From Publishers Weekly
In this labored vision of a future dystopia, amnesiac Sergei Plotkin finds himself torn between the mission planted in his brain by unknown overlords and the desire to protect his creator. As he travels through computer-controlled UniWorld, Plotkin slowly regains conflicting memories and learns he is meant to kill Grand Junction spaceport's mayor. While plotting homicide and investigating illegal Christians, Plotkin meets Vivian McNellis, whose genetic abnormalities give her an angel's power to rewrite the world. Learning that Vivian created him and is now dying from exposure to her metaphysical opposite, Plotkin abandons his mission, determined to eliminate the threat and save Vivian's life. Dantec, winner of France's Prix de I'Imaginaire for Les racines du mal, writes harsh, choppy prose—not improved by Kover's translation—and the convoluted plot often grinds to a halt amid technical jargon, discourse on society's devolution and abstruse narrative philosophy. (May)
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Every creature, and every single thing that is said, comes from but one Name.
- The Sefer Yetsirah
Zero: Control Interface
At the instant the world was born, it was divided in two.
On one side: light. Red. Red like the monochromatic beam cadenced at fifteen billion times per second, more commonly called LASER-Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, that which reads- writes data in all media using the Boolean encoding of binary numbers- an ember boring a single, enormous point; one that is colossal; titanic. So vast that its exact size is impossible to calculate, for, indeed, it is all space.
This is the 3 degrees Kelvin background noise that blankets the universe. It is the primordial light that precedes all creation.
On the other side: matter. White. White like the sclera of an eye, the organ directly linked to the human brain by the optic nerve-which is nothing more than an extension of the cortex to the outside-and whose diopter is scrutinized by the ray of red light, filling all the space the said organ can perceive. The refractive system of the human ocular globe is composed principally of an iris, behind which is a biconvex crystalline lens where air and cornea meet. Faced with light of such intensity, the iris automatically attempts to close almost completely, constricting the pupil to nothing-but the red light is still there, because a tiny, delicate mechanism of carbon-carbon veins linked to a minute frontal vacuum implant keeps the pupil open, keeps the eyelid from blinking, and then there is nothing but this red intensity, this red world, pure light etched on the white of the eye. Between the two parts of the world there are luminous shadows, the shining shadows of the digital operation that turns both matter and light into a number. For millions of years, the human eye has captured light. From now on, light will be the captor.
Welcome to the Technological Genesis. Welcome to its beyond, its terminal horizon. Welcome to the world of the ubermachine. Remember that a machine is, above all, a network of disconnections.
The monochromatic ray reads the entire surface of the retina, gradually etching an image of the object it scrutinizes onto a cybernetic memory. This is its function. It controls.
The ray is ejected from a standard-model, UniPol-approved ruby microcannon, which is linked to a small data processor. This machine is linked in turn to the vast planetary information-storage network, and can compare the information encoded in the global control metasystem with the millions of nerve cells that make up each and every human eye in a matter of seconds. This is its task. The light has a job.
As does everything that exists today.
The light is a cop.
It's the same with the eye scrutinized by the machine. Yes-the eye, too, has a job. At this moment, its job is to fool the searching ray of light and the computer that acts as its brain. A brain that is, truth be told, superior to most of the human brains, with their optic nerves in contact daily with the light.
The organic globule is checked by the machine-light's reading. Its iris-which, like all irises, is absolutely unique-has an optic print that is as distinctive as a fingerprint. Its iris is, in point of fact, wrong.
In the UHU/RUS K-127 database, the machine control will compare this human iris encoded by the light-cop with its seven million counterparts kept on file by the Universal Police, and will find its specific identity.
In this particular case, the case of Sergei Diego Dimitrievitch Plotkin, born on September 19, 2001, at 10:17 p.m. in Irkutsk, eastern Siberia, to Carmen Lopez Chatwyn and Dimitri Vassilievitch Plotkin, this profusion of information conceals the fact that Sergei Diego Dimitrievitch Plotkin does not exist.
Or, rather, he does not exist yet.
On one side of the world, at the end of a ray of red light, electronic components transmit micropackets of energy along a network of logical operators that allow a specialized recognition program to draw matrices where the data received from the light-cop, on one hand, and the data stored in the Human Universe databases, on the other hand, are compared one-to-one at several million units per millisecond.
It is the culmination of an entire evolutionary cycle, and of several decades of rapid regression: a return to the primitive jungle, even to the Ocean Matrix; nothing is differentiated, nothing can be. All is in flux; the world never existed. In any case, at the moment, if it does exist, it moves in a spectral place whose distinguishing feature is that it always seems more real than reality itself.
On the other side of the world: the optic extremity of a brain whose standard-size cranium has a volume of around 1,350 cubic centimeters, covered with a layer of "natural"-that is, kept young via an organic capillary implant-black hair, which sits atop a human form 1.83 meters high and weighing 85 kilos and 202 grams. According to the available data, the biological structure just described is officially fifty-six years old, but several transgenic rejuvenation treatments have rendered its cellular age almost half that.
This human creature knows it exists, but just barely. It is hardly more self-aware than the white of the eye across which the red digital encoding microbeam glides.
The structure is dressed in a suit of gray Diacra with red-orange glints and a shirt of cloned cotton whose color falls within the range of pale yellow hues identifiable by the verification scanner attached to the automated security portal that has already searched the human creature beneath its clothing.
The human creature waits.
It waits for the light-cop to finish its job.
It remains standing, on one side of the world. On the side of the world reserved for those who are scrutinized by tubes of red light. On the human side of the world.
On the other side of the world, the machine side, they work. They compare retinal structures and ocular prints. They work very fast, because there are many optic prints stored, and every day there are many humans to examine.
We are inside Control Interface.
We have only just arrived.
We, he, you, I-it doesn't matter which. His personality is artifice. His ocular print is artifice. A large part of his body is artifice.
A large part of his existence is artifice.
For now, he waits.
He waits, like thousands of others he cannot see. Thousands of others isolated in their airlocks all along the concentric rings of the terminal's arrival arch.
Right now, he can see nothing but red light.
And he waits for the light to finish its work. For the light to check his ocular print. For the machine to compare it with the others in the database. For the system to identify him as Mr. Plotkin.
He waits for the system to be wrong.
Then, abruptly, the divided world is reunited.
The light disappears.
Reality replaces it.
And reality, in the first place, is a message transmitted directly to his optic nerve. His neurolinguistic implant, run by the Control Center, projects the words:
ONE WORLD FOR ALL-ONE GOD FOR EACH
In staccato pixilated letters, the airport control program's text scrolls across his retina:
SECURITY CONTROL BAR 18-H-PLEASE GO TO YOUR SECTOR'S BIO- DECONTAMINATION AIRLOCK-PLEASE FOLLOW THE ORANGE ARROWS
These appear on the cold neon-blue walls of the astroport's Grand Hall, which has replaced the still-fresh inferno of the newborn red world. The airlock door has just slid open.
In this instant when the world, it seems, is being born a second time, there is nothing but ordered chaos. Colors correspond to signs; signs give directions, behavior, the existence of foreign objects, spaces yet to be discovered.
Like the Bio-decontamination Airlock.
Control Interface, which regulates the international terminal's entries and exits, is in fact the only living organism in this place. This cybernetic organism was made to order for an average-size astroport and can process several hundred thousand travelers a day. It is a sociobiological brain that works nonstop; it divides and operates without the slightest discontinuity-except that of the digital.
Here, as you follow the orange arrows toward another floor of the Interface, you begin to see that the place is populated by human beings. A window-lined corridor leads from Ocular Identification Control to the Bio-decontamination Airlock. It is only now that you realize there are thousands of you, each in a sterile glassed-in tube, standing on a rolling walkway where an orange light shines, moving slowly upward in the direction of the next concentric ring.
The Bio-decontamination Airlock is a rectangular space whose walls, ceiling, and floor are uniformly white-so matte a white as to be nearly the gray hue of concrete. Blue-white light glares coldly from an overhead fixture. In the center of the room is a circle of white foam. Several anodized-aluminum machines gleam dully along the walls, their ashy luster reminiscent of weaponry. Above the white foam circle, which is etched with two human footprints-the universal symbol telling one where to stand-there is a wide tube where bluish filaments of light writhe and crackle along its honeycombed surface, seemingly sketching the outlines of a human body, the quantum shadow of he who must now match this icon of pure, searching radiance.
The instructions the Interface now sends to the optic nerve of the traveler identified as Sergei Plotkin are clear, concise, and imperative.
The tube, honeycombed with luminescence, descends from the ceiling until it lands upright, covering him where he stands on the foam disk.
Blue-white phosphorescence, like icy sunlight, dances and hums against his body. He feels tiny, invisible intrusions within him- brief stabs of heat in his pelvic area and upward along his spinal column to the base of his neck, an odd stretching sensation in his limbs, shivering cold in his fingertips and toes. Hot-cold, compression-expansion, limited-unlimited. Something is making a game of these paradoxes inside his body.
He knows he is being examined at the molecular level, even to the structure of his DNA.
They will know if he is transporting undeclared or illegal substances, orbital drugs, forbidden components, pirated software, microbombs or any other prohibited weapons, or viruses-digital or biological. Thanks to a bar code implanted in chromosome 13 by the Global Agency of Biological Resource Management-a bar code that cannot be copied-they will be able to tell if he is human, or a legal humanoid, or an approved combination of the two; or, indeed, if he is a renegade android escaped from one of the secret military colonies on the moon. They will know if he has falsified his gender or his genetic identity. They will know, the terrible they of the sociocollective brain. UniWorld. Present everywhere, detectable nowhere, they are able to know everything down to the EPO levels in your blood. They, it, can list not only every disease you have contracted since childhood but all the diseases to which your blood type makes you more susceptible as well.
The First Ring of the Interface determined whether or not the legal information contained in "your personal identification and privacy systems" was correct. To do that, of course, one part of your body-in this case, your ocular imprint-was selected, digitized, and meticulously compared to a billion-gigabyte stock of recorded data.
In the Second Ring, your whole body is used as the comparison "part." Here, the entire body becomes the general parameter from which vital functions are sampled.
PLEASE PLACE YOUR HAND BAGGAGE ON THE OBJECT SCANNER BELT AND GO TO CONTROL ARCH NUMBER 18-H, FLIGHT 501-48A.
Neuro-ocular software, Optrix @ NeuroZone Inc., Denver, CO.
Back to what is real now, via the unreal program of the astroport complex, a tiny cog in the giant metaprogram that governs the organic hominid lives distributed across the planet's surface by the Universal Economic Plan.
The message has just imprinted itself on the surface of the retina, etching itself directly on the optic nerve, and the voice has been redigitalized in his auditory implant-which has, naturally, been left in "open" mode, so as to transmit, again and again, reminders of the written and verbal ordinances that accompanied him during his voyage on supersonic Aeroflot flight 501.
The hall is three hundred meters long and one hundred fifty meters wide. Large windows of Securimax(tm) metaglass line the bay's right side; through these he can see the takeoffs and landings of hypersonics and zeppelins in the night sky. At the far end is the hanger, which his Russian aero-orbital enters slowly, a gray shadow covered with the sodium-gold zebra stripes of the projector lights that illuminate the arrivals, departures, and control areas in clusters. Red, orange, yellow, and green signal lights line the runways, streaked here and there with bands of quicksilver, whirling among the immense antennae of the Orbital Telecommunications Complex, which sits atop an artificial hill, a pyramidal stone cairn, carpeted by a lawn of identical leaves of grass.
His silhouette makes a vague translucent halo on the windows of the vast bay, beyond which the waning light paints the tall glass towers of the terminal with gold, glinting off the aluminum edges of the MagLev(tm) suspended monorail as it traces its old-chrome lines eastward in the direction of the high blue hills lining the horizon.
He walks toward the Checkpoint and Security Center; this is Arch 18- H. A small dose of endorphins to quell his anxiety is administered by his limbic nano-implants, which, since they are perfectly "natural" and legal, are not detected by the biophysical scans of the astroport's security system. Below the gangplank the runways form a network of charcoal gray lines where descriptive diagrams run from one end to the other on LED screens planted amid luminous blocks.
The sky is deep violet over a base of turquoise. Clouds split the residual infrared rays whose photons scatter aimlessly in the stratosphere. It is outrageously beautiful, he notes, as if the whole world might disappear in the same way, without the least fear, without the slightest shudder.
The orange arrows and moving walkway have deposited him in front of the airlock on the top floor of the Control Terminal.
Here, he encounters the first human operator.
The human operator is an administrative security officer for the international astroport. He is anonymous despite the fact that his first name, Gregor, followed by an identification number, is inscribed on the small plastic insignia affixed to the lapel of his yellow uniform.
As soon as he is seated in a chair facing the human control officer, who is behind a protective Securimax(tm) window, Plotkin sees the machine descend from the ceiling, looking like nothing so much as a huge, composite black spider, to grasp his head between its legs and insert a microscanner finer than a human hair into his occipital lobe.
He knows what it's about. His neuro-implants are continuously adapting his memory to the evolving world. The machine is an express polygraph; it will determine whether or not he replies truthfully to the questions the human operator is about to ask, analyzing the variations of the electric current passing through the cells of his nervous system, detecting the infinitesimal organic pulses that accompany his every thought. It is a by-product of the earliest studies on subvocal impulses dating back to the beginning of the century, when the first global control technology appeared with the war.