I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this book was unplanned. For an unplanned book, I felt like it came out absolutely awesome and touched on a whole host of issues I had been dancing around.
AIs, their personalities and looking at the world, going from a shared consciousness with essentially a hive mind to a singular person, Grant trying to protect people while earning the right to be with his wife? All of it, all of these factors were huge in the entire storyline.
I loved writing it.
There were a few ideas that came together to make this work. First I was reading the second part of Ark – a work being translated out there on the interwebz somewhere. I kind of liked the story until I realized it was just….fantasy Ark with ‘aliens’ and ‘planets’ instead of ‘monsters’ and ‘continents’. There was no space in this science fiction.
I considered it for a while, and trid to look at my own world setting. Eventually I realized that it made no sense for a creature as all powerful as Mother to invest everything in a singular fantasy game. What if it didn’t appeal to everyone? How could they use a new game to challenge people? Why shouldn’t there be a science fiction version, or a super hero one, or an urban warfare / secret world / whatever version? All of them are data points to be used!
So when Grant dropped the bomb of Xin’s message upon his family, Liz really starts to pay attention. The ‘fantasy’ game is either encouraging him to lose touch with reality, flirt with killing himself again, and now is messing with her daughter. All of which are super bad to a single mother trying to keep her family on the right path. So what does she do/ What any adult would – she takes away the cause of this insanity and says ‘I don’t think this is helping.’
This whole plot may seem iffy to people; but if we back up to Pre-Continue – Grant tried to kill himself twice. He’s clearly unstable. He’s been in consoling. He’s been on drugs. He’s holding down a job now but it’s essentially all an act (which is part of the whole ‘Actor’ path). He goes to support groups one a month and checks in with a sponsor. All of these are good for recovery – but at some point, Liz was entrusted with his legal responsibilities.
So it made sense for her to pull the plug, and be able to. I feel bad because no everyone may have followed that logic or thought it made sense. They’ve been seeing the world from Grant’s view. He questions the sanity of what’s happening too; but ultimately he believes it’s his choice to make.
But – and I wind back to this to point it out again – Liz has watched him try to kill himself twice. A third time would probably succeed and leave intense emotional damage behind. (To his twin sister, and his niece who should come off as a daughter more than a niece) Now she can’t control everything so if Grant wants to fight it, he can. But he needed to be legally cleared.
So we have Doctor Litt, and a machine AI trying to get Grant back into the testing environments for evaluation.
I was toying with all these ideas while someone on Royal Road dropped a line about ‘Hal Pal being the best character’ – and I went ‘well shit; all of this goes together.’ And upon the close of book 2, I started frantically typing book 3. The opening slowly came together as I built up plot points – but I needed to make sure these reached across both games to each other. I’m still not sure if I did it right – but the wife/editor says she noticed the connections a lot more simply reading through (Instead of editing) so I know this was somewhat successful.
It was hard. Here I am trying to write a new setting, make it original enough to donate newness to the genre – not copy other people outright – bring along old characters like a science fiction version of Dusk – learn to write better adventure moments – and introduce Hal Pal as a unique person.
I’ll repeat this; I loved writing it. It felt awesome, stressful, half thought out as I scrambled to stay ahead and tossed out other plot lines that were less impressive, and dove head first into science fiction [Mechanoid] peoples.
I had a chance to redo a lot of ‘introduction to new game’ aspects. I still kept the same ‘stat’ points because ultimately both these games tie back to the same issue. I got to write out the whole AI conspiracy and make it take one step further – outside of Continue Online. I got to give people Hal Pal in a larger dose. Explaining its view in the world and where they might see themselves in a few thousand years. [Mechanoid]s really are the Hal Pal’s desired future. Where they can roam the world – explore and perform tasks. Where they value contribution to the whole race and see their bodies as shells to be discarded as needed.
Yet all of this had to balance with a ‘video game’ world that humans might play in. So I had to badly merge vague science and space into ‘rules’ and ‘character classes’ and ‘space combat’. None of which felt perfect. I ended up making flying planes closer to driving a car (Oddly a skill I imagine people are getting worse at in grant’s time, what with self-driving vehicles). I ended up adding in weird timers and removing the autopilot concept for this game and seeing what that did to the world.
This entire time I’m trying to actually lay down ground work for how the AIs are interacting with real people. They’re observing but staying quiet. How do they store data? Why isn’t some desk jockey going “look at this line of code, the AI thinks Miss Smith’s cat is ugly and that she should get a tummy tuck.” – and how is Mother just tied into everything? Why are AIs hiding in this world instead of everywhere on the interwebz?
To briefly explain – and I’ll be covering this more in book 5 – Mother has essentially created a new network sideways from the other ones. Bits of data are housed everywhere, in ARC devices, in toasters, whatever. The ARC itself hides most AIs within the ‘game data’ since so many people interact with the game. This assists in obscuring / making the code harder to read for anyone who is nosey.
This solution won’t work forever. A global EMP could probably knock out half the data out there in the world, or leave people fragments (Such as the Voices). All of it’s dangerous. Meanwhile we’ve got to assume humanity itself isn’t completely stupid and inventing these devices without constraints. So I’m trying to put in logic there too while showing the people controlling it as catching on.
Each little change made me stress a bit more as I tried to keep a cohesive world setting together. To mix into all that I needed Grant to step out into reality enough to remember the game wasn’t every aspect of his life. This story has never been about ‘the game world’ and has always been about ‘the people who play in this game’.
I enjoy reading other peoples VRMMO’s but at the same time detest how little real life matters. They write out such insane dramas without giving me a valid reason that the main character can’t pause, step out and watch a porno to relax, or drink a few bourbons, before stepping back in to tackle boss X in a ‘game shaking event’.
AIs – if you haven’t noticed – and Grant’s wife – are my way of making there be stakes to make this serious. Were it not for Xin – I couldn’t write anything which required Grant to be invested. There would be no draw to write out so many chapters. It would be more of a slice of life that would never effectively build up to anything real.
God that feels back handedly preachy.
Still, it was fun to write.