The real species behind the Matrix

The real species behind the Matrix

The concept behind the Matrix

If you’ve watched any films in the past 20 years, you’ve probably seen at least one of the Matrix trilogy. Essentially, to mis-appropriate a Jurassic Park quote, ‘God created man, man created A.I., A.I. enslaved man’.

The A.I. in the film created a convincingly imperfect human society in virtual reality, which humans are plugged into at birth and thereafter are kept as biological batteries, producing heat (power) for the A.I., and most are blissfully ignorant of it all due to being immersed in the Matrix. 

The first Matrix is a very good film, and at the time it was pretty ground-breaking. Unfortunately the second and third in the series are an exercise in ‘wow, the first one made us way more money than we thought, let’s cash in… plot? Who needs a plot?’, but the first one explores A.I., offers some excellent and disturbing metaphors for society, prods you to think about fate versus free will, etc., etc.

It’s not necessarily as original as it looks

My brain is fond of waking me up at oh-my-god in the morning and presenting me with things to think about rather than letting me go back to sleep, and one of the things it presented me with early one morning, as I lay immobilised under two cats, was that someone who participated in the writing of the Matrix was a genius, but not an original one. 

Humanity has yet to achieve A.I., being more than slightly hindered by its own lack of I.

However, lacking A.I., which always makes a convenient villain for anything sci-fi, there is nonetheless a species on the planet that’s been successfully cultivating humans for food and heat for millennia – felis silvestris catus, or the domesticating cat. Pardon me, my mistake – domestic cat.

Most of the population has either lived with a cat at some point in their lives, or knows someone who does. There’s a hairy old joke about dogs being pets for people who need to be worshipped as gods, whereas cats are more for those who can deal with their gods turning up on their chests at 0500 and demanding a sacrifice.

It is however interesting to note that where humanity domesticated wolves way back in the days when they were still hunting wild animals for food and sport and engaging in bloody conflicts (oh, hey, hang on…) as companions and burglar alarms, and dogs today have been bred into so many different directions that in some cases the common ancestor is hard to believe, cats moved in with humans pretty much as soon as human habitations were much better than caves. Domestic cats today, although a little gentler than their fully wild cousins, and in slightly more varied colours and coats, are completely recognisable at a glance as close relatives of the smaller wildcats. 

Essentially, cats moved in, and in exchange for warmth and a little care, handled the small and mid-size pest problems that plagued humanity’s moderately filthy communities. When the Catholic church declared them witches’ familiars, and thousands of cats were killed across Europe, the Black Plague followed.

The deal is still pretty much on today, except with better sanitation the workload is less, and cats can spend more of their time training their human heat sources. In fact, one of mine has just turned up on my desk to explain that this habit of staring at lit screens, when one could be making a fuss of a cat, is something that should be addressed.

Ancestry again

Ancestry again

Ancestry – again

About a year ago, I wrote a post about finally taking the plunge on an Ancestry DNA test, and my intermittent interest in unearthing my likely unholy family history.

Sadly, the family myth about Peruvian ancestry was emphatically debunked – I appear to be a Northern European achievement, largely Anglo-Scots with some Irish and Germanic-Central European mixed in. Oh, and 2% Norwegian, which I can only assume equates to ‘Viking plus slowest woman in her village’.

This past few weeks, owing to a dry spell in my ability to convince myself to get stuck into the editing for Book 5 in the Cortii series, I’ve found myself back in Ancestry, knocking around and tidying up loose ends. Among other things, my direct paternal line appears to have sprung, fully-formed, from the nearest public house sometime in the mid-1700s somewhere along the much-disputed line marking the England-Scotland border. (Still haven’t cracked that one.)

What I did turn up, much to my entertainment, was a bunch of job ads from the New Scientist magazine archives, from when my father founded Servomex Controls Limited in 1952. As I didn’t meet my father until several years after his retirement, the only thing I really knew about his company was that a. it existed, and b. his secretary was so bad at typing that Dad, at the time the Managing Director, used to type up all his own letters. I have that typewriter in my cupboard – it still works.

By the time I met my father, he’d sold his stake in Servomex and retired onto a one-off Mudie-built wooden ketch named Gub-Gub. Since I think I’m the first to dig into the family history, he may or may not have known that the family, in the 1800s, had a branch in merchant shipping out of Liverpool, but judging by the generous splash of Irish / Northern European in my genetic heritage from his side of the family, I strongly suspect that if I ever manage to put together the lineage past the 1700s, I’m going to find a few more merchants / soldiers / other stripe of travellers.

Probably this goes some way to explaining why I’m currently based out of Western Canada and my nearest relations are my half-brother, in the Caribbean, and a branch of the family descended from one of my great-uncles who never came back from South America, in Santiago.

Mainstream, much to my surprise…

Mainstream, much to my surprise…

Mainstream, me?

Well, based on the review round Death is for the Living just came out of, yes, maybe?

I put Through the Hostage through Hidden Gems last September, and got a majority of 4- and 5-star reviews with the expected smattering of ‘confused!’, which is pretty much business as usual across the series. Death is for the Living went through the same process last month, and came back with much more of a ‘Marmite’ reaction (love it or loathe it). The reviews could be largely summarised as ‘Not what I expected – WTF?’ and ‘Not what I expected – cool!’.

I’m not sure if that’s because the sci-fi community tends to be more aligned with the ‘expect the unexpected’, whereas vampire UF readers have more defined expectations. It’s possible. Vampire hunters, based on a yacht, in the Caribbean, isn’t a plot I’ve come across before, and I’ve been reading sci-fi and various types of fantasy since I was six or seven.

On the other hand, it seems that based on those review rounds that by comparison to my urban fantasy, my sci-fi series is, in fact, mainstream. One day soon I’m sure I’ll be able to stop chortling hysterically about that concept. Maybe. My sense of humour has been described as malign, and since I took that as a compliment, that probably provides all necessary explanation.

I have a feeling that that reaction’s liable to remain status quo, in any case, as although my sci-fi series is biting hard right now, and I’ll probably be working through the next couple of planned books in that before I take the path less travelled again, the next urban fantasy story I have rattling around in the ‘condemned’ areas of my brain is about a half-siren, half-asshole (her description) acquisitions specialist on a quest for the peaches of immortality.

You’re a writer? Grow up

You’re a writer? Grow up

You’re a writer? Grow up!

What, you think you’re going to make money doing that?

Oh, wait, you’re indie? Can I actually, you know, buy your stuff anywhere?

Books are boring, I’d rather see a movie.

Spend enough time writing and publishing, and you’ll hear at least one of the above.

I’m lucky enough that I have to respect a person before their opinion is much more than noise to me, so water and ducks’ backs is pretty much the result if someone lays one of these on me. I have fun writing, and based on reviews, at least a few people have fun reading what I publish. Good enough for me.

I was talking to someone the other day, and they asked me what my passion was. I told them it was writing (in point of fact I was speaking with someone on an HR team, which was mildly worrying given the sequel…). They responded that they used to write, but “then they grew up”.

Not invariably, but often, that kind of reaction points to somebody in the past having managed to seriously hurt the feelings of the person having the reaction, which made me wonder what kind of person listens to someone else tell them that creating art is immature, and internalises it to such a degree that they feel they have to repeat it to anyone else who may still be childish enough to be wasting their time in a similar field.

I concluded, after a bit of staring at a ceiling, that I feel sorry for them. It must be tough to take everyone’s opinions so seriously that you give up something harmless, that you enjoy, over them. After all, everyone has opinions. Having one doesn’t make them worthy of being taken into account.

Thank all and any gods, I have highly selective deafness… thanks, Dad, you were in some respects an awesome role model.

In short, I’m working my way around to a theme that’s fairly common to indie authors, which is IDGAF. I have fun, some other people have fun, if you don’t like it don’t read it… I’m pretty sure there are many, many permutations on this one.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to be an introvert, so I care less about what the rest of humanity thinks of me than I do about avoiding having to interact with large numbers of them, and I’m also lucky enough to make enough in my day job that I’m not dependent on some other schmuck; I don’t have to set a single, solitary fuck into flight (yes, my fucks are probably just as lazy as the rest of me).

It came to me, as I contemplated this person’s dismissal of an entire art form, that extroversion, FOMO, etc. must make for a very nervous lifestyle. Extroverts seem to actually need other people’s approval of them and their lifestyles. It may go some way to explain why there are so many people out there looking for someone to copy.

However, me…I’m immature and happy to be so. I’ll be in my room, playing with my words.

Etymology Excavation: chasten, chastise

Etymology Excavation: chasten, chastise

Chasten and chastise

Well, my brain is wired a little oddly (yeah, fine, all right, ‘little’ may be contextually dubious…), so it woke me up at around 0500 this morning with the announcement “Hey!! I betcha ‘chasten’ and ‘chastise’ have something to do with religious purity standards, y’all should look that shit up!!”… so here I am at lunchtime finding out that my brain was worryingly spot on, and doing an etymology excavation.

So, chasten and chastise both mean (today) something close to punish, or reprimand. You’ll also find the related word ‘castigate’ in use. None of the three is very common in today’s English, but you’ve probably heard or seen at least one of them – e.g. ‘Chastened, the princess lowered her shining head.’ You’ve probably also heard of ‘chaste’ and ‘chastity’.

If chasten and castigate instead bring up images of leather, spikes, and a dominant with a whip, well, I’m not here to judge, although that thought brings us neatly into the actual etymology of the word.

Depending on where you look, chasten showed up in either the 13th century or the 16th, and comes from the Old French ‘chastiier’ or ‘chastier’, which meant to punish, to dominate, to instruct.

That verb in turn appears to have a Latin root, coming from castigare, ‘castigate’ or castus, ‘morally pure, chaste’.

So, from ‘castus’, we find ourselves in need of a way to enforce a state of castus, and end up with ‘castigare’, which is a form of punishment, frequently physical.

This concept of physical or other punishment to enforce moral standards is a popular enough concept to survive down the centuries to show up today in the form of chasten and castigate. The Inquisition is a particularly well-known historical example of the abstract.

Frankly I think the BDSM take is mentally healthier, but there you are, gentlebeings: chastise and chasten, excavated.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

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