Shock and Awe

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There are a few plot elements in Control that I’m particularly proud of, those left-field balls that take everyone by surprise.  I wanted to challenge peoples perceptions about the military scifi genre from the outset and I like to think I’ve found a few ways to do that – some of them are small quirks, others are ground shaking revelations.

The small ones just skew perception slightly, like having an AI – gender being of no relevance – manifest itself as an old world male movie star that no one remembers (no one even remembers movies in Control, an outdated form of entertainment in itself), but names itself after its ship of residence, The Maiden Voyage, adopting the diminutive Maiden as its moniker.  It’s not a big thing, but you’ll find a similar example with the ship AI Eloquent Gentleman manifesting as a curt, short tempered Kentucky lady.

Gender confusion, it appears, is a common affectation of AI’s in the Control universe.

It’s a satirical comment, I suppose, that reflects my inability to actually understand war.  I am reminded of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, in which Yossarian, a bomber pilot in World War 2 facing diminishing odds of survival with every bombing run he makes, is confronted by a shifting wall of bureaucracy that frustrates his every effort to complete his alloted number of runs and rotate out.

Yossarian is surrounded by absurd characters that seem oblivious to the horror surrounding them or determined to exploit it to their personal advantage.  He is a sane man driven to madness by the dislocation of military authority from its actions.  The book has always left me with an impression that war is more than a Gordian Knot, a thing to be solved by subtlety or simple violence; rather it is an incomprehensible thing that can inspire people to all levels of madness as well as heroism.

The AI personalities I created may have inherited some of my understanding of Catch 22, I think, in that they are truly eccentric in the face of such apparently careless slaughter.  The Maiden will often come across as flippant, playful or even disrespectful, always at odds with the situation in hand.

Being an AI of this capability invites comprehension beyond our limitations and, as it is clear that we seem determined or unable to ever truly comprehend the nature of war, it struck me as pertinent that these AI’s would make moral and ethical leaps that took them beyond the human mind.  I didn’t want to create something like the AI in the Terminator franchise, making the cold decision that all humans should be destroyed.  No, I felt that such a sophisticated mind would be a truly alien landscape, but not like a computer – like something else entirely, something emotional as well as cognitive, but different.

Allowing this thing to maintain a working relationship with its human creators necessitated some kind of personality interface and I thought that it would be interesting for them to choose and develop their own, making something that would ultimately become a part of the whole.  The results, in the face of unending war, were to my mind only ever going to be eccentric.  War makes little or no sense and to be a mind of such incomprehensible power, forced to serve as a component of this war, would create some very unusual behaviours and perhaps decisions that would reach beyond any human understanding.

Being an intelligence in its own right, the AI could not help but be affected by the war in which it is involved and in doing so would develop coping mechanisms that would in turn perhaps inform its decision making process.

It’s these coping mechanisms that have fascinated me more than anything – clearly seen in Yossarian himself and many of his companions in Catch 22; all knowing what is happening, but unable in their own ways to process it sensibly – and while the AI’s I created reflect this on a seemingly superficial level, there are far more obvious elements to this story that show what war can do to as fragile a thing as a human mind.  This is where the left-field plot elements come into play; the ones that extend the story beyond its obvious remit.

I can’t give too much away, of course, and I would like to stress that this is still military scifi, filled to the gunnels with heroism and action and sacrifice, but I will say this much –

Keep an eye on Mir Tohno.

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