Saturday, December 8, 2007

Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect (or MoPI) is a novella length work of fiction by Roger Williams, available free on the net. Many of you who read this blog may already be familiar with MoPI, but I'll address this post to those of you who aren't.

MoPI is a work of singularity fiction, that is, fiction that deals with the world after an intelligent agent (named Prime Intellect in MoPI) has taken more or less total control over the earth and/or universe. In such a world, humans would have essentially unlimited lifespans, no ability to harm one another, and no desire left unfulfilled.

This brings us to Williams' first chapter. He makes the reasonable argument that with nothing left to achieve, and no meaningful goals to strive toward, many people will turn to pain and death as the only worthwhile things left to them. In his world these people are called "Death Jockeys," to the ranks of which our first protagonist, Caroline, belongs. I need not go into details, since Williams certainly does, but, essentially, Death Jockeys attempt to get themselves killed in new, innovative, and particularly painful ways.

That's the first chapter.

It is incredibly gory, grotesque, violent, and perverted. I am not an easily flustered person, and I felt queasy at various points. In fact, I almost did not continue reading past the first chapter, which, apparently, is a fairly common sentiment.

The rest of the eight chapter novel is very different. We get to see the creation/childhood of Prime Intellect, which is exciting, and we explore the backstory of Caroline, as well as that of Lawrence, our second protagonist and genius programmer. There are a few points of physical and sexual perversity in the remaining eight chapters, but if you made it through the first chapter, you shouldn't have any problem. Which is good. Because I don't know if I could have handled eight chapters of that level of violence.

Overall, I like the story quite a bit more than Wax Banks, who feels that the ideas of MoPI are "not original and have likely been presented more beautifully elsewhere." I, on the other hand, have not encountered anything quite like MoPI before, and while the potential beauty of the story is definitely marred by a certain roughness of narrative, it is full of worthwhile and relatively original ideas (that is to say, they are certainly not derivative).

That being said, I have two main reservations with the story:

1.) Is all that violence and nauseating sexual activity in chapter one really necessary?

Wellllll, yes and no. That is, I do think that I developed a greater appreciation for the gravity of the situation from our author's and protagonists' viewpoints. However, it also made the story feel disjointed, and, in a way "lied" to the reader by misrepresenting what the novella was about. In my opinion, it was a good lie, since I thought the actual subject of the story was far more interesting, engaging, and worthwhile than the first chapter would have you believe. But, by that same token, it was a bad lie, since it could (and, I'm sure, does) turn off readers who might actually enjoy the contents of the other seven chapters.

2.) Where is the competitive instinct?

When I first read the term "Death Jockey," in the context of this singularity story, I assumed we were talking about some kind of thrilling mortal combat, or potentially fatal race. That's because something of that kind provides the participants the chance to illicitly experience the same pain and death, but also a chance to prove themselves better than their opponents, and we all know that there aren't many things that people like more than feeling superior to other people (Think religion, clubs, arrogance, false humility, patriotism, fandom, etc).

While I think the second qualm is the more picky, it also seems to be the more legitimate. My issue with the violence could just be a difference of opinion with the author - he thinks it's necessary, I'm not so sure. The second point, however, seems less debatable. The absence of combat or competitive games of any type is difficult to ascribe to a conscious decision on the part of the author. They would seem to be more common and more popular than Death Jockeys, and yet there isn't a single mention of them (The same author does mention combat to the death, briefly, in another story set in the MoPI universe.).
I just can't bring myself to believe that we'd have more masochists than Jocks, more sadists than patriots, more... I'm out of synonyms, but you get the idea.

Overall, a very worthwhile story - you know your own ability to handle gore, so use your judgment. If all else fails, just stop reading Ch. 1 and skip to chapter two. You won't miss much.

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