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"5 Chapter Book Club" (Test Run)

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I made another post down below at the "I've Been Thinking" post, talking more about how we might kick this weekly review thing off and get it started. So check it out, and any objections or ideas that you guys have, feel free to share.

 

The FIRST story we're reading and reviewing is "Against The Machine", and I figured that 5 chapters should be a decent number to really give the story a good chance to get the readers involved, and also be short enough to have all of it read and be ready to discuss it by next Thursday.

 

Also, please remember not to give any spoilers away without warning if you read further ahead. Cool?

 

I'll get a small list of suggestions together this weekend, and we'll see if we can start a weekly schedule. So i you guys have stories you want to suggest (And yes, that includes your own work if you like), either email me or just post them here on the board. Next Thursday, we'll come back to the board, and we can post our thoughts right here as replies to this particular post. That way, the whole discussion can be self contained and we can talk with one another without any problem.

 

I doubt that I have to say it, but I will anyway. PLEASE keep in mind that these stories are someone's ART. It's a part of themselves that they're willing to share with us, and they all should be treated with respect. So be honest, but remember that an actual PERSON might be reading these discussions. People have feelings. So let's keep it 'constructive', shall we? We can be honest without saying, 'God this sucks!' Nobody deserves that.

 

We've never had a problem here on the Cafe board...but you know...fine print and all. No mistakes for later.

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Comsie,

Several months ago I read a story by one of the authors listed/posting here and I actually made a note in my records saying, 'THIS SUCKS".

Color me quite red, please!

Over the past few months I have read SO many stories that I know how ignorant I was all that time.

I have since read several of that persons stories., including the original one, which I have come to really like.

I have no idea why it hit me bad the first time.

I am learning so much through GA!

Thanks so much, Comsie!!!

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Hi all!

I'd be glad to start the ball rolling for when we get around to Thursday, with something that sets the scene and maybe gives a bit of background for "Against The Machine" - and maybe a bit about me thrown in.

 

I feel uber-privileged to have my tale chosen for discussion, and will definitely stick my nose into the thick of it! Somebody just let me know if we'll be using this actual thread or starting a new one.

 

See ya,

 

Ry

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Comsie,

Several months ago I read a story by one of the authors listed/posting here and I actually made a note in my records saying, 'THIS SUCKS".

Color me quite red, please!

Over the past few months I have read SO many stories that I know how ignorant I was all that time.

I have since read several of that persons stories., including the original one, which I have come to really like.

I have no idea why it hit me bad the first time.

I am learning so much through GA!

Thanks so much, Comsie!!!

 

 

If it was a vampire story then you're spot on :)

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If it was a vampire story then you're spot on :)

 

Nephy! :)

NO! NO! NO! It was NOT a "dark" story at all!

Sweetie---you gave me a sore hinney reading "Love in Chains"! And I am so serious about that! JEBUS!!

The title of the story that I was referring to is not important to anyone but me.

I'm guessing this person was just learning the ropes, so to speak.

BTW! You totally ripped my heart out with "that" story! dammit.

And now here I am crying AGAIN.

I want to hate you so badly---but---I can't.

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Nephy! :)

NO! NO! NO! It was NOT a "dark" story at all!

Sweetie---you gave me a sore hinney reading "Love in Chains"! And I am so serious about that! JEBUS!!

The title of the story that I was referring to is not important to anyone but me.

I'm guessing this person was just learning the ropes, so to speak.

BTW! You totally ripped my heart out with "that" story! dammit.

And now here I am crying AGAIN.

I want to hate you so badly---but---I can't.

 

 

:devil:I MEANT... if it was a vampire story then it DID suck :P ... you know?... sucked :devil:

 

So you enjoyed LIC then :) Maybe we should make that a story for dicussion one day and give everyone nightmares :):P

 

I am so glad you can't hate me. Would a hug help? *HUG* 0:)

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I've read the entire story, but I'll try to confine this discussion to the first five chapters.

 

Title of the Story

 

I've been pondering the fit between the title, "Against the Machine," and the actual events in the story. Somehow, from the title, I expected to find characters who somehow managed to rebel against the Machine and either end its hegemony or greatly alter its role in this fictional society. Yet nothing like that occurred -- the Machine seems to be here to stay. Indeed, part of what makes it all so insidious is that the Machine's programming is self-reinforcing, conditioning the subjects to accept its control and to think thoughts consistent with the Machine's continued influence. And of course the compulsion to keep hooking up to the machine assures that this conditioning can continue for each subject, while the overall control achieved by the Machine assures that the political/judicial establishment will continue to use it, and undoubtedly expand its influence over time.

 

Thus, it almost seems like the title should have been more along the lines of "With the Machine."

 

Forced Submission to Surgical Alteration

 

I would expect that, in actual practice, the submission of convicted prisoners to the surgical alterations necessary to allow the Machine to function, and to the Machine's conditioning itself, would not be directly coerced, as the story suggests -- rather, the society would create some kind of fig leaf whereby the people would "choose" to submit to the Machine. This would so-called "choice" would undoubtedly be the product of what amounted to an offer they could not refuse -- that is, an alternative punishment or treatment would be offered that would seem far worse -- such that only a few crazies would "choose" that alternative, instead "agreeing" to submit to the Machine treatment.

 

Use of Sexual Release -- Orgasm -- As A Tool of Entry

 

I realized in reading about how the Machine used a form of cum denial torture as a way to get people to submit by desperately seeking orgasm -- and the lowering of barriers while orgasm occurred -- that it reminded me of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series (now seen on television as The Seeker). In SoT, Kahlan, a Confessor, possesses an extraordinarily powerful mental ability that she can unleash on victims to make them hopelessly devoted to her. What happens then is that they must tell the truth (that's why she's called a Confessor). However, the victim of her powerful charm is essentially rendered useless as a person after that. Kahlan falls in love with Richard, and vice versa, but she resists becoming involved with him because -- as readers finally figure out from the euphemistic way it is described -- if she were ever to reach orgasm with Richard, her ability to keep her Confessor's power in check would be momentarily nullified, and Richard would become a blubbering idiot. So it's the same exact idea: At the height of orgasm, a person's mental resistance momentarily disappears. The Machine exploits this to make its insidious connections.

 

Machine Sex versus Human Sex

 

Perhaps one of the most disquieting aspects of this fictional world is the total disablement of the ability of each "patient" to achieve sexual release on his own or with a human partner. It's not clear whether this is a requirement of the technology or, as seems more likely to me, a deliberate and insidious choice to deprive people of something and further reinforce their enslavement to the Machine. In other words, it's not enough for the Machine to compete on its own merits, for quality of orgasm; the Machine rigs the game so that the victim has no choice because it ain't available anywhere else. And it's only icing on the cake that the Machine gives absolutely mindblowing electronic head, seemingly better than anything a mere human can provide. (Or at least maybe the Machine's conditioning convinces each subject that that's the case.)

 

The idea of a sophisticated electronic orgasm-producer seems intensely erotic to me, in principle. I have often wished I knew someone with an ErosTek ET-312 (e-stim machine) who would be willing to hook me up and see if I could achieve hands-free orgasm with it. In the fictional world of the Machine, it seems as though there must be two-way communication between the subject's pleasure centers and the Machine's stimulus programming, such that the Machine can interactively determine precisely which neurons to stimulate at every moment to give maximum pleasure. And the Machine seems able to keep the subject poised on the edge of cumming for extended lengths of time, which of course also seems very erotic to me.

 

Yet the creepiness of what has been implemented here is inescapable. The very thought of having nano-robots weave artificial neurons into my spinal cord and brain just makes me cringe. It conjures up all sorts of images from horror films. It makes me feel extremely vulnerable. All of a sudden, therefore, any erotic aspect goes right out the window.

 

The Attendant (Care-Giver)

 

This character is a complete cipher. In many parts of the story, he seems to have almost no affect -- he's kind of a zombie, with not much of a life. His studied efficiency in facilitating the incredible outrage committed on these "patients" is rather chilling. Yet Nathan manages to break through this haze of conditioning, at least a bit, at the end of Chapter 4. But it's clear that the Machine has a powerful hold on the Attendant.

 

Somehow I had anticipated that the Attendant would become a genuine agent of change with respect to the whole Machine concept, but he seems dedicated to maintaining his role in the status quo.

 

Expanding the Treatment to Children

 

One example of the depravity of this fictional society is the increasing proclivity of the courts to assign fairly young children to this treatment. The Attendant, in his rather detached and affect-less way, nonetheless is bothered by this when it is happening to the boy Noah who was sentenced to this treatment pretty much unfairly and arbitrarily, and is about to experience the excruciatingly painful Synaptic Remodelling:

 

Observing the boy dispassionately, the Attendant knew that this was why he felt that treating kids this way was so wrong. OK, the Machine got its way in the end, and the final outcome was as effective as with adults, but the shock of getting there, he felt, was much greater for ones as young as this. The Machine was compelling him to copulate, but he had little idea what that meant or what it was. It was a bit different if, like all teenage boys, you took time to experiment in the privacy of your own room, at your own pace, eventually discovering the pleasurable sensations that came with ejaculation. But he guessed this boy had little or no such experience to rely on. He didn't know what would happen or what it meant. But the Machine didn't really care, and that could be horrible.

 

Later in the story it becomes obvious that zealous prosecutors seem to take relish in extending Machine treatment to younger and younger (and relatively innocent) victims. There seems to be no effective counterweight to the tendency of the societal forces to push more and more people into this treatment.

 

Overall

 

It's a scary vision -- using people's own strong sexual urges to force open vulnerabilities and ultimately rape them mentally -- removing all self-control and dignity. Scary.

 

A

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Personally I never got the impression that this was a first story. From the first chapter I was breathless and swept away with what was written, how it was written and how what was written was affecting me. It made my heart beat faster, my mind race down all the avenues opened up and to be frank my stomach sink at the possibilities, the inevitabilities and the fact the way that it was presented as being so very possibly our own future.

 

In some way the sexual aspect was irrelevant to the actual story, although I can't deny it was one of the elements that made my pulses race. The real strengths of the story were

 

1. the general air of foreboding.

2. the almost palpable fear that permeates most of the story

3. the obvious degeneration of the society that back it as is made clear with their readiness to push more and more people through the system and to, if not blatanty lie then at least misrepresent the actual process.

4. the nature of the society who are ready, willing and eager to accept the slide that leads to the development of the machine in the first place.

5. the mechanics of how it all works which are detailed, in cases explicit and well thought through.

6. the fact that there is very little description. We don't even get the Attendant's name until right at the end

7 the flashes of humanity shown by the Attendance as his disillusion with the process grows throughout the story.

8 the way that the story unfolds in the background of the description of the process.

9. how each character who become part of the weave of the story has their own background and stories to tell and grow in their own individual ways, and they are very distinct and different but again there is little actual description of them.

10 the fact that each character who is followed through to the end find their own way of adapting and ultimately finding ways of going Against the Machine, some more radical than others.

 

As to whether the Machine is just a machine. There were hints and suggestions all the way through

which were never fully addressed, and I think that is a strength rather than a weakness to the story as we are kept guessing right to the end and the answers left to our imagination

.

 

I think that the story has real cohesion in that it creates a world then continually drops in new details about the ways in which that world operates and changes. Nothing is set in stone and the sand beneath your feet is constantly shifting.

 

This is a truly unique story that is readable over and over because like all the best story every time you read it you see new things you never saw before.

 

My favourite character is the Attendant who is inimitably human... and Noah who is so sweet and innocent of the whole thing.

 

Chilling, exciting, ennervating, innovative. One of my favourite stories of all time. (as far as this site is concerned at least. Sorry but you can't compare to Storm Constantine yet) and likely to remain that way for a very very long time. It appeals to my twisted mind in an incredibly forceful way and I will remember it for a long time.

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I'm amazed to see your thoughts - it's such an encouragement to someone like me!

 

I really liked the Attendant too. And you have no idea how confusing it is to decided is it "Attendent" or "Attendant"!As Agincourt says, he's quite 'affect-less' it seems. Maybe this is partly because he is also under the ongoing conditioning of the Machine, but mostly I think it's because he, like the rest of society doesn't really question the treatment much anymore. My sense was that society was already well down the path of this such that it no longer seemed to much of an issue. Maybe Agincourt is right, there was a time where the conditioning was offered as an alternative to a custodial sentence - but even that has passed and now it's the only sentence.

 

The Attendant was never a baddy. Of course he caused pain and distress, but maybe no more than a dentist might. In the same way that society and the dental profession have decided that teeth need filling for the benefit of the patient's long term future, so he is just doing a job that society and his profession feel is for the better - even if short term pain is experienced.

 

Bad people should get their due, yet it seems to blur the edges when there apparently is also therapeutic benefit for an individual - for example for both Noah and Jack. If the procedure helps people, can it be so bad? Yet, do they realise the price they are paying - or is that carefully masked or removed by the conditioning? I think part of the disquiet is not knowing who the enemy is. Is it really 'Against the Machine'? Is the Machine acting to it's own agenda, or is it just following programming? And then, is there something else going on behind the scenes manipulating everyone?

 

Of course, I love Cal too.... I mean, you really have too!

 

And I'd love to talk about the twins - but that would be a spoiler!

 

Riley

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Finally, I get a chance to speak my mind on this story! :)

 

I want to start out by saying that I was really intrigued by "Against The Machine". I can honestly say that I've never read anything like it before. It was a shock to the system. The idea of the Machine, horrifying as it is, seems to really be submerged in this really sick sense of social 'logic', where it really doesn't seem all that far fetched from the reality that we have today. With the exception of the technology, I wouldn't be surprised if these experiments were actually going on somewhere in secret right NOW. I do agree that the idea of someone being so 'numb' to the idea of what he was doing to the 12 members of his group, is frightening. I think it adds to the overall theme and vibe of the story. The role of the Administrator is delivered to the reader with a certain cold precision in terms of his duties...but it is not without some level of sympathy. I really liked the idea that he was 'conditioned' to see his memories and his job as something mundane and typical. Even trying to beat his average record of 15 minutes. It makes him a dark character, but not one that you would want to 'hate' or 'despise'. He's simply doing a job and carrying out the will of the majority. (How many times have we seen THAT happen in our society)

 

One technique that I really enjoyed was the use of the Administrator's monitoring of his subject in the machine. You're first dropped into the middle of a somewhat desperate situation, and given details to imagine this horrible monster of a mechanical device in a dark room...wires and 'umbilicals' and couches and stirrups...patients shaved and exposed, humiliated...and then the story is pushed forward by moving from patient to patient. Like...I can really visualize this in my mind. Each character, from Noah, to Ben and Nathan, to Jack...all of them, they all have their own back stories and reasons for being there. And I can see the story moving from person to person flawlessly to give the reader that back story without becoming confusing or ever once straying from the main theme of the story. The fact that Riley can do this without losing focus on his first story ever, is amazing. That's definitely a natural talent at work.

 

I do have to admit that I think the whole circumcision thing felt like it was a bit forced. It doesn't detract from the overall feel of the story, but yes, the 'medical background' you mentioned is evident. I can understand the need for it in the beginning, but after that first chapter, I think a bit more subtlety concerning the penis descriptions might keep any readers from feeling like they're being bombarded with it. Also, I'm not sure what the rule is on parentheses...but I personally try to avoid using them as much as possible. On some of the occasions that they were used here, I think a comma would have been fine. (That's my nit picky stuff)

 

I had someone recently say that I used too many exclamation points in one of my stories when I was describing a scene. And I tried to let him know that it was because the descriptions were being told from the point of view of the main character, which was, at that time, trapped in a desperate and hostile situation. In your story however, I feel like your narration is delivered more from the point of view from the 'divine observer'. And I noticed that you did use exclamation points in your narration a lot as well. (I did this a lot in my earlier stories too. They're all over the place! Hehehe!) But, with the style you're using, I think the narration should be a bit less involved. Meaning that the emotion isn't as evident. In fact, I'd think it would be even MORE frightening for the entire process to maintain that cold, precise, emotionless, vibe...and have the emotion be displayed through your characters alone, and not through the descriptions of the narrator. It makes for a really creepy setting.

 

Anyway, like I said, that's nit picky stuff. That's what I saw as I was reading it. I'm definitely going to keep reading until the end, or at least to what you have written so far. I'm extremely curious about the Machine, how it came to be, and what the people plan to do about it. If anything. Cultures change, and come to just 'accept' certain things without question. I mean...if you told me 10 years ago that I'd have to take off my belt and shoes at the airport, AND have a full electronic body scan, *AND* my friends and family couldn't even park outside the airport...much less see me off at the gate...I would have thought you were CRAZY! But that's just how things are done nowadays. Who's to say that The Machine wouldn't be accepted and put into use in the exact same way? The credibility of the idea is something that can easily give you the chills while you're reading.

 

Now that Noah is going back to his life...what will that mean? And what will it mean for Jack? And what about Ben and Nathan? Could it be possible that their love for one another could maybe push past the blocks and barricades put up by the Machine? And what of the administrator? Is he completely cut off from the horror of what he's doing to these people? Or is there something about them that might one day stir some random memory within him that will cause him to re-think his loyalty to the system.

 

Personally, I think that's where the potential of the story is the strongest. In what might 'change' with this particular group of subjects (or victims) in the story. What will ultimately make them different from the many many people who have been through this process before. And what significance will it have in the end? I'm excited to read more, and that's exactly what an author is supposed to do! Get people excited to read more.

 

Overall, a dark, but highly entertaining story. I'm definitely into it! Awesome job, Riley! And bonus points for it being your first time out too! Great sci fi to deflower your literary cherry with! :)

 

 

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Without offering any spoilers, I can say -- since i have read the entire story -- that some of your questions are answered, and some remain unanswered. The story itself meanders into a variety of other areas that don't follow linearly from the initial setup. But most interesting is a twist involving the Machine itself, about which I will say no more.

 

The only thing that would make the whole situation scarier, in my view, would be if the government officials (prosecutors, judges, etc.) who were deciding to send people to the Machine were themselves already bonded to it. One could then imagine kind of a self-reinforcing feedback loop, with the Machine essentially directing these officials who to send.

 

The circumcision business didn't overly bother me, but I was circumcised at birth and never knew anything different. I rarely run into uncircumcised guys, but enjoy them when I do.

 

All in all, I guess the penile ring seems less intrusive than the bigass holes in the backs of people's heads in The Matrix. Strangely, thought, the creepiness factor in The Matrix seemed lower than in this story -- probably because the characters in The Matrix weren't voluntarily doing that stuff to themselves. In other words, all the humans in The Matrix had already been equipped with the electrical connections; they weren't deciding to send certain people to have it done. But when you think about how the computer in The Matrix could create such totally real worlds for the characters to be in, imagine the kind of sex the Machine could invent.

 

It starts to make me think of Tek Wars, where an entire population becomes hopelessly addicted to a game that entrances them but prevents them from doing anything useful because they're so busy being entertained.

 

A

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Wrapping up this book review, I have to say, it's been really encouraging for me to get feedback like this. It's so interesting to see how you perceive the story line and are impacted by its threads - but also helpful to get some honest feedback on grammar too!

 

I hope you've managed to read to the end. The second half is very different form the first half, and frankly, they are almost two separate stories and perhaps could have been dealt with like that, even though many of the characters are the same (albeit somewhat older). Whilst I like the last chapter and the twist at the end that I think Agincourt is referring too, my favourite bit is actually the final conclusion that comes in the Epilogue.

 

There is also an additional part that looks to the future and explores what the world might look like many years down the road with a Machine that had embedded itself into the society.

 

So....thank you all.....and what's the next book going to be??

 

Riley Jericho

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