Thousand Tales; How We Won the Game, by Kris Schnee – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Thousand Tales; How We Won the Game, by Kris Schnee.
North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, June 2015, trade paperback $8.49 (2thousand45 pages), Kindle $2.99.

The chapters are years in which this takes place; from “2036: The Early Adopters” to “2040: Thousand Tales”.

The blurb is helpful. “The mad AI Ludo is taking over the Earth… but she just wants everyone to have fun.” But it’s not that simple.

Paul Kostakis is a high-school graduate who wants to go to college. However, in this regimented 2036, all youths are required to serve a government-approved social service to qualify for admission to higher education. Paul is assigned to a Green Communities Youth Initiative work camp across the country in Arizona, a shelter for the homeless and unemployable. Its coordinator is a friendly-appearing sadist who obviously intends to fail Paul. When he stops a madman with a gun from killing anyone in the cafeteria, she records Paul’s actions as “excessively violent”. When he tries to study for his college’s entrance exams, she wastes his time by ordering that he play an endless video game, supposedly to relax and socialize better.

Paul does so very reluctantly, but the Thousand Tales game turns out to be brand-new, controlled by an equally new Artificial Intelligence, Ludo. Ludo, appearing as a fantasy beautiful woman, intrigues Paul by tailoring an imaginary world to his specifications. “She” gradually reveals to him that she intends to follow her programming to help her players enjoy themselves, by immersing them in increasingly-complex fantasy worlds tailored to their desires; and she wants Paul to help recruit new players who need her aid. “In return for a few little favors, she’s offering ‘brain uploading’. She can fatally dice your brain, scan it, and recreate you in a virtual-reality heaven she controls. You can do anything in there: become a griffin, upgrade your mind, fall in love, or go mad.” (back-cover blurb)

Ludo offers Paul the opportunity to become Horizon, a handsome, powerful griffin mated to Nocturne, a beautiful female griffin, in the fantasy world of his dreams. Ludo creates Nocturne, but the AI has given her an independent mind and personality – she’s “real”, not just another avatar of Ludo. Paul hesitates because he has plans for a human future, including a life with Linda Decatur, a slightly older MIT student whom he loves. “Bring her along!” says Ludo, creating an anthro otter-man, Typhoon’s Eye, for Linda. Paul/Horizon and Nocturne, and Linda and Typhoon become best friends, exploring Ludo’s world as a foursome. Horizon and Nocturne are griffins; Linda is a human pirate captain and Typhoon is her otter-man first mate.

But this is only a computer simulation, and Paul and Linda are temporary visitors. They hesitate to let Ludo dice their brains and become permanent residents of her world – dead as humans outside it. Nocturne urges Paul strongly to accept. She loves him, and the human world is a dangerous place with muggers and warmongering politicians and the privations of an overpopulated society running out of resources that may at any moment take him from her. Why not live in Ludo’s increasingly powerful world where he will be always safe, as the AI surreptitiously links more computers together?

Paul is tempted, but what will happen to the real world if Ludo makes all humans in it her players? How permanent will it be if human governments, fearing for the future of humanity, dismantle the AI? But do some of the governments (or other groups that may really be powerful corporations or organized crime) truly want to protect humanity, or to take it over for themselves?

There are also parts of Ludo’s world that are more than distasteful. Paul/Horizon finds that one of the humans that Ludo accepts as a player is a pederast who has Ludo creating cute young children for the pederast to sexually molest and worse. But as Ludo and the pederast (who “can’t help his urges”) point out, the little children are all the most simple computer constructs. The pederast isn’t really hurting anyone, as he would be in the real world. He’s happy; nobody is being hurt; he’s removed from the real world where either he would hurt someone or he would be imprisoned as a drain on society, and Ludo has gained a new player. Everyone benefits – don’t they? Paul can’t fault their logic, but he can’t help feeling nauseated for accepting it.

Ultimately, should Paul and/or Linda accept the AI’s world or oppose it? Schnee presents compelling arguments both ways. The novel goes from philosophical debates to tense and often violent action, and the reader is kept guessing until the last moment. I don’t know about you, but I certainly intend to nominate Thousand Tales as one of the best furry novels of 2015.

Thousand Tales is science-fiction, not furry fantasy, but there are numerous furry characters within Ludo’s fantasy worlds:

“A cartoonish wolf was running across a stone chamber, wearing boots and a loincloth and wielding a wooden sword. A massive stone snake, a golem, slid down from the pillars that stretched into darkness above. Tense music started.” (p. 15)

At first these are obvious constructs. Later furries, as Ludo learns and becomes more complex, may be independent players like Paul who becomes a flying griffin.

“Vizier changed subtly, turning dappled grey with a silver mane, more detailed and real. His eyes snapped open with a new brightness. ‘What? I… Where is this?’ He pranced in circles looking at his saddlebags full of books. Then he prodded at his shining horn with one oddly flexible forehoof. ‘I’m a unicorn?’” (p. 57)

“They were in a redwood forest full of lancing sunbeams that made a world of green-tinged, rippling light. Horizon stared upward, then looked at Nocturne. She was… anatomically correct now, at least based on his limited experience. He blushed.” (p. 73)

The excellent cover by Anastassia Grigorieva shows a griffin who could be Horizon or Nocturne, except that it has deep blue eyes. Schnee specifies that Horizon has emerald eyes and Nocturne’s are golden. Anyway, Grigorieva’s cover makes it clear that Ludo’s griffins are not “cute”.

– Fred Patten