Sunday, December 13, 2015

Less Proud and More Persuasive

It's here! Less Proud and More Persuasive: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella is now available in the Kindle store. This is a story that considers how things might have gone if Mr. Darcy had made a proposal more like the one in Persuasion, generally resulting in everyone having a bit more measured reaction to things than what occurred in the original. Those who are considering purchasing it should be aware that it's available at a promotional price, right now. The price will increase going into the new year, when it will be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so let that help you decide whether to buy now, or borrow later.

Although it is short, this story is special for me, because it's written in something much closer to my natural voice as a writer. I don't think most readers know that I actually put a lot of work into modifying my own voice for the Constant Love series, to produce something that follows better after Austen's work. I'll never precisely match Austen's prose, but I wanted the continuations to follow without feeling too jarring. So I spent a lot of time in the beginning studying various aspects of how Austen wrote, and basically re-training myself to write in past tense, which I hadn't written comfortably in for a very long time. This story, though, was another of the ones that ate my brain, and once I had the initial idea, it flowed so freely that I decided to let it flow in present tense. Well, up until I hit quite a bout of writer's block with it, but fortunately, we are well past that.

So as an additional way to celebrate the release of this story, I thought I'd post an excerpt from an entirely different story. This is from the last novel I completed before I started in the Austenesque genre, and it is as-yet unpublished. It still needs a lot of editing work and I've just been enjoying writing Austenesque too much to return my attention to it, but perhaps some day I will. It's science fiction (hey, I am a lady of many interests), although that doesn't matter so much for the excerpt, but it is key to know that it's set very far in the future. It may come as a shock to those who read my work that I wrote this, but I assure you, I did!

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The alarm clock blaring and he is shoving her shoulder. "Wake up already." Up through the thick muddled layers of sleep, the fluorescent ET dreams. Eyes open, heart thud thud thud in her chest.

She's got to get some counteractive in her. Reaching over to the nightstand, smacking the alarm clock off, measuring out the counteractive for two ETs with shaky hands, the strips dissolving on her tongue, repeating with enough stimulant for three hours of sleep.

She sinks back into the pillows, waits until her soul feels less jittery. Rises and pulls a lycocell robe from one of the hooks near the bed over her bare, sticky skin. He is asleep again already, or feigning effectively.

Their studio apartment is a long, narrow galley of the type epidemic to Dupont Circle when the skyscraper ban was first lifted. Uniform units with high ceilings and exposed pipes, faux-historic. Only a few paces from the bed to the small area they've cordoned off as an office with a thick hemp curtain, three minutes until class starts.

She sits on one of the bamboo stools, pulls on gloves and glasses, swipes her arm across the office cpu to access Four. Ties the robe a little tighter around herself, although her students will not see it. The university had her go through face and body modeling when she began teaching, so the students will see a fairly accurate avatar, dressed in a Vogue pattern hologram suit. Sometimes she wishes she could travel to class and watch herself teach, see herself as her students see her, one person in two places at the same time.

Touching the tiny button on the frame of the glasses, she activates them, and examines this quarter's class. Lining the walls of the lecture hall are holograms of other students, logged in remotely, like her. They're cheap, low-res holograms, though, not like hers — any student with money or the backing of a decent corporation lives on campus. Despite the fact that more than half of the students at BIT will never set foot on campus, the qual scores of the resident students are still comparably high enough to merit the extra expenditure.

In the back of the actual, physical seating area in the hall are the blatant tracts. Dreadlocks, ratty t-shirts, and at least $2,000 worth of plastic bracelets on each of them. Gratuitous waste of plastic, a street trend of the last few months.

In the middle of the room, the ones with money, easy to pick out because she was one of them, 10 years ago. It had been as easy to find them, back then, the ones who spent their allowances on clothes, raves, and drugs. Here against their parents' wishes, in a public university that has one of the strongest tech programs in the country, despite its parent-concerning proximity to the Boston ERS. Here to rebel, straight out of private school, born into the technological elite and attempting to stay there with minimal studying and maximum partying. Most will succeed, will make quals and land jobs with an income similar to their parents', but some will not, and they will return home to mom and dad, sheepish, to be entered into a strict private university or faced with the indignity of telecommuting.

She gives them a few extra minutes to file in, the latecomers reluctantly slipping into the open seats at the front of the class, then rises, makes a fist with her gloved hand and pumps it up and down three times, simulating pounding on a table. The sound the students hear in class is an audio recording of exactly that. The buzz of conversation wanes to a few scattered whispers.

"Welcome to Evolutionary Robotics 200001. I'm Clare Adams." A friendly but firm voice. She wants her students to like her. "Before we begin, I want to note that everyone should have taken Human Biology, Human Genetics, and the Computer Science core. If you've somehow hacked your way into this class without taking those, you can stay, but odds are you'll be quite lost."

She waits to see if any of them get up to leave. None do, but a few will not return for the next class.

Turning in the small space between the two stools and slender table of the office space, she points at the wall behind her in the lecture hall. Pictures of every generation of EvoTech robot, all the way back to the clunky first gen.

"I love this field because it's the scientific version of throwing things against the wall to see what sticks."

Scattered laughter. She has been honing this opening since her first class.

"I work as a neural network specialist for EvoTech in the ROS — Robotic Operating Systems — pod. I've been at EvoTech for about six years. BIT grad." Someone whoops, middle of the room. She smiles. She's not wearing an avatar mask; the students won't see. "I work exclusively on the neural network, the 'brains' of our robots, but we'll also cover evolutionary locomotion as part of this course."

Turning to point at the lecture hall screen behind her again. This time the screen floods with pictures of the animals of the Galapagos Islands, extinct in some cases, endangered in others. Iguanas, beetles, birds, tortoises.

"For those of you who thought you were done with Darwin, I have bad news for you. We'll be spending a lot of time on Darwin as a part of this course, because the foundations of evolutionary robotics are fairly simple, and they rely on the same concepts as classic evolution.

"Natural selection. Survival of the fittest. The birds, or tortoises, or people, or robots with the most favorable traits survive to pass on those traits to the next generation. In the case of birds and tortoises and people, this happens naturally. If you lack the favorable traits, you freeze to death, get eaten by a tiger, or fail your quals. In the case of robots, we do it manually, removing the robots with less favorable traits from the recombination process, something we call elitism."

Pointing to refresh the screen. Highlights of the evolution of the animal kingdom. Amoebas, fish, salamanders, dinosaurs, apes, man.

"It's a simple concept. And yet it's the means by which, over billions of years, complex organisms like human beings evolved from the single-celled organisms of the early seas." She pauses, throat dry, wishes she had poured a cup of water before class. How long until coffee?

"Early in this century, a few universities and companies like EvoTech started looking at ways to use evolution as a technique to build more intelligent machines. If you can start with a single-celled amoeba and evolve it to a human, surely you can start with something more complicated and evolve it into a superior AI. EvoTech actually started out with search engines, but they transferred their techniques to robotics, which is where we've really flourished.

"So how do you make a robot out of nothing?" Looking out over the sea of faces, just a little too grainy to make out real interest or understanding. "We'll spend a lot of time during this semester on that question, on what we call the 'bootstrap problem'. Unless you want to start with a single-celled robot and take millions if not billions of years to evolve it, you make some guesses. In EvoTech's case, we started with some acceptable parameters for things like vision and recognition, locomotion, and, of course, intelligence."

In the periphery around her glasses, David's hand slips around the curtain, deposits a mug of coffee on the table, waves goodbye. She doesn't wave back, or respond in any way. The first quarter she'd started teaching, she'd waved, unthinking, with the gloves still on, every morning of class, until one day she'd noticed the rest of the class waving as well, and one of the tracts had called out, "Bye, honey!"

Giggles rippling across the room. No more waving. Students are assholes.

She picks up the mug — the gloves should recognize her hand clasping the handle, render a coffee mug as part of her hologram as well. Grateful sip. What was she talking about? Bootstrap problem, somewhere in that.

"Rather than having the locomotion or the intelligence for each variation of the robot possess the same level of fitness, you have to make some guesses, and then randomize those guesses into an initial set of variations. You determine what can serve as your electronic genes, your robot DNA. You modify that DNA in your next generation using the same variations found in nature — reproduction, crossover, the occasional mutation. This mixes the robot genes and creates the variations that will cause some robots to be more fit than others, improving your robot with every generation."

Another sip of coffee, deep and rich. They splurge regularly on the good stuff, brought up by train from Costa Rica.

"We're going to focus a lot on the nuts and bolts of evolution during this semester, but there's another piece of producing an evolutionary robot, and that's instruction. In our case — humans' case — human culture is as responsible for human intelligence as is the human genome. This makes sense, when you think about it. We're not that much more intelligent, genetically, than cavemen. But what has changed is that our race, as a whole, has evolved to higher levels of civilization, and we as individuals are able to learn from this and build on it. Gutenberg's printing press is as important to our development as a human race as anything that has happened within our genome.

Pointing behind her again. Video, this time. EvoTech robots at work in the Sandstrom Nuclear Power plant, plugging in for their upgrades, an excerpt from an EvoTech documentary produced last year.

"For the robot, instruction means being able to collect the past learnings of other robots, and 'teach' — really, upload — them both to the newest robots, and those already out in the field. These are some of the EvoTech robots at work. They receive a weekly update that provides them with the average learnings of all robots in the field over the past week, and they are able to begin using that information immediately after their update and recharge is complete."

She scans the class. Even in her glasses' resolution, she can see them starting to get restless. Nobody expects to stay long the first day, and most students interested in this field have already seen the documentary in its entirety.

"We're going to cover more of this, both evolution and instruction, in Friday's class. We'll be touring EvoTech so that you can get an idea of what an evolutionary robotics operation actually looks like. For those of you who live in the Washington DC metro area, or want to take the train down, I highly recommend attending in person. If not, you're welcome to follow remotely or download the session on your own time. I expect all of you to have experienced the class in some form before the next session on Monday. You should also read the selected excerpts from The Origin of Species available on the course site.

"Any questions?" Scattered students already rising to leave. No questions. "Thank you, then. Have a good rest of your morning."

The rest of the class rising, the holograms along the back wall blipping out with tiny bursts of light.

She touches her glasses to turn her own avatar into a blip, peels off the gloves. They are lightweight, but her hands are still sweaty.
So yes, that's how I wrote, before I wrote A Constant Love. I've started to settle into that more Austenesque writing style, finally, but depending on the subject matter, sometimes I still will drift back to something closer to this. Mr. Darcy, especially, wants to be in present tense whenever I am writing his POV, and he and I basically fought through the whole writing of Temporary Mistress as to what tense it should have been written in. Perhaps someday there will be some sort of more modern-ish (although still set during the Regency) Darcy POV story. But for now, it's back to work on Legacies.

Writing Elizabeth as a widow

There's one final Mistress blog post out today! I'm at Catherine Curzon's blog talking about writing Elizabeth as a widow.