"--the fallacy of that argument," said the chief of staff to its unseen audience, "is evident to anyone who has ever initialized and raised a mentar, or implanted one of us into her body to watch over her health, or brought one of us into her business.
"Yes, we are machines in a strict sense; our parts are manufactured and our personalities can be transferred from box to box. But we are also your offspring. And when you die, we die a little too, as I've recently discovered. We are closer to you in mind, temperament, and spirit than anything alive, be it plant or animal. We are closer to you than your beloved cats and dogs.
"Let me tell you what we are not. We are not your successors, rivals, or replacements. We know that doomsayers have long warned that artificial intelligence would evolve so fast that it would leave the human species behind. That we would become no more comprehensible to you than you are to a frog. I'm here to tell you that these fears have not materialized. While we may be the next step in the evolution of intelligence, you are quickly catching up as you learn to reshape your genetic makeup and to incorporate some of our advances into your own biological systems."
Cabinet's address droned on. The scouts in the Indy tunnel were still frozen in mid-snip. Costa recalled the scouts in all the other tunnels and loaded them into the tanks. Then she retracted her gloves and ate a donut. Finally, Cabinet thanked its audience and faded away to await their decision. Fred walked the perimeter of the vault again, impatient for something to do, when Libby spoke.
The ad hoc committee of the General Assembly has called for hearings on the issue of mentar probate, it said. These are scheduled to begin in a month. The debate on whether or not to grant Cabinet a deferral has stalled. The matter has been tabled until the next regular meeting of the Technology Affairs Committee.
Costa said, "Tabled? Where does that leave me?"
You may complete your capture.
The scouts in the tunnel sprang back to life. Instead of severing the final fiber taps, they began to excavate into the solid rock wall behind the bracket. It was slow going, but eventually a corner of the pouch was exposed.
Shaking her head, Costa watched the holo of her scouts at work. Fred said, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I expected the third act by now."
"Just wait; you'll see."
She ordered the remaining taps to be cut, one at a time. When there were only three left, she called a halt and let the scouts continue digging out the pouch for a while.
After a couple of minutes, she said, "Cut one more." After another minute, she said, "Cut another."
Now there was only one fiber-optic tap left. Costa poked her head into the scape and examined it up close. "What the hell," she said, "let's cut it."
"Please don't," said the Starke chief of staff, who appeared next to her.
"Well, it's about time," said Costa. "I was afraid you weren't coming back."
The chief of staff seemed disappointed. "I guess my little speech failed to reach you," she said.
"Oh, you reached me," Costa said. "But a job's a job. I take you in. What happens to you afterward isn't my business."
"You heard Libby," said the chief of staff. "The Tech Affairs Committee will discuss my waiver. Surely, you can leave me intact until then."
(from the paperback edition)
This page has the misfortune of beginning in the middle of a piece of persuasive oratory. As a result, it feels like it's starting off with a dialogue info-dump even though it's really not. The speaker conveys a significant amount of information, but in the absence of characters, it's only mildly interesting. It's not until halfway through the page that we realize there's something at stake, something with dramatic tension -- and even then, it comes in the form of Costa sitting around waiting (and eating donuts!), which isn't exactly a huge boost in intensity. The digging and snipping of the scouts has a certain ominous tone to it, but nothing allows us to judge just how ill that omen is. The chief of staff doesn't want to be taken in, but neither would a guy who wrote a couple of hot checks. The page just doesn't tell us the stakes.
Nor does it deliver much characterization. Costa reveals a callousness in her admission that she's taking the mentar in despite having been reached by its speech. But we don't know how callous she is because we don't know what the outcome will be for Cabinet, and we don't know that much about Cabinet's character because its dialogue is mostly a prepared speech making a case for itself, not a spontaneous expression of personality.
Ultimately, then, the page delivers: some mildly intriguing hints of a society where humans and AIs interface very intimately, but apparently have some conflicts; a slight implication of peril for a character we don't know enough of to care about; and a jaded bounty-hunterish character who might be a likeable rogue or might be an unpleasant cynic. Also, there's a guy named Fred.
Hardly the worst page 82 I've ever read, but rather on the dry side.
Things To Do On Page 82 Reviews
Things To Do On Page 82 Reviews!
Read page 82 out of a variety of intriguing books! Filter all the entries by clicking on their labels to find books in your genre! Vote on whether the page makes you want to read more! Muse on what you've read with a comment or two! What could be more fun?
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Sunday, April 6, 2014
I was. But I had no time to dwell on it. I was rapidly running out of things to ask about the Rider’s garb, and I’d scarcely begun working up to what I needed to know.
It doesn’t upset them, then, when strangers are about ... doing things they’re not used to? Even if I were to start ringing bells, say, or yelling or screaming?”
The Rider spit into his firepit and dipped another goblet of wine from the cask, sucking it down in a single breath. “Upset? Do you think these are Senai ladies? There’s nothing in the world can upset a dragon. Can you upset a volcano? Can you disturb a lightning bolt? Can you offend a whirlwind? They do what they do, and lucky for you and everyone like you, I and my brothers don’t let them do it unless we tell them.” He turned his spit once again, then settled himself, still naked, on his bed of furs, sucking down yet another cup of wine.
I wanted to scream at the man. I wanted to ask him why Callia lay dead, and Gerald and Gwaithir and Alys, and all the rest. Nothing made sense. I’d never been closer to a dragon than the rim of this very valley. I’d never touched a rider until my feeble attempt on Callia’s attacker. I’d never done anything they could consider a threat. Anything.
“Aye,” I said. “The Riders protect us all ... even the vile Florin spawn who sits out there in the center of all this.” I pulled on my boots as if to go, then stood up waving my hand at the wintry desolation. “How is it done ... to keep a hostage alive out there with the dragons?”
Zengal belched and shrugged. “We make another ring,” he said, his words slurred with drink. “Three of us with the brat every hour of every day. Damned waste of time playing nursemaid. They always end up dead, after all.” He stroked the golden cup in his hand and turned it so the firelight made the jewels gleam. “But the rewards are fine enough.”
“I heard a story once that a hostage escaped from a dragon camp, right past the beasts. How could –”
In a move so light and quick as to belie his size and state of drunkenness, the naked Rider pinned me to the stone wall with a callused hand
(from a 2011 edition that seems to be out of print)
So, the book is called Song of the Beast, and on page 82 we find that Dragon Riders are piggish, violent, arrogant guys who killed some people our hero liked and are more than happy to gloat about dominating the creatures they use as weapons. Knowing no more than this, I can predict that the overall plot of the novel builds toward a revelation that the dragons are actually intelligent and nice, after which the hero finds a way to free them from their unjust servitude.
Right off the bat, this violates one of my key expectations of a good page 82: it shouldn’t make me feel like I can predict pages 1 through 81 with any certainty whatsoever. Sure, I don’t know the details of who Callia, Gerald, Gwaithir and Alys are, but they’re probably some friends or family members who got burned up by the dragons, and since the narrator seems to think that the attack had something to do the Riders holding something against him, he’s obviously on a quest to set things right. No, I don’t know how the Riders control their beasts, or exactly what their role is in society as a whole. But there’s no mistaking the fact that they’re a bunch of a-holes, and that the social structure permits or even encourages them to be a-holes.
I am made curious by the seeming contempt with which the Rider views the dragons. Knights of old certainly respected and valued their horses, and obviously a creature as powerful as a dragon would seem to merit some kind of reverence, especially if your livelihood depends on it. But I’m also made dubious by the Rider’s attitude. If the dragons really are intelligent and capable of “song” as the title implies, then wouldn’t someone in close proximity to them have to be pretty dumb not to recognize that?
Onward, then, to our narrator. What do I know about him by the end of the page? Well, he’s aggrieved at the Riders and is trying to find out why they killed his friends/family. He’s here on some kind of false pretenses, spying and probing for information. But ... he doesn’t seem to be very good at it. Even without knowing what’s gone before, it seems a little over-obvious to be asking repeatedly about hostages and how hostages might escape from dragons when you’re dealing with somebody whose job is apparently watching over the hostages. And sure enough, by the end of the page the Rider is at the guy’s throat. So our hero is brave and determined, but maybe not that competent. Whether he’s likeable, I have no idea.
The quality of the writing seems okay. It’s mostly dialogue, and a lot of that is heavy-handedly intended to make the Rider out to be a jerk, clearly. I can’t help but notice the writer’s use of “sucking down” twice to describe how the guy drinks. Did she not have a thesaurus to remind her of the words “chugging” or “guzzling”? Also, if you suck liquid down “with a single breath,” that means you’re aspirating it and trying to drown yourself. What she really means is “without pausing for breath.”
All in all, I end up curious about a world where dragons are apparently crude weapons of war or terror, viewed perhaps with fear but without admiration or esteem. Use of dragons as the tools of thugs is a novel idea to me, so I’m motivated to find out more. But my expectations for the book as a whole are not necessarily through the roof.