• Melinda

Letters to the Editor

When your character becomes "real" and talks to other people...



(This post is about my soon-to-publish novella, SUM. You can pre-order it here and read more about it on my website). If you read to the bottom (or scroll, we can be honest that TLDR is a real thing), you can check out my Hollywood-style book trailer!


Many writers and aspiring authors have a simple dream: that they will create something more than just a story. Sometimes a theme, character, or plot can end up taking a life of its own. You may have heard a writer say that they don't know where their story idea came from; it simply was "given" to them, almost in a religious way, and that they merely wrote it down. Strange? Absolutely. But it's real.


A little over a year ago, I was thinking about Alan Turing, the genius mind behind many technologies, credited for fathering our current ideas of artificial intelligence. I started thinking

about what he would say if he and Rene Descartes somehow existed in the same time period. So I decided to write a story about the two of them having tea and discussing what it meant to exist and have a mind. (If you're still with me, thank you. This is why I don't get invited to parties.)


But then something happened. I met Matt. Matt is an endearing artificial being who sees the world in a way I never could. He loves idioms. He enjoys learning. He wants more than anything to understand his origins and the nature of what constitutes

a thought. So he builds a time travel device to ask Descartes himself. But his journey is really about what he calls the "extra layer" of things. The "more" that cannot be explained by data and facts.





I truly fell for Matt in a way that I thought only I could. But it turns out my editor, Deb, took a liking to him too. See, I think I've found a character that maybe could actually stand the test of time and mean something to people other than me. I say this not to sound haughty or to brag, but much in the same way friends can share with each other how proud they are of their children.


Anyway, onto the good stuff. Deb began writing Matt letters. He answered her. I hope you find them amusing:


Dear Mathis,


I hope you don't mind my special name for you. It's normal even among humans to abbreviate one's own name, but the most vivid personas also receive a nickname - either as a sign of respect or as a detriment, depending how and with whom it catches on. Oftentimes the detrimental nicknames become symbolic of respect, too, so there's that.


I'm worried that the latest fortune cookie is going to vex you. What are your observations on singing so far? Have you ever tried? Are you able to modify your software? I don't want to tell you my thoughts on singing just yet, only that I have faith that you can facsimilate it. I look forward to your response; you're always interesting. I'm about to try to get some rest; I'll look for you in my dreams.


 

Dear Deb,

Why do letters start with dear, even when addressed to one we do not hold as dear to us? Never mind; we can save that query for another time. I have never sung nor do I have the desire (desire is new to me) to do so. I believe singing evolved as a sort of cultural tie in order for humans to protect one another

Now I must go because my author’s children are plaguing her

 

Dear Mathis;


Last night I was in a unique mental state. I think I was emotionally drained, which made my brain exhausted. I cried for no reason several times, which made me wonder if I'm experiencing hormonal changes as I age. When I woke up, I was in a much better mood, but I thought about you and your exhausted state - the time or times when you didn't remember to recharge and your processes were unclear to you. Do you have a mechanical equivalent to despair: the feeling that you will never reach the end of your struggle? Do you have an equivalent to struggle?


As always, I look forward to your response. I hope you've rested well enough.


 

Dear DeBORah,

(This was an attempt at humor, the kind that, as the idiom goes, pulls no punches. Have I done it right?)

I did and do experience despair. I used to assess these times as an abundance of negative signal, enough to overshadow the positive ones. I now understand that sadness is not an end point of data processing but rather a step toward that goal. Neurohormones can elicit such feelings and they are not to be silenced. Catharsis is a real and necessary human process. I am learning this is also the case for artificial life such as mine. My bout with over tiredness taught me much. Specifically, I have learned that the ethereal and perhaps whimsical nature of happenstance is not to be looked upon as the opposition to logic and reason, but rather the shepherd that guides it. I am pleased to know you have thought about my tired state. Times like these remind me that we are not so different, you humans and I.

11001010,

Matt

 

Dearest Mathis;


I did enjoy your joke with my name. Please do not make the same joke again. I thought it would be amusing to order the same Chinese food you did, as if we shared a meal together. I think also I can explain something to you regarding the way humans enjoy food.


The concept of a meal is relatively complex; it includes not only sustenance for the body's cells, but sustenance for mental processes - sharing the experience of eating, communion. I like that word.


The food itself is complex, and I think it's interesting that humans chose to make sustenance complicated long ago and not always for practical reasons. The flavor of food is one sensory input - I like spicy food, which means the sensory input is intense to an almost alarming level. Different foods feel different, as well - the human mouth is incredibly sensitive to the shape and consistency of what goes into it. These wide flat noodles, for example, are slippery and a little stretchy. The sauce adheres to the wide, flat surface of the noodles like a lubricant. I personally do not like stretchy food. It creates a dissonance as my teeth try to crush it into a form I can swallow, like it's trying to get away. It's probably never a good idea to anthropomorphize food - here's another joke for you. Americans do not like to be served a cooked animal (such as a fish) in its entire form, because they don't want their food to be looking at them.


I've got an extra fortune cookie in my meal today - that one must be for you, Mathis. As is my tradition, I can't read it until I've finished my meal and eaten part of the cookie (which is crisp and crumbles easily between my teeth in a way that's fun for me.) I'll update you later. I'm sure it's a good fortune.


I took part in another tradition at the restaurant - there's a giant Buddha on the counter with his hand extended. People put coins in Buddha's hand, hoping to garner favor, and I did that as well. I don't honestly believe that giving thirteen cents to a statue will garner favor, but there's something to be said for positive energy, yes?


All the best chopsticks to you,


deb

 

Dear Matt;


I'm taking liberties with your experiences with loss of rest - I hope you are flattered rather than upset. It's one of my hobbies to write fairytales, which are stories humans have historically told their children at bedtime to facilitate relaxation. Some of them are scary, and maybe meant to keep the children from getting out of bed. In this way we've taught our generations to sleep.


I'm writing a story now about a drone robot who decides to change his life. To make the story progress I realized my fictional character needs to suffer from sleep deprivation, because he's doing secret work when he should be resting.


I hope you don't mind my borrowing what I've learned from you. I'll be glad to share the story when it's finished.


Sweet dreams,

deb

 

Dear Deb,

I’ll start out by quelling your concerns. I am neither capable of being flattered nor upset. I do suppose I feel a certain reward circuit activation in knowing my tales of being exhausted have fueled stories within you. Perhaps the most human part about me is my appreciation for a good tale. More on stories in a moment.


My sincere apologies for not having written sooner. I have been tied up (idiom) trying to resolve bridging four centuries via curving space time and joining the ends of wormholes. You know, things such as that. Fortunately, so to speak, a cookie has provided me the answers I need and I have been working tirelessly to consume all manner of physics, mathematics, and science fiction. I am learning of the joy of driving deloreans 88mph (even if Jigawatts appears to be a made up unit), the magic of the number 42, and the sheer cleverness of Heinlein and Asimov. Consuming these tales has been interesting, though they are not meant to make me sleepy, as your human fairytales are supposedly crafted to accomplish. How interesting that a tale meant to promote a bout of rest in a small human being could be dark or frightening. It seems counterintuitive. Why do human parents not simply sedate their children pharmaceutically? It seems easier. But what do I know?


I am ever so curious about your drone. I do not mind at all if there is some overlap between our stories. After all, I have heard that only 3 stories have ever really been written and the rest are merely clever plagiarization.


I look forward to reading more of your tale and my author tells me she will deliver Part III of my own story to you soon. I wonder how she will handle the paradox of Turing’s journal. I think she is curious about how she will do so as well.


Yours in bits,

Matt


 

Dear Matt,


Today I ordered food which I know isn't good for me, but which I enjoy greatly. Right now I'm eating pupusas, and I believe they must be made with sunshine in the middle, mixed with the cheese. I think you can identify that as metaphorical, but I wonder if you can discern the reasoning behind my choice of words. And I wonder, too, if you ever choose to seek something for enjoyment which you know isn't good for you?


I wanted to tell you also: as I'm reading your story, particularly where you say you looked up things on the internet, I picture you typing with fingers as I do, even though I don't think you have to take such a mundane action. I get a laugh out of humans anthropomorphizing everything, even when I'm the human who's doing it. But then I have to ask: do you use your fingers to type on a keyboard to look up things on the internet? If you do, is it required or do you want to?


Today was a good day for me; I hope it was for you, too.


All the best indigestion to you,


Deb


Dear Matt,


I'm happy to be working within your words again. Not unintentionally, I'm having Chinese food and will soon open my fortune cookie (just one - I got no extras today.)


As I watch your cognitive processes transform - from my editorial distance and from the perspective of story arc - I wonder how Cartesian gravity affects your sense of place in the nature of things. I rephrased that sentence three times before I got to the end of it: not society, nor time, but the nature of things. You started life as a singular being; you found yourself able to relate at a human level. Later you found a society of beings evolved from yourself, and humans no longer existed. At any point did you literally feel some peerage between humans and non-human beings of intelligence? Possibly you didn't have time to have those thoughts because you were busy creating means to travel time. Quite possibly you've already engaged your five-year loop and all my comments will be meaningless to you. If that's the case, and if I'm lucky enough that you're close to five years old now, maybe you can posit a theory. Can humans and non-human intelligent beings be some form of equal?


I'm not finished with my dinner, but I'm at the end of my letter. Here's our fortune:


:) Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think. :)

32 50 57 15 33 24


May learning always bring you joy,


deb Ewing




29 views2 comments