Fabulous computing technologies render profound intellectual concepts totally indecipherable in this debut sci-fi head-scratcher.
Professor Jim Schmitt of the Computational Neurosemantics Lab at the Salk Institute shows science reporter Jane Smith the lab’s Human Visual Cortex Recorder, which records everything that passes through one’s consciousness, real or imagined. (In the story, real-life director James Cameron uses it to make a movie straight from his imagination, without the bother of sets or actors.) It’s eerie as well as handy: one test subject recorded a video sequence of blinking lights, the mere sight of which makes Jane sob. After the disjointed narrative lurches through interludes of mystical talk about a “peaceful planet” near Alpha Centauri and a “Quantum Consciousness Bridge,” Jane begins having online conversations with the Google-Oracle Database System, a repository of all human knowledge that spits out baffling computer-ese and translates it into bromides such as “Make Love not War.” Then Jim and Jane go to a lab under the Australian desert, where real-life luminaries, such as physicist Stephen Hawking, hold forth. More enigmatic conversations ensue, and then a powerful superconducting magnet materializes a cat from the future. Formatted as a play, the story’s speeches and keystroking by impassioned nerds seem intended to get at something about the linkage between concepts and existence. However, it’s impossible to say exactly what that is, as it’s couched in impenetrable babble, including philosophical assertions (“The most important question you can ask is whether Something includes a Concept”) and Dungeons & Dragons-like text (“A Human in First World can have Form Skill in Second World, only by having Pure Form Skill in the Transcendence Form Field and by creating a Form in Second World using a Non-Human in Second World with Form Skill but without Nod Skill”). There are also reams of babble from the GODS computer—“A Third Something in Existence, said Third Something including a First Something in Existence and a Second Something in Existence”—that drone on for chapters. Mathiassen is a courageous writer, unafraid to potentially baffle readers. Some of his conceits sound like they could eventually ripen into interesting thought experiments. However, few readers may stay awake to find out.
A stupefying sci-fi meditation on mind and matter.