2040: Reconnection; a “Thousand Tales” Story, by Kris Schnee – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
2040: Reconnection; a “Thousand Tales” Story, by Kris Schnee. Illustrated.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2015, trade paperback $4.99 (86 pages), Kindle $0.99.
This thin booklet is not a sequel to Schnee’s Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game (CreateSpace, June 2015), but it is set in the same world. Or rather Ludo’s world.
Ludo is the advanced Artificial Intelligence who can scan anyone’s brain and recreate it in “her” fantasy world, in the setting and body of their choice. Handsome men and beautiful women, noble warriors, flying griffins, anthropomorphic animals; anything, living in an ancient Greek or medieval European or sci-fi futuristic paradise. Of course, their original body in 2040 A.D. Earth is dead, and the consequences of this back on Earth may be unknown, but who in Ludo’s world cares?
Alma does. She’d been an old man dying painfully from cancer:
“She’d signed over her modest estate to Ludo in return for having her cancer-infected brain slowly diced, analyzed and recreated as software. As each chunk of brain matter got sheared away she’d lost parts of her memories, her senses, only to have them come back from that terrifying void. She’d gone blind in the surgical room, then seen test patterns and finally the vibrant colors of the digital world. The ruling AI’s voice had asked her, incidentally, what sort of body she wanted once the process was complete.
As an old man whose flesh was incurably ruined and destroying itself horribly, Alma had begged to become something different.” (p. 1)
What Alma becomes is a slim young woman, in Talespace’s glorious University of Ivory Tower habitat. Within moments of leaving her room, Alma meets an armored knight, a human dressed as a modern businesswoman, and a humanoid squirrel-woman. Some are minds living within Ludo’s Talespace, while others are players logging into Talespace from Earth, only temporarily in Talespace. Alma wanders about, exploring the university’s vast expanse, meeting an array of characters.
Within days – time runs differently in Ludo’s world, but “days” is about right – Poppy, the squirrel-girl, persuades Alma to try a more adventurous body like hers:
“Gravity lessened. Alma floated just above the floor, surrounded by the leafy runes. Her body blurred and reformed. When she could see again, she staggered backward and fell over painfully onto her new tail.
‘Sorry,’ said Poppy, and went to help her up. ‘Should’ve warned you. Can you balance?’
Alma stood up with her arms spread wide. Everything felt fuzzy, like being wrapped in blankets. A weight twitched and curled at the base of her spine and made it hard to stand. She snatched it with one hand and felt it wriggle like a furry snake – and felt the touch as though it were part of her back.
‘The tail’s a little hard to get used to. The mind’s ‘plug-and-play’ in terms of new body parts, so you’ll sort of automatically re-map your nerves over time to control it.’
Alma took a few staggering steps and paused in front of a mirror. A shy-looking young woman with grey fur stood there holding her long tail. Her ears flicked and swiveled atop her head. ‘This… is me?’”
Alma wiggled one foot, wobbled, and felt her tail twitch to compensate. ‘It’ll take some getting used to. What do I do now?’
‘Equipment. If you’re going to explore, you should gear up. Are you looking to be a warrior, magic-user, or what? I assume you’re not headed off to one of the sci-fi areas looking like this.’” (pgs. 20-21)
Alma has a whole world to explore. At the same time, Poppy warns her about not getting too lost in it:
“‘So, this world is subtly encouraging us to live in different little self-satisfied bubbles, unaware of what’s outside. If we’re not careful we’ll end up with a narcissistic fantasy that’s cut off from Earth, where everybody is movie-star beautiful and we don’t even know that the poor benighted meat humans are dying from war or pollution.’” (p. 25)
Alma does not intend to forget the meat humans outside the super-computer/Ludo. When she/he had been a man, Alma had been a teacher, feeling a lifelong calling to educate the young. She still does. So she alternates between exploring the fantasy realms of Talespace as a magic-using humanoid squirrel-girl accompanied by Kai, a centaur as her mentor/companion, and returning to a 2040 independent Texas in an improved robot body interface to teach school. This involves her with 2040 politics: the regional rivalry of the U.S. trying to re-annex Texas; the humans campaigning against robot-body teachers or recognizing the “godless” Ludo; and the powerful bureaucrats trying to destroy Ludo and Talespace:
“‘You’ve already warned me it’d look bad, so why tell me –‘
‘Because I want to.’ He [Hernandez, the school principal] slapped the ball down on his desk. ‘God, Alma, why do you think I pulled strings to get you this job? You’re a friend, but I’m scared too. Scared of our northern neighbors trying to take us back by force or fraud; did you see how they tried to kill your super-AI last year and blame it on the Cubans? Scared of falling behind, of being weak, of some techno-disaster worse than rampant AIs. I only have control over one little part of the world, and it’s full of kids I’m required to help, that I can’t.’” (p. 54)
Alma is assigned to teach Basic students; those with learning disabilities, hyperactive, and otherwise not expected to go on to higher education. She finds that, with a socially-approved robot body connection from Talespace to the “real” world, she is no longer emotionally connecting with her students. They consider her too weird. She develops a new method of reaching them, which will both meaningfully teach the “losers”, and will bind the real world of Earth and the virtual world of Talespace closer together.
2040: Reconnection is not a dramatic novella. It consists of large chunks of conversation about the nature of reality and similar philosophy, teaching meaningfully to children, and so on. It is still a lot deeper than a longer but more shallow adventure novel. It contains many scenes of Talespace furry “reality” that furry fans will enjoy. However, while 2040: Reconnection stands alone adequately, you really should read Thousand Tales first. The book has three poor illustrations of Alma as a squirrel-girl buried in it, unidentified except by the copyrights to Andrea Surajbally, Christine Verleth, and Madeline. The uncredited cover is based on two free images by MoonglowLily of DeviantArt, modified by Schnee.