Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lab #3: Heart of a small boy

This may be the last chance I have of setting this particular exercise, since we might expand to more people by the next lab. So here goes...

1. Write an excerpt from a novel. Remember the excerpt bit: We are not aiming for completeness of plot. We are specifically aiming for the appearance of an ongoing story, the feel that things have started before this excerpt and will be resolved sometime in the future.

2. The genre must be 'horror'. You are welcome to imitate your favourite horror-type writer's style and vocabulary: Stephen King, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Bloch, Aahat scriptwriters, R.L.Stine. Or you could create your own horror-type style.

3. Now the fun bit. There must be a description, preferably in detail, of a specific character somewhere in your excerpt. I hereby nominate 'Dada', whom we all know from our - er - common software company experiences, as the compulsory character. You can make him whatever you like - a ghost, a vision, a painting, whatever.

4. One final constraint. A much watered down version of George's exercise. The word 'Miasma' must appear somewhere, anywhere in your post. >:)

5. Due date is proposed as 15th September.

PS. The title comes from Robert Bloch : "Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lab #2 - George

{Yes, I accept all brickbats (and I have already accepted several in the form of the two submissions for the lab). Thought I'd provide a nice silver nail for the coffin:) Postmodern references (as if there weren't enough already) available on request}

"Don't you dare call me Ishmael!" And Aichi proceeded to provide a competent phonetic equivalent of his name to the bewildered customer service representative at the other end of the cell-while. The flatline drone of redundant information on the traffic channel was suddenly interrupted by yet another calmercial:

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

The dehumidifying kruegers had won this time. A brief smudged flash of the long line of SRVs going nowhere on the intertown. The rain did this here. Drove people's brains to seed. Social historians and people who subscribed to the Methuselah Manifest were now getting bolder about finding all this atavistic drive to disaster that humanity had embarked upon. Yet again. It had happened after every revision of the Public Transit Bill. The concerns of the leftist factions who supported the cause of mass transit were laid to rest using what many historians in the know referred to as offering "epistemological problems of sufficient magnitude". The Howard Family had only managed to achieve a fractional improvement over the work of the previous generation and had announced a renunciation last week. The allocated funds would soon be up for grabs through the tax-exempt growleries and their weekly trivia contests...

Aichi Je's voice broke into the void of Walker's thoughts. "Can you connect me to room six one one?"

The scraggly treescape didn't offer much of an alternative to the vista of the chocked arteries on the expressway. Walker had hoped that someone in the administration would appreciate the irony of the term and find an acceptable replacement. But then, it would be too much to expect irony in the administrative circles. All these years had not afforded a government job any more value and meaning.

"You're taking a chance by not wearing a cap, especially at a time like this." That was Aichi Je again. Referring to Walker's overdue haircut and the consequences it might have if they were flagged by a heli-cop and presented with a citation for being decalvant delinquents. Walker didn't even want to explore the irony of that phrase. He just gave Aichi a blank look peppered with the hint of a smirk. They had more pressing problems at hand.

Aichi was trying to get in touch with a feelings facilitator for some "vision reconciliation." Something about a recurring dream he was having –- some dark figure standing by his bed blowing smoke and quotes from Derrida at him. Walker wondered if the lady two lanes away would consider that a nightmare.

A short high-pitched squeal on the radio hinted that the Stochastic Signal System was about to proceed to its next iteration. This might be their chance. A short window of time and space opened up and they managed to get to their exit with just about a second to spare.

The clarity was devastating and the ambiguity had fled the box.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lab #2 : Sudarshan

[This story has been in draft state for more than 2 weeks - first on my computer, then on blogger. Sick and tired of even thinking about it. I know exactly how JR felt before posting his entry now! :). Therefore, guys, forgive cheapness in style. The Asimov-ish punchline, though, is fully intentional, and targeted squarely at George for his lab idea.]

The cheapskates always tried to cram the chip with all sorts of business information – strangely enough, they were the ones with the most money and they bought the highest-capacity chips, but they were invariably the ones who found the space insufficient. They’d think that the intricacies of running their business was something that needed to be explained down to the most mundane detail. The creative types, on the other hand, usually just wanted to pass on memories of a few of their best moments, and were quite content to edit down their memories to fit the smaller chip their limited finances could afford.
Daddy was arguably somewhere in between these two extremes. You don’t become an art dealer unless you have a head for art in the first place, and you don’t become the best-known art dealer in the solar system without possessing some business acumen. Unfortunately, his son George didn’t have the same mixture of talent, which was why I was in his life, calling him Daddy and helping out in his business, instead of still being in an orphanage.
I watched him now with a mixture of curiosity and concern. When he’d called me here to this hotel room, I’d assumed it was because he was on Io for a short time and wanted to check up on the business on this branch. I was meeting him in the flesh after nearly a year, and I’d been shocked by the fine wrinkles that had appeared around his eyes. They didn’t show up in the vidphone image. Daddy noticed the expression on my face and curtly dropped his bombshell.
“The Plastic-drug course didn’t slow down the tumour as much as expected. It’s a matter of a few weeks more – then the tumour will start affecting my brain tissues.
“It might take several years for the change in brain physiology to be apparent in my behaviour. But by then my memories will be unreliable – Doctor Rao says that the main problem will be mingling of dream and experience – I might end up passing on my weird dreams to you instead of the useful stuff.”
“But Daddy – you’ve heard of those new implants coming on the market – they’re supposed to detect fallacious memories and warn you before writing them onto the chip...”
But he was shaking his head. “I can’t take that risk. I don’t know what my memories will be like by then. If I myself cannot distinguish between real and dream, what good will the implant be? No, I must backup my memories now. If the medicines keep the tumour at bay, I’ll take the backup...again.” And he shuddered.
The process of taking ‘backup’ of living memories was a long and painful one. The patient virtually went through every single scene of his life, every bit of learned or intuited knowledge, with an option of selecting the important memes to be recorded on command. Many people found parts of their lives too frightening to relive, and stopped the process midway. Such incomplete chips, of course, were useless, because implanting them into the recipient’s brain could cause disorientation and eventual madness.
I looked up to see Daddy walking into the next room. “I’m calling Doctor Rao up here so he can check you out too.” There came the sounds of him speaking the Reception’s ID into the vidphone, and asking for room 622, presumably where
Doctor Rao was lodged. After he completed his discussion, he came back in.
“Listen, Sudarshan.” He said. “I’ve decided on the Pivot Fact for the memories.”
It was always difficult, once the recipient had been implanted with the chip, to distinguish between the recipient’s own memories and the implanted ones. In fact, when the implanted memories might themselves be composed of third- and fourth-hand ones, it got really complicated. Thus it became important for the recipient to use some small fact, feeling, image, as a point of reference, as the Pivot Fact. The implanted memories felt different; they came from a different physiology and the feeling of them was subtly different. Once a Pivot Fact was decided on, the feel of that fact was useful to identify the other implants. It was helpful for the donor to mentally mark that bit as conspicuously as he could while preparing the chip.
“Shouldn’t we be waiting for George? After all, he needs to use the same facts too.” I said.
Daddy shook his head. “I’ll talk to him separately. Now let me complete.
“You remember, when you were in college, you were top of the class in Classical Poetry Studies? But even so, there was one poem you were never able to understand. I explained it to you God knows how many ways, but it never made sense to you.”
I nodded. “It was Focus, by some weird American poet...can’t even remember her name.”
Daddy said, “Yes. And my understanding, my feel for that poem will be my Pivot. All right?”
I thought this was odd. “But George was able to understand that poem; he claimed to love it. This won’t help him at all!”
There was a knock on the door. Doctor Rao, most likely. I stood up to open it, Daddy reached out a hand and sat me down.
“I’m not giving George this chip. It’s for you alone.”
“But... but...” I hunted for words to describe it. “ You shouldn’t do that! He’s your... heir!”
His eyes crinkled as he smiled wickedly. “Was my heir. I’m cutting him out. It was long overdue.”

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