Tuesday, April 03, 2012

‘The Turing Test’ by Chris Beckett

The city is wrecked; abandoned. As you walk the streets avoiding the potholes, unremitting rain invades the roofless, crumbling houses. And then you turn on your implants: suddenly you are surrounded by lights, traffic, people! The modern, perfect metropolis bustles around you – people stop and stare, murmuring at your insanely high resolution. Sometimes they spit the word ‘physical’.

You are old and spiteful; you lure a young delinquent to your home in the suburbs. He is raw, uneducated – has no idea that he lives in augmented reality. Your elderly husband objects but he’s easy to manipulate. You’re going to take this kid’s illusions away one by one; wait till he finds out where he really is, and what part of him is all that remains in the real. And there is nothing he can do about it.

Part ‘The Matrix’ and part horror, this is the world of two of Chris Beckett’s stories in his collection ‘The Turing Test‘, just released on Amazon Kindle.

We travel with Cardinal-Major Illucian of the 32nd Pristine Guard to a most secure prison island. The warrior Half-and-Half has been imprisoned for one hundred years but the legendary soldier is unchanged. The war is going badly for the Empire and his duplicitous skills are needed again.

In vain the immortal explains: ‘So the Emperor thinks he can make use of me, does he? Doesn’t he know how I got my name? I’m Half-and-Half! Whoever I serve, whoever I have dealings with, I do them just as much harm as I do good and just as much good as harm.’

The Emperor thinks he can ‘channel the warrior in the right direction’, just like all his predecessors. To this end, Half-and-Half is fitted with an antimatter bracelet which can be remotely detonated – and sent off to reverse the tides of war. Success and betrayal: this is the scientific age and no-one believes in the offspring of angels and demons – what could possibly go wrong?

Karel Slade is Executive Director of Christians for Human Integrity. His organization is opposed to artificial intelligence, cloning and copying. He is also a secret leader of the Soldiers of the Holy Ghost, CHI’s militant wing which bombs and kills its opponents. Perhaps he should not have been surprised when he woke in what seemed to be his hotel room to discover the door led only to an interrogation suite.

Mr. Thomas seems affable enough, but as for Mr. Occam … Karel is shackled in the interrogation chair and can’t quite see what Occam is doing in that cabinet, but he can plainly hear the steely clink of the instruments of torture. Karel looks to his faith to sustain him, but his tormentors convey a terrifying possibility: they have copied the real Karel and he is the copy. So why should he suffer excruciating agonies to save the secrets of his ‘original’, someone who’d care not a fig for him? What a dilemma … but there again, perhaps his captors lied?

The fourteen stories in this collection first appeared back in 2008 when they received stellar reviews. Beckett writes well, hooks the reader from the very first paragraph and keeps the pages turning. His latest novel, ‘Dark Eden’ was released a couple of months ago and is already tipped to win a major award this year.

The Turing Test’ was published on Kindle on March 19th 2012 for £2.56.