Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Our Cyberpunk World: Introducing James the Robot Bartender

The article: James The Robot Bartender Knows When You Want A Drink (TechBeat)
[project homepage]

In a previous entry of this series I posted about robot wait staff in Japan and China. Now in England there's a new robot bartender who doesn't just mix drinks efficiently, it has the social processing power that allows it to tell when a patron wants a drink. Its name is James, and it's part of a research project that aims at greatly improving robot-human interaction. Still, I'm sure some human bartenders are worrying for the future of humans in their line of work...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Spanner R5 Update: Chapter 1 Almost Perfect, Just One Brand New Scene to Go

I thought it would take just one pass. I found myself going back and forth through Chapter 1 making major changes to a lot of scenes and then making tweak after tweak after little tweak until now it's all but perfect. All the typos and continuity errors are fixed, all the foreshadowing and revealing character moments inserted, all the words made right. I even converted all the dream and vision sequences into embedded poems, simply because I got bored with just italicized and double-indented narrative prose that looks like I copypasted it out of a nonfiction book on dreams, and because I found I can write dreams and visions better when they're in formatted free verse.

All this means: I'm finally finished editing Chapter 1! The final edit on it's almost done! Except for one scene: the new opening.

This new opening is formatted like a movie or TV script. I call it the "Propaganda Reel". Filmed, it's the bombastic opening to a patriotic superhero cartoon, with America itself the ultimate superhero, far greater than even the series' (antagonist) superhero team the Liberators. It's full of Hollywood Blockbuster bombast and the utter lack of originality caused by studio-enforced rigid conformity to Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet. I realized I could map Christopher Vogler's hero's journey beat sheet to the Snyder template so that the Reel spins out an entire hero's journey for main antagonist Henry Becket (costumed as the superhero American Crusader in the Reel) telling of his 9/11/01-12/21/12 rise as he would have us see it in just 7-800 words of script, with the series itself being in part the tragedy of his fall, his fatal flaws being self-righteousness (an ever present danger for superheroes) and paranoia (a flaw that reaches deep into his backstory). The Reel's soundtrack is a pounding and bombastic military-metal theme song inspired by such songs as the G.I. Joe cartoon theme "A Great American Hero" and "America, Fuck Yeah!" from Team America: World Police. The Reel's plot? The deeply fascistic "Annihilation Plot" of Fort Apache and the movie version of World War Z.

The whole Propaganda Reel serves as an ironic counterpart to Chaos Angel Spanner itself, whose main plot commences with the first scene, Shira's defiant trash-talking videoblog post (and the plasma disruptor her brand new unlicensed 3D printer is building up). What better to show just what Shira and her friends and allies are up against? And Becket's actual appearances in the story reveal that he just might not be the hero he thinks he is; he might even be what his ex-wife and nemesis Willa (Shira's Rocker psychologist aunt) calls him, a mad-scientist villain who thinks he's the only sane man left alive.

One more scene left. I'll take a break to give the muse a rest (unless of course she has no intention of resting), and then I'll attack. One more scene...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spanner R5 Update: Chapter 1 Progress on Our Heroine's 14th Birthday, Plus Newest Stuff I Threw In

Shira is fourteen today. That's the age she is when Spanner begins just over 11 months from now. Among other things, this is a reminder for her author to hurry up and edit Book 1, Chapter 1 especially.

Those two long scenes that resisted editing so long are now complete and vastly improved. 5 of Chapter 1's 8 sections are finished as well, except for the new opening I haven't yet written (it's still in outline, a 15-part outline based on the plot points declared obligatory for Hollywood movie scripts by the late Blake Snyder in Save the Cat!). I finally got it into my story-crammed head that yWriter5 has a global search function I could use to change the name of R5 new character Oscar Ribeiro and his handle Blackflag to "Rico X" (real name unknown). I even reread Shira's opening videoblog post and found new improvements I could make in a scene I thought was already done. I do still have challenging scenes to edit later, especially in 1.7; but except for the new opening I've now conquered all the hardest parts. It should be easier from here on out.

The Name Game
Turns out the deliberate namelessness of certain female characters is only half the story. The other half, sure enough, involves names. When the first nameless woman to appear in R5 (in 2.3, to be exact) claims (in a new scene in 3.1) that names are masks and traps, she's referring to the oppressive social constructions built around naming conventions. On the Conservative Revolutionary side, you have these:
  1. the long names and multiple titles of High Corporate aristocrats, in imitation of royalty and feudal nobility;
  2. the Patriot, Syndicate, and terrorist practice of warrior men using their names as their war cry;
  3. in conservative traditional societies, the traditional patriarchal power of naming and renaming, so beloved of cult gurus;
  4. the technocratic tradition of identifying people by numbers, used as a marker of lower caste by the Party, formalizing the class divide between Corporates and "mundanes" into rigid castes called Names and Numbers; and
  5. name magic, or the ability to control any human or spirit by controlling their names, for which Byron Scofield has the talent and main antagonist Henry Becket has the skill.
I decided to research name magic further and discovered that the ancient Egyptians put special emphasis on the magic power of one's name, or ren. They believed that if one's ren was erased, one's ka (basically, soul) would be destroyed and one would cease to exist. This is what the enemies of Pharaoh Ikhnaton tried to do to his name, and it was the dire punishment reserved for tomb robbers. Gods and pharaohs bore many names as a matter of policy, as a security measure to prevent the memory of them from being erased. Likewise, the city of Rome in ancient times kept its occult name a state secret as jealously guarded as the US nuclear launch codes lest enemy cities and kingdoms use it to curse the city.

Originally I had in mind the ceremonial magicians who summon spirits by name in order to force them to do their will, a staple of spellbooks from ancient times. In Japan, the onmyouji call this kind of name magic kotodama, in which one can gain complete control over any entity using its true name.

Leila in particular brings these two together. In 13.6 Scofield discovers he has no power over her because by then she has erased her name and therefore no longer has a name for him to control her by. In the following scene, she announces to her hated grandfather Governor Brinkman that by erasing her name she has freed herself from his power. His reaction? In R4 he freaks out, uncontrollably shifts into werewolf mode, and howls at God. In the R5 version he tells her why: by erasing her own name — her ren — she has committed soul suicide. She replies, yes, she has slain her Ego and is now a free woman, and now she will follow her True Will into ecstatic self-annihilation in the arms of her true love. And remember that in Spanner mysticism always has political consequences. Brinkman's reaction, in both Revisions 4 and 5, is to declare martial law, evacuate Metropolitan Seattle, and bring the Party elite to perform a massive spiritual-warfare ritual — this is Chapter 15, the Party's first major setback on the home front.

From Egyptian mythology I went forward in time to do that research on Aleister Crowley's magical philosophy which I intended to do for mystical king of bankers Dick Becket but procrastinated, which lead to...

Edits Outside Chapter 1
If you've studied enough Crowley or Enochian magic, you'll know who/what Babalon and Choronzon are. If you haven't, I can sum them up as respectively the Great Whore and the entity of absolute entropy. Dick Becket has become convinced that Shira is the "Daughter of Babalon" and Spanner is the "earthly manifestation of Choronzon". Since he's not fond of either entity, his mystical assumptions will drive his adversarial actions. Shira, unbeliever that she is, takes full advantage. (Note: I'm starting to think this series will end up gaining a hardcore following among chaos magicians...)

Elsewhere, I'm culling scenes in 2.1 and editing 2.6 to fit the final continuity. I've changed the character who has Shira tracking Talia's latest terror attempt in 4.1 from rocker Simon to the nameless woman who is now building manager in R4 the Asian woman from Chapter 12; elsewhere in Chapter 4, I'm turning long scenes into sequences and planning a conclusion as intercut as 4.1. Chapter 4 has a new ending; Chapter 5 has a new opening. I'm mapping more plot threads. And I've given Shira a bullet pendant and making it a prominent prop, plus I'm giving her back the flight jacket I gave her in the Project Notebooks but failed to give her so far in the script and novelization.

And that's what I've been doing on Shira's 14th birthday. Come to think of it, I ought to celebrate her birthday with a slice of carrot cake and a glass of wine...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Spanner R5 Update: Chipping Away at Chapter 1, plus Those Women with No Name

One by one I've been chipping away at the remaining unedited scenes in Spanner Chapter 1. Most of them need only a few edits to put them in line with the final continuity, or bring out something more in a character, or just to fix up the language. I even changed the name of the new character in the flashback sequence (from Oscar Ribeiro a.k.a. Blackflag to the cooler-sounding Rico X). I still haven't taken on those difficult large scenes at the beginning and end, but I'm getting ever closer.

Also, I'm skipping back and forth among the chapters to edit here and there. Some scenes need just a little tweak to bring them fully into continuity. Others I'm putting into other chapters entirely, including nearly everything featuring Revision 4 newcomer Dr. Mina Tatsumi. I'm even inserting scenes I left out of previous versions, including one or two I intended to put in the incomplete Revision 1 but never got far enough to write.

One major revision surprised me. I came up with the thread about women with no name while I was in the middle of rewriting Chapter 12 for the Fourth Revision. Three major characters (love interest Leila, reporter Amanda, and Desiree's long-lost daughter Lucie) abandoned their names (in Chapters 12-13, 16, and 19 respectively) after that. Turns out my muse had bigger plans for R5. Now the nameless Asian woman who first appears in Chapter 12 of R4 makes her R5 debut in Chapter 2 as the new manager of the apartment building Shira lives in, the FEMEN scenes I threw into Chapters 22 and 23 now feature the master nudefighters who emerged out of the suppression of the topless-feminist group by Eastern European governments during the Conservative Revolution (and their first local recruit when they get to Seattle is none other than the now nameless Amanda), and the tall brown-haired woman I retconned into the Chapter 10 opening introduce the nameless women is the direct connection between them. The nameless-women thread has become a major thread in the series, precisely because Leila decided to erase her name — the original idea the whole thread grew from.

One thing I never really got around to in my haste to finish R4 was create full profiles for the nameless women. The "contextual list of descriptive tags" they replace their names with are in fact a significant subset of their character profiles, the part that conforms to rules now explained by the nameless Asian woman in Chapter 3. So, thesaurus in hand, I set out to compile the "name" lists for several characters: the aforementioned nameless woman (whose former name is now completely unknown, something she took great pains to ensure), her brown-haired and blond roommates, Shira (who never truly loses her name(s) but has a complex and fascinating profile), Leila, her twin brother Rob and younger sister Fiona, Lucie, and others. In fact, I'm going to do the same for major characters who keep their names throughout the entire series, precisely because I'll be developing their profiles to make them better characters.

One character I threw in late in Revision 4 I decided to throw back out of Revision 5: Shira's long-lost twin sister Kira, who's now back to the R3 plan in which I was going to save her for a major plot point of the Pretty City Arc in the middle of Book 2.

And so the editing continues. Now back to editing those two tough scenes in Chapter 1...