Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Three

I’m going to make something clear, if it wasn’t prior to this: I like Toreth. I get where he’s coming from a lot of the time—and not just when he’s being a BAMF, either—and I love seeing his little intricacies when he’s just going about his business. Like me, he people-watches.

And his people-watching makes it easier for the narrative to give the reader an idea of what’s happening in his world. Like, well, now.

He’s at a lecture, watching the head of a small—but successful company discuss their product and its application in the real world. While many of the attendees seem to be computer people—or other corporate people—Toreth recognises a few of “his own” amongst the audience. (Even that was something that amused me: I don’t know how true it is for other professions, but I can generally pick people in my line of work when I’m out and about.)

Toreth’s reasons for being there aren’t quite the standard “work sent me as a representative,” (OMFG; work-related conferences…) rather it seems that he has interest—and initiative in the idea of a machine that might somehow make his job—or an aspect of it, at least—redundant. Not that he believes that, but still.

The company is Simtech, the product is the Sim. An impressive virtual reality machine designed to replicate places, smells, sounds, feelings, sensation and everything else that a user would think of as reality. My first thought, when I heard about it was, “Where would I want to go?” When I realised that it was a day in my life which was more than a decade ago now, I started considering how seductive a fake reality could be… and how while that would be insanely fucking awesome, it could have some serious social problems in the longterm.

Toreth isn’t at the presentation because of that, though: his consideration isn’t about how the Sim could replicate fantasy, but rather how it could convince his, er, subjects, into compliance. While for him there’s a very unlikely but still imaginable threat of his job being turned over to a machine, there’s also the somewhat horrifying idea of what virtual reality could be convincing a subject of. Ever had one of those nightmares where someone is hurting someone you care about—or forcing you to? Ever had one of those nightmares where you can’t stop something? What about the ones where you feel suspended forever with some hideous reality which was so believable that you wake up and it takes a strong coffee and a walk around the house to realise that yes, you still have a house, and no, no one’s kidnapped your children.

Then come ideas about suggestability in an interview or interrogation process. Imagine having virtual reality to add to your toolbox if you’re doing the questioning. Scared yet?

And this is where we meet Dr. Keir Warrick.

We don’t get a full descriptive blast of the man immediately: initially he’s at a distance and is indistinguishable dark hair and a smart suit, the next thing grabbing Toreth’s attention being his voice:

Good voice, Toreth thought. Overarticulates. Sign of a control freak.

Nicely spotted, Toreth.

He smiled. He enjoyed control freaks—it gave him something to take away.

And therein lies the challenge and the initial interest. It’s not that Warrick is pretty or intensely staring across a room or that he’s loaded or that he makes him feel like a natural what-the-fuck-ever—it’s that he’s a control freak and a challenge and he’s involved with something somewhat interesting. (Or that somewhere, deep down, what he does is seen on some subconscious level by Toreth as a threat which needs to be studied and neutralised.)

A new voice attracted Toreth’s attention. “Are you aware of the recent review in the Journal of Re-education Research which discusses the potential applications of simulation in the field of psychoprogramming?”

Toreth’s eyes narrowed. Mentioning a restricted-circulation journal in public wasn’t a clever move. He looked around for the speaker. There. A university type, earnest and obviously dangerously idealistic.

God. Combine the little that we know about Psychoprogramming (when even people trying to access using the procedure on their detainees and subjects are calling it “mind fuck” you know it’s pretty bad) and now this, and Mr. Idealistic Bright-Eyed-Bushy-Tailed-Save-the-World type is poking a wasp’s nest, isn’t he? Especially when it’s mentioned that he’s referred to a classified publication: the previous chapter referred to an industry-specific newspaper being contraband in the workplace…. But this sort of stuff? I can imagine the type of guy mentioning it, too: someone who wants to show how bright he is and how switched on and aware he is, someone possibly hoping for a bit of a debate to demonstrate how smart he is in front of an audience.

On that note, too: there probably is a journal like that out there. Not long ago, there was an FBI report released in a we-hardly-ever-do-this-but-here’s-a-one-off in regards to, and I quote—the science of interrogation. (I suppose “art” has an almost cartoon bad guy evil flair to it. Science makes it sound more serious and professional.)

The man continued, with the delightful addition of the academic’s touch of distancing himself from a dangerous opinion. “I have heard it described as potentially the most effective tool of oppression since memory blocking.” Toreth upgraded his assessment from “idealistic” to “death wish.” He had far better things to do than report the man, but even in the sheltered university environment there were doubtless others with both the time and the inclination.

Warrick responds diplomatically, though later we learn his true feelings about the situation of the world around them and about what goes on at I&I.

He sounded disapproving, although Toreth couldn’t tell whether  of the question or the questioner. “I am aware of the paper referred to. All I can say is that it is not an area SimTech plans to exploit, but I have no more power over how the technology may be used in the more distant future than I do over the opinions of the questioner’s acquaintances.”

And here, we learn a bit more about the relationship between the Administration and the private corporations who are still very much bound by—and regulated by—and utilised by—the Administration:

The Administration had the power to compel the licensing of new developments to the appropriate departments—the balancing factor was that the corporates as a block had the political clout to ensure that the Administration provided substantial compensation. In this case, Toreth could think of half a dozen highly useful applications without even trying; the interdepartmental fighting over budgets would be spectacular.

I… think I like this relationship. It seems a bit healthier than big business paying off politicians and getting to do what they want. Yeah, the Administration might be oppressive and totalitarian and paranoid, but it beats the idea of political parties being owned by big business and doing their bidding and making people believe what they want them to, from my point of view. *shrugs*

The talk about ethics and the Sim continues, and Warrick wraps things up like a boss. Toreth still hangs around, though.

And then he starts talking to him. And this is where we get a closer look at Warrick:

The man turned his head. Impassive dark eyes looked at him out of a face dominated by high cheekbones, too much nose, and the most beautiful mouth Toreth had ever seen on a man.

Light is on, trap is set, ladies and gentlemen.

And so, they start talking. Deciding not to reveal where he’s from—it seems that most of the rest of the world in their time are just as uncomfortable about the idea of a governmental interrogation department as ours are—Toreth smoothly uses a fake name, not bothering to mention where he’s from.

“You have an interest in computer sim technology then. What business are you in?”

“Not business, Doctor. Government.” Toreth gave the man a smile of his own.

“Ah. Are you hoping to license from us, Mr. Toth? If you are, I’m afraid you’ll have to make an official approach to SimTech. Or are you simply a civil servant out on a career development activity during his lunch hour?”

“I’m neither. Just interested in the topic, that’s all.”

“People are generally interested for a reason.”

“Of course. It has a bearing on what I do for a living. I fuck minds,” Toreth said pleasantly.

I love this. I love this exchange so so much that it makes me want to squee. We get so much about both of them here; while it looks like it’s more about Toreth revealing things—Warrick is demonstrating that he’s pretty damned shrewd when it comes to getting answers out of people when they don’t want to give them. He’s just doing it with a corporate-professional smoothness, in the same way that he handled the idealist’s questions during the presentation.

“I see.” Warrick took a sip of his drink, his expression calculating.

“Neurosurgeon? No. You didn’t introduce yourself as Dr. Toth. Socioanalyst, perhaps, if you were more…” He thought for a moment, his fascinating smile flickering and dying again. “Arrogant,” he said, finally.

Toreth’s smile grew. Lack of arrogance wasn’t something he’d been accused of before.

Warrick looked Toreth up and down, obviously appraising him with care. “Para-investigator, maybe,” Warrick said.

Hehehe. Awesome.

Toreth laughed, delighted. “Not even close. I study brain biochemistry at the Pharmacology Division of the Department of Medicine. I saw the announcement of your lecture and decided to attend.” Toreth leaned closer, glad he’d put in a little research before he came to the seminar. “I read your paper on preliminary computer sim in Neuromanipulation some years ago. Groundbreaking work, Doctor.”

Warrick tilted his head a fraction, considering. “That journal was not circulated to the general public.”

“No,” said Toreth, giving him a just-enough-teeth smile. “It wasn’t.”

“I see. You fuck minds,” Warrick said evenly. He put his glass down on the buffet.

And this is the point where Toreth decides that he’s going to get down with the guy. And this is the bit where I go, “Yanno, even this far into things, it’s still a better love story than Twilight AND 50 Shades.” Not to mention a hell of a lot hotter.

And when someone else rocks up to talk to Warrick, Toreth starts planning things, getting in contact with Sara, and asking her to find him a room where his fake name would take a corporate.

I love that Sara knows exactly what he’s up to, too, by the way. And that they have this down to a fine art. Sara suggests a hotel, finds a room, gets it though the department’s expenses, gives Toreth a moment to confirm with Warrick, and then books the room when confirmation is confirmed.

Who else wants a Sara in their life?

Before the date, he does a little background research into Dr. Warrick; re-reading about his basic stats on paper make me smile; it’s old nostalgic stuff realising that the names of his parents and siblings will have importance down the track, and that Toreth hasn’t even realised it at this stage.

And then he decides to read over his clearance file. It’s a bit more confidential and creepy than doing a Google search or looking someone up on FaceBook, but hey (does anyone think Warrick would have his settings on Public, anyway?)

Just at the end, we get a somewhat ominous—though intriguing—close. Warrick starts doing a little research of his own. He’s realised that he was talking to a fake identity… though the outer package was quite attractive, and he wants to know just what was going on. He’s narrowed it down somewhat, deciding Toreth is

[…]an ethically challenged Administration minion who had nothing better to do with his afternoon than sniff out new ways of hurting people. And hand out his hotel number to strangers.

And yet he can’t let it go. He realises he’s found someone who plays games and who’s been playing one with him. And he wants to see him again.

And all of this makes me one happy little person.


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13 thoughts on “Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Three

  1. Thistle on said:

    “I… think I like this relationship. ”

    Yes. It’s a strange thing, but I like the whole world a lot. There are big issues with it (some you’ve seen already), but still, it seems better than our own. I always feel… guilty? wrong? like something’s wrong with me? but that world is very attractive to me; even with the government-approved torture, seems like it would be a better place to live. (And I think this is the first time I’ve admitted that “out loud” before.)

    I’m so excited for you (and envious!). You’ve got SO MUCH good reading ahead of you! As you move through the stories, I don’t know how you’re going to stick to one chapter at a time. I stayed up all night reading and called in sick so I could keep reading (and I’m way too old for such things!). I’m looking forward to seeing you discover all this for the first time. 😀

    • I’ve already read the series before, but found I couldn’t just let it be. I’m looking forward to particular bits of it, though there are one or two shorts which I’m already thinking, “Fuck, how am I going to handle discussing *that*?” about. A few of them hit very close to the bone with me.

      And I AGREE. OMFG, I am totally with you on this and I don’t think I’ve explicitly admitted it, either. To be brutally honest, I’m going, “Hmmm, let’s see: no sexism, no racism, no homophobia, religion– just like big business– doesn’t run the government, the homeless seem to have a society which looks out for them more than this one does, kids aren’t being born to people who don’t want them, drugs are legal…” Obviously there are some sacrifices, but at the end of the day, they seem to have their shit together– and people’s quality of life seems pretty good.

      I can’t help but wonder, too, what happened– in “In From America”, there are suggestions of what preceded the Administration running things, or, at least, the victor’s side of it, and it makes me wonder if there is reason enough to justify such a strong hold on the population and such extreme measures. (And GOD, now I want ot start talking about the events in “First Against the Wall” but I’ll save that til I get to that book… it’ll be hard.)

      The politics– and getting to speculate on them and *what happened* are endlessly fascinating to me. 🙂 Especially now that I’m also watching Blake’s 7 and my mind’s sort of overlapping the two universes.

      • Thistle on said:

        First Against the Wall KILLED me! The title alone! I sat there, frowning at it, thinking “This can’t be good…”.

        In From America depressed me with how accurate the future might be. This country is already headed in that direction and it worries the heck out of me. Seeing it in black and white… Ugh. (Wonder how hard it would have been to emigrate into the Admin’s Europe?)

        I really need to watch Blake’s 7. It’s been on my list for a while now!

  2. I. Know. *grins* It was bloody INTENSE.

    And yeah, there’s a personal “hits close to the bone” moment there with it, but it’s probably beyond my capacity to explain, and not really relevant to the story, so I probably won’t go there, but, um, yeah. 🙂

    “In From America” was scary. I just sort of read it and felt relieved that they weren’t *over there* if that made sense, but it was still really harrowing. And of course, I got to thinking “What the fuck would happen to Australia? (We always seem to get killed off by nuclear radiation or climate change, but screw that).”

    And… do! I’m still only on the first series of it and I’m savouring it. It’s hilarious, though, whenever there are references to “The Administration” I’m all “OOOH!” about it. (The first series, at least, has been uploaded on YouTube, btw.)

    • Thistle on said:

      Yes! I was happy to see what was happening in America at the same time, but there’s the whole rest of the world to wonder about, too!

      And woo, that’s good to know! I have no issues with *cough*downloading*cough* things, but that it’s on youtube will make it all the easier.

      ” I got to thinking “What the fuck would happen to Australia? (We always seem to get killed off by nuclear radiation or climate change, but screw that).””

      Heh! That’s so true. Poor Australia!

  3. cynical_romantic on said:

    Yes, Manna Francis has done something really intriguing with this series: She’s created a dystopia that has enough going for it to subtly seduce the reader into being invested in it. So when First Against the Wall comes along, it’s incredibly jarring.

    Most fictional dystopias are so clearly awful that as readers, we can’t help but cheer for their seeds of destruction. But because the protagonists of this series work within the Administration rather than trying to subvert or destroy it, it brings our sympathies along with it. And it leads to those feelings of “hey, it’s messed up, but it’s not so bad, because at least it —“.

    • Maybe it’s because I read the main series first, but when I read the unfinished story about the female character who had been arrested/been through reeducation and so couldn’t get a job, I still thought it would be a good place to live. HER conditions were really bad, but I felt like she brought it on herself and if you were a “good citizen” you’d do well living there.

      I wonder how often people got arrested and falsely convicted? I think it had been mentioned, I really should read the stories again. 😀

      • I haven’t read the unfinished story though I found it interesting that it seems that the stigma of criminality still lingers– as it does in the western world today– even after someone has been punished/paid their debt to society/been “reeducated” for it. Not having read that story I don’t know how it works out or what gets elaborated on, but from the mention in canon, and then expanding upon it a bit with information from Blake’s 7 (where it’s revealed that the MF in that world isn’t infallible [though perhaps it’s been further developed and refined by the time The Administration series is happening?]) I think it’s interesting that there’s still that human element of labelling someone as criminal despite the system having brought them to justice/under control.

        I mean, do we (or does the population in The Administration) not believe in rehabilitation (or reeducation) actually working (and if it isn’t reliable– like certain measures our world uses to deal with criminality, where is the justification for still using it? Is it corrective or merely punitive and a threat to keep the rest of society from engaging in criminality?) or do we not want to accept that someone is not longer a threat because they’ve ‘blotted their copybook’?

        The more I learned about the system, the more I thought, “Yeah, I’d defend this, and I’d be suss on anyone trying to destroy it.” I’m getting ahead of myself, but the revolution in FAtW annoyed me, because of the arrogance of the dissidents. Rather than trying to work with the system to make it fairer and to alleviate some of their (reasonable) concerns, they just wanted to overthrow the entire thing… (And god, this reminds me of being at uni and wanting to scream at a number of student activists I encountered. Now I’m REALLY getting ahead of myself. 😛 )

      • Thistle on said:

        If the unfinished story is still on her site, I’d highly suggest reading it. I really enjoyed it, and it was an interesting look at how the not-well-off folks lived in that world.

        And you know, that’s a really good point. If no respectable corporation would hire someone who has been through reeducation, how much value is it? Maybe it’s like prison is to our real world — people are supposed to have a clean slate once they serve their time, but ex cons have a hard time getting good jobs…

        “but the revolution in FAtW annoyed me, because of the arrogance of the dissidents. Rather than trying to work with the system to make it fairer and to alleviate some of their (reasonable) concerns, they just wanted to overthrow the entire thing…”

        Again getting way ahead of ourselves– Wait, this would be spoilery if someone hasn’t read the stories yet and is following along with your rereading. There was a certain someone involved with the revolution, who had a guiding hand in it. I think he pushed things in the direction of revolution, no? Because of the experiences he had had during his “visit”? I wonder how it would have gone without his influence?

        What is the spoiler policy? Should we assume everyone has read the stories by now or should we be careful?

  4. “Maybe it’s like prison is to our real world — people are supposed to have a clean slate once they serve their time, but ex cons have a hard time getting good jobs…”

    That was exactly my thinking. And since the vast majority of people who come out of prison have a likelihood of going back there (I forget the actual statistics, but particularly if combined with illiteracy and drug/alcohol issues, if you’ve been inside, there’s a staggering likelihood of you getting locked up again in future) one has to ask if there’s any argument for it serving as rehabiliatative– and if it doesn’t do that, then why we’re still using the system. 😀 (Which leads me to think there’s definitely some idea of it being a punitive measure rather than one which effectively corrects behaviour…)

    Spoilers are a difficult area here… I wasn’t expecting this conversation to come up so early, TBH. I did advise on an earlier page that there would be spoilers for each chapter/section, and I assumed that only people reading are people who have already read the series, though maybe I shouldn’t be doing that… *meeps*

    And gawd, I wondered that, too, especially given that person’s obvious emotional involvement with/ties to parties concerned. Okay. Am going to shut up now. I’m chomping at the bit to get into that section of the book…

    (Still not sure what to do about the issue of spoilers though, because I don’t want to spoil the series for anyone, yet by the same token I don’t want to shut down discussion.

    Um, open call: If anyone has ideas, please lemme know!)

    • mannafrancis on said:

      I had a poke around, and there’s a wordpress plugin called Easy Spoiler that lets people hide spoilers with a button to show them. I guess that might get rather cumbersome, depending on what and how much people are saying, but it might be worth a look:

      • Ooooh– THANKYOU! 🙂 Now to work out if (and if so, how) to use plugins on here. 🙂 I like the idea of having opt-out when it comes to spoilers since I have kind of encouraged a couple of people who’ve never read the books before to get into them. 🙂

      • A followup to this: once again, thankyou– I’m uncertain if is different to (and thoroughly confused; I’m not familiar with this system!!!) though I love the idea of this plugin. Am looking into getting the blog hosted somewhere with a plugin capability: I can’t seem to use them on it as it stands unfortunately. I think I need to do a bit more research on the whole wordpress thing, too… *meeps*

        EDIT: have just learned that won’t allow me to upload plugins. CURSES! 😦 But thankyou for finding that one anyway. 🙂

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