Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The REAL! Wherein I start self-promoting.

Pictured: THE FUTURE!

Hey writers,

Last time we spoke, I rambled a little about inspiration, and some of the shapes and sizes it can come in. I felt that I was lax in not prefacing that post or those that came before it. So here goes, this blog is NOT writing advice (dear brother in arms, Jon Dobbin speaks great speechy things about advice right here). I'm not qualified, nor any sort of an expert. This is a testimony first and foremost, as to what floats around in my own skull, and how I deal or don't deal with 'the process'. My other intent is to ask you guys questions, maybe spurring your thoughts like jump-starting a dead battery on a cold morning. Maybe in asking questions and encouraging discourse, I'm adding some perspective to your 'the process' while simultaneously adding new kit to my own 'the process' with your insightful commentary. That's the ideal anyway. And yes, it will always be referred to as 'the process', even when grammar lets me down. End of disclaimer.

If you're still here, indulge me while I talk about the impetus, the conception, and inspiration of 'Virtual Machines'. My current WIP, and how it kind of goes against pretty well everything I'd written previously about inspiration (but also, doesn't?)

So 'Machines' started life as a simple want to write a 'cyberpunk' story (I'll talk about cyberpunk eventually), so I dug out a few old novels, some old pen-and-paper books (mostly Shadowrun) and did a filmic deep dive. I made notes about tropes I wanted to avoid:

- no Matrix or cyberspace
- no VR hackers or bulky Vic 20 looking keyboards.
- No heavy body modifications or gleaming chrome.
- No synthpop or '80s throwbacks.
- No hard-boiled detective or street level low life protagonist.

Huh... I guess I'm not writing a cyberpunk story after all. I guess it's speculative fiction. Fuck.

What I did have, what really interested me, was a pretty healthy tech background (if I do say so myself) and about 2000 pages of non-fiction reference materials for Augmented Reality research, (both very real, and very nearly real) artificial intelligence, and  'virtual assistants' to play with.

Then something crazy happened. I stopped and I watched and listened to all five of my kids (ages ranging from 9 to 16), and how they interact with technology in the run of a day. I thought about the very early days of the internet and how we (as teens) interacted with the wild wild web of the early '90s. My own society had splintered into two very distinct worlds.  It was amazing how us late 70s - early 80s kids splintered our psyches into two distinct personalities to match. We have our real world/dealing with real people faces, and our online shit eating "gloves off" personas from the land of chat forums and Facebook. We hid behind walls of anonymity when we said awful things about your mom while playing Call of Duty. Kids no longer have that distinction; the virtual world of the internet is as real as the lunchroom to them. That's a terrifying concept. Even worse, the social safeguards we had in place, developed in a world without the web, no longer exist. The narcissistic, cynical, and ego-driven behavior of the online world has bled into day to day social behavior. As a parent, deny all you want but listen, pay attention, it's real. It's obvious, it has happened.

What's doubly alarming, is the social of the virtual has, for many, outright replaced face to face interaction. Kids and teens use the web, discord, 4chan, Reddit, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook whatever, as a means to deep dive away from every trace of anxiety or stress. Instead of learning viable coping skills, they build 'virtual' virtual realities (we must go deeper!) and hide in cyberspace, crippling social development, and adaptability. What kind of adults will come from this generation? How about two, three generations from now? What kind of world will they inhabit if things continue to develop at this rate?

Now try this one; about two years ago, a single video went viral, a marine wildlife specialist was pulling a drinking straw out of an unfortunate sea-turtle's nostril. ONE video. Not hundreds, not thousands, one. 18 months later, fast food chains have switched entirely to biodegradable drinking straws or banned them outright. Because one video went viral, suddenly one of my teenagers is telling me drinking straws kill thousands of sea turtles every year. I won't get into the actual environmental concerns as that's not the point, suffice it to say, I've done the research, it ain't straws. They're 1% of the problem.

The point is; viral videos and web-marketing can convince people; their influence is strong, lasting, and hard to counter (anti-vaxxers, I'm looking at you). YouTube lawyers turn cell phone cameras on cops and spout bullshit and 4 million followers suddenly think all cops are white male power-tripping bullies who will taser you until you piss lightning. You can be accused of anything, and whether you're guilty or innocent all depends on your internet presence. It depends on how much your followers love you. It depends on how "icky" the public perception is. Media manipulation is an epidemic (Google Kony 2012) that's gone way beyond convincing us to buy things. The truth is now a luxury. This isn't paranoid rambling or science fiction, this is happening now.

So there you have the three tips of my inspirational trident; One - The advent of Augmented Reality, and how it could very easily evolve in the next ten years. Two - the tearing down of cyberspace/realspace barriers and the effect it has on humanity as a whole. Three - how far can content providers and influencers take media manipulation when everyone can employ Augmented Reality to tweak their day to day lives. What's real in a world where you can beam Pokemon Go directly to your eyeballs? Where you can apply Instagram filters directly to what you see, in real time.

Even more fun; What happens when all three of these twist and intertwine? I'd like to think it will make for some damn fun reading.

So inspiration from scary real world stuff, some ever so slightly theoretical, some of my own views on virtual-space psychology. There's plenty of the other stuff we talked about previously as well; My protagonist is a professional bodyguard, ex-military/working professional type who happens to have been crippled by a debilitating workplace injury (again, inspired by my own reality to a small extent). But is his pain real? Or is his past life just weighing heavily and taking its toll. He had a hook that appealed to me; perseverance in spite of physical flaws and an unstable mental condition. We'll deliver further into Nathan Zahir Roland in the near future.

The narrative setup is straight up simple; find the one soul our protagonist failed to protect and rescue them. This is not a straight line, however. If I can pull it off, a lot of the other stuff we talked about previously could (and should) bleed in. I won't dive too deep into particulars at this stage as I don't want to spoil anything, but if my ramblings have your attention, and you feel like just maybe, this is something you'll really want to read, then I've succeeded on some level.

How do you feel about reality as an inspiration? Have you ever dabbled in a real-world narrative? Would you prefer to keep things in the realm of the fantastic? Do you hate the speculative fiction tag as much as I do?

Until next time,

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