Scribbler’s Saga #38 – A Bad Idea

Posted: June 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Writers hear there are no bad ideas, just bad writers quite frequently. Generally, I would agree, until… 

I came up with a small few ideas that I know won’t work coming from my smoking word processor. This is me saying “wow, I can’t make it work.” Not some angry external voice.

One of my first ideas ever popped more than twenty-five years ago spent close to thirty years in the various versions of my idea file. I only deleted it six weeks ago, I think. What was it? I titled it Flatliner Express, William Gibson inspired Cyberpunk.

In college, I ended up being the mediocre student that learned more than my transcripts indicate, someone who becomes a writer because no other profession requiring college learning would have me. One of many things I read during that time outside of class, were it wouldn’t do me any good, was Gibson’s Neuromancer. A justifiably classic tale of Case the best hacker around protected by Molly the Razor Girl as he fights through cyberspace ultimately freeing a sentient AI onto the Internet.

So what would Flatliner have been about since young writers always want to copy great writers? A hacker, net-runner or console cowboy (the in-book slang for these things is endless) braves great hazards roughly equivalent to the dark forest in a fairytale to wipe out the digital files that describes his own citizenship. Think about it, a code warrior with a conscience hacks the near-future versions of his Social Security file, his drivers license file, his criminal records (if any), school records, online commercial records and with the latest variation, his social media presence.

The hero would brave the lethal Black ICE (slang for lethal software protecting information) endemic to the near-future Cyperpunk version of the Internet. He would right a few wrongs from his keyboard. He would make friends with certain AI’s assigned to protect citizenship files. Toss in a romance with a local version of Molly. Drop a lot of bodies on the deck (almost as many as Luc Besson did for Lucy, a treatise on Evolution with machine guns). We’re good, you might think.

I never did more than two chapters that have either not survived the move between various homes or were buried so deep in my writer’s box (where old work goes to die until resurrected by collegiate scholars when my trust dumps my papers on them) that I will burn the house down to avoid looking that mess. I tried it as a script doing five pages, later deleted in disgust. And it continued to languish…

And what in this case is the problem? Why did this one idea never go away and linger? I realized that my subconscious simply called bullshit on the whole thing. Neither the Internet of today nor the directly experienced Cyberspace of tomorrow would actually allow for people to Blank Off The Grid and stay in the game.

You don’t destroy the digital version of your past and keep fighting. You make this hack of a lifetime and retire to that island in the South Pacific where too few people live to provide phone and Internet service. So bring a fishing pole and a few tools to make Swiss Family Robinson tree houses. Moving into a ramshackle tenement with good WiFi to keep fighting for the Little Guy, or leverage against the Mega-Corporations just can’t happen.

I realized late in the game that the code warrior who wanted Blank as a way to fight like an anonymous sniper would have to re-hack his file every year and a half. Cyberpunk societies and the modern developed world have a way of recording traces of everything we do. Go out for ice cream get photographed by the three security video cameras near the store. Said hero would either pay with cash (unless outlawed) or have to figure out a succession of false or anonymous payment accounts that link back to banking havens, a digital hermit crab.

Eventually, the AIs and bots that prowl the Web would notice a pattern and begin to alert their human masters. Facial recognition would cross reference things exactly and return a result of NO FILE FOUND. Do that often enough and the humans patroling the Web start doing classic detective work beginning with a geographic analysis – “Our guy lives in Brooklyn where we’ve noticed quite a lot of activity. And then there was this thing six months ago…”

The Blank Hero would need to clean up his file regularly because the Dark Forces of They Are Out To Get Me might not have the name used in grammar school that provides a history that explains everything, but having the last year’s heavy activity would be enough to do harm. Since hacking one’s own citizen file should as a matter of interesting drama be the greatest task of the Blank Hero’s life, somehow the thought that he or she has to update the Blanking like vaccine boosters every so often takes away from adventure of doing it the first time.

 And each subsequent hack would be three times harder each time, because both in fiction and IRL the Internet takes on characteristics of a living entity that learns and grows from the assaults upon it. And if, as you may guess from my tone, I hated the idea of having the hero quit and fish in Tahiti, in part because that’s more or less how Neuromancer ended. I ended up sitting on an idea for nearly thirty years because it’s hard to give up concepts that sound good on paper, but really don’t pass the internal smell test that all writers should apply to their work – Does this make sense to me?

So there you have it, a writer admitting that sometimes the mind goes places where the wordsmith skills can’t or won’t follow. It might be an idea for which we won’t enjoy the research. It could be something like Flatliner Express where if the writer can’t manage his or her own suspension of disbelief we shouldn’t expect you to either. We all get them, luckily, most good writers are as hard on their ideas as the Detroit Lions were to George Plimpton.

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