Spoilers Section 31: Control by David Mack Review Thread

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Defcon, Mar 17, 2017.

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Rate Section 31: Control

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  1. Jim Gamma

    Jim Gamma This space left blank intentionally. Premium Member

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    OK, I'll grant you it's a little far-fetched, but we are talking about an AI that conceals itself as easily as a human breathes. :) It also gives a good explanation as to how Starfleet officers can so easily interface their own equipment with RandomAlienTechOfTheWeek. :)
     
  2. Jarvisimo

    Jarvisimo Captain Captain

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    Mr Mack (@David Mack), I'm loving this. But I have a question about writerly collaboration & character cameos

    With Data & Lal, and especially with Garak & cardassia, do you collaborate with Jeffrey Lang or Una McCormack to check that what you write here is consistent with what they write in their upcoming/possible texts? I'm really curious about the writing process here - and I was really happy to see each.

    However, I was surprised, for example, that Julian's letter to Garak from The Crimson Shadow was not referenced, as it seemed a huge and forthright gesture on Dr Bashir's part - indeed, it presumably was their last communication. It's an utterly beautiful piece of writing, made stronger by foreshadowing your own writing of Bashir in the following novel, and I had hoped at some point there would be follow-up to it - especially as this was the first meeting of the two in years, and this seems to have been utterly impactful to Garak.


    Maybe someone else will as a short story... (and apologies for the long quotations, but these are wonderful passages, that attest to the pains of rarely entirely honest friendship these men have had).

    Finally, I was also surprised Garak does not make mention of Dr Parmak, nor indeed was mention made of Reta Kalanis, who as head of Cardassian intelligence Bureau could be expected to be mentioned...instead we have a new person in charge of 'Cardassian Intelligence Services'. I had hoped these parts of Una's world-building would continue to play a role in further development of Cardassia.

    Otherwise, I really look forward to how this might feed into Enigma Tails and your own future works.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2017
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  3. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Honestly, yeah, that part I could buy into fine, and what you mention is part of it. It also provides a good explanation for how Federation tech is able to spawn AI so easily; could be as simple as child processes running out of control.
     
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  4. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Why are Data and Lal so sure they do not have any hidden AI code in them?
     
  5. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Because Noonien wrote Data's code from scratch.
     
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  6. Reanok

    Reanok Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I finally got my copy of this book. I can't wait to start this weekend.
     
  7. Markonian

    Markonian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    True. But couldn't the code seep in with updates or interfaces?
     
  8. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    I was actually thinking just the same thing after I posted that, but I imagine it might be different for AIs? Considering that Data's a conscious system, that might make things different? He seems to have full awareness of his own codebase on some level.
     
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  9. Dsven43

    Dsven43 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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    Good question. Data has been hooked up to the Enterprise's computers a few times. And he has been hooked up to Lal too. Control certainly knows how to hide within the system.
     
  10. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Within a non-sentient, constantly connected system, at least. I'm thinking more that the "non-sentient" part is the key aspect. By definition, any system that runs code has to be aware of the presence of that code, or else the code couldn't run; code has to be passed to a processor in order to run, after all. While generally speaking that wouldn't mean that Data would have to be consciously aware of his own code, we've seen from past examples that in fact he is.
     
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  11. David cgc

    David cgc Vice Admiral Premium Member

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    Just finished it. I could tell the premise would be controversial, and I'm enjoying the discussions and alternate readings coming up here. I'm certainly hoping the implications of this continue to play out over the coming novels; in many ways, it seems like a bigger shift in the setting than Destiny.

    There is one thing I wanted to mention, though. After all the years of "Get Smart" references here, I swore audibly and vigorously when I got to the bit where the improvised Faraday cage in the navigational tower on Andor was described as a "zone of silence." ;)
     
  12. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    As a longtime fan of Douglas R. Hofstadter's book Godel, Escher, Bach, I find it unlikely that any intelligence could be consciously aware of the code that underlay its own conscious processes. That's just too many levels down. We aren't conscious of the individual firings of our neurons; we're just conscious of the higher-level processes that emerge several tiers of organization above that substrate. I think Godel's Incompleteness Theorem rules out any system being able to completely define and encompass itself; it takes some higher, external system to do that.
     
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  13. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Having read the interview with David Mack, I think I can put another aspect of my discontent with Control better into words now.

    So David mentioned that this book was meant in part as a response to the rising surveillance state in the US (as well as, I imagine, in other nations as well, since that's getting more prevalent all over). And at its core, it does that well...somewhat. But the problem is, while Control shows how harmful it can be to individuals, it's only through subtext that you get any sense of how harmful it can be to society. Uraei, and later Control, are shown to be essentially benign presences at a societal level. They harm, and even kill, individuals, but it's always for the greater good as they see it. And yes, that's certainly extremely morally questionable, but it's presented as a tactic that works. It runs into a lot of the same issues that the portrayal of torture in fiction has, where it's objected to on a purely moral level but it's always shown as still getting viable results. That's the problem when you only focus on the harm at the individual level: when you ignore the negative impact that something could have on society as a whole, it leaves the door open for "but what if someone was really bad" responses, the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario that 24 is so often called out for for example.

    You can read in subtext about harm Uraei had in terms of the progression of the Federation as a society, but it's all subtext. Not that I want it to be blatant, but it would have been nice to present more clearly how negatively Uraei was to the Federation as a whole. For example; early on, you have Admiral Rao talking about how Uraei's influence on the progression of interstellar democracy should be sure to make Earth the first among equals. I was sure that this was going to lead to a thread of how Uraei would end up pushing the importance of humanity at a basic level, baking in the extreme pro-human bias we've seen on the shows as an institutional bias that resulted from Uraei's presence. Not even necessarily purposefully, but as a mere side effect of other actions, as institutional bias so often is. But it's just dropped after that one line, never even mentioned or hinted at again.

    Or for another example, what about the fundamental conservatism of the Federation? (In a philosophical sense, I mean here, not a political; conservative as in averse to progressing too far too fast, as in hewing to tradition.) Surveillance states naturally lead to slowed progress due to a bias towards what's known and trusted over what's new and less reliable, since new things are harder to keep control of. And it's been called out before in Treklit that given the various individual advancements we've seen the Federation is capable of, they should be capable of amazing, nearly transhumanist feats that they seem to go out of their way to hold themselves back from. That would be an excellent opportunity to highlight the fundamental problems with a surveillance state by showing the impact it could have on a society's progression.

    Again and again, with Section 31 in Star Trek or similar morally questionable organizations or tactics in other media, we get either arguments that never progress above the level of the impact on individuals, or vague philosophical statements that something "is wrong" without ever going into detail. Both of these are extremely weak arguments, which is why media can so easily bring them up without ever feeling especially hypocritical. (How often have we seen a show present the argument that torture's wrong because it's cruel and immoral, while simultaneously constantly presenting situations where this guy's a bad guy who's done a lot of awful stuff, so those arguments obviously don't apply and it's okay to do it this time? And how often have we seen a show present the argument that torture leads to inaccurate intelligence and is less effective than other means of interrogation, but people do it anyway and still always get results?) Control had a lot of chances to actually make solid statements about why a surveillance state is at odds with a healthy society, as there are a number of flaws in the Federation that could have been used as excellent allegory in that sense; the above two were just the first examples to come to mind. But it feels like the book just dropped the ball on that aspect.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2017
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  14. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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  15. VDCNI

    VDCNI Captain Captain

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    I've been thinking a lot about this book and I could go into a long explanation of this but essentially this book isn't good enough to justify the destruction of the Federation.

    With Destiny, it was such a well told story that you could deal with the extreme measures that are taken. Here though it feels that they've been written for shock value and cynicism but no other reason.

    Star Trek can definitely reflect our world but it's gone too far and too clumsily here.

    It wasn't worth sacrificing Trek values for the sake of a novel that couldn't even nail the characterisation of its main characters.
     
  16. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    I refer you to my previous comment.
     
  17. VDCNI

    VDCNI Captain Captain

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    A bit glib but fair enough.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2017
  18. DWMarch

    DWMarch Captain Captain

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    I loved it. While many Trek stories ultimately boil down to "we must flip a switch/plug something in/shut something off" this one was compelling the whole way through. I didn't find it cliched that the heroes prevailed despite facing such a vastly superior opponent. And while I found myself wondering how the anonymous tips feature of Ureai could possibly work, that ended up being addressed in the story.

    I felt as though there were some definite Terminator references. Data vs. Control was similar to the T-800 vs. the T-1000 or the T-X. Bashir being pursued by Sarina reminded me of Sarah Connor trying to escape in the first movie. And of course the whole idea of Control and how it purged Ureai from itself reminded me of the Genesys concept in which Advanced Skynet was purposely destroying Big Dumb Skynet.

    We could probably find some examples where "why didn't Ureai act when this happened?" But that could also apply to Q or the Organians or The Prophets or... At this point, it's not a bug, it's a feature. So if we're going to nitpick, let's have some fun with it, like imagining the time when Uraei played with the artificial gravity and made the toilet water splash up on Kirk's ass to put him in a bad mood when dealing with hostile Klingons.

    The only thing I objected to was Sarina getting killed while wearing her Section 31 leather outfit. I hate it when women in leather get killed. But what should have expected from Mack the Literal Knife?
     
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  19. Reanok

    Reanok Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I started to read this book last night the Urei software spying on everyone is really creepy. The book has been really fast paced and exciting. I really dislike L'Haan I'd like to see her ruthless plans for Bashir and Sarina would be stopped.
     
  20. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Noonien directly input data at least once while in the future Data's body. Lal did get input from Data when being initialized and after she was resurrected. What about Shakti which is "only" an AI and interfaces with comnrts a lot? Maybe Mr. Mack can weigh in?