Furry Writers' Guild Forum

"2039: The Play's the Thing" (701 Words)

Opening scene of a story that’s part of my current SF setting but meant to stand on its own. I need to know if what’s going on is clear, because I’ve gotten several things critiqued lately on Critique Circle that got replies of “I don’t get it”. I’m way too close to this setting to judge this one especially, since certain facts are obvious to me from other stories.

Hiroshi was was storyboarding episode fourteen when Abby asked, “Why don’t you upload?”

He pushed his wheelchair away from the battered desk, to face his partner in art. “All these years, and you’ve never asked why I don’t get my brain scooped out to live in digital heaven. Why now?”

Abby looked away from some 3D modeling work and fidgeted with the hem of her skirt. “The technology’s getting better, and cheaper.”

“Sure I’d be whole again as a computer ghost living in VR, but it wouldn’t be me. Just a copy.”

“So it’s the continuity problem,” said Abby, “like episode five.”

His gang’s Internet show, “Oops! Universe Repair Crew”, began the day a robot rolled through campus and tried to set him and Abby up on a date. One of their many viewers was the real intended audience: Ludo, the AI who’d perfected brain-uploading technology.

Hiroshi sighed. “Yes, continuity is my main objection, but the whole show has been about the other reasons.” He waved around at the posters and awards in their rented office. “Has all this been theoretical to you, or just for fun and profit?”

“It’s been fun, yes, but we did what you wanted. We persuaded Ludo.” Abby stood and pointed to a poster. On it, the young genie Machere stared with horror at an army of people in identical slacks. “Episode Two: ‘A Wrinkle In Pants’. The genie and friends discover the Iron World of SIT, the Casual Oppressor. Shortly after we air the show, Ludo announces she won’t require standardized hardware. After Episode Four, ‘I Have No Nose And I Must Sneeze’, she announces the little AIs and uploaders in her world will have a shared university environment, instead of everyone being in isolated fantasy worlds. I doubt we were the only factor, but she’s learned from our stories.”

How could a few students save the world from an inhuman AI looking to “help” humanity? Tell her stories about what not to do, and be popular enough that she noticed.

Hiroshi said, “She’s learned, but she’s still a mad machine.”

“But she turned out sane. No nanotech plague from her, no nuclear war. So now what?”

“We keep working.” Hiroshi already had a job offer from the biggest movie studio in Free Texas.

Abby reached into her backpack and pulled out an antique-looking scroll. “This arrived by mail. I was meaning to tell the whole gang at once, but… We’re invited to Ludo’s big tech exposition. She wants us to perform live.”

Hiroshi leaned back, seeing something dangerous in her smile. “It came to you specifically? She got to you. You’re thinking about uploading.”

“Of course I’ve thought about it.” Abby toyed with the scroll.

“You know what I mean. What promises did she make, for you to seriously consider handing over your brain?”

“She expects to solve the continuity problem this year. Dissect your brain one piece at a time and make you immortal in her machines. It’ll even be cheaper than the old method, not just for rich people. So why not?”

Hiroshi followed her gaze down to his useless legs. He gripped his handrests. “No point in me living on Earth anymore; is that it?”

“I’ve watched you struggle. Think of what you could do if you were healthy.”

Hiroshi scowled and looked away. He’d refused to be defined by his messed-up nervous system, or by his inability to pay for having his legs chopped off and replaced with robotic ones. Yet his insurance would probably cover much of the cost for getting rid of him permanently, to Ludo’s world. He said, “I’m not some parasite on society. I study and I earn honest money with our cartoons.”

Abby held up her hands. “Of course you earn your keep. But what is there to lose? It’s not like we’ll be trapped in the digital world; we can go ‘outside’ by steering robots.”

Robots, like the one that had brought them together. An AI-driven tourist from Ludo’s fantasy world, wanting to visit the scary and mysterious ‘outer realm’. He said, “Episode one. We all give in, and that’s the end of humanity. The world turns inward without people like us. Like you.”

I like it and I really can’t find fault with it.

I did like the not so subtle call outs to other works.

i’ll read it more carefully to see if there’s anything ‘wrong’.

The setting is vague. We know it’s the future, and that it’s a rented office, but we don’t know what any of that means. Your characters are floating in a void at the moment. You don’t have to go wild with detail. Just knowing what the room is made of would go a long way to letting the reader build a picture with the characters in it.

Is this an old building made in the 1950s, slowly rotting away now that most people moved into the singularity? Are they in a slick new space station with clean, bright white walls and waves of color flowing along the floor? This is probably what people mean when they say they don’t get it. Setting is where things happen, and there isn’t much of one at the moment. It’s a jumble of actors and objects floating around in an abstract office.

Thanks. I’ll put more effort into the setting details here. I’d figured they were next to a near-future college campus, but that’s barely even told let alone shown. (For that matter, will there even continue to be traditional college campuses in the near future?)

To a large extent, this doesn’t seem to be a real problem. It’s built in to almost every work that’s part of a series. I read your opening:

"Hiroshi was storyboarding episode fourteen when Abby asked, “Why don’t you upload?”

"He pushed his wheelchair away from the battered desk, to face his partner in art. “All these years, and you’ve never asked why I don’t get my brain scooped out to live in digital heaven. Why now?”

And I can imagine this being confusing to someone not familiar with your “Thousand Tales” series. “Why don’t you upload?” could be any question about uploading a computer program. A reader who’s familiar with your “Thousand Tales” stories will know that it refers to uploading your brain into Ludo’s computer world.

But so what?

I just finished reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novel in her Barrayar series, “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen”. It’s the 20th or 30th novel in that series; she’s been writing them since about 1985. I’m immediately plunged into the universe of Cordelia and Miles Vorkosigan, of the Barrayar Empire and its enemies and possessions and politics. Some of it is brand-new in this novel, and I expect that this will become clear as I read along, and it does. Some of it I only understand because I’ve read the previous stories in the series, and I recognize the references. I imagine that this must be mistifying for the reader not familiar with this series. But there are other long-going series that I can’t get the first stories of. I accept that these will be full of references that I won’t understand. I don’t complain, “I don’t get this,” and “What does this mean? It’s not clear.”

There is probably a big difference between Bujold’s s-f series that’s been going for thirty years, that has won multiple awards, and that must have tens of thousands of readers, and a brand-new series by a basically unknown author. You don’t want to make the latest story so ingroup that you discourage new readers. But you also don’t want to discourage them by starting out with an obvious information dump of What Has Gone Before. You also don’t want to discourage what loyal readers you do have by repeating what they already know. I’ve read this beginning of “2039”, and I think it’s fine. I assume that its publication will announce that it’s the third story in a series. That should be enough to tell most new readers that there will be some references to events in previous titles (or to “Thousand Tales” alone, since “2039” takes place before “2040”). Most won’t mind a few obscure references that will soon be cleared up, without having What Has Gone Before spoon-fed to them.

In a way, it’s like seeing “Star Wars VII” without seeing the previous six. “Who is this Darth Vader? Who is this Emperor Palpatine? What are droids? I’m confused.”

The OP says it’s supposed to stand on its own. :stuck_out_tongue:

As far as I’m concerned, “2039: The Play’s the Thing” stands fine on its own. So it starts with two characters named Hiroshi and Abby talking. I don’t know who they are; nobody knows who they are since they’re brand-new characters. I assume that I’ll find out from reading the story. I don’t say, “Wait a minute! I won’t read this story unless you start out by telling me who these characters are; where they are; what kind of building they’re in; what kind of future world they’re in,” and so on.

Hmmm, I’m not familiar with your other works. But I’ll mirror the advice given for this earlier, there’s a bit of ‘Void’ issue. Though I can see what you’re going for definitely and a lot of the harder sci-fic short stories go for that in general as a way to save on wordcount and keep a tighter kind of prose. If I were you I’d work in just a little detail or two right at the start, just to establish where we are within your universe specially, perhaps something as simple as Hiroshi noticing something rather futuristic in a mundane sort of way.

This episode of Extra Credits, an online webshow that talks about game design, but I find has a LOT of points that transfer over to writing really pegs it well, Mechanical Transference. Fantasy takes the mundane and makes it fantastic, but Scifi, hard scifi takes the fantastic and makes it seem mundane. While I wouldn’t take the advice too far, just having him use some futuristic device in a mundane manner, or a casual sort of futurism somewhere earlier in the narrative, would really help me picture where we are.

Other than that, I do like it! I think it has a good heart at its center this story. I get a sense of these characters’ friendship, and of thier debate, your dialog is good and well taged, and I highly approve! Good work.

but the whole show has been about the other reasons.

I was unable to parse this.

but the whole show has been about the other reasons

Again this is unconventionally phrased, and in a bad way. I’d say something more like “But that’s not what this show is mostly all about.”

Other than those two nits, well-done! To make it stand alone better, I might consider discussing the reality of uploading as a growing social norm in a sentence or two’s worth of depth somewhere during the chat. But nice work, overall!