An Episode that Siri Keeton’s Dad Would Just as Soon Forget

Wait.” Brüks held up his hand. “Start over.  How did it — I mean,  if it wasn’t viral epilepsy, how—”

“Viral something,” Li crowed. “Viral zombieism.”

Ventilator sounds filled in the sudden silence.

“Bullshit,” Brüks said softly.

“Oh he didn’t do it deliberately the larva was just collateral. Some evildoer cooked up a basement bug but he got the fine-tuning wrong. Virus likes baby brains way better than grown-up brains right? All that growth metabolism all that neural pruning everything moves faster so they give it to mommy and she gives it to daddy but it really takes off when mommy kisses baby goodnight. Goes through baby’s brain faster’n flesh-eating. Wake up next morning the little fucker’s already seizing and it’s lucky for them it’s their canary in the coal mine, they go down to Emerg and get cleaned out just in time. But too late for little Siri Keeton’s left hemisphere had to scrape it out like a rotten coconut.”

Jesus,” Brüks whispered.

“Turned out okay though better’n before like I say. Stormtroopers have really good medical plans. Replacement hemisphere big improvement. Made him the man for the mission.”

“What a fucking horrible thing to do to a kid.”

“If you can’t grow the code stay out of the incubator. Fucker probably did it himself to God knows how many others that’s what they do.”

Brüks had seen the footage, of course: civilian hordes reduced to walking brainstems as a trillion bits of capsid code homed in on the telltale biochemistry of conscious thought. This wasn’t the precise surgical excision of cognitive inefficiency, these weren’t the Military’s reversible supersoldiers or Valerie’s programmed bodyguards. This was consciousness and intellect chewed away from cortex to hypothalamus, Humanity reduced to fight/flight/fuck. These were people turned back into reptiles.

It was also a hell of an effective strategy for anyone on a budget: cheap, contagious, terrifyingly effective. If you were caught in some panicking crowd you could never be sure whether the person pushing from behind was trying to rape you, or bash in your skull, or just get the fuck out of the zone. If you were above the crowd all your state-of-the-art telemetry would never tell the undone from the undead; not even Cusper tech could pick out the fractional chill of a zombie brain inside its skull, not from a distance, not through a wall or a roof, not in the middle of a riot. All you could do was seal off the area and pray you could keep upwind until the guys with the napalm showed up.

They had special squads for that in India, Brüks had heard. People with off switches in their heads, fighting fire with fire.

They were really good at their jobs.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday June 06 2011at 09:06 am , filed under Dumbspeech, fiblet . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

48 Responses to “An Episode that Siri Keeton’s Dad Would Just as Soon Forget”

  1. Oh…nice. More, more!! I cannot WAIT for Dumbspeech.

  2. What Ken said. Except I will wait for it.

  3. Sounds good, definitely want to read more.

  4. A story I would buy without a doubt.

  5. you had me at ‘rotten coconut’

  6. More please.

  7. What is the status re: the where of time placing request for notice of time of tasty availability bookwhich?

  8. Is there a release date? Does there exist a general conception of when this book might be ready?

  9. Sweet!

    ..I feel like I need to wash my hands. And bar the door to my office.

  10. Yeah, what David (his first reply) said.

  11. It’s due at the publishers middle of August. There will doubtless be much editing afterwards. In my experience, it generally takes anywhere from a year to 18 months post-submission for the novel to hit bookstore shelves.

    I will, however, be posting additional fiblets in the meantime. And revamping the website to include (among other things) a Dumbspeech wing. In the meantime, though, I’m trying to figure out some orbital mechanics for a trip to the sun (just discovered that my initial burn went on too long: it would shoot the ship past Icarus in about a week and out of the solar system entirely. This will not do.)

  12. *shudder*

    “These were people turned back into reptiles.”

    Also, I’ll be curious to see who “Valerie’s programmed bodyguards” are.

  13. I mean, flesh eating viruses are bad enough, but mind-eating viruses….

  14. Er – sorry to play the obessive nitpicker, but there seems to be a slight inconsistency here with Blindsight. In that novel, it was implied that Siri Keaton’s neurological problems had begun while his mother was pregnant. This fiblet, though, says that they were caused by a viral exposure after Siri had been born. Of course, Li could be mistaken, or lying. And the text from Blindsight could have referred to some other problem. But anyway, here’s the passage I’m talking about, from nearly the end of Blindsight:

    “He also said he loved me. He said he missed Helen, that she was sorry for something she did before I was born, some indulgence or omission that carried developmental consequences. He rambled. I don’t know what he was talking about. So much power my father must have had, to be able to authorize such a broadcast and yet waste so much of it on feelings.”

  15. Is the release designed to correlate with the 2012 Presidential Election? Perhaps as a metaphor on the electorate?

  16. Whoa. A fan telling the author that his newest novel isn’t canon. It makes my head hurt a little, thinking about it.

  17. Peter, I’m overjoyed to hear that this newest book will be its way to the publisher soon (well, soon-ish).

    However, I hate that it takes so long from submission to final release. Can you give us a little more insight on why it takes so long? Is this due to an overly long editing process, re-writes or just plain old printing and shipping delays?

    A few more questions for you, if I might:

    1) Are you going back to the title, DumbSpeech, or is it going to be State of Grace?
    2) Does your publisher ever release Advance Reading Copies? If so, any chance on grabbing a few and auctioning them off here?
    3) Would you be willing to auction/sell/offer signed copies of the book on this website?

    By the way, I hope you have more say on the cover art this time.

  18. @Ethan: “some indulgence or omission that carried developmental consequences” might mean she felt she’d somehow impaired the young Siri’s immune system so he couldn’t deal with the virus. Problem solved!

  19. As usual Peter, you pack more thought provoking narrative into a few paragraph short story than other authors give you in a long novel.

    Thanks again and again…

  20. Ethan said:

    there seems to be a slight inconsistency here with Blindsight…

    Um, yes. It will all make sense when completed.

  21. Nice to see fiblets again. At first I wasn’t going to , but now I’m piping in…

    Um, yes. It will all make sense when completed.

    Ha! I was puzzled by the fiblet as well but figured I’d roll with it.

  22. I just like how “fiblet” sounds like “riblet” – a sweet tangy bite-sized appetizer. A mini-fiction to whet the appetite for the main course.


    Also – replacement hemisphere? I wonder, did the virus achieve its goal? Minus prosthetic braaaains, would Siri be conscious?

  24. (I’m annoyed that my fake “aol” markup didn’t show up. where I say “At first I wasn’t going to …” above, pretend like you see angle bracket aol forward slash close angle bracket. my joke. deflated lead balloon)

  25. *looks sadly at deflated joke on the ground*

    Alas, poor joke! I knew him, Sheila, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me upon his shoulders a thousand times…

  26. My personal experience: parents tend to mitigate their children’s (especially mental) diseases …

  27. Siri’s parents didn’t seem very healthy. Or maybe they were okay when he was young, but dysfunctional later in life? I wonder if his mom tried some treatment to have an enhanced kid, she seems like the type who would do that.

    (my jokes suck lately. AOL is the canonical “I agree!” thing that happened a lot when AOL users started being able to join newsgroups. Yay! A new fiblet! zooming words a minute! Okay! Lots of fans posted hurrah already, no need for me to say anythi… oh dang)

    (and those of you who know the apropos command, also know it is man -k, right? so the other day I typed man -k instead of apropos but no one laughed.)

  28. Nice, I’ve always wanted to see your take a cognitive-impairing bioweapon. I’m still not sold on how effective it is for leaving the area safe for occupiers, not every single vector will be dead of exposure or secondary injuries, you can’t imagine it will lobotomise everyone equally.

    Still needs lots of editing, some of the grammar is goofy. Here’s to it coming out where I live!

  29. Do we have lots of Canadians here?

  30. @Daniel
    I’m still not sold on how effective it is for leaving the area safe for occupiers, not every single vector will be dead of exposure or secondary injuries …
    I think this never would be a problem for terrorists … And maybe a cure against the original “basement bug” is already existing (as vaccination with cowpox protects against smallpox).

  31. sploosh

  32. Wow, Peter, this is good stuff. I have to admit that I used something similar in my unsold novel “In the Fall” (1995). But yours is more juicy and technically descriptive. I wrote the comparable idea as a variety of specialty viruses that were about as contagious as a decent venereal disease ought to be, all coded from a basis of the rabies virus. Yet rather than rapidly inducing a fast-moving fatal encephalitis, these acted slowly enough to not kill the victim, while selectively destroying certain centers. For most of the survivors the result was deep semantic aphasia, although one of the strains was designed to pretty much produce human shaped reptiles, as in your clip here. And of course, the instigators were the HindAsian Hegemony, inspired by their mad Prophet to turn the technologies of the decadent and sinful West against those decadent and sinful Westerners.

    BTW about using something like this as an area-clearing weapon? I recall reading somewhere that some biologists were amazed that rabies happened much, due to the mammalian immune system so very vigorously attacking it. Yet rabies flourishes in part because it takes advantage of the brain-blood barrier, traveling along nerves where the anti-viral immunity factors can’t easily go. We do note that the one recent full-recovery (more or less) survivor of rabies is probably fully immune to it for life. I have no idea what might be her virus load and probably it’s cleared of her system. Yet whatever it did to her brain is done… yet she could probably bite someone and not give them rabies.

    My point being, it the process of destruction or alteration of neurological tissues is survived in our hypothetical Pseudo-Zombie Apocalypse Virus victims, they’d probably be contagious as hell for a fairly short time, and then their immune system would clear out the virus, and might likely remain very actively poised to prevent re-infection from anything even remotely similar.

    Thus, when everyone starts turning into zombies or worse — a plague of sociopaths comes to mind as “worse” — run right out and get your immunizations against rabies and meningitis. And hope that the terrorists didn’t succeed in perverting the vaccine factories, or that maybe you can find enough pre-tampering product in a deep freezer somewhere.

  33. I really hope DARPA isn’t reading this ‘crawl.

    Mitigate as often as cause. I doubt my sister’s OCD is entirely unconnected to personality disorders in my parents..

  34. Thomas Hardman:
    “a plague of sociopaths comes to mind as “worse””

    People are extremely selfish and fairly guilt free for the most part to start with, and it is incredibly easy to rid them of the guilt they have (as demonstrated by any objective experiment e.g. Standford prison experiment, Milgram experiment, that TV hidden camera episode of ‘what would you do if you see guy drugs girl’s drink’, etc)
    Think of those places where the family routinely kills their own daughter if she’s a rape victim. Majority of people there would do that; there, it’s only the ‘sociopaths’ who wouldn’t really feel this indignation bubbling up and this pleasure from the righteous murder.

  35. You’ve done vampires and now zombies – going to do werewolves next?

  36. Julian Morrison, on June 13th, 2011 at 2:37 am Said:
    “You’ve done vampires and now zombies – going to do werewolves next?”

    Shapeshifting à la Peter Watts? Hmm, now that does sound a bit familiar, doesn’t it…

  37. Get Well Soon! I can’t wait for your other books to be released in Poland. just finished Starfish!

  38. Dmytry, have you read the Rifters trilogy?

  39. and it is incredibly easy to rid them of the guilt they have (as demonstrated by any objective experiment e.g. Standford prison experiment, Milgram experiment, that TV hidden camera episode of ‘what would you do if you see guy drugs girl’s drink’, etc)

    It’s easy to get them to behave in sociopathic ways, but not as easy to rid them of the guilt. Most people in the Milgram were very agitated, even when they complied. So there is something going on to distress them, which you might think of as related to guilt.

  40. […] And I care for this sort of thing a great deal. […]

  41. @Sheila
    if I may Go all Psych 101 2am theorizing here:
    Persona is a construct generated for operating inside a local social ecology.
    Change the local Ecology and Persona is adapts to fit constraints of local ecology; see the various published and anecdotal research in: prisons, prison camps, summer camps, religious indoctrination, boot camps, night clubs, etc ad nauseum. Some cognitive dissonance and stress may result, especially from switching back and forth.

    the above doesn’t mean the human animal is without guilt (or rather behavior correcting cognitive systems) but instead means human animal is highly adaptable to different social ecologies and inside these different ecologies conform similarly well to social expectations.

  42. “Virus likes baby brains way better than grown-up brains right?”

    I think that made me like babies just a smidgen more… I suppose that means there’s something wrong with me. ^_^

  43. Sheila:
    “not as easy to rid them of the guilt. Most people in the Milgram were very agitated, even when they complied.”
    No attempt was made to rid them of the guilt or, rather, use the guilt for compliance (guilt-trip the participant into administering shocks in much the same way how police battalion 101 members felt it was their duty not to leave when they were ordered to shoot people in Josefow, even though they were told any of them can refuse).

    seruko: There is no behaviour correcting system – just different parts of behaviour generating system, and neither deserves name ‘correcting’. This subsystem we call guilt is just as often the one most terribly incorrect, and is easily defeated.

    The way I see it, most people are capable of experiencing either pain when hurting others, or pleasure, depending to circumstances, crudely adjusted so that the pain/pleasure is dependent on the usefulness of action. A very crude behaviour reinforcement system, similar to pleasure from sex.

    Furthermore, most people are capable of deliberately generating delusions required for experiencing pleasure. Most of us can imagine porn and sex when wanking – that is a harmless example. But the same, people can imagine fairness to it when killing, and tap into this sadistic pleasure.
    And you don’t need virus for that. You just teach people how. You sell them super-stimuli such as God, super stimuli emulating social expectation, that they will then use when they masturbate their righteousness, just as you sell wankers the breast-implant and photoshop – enhanced superstimulus porn.
    The god is just a supernormal stimulus. So is what Hitler says, and so is commuhist utopia-in-the-future.

  44. @Dmytry: No attempt was made to rid them of the guilt or, rather, use the guilt for compliance

    My friend, that is incorrect? After the Milgrim experiment, subjects were debriefed because a certain percentage were in a terrific state of agitation, and one reason for the debriefing was to relieve their guilt about harming the other “subject.”

    If I read Sheila rightly, she never said the subjects were guilted into compliance. This jibes with my memory – Milgrim’s co-workers simply wore white coats and calmly but firmly told the subject “The experiment must continue.” Nothing about “duty.” Subjects complied because it’s difficult to resist instructions from authority figures, even when you know they’re asking you to do something morally wrong.

    You’re also coloring your descriptions of inflicting pain on others by using sexual references, as if joy in harming is necessarily sexual. Unless you are a Freudian, you have to admit that if you, say, punch someone because you’re angry at them, that need have no sexual component.

    I have to say that, personally, experientially, inflicting pain because it is useful is not reinforcing, and has no sexual component, anyway.

  45. If I read Sheila rightly, she never said the subjects were guilted into compliance..

    Yes, I think Dmytry’s point is that they did not try an experiment where they applied an intervention to see if they get rid of the agitation.

    I digress on Milgram for a bit, learning about that experiment and others like it was a formative event in my life. We can lack complete insight in to whether our actions would actually follow what we claim to believe. It made me want to work on really knowing myself and my beliefs.

    anytime I see news articles on the topic I am intrigued and bookmark them to reflect on later. for example,

    Milgram’s obedience studies – not about obedience after all?

    Their feeling is that Milgram’s results say less about obedience and rather more about our general proclivity for acting out of character in certain circumstances. ‘The point is that these uncharacteristic behaviours may not be limited to circumstances in which an authority figure gives orders,’ Burger and his team said. ‘Few of us will ever find ourselves in a situation like My Lai or Abu Ghraib. But each of us may well encounter settings that lead us to act in surprising and perhaps disturbing ways.’

  46. omg the blockquotes!

  47. Milgram’s obedience studies – not about obedience after all?

    Eenteresting. I’m not sure I agree with the analysis. The experimenter giving a command tries to take the locus of control from the subject, and hence might raise to full consciousness that what he is doing is his own choice – it is the authority figure admitting that he is asking him to do something he doesn’t want to do.

    Might that be the reason the command voice causes subjects to stop?

  48. First step towards above mentioned neuroprostheses?