Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Eight

One thing I really love about the Warrick-and-Toreth situation is that aside from Toreth’s initial desire to hook up with the dude, there is nothing that feels artificially constructed about their meetings. There is no need for a crazy excuse or for the reader to scratch their head and go, “Unnnnh? Coincidence? I think NOT.”

And the investigation and the situation at SimTech is just as rich and detailled and interesting as the very intense interaction between the two protagonists; you don’t get a sense of “downtime” in Mind Fuck, and I love that.

(I’ll admit something, too: I actually started reading this chapter smack-bang in the middle of a sex scene in the other thing that I’m reading because I got bored  and my review was getting too wordy and the other reading options were None of Us Were Like This Before or to start a third series I’m considering doing readthroughs of. So much for my resolve, hey?

 

One of the challenges of doing a readthrough on this one in particular book is there is heavy plotty stuff which bears mentioning for the rest of the entry to make sense, and I neither want to spell out everything or leave stuff out… or grab slabs of text and talk around them. I think with shorter pieces in the series and the ones heavy on character explanation, discussion and opinions and that “debriefing” sort of thing happen more easily and with less consideration of How do I do this? And I’m not having moments of “Holy god what the fuck did I just read?” in this series, either, so there’s nothing to really nitpick about or make snide comments on. (And I’m not just saying that because I am aware that Ms. Francis has been reading my entries over here. Hell, if E. L. James turned up and wanted to talk to me, my opinion wouldn’t actually change of the material itself. [Though I would probably tell her to bitchslap her editor. Unless something’s vanity published, it’s not just one person’s fault when it features a lot of fail.])

 

It’s hard to critique because it is that fucking amazing. And it’s a great place to start, too, because so much about the SimTech case sets up the world around Toreth and Warrick and the reader gets to warm to the characters in their own time. It’s not like the characters are pushed onto us with the idea that we’re going to love them as much as the writer does. One thing I LOATHE as a reader is being expected to like or be sympathetic to a character as though it’s a given. Conversely, being presented with an absolute monster whom I’m meant to despise will often make me curious or interested enough to start wondering about their motivations. And if I hate the protagonist enough, especially if the writer wants me to adore them for no good reason, I’ll start actively rooting for the bad guy.

Anyway, in Mind Fuck, I don’t wind up doing that, and I suspect that my views of some of the characters are probably quite different from the way their creator sees them and I like that that is okay, if that makes sense. It’s a credit to both the writer and the quality of the work.

 

Anyway, rambles aside, Toreth gets to see Warrick in a truly believable, but not-exactly-expected fashion. (Let’s face it: you don’t expect a death in your workplace. Unless you work somewhere in mining or in a dangerous factory or a majorly understaffed prison with lax security and supremely violent inmates or something.) And for the first time, Warrick gets to see him in his professional capacity. And given the situation, that’s caused another subtle shift in the power issues.

And that’s something else I love about the series: the power issues between these two don’t really happen on an axis– it’s more like a very subtle, multi-dimensional thing taking a metric fucktonne of stuff into account. It’s realistic and it’s awesome. And it shifts, depending on the environment, other people being around (and who they are), previous behaviours from the two of them, and pretty much every other factored in variable.

 

Warrick, we learn, has been sent to his office by Justice when the investigation started, and has been waiting in there, working on something before getting questioned.

He has no idea that Toreth is about to make an appearance, and Toreth, being Toreth, relishes the idea of surprising him.

 Warrick sat at his desk, eyes fixed on a large screen. Two more screens kept it company on the wide desk. He didn’t look up at the intrusion. “I said I didn’t want to be disturbed until those idiots have finished–”

Toreth closed the door. “Good morning, Dr. Warrick.”

Best entrance ever, and one of those complete “Fuck this would translate beautifully to the screen” moments, too.

Warrick’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowing. Then he took in the uniform and made the connection.His expression smoothed into wary politeness. “Ah. An official visit. Part of the general disruption to the Centre?”

“Yes.”

“I thought I saw Justice Department uniforms in the building,” Warrick said.

“You did. Now we’re taking over the investigation.”

 

It’s interesting how the I&I uniform manages to say so much just by being there. While we never get a detailled description of the I&I uniforms, beyond knowing they’re black, we understand the influence they hold over the general public in a number of instances throughout the series. Justice’s uniforms are blue and police-like (and from my understanding of cops in the UK, they’re heavily concerned with investigation and they’re a community-friendly organisation. [Then again, this might be warped and inaccurate and overly inspired by my years of watching The Bill.] I do know that they don’t carry firearms around, too, though, so I don’t think they’d be as intimidating as cops in Australia or the US.)

You do not, I understand, fuck with I&I officers. Everything about their reputation and public image is well-designed to bring about cooperation. Or compliance, at least. And it’s such a little thing, but uniforms, in the real world, do have that influence. (Compare the effects of the Stanford Prison Experiment when the “guards” wore uniforms and then the later model of that situation where the uniforms were gone. I am aware that public perception of me has changed since my workplace instated uniforms.)

 

Toreth explains to a genuinely clueless– and genuinely bothered– Warrick what’s happened, and that he isn’t a suspect because he’s got an airtight alibi: him.

I love it. It could be such a clichéd thing (and I’ve seen it used a lot in Phoenix Wright fic in particular) that someone’s got an alibi because they were playing hide the sausage with them—but this just feels like what would happen if that actually happened in real life. Suspension of disbelief, big time.

Even so, Toreth is trying not to think about that (despite noticing that Warrick is sporting some bruises), because he’s being professional at the moment. (I love his dedication to his work. Seriously: so so so much. It feels authentic rather than like his workaholism is an excuse for other things or just a plot device.)

He explains that the deceased was Kelly Jarvis, which causes Warrick to react with genuine shock: he liked Kelly, we presume, and he knew her. (And it is really weird talking to someone one day and then finding out that they’re dead a little while later.)

Warrick elaborates; he knew her in the capacity that she was a student who would consult him about work for the Sim, and he offered her a lift home given that it wasn’t early and the student living areas in the city aren’t particularly safe. Interestingly enough, he adds that it was just a lift that he offered, and that she refused it because she wanted to work on something—which Warrick can’t remember—and that no one would have  overheard them… except, perhaps, the resident workplace psychologist whom Warrick had just seen prior.

Toreth then inadvertently opens a can of worms:

“I have to ask a standard question—nothing personal. Did you have any relationship with the victim, other than a professional one?”

“Meaning?”

He abandoned subtlety. “Have you ever had sex with her?”

Warrick frowned slightly—annoyance was Toreth’s first guess, but then he realised it was a genuine effort to remember. “Not that I recall,” Warrick said at length, “but I’d have to check the logs to be sure. If you mean outside the sim, the answer is definitely no.”

Oh, lordy. A genuine other issue surrounding the sim which I’d never considered until reading this. On the upside, you wouldn’t have to worry about worrying about catching things from anonymous sexual encounters in the sim, though.

I can’t even try to make the face I assume Toreth would be trying not to make by now.

 “So what are the logs?”

“We test our hardware and software on as many volunteers are we can. Most of them are inhouse, because of confidentiality issues. So it’s possible that, during some test or piece of research, I might’ve had sex—in the sim—with Kelly. I don’t think so, but I can’t guarantee what I would remember. However, everything is recorded, so it would be in the session logs.”

I love the idea of the sim’s software needing testing. Of course it’s an obvious consideration, but one that seems ignored in a lot of sci-fi writing I’ve seen where the technology always seems to be both flawless and not developing.

I can imagine, too, some of the potential weirdnesses that would need ironing out in the sim. Ever have weird glitches in video games? I heard about some doozies in the first edition of The Sims before patches started getting released: apparently sometimes you could have disturbingly ugly sim babies created, for example. And hey, I’ve found a few even in Mass Effect 2 which I have been playing like an obsessive last week, so bugs and glitches are hardly a “gone with the times” thing. And, hey, Windows 8. Shit still needs testing.

Imagine bugs, though, in the sim—simulated reality which is close enough to the real thing—while having sex. I can completely understand a need for beta testing and lots of it. You wouldn’t want someone paying for something for erotic kicks and then needing to spend the rest of their life in therapy due to an unnoticed bug that turned out to bring forth High Octane Nightmare Fuel for the user. Someone like me might find that hilarious. The company getting sued for damages and the person who never wants to have sex again might not find it as funny.

“You get to fuck enough twenty-two-year-old students that you can’t remember?” Toreth’s professional control deserted him. “Jesus fucking Christ. Nice work if you can get it.”

This time Warrick didn’t smile. “It’s not a free-for-all orgy. We’re sensitive to the emotional dangers involved and the possibility of exploitation.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why this series rocks so much harder than certain other ones. Even in fiction, with technology we don’t even have available to us, there are concerns about how it could affect the people involved with it. There is a recognition that people can be harmed psychologically. There are measures put in place to make things as responsible and above-board as possible. (It’s realistic, too.)

Ahem. Sorry for that interruption.

All activities are covered by strict protocols and closely supervised. It’s just a job, you might say.”
He tilted his head, eyes narrowing, making Toreth feel like a specimen under examination. “Tell me, Para-investigator, do you take pleasure in inflicting pain during interrogations?”

Slam. Dunk. Score.

“I—“ Toreth blinked. “Not in the way you mean, no. I like to do my work well, whatever it is.”

 

And you know what? I actually believe him. Given other aspects of Toreth’s commitment to his work, and his perfectionist and workaholic leanings which get noted every so often, I think he’s vastly different to usual bad guy types who positively savour hurting other people. For Toreth, in what we’ve seen so far, it’s not personal. And even when he did want to hurt someone for personal reasons, he stopped himself, recognised it as fantasy, and left it there.

And in a way, that actually makes Toreth come across to me, at least, as someone trustworthy in his role. For the most part, he’s able to keep himself very well controlled, and he’s able to remain objective when it comes to the people he’s dealing with. His detachment actually is a plus in what he does, from my angle.

And I find that kind of fascinating and could meta forever about it. But I won’t, but it’s just something else I really like about both the character himself and the way he’s written. He could have all too easily been a cackling guy in a black uniform gleefully hurting his subjects, who kicks puppies in his spare time, but he’s not.

“Mm.” Warrick flexed his right shoulder, rubbing his wrist on the same arm, the implication clear: Last night you hurt me and enjoyed it.

And here’s another part where I want to meta forever about this because there are way too many fascinating angles: there’s Toreth the professional, there’s Toreth out of uniform just doing his thing (where he does enjoy being in control and inflicting pain in some circumstances) and then there’s Warrick’s reaction to all of this—and his involvement therein. None of this is two-dimensional and simple, and I love that Toreth’s profession—and Warrick’s thoughts about it—is never completely “dealt with” and is a recurring theme throughout the series.

When the hell did Warrick start running the interview? Toreth thought with a touch of irritation. Still, better than hiding behind corporate lawyers. He was all in favour of interviewees who were willing to talk enough rope to hang themselves. Toreth nodded. “Point taken.”

Two things: a) now THIS is what someone hijacking their interview looks like, and b) well handled, Toreth.

Warrick then apologies for sounding a bit defensive and suggests that Toreth discuss the psychological stuff with the workplace psych he’d mentioned before.

Attack and retreat—the same game as last night. Toreth decided to change the subject.

He asks about the security SimTech uses, which is, for him, frustratingly less than what he’s used to. Warrick’s view on security is that it’s often problematic itself and potentially more dangerous than perceived threats: records and identification of staff in situations can be sold, it can make identifying targets for blackmail or bribery easy. I love Warrick’s attitude: he’s smart enough to realise that corporate sabotage is a more detailed problem than a lot of companies and that at the end of the day, people are the biggest weakness. It’s intelligent, and it fits in perfectly in what we know of the guy as a social engineer. And being aware of what he can do to get information makes him aware of what others are going to try and do to his company. (Kevin Mitnick, by the way, is now a security consultant.)

Unfortunately, though, a lack of the standard surveillance means no record of Kelly Jarvis dying, and only vague evidence of other factors which might be important.

Then the elephant in the room that no one’s brought up gets mentioned.

“You think the sim killed her?” Warrick asked.
“It’s a possibility.”
“No, it isn’t.”

Warrick is dead certain about this, and very defensive. (I’ll admit, I was wondering, too. But it looks so obvious, doesn’t it?)

Toreth then points out that he’s not just there because of Kelly Jarvis, but that he’s aware of Jon Teffera’s death. Teffera was found dead in a similar situation, remember—on the sim couch. But Warrick is adamant that the sim didn’t kill him, either. But it’s his word against Toreth needing to investigate, and while Warrick says he’s wasting his time in doing so, he agrees to help Toreth what whatever he needs for the investigation.

Toreth then asks what Warrick was up to when Teffera died, and it turns out that he was having dinner with the other two SimTech directors.

Teffera had died at nine thirty, making a nice, tight alibi for all of the SimTech directors. It made him automatically suspicious, although senior corporates rarely did their own dirty work. Still, people planning a killing might prefer to have it occur when they themselves were definitely elsewhere.

It turns out the directors doing dinner thing is a regular happening and that the three of them: Asher Linton, Lew Marcus, and Warrick—are friends anyway in spite of their shared business. And nothing happened that particular night that was out of the ordinary, though now that there have been two deaths which have happened involving sim users, Warrick’s now concerned about people not wanting to invest in the technology.

“If the sim turns out to be responsible for—“
“The sim didn’t kill them.” The confidence in his voice was absolute.
“Then what did?”
“You’re the para-investigator—you find out.” Warrick smiled, perhaps an attempt to take the sharpness from his words. “And if you do, please let me know.”

 

Following on from this, Toreth decides to pay director number two—aka Lew Marcus—a visit. Marcus is in a bad mood and isn’t sure what’s going on, of course. I’ll admit, he’s just one of those people I think would piss me off if I knew him in real life, and something rubbed me the wrong way about him early on. He’s a bit sharp with Toreth, who isn’t exactly compassionate and accommodating towards him, either, though he cooperates with Toreth’s questioning.

It transpires that he was the one who found Kelly Jarvis’ body during morning checks of the sim equipment, though he thought nothing of it because he assumed she was still alive when he saw her hooked up to it. When she was found by a tech who realised she was dead, Marcus was the one to secure the room, get everyone to leave and call the directors. (Someone else called Justice.)

Toreth questions him, too, and the answers he gets don’t offer much assistance: there was nothing suspicious about his movement in SimTech either the night Kelly died or the morning afterwards, and he had no relationship with Kelly, in or out of the sim.

Toreth then asks

“How about the trials?”
The smile did nothing to soften his face. “I’m a married man, Para-investogator. I can assure you my wife would have something to say about that.”

Just a little side note I wanted to highlight: that also piqued my interest given the way Warrick looks at his involvement inside the sim. Again, I like that everyone perceives things differently.

Toreth asks about the evening Teffera died and Marcus suddenly realises that that’s part of what this is all about. But still, nothing suspicious there, either.

And Marcus, like Warrick, is dead certain that the sim didn’t kill Kelly. Maybe he’s not as passionate about it and as defensive, but he is still pretty damned certain that there is absolutely no way the thing killed her—or Teffera, even though he realises that the problem of people being found dead in it is dead serious. Corporate sabotage gets brought up, and Marcus believes that that’s more likely.

We learn a bit more about Teffera’s sim machine: Teffera, it turns out, had serious spinal injuries and was paralysed.

Up until that mention, I’d never even considered the sim in that capacity, and thinking about it… doesn’t this just make the idea of the thing that much more amazing? Imagine the use it could have for people with disabilities and access and communication issues, too… it’s actually kind of mindblowing. And then, when you realise that we haven’t quite gotten there, technology-wise, it’s kind of depressing. I remember years and years ago and my sister and I were talking about Hogwarts and the Harry Potterverse, and my sister said, “Do you ever think about how there isn’t a Hogwarts enough and realise that it’s actually kind of depressing?” And I thought about that and realised that she was right. And the other day I asked people on my FaceBook if they’d ever fallen in love with a fictional career and the result was that yes, there were a few of us who had, and then a few of us realised that we never would be doing it, and that was actually quite depressing. (I loved my friend’s answer that Indiana Jones made her think that archaeologists went around fighting Nazis and that she wanted to do that when she was a kid.)

But yeah, think about it. The fact that the sim doesn’t exist is kind of depressing.

“[…] The adaptations were expensive and time-consuming. Interesting, though—technically very challenging. Direct feeds into the brain mimicking lost nerve inputs, complete restructuring of the output analysis system and contact feedback.” For the first time in the interview, Marcus became animated. “Ah, yes. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment, if I do say so myself, although I don’t know what we’ll do with it when Justice finally returns it. A pity there aren’t enough people in his condition with his kind of money to justify devoting more energy into it.”

Oh, ouch. I know that wasn’t meant to be completely fucking brutal, Marcus, but, well, cringe. You have to love the devoid-of-human-interest, very scientific fascination that Marcus has: he’s a hardware specialist, the specifications and the work of the machine is what interests him. It’s pretty much just as heartless as Toreth asking if the sim could induce feelings of pain and be useful in his line of work: the sort of thing someone said by someone a bit socially inept who is at least partially a product of their career. (And engineers and scientists seem notorious for this in fiction… though I’ve known a few engineering types who are like that in real life so I believe the stereotype might just have some grounding in reality.)

Marcus doesn’t know why Kelly would be targeted for corporate sabotage, and admits that he’s not that familiar with her work since he’s the hardware and biological interfacing guy. He suggests talking to the other two directors about that side of things.

“So you trust your fellow directors to have your best interests at heart?”
The answer came without hesitation. “Yes, I do. They are two of the most trustworthy people I have met in my life.” Judging by the emphasis he put on it, two of the very few trustworthy people. “SimTech means a lot to me,” Marcus continued. “I’m not going to pretend I have the same sort of—“ He frowned, clearly looking for the right words. “I don’t believe in it the way Warrick does, but it’s as much my corporation as his or Linton’s. And it’s going to make me a rich man. I’ve always wanted to be rich.”

I love the way he mentions Warrick’s love for the thing, and that it’s so obvious that Warrick is so enamoured with it. It’s his baby. I also love Marcus’ thoroughly unlikeable personality. He could be a completely neutral witness, but he’s not. I like that he irks me. (I actually get a bit of a buzz when someone tells me that I’ve written someone who’s personality grates at them or that they truly loathe one of my characters because he’s so fucking unlikeable.)

Over some more questions, Marcus talks about his history with SimTech: he and Warrick previously worked together at the Human Sciences Research Centre… on a project funded by the Department of Security, through the Neuroscience Section.

So they were working for the government. It turns out that the project was scrapped after inter-department conflicts and the reorganisation of the Department of Security (something I grinned at: again, like the arduous paperwork and the missing plants and Chevril, so typical in government organisations) but Warrick realised the potential in what they’d been doing, and needed Marcus’ technical expertise, and so, they bought their work from the Administration, and, so, SimTech.

There’s a fair bit to say to all of this, though the moment the secrecy of the research involved in the sim and the fact that it was government stuff to begin with adds another layer of intrigue and interest to it. You can see clearly why people would be wanting to sabotage SimTech with that knowledge. It also gives some insight into Warrick: his intelligence isn’t limited to technical stuff and the sim; he’s a shrewd businessman as well.

 

Toreth then pops over to meet the third member of the SimTech directors, Asher Linton.

I like Asher, too. She comes across as bright, self-assured, and confident in that way that means she’s at ease with a lot of people without being so laid back you think she’s going to fall over, or irritatingly perfect. She’s not overly freaked out by Toreth’s arrival and leaves the door open for him and is pleasant and cooperative with Toreth.

“Keir asked me to cooperate fully, in any case, without waiting for the warrants.”
He must have looked surprised at her use of the familiar name, because she offered him a seat and said, “I’ve been a friend of Keir Warrick’s for a long time—since we were children. I met his sister Dillian at school; that’s how I know him. Coffee?”

Interesting. But hey: she just seems like a really pleasant and easy-to-interact with person.

Toreth notes what she’s wearing—an expensive suit– or rather, the significance of it, and wonders if she is able to dress like that because she was wealthy prior to, or because of SimTech. Again, another thumbs-up from me; I like it when details are part of a bigger picture and have a reason for being noted. Francis writes like this a LOT, but it’s especially evident in this book where there’s a lot of stuff going on in one story. It’s succinct and clever and immersive.

Anyway, they talk for a bit about Kelly’s death, which Asher doesn’t know a great deal about. Because she’s dealing with the financial end of things, the concern of corporate sabotage and where they’ll get their funding from now that this has happened occurs to her. Teffera’s death wasn’t exactly an endorsement of the sim, though because of his circumstances, financers didn’t walk away, but as Asher says, they became nervous.

“What happens if the funding fails?”

“SimTech dies,” she said simply.

If the sim hadn’t killed Teffera and Jarvis, then here was as clear an impetus for corporate sabotage as he could wish for. “What happens to the rights to the sim technology?”

She frowned. “I’d have to check terms, but as far as I remember, they would revert to Administration ownership.”

And things just get a whole lot messier. Toreth considers that if the rights went to a sponsor, the whole mess of corporate sabotage gets a lot clearer and more obvious, though a corporate with “the right friends” could easily acquire them then. He asks Asher who she’d suspect if it was corporate sabotage.

Asher notes that when SimTech started up, there were a number of disappointed parties who wanted to fund it, having realised the potential for the technology. Toreth does warn her to be suspicious if anyone offers to assist them with funding issues especially if they want more control of things, to which Asher comes out with:

“Should I shop our potential saviour to I&I?”

Hehe. I wonder if she was like me and wondering what would happen if it was I&I offering to bail them out and take control of things?

Asher didn’t know Kelly as she mainly handles the financial stuff, though we do find out what the deal is with students as opposed to employees of the company. One thing that does come up in the books is the education question, and I like how the Administration handles it (and I think it’s a lot kinder than what most countries do!). Basically the students working for SimTech remain so and are pursuing university degrees: when they get their degrees, they often join the company, but until then they’re not fully-fledged employees. There aren’t a lot of differences in their allowances, though: while students are restricted from accessing certain areas, so are regular employees.

Toreth asks Asher to tell him about the company, from her angle: SimTech was founded seven years ago, and because of her corporate background and ability, Warrick wanted her on board.

“Warrick issued the invitation on merit, I assure you, Para-investigator. SimTech is always his highest priority.”

A paragon of corporate virtue, in fact—something that Toreth was beginning to find annoying.

Heh. I remember someone describing Warrick as “Bill Gates,” and thought “Nah, Bill Gates was meaner in the earlier years.” I love Warrick’s attitude and devotion to the business. Warrick might be a smartarse at times, he mightn’t be entirely honest and he might be tricksey, but he’s actually a good bloke. Or… he treats people well and he’s a good employer who balances shrewd business sense with decency, at least.

Asher talks about SimTech a bit more and offers some more insight: sim units will be commercially available in about three years, though the pricing will be prohibitive for most people—though she believes there will still be an industry in it.

Toreth can see them being more successful than that. Remember IBM’s thing about eight computers, hey?

 

Ownership of the company is discussed: between them, the three directors own about eighty percent of SimTech, then the university they’re operating out of owns a bit more, and friends and family are the other investors. They have agreements with other companies who don’t seem to have any problems with anything.

Curiously, it’s not until the end of the meeting where we hear Asher Linton’s view on the sim being a potential killer.

“Do you think it’s possible that the sim killed the girl or Jon Teffera?”

After a moment’s consideration, she said “What does Warrick think?”

Warrick, not Marcus. “I asked for your opinion.”

“I don’t have one. The technology isn’t my specialty. But I’d happily stake my reputation on whatever Warrick says. I have before, many times.”

 

Waiting outside the office is one of Toreth’s junior team members who’s found someone who saw Kelly Jarvis alive the previous night. Jasleen Mistry explains that the witness is a software engineer who is completely freaked out by what’s happened, though probably up to an interview.

Yang, the programmer, is freaked out, and keeps repeating that she was fine in a way that’s entirely believable and devoid of suspicion. Through the interview, he talks about what happens, and we get some more understanding of the workings of SimTech. He’d seen Kelly because they were both volunteers working on a trial in the sim, and Yang explains he’s on the “full list.”

“What’s the full list?” Toreth asked patiently.
“Oh. There are—“ He stopped. “I’m sorry. I’m not usually… it’s shaken me up, that’s all. It’s—poor Kelly. She was fine when I left. Absolutely fine. I can’t believe—“
“Take your time. Tell me about the lists.” With any luck, talking about work would calm the man down a little.

I love the dialogue here. You genuinely feel bad for Yang; sometimes people experiencing trauma or loss secondhand get more fucked up than actual witnesses, and the way Yang speaks is completely believable. Furthermore, Toreth’s handling of the situation? Absolutely spot on and just clever and accurate. And of course, this comes down to the writing. People actually react like this. Smart people dealing with them know how to handle them. And smart writers know how to get people to handle them. It’s such a little detail, but beautifully executed.

Anyway, Yang explains the lists:

“[…] It means I’ll do any kind of trial. There are different lists, depending on what kind of trials people want to take part in. Whether you’re prepared to participate in the sex-based research, basically. And what kinds of activities are acceptable if you are.”

EEE! I love that they even take this into account. And it’s another little detail included which feels real and wonderful.

Anyway, when Toreth notices that Yang’s married, he asks about that aspect, but Yang points out that he wants to help the company and his wife wants him to do well in his job.

Toreth nodded, knowing very well how that sort of thing worked. Employees always knew what was expected, what their superiors wanted to hear. All the sensitivity in the world to the possibility of exploitation couldn’t stop those kinds of insidious pressures.

So Simtech isn’t perfect after all. And… yeah. I think everyone’s worked in places or been part of voluntary activities where there is some sort of obligation beyond what is formally and explicitly expected.

Toreth asks a bit more about the selection and then asks about the situation with Kelly and the experiment. Yang explains that he was needed there for two hours, and Toreth wonders if the sessions are at all recorded in a way that’s meaningful from the “outside” of the sim.

Yang nodded. “Everything’s recorded, at least, short term. It can be, er, put back together, to make a kind of recording, as if there were a camera in the sim room itself. The hypothetical observer viewpoint, it’s called.”

Perfectly practical when you’re doing experiments and need to collect data and might need to look at things or show them to other people afterwards, right? But also… you can see why the adult entertainment industry wants in on the sim, can’t you? You could legally do stuff in the sim that would get your arse thrown in jail and incur the wrath of the Good Taste Police.

Anyway, Yang explains that there is an enormous amount of data that generally gets dealt with in the few days after its production, and they get back to talking about Kelly. Yang explains that Kelly’s friend, Tara Scrivin, contacted her while she was in the sim, over the link, though there seems to be little of significance there and that any other recordings of people coming or going would be accessed in security records since the room was in a secure space.

After the experiment, it seems that Kelly might have stayed in the sim, using her personal time: one of the perks of being a volunteer guineapig means that you get “personal time” in the sim. Assuming there’s a space available for you—it’s understandably in high demand.

Toreth asks if Kelly used drugs, to which Yang is a bit shocked: that’s against the rules and bannination from the sim will happen if you’re doing that. Furthermore, the workplace is one where people will report those sorts of infractions

Toreth shook his head slightly. What a place to work—fucking co-workers on billable time but getting bent out of shape over recreational pharmaceuticals.

I giggled at that. Clearly he’s more of the Lew Marcus’s wife view about the “full list” trials than the Jin Li Yang opinion. I can also understand why you wouldn’t want your guineapigs—or anyone using it on personal time—off their faces in the sim. I can imagine data getting warped in an experimental environment, and I can imagine the effects of certain drugs causing results to the users which might wind up damaging the sim hardware!

Anyway, Toreth believes Yang to be innocent, and leaves Mistry to finish dealing with him, returning to I&I to deal with the paperwork Belqola has acquired from Justice.

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

  1. mannafrancis on said:

    Anyway, in Mind Fuck, I don’t wind up doing that, and I suspect that my views of some of the characters are probably quite different from the way their creator sees them and I like that that is okay, if that makes sense.

    I’ve always felt that trying to make all your readers feel the same way about characters is an exercise in pain and futility. I mean, does it ever happen in real life that someone is universally liked or disliked, and in the same way? No. So why make extra work for yourself trying to push that particular Sisyphean stone uphill. As long as not too many people find a character so unbearable that they actually stop reading, I’ll call it a win.

    And even then, I have to assume that there are (or would be) some people who get as far as Toreth drugging Warrick’s drink and say, no, that’s enough, I’m not reading a book where one of the main characters does that. There are people who really struggle with characters being unfaithful, and while I know some people who feel like that have read The Administration anyway, I assume others have bailed. I’ve had people tell me they flat-out hate Toreth for various reasons, but they’ve read the series because there’s other stuff in there that they enjoy. Which is all fine by me.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean you don’t put any consideration into how readers will see the characters — like the example earlier of breaking the reader in gently to Toreth’s job. And there are some traits you can give even unpleasant characters which fit them but are broadly viewed in a positive light, e.g. physical bravery, which is an easy sympathetic trait to give a character like Toreth. (Which is why I admire George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman so much. He’s an abject coward, which is such a hard sell as a key character trait for an adventure story ‘hero’ especially, but he’s still a great protagonist.)

    Really, though, a lot of the time, likability or lack of it isn’t even important to a character’s function, especially for minor characters. There’s nothing that, say, Lew Marcus is doing in Mind Fuck that requires the reader to like or dislike him. (Although I’m with you on not liking him if I met him in real life. He isn’t a fantastic human being. As a character I created, though, I’m contractually obliged to love him.) So, again, I tend to just let characters do their jobs in the story, and leave the readers to make up their own minds about them as people.

    Whoo, that ended up rather long, sorry!

    • >>> I’ve always felt that trying to make all your readers feel the same way about characters is an exercise in pain and futility.

      *grins* I agree. But recently the trend seems to be “everyone must love and empathise with my character as much as I do” from writers in popular fiction. I don’t think we’re meant to dislike Bella Swann, for example, and I’ll admit even in some more obscure stuff (Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Prep are two that come to mind) I initially LOATHED the protagonists. I actually didn’t finish Prep because I thought, “Why am I reading about this spoilt, manipulative, bitchy-for-the-hell-of-it, privileged little snot who doesn’t DO anything interesting? Hey, I went to private school and got to see that shit first hand; I don’t need to buy books about this”) I’ve noticed it. And then there have been other books where I think I’m meant to have strong feelings in some way about characters (Never Let Me Go comes to mind) yet they’ve been so fucking bland I haven’t liked or disliked them, I just haven’t cared about them.

      But with this series, it feels completely objective. I was wondering for ages how you felt about the world they’re in, too, which was AWESOME: like I said awhile ago, it would have been easy to show bias and make it political, but there’s none of that, and it’s amazing.

      >>> I have to assume that there are (or would be) some people who get as far as Toreth drugging Warrick’s drink and say, no, that’s enough, I’m not reading a book where one of the main characters does that.

      When I read American Psycho, I actually did keep putting the book down (on at least three occasions, anyway) and thought, “I can’t actually read this: I feel physically ill.” And then I’d think, “How the fuck does this END? What happened to Bateman, anyway?” and would go back to reading it. I think if something’s compelling enough, people won’t stop reading because the protagonist does awful things. Or maybe I’m just weird.

      >>> I’ve had people tell me they flat-out hate Toreth for various reasons, but they’ve read the series because there’s other stuff in there that they enjoy.

      *meeps* I love him. I love him because he’s so seriously flawed but in some part it’s because of those flaws that he’s so good at his job, and that there’s so much going on with him. (The relationship with Warrick pushes him out of his comfort zone, and it is completely fascinating to watch, for example. I mean, he’d still be interesting without that, but it adds something huge.) I think I’ve said it before, but he’s one of only two characters I’ve read in anything who I can feel some sort of “god, that character reminds me of myself” stuff about and it’s equal parts scary, but kind of awesome. (His sense of humour and some of his characteristics and thought processes in particular. Also some aspects of how he is about his work… I feel like I get the guy.)

      >>> (Although I’m with you on not liking him if I met him in real life. He isn’t a fantastic human being. As a character I created, though, I’m contractually obliged to love him.)

      *nods* I love him as a character, and I love that I don’t like him as a person. This might sound weird, but one of my favourite bits of feedback I ever got was someone saying how much they despised one character I was writing just because he was so horrible. But with Marcus, he’s not overtly evil, and writing a character in a way that the reader doesn’t like them, but having it subtle? That’s pretty fucking amazing. 🙂 (And it’s funny, the characters I’ve seen people expressing dislike for have been Dillian and Sara, and Dilly I’m neutral about and I adore Sara.)

      And thankyou for your feedback. It’s amazing getting to see where you’re coming from on things… I still feel like I’ve hit the jackpot in falling in love with a series which has a writer willing to join in with the discussion… most readers will never get that. Thankyou.

      • >>>*meeps* I love him. I love him because he’s so seriously flawed but in some part it’s because of those flaws that he’s so good at his job, and that there’s so much going on with him. (The relationship with Warrick pushes him out of his comfort zone, and it is completely fascinating to watch, for example.)

        The dynamic, fluid, push-pull relationship between Toreth and Warrick is, I assume, what keeps most people reading the Administration series long after the whodunit of Mindfuck is over and done with. They are truly fascinating, of course. But what I love the most about them is how the delicate balance struck between Warrick’s and Toreth’s power is mirrored by the balance of power in the world where they live — that between the Administration (as represented by Toreth) and the Corporations (as represented by Warrick). It’s a hard thing to write characters that are REAL and addictive and leap off the page… and are at the same time representative of a broader point — one from an invented world, no doubt. The checks and balances between the government and the corporations keep shifting and are in a ready state of flux, but they’re a very realistic portrayal of a world not too different from our own.

        And the way the BDSM aspect of their relationship works, how it’s Toreth who tops and who nominally has the power, but really, it’s Warrick who holds all the cards most of the time, is probably what makes it easier for a lot of people to read about some of the less savoury aspects of Toreth’s character without construing anything that the boys do as abusive. Because yes, that’s really how BDSM works — the bottom is the one with all the power. And in this case, it becomes clear as the story evolves that Warrick generally holds the upper hand… and is by far the more dangerous of the two, despite his respectable veneer and (IMHO) genuinely “better guy” character and desire to do the right thing. Toreth is emotionally handicapped and is therefore less equipped to deal with their relationship than Warrick, who, for the most part, doesn’t push him too hard. But it’s that push-pull and the way that Toreth gradually evolves that is so fascinating to read.

        (And, no, I haven’t read 50 Shades of Puke… but judging by your hilarious recaps, this whole power exchange dynamic is one that EL James could stand to learn a thing or two about. Being sexually submissive does NOT equal being weak, helpless or powerless. Arrrggggh.)

      • >>> But what I love the most about them is how the delicate balance struck between Warrick’s and Toreth’s power is mirrored by the balance of power in the world where they live — that between the Administration (as represented by Toreth) and the Corporations (as represented by Warrick). It’s a hard thing to write characters that are REAL and addictive and leap off the page… and are at the same time representative of a broader point — one from an invented world, no doubt.

        You know, I didn’t really consider that until you mentioned it, but MY GOD, YOU ARE COMPLETELY RIGHT. *bows down*

        >>> And the way the BDSM aspect of their relationship works, how it’s Toreth who tops and who nominally has the power, but really, it’s Warrick who holds all the cards most of the time,

        True. Because quite clearly, Warrick could say “Plastic duck” whenever he bloody well wants to and Toreth knows that it’s called off. The whole power dynamic in this sort of thing FASCINATES me, to be honest because there are a world of trust issues involved, too.

        >>> And in this case, it becomes clear as the story evolves that Warrick generally holds the upper hand… and is by far the more dangerous of the two, despite his respectable veneer and (IMHO) genuinely “better guy” character and desire to do the right thing.

        Warrick is good because he actively wants to be, too. In a way, he has a lot more freedom; he’s had completely different socialisation during his formatve years than Toreth, too. But even in his good guy acts or things he does from genuine concern later down the track, it’s a good demonstration of just how powerful the guy is. If not using that power for good, he could be absolutely terrifying.

        >>> Toreth is emotionally handicapped and is therefore less equipped to deal with their relationship than Warrick, who, for the most part, doesn’t push him too hard. But it’s that push-pull and the way that Toreth gradually evolves that is so fascinating to read.

        I KNOW. 😀 😀 😀 (But in a lot of ways, that’s actually one of Toreth’s good points: he remains coolly objective and able to get things done when other people would be freaking the fuck out. [I’m thinking about stuff that happens in later books.]) And not personalising stuff keeps him professional.

        >>> And, no, I haven’t read 50 Shades of Puke… but judging by your hilarious recaps, this whole power exchange dynamic is one that EL James could stand to learn a thing or two about. Being sexually submissive does NOT equal being weak, helpless or powerless. Arrrggggh.

        Thankyou, and YES. So much yes to ALL of this. I’ve seen it done TERRIBLY in a lot of things: hell, I did it myself in my teenage years (though thankfully the internet never saw it)– particularly in fanfiction. I’ve seen the argument crop up a heap in one of my other fandoms (Ace Attorney) where there are both a few abuse!fics and a few BDSM fics. So much of my rage about Shades is that it pushes the idea that BDSM is abuse plus nifty sex toys or leathergoods.

        And from personal understanding… the amount of people who get into the submissive-in-bed thing BECAUSE, like Warrick, they’re running the show day-to-day and it’s the utmost in decadent fantasy to let go of all that control– and know that they’re perfectly safe in doing so– is ENORMOUS.

      • mannafrancis on said:

        And thankyou for your feedback.

        You’re welcome! It’s always fun to talk about the Administration, and I LOVE seeing how other people experience the stories and characters. There are always new things I’ve never seen or never thought of before.

  2. I also like how, despite the futuristic science-fiction tone of this story, in many ways it follows the tropes of a police procedural — and it’s exceptionally well done. The pacing, the clues, the little hints of reality thrown in. Too often, slash or romance fiction has boring, generic plots that are sort of beside the point. In this case, though, the whodunit mystery is the core thing and what keeps the pages turning, and the sex scenes don’t eclipse the story but exist naturally within it and serve to advance the plot. I like.

    As for your dilemma, I do think you can comment on each chapter without having to be too concerned about revealing or explaining the plot points. Most people reading this will have read Mindfuck, and if they haven’t, they can read alongside this.

    • >>> I also like how, despite the futuristic science-fiction tone of this story, in many ways it follows the tropes of a police procedural — and it’s exceptionally well done. The pacing, the clues, the little hints of reality thrown in.

      YES.

      I’ll admit, when I first got the book, the relationship and the sex scenes were what everything I’d read had focussed on, so initially I was thrown a trifle and thought, “I thought I was reading M/M romance, dammit?!” But the outside stuff isn’t the fault of the book, and I wound up getting completely sucked in by the end. I don’t think it even HAS a clear genre because it does so many things so well and they’re equally important aspects of the story.

      I hope I don’t look like I’m explaining what people already know, though: there’s still a part of my brain left over from uni where I “write like the reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about.” (And in some cases, there might be people reading who haven’t read the books in awhile.)

      There are also some bits I’m thinking will be perfect to review on the “character development” and “Oooh, so much to discuss” fronts but which hit a bit too close to the bone for me and are going to be difficult to write about for an entirely different set of reasons. 🙂

      • >>> I don’t think it even HAS a clear genre because it does so many things so well and they’re equally important aspects of the story.

        Hmmmm. Actually, I think it *does* fit the police / mystery genre quite well. After all, most mainstream police procedurals have some sort of romantic subplot, and despite the fact that this one is between two men instead of a man and a woman, the sex scenes (at least the ones in Mindfuck) aren’t really any more out there than what you’d find in your average mystery bestseller. As for the science fiction elements, I’ve read plenty of mystery novels that take place in a futuristic or slightly altered version of our world, and this one has fascinating worldbuilding but the technology and sci-fi never eclipses the plot. At its core, this story still follows the classic mystery structure. I’d like to believe that we’re not too far off from a day when people will get over their stupid het hangups and we’ll see a book like this on the mystery shelves at our local bookstore.

        (Side note: One of the most appealing aspects of the world that Manna has created is how, for most characters, sexuality and sexual preference seem to be No Big Deal. That’s just one thing that seems to be better, not worse, in Manna’s future.)

      • >>>I hope I don’t look like I’m explaining what people already know, though: there’s still a part of my brain left over from uni where I “write like the reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”

        Yeah, but this is a re-read discussion blog. I mean, explain if you like, but I’d say you really don’t have to feel like you’re under an obligation to. Far more interesting than the plot summaries are your observations, character analyses, meta-discussions and dissections. We have the original source material to refer to, after all.

        As an example, have you read Truepenny’s excellent Due South episode write-ups, by any chance? She strikes a great balance in terms of not summarizing the plot but really digging into the insights. http://truepenny.livejournal.com/tag/due%20south. I hadn’t seen the show in years and years, but reading these a couple of years ago inspired me to do a massive episode re-watch along with her guide as sort of “director’s commentary” alongside. I love it when someone is able to get me to see original material in a new light, or to point out something in a way that makes me think “hey, I never thought of that”.

      • >>> I’d like to believe that we’re not too far off from a day when people will get over their stupid het hangups and we’ll see a book like this on the mystery shelves at our local bookstore.

        Me too. You have no idea how many times I’ve thought, “Dammit, if the world weren’t so fucking heteronormative and weird about gay sex, THIS would be a fucking bestseller.” (And I have wondered about how the world would have reacted to Shades if it has been about a same-sex couple. But I don’t want to dwell on that: my suspicions are depressing.) There are so many people I’ve squeed about the series to but it seems because it’s set in the future or because it involves a m/m couple, suddenly it’s strictly sci-fi or it’s that “special interest gay stuff.” *rages* I think of it more as “future noir”, I guess. I haven’t read anything like it. (But then again, I tend to read a LOT of non-fiction and generally just plain old modern lit-fic otherwise.)

        >>> One of the most appealing aspects of the world that Manna has created is how, for most characters, sexuality and sexual preference seem to be No Big Deal. That’s just one thing that seems to be better, not worse, in Manna’s future.

        YES YES YES. It makes me think about how JK Rowling has an multiracial cast in the Harry Potter books and there is no “LOOK IT’S THE TOKEN NON-WHITE KID” going on; people are just people. (It’s something else Manna Francis does, too, and again: noted and appreciated.)

        I love it, too. No one really gives a flying fuck: no one bats an eyelid about Toreth and Warrick both being guys any more than they do about, say, Chevril and Elena. Heterosexual relationships aren’t assumed. It’s one of the reasons I consider this setting more like a utopia than a dystopia (and one of the reasons I’d happily defend it if it was my world).

        Have you read all the books yet? (And I mean the paperbacks/ebooks, not just the ones available on the site.)

  3. >>>I hope I don’t look like I’m explaining what people already know, though: there’s still a part of my brain left over from uni where I “write like the reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Yeah, but this is a re-read discussion blog. I mean, explain if you like, but I’d say you really don’t have to feel like you’re under an obligation to. Far more interesting than the plot summaries are your observations, character analyses, meta-discussions and dissections. We have the original source material to refer to, after all.

    As an example, have you read Truepenny’s excellent Due South episode write-ups, by any chance? She strikes a great balance in terms of not summarizing the plot but really digging into the insights. http://truepenny.livejournal.com/tag/due%20south. I hadn’t seen the show in years and years, but reading these a couple of years ago inspired me to do a massive episode re-watch along with her guide as sort of “director’s commentary” alongside. I love it when someone is able to get me to see original material in a new light, or to point out something in a way that makes me think “hey, I never thought of that”.

  4. >>>It’s one of the reasons I consider this setting more like a utopia than a dystopia (and one of the reasons I’d happily defend it if it was my world).

    I don’t think I’d go so far, myself. There are many things about that world that are — like our world — very imperfect. And there are plenty of other things that are actually pretty horrific. Our Toreth-oriented PoV acts sort of as wool over our eyes about some of the scarier parts of the world, and it’s what makes it so jarring when you get to FATW, at least for me. But then, like her characters, Manna writes worlds that are neither “good” nor “bad”, but merely have aspects that are “better” or “worse”. The lack of homophobia? Better. The brainwashing, reprogramming and state-sanctioned torture? Worse.

    >>>Have you read all the books yet? (And I mean the paperbacks/ebooks, not just the ones available on the site.)

    No, sadly, I’ve only read the site books. I really should buy the ebooks.

    • To be honest, there’s a part of me that goes, “Well, I’m all for serious defense of the situation they have going.” The corruption is worrying, though. I feel like the powers that be assume that it’s not an issue, but obviously because there are people involved, it is. The legal torture stuff… jury’s out for me to be honest because people are aware of it and they do seem to get the invitation to opt out and just cooperate. I remember watching one episode in Blake’s 7 and thinking, “This person isn’t even getting *asked* to cooperate?”

      TBH, I’m REALLY interested in what lead to the Administration happening. It’s slightly touched upon in one story, but that’s it, and… I wonder. There may be a very good reason for things being as brutal as they are. (Even though it’s got a lot going for it. Given the choice, I’d take the world of The Administration over this reality, TBH. We mightn’t have state-sanctioned brainwashing or reprogramming, but the prison system already damages people and we already get conned into following the status quo and kept in line with quiet threats from the government.) I also love that the government keeps a decent rein on wtf the business world can do. Right now it’s like the other way around a lot of the time over here!

      >>>> No, sadly, I’ve only read the site books. I really should buy the ebooks.

      Thankyou for replying, and DO READ THEM. You really need to the story at the end of FATW. (And I’m so fucking glad I didn’t inadvertantly spoiler you for it by saying something. 🙂 ) And there’s apparently a chapter in CVOF which the other version doesn’t have. TOTALLY recommended.

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