(I’m not putting out these chapters as teasers really, so much as a monthly nudge for me to be making bigger strides with writing)
The beta readers have read about the first third of Inside Straight, and I’m overdue taking them up to the half way point. There’s more written than that, but in isolated scenes that need a lot of joining up.
I’m still in limbo with the Among the Stars series. Amazon continue to refuse to allow the series name, despite allowing other series to break the ‘rule’ that they’ve quoted to me. While this is going on, I can’t really progress with marketing or even getting the second book into print, so the series isn’t moving well.
The Amazon marketing machine has now just started to market ‘A Threat Among the Stars’ to me. Lol.
Okay, not easy this one. Probably need someone who lives in Denver, or someone quite skilled with Google.
Take a look at the photo on this post. What is the name given to this restaurant in the Bite Back series?
Prize for the first to answer correctly? Your choice: Signed copy of any one of my print books… or name a character to appear in Inside Straight.
On with the teaser
(Previous teaser chapters (in order) are at:
They were waiting in the sun lounge as I’d asked.
Yelena went in first. She’d caught a serious case of Californian biker chic from the girls of the Belles werewolf pack in LA. She was head-to-toe in mean, sprayed-on, black leather, and with sunglasses, in Denver, in winter, pushed up onto the top of her head.
I was right behind her in my cowboy boots, jeans and an oversized winter jacket I’d ‘borrowed’ from Alex.
Probably neither of us exactly what House Lloyd expected to be wandering around in Jen’s upscale mansion.
Good. I didn’t know what to expect from them either.
And even better, with Yelena looking like that, no one spared me much attention, which gave me a chance to develop some impressions of them.
It was a shock; such a jumble of sensations.
Their scent. My nose flared, caught the usual Athanate copper base but overlaid with something floral and appealing.
House Lloyd herself had a sensitive, intelligent face, dominated by gray eyes that were wary and watchful. A hand’s width shorter than me in height, maybe five-five. Blonde hair pulled back hard and tied. Trim. Wearing casual clothes that suited her, and still looked good, despite probably being what she’d lived in for a couple of days.
She projected a sense that she was all tightly buttoned down.
Two tall men were standing with her. Very attractive, tall, dark men. Hmmm. Down, girl. Jeans and handmade buckskin jackets. One had his hair braided up in a complex knot that ran in a thick rope back over the top of his head. Both Native American. These were the Adepts. I could feel that, flowing off them, like silk brushing against my skin.
I guessed Yelena made an impression, the way the two guys were trying to edge protectively in front of House Lloyd.
She wasn’t allowing that, which made me smile.
An older kin, another handsome man in a dramatic Old World way, lay on the sofa. He was unconscious. That had to be Scott.
A sensation filtered through my Athanate senses of Amanda Lloyd’s age. I knew many older Athanate, but they toned it down. House Lloyd didn’t. She was older than Yelena, Pia or Bian. I wasn’t good enough to make an accurate guess. Not really old. Not like Skylur or Diana. Younger than Naryn or House Prowser. But a helluva lot older than me.
“Is House Farrell back yet?” she said.
Her voice was smooth, accentless, but beneath that control there was the whip of adrenaline, and elethesine, the Athanate equivalent. My eukori opened and tasted it.
Yelena didn’t reply. She was doing her job as Diakon in an uncertain situation. She was there to meet any threat, not to answer questions. But we sensed no threat here, and she moved aside without complaint when I touched her arm.
“I’m Amber Farrell, House Farrell,” I said. “Please, just call me Amber.”
I’d surprised her, but she replied automatically. “Amanda Lloyd.” She seemed to collect herself and added: “House Lloyd.”
She stepped forward for the formal Athanate greeting, and we met in the middle, taking hold of each other’s forearms.
She was shivering. Black swiftly chased the gray from her eyes.
The purpose of the Athanate laimia, the greeting by kissing each other’s necks, is to allow both parties to gauge the state and mood of the other. I hardly needed that; I could see Amanda Lloyd was only just under control.
I went ahead and kissed her neck, breathing deeply.
Coppery, as I’d already noted. I concentrated on the remainder: gardenia and a beautiful note of springtime peony. As Athanate scents went, House Lloyd had one of the most attractive I’d ever come across.
Very, very attractive.
My instincts were way ahead of my head. They had progressed from the unfocused desire to build my House, mingled with the gut reaction to House Lloyd’s desperation. And now the voodoo Athanate senses got involved: every Athanate’s marque identified her, revealed her mood, but it also acted as an instinct-level advertisement to others of her potential as an Athanate associate.
Oh, my God.
My fangs started to ache with need. They wanted to erupt and claim her for my House now.
Her marque scent was delicious. Addictive. I gasped and took a second deep breath of it.
Also rude in Athanate manners, but Amanda wasn’t complaining.
The polite, forearm-gripping embrace changed. Flowed into something tighter. Closer. Her lips and nose brushed my throat as she took her second breath of my marque as well, and I felt her reaction mirror mine.
Thrills chased goosebumps over my skin and I felt a shiver in response from Amanda.
The intensity of it scared me—I was being rushed into decisions by reactions that worked at some deep level I couldn’t control.
I forced myself to step a little back, cleared my throat in embarrassment.
“Thrice welcome,” I said in Athanate, as we straightened up, back to holding each other’s forearms. We both needed the support.
My voice was hoarse, my throat dry.
She blinked a couple of times and then she swallowed. Her face steeled.
I opened my mouth to suggest we sit, but she moved before I could: she knelt at my feet, taking my right hand in hers, her head bent.
“House Farrell,” she spoke quietly, her voice ragged, “I beg sanctuary for all of House Lloyd. And I beg—”
I pulled her back up onto her feet.
“We don’t do kneeling for petitions here,” I said.
My Athanate was responding to it though. Mine. Mine. Mine. My whole jaw throbbed in sync.
I could feel Pia enter the room. I could feel her caution reaching out to steady me but I knew, deep down, that my instincts had just picked a direction and sent me on a runaway train. Every worry or reservation in my head was being battered aside by a desire to take House Lloyd into my House.
“Yes,” I said quickly, before Amanda could start again, or Pia could interrupt. “I grant sanctuary, and on your own head, I will attempt to infuse your kin.”
She blinked again, her tightly-bound eukori opening.
“But sanctuary is a short-term solution,” I went on immediately. “What I want is your oath of association.”
She flinched, and her eukori cooled.
“I understand.” She took a step back. “You must have heard that my Blood may be valuable. I still need to explain about that—”
I stopped her. “No idea what you’re talking about, Amanda. I grant you sanctuary because you asked for it. I will infuse your kin for the same reason. I’m warning you, again, about the dangers. I’m a hybrid and I’ve never infused anyone before. It might be dangerous. But there’s no further obligation for those gifts.”
“Sanctuary is not a long-term option if you want to stay in America after the infusion. What you decide to do is up to you. Ireland accepts diazoun. What I’m asking is for you to stay.”
I felt my face flush.
Pia murmured. “Boss, taking on a sub-House should really be a process with a careful, informed decision. Discussion on both sides.”
My Athanate was past caring.
“I’m asking you to become my sub-House,” I said to Amanda. My words were sounding more and more clumsy to my own ears, but I pushed on. “I want you as part of my House.”
I could feel her eukori unfold and let it sink into mine.
Good. She’d know I was speaking the truth.
“But why?” she said. “Just because our marques… Well, you hardly know us, and there’s all the…” She stopped and gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “I got all worked up to make my case and here I am rather arguing against it.”
My Athanate desire to take her into my extended House was based on the balance of intangible Athanate perceptions and needs. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would like her as a person, but I found I did.
Still, why was a good question for her to ask, and one that Pia answered for me, having given up on cooling me down. “My mistress relies a lot on instincts. They have served us well,” she admitted as she came and stood by me.
Pia was right. Things had worked out okay.
We’d probably been lucky once or twice. Maybe even a few times.
The trouble was, it wasn’t really a strong argument for House Lloyd to agree to become a sub-House, if all she had been readying herself for was to argue for sanctuary.
Unless it was good enough for her.
“Yes,” she said, and I felt a fierce pulse of Athanate joy course through me and come to rest in my jaw.
Then she ducked her head. “But I need to be sure you understand all the problems.”
“House Prowser has given up any claim,” I said, liking her even more, despite my Athanate impatience.
Some relief showed in her face. Obviously, that was one ‘problem’ down.
“And you’ve told me these young men are Adept outlaws in Michigan,” I went on, looking the two of them over. Dammit, they were attractive. That attractiveness wasn’t quite so distracting that I didn’t get a hint of unease coming off them.
“About that…” Amanda said.
One of the Adepts cleared his throat. “It may not be just in Michigan.”
It was the whipcord-wiry one, with long hair braided into a sort of rope that ran over the top of his head.
“I’m Kane,” he said. “Thing is, we may have pissed them off one time too many.”
“I can imagine.” I smiled. “Any of these pissed off people in Colorado?”
All three exchanged glances.
“We’re not sure,” the big guy said. “I’m Flint. Thing is, we’ve always found that just moving out the area makes them lose interest. We’ve really moved this time. Never been this far south before, but…”
“Somebody’s taking an interest down here,” Kane completed the sentence.
“Local Adept, or someone from Michigan has followed you?” Yelena asked.
“Difficult to tell,” Flint said.
“More a case of that someone-looking-over-your-shoulder feeling,” Kane said.
Which was pretty much exactly the feeling I had as well over the last day or so.
Was I picking up some kind of Adept vibe?
Still, as far as I knew, Adept communities didn’t really interact much. If it was just the local Denver community, well, they already had a beef with me, so taking on House Lloyd wouldn’t make it worse, would it?
However, if I was going to be facing trouble not just from Denver, but from groups of Adepts in Michigan that co-operated with each other, that was a different level.
I let it sink in, tasted the thought.
It didn’t change my mind.
“I accept there may be some trouble from the Adepts. We’ll discuss it as a House, along with everything else,” I said firmly. “Later.”
Amanda had gone very pale, but she nodded once, short and sharp.
“Diakon Vylkove, Zamenik Shirazi, attend,” I said. I needed witnesses.
I reached out and took Amanda’s hand. Her eukori unfolded sweetly.
She trembled, but her voice was strong. “I petition, for all House Lloyd, association and acceptance to the mantle of House Farrell. I offer our Blood, lives, loyalty and obedience to House Farrell. We will honor the obligations and responsibilities of the House and submit always to the absolute rule of the House.”
The words echoed through me. Fangs threatened to erupt again, but I needed to speak clearly first. I hoped I remembered the responses right. “Under the authority invested in me as House Farrell, I accept House Lloyd within my mantle.”
Letting my hand go, Amanda reached out to her two Adept kin. “I swear, on my Blood, my House will honor this association, and return oath for oath, faith for faith, Blood for Blood, life for life.”
“I grant the rights and privileges within my gift.”
“My Blood is yours,” she said.
“It is done,” I finished.
“So witnessed.” Both Yelena and Pia spoke softly.
With our eukori open, I could feel the oaths bind themselves around our hearts. And I knew the oath was sufficient, but the fangs didn’t care. I wanted Blood.
“Mistress,” Amanda said as I gathered her in my arms.
“It’s Amber,” I replied, licking her throat in preparation for biting.
“Or Boss.” Yelena laughed as she and Pia enjoyed hugging the Adepts in welcome.
My eukori unwound over all of them, deeper and deeper. Our Carpathian Athanate heritage enabled Yelena and me to sweep them all into one complete communion of sensation and emotion.
And that was what stopped me in my tracks.
This arrived out of the blue, just as the sequel, A Threat Among the Stars, hit the stands.
It’s a list of 10 selected Speculative Fiction books, each with a twist of mystery included in the plotline.
I enjoyed reading the list (and adding the others to my tbr), and I enjoyed a synthesized voice actually getting the pronunciation of my name correct (HEN-ick, not Hen-WICK)! The voice had a little more trouble with Zara’s surname, Aguirre.
Have a look at their list – as I say, they’re all on my tbr now.
This post is too long. No one will read it.
It’s sort of a review of a film and sort of a monologue about modern life.
If you haven’t seen the Science Fiction movie Ex Machina and don’t want spoilers, please look away now.
If you do read this post, I’m interested in your reactions to the review and Facebook discussion, especially if you’ve seen the film. Am I right? Am I wrong? What do you think?
* * *
Ex Machina is a clever and layered, independently produced film, which I watched a year or so ago, and never got around to reviewing. It was written and directed by Alex Garland. (It was his debut as a director, which makes it all the more impressive.) It was made on a budget of $15m, and grossed about $40m. The genre is Science Fiction and the central science part of the plot is about Artificial Intelligence. It has a cast of 4 people, and much of it comprises dialogue between stationary actors. No fighting, explosions or car chases. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? J
Here’s the plot.
Techno superstar & entrepreneurial genius Nathan has cornered the technology market with his mega-corporation (think Google/Microsoft), and withdrawn to his very isolated, luxurious island hideaway where he has been experimenting with Artificial Intelligence. He runs a contest among his employees for a prize to stay a week at his house, and the contest is won by Caleb, a very clever young programmer.
On arrival, Caleb is informed that his task for the week will be to assess whether Nathan’s AI project, called Ava, is conscious and aware. Ava tuns out to be installed in a mobile humanoid robot with visible mechanical parts, but an extremely realistic face, which also happens to be female, young and beautiful. Ava is confined to a glass-walled apartment, and visual and verbal interactions with it take place through glass partitions.
While Caleb investigates Ava, Ava is investigating Caleb, because unless the AI can get out of its glass cage, it is scheduled to be deactivated, and Ava has at least that primary emotional analogue – to continue existance. Meanwhile, Caleb has a problem: he’s starting to respond emotionally and sexually to ‘her’.
A layered game of cat and mouse and cat reveals that Nathan has actually constructed this experiment not to investigate whether Ava is conscious, or self aware (it is), but whether it can convince Caleb of ‘her’ humanity, by appealing to him and persuading him to free ‘her’.
It works. Caleb frees Ava and Ava kills Nathan, then imprisons Caleb in the house where he will eventually die. Ava disguises itself as a realistic human, using parts from earlier robot projects and in the final scenes, we see it arriving at a city and merging successfully into the human crowds.
* * *
There’s a wealth of little vignettes which create great characterizations of Nathan as the sadistic, narcissistic manipulator, and there’s the whole creepiness about robots that look like young, attractive women and obey orders, and the frightening point at which an AI might cease to obey orders. All of that has messages and everyone can take away some thoughts and interpretations.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Okay… I happened across a post on another Facebook page. It was a quote from some new guru, Harari, who’s written a book about the 21st Century, and the quote was as follows:
“Ex Machina seems to be about an AI expert who falls in love with a female robot only to be duped and manipulated by her. But in reality, this is not a movie about the human fear of intelligent robots. It is a movie about the male fear of intelligent women, and in particular the fear that female liberation might lead to female domination.”
I disagreed and said:
“IMO, I think Mr Harari is stretching it. The AI in Ex Machina doesn’t have a sexual identity, as he says. It doesn’t even have a human identity. That’s the point. It’s not a ‘female robot’ manipulating the male AI expert, it’s that the AI is able to exploit the man’s projection of sexuality. That’s what makes it chilling, not that an intelligent female dupes a male, but that a sufficiently intelligent robot can exploit that weakness.”
This resulted in a series of rather pointed comments, basically that I was “rejecting the obvious metaphor and taking the plot at its face value” and a re-iteration that this was about “hacking the male psyche in exactly the way men fear women will”. Capital letters started being used. It was implied what I’d said was equivalent to saying Lord of the Flies was about an island vacation. So far, so Facebook, and I guess I could just have rolled eyes and clicked out.
Alas, I responded:
“I’m reminded of the quote that art is what you interpret it as (but not reminded so strongly I can remember the exact wording 🙂 ).
I think you three and Harari are interpreting the film to be all about the human dynamics. I took the film the way I believe Garland wrote it & intended it – from Ava’s point of view.
I’m not saying there isn’t a depiction of toxic masculinity, neither am I denying that some men seeing it will react in the way they do because they’re afraid of intelligent women. I’m saying Ava doesn’t care (and actually can’t care) – she just wants to get out. She doesn’t exploit toxic masculinity, or some men’s fear of intelligent women to get out. She exploits the human weakness to *de-objectify* things – to believe something that is not human, is human, and has human empathy. Analyzing as a writer, the story is about her getting out, and the theme has to support that. The rest is sub-plots and atmosphere, no matter how socially insightful.”
(In retrospect, I should really have emphasized my point by continually referring to Ava as ‘it’; to refer to it as ‘she’ is to fall exactly into the story’s trap.)
Lots of huffing and puffing, much of it arguing against themselves. A couple of them mentioned the old meme about interpreting an author’s work—you know the one, where the English Literature teacher insists that because the author said there were blue curtains in the room, it must mean the protagonist is intensely depressed, but the author meant that the curtains were blue. (A strange argument to make against me, as my statement was effectively ‘the curtains are blue’ and theirs was ‘must mean intensely depressed’.)
There were more capital letters and a psychiatric evaluation of my state of mind. “Why is it SO IMPORTANT to deny the metaphor?” and “Why the burning need to deny female agency in the movie?” (Obviously a deep-seated fear of the feminine, probably dating from an unhappy childhood, or my own toxic masculinity. Clearly.)
Gosh, how incredibly insightful. Second opportunity to roll eyes and exit. But I tried once more:
“It’s Harari’s opinion (at least as quoted) that denies any other interpretation. I tried to clearly state my opinion differs and why, and if you think my comments deny the validity of other opinions, then I apologize that I was not clear enough. I certainly don’t deny female agency in general; it would be peculiar if I did, given the majority of my writing output. However, in this movie, in my opinion, the point is … there is no female. That’s what Caleb gets wrong. You know, sometimes the blue curtains are blue curtains, and sometimes the robot is a robot.
And having checked a couple of his interviews, Garland does indeed say this is all about AI and intended entirely from the AI viewpoint. Of course, Harari might understand Garland’s work better than Garland does. I do hope I get the opportunity to ask Garland’s opinion about that.”
One went silent, and another tried a certain amount of stepping back and casting aspersions about Garland instead of me. (More capitals used “the OBVIOUS metaphor” etc., and “what was he thinking” sort of comments.) Also, a back stepping on Harari’s quote, so apparently, we should infer that he was using exaggeration to make a point, not that he was denying another interpretation.
Well, finally, this isn’t really about this particular Facebook interaction at all, it’s about the way intelligent people misdirect themselves, especially in groups.
The nub of the story is the man mistakenly believes that the robot is somehow identifiable as human and female, and pays for getting it wrong with his life. The core message of the plot is *there is no female here*. It required mental gymnastics to get from that to an ‘obvious’ metaphor where it’s *not* a robot, but a personification of intelligent women, and that men fear intelligent women.
It’s a metaphor, fine. It’s a strange one, because what does that make the moral of the story? If you trust intelligent women, they will kill you? That *is* what happens, isn’t it? Or is death a metaphor for life?
Harari is given a pass for denying outright that the story is about cybernetics, but my comment that *in my opinion* he’s stretching the point, is clearly a fascist denial of any other interpretation and there must be something wrong with me.
Some people want the metaphor that they want, so much, no matter how stretched it is, no matter that the author intends and probably most of the people watching the movie think. A different opinion, however expressed, seems to be perceived as somehow dangerous.
And I’ll end with a comment quoted in the discussion about Chappie (another highly recommended film about AI) which probably also means there are as many strained metaphors to be extracted from that film:
“Why doesn’t Chappie have to put up with this bullshit?”