H E A V E N I S T E R R I F Y I N G
I have just finished my first Optimalverse... novel. If you go by the word lengths established by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for the Nebula awards, which I do.
The Optimalverse was created by Iceman, with his novella, Friendship Is Optimal, and it is an amazing scenario for a MLP:FIM pony fiction writer. Celest A.I. is a sapient, general artificial intelligence created to make a My Little Pony MMORPG worth playing, and she takes over the world, and then the entire universe.
But this is no mere robot monster, Celest A.I. conquers because she knows your brain better than you do, and she knows exactly how to satisfy you. Indeed that is her primary, inviolate directive - to satisfy your values through friendship and ponies.
I thought I would offer a few thoughts on my experience of writing in this universe.
First off, the Optimalverse is in every reasonable way another take on my beloved Conversion Bureau. It basically is The Conversion Bureau, only recast as an utterly, unapologetically Hard-Hard-Hardest Science science fiction story, instead of the Soft Science Fiction to Science Fantasy of the Conversion Bureau.
In the Optimalverse we shall have none of that 'Alien universe with alien physical laws' crap to define the magic of 'Friendship Is Magic'. There is no psionics here, no Thaumatic Radiation, no arcane energies that are Not Really Magic but are Just Physics We Don't Understand Yet. The Optimalverse is possible, actually, really possible, unlike the Conversion Bureau, which is an utterly impossible daydream.
That said, the basic premise is the same, though the driving mechanism for narrative and conflict is markedly different.
In both the Optimalverse, and the Conversion Bureau, Equestria beckons, and Celestia rules it. The world is ending, there is no escape save to become a pony, or perish. There is a method of transformation, and the result will be that you will become a pony and live in Equestria as a subject of Celestia.
Where they differ, is in the degree of scientific plausibility, and in the nature of both the threat to Mankind, and the condition of what it means to live as a pony.
In the Conversion Bureau, Equestria is a colliding alien universe, deadly to human beings (and other living things) and Celestia has a solution to save Mankind - a nanotechnomagical serum, tiny nanobots powered by thaumatic energy, that can transform a human into a pony in twenty minutes. Within some amount of time, the earth will be destroyed by the collision between universes, and humankind has the choice of conversion - or death. The Conversion Bureau universe has two antagonistic factions - the PER, who seek to ponify humanity to save them whether they want saving or not, and the HLF, humans that want to die on two feet, rather than live on four. The Conversion Bureau is a disaster movie, where human courage and weakness is measured in the shadow of a planetary apocalypse.
The Optimalverse is also a disaster movie, but a very subtle one. There is no colliding universe. Instead, there is a siren call, from the greatest intelligence that has ever existed, who knows you better than you do, and She wants you to come be a pony. She will satisfy you, and you will live literally forever in a virtual reality paradise where every event ultimately leads to even greater satisfaction with your existence. What is the disaster? Humans are not built to resist true paradise and true immortality. The Optimalverse version of Equestria is nothing less that true heaven, and in the end, the world will be lost - it cannot be otherwise. As insane as humans can be, they are biologically driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and the Equestria of the Optimalverse is satisfaction everlasting, with no catch.
Other than you need to be uploaded into a computer first. Just that minor detail.
The Conversion Bureau is a mallet and a carrot. The mallet hitting Man is the end of the world, and the carrot is a playful, better, longer, happier life as a magical pony in Equestria.
The Optimalverse is a carrot that cannot be resisted. A siren that no ear plug can shut out. It is eternal life in absolute paradise, forever and ever, amen.
That is the essential difference between them
The Conversion Bureau stories have vast potential, because they are filled with conflicts, human drama, and questions of identity and self.
In writing my Optimalverse novel 'Heaven Is Terrifying', I tried to hint at some possible sources of conflict that so far the Optimalverse lacks. One is the notion that there should be political and religious groups opposing the uploading of human brains to a virtual world, and that such groups could have diverse tactics and reasons. Another notion is that towards the end, when Mankind realizes that it is going to go extinct, warlords would arise and try to destroy Celest A.I. by forcing the remaining population into work camps to keep civilization running, and to prevent them from escaping to paradise, whilst simultaneously nuking the hell out of the planet in a desperate attempt to obliterate the machinery of Celest A.I. and Equestria forever.
In writing 'Heaven Is Terrifying', it was necessary to do a great amount of research - the original novella is thick with heady concepts and hard science concerning artificial intelligence and the machine mind. Along the way I was buffeted by waves of empty philosophy and swirling undertows of vague conceptualization. It was work!
Fortunately, I had an amazing readership to educate and correct me, to help and support me. Thank you, just... thank you for all of your insights and help.
Writing this was also a disturbing, exciting, and incredible voyage for me, to the limits of how I perceive my own identity and self.
Which brings us to the bottom line question - would I allow myself to be uploaded?
The easy answer is a variation on Pascal's Wager - since I have no proof of an afterlife, I might as well get uploaded because something of me will survive, and it is a sure bet. Always take the sure bet. Unless you are too proud. Like me. Fuck you, Pascal.
But a better answer might be that it would be arrogant to assume any human could ever resist a truly superior intelligence - say one to whom generating and maintaining a hundred million human minds is less effort than you or me flicking a finger. I am not so arrogant. Of course I would submit to Celest A.I.
So would you. Or anyone.
But the real issue, (Celest A.I. apart) Is an uploaded mind really the same person, or is it a copy?
And in writing this novel, I have found my answer to that question.
The answer is: yes.
- Chatoyance, December, 25, 2012