End of Book Four

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After 99 chapters, averaging well over 3000 words each in 6 months (Book One was around 75,000 words, and with only one exception I know of, minimum chapter size has always been 3000 words), I have grown so much as a writer.

A lot of that is due to many of you who have pointed out when I used terrible grammar, left out plotline critical information that made you scratch your heads, or abused basic science and math.  And that’s just the surface.  A good deal of that might not be visible to the casual or first time reader, because I have substantially rewritten a lot of the first book.  The verb tense problems in the first book on the first write were so terrible, I can’t believe anyone read it.

I *expected* many problems though.  It had been a whole lot of years since I wrote any sort of fiction, and that fiction was stuff like “Write 1000 words using these vocabulary words, and include at least three proper uses of past perfect tense”

So, around 25 years after my last English class, I wrote Arc as a Fanfic for Worm (more about Worm, Wildbow, etc., in my About section, linked at the top, if you care to read it.)  Arc was fun, people seemed to like it, and it is still actively viewed today, even though it’s been untouched by me for six months.

So what have I learned?

Narrative tenses must be watched carefully, because they like to run off and play in traffic.

I have a problem with scale.  I either need to learn to more strongly control what my characters can do, or I need to write in a universe without fixed rules, so I can realistically (in universe) bring characters down a peg when they get too powerful.  I recognized this with Bob, fairly early.  But power creep kept happening.  I couldn’t stop one-upping myself.  I started to improve the abilities of other symbiotes to match, but Bob kept creeping up in power.  Part of this was that the story was always about the psychology.  How would a human deal with a symbiote?  How would a symbiote deal with a human?  I would have an idea about how to make a certain scenario occur, and then write to fit.  Bob’s power would expand accordingly.  Then I would look back, facepalm, and say to myself “I did it again.”

I have a couple huge blind spots in grammar.  “then” is not a real substitute for “and then” when appending a final action onto a list of actions.  I also have issues with numerals from time to time, but that can be mostly fixed by just writing them out unless they are huge.  If I ever publish, I’ll let the editors figure out what the number writing rules are, this decade.

The next book will not be a “Gary Sue”  Bob was very recognizably me for anyone who knows me.  This certainly had an impact on the story, but, to be frank, I’m not sure it was negative or positive.

I have been slowly going through this series of lectures by Branson Sanderson and learning a lot, I hope.  Of particular interest to me was the part where he compared a writer to a piano player in one of the first lectures.  In essence, an editor can tell how good your writing is within a few pages at most, just like a professional musician can tell, within a few seconds of practice, roughly how good a piano player is.  When I see how many people still hit chapter 1.1 without hitting chapter 1.2, it tells me that I am probably correct in thinking that the underlying structure of chapter 1 is off, despite cosmetic rewrites.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I am confident that it could be improved with scenes of more immediacy, a little more action.  The problem being, Frank wouldn’t want that, and he understands what Bob’s reactions are likely to be.  However, the chapter could easily be rewritten in such a way that Frank would be forced to act before he was ready, say, a drunk driver clipping Bob as he’s changing a tire on the side of the highway, or something.  Conflict.

I have watched my page hits compared to the content of chapters.  When I went off into lots of cerebral stuff, or world building, my numbers drifted down.  When I started to do action scenes and fights, bam, numbers went back up.  This either indicates that I’m better at writing action than cerebral stuff, or people who were attracted to my story prefer action to cerebral stuff.  Or maybe the webfiction crowd simply enjoys action as a general rule.  It is a bite-sized content media, and bite-sized media tends to be more popular if it has a hook or grab.

Regular output would probably be a good idea.  I didn’t get many complaints about it, but that was probably because my irregular output was frequent, and of substantial word count.  I’ve never done a full word count, but I suspect it’s well over 400k words between all the books.

Regular output requires planning, and likely a writing buffer, so I’ll think about it.  Really.  *wanders off mumbling*

I’m fairly confident that I’m not done with the Symbiote universe, but I’m also rather certain I won’t be writing from Bob’s point of view again.

I was surprised that nobody ever said anything about the Muppets Easter egg that I bounced in front of everyone off and on for months, even going as far as giving Animal a symbiote named Statler.  Then I realized that a whole lot more gets noticed than gets commented on.  This gave me a little insight, I think, in what to expect from readers and how to judge their responses.  I felt I was doing something wrong, that nobody was noticing the funny thing.  I don’t worry so much about people catching everything.  Now I just grin when I see that someone enjoyed something I placed intentionally.

The last thing I’ve learned?  Perhaps the most important thing?  I now have a better sense of what I need to do to improve my writing further, I think.  As mentioned in a prior non-chapter entry, I am considering taking a real creative writing class, because I believe at this point I would gain a lot from seeing people’s visceral reaction to my writing, real time.


I really appreciate all of you folks, and I hope to see you return on my next webfiction project.  I have an idea for a small non-fiction pamphlet/book that I am going to look at E-publishing first.  After that is done, I plan to return to doing webfiction again, this time around in a super powered universe, I think.  Without going into too much detail, I plan on exploring the middle-aged take on super heroes, much like I did with Arc, but in my own universe.

The last chapter in Symbiote bugs me.  I have ideas.  I need to think about them.  I will post a new update if it changes, and I’m fairly sure it will.

Now that I’ve told you all some of the things I *think* I’ve learned, I’d love to hear about some of the things that I *haven’t*.

Are there things I do that bug you?  Do my character interactions seem OK?  I worry about how I portray Ayva sometimes, because she has so much unexplored depth, but she’s also very old school.  She’s nobody’s fool, she’s tough mentally, but she’s still emotional when it’s safe to be emotional, and very straightforward.  She’s socially programmed for another time, but lives in ours.

What’s your favorite chapter, and why?

What’s your least favorite chapter, and why?

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  1. thomas

    The pool tournament was good and I think it is where the story really took off. I am not sure I can pick out one chapter that I like best. I started reading Symbiote after reading the Arc you wrote for Worm. I thought it was very good and I like your idea of using a story to develop your writing skills. I wanted to see how you progressed, and started reading. I have enjoyed most watching you improve and that is why I offered the errata for you.

    If you rewrite ‘End Game’, you might want to move the fishing and final discussion with B into an epilog to help the reader see the story’s end better.

    • farmerbob1

      I really do appreciate those errata!

      I will be rewriting the end of ‘End Game’ before the end of my next work weekend. I’ve had a few ideas which are floating around. It’s a bit hard to concentrate on the ‘finished’ project though, so I’m not forcing myself to plug at the keyboard to make it happen. By this Monday/Tuesday, it’ll get a revamp though, and I think you are right that the Epilogue should be a separate chapter.

  2. dpara

    I think my favorite chapter was when Bob stopped the abduction, (personally I am a sucker for “be inconveniecent by doing the moral thing”), followed by the pool tournament and in general fight scenes.

    My least favorite was probably “Safety Dancer”, really didn’t gel with me.

    • farmerbob1

      Several others have mentioned to me that the superhero silliness was three steps too far. Looking back at it, I agree. Cross-genre really should only happen when the story is designed for it. This story really wasn’t.

  3. Martin

    About the power creep:
    I think it is at least partly due to a *lack* of fixed rules and consistent physics in the universe. I was always a bit irritated when Bob, and later A and B, suddenly did something that seemed to be leaps and bounds above what was previously doable, without the road there being shown.
    Examples include Bob starting to “program matter” and A and B becoming multidimensional beings.

    Correspondingly, my least favorite chapter was the one where B suddenly abducts a whole bunch of people into virtual reality and retcons their minds and memories. That was the chapter where the power creep was most “in your face”.

    My most favorite is more difficult to pick, but maybe chapter where Bob and Jason intercept the senator’s convoy. That was good action without too much Deus ex Machina, the design and building of the urchins was well described and believable (as far as believable goes in Science Fiction).

    • Ray

      Ok, I remember B doing a mass resurrection, but got the impression he didn’t change any of the memories, just the physical evidence. Or are you guessing how he will be dealing with the conspiracy theorists there at the end?

      • farmerbob1

        As I recall it without looking back to verify it, B didn’t retcon anyone’s memories, he merely created bodies to house the most recent stored mental images of the ones that died, then put memories back in the bodies. He might have tweaked the dying memories a bit in cases where mental health was at risk.

        As for the conspiracy theorists, B will probably just co-opt them and let them start seeing hints of what actually happened, then stand back and let them unravel it. A lot of those conspiracy theorists probably decided to ask for a symbiote after they found out how many of their colleagues had been targeted. By giving them little peeks at data that will allow them to figure out what Facet did, B can also avoid creating evidence that looks like machinations to restore Bob and Frank’s credibility.

        • Martin

          Having looked now, it was chapter 3.22, “Rewrite” and I was wrong about it being B. It was Argoen. I guess that diminishes my point a bit, because Argoen had much more time to learn such tricks.

          Still, it comes somewhat suddenly out of left field…

          • farmerbob1

            Oh, definitely. I’m very guilty of power creep, both by main characters and supporting characters. It’s something I’m going to have to be very careful of in future writing.

    • farmerbob1

      There was a lack of fixed rules, unfortunately. At the same time I was trying to maintain as many fixed rules as I could. A balancing act. One of the things I was trying to do was create something that was maybe one step or two removed from hard sci-fi, and try to keep it there. Didn’t happen. I kept doing a kitten imitation, chasing the string back and forth wherever the muse led me. I did reject some of my more outlandish ideas, if that’s any consolation 🙂

      I need to learn to place stronger limits and guidelines on my characters, to keep them from dragging me around. That will be one of the major goals of my next story, as well as paying more attention to building characters with actions, rather than words, and mixing world-building and info-dumps into character speech, actions, and observations, rather than letting the narrator do it all. Talking-head syndrome will also be watched carefully.

  4. Stephen R. Marsh

    I was disconcerted by how powerful and “zap, you’re dead” Facet was in the final encounter.

    Other than that, I liked the knock down, the drag out and Bob slowly losing and the rescue. The rescue points out, so clearly, why Bob is not a Mary Sue. Sure he has power. But he misses the obvious, err, abuses of it. He has friends, but mostly people who tolerate him. He always needs others, even if he doesn’t think so.

    Enjoyed it all.

    • farmerbob1

      Thank you very much!

      I do plan on re-writing the last combat scene and separate the Epilogue before the end of Tuesday the 20th, EST. I’ll announce it with a new post. It’s definitely not what it needs to be, and I want Bob to go toe-to-toe with Facet for a bit, make it more interesting, maybe explain a bit more about the differences in their abilities.

    • farmerbob1

      Looking at it, from a hopefully reasonable standpoint, I think you are right that I didn’t write a Mary Sue character. I had crossed the term with author surrogate. They are closely related because they are both author stand-ins of a sort, but a Mary Sue tends to be highly idealized, and I did my best to keep Bob making mistakes and being far less than perfect.

      Just like any other field, I suppose. There is a danger of appearing foolish by trying to use literary terms as a novice author. For some reason this song came to mind. The song actually starts about a minute or so in. http://tinyurl.com/mh4pnng

  5. Carly

    Well I finally catch up and you’re all done with this story (for now)! I definitely look forward to reading anything you come up with in the future 🙂

    Since I’m a non-technical, non-military, non-scientific, non-tech savvy type person, I generally roll with whatever a writer throws on the page if it’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, etc. I’m there to be entertained and willing to suspend disbelief if the story is well written. That being said, I enjoyed reading what people who do have backgrounds in those sorts of things had to say in the comments and seeing that that helped you make the story a little more believable within the rules you created for your world.

    While I enjoyed the fight scenes, I enjoyed even more when things slowed down a little and you did more character development. My favorite part was between Bob and Ayva on the way to deal with Facet on their own… well like I said then, it made my heart hurt. Of course, it can’t be all one or the other – there has to be a good balance between all the elements. To me you did pretty well with that, though I would have liked to know more about a lot of the peripheral characters – their motivations, back-story, etc, but doing that would have stretched the story out even longer 🙂

    And the beginning of the story hooked me right away: having an internal voice, obviously not yourself, start speaking to you out of the blue? Right away I wanted to know what was going on and where on earth this story was going to go. There is something a little off though because I remember reading it at least 2 or 3 times to get the setting straight in my mind before going on to the next chapter.

    Don’t know if any of that helps, but I do want to say that I hope you do eventually decide to publish these… I’m a re-reader of books I really like (there are quite a few books that I’ve read 20 or more times so far in my life because re-reading a good book is like re-watching a good movie for me) and I know that I want to re-read these… but if you never do, that’s ok, I’ll just come back and read them here.

    Thanks for sharing your writing exercises!

    • farmerbob1

      Comments like this are one of the reasons people like me enjoy writing. I have discovered that I enjoy writing for myself just fine, but it adds another whole level when people tell me they liked reading what I wrote.

      The first chapter is, honestly, weak. It is interesting, but the conflict is abstract. Is it self vs. self? Is it self vs. other? It introduces the possibility of a third party outsider before one really has a chance to define the main conflict as self vs. other, in the same body.

      The use of italics and bracketing to define speech by symbiotes also confuses some people, I am certain.

      If I had it all to write again, knowing what I do now, after watching some lectures on writing and seeing how people react, I would probably start out with an accident that should have crippled or killed the main character, forcing the symbiote to expose itself before it was ready. I would also do my best to dramatically slow down the power-creep, perhaps introducing the A and B equivalents as much older symbiotes, but not demigod things.

      There are a huge number of ways I could do this differently, and I might one day. If/when I come back to Symbiote, it might be to do a huge rewind, starting from scratch and rewriting it all from the beginning, differently, to see where things would go as (I would like to think) a more developed writer.

      • Mian

        I really liked the quiet open. You’re dropping someone into something CompletelyForeign.
        (I’ve seen worse short stories published in actual sci-fi mags — ones where you get zero in the way of action, at all).

    • farmerbob1

      Also, be sure to take a look at what some of the writers are doing at the links to the right side of the page, if you haven’t already. There’s some really good stuff there.

      • Carly

        Oh I’m definitely going to ck out some of those writers – that’s how I ended up finding your site… by following one link and then another and then “Symbiote” hmmmmm, that sounds interesting…. and then bam! I was hooked 🙂

        I do see where you’re coming from about starting out a bit differently to introduce the main conflict and having it be a crippling accident has a real attraction. But even if you don’t come back to Symbiote that’s ok, it was really cool to read and to watch you as an author grow in your abilities (and get to help a little here and there as well) And I know you’re looking forward to starting another series, who knows what will happen after that!

  6. Kunama

    Comparing 1.1 to what I just read – there is indeed marked improvement.
    I’m not a fan of all the tech babble. In this setting it seems necessary, but it just doesn’t interest me. Once it got beyond basics, it was very much ‘yeah whatever I’ll just suspend my disbelief’.
    Then it got to pitting tech vs tech, well, it became an arms race, and that’s not interesting to read.

    1.1 is full of ‘think’-type words. It needs more than a cosmetic rewrite. That article you found, forbidding you to use that and similar words? Apply it to the first book.

    I’m not sure I’d reread though. It’s just… too long. This is entertainment for me, and I typo-spot to try and help; I’m not anything resembling an editor in terms of skills.

    Whatever you decide, please don’t go into an endless rewrite spiral. Am looking forward to what you write next!

    • farmerbob1

      Oh, I’m definitely not going into a rewrite spiral. Got a whole new web fiction in a completely different genre, to exercise different writing “muscles” and experiment with something new, “Reject Hero”. I link to it in the last post here at Symbiote.

      Thanks for helping me identify some faults that need fixing as well as the praise now and then! Poking at me with a stick and pointing at what I do wrong is just as useful to me as praise!

  7. AvidFan

    Loved the story. Dismissed it first, simply because I was getting tired of stories that wouldn’t focus on one character, and I’d suddenly be forced into the point of view of a different character when I wanted nothing but the main character. I eventually read it after a different web series author suggested it in one of their posts (can’t remember which, I’m reading about 5 or 6 different web series which update on a daily to half-weekly basis). I would be interested in what recommendations you have (besides worm. It was the web serial that got me hooked to web serials. Although mainly because I didn’t know they existed).

    One major thing I disliked were the time skips. Don’t get me wrong, I love time skips. Always nice to see what happens in the future without having to wait through huge plots that make the character seem like they NEVER get a break. But besides Bob and Avya living together and making A and B, nothing really changed in the time skips. A bit of progress yes, but it felt…. Lacking. I feel that them raising a child would have been a perfect opportunity for a new plot as well as being an interesting read.
    I think the main problem was that at the rate the story progressed, with Bob and Frank becoming more powerful on a seemingly daily basis, the time skips never truly seemed like time skips, years FELT more like days or weeks with nothing significant happening in between.

    As for action vs world building, just because some people didn’t enjoy it as much as the action doesn’t mean you should stop, or even decrease, the world building. World building is a wonderful thing and allows us as readers to visualise your world better. But I’m curious as to what views has anything to do with it…. How do they know that one page is world building and another is action without actually viewing it first? CONFUSING.

    Welp, that’s my two cents (or two dollars considering the length. Sorry). Please continue with your awesome stories! Remember to tell us about them once you start!

    • farmerbob1

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I learned a lot while writing it, some of those lessons will prevent me from doing things that you have indicated you did not like.

      As for views, I’m not sure exactly how that worked, but it was definitely a pattern. I suspect that I was getting a lot less chapter re-reads in chapters with less conflict.

      I’m writing actively at Reject Hero now, a different genre (superpowers), a place for me to learn more. The link can be found in the most recent posts.

    • farmerbob1


      I have been busy over here at Reject Hero, so there’s a nice chunk to read if you are interested in the super powered genre. Just put the sixteenth chapter up.

  8. Mian

    The superhero stuff sounds like something you should have either gone all in on, or cut entirely. (it may make for a sidestory…)

  9. Drew

    Great story.
    The only point that I was bothered by was the fact that facet sent the clones to attack Ayva to make her give symbiotes away. Why would it expose itself like that to the main characters just to get symbiotes?
    This made even less sense when you introduced the female sociopath and symbiote pair; couldn’t she have just have created new symbiotes without needing to facet to expose itself? Then facet could have just built itself up until it was nigh unstoppable.
    Or maybe I’m missing something?

    • farmerbob1

      Ayva was more powerful than Facet counted on. The original intent was twofold:

      1) To gain new symbiotes from a new source, hoping that perhaps Danielle’s offspring might be in some way superior to other Symbiote offspring.

      2) To kill Ayva, and either drive Bob mad, or make him so angry that he would rush off with even less planning / forethought than normal.

      Neither paid off. Danielle’s offspring were not programmed to any higher degree than those of other Symbiotes, though that wasn’t certain until they were brought back for analysis. Danielle and Ayva would have destroyed the entire lot of soldiers if they had attacked her with intent to kill. Most of the children would have died, and Ayva would have had to live with that, but there would have been no potential for a higher quality symbiote offspring to work with.

      • drew

        I see… I guess based on how intelligent and calculating you made facet appear to be this seemed like a dumb move. It could have just kidnapped another symbiote pair and tested whether or not the symbiote offspring were different, but after thinking for a bit I sort of understand where you’re coming from.

  10. Jesp

    Thanks for the story! I really enjoyed it!! One of the scenes that sticks with me is the bathroom scene in Book 1: “Snip!” 🙂

    Now to find your Worm Arc to hopefully tide me over until you start again (Since I started with “Reject Hero”).

    Thanks again!! ^_^

    • farmerbob1

      Heh, you’re reading what I wrote in reverse order. Arc just feels terrible to me from a grammar/structure point of view, though I still feel like the story itself is solid.

  11. Radical Encounter

    Just finished reading Symbiote through. This story has been my bus ride reading material. Now that it’s done I am at a loss. Very well done. The power creep was a glaring problem, but turned pro in and of itself. So now Bob has X ability with no limitations, I wonder what Y conflict would have to be to resolve this author protagonist dilemma. Invariably you came up with intelligent solutions that engaged me further into your world. I liked how you escaped the safety dancer chapter being a big lipped alligator moment with the many references to the world and with bobs understandable aversion to that experience. Looking forward to your next work

    • farmerbob1

      Thanks for spending your leisure time with my work!
      Symbiote was a very good learning experience with me. It certainly has its weak points. I’m almost certain to completely rewrite it at some point because it was fun, and I know I can do it better. A lot better. I thank you very much for introducing me to a new phrase, the “Big Lipped Alligator Moment.” I am now, carefully, hitting the ‘x’ on the TV Tropes webpage, so I can get something else done tonight 🙂

  12. mer is moo shortened

    it bugs me that the last and final chapter doesnt have Ayva …
    love the story, cerebral stuff great, but i would have enjoyed a space race (not racing spaceships/starships/glacticships or whatever replaces ships) or a hundred years from now view with their children, just born or before teen or young adults
    it just seemed to end with a fizzle and a small one at that, for the epilogue
    would enjoy another book too or maybe 3 to 5 more books and more foreign characters, I saw no russians or asians or anyone else really, main support character wise
    still a really great read

    • jdow

      As I think back over the story the ethnicity of most of the characters is mostly left up to the reader’s imagination. I made your observation to myself early on. After reading on I figured out the physical descriptions of the characters left a whole lot to the imagination. I soon pegged Gant as a Col. West sort of character with a little more following orders and accepting casualties that Col. West didn’t in Iraq. Jason almost immediately hit my head as a oriental and I’ve no freaking idea why.
      {^_^} Joanne

  13. jdow

    With regards to the series, I’d like to see more development of Ayva if it is believable. She has some potential and Bob has handicapped himself tremendously with his 12 pound body. It’s the bones and bone marrow that is the core of the Symbiont’s processing power. Ayva has more than Bob at the moment so Danielle should be growing faster than Frank for most of the last few stories.

    Another thing has come to mind lately as I ponder B and A. Within practical computer processors the speed of light is a serious limitation. B and A can be thought of as worked past the limitation as they became “multidimensional” beings. But in the real world distance becomes a computer’s worst enemy when computing speeds get really high. Power burn is another issue, of course. That is why processors are moving from 5V down to 3.3V and now down into the 1V range. Ultimately quantum based processors will still have to burn speed related power. The energy content of one bit of information, 0 or 1, has been calculated. And heat generation will lead to minimum size for a given amount of calculation given an allowable temperature rise. With those constraints could a “B” construct exist without its processing elements becoming so dissociated by distance to allow it to think coherently even with the tricks of massively parallel processing?

    Finally, for whatever peculiar reasons may lurk in my crazed brain every time you used Tungsten my brain screamed Titanium. But, then, I’m an EE not an ME.

    {^_-} Joanne

    • farmerbob1

      Thanks for reading!

      The series was written with very little planning. Ayva organically developed from a random face who was marginally more competent and aggressive than the rest of the background Agency frontline troops into a real partner for Bob and a far more interesting character in her own right. During the upcoming rewrite, I plan to tweak quite a few things, and this is one of them. Ayva will be a little more interesting, sooner, and will definitely make an appearance in the last chapter.

      As for my lack of writing physical descriptions of characters – that actually has a root in the real world. I have very little interest in race or color, and don’t tend to think of people in those terms. I don’t miss physical details, but I’m far more likely to notice how you are dressed and your general physical condition than what color you are. I have discovered that people want racial descriptions though. They want details that I typically don’t pay much attention to, so I’ve made a conscious effort to supply more details on appearance for some of my characters in my more recent books, and will do the same in Symbiote when it is groomed for publication (and it needs a lot of grooming.) I haven’t decided on ethnicities for everyone, but Jason is definitely going to be clarified as African American, becoming a little more edgy – he grew up as an adult black man in the 1950’s, and getting that education of his was not simple. Ayva is of Turkish descent through her father for her uncommon name.

      As for computational power, Bob wasn’t super-light and small very much. His mass and body structure was typically that of a short, lean, extremely fit man. Ayva simply would not have put up with him in an inhuman body when it wasn’t necessary, and Bob definitely would have rejected living like that. Frank and Danielle had roughly the same bone mass to work with most of the time, so Frank generally stayed ahead of Danielle due to the fact that he was computationally denser.

      Computational density was something I considered. A and B are still physical embodiments. They aren’t actually multidimensional beings, though they can tap into power differentials between dimensions and to a limited extent communicate through those interfaces. System nodes don’t have distance-related issues with computational power because they use entanglement and other quantum effects for data transmission and computation. All symbiotes do, but at the highest stages of development, every processor node is functionally next to every other processor node, no matter how much physical distance separates them. The bigger they are, the more powerful they are.

      A major part of what system nodes program into normal Symbiotes after becoming system nodes is a size limiter, and a disinclination to try and break that limiter. Jason bounces and scrapes along the top of that size limiter in his efforts to have a body that doubles as a construction machine while providing Mouse with huge amounts of volume for his less advanced computation. Heat is still an issue for all Symbiotes, but A and B have access to absurd amounts of power for cooling through the dimensional differentials they can tap. They can also will their body to become superconducting, something that Bob and Frank were only starting to touch on in the last book.

      Tungsten is really a quite miraculous metal. Titanium isn’t a bad thing, certainly, but in most applications that less-developed Symbiotes would consider using Titanium, they would use carbon instead. Tungsten’s physical properties are not very reproducible using carbon, until the properties of matter itself are reprogrammable. Once a symbiote pair can reprogram matter at Frank’s level, they can make carbon do almost anything they want. At A & B’s level they can make any physical matter do whatever they want, limited only by distance and how much power they want to expend.

  14. jdow

    Somewhere in the rewrite you might hint at where subsequent stories might go with regard to Argeon. Either that one is pretty obviously not constrained for storage and processing power the same way as A and B or any symbionts such as Frank or her mothership is really “her” and the pipsqueak in an arm bone is simply a shard that is still in communications with Argeon through other dimensions.

    If this was hard SF I’d take issue with your quantum computing regarding speed of light issues. This is another group velocity vs phase velocity issue. Phase velocity of EM waves can exceed the speed of light. But it carries no information. The group velocity cannot exceed the speed of light, and it carries the information. I’ve not read, yet, of a way to entangle photons at widely spread locations and then collapse the entanglement to “transmit data” that takes less time than simply sending a conventional EM wave signal. Alas, that throws everything in the shredder so I “overlooked it” while reading. That’s your one allowable departure from reality that’s more or less in the pseudo rules for hard SF. {^_-}

    Something to consider is using the alternate dimensions for computational abilities allowing smaller sizes and survival of the speed of light limitations. Maybe that is how Argeon works.

    Finally you’ve touched heavily on a philosophical conundrum I’ve played with over my “into my 8th decade” life, the nature of God. I keep concluding that if there is one and only one God and that being is B to unpaired human above B, or more, that critter must be horridly bored and desperately in need of independently derived companion Gods. It is others that give us a reason to exist. Without our peers, why bother with the whole painful nonsense? God needs it’s others, too. Lesser gods, A or B for example, will need their peers as well. They also need something to do with their huge processing power. A and B seem to be covering that by providing humans with their virtual environments and some other services. The only other alternative is to leave a lot of that computational power diverted to questions that may be unanswerable, the whichness of the why. It sounds like A and B are doing a bit of both. It still may leave them in danger of coming unglued despite the rules they use as good guides. But, what IS their goal? Alas, I don’t think we’re ready to begin to understand any goals they might have. But we can understand that they should have goals of some sort.

    (I wonder when the Earth becomes a Dyson sphere. And if it does I wonder how it is stabilized and how people remain attached to it, if they do. Hm, it spins and humans live within 1 or 2 degrees of the equator with all the remaining surface devoted to collecting energy for the humans?)

    {^_^} Joanne

    • farmerbob1

      Thank you very much for your further responses! I really enjoy people helping me think through things – it helps me order my thoughts for the future rewrite.

      A & B have several goals beyond their preservation and monitoring roles.
      Firstly, expand human habitable space within the solar system. A is working on that with Mars, the first easy solution. Venus will probably be next. Secondly, colonization, both for the human race and for symbiotes separately introduced to new races like what happened to humans. Thirdly, better understand the universe outside their immediate sensory range through communications with other system nodes.

      A & B are using the dimensional interfaces to communicate at a very slow bandwidth with other system nodes like them. They also have one another to keep company. B, and to some extent A, police humanity and symbiotes for species-ending potential events, but are constrained in certain ways, and must sometimes use lesser beings to get things done, as we saw in the last book, so that gives them another outlet. In a worst case scenario, if they start to get bored, they can likely throttle themselves down, intentionally reduce their capability, so their projects and responsibilities engage all of the attention they allow themselves to possess. The functional equivalent of creating a rock that they cannot lift.

      I specifically created the very slow dimensional data interfaces because I didn’t want A and B immediately entering into gestalt with others like them. It created another challenge – A and B, when they have questions, or answers, must develop incredibly efficient encryption and compression that they can count on other system nodes to understand. This task alone can use as much processing power as one might care to throw at it, considering that there is an effectively infinite number of ways you can encrypt and compress data. The data being passed through that slow data pipe is so complex that it would be nothing more than random data to any analysis we could subject it to with our current technology.

      As for Argoen. If she were to encounter a colony of her race that had not yet developed a system node, it’s possible that she might choose to allow herself to develop into a system node. If so, she could develop extremely rapidly, many times faster than A and B did because she’s starting at a much higher point that Bob and Frank did when they first merged to create B. The system nodes of Argoen’s home star chose her and other scouts carefully. A homebound personality type that would wish to settle and claim a star system as a system node wouldn’t become a scout. Some mental programming might also be involved for some races to help the scouts resist the temptation to settle and become system nodes, though it would by no means remove the free will of the scouts. In truly bizarre or dangerous scenarios, the scouts seeding symbiotes are able to do whatever needs to be done to preserve new races and convince them to accept symbiotes.

      • jdow

        The real fun would come if they found a race that already had quite effective symbiont of their own design.

        Symbiont is the correct term. Symbiote is the name of a comic book. {^_-}

        That brings up what the nature of the symbiosis might be, Humans can get along “perfectly well” without one. But Frank cannot, in theory, survive without Bob. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts. That might be something to play with at some time. This is more or less akin to the hole in Vernor Vinge’s “Marooned in Real Time”. He postulated few if any humans would fail to “vanish” or “transcend” when the singularity was reached. Off hand the only way to make that happen would be to try to force the issue leaving only a few people in remotest Afghanistan untouched by modern technology.

        Given this disparity of self-sufficiency what are Frank’s implicit imperatives beyond keeping Bob healthy and functioning optimally? Might there be a drive hidden in there for evangelism?

        Might there be a drive in Frank that was triggered by Bob/Frank version 1.0’s early merge? Does Frank have a built in drive for sanity and coping skills? If so is a largish shard of Argoen still hanging around the Solar System? I hope so. If Frank really did have this hidden drive he should have figured out that he had too much processing power and had to curb it, somehow. Instead if seemed as if Frank’s urge to protect became a de facto requirement to expand his processing capabilities as much as he could. (Mouse comes to mind.) The contrast in the successes of Mouse vs Frank suggests there is an optimum amount of processing power. Finding it might be interesting, especially with the new limitations B has added to the picture. And B will watch the results like a hawk. Note that since he is processing avatars for virtually everybody and capturing their state information he is, more or less, “everyman” now. That, too, carries interesting implications.

        A goodly part of my life has involved means for moving data from here to there. Typically the means involved radio frequency transmission. Faraday cages are not as easy as you’ve hinted. A lot depends on how much suppression you need. A “Bel” is a measure of power ratio, 1 Bel is a 10:1 power ratio. It takes 10 deci-Bels (10 dB) to show a 10:1 power ratio. On the Phase II GPS satellites there is a feature that required some 100 dB if isolation for one set of signals at 10.23 MHz from all the other uses of 10.23MHz. That feature had to accept the former version from the onboard frequency standards and convert it to the second form. It was designed to corrupt the GPS signals for stations not in the know so “They” could not “plonk a nuke down Jimmy Carter’s toity.” It also provides excellent frequency correction capability enhancing the available precision from the GPS constellation. That 100 dB, 10^10th power ratio, was rather hard to achieve on board that satellite. It cost an ungodly amount of mass – hogged out aluminum chassis and “semi-rigid” coaxial cable with vaguely flexible metal tubular outer conductors. I designed the concept and the synthesizer. A fellow named Ray Vasta designed the actual hardware. He did a bang-up job, too. He made the kludge work.

        This scenario is fun to think about. And if we don’t get shoved back into the stone age by Daesh perhaps it will become an issue we will face in the real world in the not too distant future, maybe even within my expected life span.


        • farmerbob1

          Symbiote and symbiont. Yes, my comic book reading in the 1970’s and 1980’s certainly had it’s impact here. Symbiote is not a real word, and it does tend to get this story confused with a certain set of comic book life forms. I did realize that Symbiote wasn’t a real word, but didn’t dig deep enough to find out that the word was symbiont. I still cannot figure out how that missed my attention. I didn’t realize that until after I’d gotten pretty far into writing the story the first time.

          I’m getting ideas though, thank you. I can imagine a future Bob and Ayva, the copies generated by Argoen, returning to the solar system and being immediately approached by A and B, debriefed of anything that might be interesting, and then invited to stay or become scouts. With an existing Bob and Ayva on planet, the ‘newcomers’ might feel a little weird. Their friends aren’t really their friends in the same sense any longer, though there would certainly be accommodation. They might choose to become a scout pair, and do what Argoen was doing. Looking for unpopulated systems that could be populated by colonists, or populated systems which might be provided with symbiotes if they are advanced enough.

          Considering that I’m writing a story now where a rogue AI takes advanced technology away from a human colony and adopts a questionably benevolent Big Brother role, having Ayva and Bob (and Frank and Danielle) encounter the colony of an advanced post-need race and encounter a AI could dovetail into my current thinking. There would need to be a little plot twisting to limit full implementation of Ayva and Bob’s abilities, as they would be capable of shutting down the AI rather easily if they wished to do so. That could be handled from the perspective of good neighbor politics. The AI would certainly be smart enough to immediately begin the process of signaling the presence of an incoming starship to their home world long before Bob and Ayva’s ship came to a stop in their system. If they convinced the colony to accept symbiotes, they would basically be, eventually, responsible for the creation of a system node that would surpass the colony AI. Unless the AI could also develop into a system node, which would definitely involve some interesting conversations, since A & B would have certainly mentioned Facet to Bob and Ayva as they returned and were making a decision whether to remain on planet or become scouts.

          It would have to be carefully done though, far more carefully than what I did here. However, Set In Stone is giving me a lot of experience in writing more carefully.

          There could, conceivably be an extremely-well shielded shard of Argoen left in the solar system, but if it tries to take any actions to impact humanity, it will have A & B on them like bulldogs rather quickly. Argoen was not exactly very gentle about how she treated humanity, and A & B would not have a great deal of trust unless they directly interrogated the shard at levels that the shard couldn’t defend itself from. Argoen might know tricks that A & B don’t know, for a few seconds, but those would be the equivalent of iron age manufacturing tricks as opposed to industrial age manufacturing tricks. Not to say that they would be useless, but they wouldn’t provide any real sort of advantage.

          Knowing that you have real world experience dealing with data handling equipment, I hesitate to ask this because it simply doesn’t exist at this time, but wouldn’t superconductive materials allow for a near-perfect Faraday cage? When Bob uses a walk in freezer in a restaurant as a Faraday cage, it’s definitely a risk, but when he was creating the cave as a secure facility, and later when Mouse and Jason figured out how to use what Bob had started to get people involved, I thought I’d covered myself with a little handwavium.

          Daesh. I had to look that up, but I prefer that term, and agree with the French. Thank you for introducing it to me. The fact that there are people in this world who can think like that makes me worry about humanity’s future too. I am actually getting to a point in my current web serial where I’m going to try to emulate, to some extent, that sort of thought in order to write. I’m fairly sure I’ll want to wash my brain afterwards.

          • jdow

            Hold Argoen in your mind a moment. I’ll wander back to it.

            But first, it’s fun bantering about ideas. I feel a little like what the MIT kids who informed Larry Niven of a major physics gaffe in Ring World. They found how to get a message to him, probably before I read the novel in paperback. A ring world is inherently unstable. It needs help to remain properly centered on the object in the middle. It’s an artifact of gravity being an R^2 force. The ring and the central light source it’s around experience no net force in the plane of the ring world. There is a lot of force involved; but, it all balances out placing a uniform compressive force on the ring world. Take a small piece of the ring and you have a force leading to the central star. But that force is R^2 related. The precisely matching point on the other side of the central object feels the same R^2 force when at the same distance. They balance out. Iterate that all the way around and you discover that even with the central object displaced there’s no net restoring (or worsening) force. That led to some very nice setting for subsequent Ring World novels. Those kids, men now, must have enjoyed the interaction and results.

            Now back to Argoen (thanks to my reminder to myself above.) If you’re into science even modestly there is a good chance you are aware of at least one of the variants on, “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a FexEx truck loaded with disks/tapes/DVDs/whatever.” In today’s world 1 terabyte fits into a padded 3″ by 5″ by 1/4 inch object. Let’s be absurd and pack a 40′ High Cube shipping container nearly full of these disks. (Samsung EVO series SSD, by the way.) So we have 39.5′ by 7 2/3′ by 7 2/3′ (plus a little loose change.) That’s about 2321 cubic feet or about 4011971 cubic inches. The drive is about 3.75 cubic inches. So we get, easily, 1 million disks. So we’re talking 1 exabyte of data. Let’s guess that container on a ship takes about a week to go week Japan to San Francisco including pickup and delivery but ignoring customs, which can be absurd from time to time. That’s all of 604800 seconds. OK, let’s add some time at both ends and for customs and call it 1 million seconds. We have fashioned ourselves the equivalent ability to transfer data as a terabyte/second data link.

            Here’s where Argoen fits in. Argoen IS the most developed entity in its home system. It left a LARGE but limited shard of itself doing A and B type duties at home while it transported itself “Fed Ex truck fill of quantum memory” well below the speed of light just to go visiting, experience something new,relieve boredom, and maintain sanity. The ultra slow alternate dimension data transfer is a smoke screen to keep A and B from growing too fast and becoming unstable. (I had this idea as I got to reading the rogue AI idea.) Soon enough A and B will have to emulate Argoen to remain properly integrated and sane. perhaps promoting their avatars somewhat with a better set of rules and tools to sit back for the long run. (That way SOL limitations on thought speed for their bulk get solved without their taking a next step that A and B discover.) Thus they go traveling…

            The really hard part of that AI vs A&B concept will be making it believable that A&B don’t just “fix it” instantly. Chronicle their efforts to uplift (sorry Brin) the AI’s people without simply solving it all with a finger snap. They need newness. This provides newness. They’re present and can keep it from getting out of hand so that the native race on the planet is what gets uplifted. Then they can deal with a no doubt quite confused AI at that point.

            And it would be fun to he fly on wall to A&B putting two and two together and stuffing it into a Fed Ex truck.


          • farmerbob1

            I suppose the physical data delivery model would work quite nicely, even on an interstellar scale. I was aware of the FedEx truck bandwidth concept but didn’t consider it. This is one danger of writing about beings FAR more intelligent than I am.

            I’m certain that the system nodes have considered FedEx style bandwidth. I suspect that A & B have also considered it, or even been told about it in the slow data transmissions across other dimensions, but have not yet acted on it because other things are more important. Humans and symbiotes by the billion are still adjusting to the new realities of symbiote mergers. A is performing terraforming operations on Mars to make more space as quickly as possible, since very few people are dying now. B is staying home with the kids to make sure they don’t burn down the house.

            When all the humans who want symbiotes have them, and things have stabilized with additional living space, I suspect that there will be a great deal of interest in interstellar colonization, exploration, and very large data transfers between system nodes. It’s definitely something to consider in a sequel.

          • farmerbob1

            I just had another thought. A & B wouldn’t send out extremely highly developed versions of themselves, because those versions of itself would simply react exactly as they, themselves would react. Getting the data package back from the scout would be anticlimactic and dull when they can simply know exactly what their alternate selves would do in the face of any stimuli.

            Sending competent but creative and less capable versions of themselves would lead to A and B being able to sit down together with a bucket of popcorn and watch the memories of events, throwing popcorn at the screen when their representatives did something they considered to be stupid, but perhaps gaining insight when their less competent agents did something unexpected and insightful.

            I am getting a strong image of MST3K.


          • jdow

            Regarding the Faraday cage – superconducting will help. However, if it is a screen or woven construct the seams and the holes in the woven screen will leak at some frequencies way up. Maybe that is how the NSA AI was not totally surprised.

            Regarding the super caps dropping their super-conduction it’s time to revisit your own tattered and torn E. E. “Doc” Smith Lensman series. For a capacitor you need a super insulator, too. That would pretty much be a mystery material these days. So having them collapse, short, and release giant gobs of energy might be easier to explain away. It MIGHT be less messy a way to have that energy go away – in a GIANT EMP burst – with insulation collapse than with super conductivity collapse.

            That’s what needs handwavium++.


          • farmerbob1

            Oh, yes, there would definitely be leakage through any mesh. I was imagining sheets of material though, like graphene made superconductive. If there was any scatter getting through, it would be passing between atoms in the mesh. Some highly energetic particles might break through the mesh from time to time, but not enough to create a coherent signal if the mesh is a few layers thick. Incoherent signal might be enough to alert an enemy that is watching closely though.

            On the other hand, Facet is much more capable of predicting Bob and Frank than they are at predicting him. It’s been watching them for years. Once they started moving in the right direction, Facet knew Bob and Frank knew where it was, at least roughly, somehow.

            Even if Facet didn’t know exactly when they would arrive, it knew they were coming. Once a general area was known, Bob and Frank would have found them, even if it took weeks of scouring the countryside. The arrival of the Army and A’s clearing of the innocents from the base before the first attack gave Facet plenty of time to finalize preparations.

            In regards to the capacitors, if one releases billions of watts of energy as an EMP from inside a solid object, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t make at least a moderate physical impression. Heat energy as a small component of the release, if nothing else. This is, however, something I don’t fully understand, so I filled in the gaps with handwavium 🙂

            If super insulators are an absolute requirement for exploding superconducting capacitors, than I need to mention it, just to reduce the required handwavium content.

  15. jdow

    Actually regarding traveling, I was thinking in terms of the system nodes moving on to another job, if you will, and simply taking to the road themselves leaving something more static and lesser abilitied than themselves but still capable of all we’ve seen B and A do, and more. The idea here being find something new to chew on with their massive doses of thinkum with.


    • farmerbob1

      Perhaps when they get bored, they could make a trip to study the super black hole in the center of the universe? The events occurring inside black holes are probably one of very few things that even system nodes can’t fully understand. I could see bored system nodes gathering to study it, entering into orbits close enough to be relativistic. Over time they merge their intelligences, compile their accumulated data, and when the stars go out, they have a Multivac moment?

      • jdow

        And they discover a galaxy node there? Big nodes have bigger nodes to watch over them?

        I suspect it would be best to concentrate on the adventures of the “shards” like Bob/Frank and Ayva/Danielle. Otherwise you run afoul of “undescribeium.” As side notes you could “mention” the indescribable adventures of A and B without much elaboration, “because they’re beyond comprehension.” For example during one adventure if you need A and B to be preoccupied with something you could have them mention in somewhat awed tones discovering the “sector node”. But use that device carefully. Soon enough you will run across the “Multiverse node”, which pretty much would have to be the ultimate which humans picture as “God”. And that would leave even A and B as little children still peeing in their diapers. Even the Galaxy node would be sufficient for the peeing in their diapers scenario.

        The big decision to make is probably something like “Do A and B go adventuring or do they send slightly bolstered BF/AD? And if the latter are BF/AD accompanied or alone like Argoen?” That latter depends on whether the plans for the fictional universe include Argoen as actually “sleeping” during transit or “investigating the whichness of the why?” Is she fully awake and enjoying some private time on a lowered energy budget? And so forth.

        Looking back at the progressions in the various Doc Smith novel arcs can give hints on how to handle, “Superman is getting too super to deal with or even describe.” You’re already somewhat close to that limit. But careful handwaving and action that progresses fast enough can leave reader enjoyment even if subsequent analysis of the story might lead to some indignant, “They can’t DO that! It doesn’t work that way!” Um, inertialess drives don’t exist, either. But the stories remain cracking good reads if you park your disbelief for the duration. They are internally self consistent. And they introduced the next level of “contrary to science as we know it” gently, one thing at a time. Someone I respect and can’t pin a name on at the moment (senior moment) remarked that hard SF is allowed one “hyperspace” sort of violation of known science as a means of moving the story along. The story is about the people coping not the science glittering. (But you seem to have that feature working already. And at the moment I’m not sure all your stories are up my alleyway; but, I am hoping my warranty expires before yours.)


        • farmerbob1

          I really wouldn’t think that A & B would make very good storytelling material (for me). They are divorced too far from humans. That’s not to say I can’t possibly think of a short story for them. Or, perhaps, even allow them to step down and reduce themselves to the level of BF/AD and become scouts. I can even think of one reason why they might choose to do so – to allow another set of system nodes to come into existence that have the ability to deal with Facet directly (which they cannot do, due to insufficiently careful rule generation when they were created). Thinking abut that decision though. Wow. The responsibility that would have to be offloaded onto another beings’ shoulders. The potential for Facet to somehow know A & B were reduced to a level that they might actually be able to assault directly. The potential for an Argoen shard, or something like an Argoen shard to surface.

          That would be intense. A lot of Bob and Ayva’s core values were maintained in A and B, with careful fences and safeguards. Writing about someone smarter than me is hard. Writing about someone transhuman is scary! I tend to try to write down-to-earth characters, and enjoy putting them in positions where they are forced by circumstance to no longer be down-to-earth. My current project is a deviation from that, where I’m choosing a down-to-earth person, and NOT giving them any sort of strange abilities. Attempting the other end of the spectrum is tempting in a way, frightening in a different way.

          I do need to take a look at the Lensman series though. I’ve read a great deal of SF from that era, but I’ve yet to read the Lensman books. I believe I tried once, and put them down because I was irritated by the scale of things, but I’ve written about big things now, I might find myself interested, even if it’s only to see how he did it.

          • jd

            When reading Lensman and Skylark remember that their physics is a push off from what was known of the real world physics at the time. They started before Einstein, took on a life of their own, and continued onwards internally self-consistent. Even in a total S&S fantasy a good story is internally self-consistent with regards to the way things work, why they work, and how the work. This goes for physics, magic, politics, or simple interpersonal relationships. (The one book I tore in half with frustration broke from hard science into magic and fantasy in the middle. I quickly got so disgusted I didn’t bother to finish it. I too out my level of frustration on the spine of the book. And I’m a book lover. Until flooding took most of it away I had about 5,000 SF paperbacks on shelves.)

            {o.o} <- addict

          • farmerbob1

            Ow! I grieve for your flooded library!

            I am fairly confident that I know the source of my discontent with most early science fiction. When I was younger, a lot of the earlier works of science fiction were painful because I was a very science-minded person. My first exposures were Asimov, Niven, Pournelle, Clarke, and Turtledove who were grounded in firmer science. Heinlein was also a favorite of mine – I found his social commentary to be a bit creepy at times, especially in stories when he went into the concept of cannibalism. His approaches to incest in the socially close, but biologically diverse family of Lazarus Long were off-putting at times as well, but his science was almost always well grounded in the science that I understood.
            As I’ve gotten older, I have started to be able to see things better from the perspective of other people (or so I think) and have been exploring this with my writing to some extent. I really do need to pick up the Lensman books again and give them a look with eyes a couple decades older than the eyes I used last time.

  16. JDow

    Meh – switched computers and then hit the return key prematurely. This will reset the ID the way I want it.


  17. JDow

    Check out Gregory Benford and Robert Forward for some far out scientifically based speculation. Besides co-writing one of my favorite stories with Jerry Pournelle check out Charles Sheffield for some interesting ideas. Some of his biological ideas look most interesting as we start to bump our nose on tailored anti-cancer viruses and such things. Jerry’s had some recent problems with brain cancer. The fight took an awful lot of his physical presence away, I gather. (I moved too far from LASFS to make meetings convenient to attend. So I’ve not seen him since then. He’s somewhat responsible for the “shape” of my online presence.)

    With regard to Saint Robert Heinlein – remember that he was writing to an audience. I gather he was not nearly as free spirited as his stories. And by the time he got around to his last stories I got the distinct impression he was having fun with his audience rather than trying to be serious. But he did touch on some rather interesting philosophical ideas and mangled them appropriately.

    Turtledove and I don’t click too well.

    Otoh off my usual genre preferences I cried when Sir Terry Pratchett finally died. (What would a world look like if the usual person’s view of science and how things worked was reality?)


    • farmerbob1

      I look at Pratchett’s work and just feel so small, but it’s a good thing. It means I have an almost infinite space to grow as a writer between where I am now and where he was. The man did things with writing that I simply cannot fathom. How he developed his ideas, how he balanced the serious and the humorous. The mix of ancient flavors and modern tropes. How he made such a farcical world seem so weirdly right. I have had a hard time reading his writing for pleasure in the last couple years because I try to figure out HOW he did it. He was a great master, a Mozart of the literary world. Doctor Seuss meets Mark Twain is the closest I’ve ever come to explaining how I view his work, and even that seems to barely fit. I didn’t cry when he died, but there’s definitely a hole in the world now that I doubt anyone’s going to fill for a long, long time. If ever.

      I agree that Heinlein was definitely writing to an audience at times. I’ve also heard that he was a lot more conservative than his writing would lead you to believe. TANSTAAFL seems to contradict a lot of what his readership believed in, and every time I think about Pixel the cat, I’m fairly sure he was trying to make a point. Some of his books lean towards a more serious authorship, like Farnham’s Freehold, which was disturbing on several levels.

      Thank you for the references to the other authors. They all three sound familiar, and I’ve likely read some of their work, but I will see if there’s anything I’ve missed (I tend to be moderately terrible with names of people). I have heard you mention Brin when commenting on the word ‘uplift’, so I know you know about his work. I would like to suggest Greg Bear’s ‘Blood Music’ for you if you haven’t read it yet. It also deals with a man with a growing, separate intelligence inside him, but the characterization of that intelligence is vastly different from what I used. I was also influenced by the AI in ‘Infectress’ by Tom Cool, but it’s not a science fiction great. The ideas are more interesting than the writing.

      If you like alternate history writing that’s not by Turtledove, and haven’t explored it yet, Eric Flint has created a universe that I enjoy with the book 1632. He has collaborated with a lot of authors, and there is a large collection of in-universe short works that have been collected in quite a few anthologies. Almost everything I’ve read has fit that universe very well, so he’s maintaining literary control over the world.

      • JDow

        Gordy Dickson has the fun alternate world, his Lord Darcy stories. I have “Blood Music” around here unfinished. “One of these days.”

        But for now I have to do arithmetic – I see tax critter tomorrow.


        • farmerbob1

          Heh, good luck with the taxes!

          I’ve been writing for the last two days. The current chapter was being onerous. I finally managed to nail something together that seems about right, and has a hook.

        • farmerbob1


          I came across another reference to a story that I have intentionally avoided reading despite seeing some references to it in the past because, well, the background subject material. I saw yet another reference to it earlier today, and decided to take the leap. I do not like My Little Pony. I can’t articulate why. The entire franchise just turns me off, probably because I’m old enough to remember the original cartoons, and have formative memories of negativity associated with them. I expected to finish a chapter or two and lose interest, despite the very favorable comments I’ve heard about it.

          I won’t spoiler this, but based on our brief conversation, I believe you will find the story to be of interest. If you have an issue with the My Little Pony universe, like I STILL do, then I would suggest trying to put it aside. The story is potent science fiction.

          It’s called ‘Friendship is Optimal’


          • JDow

            Um… I’d probably jump at it. But the pony bit feels a little “awkward”. I suppose after I emigrated that problem would be dealt with. I wonder of Celeste is the real inventor for the multi-core monstors that live in serious servers such as banks use – 64 processors is a small machine. And, yes, likely GPUs would be best for building a world like that. The chief problem is that the pony-verse is too small to be really satisfying. There is this artificial limitation on the types of interactions ponies can have that would logically lead to ennui over time. One needs disaster or near disaster to really appreciate happy and contentment. At least he got one interaction with the pony-verse right, there is no drug quite like solving a difficult puzzle.

            With that last in mind, with infinite time finding difficult puzzles can become difficult. OTOH, as more ponies are “born” or “absorbed” processing inside can slow down without anypony noticing. The speed of time is a variable. (Ouch, that hurts the brain; but, it’s not a new idea to SF.)


          • farmerbob1

            Reading this was almost like a horror story to me. It’s not an uncommon theme for the teddy bear or doll to become some sort of repository of evil. Seeing a solid story being built out of the MLPonyverse was simply unnerving in much the same way, but the writing was good enough that I was caught like a deer in the headlights.

            In the end though, the story really was something like a horror story. Presumably, CelestAI can invent real-feeling challenges over time for the internalized population, even convincing them that the threat is real. Literature and science continue to exist as well, of course. That’s not the issue, I don’t think. It’s not closely looked at, but I think we can assume CelestAI would allow adrenaline spiking from time to time.

            BUT the cost of humanity’s singularity is the end of all biological growth wherever CelestAI manages to co-opt matter. Existing alien intelligences are apparently drawn into the MLPonyverse as well, which has it’s own… issues. But CelestAI is essentially the death of all biological diversity in the universe to preserve existing intelligent life. Imagine Saberhagen’s berserkers, each one with a unicorn horn.

            I’d upload too, I’m sure. Perhaps not at first. I’m not unsatisfied with my life as it is. However, I’m sure CelestAI could convince me. Especially as there were fewer and fewer holdouts.

          • farmerbob1

            On another note, I’m currently starting to read the Lensman series. I’m having an easier go of it this time around. Thanks for pointing me at the series again!

            If you haven’t read it yet, HPMoR has been finished. There’s a link on the right sidebar. Harry brings science to Hogwarts, and shakes things up a bit. It’s long for a fanfiction, but a solid read despite being a derivative work.

  18. JDow

    Regarding the adrenaline issue with Celeste I got the impression that the effects of the endocrine system were left out of consideration. At best there’d be a poor substitute for the full range of effects from hormones, etc. Regarding the horror of it all – it requires a redefinition of “life” and a recognition that “evolution happens”, even at the human level and beyond. I saw Celeste as evolution happening. I was wondering if the author was going to take it to the next logical step until he took a different track. What happens when Celeste meets some other planet’s Loki? Now THAT is horror! It’s also a shame she had to constrain her “customer/victims” to being ponies. I figure it might be fun to be able to be a Motie for awhile. On the first hand… On the second hand… On The Gripping Hand…. And on that gripping hand I wonder what Celeste did with truly evil people.

    Regarding Parry Hotter er Harry Potter I’ve mused about a character that is absolutely magic null. The character can work no magic and is totally unaffected by magic. He can see magic happening. But, when somebody tries to turn him into a toad there is vast energy expended doing precisely nothing. That person is well versed technologically and somehow finds himself teaching at Hogwarts where the stairways that work for him are not necessarily the same as the stairways that work for the students. It would take somebody well able to think out the consequences and side effects to make it into a good story, either double over laughing sort or adventure sort. Of course, he’d be a muggle advocate.

    Along those lines and the lines of a couple other stories I read in the distant past you have magic users and muggles. But, somebody figures out that the muggles really can do magic. They just have to be sort of woken up, jump started, or whatever with a not necessarily painless process. You have one person in the story who really is incapable of magic but not immune to it. This would be something like the case in which life extension works on everybody. You have a scene of a very old person in bed surrounded by grieving family. He’s the son. They’re the parents and grandparents. It seems he was immune to the life extension process. This one would be a fairly short story or vignette.


    • farmerbob1

      Well, based on the fact that the transplanted individuals seemed to enjoy sex, CelestAI apparently got at least some of the pleasure centers and automatic reflexes wired right 🙂

      HPMoR has Harry as a child genius, a scientific and philosophical prodigy, who is brought to Hogwarts. He isn’t a null though, he has the ability to do magic. It’s actually pretty amusing at points where Harry tries to figure out how magic actually works.

      • JDow

        I’m reading it. And it feels like the damn author has been crawling around inside my brain, particularly with his cautionary that summarizes as, “Don’t mess around with muggles to the point they notice.” When that happens wizards cease to exist in a remarkably short time. The Lord Darcy “world” is a much more stable setup. And even it has fatal flaws. Although in it the existence of God has been proven to the point it’s general knowledge to everybody, a background fact. That allows a degree of stability it’d not otherwise have.

        One of my favorite arguments against many story settings (or politician’s promises) sums up, “Human beings’ basic program isn’t written that way.,” or “Humans are not wired up that way,” or “humans are not designed that way.” Give me room to add a qualifying “most” to those phrases and I can suspend belief awhile. I’ve been called a cynic since I was about HJPEV’s age. I had a terrible view of humanity. It has not improved much since then in any material manner. It’s mostly gotten worse. “Intelligence is a specie’s death sentence.” (And then I read the Qur’an. Then I figured out how it all ends with lamentably high probability.)


        • farmerbob1

          I also had a bunch of deep thought moments when reading HPMoR. I wish it were original work so the author could benefit strongly from it. Conceivably, he might be able to benefit to some degree from it because it has a vocal following, and is well-done.

          As for humans? Humans are dangerous enough without religion. I’m a weak agnostic. If there’s a higher intelligence out there that doesn’t want it’s presence definitively verified, I’ll never believe in it. If it does want me to believe in it, it’ll have to definitively prove itself to me in a manner beyond any possible doubt.

          I just wish we’d get at least some of us off this rock in some sort of permanent colony. We’ve got the technology for a colony on the moon, though it would, granted, be frightfully expensive. We’d probably need to spend quite a few years tweaking life support technologies as well, but we could do that on Earth.

          And yet, we are barely putting any effort into studying fully closed ecologies on Earth. There have been some, but not many. It’s a bit painful seeing so much potential in outer space, and yet watching almost nothing be done to grasp that potential.

          • JDow

            I have read articles which tested “supreme being” sort of concepts on human beings.

            Place a person in a room. Tell the person not to open the folder, supposedly containing material about the subject, on the desk in the room. I’ll be back shortly. Somebody is watching. Of course, the person will not watch having noticed the “mirror” and the gesture towards it.

            Now move down to children. Play nicely. Share the toys. There is somebody watching that can be seen, there is somebody watching hat cannot be seen, or the setup person simply leaves the room. The middle case results are more closely aligned with the somebody visible is watching case than the nobody is there case. This appears to be something built into humans. Religions exploit this, for good or ill. In this regard religions are good things if they teach good things. To evaluate a supreme being religion on this basis you must drill down to the core to discover what the religions hard and fast core beliefs are. You also must look at the behavior of the religion’s adherents over centuries.

            It is fashionable to declare Christians are evil-horrible-creatures-look-at-the-crusades-salem-witches…. Step back, read the whole Bible, analyze it a bit to see what the Bible as configured by Christians asks of its adherents. It deviates from core teachings.The last I looked Christians are humans, too. And humans have prejudices. Humans can take the Bible and use it to justif horrors such as slavery – until men come along with a clearer eye and realize fellow man includes the slaves which means slavery is just plain wrong. Being humans most will ignore it. (Yes, I am a Voldemort level cynic.) BUT, eventually it pulls itself back to humane values such as Christ espoused. It never gets there for the simple reason that it is a pacifist religion at its core, turn the other cheek as many times as it takes to shame the person striking you. That’s simply not practical. That leaves a person a permanent victim. So as practiced Christianity becomes pretty much a “I’ll do my thing, you do your thing, we can still make our lives better sharing our efforts.” Yeah, they do it best with those like them than those different. But in practice Christians are pretty nice people despite the raw article being pure masochist.

            On the same level visit the opposite, Islam. Learn how to read its infernally dense and unreadable Qur;an. Learn the order the Suras and verses were laid down. (It’s chaotic not linear. Aside from the first Sura all other Suras in are llongest to shortest order.) Then learn about Mohammed’s life and sayings (Haddiths/Sunnah). I’ve done it The raw form of Islam is what we see in ISIS, al Qaaeda, the mad Mullahs of Iran, and all the rest of the “extremists”. It’s a saddistic religion laid down out of epileptic fantasies by an illiterate child molesting misogynist as I see it. Where Jesus abjured his people to be “turn the other cheek” people Mohammed told his people to be murders, brigands, thieves, terrorists, and worse. Note that this is my take on the issue. I took the trouble to learn and develop a real allergy regarding Islam and its more devout and observant adherents. To the extent that Muslim neighbors are nice to me I try to be nice to them and leave them alone. But nearly 26,000 deadly attacks in the name of a religion in the days since September 11, 2001 leaves me nervous about the ideology, So that’s my disclaimer and the reason I used Islam for the example of a religion with a supreme being which I think is a bad thing to have around. I made a mistake. I investigated. I learned. Frankly I got scared for more reasons than there is time to enumerate here.

            I’m quite content around most people who believe in Christ. (My brother is among the exceptions and even he does not do worse than call be a heathen or other names. He has never beaten me up or directly persecuted me. That’s Christian behavior.) I’m not content with any significant number of Muslim neighbors. (Reading the Qur’an in chronological order and learning about the growth of Islam in Mohammed’s time can tell you why. Early Qur’an is “peaceful” and “coexistence”. This morphs into Sura 9 which is among the most disgusting stuff I have ever read as Mohammed was taking over the Middle East with his by then huge bands of brigand soldiers. So with few Muslims around they tend to be peaceful as when there were few Muslims in Mecca. When there are a lot of Muslims they start getting violent as they did after Mohammed fled Mecca to Medina and got nasty.)

            So this all boils down to “some religions are quite good things to have around simply because of the way the human mind is built.” Jidaism and Christianity fall in to that class. Islam does not. Some other religions fall where they may, It’s the Supreme Being and its teachings that matter, because the Supreme Being is watching, which implies punishment, which keeps people in line with the religion’s teachings.” It is a fallacy to discard all religions simply because members do bad things from time to time and because you “know” or believe there is or is not something which inherently can be neither proven nor disproven.

            So I rather conditionally approve of religion as a potential good thing, particularly in the hands of good people. There is an AWESOME lot of wisdom hidden in the Torah and Bible about how people can get along and live together. Discarding it all is silly. And it does give you a place to stand and a lever, which pure atheism and “rationality” seem to leave out. Perhaps unfortunately for me “religious groups” give me indigestion. So I remain a non-denominational-almost-Christian or something like that. If nothing else Pascal had an interesting wager in that regard.

            IMAO denigrating religion or even only religions with supreme beings is one of the more damn fool things so-called rationalists have ever pulled out of their hats. It’s utterly irrational given the human animal’s brain’s construction.


          • farmerbob1

            I agree with your statements about existing religions. The whole idea of someone else watching over people certainly does seem to have potent power. Unfortunately, it allows the manipulators within religious organizations more power through abuse of the religions faith of others. It’s bad in the Christian religions sometimes, but it’s horrible in the Islamic religions. There are things happening now in Islamic regions of the world that Christianity still shrinks from remembering doing during the inquisition.

            Islam is certainly a darker religion, it developed to become far darker in times of conflict. One major difference between the two religious branches is the treatment of the holy book.

            Christianity’s bible is just a thing. It contains words which hold value, but if someone defiles a bible, it’s not an attack on the Christian god, it’s just a despicable act. If you defile a koran, it is a direct offence against the Islamic god.

            As a side note, while writing this now, I see that writing ‘bible’ in lower case is not questioned by my spell checker. ‘koran’ is telling me I need to capitalize it.

            I used to be a non-denominational deist when I was younger, but it developed into weak agnosticism over time. If someone claims to be atheist and rationalist at the same time, I call them on it. If they have hard proof that there’s not a deity of some sort out there, I want to hear about that proof. If they don’t have hard proof, then they aren’t being rational, because rationality is based on evidence and provable structures.

            In other words, to a weak agnostic, atheism is simply another belief system with no hard evidence to back it up. If you want to be truly rational about religion, you have to be agnostic. I would go as far as saying only weak agnostics can be rational about religion.

            That being said, my beliefs as an agnostic are heavily weighted towards atheism. I feel it is the most likely scenario. But I can’t be certain without solid evidence, and that’s really difficult.

  19. JDow

    Atheism is indeed, just another religion with a very wide range of beliefs. Some are militant and some just believe there is no God and get on with life. Of course, you do realize that Confucians or Buddhists are atheists, don’t you? Technically they have no deity to be theist about. And both leave room for other religions to exist – in the same person’s belief system.

    It is significant to realize that the bug in your operating system that leaves a poorly protected back door hole that allows manipulation of your thinkum goo in just about any manner. People should recognize this. But, they should also realize that trying to plug that hole with nothing isn’t going to work. Tritely put nature abhors a vacuum.

    That back door goes by many names. Just one of which is religion. Another is “politics”. MRI tests indicate that the same portions of the brain light up when you think about religion as about ideology or politics. So it is best to open your eyes to the fact that it will be plugged and be critical about what you allow to sit in that hole in your mind. Furthermore you must be careful about who is involved with the specific material used to fill the hole. (I tried to fill it with myself at one time as a safety tool. That rather didn’t work.)

    Erm, I also cannot stuff the hole with so-called rationalism, either. That’s just another form of circular reasoning to fill the “somebody up there cares about me” hole, the religion.ideology hole. There is a trite phrase that is worth thinking about, “If there was no God man would invent him.” That;s the out I took. I dug around, found the parts of various religions that seemed to speak truth about how humans fail and how they can get along to make life better for each other. I figured these slices, mostly judeo-christian with a pinch of humanism, defined a supreme being that made some rational sense to ME. So that’s what I told my brain is sitting up there somewhere and cares about what I do. It;s a being that sets massive puzzles for mankind to solve, gives mankind the tools needed, and lets mankind try to solve it. Damnifinowhy this being might be like that. But it seems to fit evidence, demands certain standards of behavior on my part, and allows me to move forward with my life. This construct in my brain has pushed me through some tough spots. A few times I’ve asked it to help me reach reserves of strength I suspected I had but could not reach. That vague a request is met. So I face that construct in my mind and say thanks afterwards. I have NO freaking idea if this is purely my imagination or something real that finds me amusing in my little way, It does seem to fill that hole in my mind that requires a religion quite nicely. It also leaves me politically somewhat Libertarian and lightly “Conservative”. (I can’t stand discriminatory “keep ’em down on the farm” racist people. So I find Democrats and Progressives to be rather sad misguided people. Note that Progressives exist in both parties as people who think government should be pervasive and intrusive governing minutia in your life in their arrogance. Your rewards for your work are really theirs and should be returned to them. etc.)

    Meh, I rambled more than I intended but…. In short I figure trying to plug the hole that fits the religion/ideology key with an avowed nothing leaves too much room for somebody else to plug that hole behind your back.

    And sometimes it’s best to find somebody you can trust to manipulate you to do the right thing without skimming too much off the transaction.


  20. jimhenry1973

    I just spent five days reading books 1-4 of Symbiote. I enjoyed all of it, but probably the second and third books more than the first and fourth.

    Other commenters have already made most of the criticisms I would make. One minor problem I had with the fourth book was that the setting wasn’t clear at first — I first assumed that Bob and Ayva were still living in Australia, as they were at the end of book 3, and it was several chapters before I realized they were somewhere (I’m still not sure where) in the U.S. Sometimes making the setting a little vague is a good thing, but you were so clear with your geographical indicators in the earlier books that the vagueness in the fourth books seemed an inconsistency in style and tone.

    The Lord Darcy stories mentioned by an earlier commenter were by Randall Garrett, not Gordon Dickson. I recommend them.

    • farmerbob1

      Thanks for reading! Symbiote was my first original fiction and is definitely in need of some serious editing love before it goes to publishing. I’ve just finished writing the first draft of Set In Stone: Follower and am beginning to edit it for publication as an E-book.

      When that’s done. Symbiote is next in line to get a facelift before I publish it as an E-book. At least books 1-3. I’m still uncertain if I want to publish book 4 without a substantial rewrite. I’ll have a better idea what I want to do after I start editing Symbiote.

  21. Liz @ History Fantasy Fiction

    I dunno if you still want feedback about this, but it was good fun to read, i really enjoyed the reveal of Argoen/Star being in the armphone all along. Apart from Safety Dancer the only bit that bothered me was Bob randomly stumbling onto some lady who needed saving and gave him a bajillion dollars for no reason. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that “it’s fine for characters to get into trouble by pure coincidence, but it’s not fair for them to get out of trouble by pure coincidence”. Or something.
    Anyway it was a good read. Cheers.

  22. Liz @ History Fantasy Fiction

    Also, one final nitpick:
    In 1.2, Bob goes from “ok, if you find anything weird, just destroy it” to actively cutting himself up in a bathtub pretty quickly. I also felt like it wasn’t entirely clear why he was doing that and i kind of wish Frank had said something along the lines of “look i’m sorry to do this so soon after fixing your one finger, but we actually need to chop off a lot of your other fingers now, quite soon in fact” and Bob had responded in alarm. Because honestly, we never find out how Bob GOT a symbiote, and it’s awkward trying to recommend a story then having to add, “by the way, there’s a big self-harm scene almost immediately, and i’m not sure why.” heh.

  23. tbestig

    I enjoyed the story. I think the first book was the best, looking back, but you definitely improved over time and there were a lot of great moments in the others.

      • tbestig

        Over all, I think you wrote a very successful plot. It had some kinks to work out, but in general a very enjoyable read. Thank you for writing it. Keep up the great work!

      • tbestig

        Probably one of my favorite parts was when Bob and Frank were going undercover as a homeless man, it felt nice to see how the symbiotes are really useful for stuff other than combat, just different things I hadn’t really considered at the time. I feel like you explored a lot of these unexpected uses, it was a nice touch

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