Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

More Discussion on Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat”!

It seems like it’s been ages, but discussion of the Hugo Noms is now officially underway. Yee-haw! I’m so excited, I could fisk something. Yeah…. I think I will.

You know the drill! My words in bold, theirs in italics. Special thanks to Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens for not only reading the works and weighing in on them– but also… for linking back to yours truly. I’m flattered; I really am…!

In the story, an artificial intelligence serves the post-humans in a far-future war against ordinary humans. As the title suggests, it chooses to switch sides in the end. That’s it.

It’s almost like there are technologies that could in effect be Pandora’s Boxes or something. I think that’s a great theme, personally– something we certainly face every day. I loved how Vernor Vinge touched on that in A Fire Upon the Deep where there are whole worlds that can fall apart if the wrong memes take hold. But yeah, some sort of Terminator style war between the last humans and their constructs? Sounds like the beginning of a great story to me!

I think this is a quite awfully-written story with a heavy-handed delivery of plot points and a lot of infodumping. You can see the “surprise” conclusion of the story coming from miles away (or by reading the title, actually). A very boring read, overall.

Yeah, the author does kind of tell you exactly where he’s going with it right up front…! 

The one thing that could have made the story at least slightly interesting if done well was the characterization of the AI and the post-humans. Sadly, that was crappy and formulaic as well. The protagonist doesn’t really feel like he belongs to the far-future, or the future at all, for that matter. The black-and-white pontificating (a term lifted from Secritcrush) has a definite vibe of the past in it.

You know… Charles Lyell revolutionized geology when he argued that “the present is the key to the past.” I think with science fiction, the past is the key to future. I mean sure, a lot of it is extrapolating out the implications of various developments in science and technology, some of which we don’t know about, yet. But Isaac Asimov did “the fall of the Roman Empire… in space!” to great effect. The Honor Harington series is “Horatio Hornblower… in space!” Heck, I was shocked to read in Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars adaption that the premise of the movie was basically “The American Revolution… in space!” No, I’m not saying that science fiction writers shouldn’t try to imagine totally new things. But I think it’s unreasonable to expect them to never take inspiration from or otherwise recapitulate elements of the past. Besides… a lot of stuff that seems new is really something old with a new coat of paint. Whoever said, “there’s nothing new under the sun” kind of had a point!

A black-and-white approach to any war of conflict just feels silly and makes the whole world of the story unrealistic for me. Now that I was doing some googling, I noticed that Hugo-nominated Puppy-fanwriter Jeffro Johnson is praising this story because it offers a “concise description of real Christian religious experience”. That’s an interesting thought and maybe some people do enjoy sloppy and over-simplified morality dramas in 2015, but I certainly don’t.

Okay, now you really got me scratching my head. War really is a black-and-white issue– at least it is when one side is trying to utterly wipe out the other. Genocide maybe isn’t a black-and-white issue to you, but the targets of it do not have the luxury to split hairs on the finer philosophical issues involved…! And if you do in fact have a conflict of this nature going on… which side you choose really is kind of a black-and-white issue. In fact, the AI protagonist of this story really doesn’t have the option to choose any middle ground– after all, he’ll get his memory wiped even for just asking honest questions.

You’re arguing that there are no moral quandaries that reduce to a stark choice of either right or wrong– and that any attempt to depict such a thing is necessarily “unrealistic.” That’s an… interesting assertion, no doubt. But it’s one that reality has a way of disabusing us of.

This is certainly going below no award.

Fair enough!


4 responses to “More Discussion on Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat”!

  1. Cirsova May 3, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Meh… I just thought the prose was chunky.

  2. spacefaringkitten May 4, 2015 at 1:34 am

    Thanks for the reply.

    Whoever said, “there’s nothing new under the sun” kind of had a point!

    Well, I don’t agree with the same guy’s assertion that everything is meaningless — at the very least Hugo awards are not. :D

    The vibe of the past I was writing about arises from the protagonist’s moralistic attitudes which bring to mind the papery characters of old fiction who don’t really resemble real people (or real consciousnesses in this case). Also, I think there was no futuristic sensawunda in the far-future fight scenes when compared with, say, Greg Bear’s Hardfought (that’s a far future war story I think is very good, even though military SF is not really my cup of cat crackers).

    Okay, now you really got me scratching my head. War really is a black-and-white issue– at least it is when one side is trying to utterly wipe out the other.

    As far as I know, every single war in the history of mankind has been a terrible mess of shades of gray (even if Hollywood would like to make us think in terms of black and white). Depicting a far future war in the way Rzasa does makes it feel terribly unrealistic to me, but that’s my bias.

    • jeffro May 4, 2015 at 8:10 am

      Actually, “that guy” would probably agree with you that everything isn’t meaningless. After all, Ecclesiastes is a classic example of reductio ad absurdum.

  3. Pingback: “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa | Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens

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