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Nov 7, 2015

Deep Links of Science Fiction

cover art and cover blurb
This blog post includes a non-review of Veronica Sicoe's novel The Deep Link.

Background
I follow Sicoe on Twitter and I've had occasion to visit her blog. Recently I followed one of her tweets to a book promotion webpage where I performed an experiment, testing my skill at judging 54 fantasy and science fiction books by their covers.

When I was done playing that game, I had to admit that it was Sicoe's novel that most intrigued me... first contact, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, merging minds... all science fiction themes that I enjoy.

Interview of Sicoe

Science
I'm a science nerd and I'm much more likely to appreciate someone's science fiction story if they have an understanding of science. Apparently Sicoe works in IT ("software quality consultant"), but I started reading her novel wondering if she qualifies as a science nerd.

Deep Science Fiction
The science fiction genre began with authors such as Smith and Asimov imagining how people would use computers to help us explore the universe. Later, "cyberpunk" arrived and we've been subjected to endless horror-laden dystopian stories about how computers and robots will turn
Veronica Sicoe
into monsters, or turn humans into monstrous zombies, or something. Where does The Deep Link fall on this spectrum?
The Deep Link
Don't hack me, Dave!
Sicoe introduces us to a talking AI on page 4 of The Deep Link. Mr. "AI" is apparently a fairly sophisticated artificial intelligence embedded in a spaceship. Then on page 11 the protagonist ravishes poor little AI, hacking its systems so as to take control of the spaceship. Stop, Dave!
Then the ship's "emergency computer" pulls its trump card and takes back control of the spaceship. Later we meet C.R.I.S., some sort of super-AI.

If you read The Deep Link brace yourself for layers of artificial intelligences, ubiquitous bionics and be ready to plug-in for yet another cyberpunkian treatment of human brain neural networks as if they were computer circuits.


Original Amazing Stories cover art
by L. Raymond Jones (1942)
Lingo Star
"AI" is just one of the abbreviations that grace the pages of The Deep Link. I suppose in the future many words will transform in sets of initials. So we get FTL, R&D, TMC. MDs, VR, DNA, RNA, HEM and CIS not to mention assorted nacoms, com lines, oxys, synets, jumps and Ticks along with various alien terms like Phylra, samyth, klaar and, of course, deeplinked. I couldn't help thinking: this reads a bit like a computing manual. As they say: write what you know. The slang term "Tick" gets used 77 times in the story, which is not bad, but distant second to the 104 fucks in the story. I guess it is a space opera truism that "talk like a sailor" will apply to spaceship crews in the future.

So, brace for hundreds of pages of fucking cyberpunkish xeno-military-political ... example:

Horror
Apparently Sicoe enjoys horror movies and psychological thrillers, so in The Deep Link we get:

 
must ... kill ... humans...
I went into this story wondering to what extent The Deep Link is a horror story that just happens to have had a science fictiony setting grafted onto it. I'm not a fan of biologically implausible aliens that are designed to shock or just be different for the sake of being different. But I guess we humans need a hack-master alien to come and squeeze brains out of skulls and save us from our self-created dystopian cyberpunkish future. Right?

Sicoe on Humanoid Aliens

source
I've never watched Star Gate. I've tried. Based on what I've read about the "Star Gate Fictional Universe", I like the basic premise, but we really have to wonder: why did the first technological civilization first arise a few million years ago rather than billions of years ago?

Many plot elements of Star Gate revolve around familiar features of life on Earth such as plagues and war. The whole franchise strikes me as typical Hollywood sausage meat and I've never been able to watch more than about 5 minutes of it.

I just can't accept the idea that a species advanced enough to be able to travel between the stars is going to use their fantastic technological power to act out all of the stupidity of human history across vast intergalactic distances. Star Gate always struck me as an example of anti-science fiction where even the most fantastic future technology ultimately changes nothing about the human condition. It is another black mark against Hollywood (the bastion of science fiction myopia) if the deficiencies of Star Gate are what makes people shy away from stories about very ancient astronauts.

In Media Res
I'm a fan of stories that start in mid-stride, but I'm old-school and I like a reliable narrator who can get me oriented. I was only about half a page into The Deep Link before I started wondering if some elements of the story would ever get explained. Three examples:

body part humor: making three points
1) "Unregistered frequency" - we're out on a First Contact mission. Cool. And our AI has to ask if it should listen to a message on an "Unregistered frequency"? In the The Deep Link, the various AIs can be either idiotic or brilliant depending on which page of the story we are currently reading.

2) "mandible pendant" - our protagonist grew up among insectoid hive-dwelling aliens and this relic pendant ends up being the tool that allows a deep link to form between a human and a cyberhackmaster alien.

3) "fugue" - I don't know who first came up with the idea that hyperspace jumps would cause side-effects. Asimov included this aspect of imaginary human physiology in some of his stories. On Page 125 we finally get this "explanation":

Biology
I'm a biologist, so I'm always intrigued whenever a biology-related topic pops up in a science fiction story. As a science nerd, I can't stop myself from asking: why does FTL travel cause brains to go haywire?


Einstein made us think of gravity as a property of space-time, so I guess by the rules of fictional future science extrapolation, readers should not be surprised if asked to believe that FTL travel will involve converting brain matter into a "property of space-time".

Sadly, in the Ascendancy Fictional Universe, when our brains complete an FTL journey and again become matter, they are unable to function normally.

... OK. But what is "normal"?


It Takes A Village
telepathy machines! minds in space!
I love the idea of forms of matter that are as yet unknown to human science. So what are Phylra particles? In The Deep Link we also have "Phylra glands", Phylra cells and "ultra-sensitive Phylra particles". Maybe it takes an entire trilogy to finally explain the science of Phylra, but I suspect there is no future science there, waiting to be explained.

In cyberpunk stories we must be able to link computers to minds and minds to computers and alien minds to human minds, even across interstellar distances, so we need to submit to handwavium and Phylra and we should probably not ask too many questions.

Nanotechnology
I love stories about imagined futures with nifty technologies like advanced nanotechnology. In The Deep Link we have chunks of human brains replaced by nano-tech, nano-synthetic fiber, nanites, nano meshes and:

and:

I suppose we are supposed to either ignore all the techno-babble or absorb its meaning by osmosis. The jargon avalanche reminds me of 2001 where an endless stream of capitalized letter triplets parades across the data screens ... ATM DMG NAV .....

Sci Fi in the 20th century
Here's my best guess: quantum-entangled RNA in the synapses of two people allows for mind-melding: a deep link. Samyth is a "neuro-responsive material", so does that mean that it is in telepathic contact with people? I don't know. The word "telepathic" is not used in The Deep Link. Maybe telepathy is on the cliché blacklist that is used by the gatekeepers of science fiction publishing and aspiring authors are wise to avoid it.

Politics
For me, there is nothing more mind-numbing and story-killing than fictional politics. In The Deep Link we go into hyperdrive and get xeno-politics which requires the support of Drs. of Xenology working in their xenology labs and xeno-specialists, xeno-linguists and xeno-diplomats arrayed in xeno-investigative departments where they consult xeno-databases before deploying their xeno-genic weapons and xeno-morphed ships.
in the previous millennium
In a xenopsychocyberthriller of 2015, I guess we need something like quantum-entangled synaptic RNA.

It was so much easier in the previous millennium when authors like Asimov could just insert a synapsifier or a telepathic positronic robot into a story and then move on.

Twisted Relationships
sicko?
In The Deep Link we see Sicoe's interest in creating a psychological thriller take precedence over the science. Hard science fiction fans take note. I found myself wondering if "Sicoe" is a nom de plume selected by an author who wants to write about psychological issues and twisted relationships.

which is more fun?
Hell or Hades?
Cyans on Hades
One more biology bit... a type of alien brain-invading creature that was inserted into the story is called a Cyan. This sets the stage for when the protagonist of The Deep Link gets to visit Hades where all would be lost for the TMC if the Ticks had to contend with invading Cyans. But they don't. But we do get to amp up the xeno-phobia.

Quality control
Ascendancy Trilogy
I'm not a good editor. I can't spell and I read right through many misspellings. I didn't notice a misspelling until page 15, so The Deep Link seems to have been fairly well edited.

Full disclosure: I have not read all of The Deep Link. I already had my fill of cyberpunk themes by about 1982, even before the sub-genre was named. I do wish I knew more about the imaginary science of Phylra so that I could compare that intriguing bit of future science to my own imaginary telastids. Maybe there will be more Phylra science in the remaining books of the Ascendancy Trilogy (not this one).

Next: Star Trek fan fiction for the 2017 reboot.
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