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dioscuri

The Enigma of Flatness

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Well, I'm almost lost for words here! I started reading The Enigma of Flatness with little or no hope that it would be a truly good Science Fiction story and have been proven completely and utterly wrong!

I've only just run across this story, and it looks like the author posts only every two or three months, but each chapter has pulled me inexorably deeper into the plot. This is a true Science Fiction story, there are no vampires, no alternate universes and no magic. Its a story in the true sense of the genre.

The author gives you no hint at the beginning where this story might be heading. There are two young men, orphans living on the planet Astral-Ishasa, who've been living with each other all their lives, and of course, dreaming of the stars. One day, crossing a street Tallas picks up a plain white opened envelope in which he finds a data disk. He absent mindedly puts it in his pocket. The next day, after falling asleep with at his friend's Sabrin's dorm room, they are awakened by a frantic call from a friend warnig them of the police attempting to hunt down Tallas. Frightened at being arrested by the quiet nasty Orion Police, they run. Run for three days before stumbling through a space port and slipping inside the only ship that isn't an Orion War Ship.

The ship is a small ovoid shaped black ship which neither of them have seen before. Stumbling through the door they are saved from the Orion Police when the ship's AI shuts the air lock. However on the bridge they are greeted by the ship's avatar who keeps shooting at them. The avatar begs them to disable the security locks put in place by the Orions. After pulling the optical cables from the wall, the killer Avatar collapses.

I won't go on since the author, Devon Keene cleverly attempts to hide his identity by not posting his name in the first few chapters, claiming that this is his first story posting. Well, don't hide from us! You are good. This is one of the few Sci Fi stories online that comes anywhere close to the quality and craftsmanship of Jamie de Valen's The Scrolls of Icaria. (The Scrolls are found over at The Awesomedude's site.)

There are few stories in which the author succeeds in truly endearing all his main characters to his readers. Devon Keene succeeds admirably at this.

Oh! by the way, the ship is not just a ship, the ship, Dream of Dawn is really an AI far ship, a ship capable of scouting and finding jump points which can be used to jump huge distances between stars and even galaxies. The AI, who prefers to be called just Dreamer, has resigned from his own navy and just disappeared. After three years the AI is now held captive by the Orions and accidentally stumbled upon by Tallas and Sabrin as they flee for their lives. With his slight southern drawl, and his charming sense of humour (a hint of sarcasm thrown in ) we soon realise that there are now three main characters, not just two.

Dreamer is appalled when Sabrin proposes selling Dreamer for the cash since they are broke. Of course Sabrin is just kidding, yanking Sabrin's chain. There are more than a few hints that Dreamer's sexuality may be slightly skewed --- I think he's attracted to humans and male humans at that! Either that or he has the habit of picking up strays he finds and keeping them as his crew!

If I'm wrong about his sexual attraction, I'm certainly not wrong about his want to help those in trouble, those who have been unjustly treated by an uncaring and unsympathetic universe. So far, I have only found hints of Dreamer's story, how he came to be one of only two existing far ships. In a later chapter he runs into his sister ship.

I'll not say more about the plot, and I haven't given to much away since so much more happens they meet so many more strangely interesting people along the way!

Has anyone else found this story and followed it? Please post and start a discussion, even just about the title. How is flatness enigmatic? Perhaps, for Dreamer, time makes life flat since it goes on so long that looking over life's landscape, events seem to even out over the length of time. Of course that's just my idle speculation.

Yeppers! this is the first story since finding The Scrolls of Icaria that I've been as excited about reading it.

The only problem is that yet again, I seem to be reading faster than authors are posting chapters! But that's a problem you run into with quality and highly creative authors ... they inspire their readers.

cheers,

dioscuri

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I agree with you in that Enigma of Flatness is a good story. There was a two year hiatus in posting which does seem to raise a question as to the author's commitment/ability to complete the story.

There is always the danger of writer's block, real life intervention, personal disaster, death, even simply waning interest killing off a very good story. The online writing genre is littered with good and even great stories that have, or currently appear to have, died in mid flow.

Songspell (pseudo early English style makes reading it hard work but it is very rewarding), Broken Pegasus Wings, Grey Eyed Justice, Noah, Erebi Seeking, A Quetion of Tine and many, many more come to mind.

Back to Enigma, as to a 'gay' AI, I don't think so. I see Dreamer as needing, perhaps desiring would be a better word, or even feeding off, human emotion, maybe a consequence of too much human emulation in his programming. Careful reading clearly shows that his 'emotions' are emulations, there is a real 'personality', but it is more akin to that of a high functioning autistic, paralleling normal human responses/urges but not quite synchronised, there is a definite disconnect there, an intellectual appreciation of emotion rather than an emotional one, if that makes sense.

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I agree with you in that Enigma of Flatness is a good story. There was a two year hiatus in posting which does seem to raise a question as to the author's commitment/ability to complete the story.

There is always the danger of writer's block, real life intervention, personal disaster, death, even simply waning interest killing off a very good story. The online writing genre is littered with good and even great stories that have, or currently appear to have, died in mid flow.

Songspell (pseudo early English style makes reading it hard work but it is very rewarding), Broken Pegasus Wings, Grey Eyed Justice, Noah, Erebi Seeking, A Quetion of Tine and many, many more come to mind.

hmmm I'm not quite sure what you mean. I am actually using my Mac to have it read to me. The Mac has several convincing voices which sound very human-like and very easy to listen to. The only problem is that it doesn't always get contextual meaning and pronounciation correct. A notorious one is lead (which is led (past tense and the metal -- a noun) and read (red or reed). So the program reads quite well, but it certainly does not understand what its reading. The fact that they can make the voice sound convincing even in complex sentences is quite amazing. There are ways to attempt pronounciation corrections but I have not worked hard enough to find out how to get it right yet.

However, I do love bed time stories! One thing it does do quite well is get past pronouncing viciously long names or ones I have no clue about. It flipped off the name of the boys home planet like it said the word every day. On the other hand I have been reading quite a bit of David McLeod's Book of Hero's "translations" for a while so I may have just gotten quite used to the style to.

I noticed this hiatus as well, and am glad that you have noticed it to and mentioned it. I'm sure he will make note. Hopfully he's looking for our comments now. I've mentioned something about "talking behind his back" as an excuse for writing directly to him. Perhaps that will make us a little bit more real to him.

Back to Enigma, as to a 'gay' AI, I don't think so. I see Dreamer as needing, perhaps desiring would be a better word, or even feeding off, human emotion, maybe a consequence of too much human emulation in his programming. Careful reading clearly shows that his 'emotions' are emulations, there is a real 'personality', but it is more akin to that of a high functioning autistic, paralleling normal human responses/urges but not quite synchronized, there is a definite disconnect there, an intellectual appreciation of emotion rather than an emotional one, if that makes sense.

He seems aware of his non-human humanity and sometimes almost falls into that trap. I think he did with his first captain. He most definitely makes a good counselor for those two Orion boys who can't quite get past their societies misguided rules against males touching or loving. Serveral times he called them both out on it, saying that he could see all their biometric readings sand not to try to pull the wool over his eyes. On the other hand, he makes a crucial mistake with Fennec when he dances with him.

Having the two Orion men there as in love with each other as they are perhaps makes Dreamer stronger in a way in that it prevents him from edging to close to his top ranked captain and crew members. Remember though, that Dreamer is massively under manned currently. Notice his penchant for picking up lost strays, something like those kids that can't leave a stray puppy or kitten without a home!

In some ways, his ability to flirt with being human and not get caught up in it may be one of his strong points .... but who really knows yet. Have you run into his sister yet?

LOL he's quite upset when she calls Dreamer her sister ship and insists that they are sibling ships. They came off the production line a mere 4 hours after one another.

Oddly, only Liorelle even come near to understanding Fennec. I think I can see what has happened to him in a way because there was so much left out of my own development at home growing up in a Christian fundamentalist family who cut me off from friends with whom I had things in common with, leaving me a lonely teen feeling that parental love was dangerous. They had cut me off from things like drama and musical theatre, and sometimes had threatened to take away my piano lessons. This left me even more isolated during those key periods of development. So in a way I understand how lost Fennec must feel not having much of himself really there and no memories to go with it.

I don't know if Dreamer can quite understand that, he's to flip and to fast with the smart reply .... you cannot do that with Fennec just yet. Liorelle needs to see to his education or something like that. For all their focus on family and bloodlines, the Kinjori seem totally ruthless and completely self-centred. They are willing to sacrifice any of their own for the dominance of their own race. Hence the Onyx Hand. (I wonder just how brittle onyx really is). Liorelle has been hurt badly by this herself ... see the letter Dreamer delivers to her from her mother.

Dreamer is certainly not your usual dispassionate A.I. that's for sure. There is another much more non-human A.I. lurking out there which is quite dangerous yet. Dreamer is not yet aware of her and its only been mentioned once so far. For being nominally sentient it seems very sure of its sexuality however and I find that puzzling (and dangerous).

I saw that gap as well, and in his author notes he mentions that to, I think if he starts getting tons of attention for his writing he may see it as a much higher priority. Also when I point out that he's in the same league with Jamie.wri that changes things a lot. I am not just kidding around here. I really think that Devon Keene is one of those writers you do not want to loose. This is science fiction writing at its best. No vampires or werewolves, nothing supernatural just speculative science and its wonderful for a change.

thanks for reading!

cheers,

dioscuri

P.S. I wonder if Dreamer might visit my twin stars .... of course no ulterior motives here at all!

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I saw that gap as well, and in his author notes he mentions that to, I think if he starts getting tons of attention for his writing he may see it as a much higher priority. Also when I point out that he's in the same league with Jamie.wri that changes things a lot. I am not just kidding around here. I really think that Devon Keene is one of those writers you do not want to loose. This is science fiction writing at its best. No vampires or werewolves, nothing supernatural just speculative science and its wonderful for a change.

I would certainly rate his writing highly as well, as you say, tight, inventive, classical sci/fi at its best.

On-line writers with long breaks/delays must be good writers, if they aren't, the necessary re-reading to get back into the story really shows up the flaws. I have found several stories that I though quite good until re-reading exposed the inadequacies and I lost interest in them.

I am not sure if you realised Songspell is another story, you can find it in the same place as Enigma, although it may not be to your taste as it is pure fantasy. It is another truly excellent story. The author had a very long hiatus owing to real life difficulties (at least he kindly made the effort to advise his readers of the situation, not like some) and has started to post again. Unfortunately he seems to only manage one chapter a year, a bit like Kyle and Kandric. But they are both stories I would not abandon, although I fear I may not live long enough to see their ending :D

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Hopefully one of these days, I'll be able to check this story out.

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Enigma is a nice story. Sufficient to hold ones interest, at least for a time. Keene is a good writer, but I'm not sure that I would put him on the same level as Jamie, but that is just my opinion. Having grown up with the likes of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bester, Bradbury, Ellison, et al, it took me a very long time before I stopped comparing other SF writers to them and finding the other writers lacking.

But that is just me.

Edited by TomasG

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Enigma is a nice story. Sufficient to hold ones interest, at least for a time. Keene is a good writer, but I'm not sure that I would put him on the same level as Jamie, but that is just my opinion. Having grown up with the likes of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bester, Bradbury, Ellison, et al, it took me a very long time before I stopped comparing other SF writers to them and finding the other writers lacking.

But that is just me.

Even though I love the genre, I have not necessarily loved the writers. Arthur C. Clarke seems cold to me and Asimov, for all his creative genius seems not to have been able to create a memorable character. I still like reading Asimov however. Heinlein at one point just got to mom, home and America apple pie for me. It has been Ray Bradbury's work that really got me thinking. For some reason I just loved "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and there is something diabolically evil about "Fahrenheit 513" (did I get the title right?). I have been fascinated with his images of Venus as a planet where there is continuous rain....enough to drive you mad. His images of our planetary systems are really fantasy however and maybe "Something Wicked" also belongs there to.

If I can get into the first few chapters, I'll probably finish the book. In this case, Keene grabbed me with instant action by two characters who are basically lovable and then plops them (as an escape) right in Dreamer's arms so to speak. However, they have to rescue Dreamer's Avatar from the evil programming put in place by the Orions. So in the first two chapters, three of the main characters are thrown together and have to learn to trust each other. That was quite the compositional tour d' force!

As you go along chapter by chapter, slowly Dreamer's past is revealed, I think he spent almost three years chained to that docking array on Alta-Ishasa! Meanwhile someone who hates loathes and despises Dream of Dawn sits stewing in his own hatred planning very elaborately for the day Dream of Dawn shows up. Ultimately, his obsession on Dream of Dawn proves his downfall. In the end he is nothing but a mass of interconnected computer parts, with no body capable of independent movement.

And on re-reading parts of it, it is his sister ship, Celine who observes that Dreamer has not given up his habit up picking up strays! I think she is also accurate in observing that despite Dreamer's very independent attitude, he definitely needs a strong captain to keep him in tow.

I've now reached the last published chapter, and to his credit, Keene has not given us a cliff hanger! YEAH! Now that isn't to say I won't be waiting with baited breath for the next installment.

I keep thinking that there's only a bit to say about this story but the characters are so rich in differences and experiences that I could go on for days with just what is there. Devon, you'd better take really GOOD Care of Fennec! Fennec's chutzpah in walking up to two armed men with blasters ready to fire and calmly asking them to lower their weapons some how shows me that Fennec is much more than any of us suspect.

Perhaps now that we are paying attention to this story, our attention will force the story up in importance to the author. I gather writing is not his full time profession.

cheers,

dioscuri

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Oh! about science fiction authors, Harlan Ellison to be specific. You know he was a Viet Nam veteran and he published some short stories shortly after his return. I *know* this is not available anymore, if you find it, its a collectors item, that is the ORIGINAL version of "A Boy And His Dog", it is the single most shocking science fiction short story I've ever read. I could likely be rated as pornographic, the only reason it isn't is because there are no pictures in it. One of my profs brought a copy into one of the first "Speculative Fiction" classes ever taught in upper level education back in the 1970's ....

cheers,

dioscuri

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Clarke's "Childhood's End" was what got him added to the list of authors that I read back in the "dark ages". The title to Bradbury's work is "Fahrenheit 451". Supposedly, 451°F being the temperature that book paper combusted. Never did get into his "Martian Chronicles". Asimov's "Foundation Series" kept me occupied for quite awhile. Bester's "Demolished Man" and "The Stars My Destination" were other books on the reading list.

A bit of trivia. Did you know that J. Michael Straczynski named the character Bester the Psi-cop on "Babylon Five" after Alfred Bester the writer?

Of the modern writers I found Larry Niven's "Ringworld Series" and "Integral Trees" along with his and Jerry Pournelle's "Footfall" provided some enjoyable reading.

Haven't done much reading of "Hard Science Fiction" these past years. Been more into the "Fantasy" Genre with some SF thrown in. Enjoyed Raymond E. Feist's "Rift War Saga", but the later of his saga's became more formula (same theme rehashed) than any new or original content so became boring and I stopped following his novels.

My Online reading is rather diverse. Mostly just fill in while awaiting another chapter of "Scrolls". :) "Scrolls" is only the second online story that I would wait patiently for another chapter no matter the time for it to be posted without losing interest. The other story is Kyle Aaron's "Kandric Saga". Been following that one since the beginning some 9 - 10 years now. Long time for 26 chapters.

As I mentioned in my other post "Enigmna" is a nice story and it is obvious that Keene has an innovative imagination and a talent for putting that on paper. I have read all 23 chapters and found it to be an interesting story, but one that I could easily lose interest in if the time between chapters was extensive.

Anyway that's enough for now. Got to get some sleep.

Take care

TomasG

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Science Fiction as a genre in itself may have a limited life span. Its problem is that its subject matter tends to get used up rather fast. There's only so much you can speculate on and still maintain some believability with the characters you create.

Good characters perhaps need to be able to transcend a genre rather than depend on it. Detective fiction ends up in the same category I think. Enigma of Flatness tackles something that hasn't been tackled in a while, that is artificial intelligence. Interest in the field of A.I. has dropped off of late seeing that there have been no major advances in the technology. We are barely beginning to understand human intelligence, let along create an imitation or a machine/computer version of it.

Add a new type of scanner and all of a sudden you get new results you never expected. Who expected the results that resulted from the study of music and the human mind using fMRI technology? This is radically new and will in the end transform not only our understanding of human cognition but also the field of music theory. The idea that one can study a musical composition simply by studying the notes the composer wrote are coming to an end. We'll be able to understand the structure based on how our minds understand it.

Dreamer, as a character, is a radical departure from any other A.I. I've run into. Even Cmd. Data on Star Trek really broke no new boundaries, depending as it did on Asimov's positronic brain. Dreamer is just so unexpected.

cheers,

dioscuri

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For those interested a new chapter (25) has been posted on both Nifty and DaBeagle although there is no direct link on the DaBeagle site, modify the ch. 24 URL if you want to go there.

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Thanks, pietro! I was wondering when or even if a new chapter would be posted.

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