Fraking plot devices

The 1970s were when I discovered science fiction and got hooked on authors such as Isaac Asimov and Jack Vance. However, I also read Tactics of Mistake, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker and Dune, which were enough to satisfy my needs for military science fiction. Really, after the Vietnam War, I could not see the “cool” side of riding a sandworm into battle.

Because of my aversion for military science fiction there are vast swaths of science fiction television and film that I’ve never been subjected to. Sorry, but I can’t get into wars involving Daleks, armies led by Sith lords, Klingons, Cardassians, Goa’uld-infested humans, reptilian Cylons, human-created Cylons…I could go on. There Will Be War, but I don’t have the patience to read about your fantasy war.

The above is a long way of saying that I was never a fan of Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Galactica or any other battlestar or deathstar. However, while writing The Start of Eternity I’ve been thinking about mind transfer and I decided I should try watching Caprica, the current television show in the fictional Battlestar Galactica universe. As Jacob Clifton succinctly introduced Caprica: “the central sci-fi premise (how do we get a human soul, or something like it, into a robot body?) hinges on a MacGuffin of sorts: the Meta-Cognitive Processor.”

In The Start of Eternity, getting a human mind into a robot hinges on study of the structure and function of human brains. When the time comes to “go for it”, the brain structure of Observer Gohrlay is scanned in microscopic detail and converted into functionally similar positronic brain circuits.

Full disclosure: I have not seen the Caprica pilot. I’m relying heavily on resources such as those by Jacob Clifton for my understanding of the Caprica plot devices.

Don’t try this at home. In the episodes I’ve seen, people put on a holoband and magically pop into a “virtual reality” simulated world where they can act out their fantasies. According to the battlestar wiki, a 16 year old designed “a program that allowed her to create virtual duplicate of herself using a compilation of various personal records”. Apparently there was some kind of biofeedback-mediated training of the “virtual duplicate” while it existed in the virtual reality and received input from its human creator. That artificially intelligent “avatar” was then transferred into the above mentioned Meta-Cognitive Processor and, ultimately, into a robotic body. Behold: the first Cylon has been created. And I hope that I did not leave out any of the essential hand waving.

As I understand the story arc, the first Cylon is headed off on adventures to other worlds, particularly Gemenon. In hopes of seeing some actual science fiction, I’d like to continue along for the ride, but I came away from the fragment of Caprica that I watched feeling a bit worried that I was watching fantasy rather than science fiction. I suffered a similar disquietude when I read Asimov’s Robots and Empire in which he depicted the inventor of robotic telepathy as a young girl genius (Vasilia) and daughter of the greatest living roboticist. Miraculously, nobody else was ever able to duplicate the amazing advances in robotics that were achieved by Vasilia and her father.

For The Start of Eternity, I’ve invented a solution to the puzzle of Vasilia’s magical ability to conjure telepathy into existence. I assume that telepathic robots were first created long before Vasilia was born. Thousands of years earlier. When it was time to make sure that the Earth/Spacer conflict was resolved in a way that would allow humans to colonize the galaxy, the young Vasilia was used as a convenient way for making R. Giskard (and the reader) believe that his telepathic ability had been the result of a freakish leap of human intuition.

I’ve long been puzzled by Asimov’s tendency to create characters who have magical powers of intuition. Besides Vasilia, other similar characters from the trusty Asimov typewriter include Andrew Harlan, Marlene Fisher, and Golan Trevize. Marlene’s intuition about Erythro was apparently due to her telepathic contact with the alien life form of that planet. I like to imagine that telepathic robots, working secretly like Daneel, implanted vital information in the minds of Andrew, Golan and even Hari Seldon. However, allowing telepathic robots to play the role of god-like manipulators of human destiny can wear a bit thin. Reader interest in the struggles of Asimov’s human characters is likely to suffer if readers accept the idea that telepathic robots can always step in to save the day.

In The Start of Eternity I’m facing a similar concern. I want to introduce the very first telepathic robot near the beginning of the story, but not “give away” the fundamental secret of the story to the reader. Asimov was a good mystery writer and I hope that The Start of Eternity can follow in his footsteps and present an interesting mystery to the reader. All of Asimov’s telepathic slight of hand will be revealed, but waiting behind one last curtain will be an even greater secret.

Image. Sandworm by leywad


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