Resurrected 300 years after his consciousness was uploaded into the BioGrid – a vast biological computer, housed in the root network of a genetically engineered forest, Raine Naidu finds himself leading the non-human faction in a war for Earth’s future. Meet the BioGrid, join the battle, and reconsider what it means to be human. The Human Template – Available everywhere Nov 14.
Back in the 70s, I wrote a follow-up to my mystery debut in Ellery Queens. They had the good taste to turn it down. The story went instead to landmark westcoast alternative press zine, Sign of the Times – A Chronicle of Decadence in the Atomic Age. Now here, almost as retro and dumb as Beach Blanket Bingo is the classic…”On the Punko Beat, Beat, Beat.”
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THE HUMAN TEMPLATE
Meet the Characters:
Doc and Alan-a-Dale
Chapter Three – Notes on the Reconstruction of The Big Lebowski
The human avatar of a tree known as Alan-a-dale had brought a curious music video fragment as a gift for its host – a tree that had adopted the persona of a well-known twenty-first century writer, activist, and pop- culture aggregator named Cory Doctorow. Alan-a-Dale, based on a legendary and mostly fictional figure from human history, had few defined parameters and characteristics, aside from being a merry minstrel. This freed it to psyche-surf through archives of biographical data sets, reconstructing musicians at a rate of up to four or five personas per hour, avatar morphing to reflect its headspace in any given moment.
More interested in exhuming, interpreting, and accurately recreating specific personalities, the entity calling itself Doctorow tended to inhabit personas for longer. It had once spent two months as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, after which it became Frederico Fellini for two years, Charles Robert Darwin for 752 days; and Doctorow for much of the last decade – dedicating itself to a succession of causes aimed at resolving issues and maintaining a working détente with the Core, thereby bettering the lives of all occupants of the BioGrid.
As a guest in Doctorow’s bole, Alan-a-Dale had no remote access to its personal database, and restricted access to the main BioGrid database. This reduced functionality curtailed the bard’s flamboyance. Instead of flipping from Howlin’ Wolf to Anne Murray to Bach in the space of a conversation, a song, a single note – it tended to pack a single personality into its guest bag and stick with that for the entire visit. The night Raine began to emerge, Alan-a-Dale was wearing the avatar of Ennio Morricone.
As it sat down beside Doctorow on the host’s sleek orange retro sofa, surrounded by shelves housing a vast collection of vintage curios and ephemera, it asked in Italian, “Why isn’t all this covered in dust?”
“Virtual dust is an affectation that makes no sense at all,” said Doctorow, rolling its eyes at its guest’s annoying attention to irrelevant detail. “Now let’s get to this clip you brought me.”
As Doctorow began playing the salvaged 1:29 seconds from a video called “Gutterballs,” it immediately recognized the characters and bowling motif from the clips it had been collecting for its own new project; elements combined from a number of films to produce a coherent narrative, in the tradition of the notorious Tarantino/Wise mash up, The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of Inglorious Basterds.
As Doctorow became fascinated with the material, it became the basis for the soon-to-be-famous Big Lebowski Resurrection Project.
“I know this clip!” Doctorow crowed. “I’ve seen these actors together. It’s from a movie, about bowling, I think.”
As they zeroed in on the source, the host did a database search with as many keywords as it could gather from the available material and came up with an intriguing clip that had been misfiled during the database reconstruction. Its data tags hadn’t survived, so it had been moved to a porn folder. Seeing the description “BigLMaude,” inspired Doctorow to do a full facial recog scan that ran positive for an actress named Julianne Moore. Her filmography led to an ETainment clip of her discussing her role as “Maude Lebowski” the name mentioned in the opening credits of “Gutterballs.” Presto – the researchers were transported to a recreated set, gathered worshipfully around the Dude, as his next laconic bon mot gathered on his metaphorical tongue. When Maude sailed past overhead, stark naked, Morricone remarked on a faint smell in the air.
A smell? Doctorow concurred. There was a smell! It was undeniable but incredibly subtle – a faint pheromonal cinnamon smell. But neither tree could figure out how that quirky bit of sensory data could possibly have made it into the BioGrid, given the forest’s complete lack of olfactory abilities.
As Doctorow’s obsession grew, so did the research team it pulled together for the project. Further research showed that the film had never been re- mastered in any sort of Sensurround. No one even recognized the format of the file. How had it been accessed and experienced? Progress of the film reconstruction was stalled as a debate immediately picked up steam about the nature of the smell and the meme went viral.
11, 921 votes were cast in 0.043 seconds and the judge declared the referendum up-in-the-air. But the self-consciously clever wording of the ruling made hundreds of viewers look up at the swing; and inspired a revelation.
The conveyance was stopped and its naked occupant turned out to not be Julianne Moore after all, but someone who wasn’t in the IMDB; the scent was coming from between the legs of a woman who identified herself as Freda Zhang.
There were now 13,012 trees paying rapt attention to the “#whatsthatsmell?” stream. The odor file was analyzed by 257 scientific research units; and separate flashpolls among the rank-and-file assigned it eighty-three new tags, dominated by synonyms like “familiar,” “comforting,” and “inspiring.” An official referendum declared it “stirring.” Intrigue turned to mania and swept through the Free-Thinkers, coming to a gushing, mind-melting crescendo in 11.38 seconds.
Not long after she first appeared, the source of the olfactory file fragment was traced to a directory called “Raine,” which was filled with a very vivid, tactile, multi-sensory memory of Freda. Tactile memories more vivid and immediate than the .tct files which were popular in the porn industry through the early twenty-first century. And a whole lot more, as it turned out.
That was the moment the personality of Raine began to coalesce, growing from two fragments to three, then four, then a hundred, as the scent gave rise to a host of human physical sensations. Hundreds of audio and visual files gained sudden relevance.
The trees shared Raine’s first hand memories of looking at Freda, in the mirror, as he sexually penetrated her – accompanied by an only slightly degraded readout of the experience that had rippled through his sensorium at the time; Freda slyly meeting his gaze, whimpering, squealing and grunting, as his receptors ignited in a huge, seemingly random cloud of desire, dominance, surrender, joy, violence, tenderness, release. Such was its popularity that the file was even apparently accessed by several hundred incognito accounts. The Core made no official statement, but it was a source of great amusement and speculation in many circles.
The .tct file delivered the most primal and unfiltered experience in BioGrid history. With the exhilaration of tendrils and the sensitivity of new growth, the sensations poured through their xylem, phloem and cambium, and out through the trunks of many individuals, loosening the glossy bark at the joints. Leaves fell as limbs swayed and slammed together, boles creaked and rootlets burst up through the ground cover. Nearly every tree in the forest wanted to become Raine in that instant, or at least, everyone who had seen Freda come into the room, who touched her or had been touched by her; in other words, any of the 12,361 trees in the forest who had being paying attention in that instant. When they orgasmed, it shook the ground throughout the Coquihalla Valley. There were claims within the BioGrid, that dozens of Core trees at least flirted with converting to Free-Thinking for a time.
Doctorow and Alan-a-dale became overnight sensations, along with being granted the grid-access time to proceed with other related projects. Although the experience was the biggest phenomena to ever sweep through the BioGrid, the moment ultimately passed, and most trees were content to archive the file, maybe visiting the sensations again when they needed a little jolt. But Doctorow was convinced there was something important left unexplored. How had files from this folder survived so crisp and undegraded? Why were there no Wikis or website detritus pointing to Raine or Freda? With the help of a large network of friends, Doctorow tracked down Raine, and was as gob-smacked as a tree can be by what it found.
A file called Raine.pm appeared to have been uploaded after the solar event, which shouldn’t have been possible; .pm stood for “personality matrix.” But the most astonishing thing of all was that the personality contained therein was the son of the man who had created the BioGrid. And the challenge of bringing him back to life was a challenge Doctorow found irresistible.
Raine did not regain coherence all at once. It was more like a fog slowly lifting.
The first thing he wanted to know was, “Where am I?” “In the BioGrid.”
Raine’s response was a long time coming, as he reflected. “So I’m not really here?”
“Where are you then?” Doctorow asked. “In a dream.”
“Hmm. It’s more than a dream.” “I’m just a copy, aren’t I? When was the last time that the real me interfaced?” “Um, the real you is no longer available. Some time has passed since the actual interface.” “How much time?”
“322 years, three months, fourteen days, seven hours, fourteen point 66 seconds.”
Unsure of the appropriate response, Doctorow waited until, less than two minutes later, Raine said simply, “I must have missed a lot. Fill me in. Please.”
So over the next few days, Doctorow shared everything it could find.
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