This weekend I got a visit from my awesome Cali friend Amber. Which, as any New Yorker will tell you, meant I took advantage of a bunch of things the city has to offer that I never would have experienced otherwise. And, somehow, almost all of those things tied in with the Mechalarum theme!
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It's nearly impossible to write a modern science fiction novel without touching upon the subject, as current artificial intelligence research continues to progress. I personally can't imagine a future world in which robots are not mentioned in some shape or form.
I decided to tweak the idea of mechanical beings with some level of autonomy through "monosentience." In the Citadel, all robots have limits on their "intelligence" such that they are sentient only within the parameters set by their creators. Each robot is built specifically to fulfill one purpose, and one purpose only. Citadelian robots can perform tasks without any form of supervision because they have all the feelings/perception necessary to do so; a monosentient robot tasked with building a performance stage can test and assess things such as weight tolerance, for example. The bot knows the right place to put the stage, and how to manage its resources so it doesn't run out of power or hurt itself. It will collaborate with other bots, and not plow through any humans while completing its task. But the same bot will never be capable of dismantling said stage. Or doing laundry. Or having a meaningful conversation.
"Sentient" isn't perhaps the best word to use to define this concept, but I liked the ring of it, so it stayed :)
Of course, as you'll see, I love to define concepts only to create conundrums later on in my story!
Many of my favorite stories start with "once upon a time..." When I made up choose-your-own-adventure stories for my brother and sister during long car trips as a kid, that's always how I'd begin.
One of my favorite fairy tale books of all time, A Norwegian collection called A Time for Trolls, takes a slightly different tack with "there was once." (Then again, that could just be the translation - perhaps the original interpretation exactly matched the English "once upon a time.")
And, of course, there's always the famous Star Wars A New Hope opener: "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." A seeming innocuous phrase that sends the brain spinning in loops when you really stop and think about it; with one line, the movie sets itself apart from just about any other scifi film ever made.
These various openers act as a form of cultural shorthand, triggering our collective memories to properly set the scene with only a few short words. A child with British origins, for example, will likely picture the castles and knights of her history. Images of fearsome Viking warriors will probably fill the mind of a Scandinavian barn.
The usefulness of trope openings is tempered by the necessary baggage they come with. That's why I decided to get creative. My book starts not with one of these traditional phrases, or even with a third-person view of my main character. Instead, we're introduced to the world by two minor characters engaging in dialogue about the action that is about to unfold.
It's yet to be seen whether this is effective in painting the scene for my novel. Let me know what you think!