Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Flash: Enigma

I'm not participating in #fridayflash, but when I found this old story I thought I should post it -- but not for the usual reasons.

Friday Flash is supposed to be an encouraging activity, and I think that's a great thing for the community; but maybe there's something to be learned from stuff that's unpublishable, too. I wrote Enigma almost ten years ago, before I was writing anything seriously, and it shows. Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible, but it's not something I would publish now if it were submitted to me, and I'm not going to submit it anywhere else, either.

So let's use it as a good example of bad flash: Eviscerate it. Tell me all the things that are wrong with it. I have my own thoughts, too, but I'll hold off on them until the Friday Flash community has had a shot at it first. Then, in the January issue of Flash Fiction Online, I'll collect all the comments up and publish the results in a “worst practices” article.

Thanks,
Jake
Enigma
by Jake Freivald

Please. “You can’t expect me to believe that.”

“I’m not kidding.” Colm didn't look up from his specimen. “Once we discovered that the objects contained complex but highly regular patterns, we had to entertain the possibility that they were artifacts, and that the patterns encoded some sort of language. And they do. Constructing the reader took longer than deciphering the code.”

Ariel wasn’t impressed. “Everybody knows that when computers are told to take a data set and match every possible pattern, they sometimes alias patterns that weren’t the intent of the set creator. People analyzed Shinglee’s so-called 'discoveries' for a decade before she let on that she derived the data from housing rubble.”

Colm scowled. “Shinglee deliberately selected a data set with a high incidence of regular patterns, and then she only published its most regular subset. She was intentionally and artificially trying to fool computers into finding things that weren’t there in order to prove the superiority of mind over machine. In short, she was a smart-ass. What she did wasn’t science. What I have done is science, and I’m telling you that these little artifacts incorporate such sophisticated information encoding techniques that they must have been built by an intelligent life form. There’s no way around it.”

“Okay, let’s say you’re right. What does your wonderfully scientific analysis say they encode?”

“It’s very, very clever. It uses a self-referential language that describes its own distributed computing system, the sensors that cover its chassis, its pervasive materials distribution system, everything – including, mind you, the description system.” He paused. “It’s a brilliant way of ensuring that an unknown but sufficiently advanced culture could recognize the artifacts as the craft of an advanced civilization. Much better than our attempts. They distributed a physical object that manifests an encoded language that describes both the object and its description. No-one can fail to interpret correctly.”

Colm at his worst. Overconfident, pedantic, boring. “Has the funding dried up yet?”
He took a collection container off of a shelf, inspected it, put it down. “There are quite a few very important people who are interested in our research,” he said. He took another container down, inspected it, put it next to the first. “But you’re right, it has been at enormous cost. The biggest fear is that we’ll use up all of the artifacts before learning enough about them. We’ve destroyed half of them during the decoding process, and some people are trying to get us to preserve a few until we invent a less consumptive analysis mechanism.”

“And you?”

“I think that no one will ever again study them as closely as we’re studying them now. Storing them away is tantamount to giving up on the investigation altogether. We have the public interest and we have the funding. We need results, or both of those will dry up. Can we possibly say that we have time to waste?”

He raised the front part of his body so that only half of his sixty short, metallic legs remained on the floor. He stretched for the gloves on his highest shelf, brought them down, and put one on each of his two gleaming metallic claws. "To avoid contaminating them, not to protect me," he said, and moved to the specimen jar.
The artifacts activated at his approach, making little warbles as he unscrewed the top and thrust his right claw deep inside. One of them moved rapidly between his claw and the other artifacts. Ariel, fascinated despite herself, stood up on her hind legs to get a better view, balancing against the wall with a few legs and her right claw.

“This one appears to be a decoy,” Colm said. “It always interferes with collection. Its noise patterns are loud and fairly regular, so I’m saving it in the hopes that a breakthrough on the physical code will help me get resources for a detailed sonic analysis.” He pushed the decoy aside and took one of the other specimens.

As he walked away, the rest of the artifacts collapsed back into a neutral state. The only exception was the decoy, which was shouting: “The people of Earth will come for us, and they will not stand for this!”
That's it. Tear it apart in the comments section.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and paste it, post it, change it, make a two-hour long movie out of it, or anything else you'd like to do with it as long as you attribute the original story to me. Thanks.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Post-Biological Future, Maybe

Futurists, including science fiction and fantasy readers and writers may find this article by William Grassie of the Metanexus Institute useful. The article is a report about the Singularity Summit 2009, and its 26 technophile speakers, including Ray Kurzweil.

According to Ray Kurzweil, a tipping point will occur in three or four decades that will send evolution into hyper mode, resulting in a post-biological civilization with its "blending of super-machines, enhanced brains, and immortal bodies," the Singularity.

Or not.

Kurzweil relies on curing death
through "exponential developments in genomics, nanotechnology, and robotics," and the Law of Accelerating Returns which he reckons is woven into the fabric of the universe. Other technophiles are suspicious of exponential growth, citing natural limitatons, such as unsolvable math problems (which I take to mean computationally infinite problems), and an unwarranted expectation that Moore's Law (doubling of computation power every ten years) will continue and apply to technologies other than computing, such as nanotechnology. The most damning-sounding counter to Kurzweil's vision is software development, which technologists say, in so many words, sucks, perhaps even going in the wrong direction. As a software developer, I find that attitude totally, um, believable.

Here is the article on our theorized post-biological future: "Millennialism at the Singularity: Reflections on Metaphors, Meanings, and the Limits of Exponential Logic," with ample references and links.



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