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A disaster befalls the United States. It must never be repeated. And so, tomorrow’s light shines in a thousand million million eyes.
Invisible nanobot-based cameras now blanket the cities and the skies, recording data and transmitting it to the Pentagon. Every single event: recorded. Every single incident: captured. It’s the ultimate law enforcement tool, a security feed that spans coast to coast.
But something is going wrong.
The nanocams are transmitting bizarre scenes to the Pentagon – events that have never happened, images that seem to be from another world.
Are the recordings being doctored?
Or is something far more sinister afoot?
A powerful and malevolent intelligence is emerging from the ruins of America, and it might be too late to stop it. An intelligence analyst called Viktor Kertesz now stands at the threshold of a new chapter of human history…and zero has just become one.
…In More Detail
Vanadium Dark is a strange, ultra-violent science fiction/thriller/horror novel set in the near future. I wrote it as a Venn diagram intersection of two ideas.
Idea Uno: global surveillance, and the reality that most oppression to date has been done with crude, ineffective, and limited methods.
Nero did not have chartered jets, and blacked-out vans to help him apprehend Christians. Torquemada did not have electric fires to burn his victims. Hitler did not have genome testing that could immediately determine, through a tiny drop of blood or sliver of skin, whether someone was a Jew.
They killed millions. And they were amateurs.
We’ve already seen the NES and SNES of oppression. The Oculus Rift of oppression could be coming soon. What form will it take?
18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham predicted a new sort of prison, called a panopticon. A huge array of cells, arranged so that a single guard (via reflective lenses) can watch them all from a single control tower without the prisoners knowing that they’re being watched. The beauty of it is that even though huge numbers of prisoners are going unwatched (the guard only has two eyes in his head) they all must behave as if they’re being watched, as they cannot know whether the guard is looking into their cell at the moment.
The United States of Vanadium Dark is, essentially, a panopticon. The air is no longer just oxygen, helium, and nitrogen molecules – now it’s infested with nanoscopic cameras, connected to an immense security apparatus in the Pentagon. You are being watched. Your every move is now a performance. An anti-terrorism weapon, apparently. Sponsored by a relatively benign government.
Unfortunately, it works perfectly and the public loves it.
Idea Dos (MS-DOS?): computer intelligence.
Lots of people have written about the singularity – the point at which machine intelligence outstrips human intelligence. But the singularity is, by definition, something that cannot be written about, because it’s the point at which computer intelligence takes over, and you’re like a monkey writing about early human culture, or early humans writing about civilisation, or medieval peasants writing about the industrial revolution, or even people from 1850 writing about now. Nobody is very good at predicting the next rung on the ladder. We can only look down, not up.
Stories about the future, like stories about the past, are always distorted by the funhouse mirror of the present. In Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ he has Roman centurions wearing medieval plate armor. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, one of the characters makes note of a ticking clock. Likewise superintelligent computers in fiction always come off like high-tech versions of Clippy: kind of rote and overpredictable, or like Data from Star Trek, adding lots of zeros to figures, and having trouble understanding human emotions.
I wanted to make a superintelligent AI that’s just an unfettered force of chaos: completely out of control and unpredictable. Not much more than a cyclone that can talk.
My ideas are probably wrong. But I hope they reach the level of convincing lies.
My Brain Wants to Do Pattern Matching. What Can I Compare It To?
Please provide the individual serial number on your brain, so we can provide better feedback. Maybe JG Ballard, or HP Lovecraft. Maybe Michael Crichton, or Dean Koontz. Maybe Greg Egan, or Eliezer Yudkowsky. Maybe Paddington Bear. Two different people who read Vanadium Dark are reading two different books.
Who Wrote It?
Ben Sheffield, from Australia. There are a few Ben Sheffields from Australia, but we’re all the same. I have found that the best way to understand the world is to experience it from a few different bodies.
(Re)commendations obtained with racks, thumbscrews, comfy chairs, et cetera
“This is definitely a different and terrifying story that got under my skin and stuck with me.” – Kristen Gough
“The author keeps the story alive and moving along with believable characters and an interesting story-line.” – SarahC
“Ben Sheffield gives us a terrifying, nail biting story. This is one book I will never forget in a hurry!” – Chrissy
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The second of the classic-era Helloween albums, Keeper part Deus is a fifty minute fanfare of melodic power metal that leaves no tooth unrotted. Until Helloween, power metal’s approach was “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Afterwards, it was “a spoonful of sugar helps the sugar go down”.
It’s a little less earnest in its sweetness than Keeper 1, and a little more self-parodic. You can see vague reflections of the internet conflict that would eventually break up the band. Imagine the creepy forced-happy vibe of “Future World” spread over an entire album. At times, Keeper 2 sounds like fiddlers playing as the ship sinks.
It’s not as good as the first one, mostly because Michael Weikath has stepped into the role of primary songwriter here – the album’s absolutely infested with his tracks, and other than the opener “Eagle Fly Free” he doesn’t do anything truly great here. “Dr Stein” and “Rise and Fall” are midpaced, and quickly let the excitement ebb away. The closing epic just doesn’t have enough songwriting-fu to stay interesting for 13 minutes.
Michael Kiske’s contributions are likewise forgettable: he has a spectacular voice, and not much else. It was once joked that Jayne Mansfield’s acting abilities consisted of filling out a sweater. In Kiske’s case, his one redeeming attribute is located a few inches further up on his sternum.
But suddenly, the goods get develivered. Kai Hansen’s lonely three songs run back to back to back in the album’s middle, and they’re arguably the best three song run in Helloween’s history.
“Save Us” is fast and savage, upping the ante on “Twilight of the Gods.” “March of Time” is another golden Helloween standard that delivers everything you could want from this band. “I Want Out” is genius that years of overplay only slightly diminishes, featuring a jagged dual-guitar melody and lots of great vocal acrobatics. The lyrics pretty much state Kai’s frame of mind at the time. It’s good that he only wanted out from Helloween, not out from power metal.
Pablo Picasso years trying desperately to do something new, something unique. He moved from style to style, mastering and then rejecting methods…and then he paid a visit to the newly discovered Lascaux cave paintings. As the story goes, seeing these 16,000 year old works of art almost broke him. “We have invented nothing!”
Helloween’s Keeper albums might provoke a similar reaction to fans of modern Nuclear Blast-style metal. Other than the thunderous orchestras (which Helloween couldn’t afford in the era before software symphonies), there’s really nothing around today that wasn’t either invented or perfected here. Bits and pieces of power metal have always existed, from Iommi’s overdubbed guitar tracks to “Highway Star’s” duelling solos to Meat Loaf’s shamelessness. Helloween took those elements and made a style out of it. It’s naive, inconsistent, and sometimes irritating. It’s also the bedrock of a good amount of what’s considered cool today.
Which is ironic, because this album is weapon-grade uncool.