Humanity’s Biggest Brains – Humanity’s Final Stand

NOTE: This is an ongoing fictional story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fiction story back at the beginning of October 2020 and contribute ~500 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Interstice Two – Passage One

Davos, that year, was in full-on panic mode.  The Virus had spread out of control.  No country had been able to successfully fight it and win.  We humans were losing.  Mother Nature was winning.  Actually, “losing” might be putting it too generously.  Team Humanity was getting our assess kicked.  Most thoroughly, unequivocally, definitively.

By December, millions of people were dying every week.  In every country, across every continent, not a single soul was safe and there was no escape.  The Virus killed off men, women, and children all in equal force and indiscriminately; old and young; Black, White, Hispanic, Asian.

And to add insult to injury, at some point the Virus even mutated to where it started killing dogs.  Humans couldn’t even protect man’s best friend.  That’s how completely and utterly powerless we were.  Dogs.  Seriously.

We may have successfully fended off the first wave in the spring.  But we weren’t ready for the mutated form.  Virus: Version Two,  I guess you could call it.  This new strain that’d evolved was a legit, no-holds-barred, human-killing machine.  Every vaccine that Merk, Pfizer, Novartis, or Roche put out would be effective for maybe a few weeks.  But then Corona-V2 would rapidly adapt, rendering months of development and billions of dollars in R&D worthless, in a blink of any eye, just like that.

In January, things were looking grim.  Very, very grim.

So it was under these auspices that humanity decided to wage one final stand.  It’d be a meeting of our Biggest Brains, humanity’s very best, gathered around for one last-ditch effort to save the species.

Long the last bastion of the ultra-wealthy and people who consider themselves the “intellectual elite and erudite,” every year at the end of January, an international cadre of 3,000 participants from 110 countries gather in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the most pressing challenges and issues facing humanity.  The full-name of the invitation-only shindig is “The World Economic Forum,” a self-styled “Meeting of the Minds to Improve the State of the World.”  (That’s, without irony, literally the forum’s byline on all of its promotional materials each year.)  The event was founded by the German management consultant titan, Klaus Schwab, a man whose intellectual prowess ranged so widely that he obtained not one, but two, doctorates– one in Engineering from ETH Zurich; and the second in Economics from the University of Fribourg.1

Well, if Davos represented the best that humanity had to offer, then that January was most definitely not a good look for the human race.

On the first day of the forum, the world’s leaders convened in the canton of Prättigau, descending upon the small village of Landquart.  It was a sight to behold.  Helicopters swooped in over flocks of sheep across the rolling, idyllic Swiss countryside.  Ducks and wild geese scattered in every direction as the thumping of chopper rotors thundered overhead shattering the alpine silence.  Makeshift helipads had been specially constructed for Davos this year as all members had reasonably wanted to arrive individually.  No one had chartered Learjets as had been the custom in years prior; eight people to a Gulfstream was simply seven persons too many.

  1. The University of Fribourg in Fribourg, Switzerland is so old that its founding dates back to 1580– a year sufficiently ancient that it predates even the Gregorian calendar that we all use today (established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582).  The other neat fact about the university is that is, to date, the only bilingual university in the world that offers its full curricula in both French and German.

Shu Qi: “Great Artists Steal.”

“Shouldn’t I be?” I reply.  “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.  Unfettered access to all of that personal citizenry data.  Zero privacy requirements.  This is a total treasure trove, ripe for analysis a thousand different ways, every data scientist’s absolute dream.  But from a moral and ethical standpoint, it’s pretty much a slam dunk, one-way, guaranteed ticket to hell.”

Up close I see Shu is classically beautiful in the way that is popular in China these days:  Light, creamy complexion, long curly bangs, round face, and large green eyes.  They’re a light, ocean-green, entirely unnatural and knockout gorgeous.  China is currently the only country in the world that allows CRISPR techniques to be used on developing fetuses (unborn babies), though the allowable genetic edits are still limited.1

Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that she is the marketing guru of the group.  Selling is all about appearances.  And with a face and body like that (also most certainly genetically or surgically altered, I’m pretty sure), you’re already halfway there.

“I think there’s another way of looking at it that perhaps you’re not considering,” Shu says.  Her voice is soft, supple, persuasive.  “A more optimistic interpretation of the task.”

“Oh?  Enlighten me.”

“You are in a privileged position to shape the very course of human history,” Shu says.  “You know it; I know it; we all know it.  This is the Chinese Century.  And you’re, right now, at this very moment, on the ground floor, at the very beginning.  What happens in China this next decade is where it all begins.”

“That’s… a bold statement.” is all that I can say.

Chopra, who’s been sitting next to me on his barstool the entire time, listening, speaks up.  “What makes you think China’s going to be the new global superpower?  The only thing the Chinese has ever excelled at is leading from behind.”  Chopra sits up a bit straighter in his barstool and begins gesticulating with his hands, going into full-on professor-mode.  “China’s good at sitting back, seeing what works everywhere else in the world, and then shamelessly copying those successes wholesale.”  There’s definitely more than a hint of disdain in his voice as he says this.

Shu turns to look at Chopra.  “And what’s so wrong with that?” she asks.  “Didn’t that great American, Steve Jobs, whom you all idolize so much, once say that ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’?”

“That was Picasso actually,” I say.  “And also– we don’t all idolize Jobs.  That guy was a total ass.

“The problem with stealing,” Chopra says patiently, “is that it’s not leading.  Any idiot can steal.  You just look at what works and then copy itHow difficult can that possibly be?

“Uh, pretty difficult?” I say.  “The path to success it littered with a long line of corpses.  You need to climb over each and every one of them to get to the top.”

Apparently sensing an opening, Shu smoothly changes gears.

  1. At least, legally.  The aftermarket for unapproved CRISPR edits offers considerably more selection but are substantially more dangerous as well.  Once CRISPR went mainstream in China, rich Chinese parents went wild.  Skin tone and eye color are two of the most popular edits.  (It’s also possible to add up to another 10cm of height or so, though that edit is significantly steeper, price-wise.)

Continue reading “Shu Qi: “Great Artists Steal.””

Scaffolding, Structuring, and Restructuring

Sometimes, you don’t always get things right on the first try.  Looking at everything I’ve written so far (this story officially began on Friday – Oct 2; I’m three weeks in!  I’ve written every single day consecutively for 21 days!  Wohoo!) I realized this morning that Chapter 3 isn’t going to work.  Beginning Ch. 3, I was already at a chapter word count of 3,776.  And since I try to contain each chapter to ~4,000 words, I knew that I’d need to wrap up Chapter 3 with today’s entry.

But looking at what I’d written, I see that it’s not possible– I didn’t leave myself enough runway to gracefully and believably wrap up the scene I’m currently in the middle of.  Oops.

Thus:  Today, I’ve decided to move 10/17 and 10/18’s story entries to their own miniature “Interstice One” section.  This frees up 528+452=980 words which I think then ought be enough to wrap up this current scene and Ch. 3.  Even when I was writing them, I always felt that those two entries were kinda different “on background” pieces anyway.  So this actually works out.

Before-Restructuring vs After-Restructuring.

Three weeks into writing this story using the TAG and “4,000-words-per-chapter” format has made me realize that imposing these arbitrary constraints on my writing has actually helped me become a more productive and creative writer.  Like, it’s weird.  Intuitively, you might think (or at least, I would’ve initially thought) that imposing constraints would “cramp my style” or somehow “hinder the writing process” but it’s been the exact opposite.  Previously, whenever I began writing a fiction work, I never finished because halfway through, I’d lose interest, get frustrated, and then abandon the project.  It’d always get to a point where I’d feel:  “What am I doing?  Where am I going?   Where am I?  What am I doing with my life?  Omg.”  And then I’d quit.

But this time around, with TAG and my meticulous spreadsheet-wordcount-tracker, it feels different.  Weirdly, it feels more like a coding project now.  I have wordcount milestones.  I have a sense of pacing.  I have a feeling of knowing where I need to go.  A roadmap, albeit, still nascent, is beginning to form and crystalize.  Characters are simply falling out of my brain and literally putting themselves on the page.  It’s like watching a plant or rain forest grow.

By the way, in programming, this practice of “restructuring” is common– so common, we even have a word for it:  “Refactoring.”  The simple truth is that even the all-time greats– the JKRs, Lev Grossmans, and Max Barrys of the world, aren’t able to write everything perfectly on their first try.  In fact, the only author I know who’s able to one-and-done entire novels in a single shot is John Scalzi when he wrote The Consuming Fire in two weeks.1

Anyway, my point today:  Most authors are unable to “get it right” on their very first try.  And thus, rewriting/restructuring/refactoring is important!  The story I’m working on now, is the first piece of long-form fiction that I’m just writing every day, entirely without an outline and without a plan.  Previously, I’d pour hours into brainstorming characters, worldbuilding, and coming up with all kinds of clever acronyms for shadowy, mysterious organizations that sounded cool.  There was even a period (years ago) that I bought an actual, real-life baby book and had fun just flipping through the thing, jotting down names that sounded alluring and nifty to me.

All those projects ultimately went nowhere and ended in complete failure.

So this time, I’m completely winging it.  No outline and no plan.  Just putting out 400 words a day and seeing where it all goes.  I am going to try to refrain from editing anything my first run though.  But I’m gonna consider today’s restructuring “a mulligan.”  Technically, I’m not writing anything new– but rather, I’m just relabeling some parts.

The adventure continues!  Here we go!  😀

  1. And you know what?  That book is awful.  I’m generally a Scalzi fan.  Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, and Redshirts (a Hugo winner!) are all wonderfully amusing and entertaining books.  OMW I actually even consider “sci-fi cannon,” right up there, maybe a notch or two, below Ender’s Game. But TCF was honestly just so bad.  I know it sold well and made all kinds of bestseller lists but Scalzi, IMHO, really phoned that one in and coasted on his reputation and good name.  TCF’s quality is genuinely lacking.  Scalzi wrote TCF in two weeks and it shows.  Very blatantly and extremely clearly.  I actually own TCF on my Kindle which I genuinely regret buying; it is one of the very few books that I’ve ever bought and not finished.  After that experience, I began just borrowing all subsequent Scalzi releases instead from my local library; I’d really felt burned. ☹️