Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Nine

Toreth heads back to his workplace to let Tillotson know what’s going on.

 

 

The head of section liked to feel he was in touch with ongoing cases, even though (in Toreth’s opinion) the only reason he’d been promoted so far was because he was an appalling investigator.

 

Again, I’m giggling, because this is so bloody human and typical. It isn’t just a government thing, either: I think the experience of working under someone who has somehow ascended to a managerial or supervisory role, when they have no grasp of how to do what their underlings do, is universal. Oh, the stories I could tell.

 

Let’s just say it’s another one of those moments where I grin and want to high-five Manna Francis, because those little details are like the rendering of the frame and it’s stuff like this which is the difference between a sterile video game of a story and a believable world.

 

A little more on Tillotson:

 He certainly wasn’t para material—a widespread and persistent rumour circulated that he’d thrown up and fainted in the only high-level interrogation he’d ever witnessed.

 

Hmm. Interesting: could Tillotson be one of the more ‘human’ I&I workers, or could it be that he’s been more sheltered than a lot of them? This aspect of him is interesting, to me, though it could be potentially disastrous: if he doesn’t know what his staff are doing—and can’t deal with it and doesn’t want to know—when it comes to high-level interrogations, I can only imagine there’s a HUGE space for the paras to get creative with what they’re getting up to if they’re left to do their job and they know their boss won’t be watching them in action.

It’s a fascinating idea, because when you think about it, who would be reasonably able to supervise this sort of work without burning out or becoming otherwise affected by it? (Then again, it’s something I wonder about in regards to a lot of jobs in the real world and I’m sure others do. And again, it’s something I could happily meta on for years.)

Toreth doesn’t get to see his boss immediately: someone else is already in the office, and from the sounds of it, there’s a somewhat heated exchange going on in there. Something serious? Nope: someone who’d forgotten to complete his time sheet in ten minute increments.

More knowing laughter from me. The Tillotsons of the world might be utterly hopeless at actually dealing with people, too incompetent to actually do actual work, but they are amazingly adept when it comes to nitpicking regular schmoes over the piddliest, pettiest things imaginable.

Toreth sits outside his boss’ office and listens in to what he can while occupying himself with his handscreen. (I love the technology: handscreens sound like they’re a level or two up from the smartphones and tablets we’re using nowadays.

Yet again: the tech is believable and not wanked on about: it’s a part of everyday life which is normal and convenient, though not to deus ex machina levels, which is really refreshing. I’m so over miraculous technology solving the unsolvable, and since we already have the wonderousness of the sim, adding more seriously fucking amazing technology would both detract from how amazing the sim is, and test the strength of suspended disbelief probably a little too much.

[Though, honestly, Toreth could have magical powers, Sara could have colour-changing eyes and an overly lengthy name consisting of colours, favoured mythical animals and desirable human qualities, and Warrick could inherit a couple of planets, one which is made of chocolate– and this series would STILL be a lot more believable than plenty of other things I’m reading or have read just on the way the people and their interactions are written.])

Anyway, the dude finally leaves Tillotson’s office.

 For a moment, he thought it was Tillotson himself– the stranger shared his ginger hair and sharp features, although not Tillotson’s infamous and apt resemblance to a weasel. However, he had a purposeful air quite at odds with Tillotson’s habitual strategic defensiveness, and he was in his late twenties rather than his early fifties.

I love description like this. It’s subtle and tells us more about Tillotson yet it’s not all Captain Obvious about it.

Toreth doesn’t recognise him, and wonders if it’s someone from Internal Investigations, and hopes if that’s the case it’s got nothing to do with his case. When he sees Tillotson to tell him what’s happening, Tillotson’s clearly distracted by something, and he’s rather abrupt and preoccupied and seems uninterested in finer details of the case, leading Toreth to ask his admin afterwards who the mystery visitor was. While the admin doesn’t know who he is either, Toreth’s convinced he’s from Internal Investigations.

So I&I aren’t quite all-powerful and answerable to no one, afterall, and interestingly enough, it’s noted that Internal Investigations are “about as welcome at I&I as the arrival of I&I was to citizens outside.” So someone’s watching the watchmen, and they’re powerful– and incorruptible.

Again, it’s an interesting thing to consider, since the law allows I&I to behave in a questionable manner against suspected wrong-doers (can we say “High level interrogations,” ladies and gentlemen? Even though we don’t have huge amounts of detail at the moment, later on we get that detail, and Tillotson’s rumoured throwing up becomes believable), one can only wonder what sort of punishments are faced by those working in the system (who should know better, right?) who do the wrong thing.

Toreth goes through the list of threats from Linton, noting that possibly “SimTech had more potential enemies than a corporation of its size had any right to possess.” He realises that checking all these threats out is going to be *huge*, especially when taking into account the stuff that he doesn’t know *yet*. He organises for some assistance from the Corporate Fraud department, and we get to meet some more of the workers in the Administration.

Liz Carey is a nifty character; she doesn’t feature a lot and she’s not some sort of novelty for comic relief, but she’s memorable and I like her. She comes across as believable though because there’s no huge infodump on her she’s still intriguing, and she’s a perfect example of how minor characters don’t have to be two-dimensional props. In a world where sadly many main characters can look like two-dimensional props, this makes me happy.

(I also like what it says about the Administration: that there are all kinds of people who work there. It makes me think of a friend of mine who used to work in a state government facility and who had the most awesome stories and descriptions of thoroughly fascinating and hilariously eccentric people with whom she worked. I used to tell her to take notes because they would translate wonderfully to a novel.)

Carey’s appearance is believable, too: she’s described as “tall, heavily built, and with an uncontrolled tangle of unnaturally vivid red hair.” (Another reason I’d love to see this televised: I would LOVE to see the actress who’d wind up playing Liz!) She’s also pointedly described as not beautiful, though she has a sexy voice which Toreth can appreciate, something I’m yet to have seen in anything else I’ve written: all too often “voice,” when considered, is just another “sexy” attribute thrown into the mix of a character the protagonist is wanting to sex up. Liz isn’t at all once of these characters, but she does have a sexy voice.

She’s arrived with her assistant, the amusingly, and literally– pale-in-comparison Phil Verstraeten who is rather nervy.

“Just qualified,” Carey continued. “I’m whipping him into shape.”

Toreth raised an eyebrow. “Literally?”

Carey laughed. “They changed the rules since we were new graduates– can’t even use shock sticks on ’em now. […]”

Oh, I like Liz, and the more I got glances of Toreth’s sense of humour, the more I liked him. At least some of that was due in part to the fact that I find myself saying (or thinking) similar things in comparable situations. There’s a scene later on in the series where he makes an offhand quip about something quite awful without realising it which had me cringing in a “God, I’ve done that before” kind of way.

Anyway, Liz is just cool. She’s the type of person you’d want to have a drink and a laugh with at the end of the week. And she’s genuinely helpful. Again, cheers for doing awesome female characters and not expecting a gold sticker star for it, Manna.

 

Liz and Phil hear what’s going on with SimTech and their involvement with LiveCorp, though like Toreth, they can’t come up with anything solid. Thankfully, though, they have budget to play with to get things sorted out. They head off, and Toreth starts reading up on Teffera’s history.

Teffera, we learn, sustained the spinal injuries discussed earlier due to a skiing accident, and despite numerous attempts at setting things right via surgery for six years, he declined further medical interference and decided to make the most of what he was left with.

 Despite his underlying conviction that most corporates deserved whatever they got, Toreth found it uncomfortable reading. After his taster in the sim, it was too easy to imagine himself in the same position, his body taken out of control. The helplessness he’d felt in the sim kept returning as he read. Ironic that, to Teffera, the sim must have been a godsend.

Yet another way of considering things which totally hadn’t occurred to me and which is fascinating to think about for awhile. I’ll be perfectly blunt and revealing about something else, too: issues of power and control in writing fascinate me if they’re done well. Years ago, another friend and I were discussing themes in our writing or “stuff that we always did,” and I went, “Hang on, I don’t actually have any, I just write about a wide range of really random things.” And her response was, “No you don’t. Whatever you’re writing about– [and my list of random examples included stuff I was working on when I was a kid]– there’s always a key element of power and control somewhere.” And she was right, but it was something I never actually noticed until it was pointed out to me like that. (For anyone reading this who’s an astrology buff, I guess you could say I’m kind of typical of someone who has Moon in Scorpio when it comes to that whole interest in Stuff That Is Generally Regarded As Taboo and I would argue since most people don’t like talking about it or analysing it too heavily, that would include issues surrounding power.) When you write about something, I guess, you can pick up where it’s done well and in a manner that makes it compelling to read about. Manna Francis is awesome at writing about power so subtly that it’s just there—like air—in everything, but it only very occasionally emerges into the narrative. And fuck, I love that.

 

Anyway, it seems that the notes Justice have compiled suggest that Teffera’s death had little to do with the sim and that it’s been of little interest to them. His death was brought down to “respiratory failure” rather than anything detectably unnatural. But his body left no clues to his cause of death and because his death was processed quickly, any evidence remaining was lost. And the investigation was started days afterwards rather than immediately, as things had happened with Jarvis’ death, where a Marian Tanit– the previously-mentioned workplace psychologist– had informed Justice of her death. Toreth sends off a note for Barret-Connor to talk to her in the course of his interviews.

Being the workaholic he is, Toreth leaves late (though he’s been decent enough to let Sara go home earlier; one theme that keeps popping up in the series is that Toreth is a damn good boss and manager) though is satisfied with his accomplishments for the day. I think this is the point where we see that much of his job involves being alone and sifting through evidence and reading files and finding names, and, well, piecing together stuff– rather than the tough-guy heavy-handed intimidation and interrogation stuff.

(I’ll be perfectly honest, too: in my last entry about Mind Fuck, I mentioned how I’d asked on FaceBook what people’s dream fictional jobs would be, didn’t I? Mine is, unsurprisingly, Toreth’s role. Think about it: there are all the perks of a government position [plus extra, unofficial ones], but you get to have your own office and assistant, you’re being paid to poke around in other people’s secrets and essentially solve problems with a lot of people-reading and figuring out stuff, and you’re frequently being left alone to deal with making sense of masses of paperwork, and delegating a lot of the interacting with other people stuff to your staff. The downside? Pretty much everyone you don’t work with thinks you’re a monster.)

Toreth’s considering what needs doing and what paperwork will be coming in later (and again, this is written in a fashion that sounds perfectly believable) and then

Since Toreth was off-duty, he also considered Warrick. After the night before, he’d expected a different reaction from Warrick when he walked into his office. Toreth’s extensive experience predicted defensiveness or embarrassment. He’d found neither– just calm intelligence, a touch of arrogance, and genuine distress at the news of the girl’s death.

So already, it’s well established that Warrick isn’t your standard lump of person as a corporate manager; he behaves in an unexpected fashion. That alone has been enough to throw Toreth off slightly, and it establishes him as something *different* to what Toreth is used to, one assumes, both professionally and personally.

That was telling in itself. Toreth had spoken to plenty of corporate types whose only interest in their employees was in terms of the bottom line.

Even though it’s only a small corporation (but, yanno, sometimes they’re so skint and desperate to make it that they’re the companies who exploit their staff worse than the larger companies, I’ve found…), it’s clear that Warrick’s actually a decent person and again, not the standard model.

He’s also confident: Jarvis’ death and the investigation has disrupted rather than shaken anything, from the looks of things. Toreth briefly wonders if he’s confident enough to think he could get away with murder and decides that he’s not since he’s got plenty to lose from them, but nonetheless, he’s important to the case because he’s the gatekeeper to cooperation from SimTech and information on the sim itself.

 

Postscript: I’d like to add that this was an extremely short chapter, folks. I saw the wordcount at the end and thought, “Damn, I think I clocked into five-figures with the Shades R&R last time, but honestly, this was four pages. And the Shades chapters are getting longer the further you get into the book.

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11 thoughts on “Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Nine

  1. mannafrancis on said:

    Secrets of the Administration, Part One. (Well, okay, not really secrets. But background stuff that isn’t in the books and I might not even have mentioned anywhere before.)

    Liz Carey is loosely based on an White Wolf RPG character that I played online a looooooong time ago — long enough that it was on a Usenet group. The name is different — although actually Elizabeth Carey was always her ‘real’ name, just not the name the character went by — but I’ve always wondered if anyone from the old Wolves Glen Pub thread read the Administration, if they’d recognise Liz. Funnily enough, in her RPG incarnation she was a vampire. So 50 Shades and Mind Fuck both have in common an ex-vampire on the staff 🙂

    BTW, I’m finding I really look forwards to seeing what you think about new characters as they pop up. I keep thinking about some of the characters in later stories and wondering how you’ll see them.

    I’d like to add that this was an extremely short chapter, folks.

    Sorry about that! I can be a bit random with chapter breaks. They’re often there to mark up a significant shift in time, location, mood or POV, but I’ll almost always bang one in when moving from one day to the next. That does leave some pretty short ones lying around the place.

    I’d actually already noticed Nine was a wee one, because I’ve been re-reading Mind Fuck and some of the other stories, trying to get my Administration voice working again. After a very long stretch of nothing happening, I’ve been working on a couple of stories that are supposed to be the next Administration book. It’s actually become fun, again, instead of giving me a feeling of sinking dread when I see the filenames. I think you can legitimately take part of the credit for my new optimism — thank you for your inspirational enthusiasm!

    • I seriously wondered if Liz was based on a real live person, if she was a random colleague you’d had somewhere or something. Even with the small amount we get on her, she comes across as very real and believable.

      I’m giggling about the vampire connection though. Closest I get to writing vampires is characters who’ve engaged in bloodplay. 😛

      >>> I keep thinking about some of the characters in later stories and wondering how you’ll see them.

      *grins* When I’m doing these readthroughs, I’m trying *VERY* hard to only work with what has been given so far (and I’ve slipped up a couple of times…) even though I’ve read the series. There is stuff I REALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT (CARNAC!!! OMFG, when I was re-reading them the last time, I’d forgotten about his involvement, and when he turned up, my FaceBook statuses were all “Carnac, you fucking prick, how DARE YOU?!” I… think I may have at least made a couple of people on my FB wonder about the series. 😉 ) It’s funny, though, because it’s almost like reading it for the first time all over again, which is something I lament never getting to do with books.

      And I like the different chapter lengths! They end where they need to, there’s no feeling that they’ve been bulked up or ended quickly in order to keep things to a set wordcount-per-chapter which rocks. Also, sometimes after dealing with something longer and heavier– or with a lot of information to process, it’s nice to have a bit of a breather. One thing I’ve always loved about the series is how you manage to do that: there’s no Mega Huge Overload which cripples you. (A friend of mine was telling me about how she’d just finished reading The Hunger Games books and how they were heavy and they’d seriously gotten at her and she wanted something a bit lighter and more upbeat afterwards, and I was like, “*nodnod* Dude, I hear you: I just finished First Against the Wall.” I love where Certain Values of Family starts, after all that, if you get what I mean.

      >>>> After a very long stretch of nothing happening, I’ve been working on a couple of stories that are supposed to be the next Administration book.

      OMFG. *jawdrops* AWESOME.

      >>>> It’s actually become fun, again, instead of giving me a feeling of sinking dread when I see the filenames.

      I totally understand that feeling. I’m sorry that you had it. I was under the impression that you had other projects happening under other names, to be honest, not that it was anything like that.

      >>>> I think you can legitimately take part of the credit for my new optimism — thank you for your inspirational enthusiasm!

      Um… no problem. *meeps* Thankyou for telling me. And for writing these books. And for coming into the discussion. I’m still amazed that you’re *here*… thankyou. (And I’m LOVING the “secrets of the series” stuff. Hearing people talk about the creative process and the behind-the-scenes-stuff fascinates me!) And thankyou for giving me something to be enthused about.

  2. Can’t explain my happiness (not in English, at least) about Manna’s statement :’D thanks for reigniting our joy and enjoyment of reading this awesome series!

    And yes, please, let us re-read about Carnac and his infuriating, pretty awesome character!

    • Don’t worry, I can’t speak anything BUT English (and VERY limited French and German) and I can’t find the words to express how I feel, either. 🙂

      I seriously teared up when I read Manna’s comment. In a good and awed way.

  3. In addition to its insights about power and control, The Administration probably provides more of a look into the workings of bureaucracy than any management textbook I ever read in business school. Which, of course, is part of the point; that’s probably why it’s called “The Administration” and not, say, “The Toreth and Warrick Chronicles” or “50 Shades of…” er never mind that last bit.

    Anyway, point being, I think it’s easy to identify with because we’ve all been there. Who can say they’ve never worked for an incompetent, budget-minded boss, or engaged in coffee room gossip or inter-departmental politicking? In that way, The Administration has a similar appeal to a Dilbert comic… or to a movie like Office Space. But it’s able to be much more effective due to its sci-fi futuristic setting, because certain things can be spotlighted or exaggerated or conveniently ignored in order to make a point.

    • >>> The Administration probably provides more of a look into the workings of bureaucracy than any management textbook I ever read in business school.

      It does! And it’s believable– and funny not because it’s over-the-top, IMHO but because there’s a dry, biting subtlety to it. I kind of loathe books that have to shove their “humour” in your face by being larger-than-life and “look how witty I am” in the narrative: The Administration manages to be very funny in parts but humour isn’t the main focus, and it’s not such a grotesque parody that it becomes ridiculous.

      And I think the fact that it’s so believable and that things are *still* like they are in government organisations even in the future makes the future a lot easier to understand and have some sort of empathy with. It’s science fiction but kept *real* and believable. All too often science fiction makes me switch off on a level because it’s too far removed from how the world is right now, or it lacks that human warmth and intricacy. Here, it’s done perfectly.

      • I agree. In far too much science fiction, everyone is wearing shiny foil outfits and human interaction gets reduced to robotic computer talk. I suppose we could blame Star Trek for that trope at least somewhat. But I always found it confusing, since when you trace human history, our social interactions have generally become *less* formal over time, not more formal.

        That’s what’s so refreshing about The Administration. They’re in a totalitarian, authoritarian world, but they don’t become robotic or paramilitary. They still drink and do drugs and sleep around and get mad at each other and act like idiots and love one another. They don’t turn into pod-people. We identify with Toreth and Warrick and all the rest of the characters because we know people just like them. (Well, in Toreth’s case in particular, perhaps not *just* like him…. but like him in a lot of ways.)

      • It’s a trope I don’t like in fantasy, too: it kills reader empathy, I find. (That was one thing I loved about Stardust, the movie: there was something vulnerable and likeable and easy to empathise with in the characters. When I read the book, I was just disappointed because I assumed the book would be better and warmer. There was none of what I loved about the movie in the book. 😦 )

        >>> I always found it confusing, since when you trace human history, our social interactions have generally become *less* formal over time, not more formal

        YES. THANKYOU.

        >>> That’s what’s so refreshing about The Administration. They’re in a totalitarian, authoritarian world, but they don’t become robotic or paramilitary.

        Yes. Another thing I love about the ruling of the world is that it isn’t just “some evil guy/evil guy with a big company oppresses everyone for kicks.” I LOVE dystopian fic. I am so insanely over that trope, though. Power is usually more subtle and complex than that sort of thing anyway, and I sometimes wonder if keeping almost campy and ridiculous in nature it’s like reassuring the reader that it’s something that never could or does happen in their reality. (I still actually like the way the world of the Administration runs for the most part, too. There’s a lot of good in there, and usually in futuristic world where there’s totalitarian governments, EVERYTHING SUCKS (unless you’re at the top of the food chain). It’s awesome seeing it done well. 🙂 I wish we had more of it.

        >>> (Well, in Toreth’s case in particular, perhaps not *just* like him…. but like him in a lot of ways.)

        ROFLMAO. The further I went into reading the series, the more trippy moments of “Oh god, I’ve done that [or something very similar]” I was having in relation to Toreth’s activities. And they weren’t always in his more valiant moments, too. 😉 But I hear ya: I know variations on a few of his colleagues. 🙂

  4. >>>There’s a lot of good in there, and usually in futuristic world where there’s totalitarian governments, EVERYTHING SUCKS (unless you’re at the top of the food chain).

    THIS! I agree; I think it’s a way of making dystopian fiction less scary, because if you go over the top, nobody connects it with something that could easily happen in our real world. The theory being that most societies where *everything* sucks will self-destruct pretty quickly; people wouldn’t stand for it. They’d rise up in revolution or they’d implode or whatever. So to make your future-world realistic, you need to make it at least somewhat good for some of the people, and help the reader/viewer understand why people put up with it or defend it.

    Of course, that’s not always true. In The Administration, (spoilers ahead) … people *do* rise up and resist, though it’s very realistic in how the new government that gets put into place isn’t really much different from the old one.

    And one needs only to take a quick glance around the globe in 2013 to see that plenty of present-day dystopias continue to exist despite the fact that EVERYTHING SUCKS for the vast majority of the population. North Korea, anyone?

    • “people *do* rise up and resist, though it’s very realistic in how the new government that gets put into place isn’t really much different from the old one. ”

      And I think *that’s* why FATW is such a mindblowing book and, IMHO, the best overall. The Administration is quite scary but even so is not completely evil, and despite that people do rise and fight against it.

      Also, yes, I love your discussion, I really agree with human behavior in sci-fi actually really bland when portrayed robotic

  5. Oh, and I’m loving these discussions, by the way.

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