Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Fifteen

I’ll open this chapter with a disclaimer: I love this chapter to bits and it works on so many levels for me. I love the dialogue, I love the hints we get about both Toreth and Warrick’s characters, and I think this demonstrates beautifully just how fucking good Manna Francis is when it comes to giving us characters we’re interested in and come to care about. We also get to learn bits and pieces about the system, too, which I also enjoy immensely because every little clue we get builds up to give us an idea of what the whole thing looks like.


Things start off with Toreth, nearly a fortnight after the “trap” had been set on his word, still having no progress, and his sense of urgency starting to speed up more. Either he gets this sorted and solved or SimTech goes down the drain. And he’s still got no more clues or information—even Liz Carey hasn’t been able to come up with anything, either, and he’s stuck, and frustrated and annoyed, and even Tillotson won’t let him shift onto other stuff—like interrogations—until the SimTech case is closed.


By yesterday morning—Thursday—Toreth had been so bored and frustrated that he’d called Warrick to take him up on his virtual offer. A sim session that evening had been a welcome distraction: fucking which he could charge as overtime, which cheered him slightly.


In some ways, Toreth reminds me of a parrot: clearly he’s intelligent, and quite entertaining—but he needs mental stimulation of some description, and if it doesn’t come naturally, he’s not above getting destructive on some level to get that. The idea of him casually asking to go back to interrogating people because he’s bored is so understandable and yet chilling when you think about it for awhile, isn’t it?


I also note the fact that he’s risk-taking again with the charging personal sex time to the Administration as overtime. Not sure I’d risk that one given the way that Tillotson is so pedantic about budgets and spending.


The whole case, he decided, was an evidential black hole, rapidly sucking his career in past its event horizon.


I love the description, and I love his pessimism.


In his gloominess and frustration, he decides to vent to Chevril, since Chevril enjoys doing the same to him, and he expresses irritation at just how squeaky clean everyone at SimTech comes across.

“Like I said, one of the directors likes teenage girls and that’s it. Turned out in the end that she was legal age after all. She hit fifteen two days before he fucked her, so


Wait. Hold it right there. While part of me wants to smile at the nod towards Brave New World I got from that, and another part of me is reminding myself that the age of consent in Japan is twelve and that given what raunch culture is doing regarding normalising younger teenagers being sexually active, there is still a huge issue here. We’re not talking about a couple of teenagers having sex with one another: remember the way Marcus referred to the “woman”? *shudders* But in all honesty, I wouldn’t say it’s at all unbelievable, and I like that amongst a lot of social ills being wiped clean in this future, there are still other issues—and ones which aren’t just relating to what the government is doing to its citizens, too. It makes things feel extremely believable and balanced.


And yeah, it might be legal, but I still think Lew Marcus is a slimeball. And I like that I think he’s a slimeball. If I didn’t, it would mean that I wasn’t convinced or concerned about him. I’ve read some fiction where the creepy/sleazy/awful characters are just so two-dimensional or dull—or their victims are so pointless that I don’t care—or worse yet, I’m laughing about their horribleness. Marcus positively makes me feel uneasy. This is what good writing should do to people. (And yeah, I know. I like Toreth—and am biased enough about him—to be not overly affected by what he does for a living yet Lew Marcus doing something which is probably consensual—and legal—makes me feel a bit queasy. [Might I add, and goddamn it, I am so tempted to spoiler like crazy now and I am trying not to so I hope people who have read the series know what I’m talking about– that it makes me wonder about a later relationship with an underage person referred to in one of the stories in Control. Would that, dubious and so obviously an abuse of power as it was—have still been legal?])


the best I’ve got there is obstruction, and I can’t be bothered processing that, not with corporate lawyers swarming all over.”


Part of me giggled at that, because I’m pretty sure in some level of hell for public servants, there are mounds and mounds of things to be filed and cases to be assembled and reports to be made about barely relevant things which are potentially side-tracking a case.


And like Toreth suggests; it’s not strategically viable to worry about it. So he let Marcus sweat it out for a bit, and then dropped it.


“Other than that, it’s a respectable minor corporation full of respectable minor corporates and respectable, well-published academics.”

“But are they well-cited?”


“Well cited.” Chevril waved vaguely. “It’s something Elena’s editor friends say at dinner parties. One of them says, ‘So-and-so’s very well published’ and then someone else says, ‘Yes, but are they well cited?’ and then they all laugh a lot and open another bottle. Alcoholics, the lot of ‘em. Anyway, it means, does anyone actually read the stuff they churn out?”


I love this conversation. Firstly, because I love Chevril and Toreth interacting, but secondly, because here’s one of those glimpses into Chevril’s private life, which I’ve come to believe he keeps somewhat separate from his professional one (or tries to). And there’s some lack of being a part of Elena’s world of ideas and academia: it isn’t that Chevril and Toreth are stupid, they’re just in a different realm to that of publishing and academia, and from the way Chevril describes it, he realises he doesn’t quite fit in there.


I am REALLY curious about how Chevril feels beneath everything, and wonder if he sometimes wonders how the hell he managed to hook up with someone who is bright, stunning, and successful—and quite normal—and if he’s prepared to sit on the outside looking in and feeling a bit awkward and not quite understanding their world. It also makes me wonder how Elena perceives him, and how they hooked up and why the two of them were attracted to one another, especially considering some of the later things we come to learn about para investigators.


Toreth blinked. “You have dinner parties?”

“Uh, yes.” Chevril shifted in his chair. “Or at least Elena does. People from work.”

“How come I never get invited?”

You?” Chevril laughed derisively. “Well, let me think about it. Would it be good for Ellie’s career if you seduced the wives of half her colleagues, causing broken hearts and messy divorces? Um… no.”


ROFLMAO. I love this.

“I wouldn’t necessarily.”


“It could be their husbands.”


High-five, Toreth. Well fucking played, and I was chuckling through this conversation, and it’s one of those moments you can just see playing out, and I just have so much love for this and the playfulness—and the quiet revelations here.


“Oh, God.” Chevril grimaced in disgust. “You always have to, don’t you?” He drained his mug and stood up. “And that is exactly why you don’t get asked to dinner.”


*chuckle* I suspect some people will take that to mean that Chevril is a hideous homophobe, but I can’t really see it. He seems awkward and a bit uncomfortable about Toreth’s sexual orientation (and Toreth is well aware of it and taunts him with it) though he never is seen treating Toreth badly, talking trash about same-sex attracted people, or otherwise being a jerk along those lines. He strikes me as more a bit conservative and naïve rather than mean-spirited and bigoted, and I’m sure me admitting that would get me in trouble with some people, but I’d rather hang around a Chevril who’s cluelessness would make him a bit uncomfortable than a social justice warrior who thinks they’re fighting for gay rights while they’re being homophobic (or classist, or racist, or sexist) in ways they’re not even considering. I think if you logicked it out with Chevril, he’d realise he’s being weird, but no one’s really bothered to, and Toreth gets more from shocking him anyway.


Anyway, Chevril has helped Toreth: he’s tipped him off about the staff at SimTech’s academic work, and since Sara has pissed off early and Toreth is frustrated and unimpressed about the whole thing, he leaves her a message to go and rustle up all of their papers in case there’s something there, and as a bit of a “don’t think you can nick off this early on a Friday afternoon, Sara.”



Meanwhile, Warrick is having a session with Dr. Tanit, and again with Warrick, there’s a subtle wrestle for the upper hand going on between them.

Warrick was late for the Friday afternoon session. Marian knew why, of course—showing his irritation both that she had interrupted his schedule and that she had the power to do so.


He’s a control freak… and he doesn’t like being under anyone else’s control. And he plays things nice and subtly; something as simple as being late (or early, though that looks to me more like an attempt to intimidate and catch someone off guard rather than to appear aloof and as an annoyance) does the trick with no argument or drama. It’s passive-aggressive, but it’s delicate.


He’s only really going ahead with the session because it was two months since the last one and because Marian does have the power to stop Warrick using the sim if he doesn’t comply with the guards she’s put in after Tara’s issues. It’s all about keeping things and people safe, right?


But Marian’s first line of questioning isn’t really about the sim. Or Warrick—not really.



“You must have a reason for dragging me in here. What is it?” He stared at her directly, challenging her.

If that was how he wanted it… “The senior para-investigator in charge of the inquiry here.” She felt her lip curl on the title, but she couldn’t stop it.

His eyes narrowed. “Toreth? What about him?”



Yet again: so much going on here: and this is so subtle that it actually escaped my attention the first couple of times I read this book—for me, this is the first moment there’s a hint of something more than just a fuckbuddy situation with Toreth from Warrick’s POV. The moment I felt like Toreth had become somewhat attached to—or overly intrigued by—Warrick, was when he realised he was smiling and wanting to see more of him at the end of the chapter a few chapters ago (and his subsequent irritation about that screamed “I’m out of my fucking depth here and vulnerable and it’s pissing me off”) but the defensiveness from Warrick and the personalising of him—referring to him by name rather than occupation—is the clincher for me that Warrick isn’t just enjoying the novelty of getting to screw a para.


“Why are you interested in him?”

“What makes you think I’m interested?”

“The strategically placed bruises on your face recently, for one thing.”


Oh, cringe. While she’s trying to be subtle about it, I can only imagine this is squirm-inducing for Warrick.


“I wouldn’t have thought you’d go in for pain, Warrick.”

“It didn’t hurt,” Warrick said with the trace of a smile. “And he did it with his mouth, not his fist.”


And there’s the bit where I’m sucking in my breath going, “Why the fuck is that so fucking hot?” and thinking that this is definitely a case of less-is-more and where I’m going, “How the fuck did Manna Francis manage to hide whatever hotness that caused those bruises on his face from us readers?” and now reading That Other Thing alongside this I’m going, “Shit a brick, this is more intriguing and interesting and sexy than like, the entire three hundred pages or whatever I’ve read of that other book.”

But hotness and Warrick’s casual attitude aside, Marian isn’t seeing the sexeh side of things.

“I’m not joking. I’m concerned about you. To do his work properly, he has to have at least one, possibly two, personality disorders. It’s in the general psych profile of para-investigators.”


This would probably horrify most people, but being a psych nerd, and being in love with this universe, I sat there hankering for more information (do people get “sorted” into careers ala Futurama based on their psychological traits? The whole concept is fascinating…) and then giving some thought to the idea of personality disorders being beneficial career-determining traits.


Toreth could fit several descriptions, and given the work he’s doing, I can kind of see how a PD would be “helpful.” I had a huge discussion about Toreth with someone (who has not read the books) and the conversation went like this:

Me: “To be a para, basically you have to be a bit fucked up. Personality-disorder levels of fucked up. And… Toreth definitely has suggestions of that going on, but I’d still argue there’s more to him than simple sociopathy.”

Other person: “He’s a psychopath?”

Me: “That’s generally used interchangeably with sociopath. I think sociopath is the polite way of saying it nowadays, sort of like how someone has bipolar disorder rather than manic-depression.”

Other person: “So he’s… what?”

Me: “Well… he has traits of a sociopath: he’s very much indifferent to the harm he can do to other people: he sees people more as objects which are part of the bigger picture, and he’ll hurt them if he has to. He doesn’t quite conceptualise most of them as human.”

Other person: “He’s autistic?”

Me: “No. He can do social cues and he enjoys playing with people and provoking reactions from them. And he realises his effect on other people.”

Other person: “He’s narcissistic.”

Me: “Well he does have more than a touch of that going on, but in later books you get the impression that at least a HUGE part of that is to cover up for a cripplingly low self-esteem and the fact that his appearance has always earned him praise and approval on some level. He’s not pain-in-the-arse god-I-can’t-stand-you-will-you-please-shoot-yourself-now narcissistic. And he doesn’t need to convince everyone of his awesomeness; sometimes he actively shies away from that. He’d rather just get the job done properly than look good. He’s a very grounded kind of narcissistic.”

Other person: “Now you’re just making excuses for him.”


For some time, I’ve considered just what Toreth might wind up diagnosed with. His general indifference towards other people’s feelings and pain, and his ability to do things most people would regard as awful unflinchingly, plus his low threshold for boredom and his need to stir the pot and provoke people probably would result in the sociopath diagnosis.


But sociopaths don’t care about anyone else in the way “normal” people care about others, and Toreth has a very small number of people he clearly does care about throughout the course of the books, and he cares enough to act out of something beyond self-interest—at at least one point, he places himself in harm’s way for no other reason than concern for someone else.


And before someone says, “But only a sociopath could see others as little more than tools like that…” let me ask this: how many “normal” folk don’t really give a second thought to the human beings who assist them in living their lives? Most of us, like it or not, see others as some sort of object—I worked in retail for long enough to know that most people don’t give two shits about the person scanning their items (hell, some people won’t even acknowledge you) but that sort of casual rudeness and dismissal isn’t exactly considered sociopathic. What Toreth does is just a broader, more blatant version of that, which extends beyond the people regular people see as insignificant—like shop people—and encapsulates colleagues and associates and clientele.


Toreth is also manipulative, a trait ascribed to a number of personality disorders, though again: people, by the very nature of what they are are manipulative. When interacting with others, most of us generally want a favourable outcome, so we behave in a way designed to get this to occur. Perhaps we are extra-nice, or manage to play on someone’s sympathy in order to get assistance with something. Perhaps we offer a favour for a favour, or an “overlooking” for a favour. Perhaps we consider—and temper—our body language and verbal cues and tone towards a particular individual in anticipation of how we’ll be reacted to, so we’re going to get a favourable outcome.


This doesn’t have to be devious, dark headfuckery of the most brutal kind: this could be as simple as chatting to the crossing lady when we’re dropping the kids off at school. Human beings are generally social animals who avoid conflict and will generally prefer harmonious engagement with other human beings. Hell, people will allow things to happen to them or others, they’ll deny things that are or have happened, and they’ll hand over all sorts of things in order to keep that harmony.


Does that make them manipulative? Yes. But it also makes them human.


(This is coming from someone who has seen so much family drama that she feels like a decent portion of her life could have been a soap opera and who has worked in some insanely “people-y” workplaces which have allowed her to study group behaviour, and who has also known and worked with a lot of people who have had some psychiatric issue or another. All I’ve deduced from years of watching people interact is that anyone who calls someone else manipulative is denying their own capacity for manipulative behaviour—or trying to deflect attention from it. [Which I’d argue is a whole other level of manipulative.]) So yeah: people with personality disorders can be manipulative, but, hey: so can just about every other human being.


Obviously being undetectably manipulative, or bloody good at being manipulative would be an asset to someone like Toreth, though. Just like it would for a social worker, for a police officer, for a lawyer, for a teacher, for a salesman, for an HR manager (and I’ve met some serious verging-on-sociopathic types in that field) or for a counsellor.


Toreth has a relatively healthy ability, though, IMHO, to keep himself and what he does separate from one another. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority of people who believe this is healthy, and that that would be considered part of a sociopathalogical profile. But conversely: imagine if someone in Toreth’s role took things personally? A para-investigator working for the Administration might be scary… but imagine if the guy also took any slights against his uniform to heart and reacted accordingly: to me, that would be a LOT scarier. (I’d rather be arrested by a cop who ignores an insult of “Fuck you, pig!” because s/he realises that people say that stuff to cops than the cop who is nice enough until they hear that and then decide to break out the batons and taser because they’re on a power trip or their feelings got hurt, personally.) Further on that, someone who did get personally attached to things in Toreth’s role could also be completely unprofessional and easily swayed—and corrupt: something Toreth hasn’t yet demonstrated towards other people in his line of work. He might bend the rules or flex his authority in ways that assist him with the job, but he could be a shitload scarier and dodgier. (One can only imagine the types of powertrippers who’d go in for his line of work. Then again, perhaps they’d fail the psych testing…)


Even if he’s only being honorable because he cares about doing a good job, he’s still a whole lot less emotional and personal and nasty than a hell of a lot of “normal” people, from my angle.


To me—and yes, this was prior to reading later stories in the series—Toreth came across as someone who wasn’t great socially, underneath the learned behaviours—he’s extremely good at getting what people want and responding to that accordingly, so his social reactions to most people come across as almost done by rote learning (and later on, we see that when an anomaly happens, he kind of doesn’t know what to do and reacts badly)—and who probably had some deeply rooted, capital-I Issues. Later on down the track I thought “Complex PTSD” (which, interestingly enough, both can look like autism AND sociopathy in some cases!).

I still don’t know diagnoses he’d get– I can guess Antisocial PD– or whatever they’re calling it in the Administration’s time, would be one of them, but he has more than that going on from my angle. (And that’s not impossible, either: dual-diagnoses is fairly common…)


Anyway: I’ve always liked him because of him flaws and snark: getting way too TMI here, there’s a fair bit in him that I find easy to empathise with, and that’s quite unusual for me when reading—or watching—things. (The only other literary character I have felt like that about was Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but in the second book she changed enough into what I think was Steig Larsson’s fantasy figure, [what, with the breast implants and the walking around naked in her apartment all the time] that I’d kind of lost that feeling about her.) Someone made a hilarious comment on Tumblr about how they wanted to see a deliberate badfic attempt with Toreth and a MarySue character who saves him and makes him admit to being in love and all the rest of it… and the fact that I think that’s close to impossible is why I love the guy so much. I don’t have to worry about him turning into a Ryan Gosling character or getting “redeemed.” He is what he is, and he just gets on with it. His journey isn’t through some sort of new-agey namby-pamby where he gets “fixed,” or comes to learn about himself or anything that wanky: yet he still gets sufficient, believable character development. It’s just so much more subtle and lifelike than the epic transitions and justifications most characters seem to get.

He’s also not a deliberate killjoy: he’s actually quite pleasant on a surface level compared to a lot of “darker” protagonists. Just because someone’s got Issues, it doesn’t mean they have to mope around listening to The Cure and writing bad poetry about their heart being crushed like bleeding roses. Toreth just gets on with stuff.


One thing I adore about the series—and its characters—is, as someone—I believe it might have been Ms. Francis in one interview—said, it looks at the banality of evil. It gives us the unapologetic lives of people who go about their business but who don’t view what they’re doing as evil even though we, the readers, can see (or can possibly excuse to a degree) the fact that they are.


Ahem. I’ve been due to finish up this entry for a long time, and my little spiel about Toreth’s psychology and my defense of it has gone on a bit here. Anyway, basically this chapter gets me all ohmyfuckinggawd, because—aside from all this, there’s the mention of psych profiling for jobs in the future, and I geek out about this stuff, too. Methinks you’d have to be a little bit damaged on some level to be effective at what Toreth does.

Then again, I think that’s true of plenty of other jobs, too.



Anyway, Marian knows a bit about this shit, and she’s unimpressed with Warrick’s seemingly flippant attitude.


“People like him are selected as interrogators. Psychologically he’s barely an adult. He’s a case of arrested development. A type,” she said precisely. “He’ll never do anything surprising. They’ve written books about him. I can lend you some if you want to see what you’re getting into.”


Oh, ouch. (I think she means emotionally—though again, it’s interesting to note that autism is considered a “developmental delay” in terms of mental health issues.)

Warrick makes a casual joke about it, distancing himself, and Marian gives him the blunt honesty of the situation.


“He’s not interested in you, you know. He can’t even see you as a person—you or anyone else. He’s only interacting with his own projections.”

“Don’t we all?”


Yay, Warrick. While Marian might be 100% on the ball there, my thoughts were with Warrick on that.

Warrick then points out to Marian that she’s suggested he spent time with people away from the sim, and that now he is, he’s getting told off for it by her. Marian suggests hanging out with non-sociopathic people outside the sim.


I love their interaction. I love that Marian seems to quite sincerely be worried about Warrick independent of anything else, and that she, like Warrick and Toreth, is very bright, and very good at interacting with people and dominating those interactions with nothing more than subtle gestures and carefully picked words. I also like that she’s written like this: she’s not some sort of wedge to be driven between the star-crossed lovers, she’s not a prop, and she’s got perfectly understandable (which later get another depth to them) reasons for speaking to Warrick about this. Plus, like Toreth, she’s obviously studied psychology. She isn’t talking out her arse like a lot of others seem to, with preconceived ideas about what Toreth actually is.


“Oh, I know what Toreth is. Don’t concern yourself about that.”

“Then you’ve got to realise he’s using you.” There must be some angle to exploit, for everyone’s sake. “You’ve got something he wants. Any idea what it might be?”

His smile flickered into life again. “Now you’re wounding my ego.”


Hehe. I love the way Warrick can’t resist but taunt her with his own amusement at the whole thing.

He assures Marian that they just fuck, and that it’s nothing serious, though a moment later, in irritation, when she’s asking about “the para-investigator” going into the sim with Warrick, we get this.


“He has a name. Why don’t you use it?”

She hadn’t even noticed.


Warrick is upfront, when asked, about them having sex in the sim, and points out that Toreth hasn’t been in there enough to warrant any kind of psychological assessments or observation from Marian (oh, god, can anyone else imagine how that would go?) and admits that they used the sensory memory stacking. Once again, Marian expresses her concern about that, and she and Warrick disagree about what happened to Tara Scrivin and how one student going nuts doesn’t mean the whole thing is dangerous, and comes out with this:

“If we avoided technology because some people might hurt themselves with it, we’d still be in the caves, worrying about burning our fingers.”

My attitude in a nutshell, Warrick. 🙂

Marian points out that the SMS and the sexytimes being utilised in the sim aren’t exactly technology needed for human survival, though as Warrick points out, the whole thing isn’t just about sex.


“Of course not. No doubt para-investigator Toreth has some suggestions for other uses.”

Warrick froze in the chair, absolutely still. Marian cursed herself silently—such carelessness was unforgivable, however angry his obstinacy made her. Odd and infuriating in itself that he could effortlessly cut through years of training and hit a nerve every time.


Oh god, this is interesting. Especially in the context that Marian and Warrick are probably both on completely different pages at the moment about that one statement and that it already is a discussion Toreth and Warrick have had, but of course, Marian is clueless about that.


And it’s interesting, because perhaps Warrick really does have a damned good idea about what he’s dealing with when he’s dealing with Toreth, but he isn’t kidding himself about it, he isn’t scared of the guy, and he isn’t fetishizing him, either. He’s worked out how to keep that separate from the way in which he interacts with Toreth (which is quite limited) and make the most of what he has with him.


Marian quickly shifts the concern around to Toreth’s wellbeing, and expresses more worry about the effects of the sim, though this time, on Toreth, whom she believes is already unbalanced enough as it is given the marks left on Warrick’s skin.

“I’m still worried about you. You didn’t get those bruises in the sim. What happened to Tara can happen to him, and you’ll be the one who gets hurt in the fallout. I don’t think you understand the risk you’re running by pursuing this.”

“I’m not ‘pursuing’ anything. Or anyone, come to that.


Oh, no, you’re not, actually. You’re leaving Toreth to do that, much to his annoyance. Heh.


We met, we fucked, we liked it. That’s it. If it weren’t for the sim, once or twice would have been enough for him. He’s far more interested in it than he is in me.”


OOOH! And this is where we get that whole beautiful awesomeness of characters not being able to completely understand one another, because Toreth, even at this stage, seems intrigued by the sim, but he’s not the same sort of tech geek that he is, and I’d say he’s definitely more interested in Warrick himself and the real life fucking as opposed to the virtual stuff. In the sim, Toreth pretty much could have what he wants. Outside, it’s a different story: he has to work for it, and there’s a thrill in the chase—or, correction, making someone else do the chasing, and getting to see how they tick.

Or, is this an invested Warrick scared that he cares about Toreth more than he should, or is taken in more than he should be– and he’s trying to save face?


Marian isn’t interested so much in what Warrick thinks that Toreth is thinking, but asks what he thinks about Toreth.

To her surprise, he cocked his head, seeming to genuinely consider his answer.

“From a sexual standpoint,” he said at length, “he’s without a doubt the most talented partner I have ever had. Personality-wise, he’s not really my type.”


A few thoughts come to mind at this:

a)      Great answer, Dr. Warrick.

b)      Now I’m wondering how many sexual partners Warrick’s had.

c)       I guess Toreth has one of those personalities a lot of people wouldn’t exactly warm to. I doubt he’s most people’s type. (With all we know about the personalities of paras in this universe, you start wondering who they *can* connect with, and about, say, Elena. Later on down the track in the series, it’s revealed that someone dated one of the interrogators, and one can only wonder about that since they’re meant to be even more “dead inside” than the paras.)

d)      Intellectually, though, you two hit it off so fucking perfectly that you’re a match made in heaven. Because while you, Dr. Warrick, have the social finesse and delicacy to your actions which gives you an upper hand to a degree, both of you are brilliant, needing to remain stimulated, and you both need some push and pull. And it’s a damn good show to anyone within earshot.


Actually, I remember reading a quote from Francis Bacon, I think it was, who complained that someone’s art wasn’t fighting itself, and I sort of fell in love with that idea. And I guess that’s another reason why I love Toreth and Warrick together. (And why I love watching Toreth deal with someone difficult or Marian and Warrick have a session.)


Warrick excuses himself after this, and leaves Marian’s office, where she promptly has a look through the sim records and has a look at what Toreth and Warrick have been getting up to.


As usual, it was an uncomfortably voyeuristic experience, even given her professional detachment.


Yeah, I can really imagine. Nosy as I am about people, I can only imagine working in a job where you kind of have to see some intimate side of people and yet you still find it really fucking awkward. All the nurses I know have said they see so many bodily functions that stuff no longer makes them feel weird, but you know what? I doubt I could be a nurse. Then again, I guess I’ve seen enough mental health weirdnesses and heard some of the most awful stories about everything that a part of me barely flinches at stuff most people would probably find uncomfortable to witness, but even then, there will still be the odd thing that makes me feel like I’m seeing too much.


Marian watches them playing the game, and is still honestly surprised by Warrick getting so into the whole submissive thing, but then—possibly even more personal than the sex—is the way they’re lying together happily afterwards, discussing both the beauty and the problem of the sim’s safety catch. For the users, obviously, it means they can get out when they need to, but for Warrick, it doesn’t make the game real enough. And he wants that real danger, because that’s part of the thrill of the whole thing.


And Toreth’s caught onto it quickly, even though he has admitted to not having much experience with this sort of thing—and suggests turning off the safety catch—which wouldn’t be at all acceptable to Warrick. (Which is more than completely understandable.)


Toreth had begun to sound a little impatient, or maybe just bored. “Why not stick to what the sim’s good at? All your fucking weird games, all the things you can’t do outside. Memory stacking whatever. And we can play my game in the real world. Or aren’t I a good enough fuck out there?”

Warrick laughed. “God no. Or rather, God yes. Whichever—more than good enough. But the sponsors would like it. There’s a market, you know. I’m hardly unique. Although I’m not denying I would like it, too.”


While Warrick is thinking business, there is something undeniably sweet about this conversation, IMHO, and directly afterwards, Warrick asks Toreth out for a coffee. Still watching, Marian can’t find anything to fault, though she’s of course not yet convinced about the safety of the sim.

Toreth was manipulative and dangerous, and Warrick understood him perfectly. They were… comfortable together.  Somehow, Warrick’s unexpected insight into this only further strengthened her convictions that he would never willingly accept the dangers of the sim.


We aren’t given much time to dwell on this; Marian is off for another session with Tara, which again piques my curiosity—and then the chapter closes.


One thing I have refrained from mentioning, largely because I’ve focussed on Toreth and the revelations Marian makes about who he is because of what he does and the way people wind up there—is Warrick. We see him in a different light, and even though he’s being deliberately guarded and antagonistic towards Marian, and trying to make light of things, his diffusing her seriousness with humour or sarcasm suggests to me that he has some level of investment on some level in Toreth. Perhaps at this point it’s solely the sex thing, because he’s good at it and because he doesn’t delve too much or want a Serious Relationship, but this is, to me, a point where I think it’s quite clear that Warrick values Toreth beyond being a casual fuck, even though he’s implied that to Marian.


Anyway, I’m back and I apologise for the delay and I have missed the discussions on the series and… yeah. If anyone’s still around, I hope you’re up for talking about this one!!!

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7 thoughts on “Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Fifteen

  1. Thistle on said:

    On top of all the entertainment and great reading, I have to thank Manna for teaching me about the “not using someone’s name” thing. I had a friend who did that — he didn’t like another friend of mine and never used the guy’s name. Ever. Finally I pointed it out to him (“He has a name, you know…”) and my ex-friend claimed he hadn’t realize he had been doing it. I don’t think I would have been able to put my finger on it if it hadn’t come up in this story.

  2. mannafrancis on said:

    Woot! Nice to see you back! I’m sure you had no idea, but yesterday was my wedding anniversary, so thank you for a great present 🙂

    I am REALLY curious about how Chevril feels beneath everything, and wonder if he sometimes wonders how the hell he managed to hook up with someone who is bright, stunning, and successful—and quite normal—and if he’s prepared to sit on the outside looking in and feeling a bit awkward and not quite understanding their world. It also makes me wonder how Elena perceives him, and how they hooked up and why the two of them were attracted to one anothe

    I can’t explain Chev and Elena. You know those couples you look at, and all you can think is, what do they see in one another? That’s the whole concept behind Chev and Ellie. Part of being able to write them and keep that flavour is not knowing myself exactly why they’re together. I do know a few more things about them that have never made it into a story, but not a lot. (I think Ellie’s rich, estranged family do get a mention, somewhere, but I’m not sure if the fact that she’s a few years younger than Chev does, or that she was only 15 when they met.) I suppose if it was ever important for a story, then I’d need to work it all out, but unless that happens, they’re a mystery.

    But, yes, the fact that Ellie married him is a perpetual source of bafflement to Chev. And he hates her family for being rolling in money and yet not giving any of it to Elena.

    Meanwhile, Warrick is having a session with Dr. Tanit

    I fret about the second part of this chapter. Although it’s an Agatha Christie-approved technique, it makes me uncomfortable that we’re inside Marian’s head, and she isn’t thinking about something she could well be thinking of a lot. I hope I get away with it because she’s working at the time, and there are a few oblique hints. However, I *really* wanted to have the later Marian POV scene, and I always find it always awkward to drop people into a new POV with a very emotionally charged scene. I like to introduce a new POV in a more normal, neutral setting, to give readers a chance to connect to the POV.

    Someone made a hilarious comment on Tumblr about how they wanted to see a deliberate badfic attempt with Toreth and a MarySue character who saves him and makes him admit to being in love and all the rest of it

    My dream Administration badfic would be an amnesia fic, where Toreth loses his memory in a terrible accident. He’s then nursed back to health by Mary Sue, and turned into a better human being through the Power of Love.

  3. Lew Marcus *is* smarmy. And you make a very good point — we dislike him intently for sleeping with a barely-legal prostitute and cheating on his wife (something men do every day), while Toreth is sympathetic despite being a torturer and heck knows what else. Damn good character development, there.

    And I had the same knee-jerk reaction to the age 15 thing, until I had to remind myself that the age of consent here in Quebec was 14 until only a few years ago, when it was raised to 16. So, nope, their world is not so different from ours after all.

    • mannafrancis on said:

      So, nope, their world is not so different from ours after all.

      It’s even less different than you might think. When I set the age of consent for the Administration, I eyeballed a list of the age of consent across Europe, and picked something in the middle, on the theory that the enormous task of unifying European law would tend towards compromise. In most of Europe, the current age of consent is in the range of 14-16, with some outliers like Spain (13) and a couple at 17 or 18. A lot of countries do also have a provision setting the ago of consent to 18 if the older person is in a position of trust (teachers, etc).

  4. KBInSantaMonica on said:

    Hey ReadThrough… yes, we are still here and so nice to see an update. You have taken on quite the ambitious project with this read-through and it is totes understandable that you can’t be writing these amazing synopses every other day. Don’t sweat the delay, just glad you can update when you can.

    So many interesting nubs in this chapter that you adeptly point out:

    * 15 year old prostitutes being a-ok. As you mention, this is not unheard of, but it does provide a hint that New London and this post-apocalyptic Administration ruled world is not Kansas any more. The people, customs and institutions are familiar enough that we recognize them and can identify with them, but things are tweaked here and there. This is not sci-fi driven by cool gadgets and technology (ok, the sim is cool technology) but rather by a subtlety shifted society.

    * Chevril and dinner parties. LOL. He’s not a homophone, he has good reason to be wary of Toreth, even if he doesn’t consciously realize it.

    * Your sub-analysis of Toreth and his, ahem, personality disorders. There is no ticky-box for Toreth. I am no psych professional, but it seems like the popular term these days to describe a diagnosis is that it is somewhere on a “spectrum”, and that probably suits Toreth just fine. But really, making excuses for Toreth, that comes naturally and I don’t blame you.

    * Warrick’s session with Tanit…. You see Warrick mentally tangoing with Tanit, and IMHO leading the dance. You also see a candid Warrick talking about sex and sexual relationship and that is somewhat unexpected. We have the impression that Warrick is a control freak (per Toreth’s initial impression) and later in the series we learn that Warrick is not big on PDA, so you don’t expect him to be quite so frank. Two thoughts about this come to mind:
    1) when he asks “why do you think I am interested in him” screams to me “does it show that I am really crushing on this guy?”
    2) Warrick is playing some sort of mind-game with Tanit that goes beyond the Toreth discussion, and I am not smart enough to understand it.

    Thanks for the update!

    • * Warrick’s session with Tanit…. You see Warrick mentally tangoing with Tanit, and IMHO leading the dance. You also see a candid Warrick talking about sex and sexual relationship and that is somewhat unexpected. We have the impression that Warrick is a control freak (per Toreth’s initial impression) and later in the series we learn that Warrick is not big on PDA, so you don’t expect him to be quite so frank.

      What occurred to me is that Warrick has been very successful at detaching sex in the sim from sex in the real world. He can be very frank, matter-of-fact and clinical about sim sex because he doesn’t consider it “real” and to him, it’s part of his job. In much the same way that doctors and healthcare professionals can view nudity or bodily functions with some sort of frank matter-of-factness, Warrick has, out of necessity, lost any form of embarrassment at talking about sim sex. Especially since we get the idea that his sessions with Tanit are regular and part of the protocol for anyone running experiments in the sim.

      Where it gets interesting is when Tanit starts asking Warrick about his life outside the sim, his encounters with Toreth. To Warrick, that’s “real” sex, and he doesn’t have the benefit of the detachment that he’s cultivated over the years. Oh, he covers well enough — as a corporate director, he must have had to develop his poker face to a certain level — but you can tell that he’s uncomfortable when the conversation moves into the real world. Tanit can tell, too. Hence the mind games; Warrick’s trying to rattle her cage because she’s rattling his, and the best defence is a good offence.

  5. Allie on said:

    Re Toreth and a psych diagnosis: I don’t think caring about only a very few people (fewer than the “norm”, whatever that is) should result in a diagnosis of sociopathy. No-one cares about all 7 billion people on the planet, after all, and we all routinely ignore human suffering which is at arms length to us. In that respect, Toreth is just at the end of the spectrum which doesn’t care about collecting “friends” and “likes” on Facebook. I don’t think anti-social personality disorder fits Toreth either: he operates successfully either within society and workplace rules or by bending those rules rather than being caught breaking them.

    I wonder whether “alexithymic” (the inability to recognise and describe to oneself one’s own emotions) might describe him better than sociopath: alexithymia is not a medical or personality disorder. What we know of Toreth’s upbringing could be at least part of the explanation for his difficulties in recognising and dealing with his emotions.

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