In the fourth chapter of The Android’s Dream, MY BRAIN HURTS. WHAT THE FUCK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Android’s Dream.
There were a few points in this chapter where all I could think was, “Why are you giving me this information?” It was well-written and interesting, but seemed rather heavy and complicated.
Then I got to the end of the chapter. Goddamn it, I’ve been Scalzi’d again.
Harry’s New Computer
As Harry settles in to his less-than-a-week-long new assignment to help his friend Ben, we get EXPOSITION! There is A LOT OF IT! And some of it is HARD TO UNDERSTAND! What’s fascinating to me is how my perception of this chapter changed the instant I finished it.
Let me back up a bit. Exposition has to happen in some way for the majority of novels unless we’re explicitly talking about experimental shit, and I really doubt that this qualifies as an “experimental” novel. (Though, opening with a 20-page extended fart joke? Mithros bless, Scalzi.) And I always pay attention to how this happens for a purely selfish reason: I want to see how other authors do it. I’ve become less and less secretive about the novel I’m writing because I can tell it’s actually happening. It hasn’t fallen apart, I haven’t given up on it in the last year, and I am enjoying what I’ve created. One of the absolute most challenging things for me, though, was deciding when, where, and how to reveal things over the course of the book. You don’t want to insult or condescend to your reader, but you also don’t want to give them everything up front if you’re building any sort of mystery or serialized narrative. (I’m doing both.)
So I’m reading this, and it’s fun to read, but there’s all this information! And I don’t get why I need to know about code and intelligence and zipping and all of this. I understood why Harris contacted Bill! (And then wondered what the fuck happened in Pajmhi. You are teasing me with this.) Granted, I gave Scalzi the benefit of the doubt, given that I remembered there were long passages of exposition that ended in a particularly snappy punchline or plot twist. That happens here, but this one? This is not just a “twist” or a neat “Ha ha!” moment. Holy shit, what?
But there’s a lot here before we get to that moment. It was neat, if a little dense, to see how Harris used his new intelligent agent (stripped of all the annoying tendencies of AOL, which is so easy to imagine it actually hurts) to determine what his next move would be. It was fascinating to get more information on the conglomerate of Quaker Oats because we are certainly moving that that sort of future. However, it was worth it to be inundated with so much information specifically because it informed the confrontation scene at Fixer’s warehouse. Now, this is the sort of thing that I pay attention to from a writing standpoint, not just for my own benefit, but to comment on when I’m writing these reviews. Why is such-and-such happening in the narrative? Does it help me predict or anticipate the next step, or is it a clever misdirect that I fall for? (Nine times out of ten? It’s the latter. I swear, I think I’d be the world’s worst detective ever, no joke. Could you imagine? Holy shit, no one would ever hire me because I’m such an oaf. Okay, I am having too much fun thinking about this.)
As I said, I initially couldn’t figure out why I was getting so much information until the agent (combined with Harris’s deduction skills) was able to come up with a name. Then everything made sense. The two scenes that follow provide the context, not just for the sleuthing itself, but why all the details mattered. Turns out that I did need to know the fabricator model name! How else would I have understood its rarity? How else would Scalzi been able to convey the illicit nature of what Bert Roth and Fixer were doing? I don’t mean to go straight for the obvious, but this is why I had a few problems when I was reading Tolkien for the first time. He’s not nearly as clear-cut as many other folks who I have read, and often, a piece of exposition (that’s a couple trillion words long) doesn’t have relevance for a few hundred pages. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I think it’s brilliant when you can pull that off!
Anyway, I also love that Harris’s bout of detective work allows Scalzi the chance to discuss alien immigration because IT IS SO FASCINATING. I think I understand how the CC played a role in alien colonization of Earth. Scratch that – I’m not sure colonization is the correct word here since it’s clear this is more an issue of immigration, not of setting up some autocratic colony, you know? I mean, Harris’s job is directly involved in denying visas, so clearly there’s a bureaucracy still in place to facilitate the incoming alien species. (Now I have another question: Are humans immigrating to other planets, too? Or is it more like the colonization in Old Man’s War?) Regardless, there are so many neat details! Like the example of a slur that humans created and how the Paqil aliens reclaimed it. YES. I LOVE IT. They literally adopted dogs. Oh my god, IT’S SO FUCKING CUTE AND PERFECT. I would live in Dogstown without a second thought.
The Malloys (Not the Malfoys)
Scalzi also introduces this mob family, who have a hand in what Bert, Fixer, and Schroeder do here, and I am going to attempt to predict something, and I’ll probably fail miserably. Obviously, Bert and Fixer are very reluctant to speak to someone like Harris, but end up doing so once they think it’s worth it. But in Fixer’s case, he reveals a lot to Harris, including Schroeder asking for the device to be made, for an entirely different reason:
“Don’t be fooled by this calm exterior. Inside I’m shitting my pants. If you can find me, so can someone who isn’t just looking for information. It’s sloppy shit like this that gets people like me killed. I’m tell you all this because short of killing you, I don’t see another way out. You’ve just made me very, very nervous, Mr. Creek. And between you and me I don’t think I’m out of it. The minute you leave this shop is the minute I start waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Yeah, so the other shoe is going to drop, and it’ll be a lot sooner than Harris expects. I love the distinctly noir feel to this part of the chapter because Harris is certainly getting involved in something much bigger than he’s considered. I mean, we know that because we get the narration from Phipps’s and Pope’s point of view. But how are the Malloys tied to the Android’s Dream? I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of them.
The next section is incredibly dense, and it’s much more egregious than the sleuthing scenes. Again, it was interesting to have such a direct conversation about artificial intelligence, but it almost felt like I was being lectured to in one sense. I couldn’t figure out why I needed to know that creating human intelligence in a computer had been so impossible before.
See, I thought the point of it was the Harris had learned humility from his experience in high school. Not that that isn’t important, but then:
“…the solution was inside the core data file for which the IBM machine at NOAA had spent a day unpacking and creating a modeling environment.”
BUT I THOUGHT THE IBM MACHINE WAS JUST HELPING YOU FIND BERT AND FIXER. WAIT. YOU TRICKED ME. YOU TRICKED ME.
“Yup, it’s me,” the agent said. “Hello, Harry.”
“Hello, Brian. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too, man,” Brian Javna said. “Now maybe you can tell me a couple of things. Like how the hell you got so old. And what the fuck I’m doing inside your computer.”
YOU DID IT TO ME AGAIN, JOHN SCALZI. I FELL FOR IT. FUCKING FUCK.
Please note that the words (and variations of) “moron,” “idiot,” and “mad” appear in the original text and the videos below if you’re triggered by them!
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