R. Martin and Charles Stross and John Scalzi (the Not-So-Puppies).

All of us together have a responsibility to cast our ballots each year and decide which books and stories, out of the many many works of sci-fi and fantasy literature, we as a group and as a fandom believe worthy of the recognition and prestige of a Hugo nomination. It is up to the entire fandom, not to one relatively small voice within it, to make this decision.

I believe the fandom should be a place open to all voices and all opinions–and from what I understand it is. But, Sad Puppies, if you find that works you like are consistently excluded from the Hugo recognition, perhaps the Worldcon fandom isn’t what you think it is. Perhaps it isn’t what you want it to be.

And perhaps no matter how many Hugo ballots you ruin, no matter how many conventions you turn into political battlegrounds, it never will be what you want it to be.

 

 

 

Dreams in the Tower Part 3

Book Cover GY2Dreams in the Tower Part 3 is now available on Amazon! Buy it here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VQYF0H2

Part 3 carries on the excitement and the fast-paced story of the first two installments in the serialization, bringing the world perilously close to total war. This one is all about the internal struggles of the various characters as they try to figure out who and what they are fighting for. Personally, I think it’s my best work so far. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I plan on releasing Part 4 in May and then Part 5 along with the entire book (in print and eBook forms) early this summer.

 

And don’t forget, Dreams in the Tower Parts 1 & 2 are still available for FREE on Amazon for a few more days. Find links in the bibliography section or right here:

Andrew Vrana author page