More Plus Infinity: More Quotes from They’d Rather Be Right

I saved a ton of quotes for They’d Rather Be Right that I didn’t use. Here are a few that I thought were worth sharing:

And the imaginings were worse than the visions. So clear, so intricately clear, they become memories. Memories as sharp and clear as any other reality. Eight-year-old Joey could not yet know the reasoned verbalization: an imaginary experience can have as profound an effect upon personality development as a real one. He knew only that it was so.

Early on in the novel, there’s a lot of talk about Joe’s young telepathic powers having a huge impact on him. There’s even mention of his father beating him, but that never actually happened. Since Joe can read minds, he could see and feel what his father was thinking, and that hurt him just as deeply as any physical blow.

It’s a fascinating idea and it would’ve been great if the novel was entirely about a young telepath surviving in a world that didn’t understand him and that he understood far better than they could imagine.


“This is highly irregular, doctor,” Rogan said firmly, before Billings could comment. “I trust you have not been questioning indisputable facts! I trust you have not been planting disturbing doubts in the minds of our future citizens! I trust you know Congress approved those facts for school textbooks long ago! It would be most subversive, not to mention a waste of time and tax money, to question them now!”

The novel goes at length to discuss how all opinion and thought are being controlled by the government. They present the United States as an empire on the verge of collapse, as well. None of the themes of the novel are about societal collapse or dystopias, and, despite both being indicated, nothing is done with those threads.

It felt like personal opinion being interjected where the story hardly warranted any of it.


But it was different with Bossy. Bossy was a machine, and therefore the processes which would substitute for thought must be approached mechanically. Bossy recognized solely through mechanical indexing—no different in principle from the old-fashioned punched card sorter. This and this and this is the same as that and that and that—therefore these two things have a relationship to one another. Comparison of new data with old data, a feedback process of numerous indexed impulses and these to the external sense receptors and their stream of new impulses—really it was quite trivial.

Given the technology of the time, I like the idea of Bossy since its a precursor to modern computers, but a computer built without microchips would need to be massive to work. I’ve always understood this to be the case, but my modern vantage has shielded me from the concept that every part of a computer in this era would have to consist of moving parts, giant in size and even larger in scope.


“How could you continue to respect me if you knew these things about me?” He had not yet arrived at the knowledge that Joe would have seen thousands of carbon copies of such traits in others, would have grown up with them, accepting them from the first as being no more than normal to any human being. That in the balance scale of a man’s life, achievement was even more splendid because it did gain ascendancy over the furtive quirks; that man was even nobler in that, at the same time, he was so reprehensible.

Again, further proof that the telepathy parts would’ve been far more interested to focus on.


“It is natural that a new concept, however valid, will be questioned. The semantic vocabulary has not yet been built up to convey the idea comprehensively. It is necessary that we search with great effort to find meanings which words, as yet, are inadequate to convey. Naturally the tongue will stumble in trying to form concrete pictures from new abstractions. Naturally, any illustration must prove inadequate for if the reality had come into actual being it would not be a new concept.”

This is the one quote that I genuinely love. I so hate prescriptivists who say a word ought to mean ‘x’ and then pretend like definitions are infallible, immutable, and unyielding.


But Mabel was wise. Even before she had gone into Bossy, she knew that no woman could fill all of a man’s life, that her relationship to him was compartmentalized, that the woman who tries to monopolize both love and companionship usually winds up with neither. She did not pretend to fill more than a woman’s place in Joe’s life.

And we end on a quote that made me cringe reading it. Oh well, it was a different time and it shows beyond just piecing together a computer. Thankfully, the gender politics are otherwise fairly muted (largely because there is only one female character).

More Plus Infinity: They’d Rather Be Right is Mostly Wrong

If More Plus Infinity is my quest to climb the shining hill of science fiction, then the second ever Hugo Award-winning best novel in 1955, They’d Rather Be Right, is the first trial in my still nascent ascent. It wasn’t nearly as bad I had expected – it is sometimes called the ‘worst winner ever’. It also wasn’t worth the read.

I had trouble finding this book*. It hasn’t been reprinted endlessly like so many other Hugo Award winners. It isn’t heralded as a classic. In fact, it is lauded for nothing of note beyond its status as having won an award. It won’t be the only Hugo winner to have fizzled and faded, but it is one of my first tastes of the sheer range of quality that a category born of human democracy might possess.

Alas, I persevered and here we are.


They’d Rather Be Right, sometimes known as The Forever Machine, was first published in a serial format for Astounding Science-Fiction, and written by the pair of Mark Clifton and Frank Riley. Neither of these authors produced anything else that I might ever read, so this is their one and only intersection with my timeline. I won’t shed any tears.

The story is a product of its time in ways that make it almost comically similar to The Demolished Man. There’s a lot of concern and worry over psychology, and over mankind’s ability to understand himself and his own psyche so totally as to unlock hitherto unknown abilities. It isn’t quite the meme of “unlocking the other 90% of your brain”, but it gets close.

The main character is Joe, a telepath born to parents of modest means who don’t get his affliction. Joe’s father worked as the janitor for a local university, and fearful of his son’s mental condition, he took a young Joe to see one of the professors of the school. This is where one of the novel’s major theme’s begins: institutional myopia.

I passed a bunch of the little brats on the way home tonight. ‘There goes Crazy Joey’s father,’ one of them said. I won’t stand for it. Either Joey learns to stand up, or—” “Or what, Bob?” His mother’s voice held defiance and fear.

 

The professor’s assistant pieces together Joe’s ability almost immediately. He had been looking for telepathy all along. His boss, the established and respected psychologist, doesn’t subscribe to such pseudosciences: his science is only that which has been tried, tested, and fits into the current thinking on things. Later the novel, the term ‘cookbook scientist’ is used to describe a different character, but that point of view is founded even earlier in the introductory chapters.

Martin shoved the paper away from him. Must warn that student. His entire train of thought was a violation of orthodox psychology. Ames would crucify the boy if he ever saw this paper. Did he dare warn the boy? Students show so little caution or ethics.

After these initial scenes, we cut to the modern date of the mid-1950’s where yet another professor is being tasked by the United State’s government to create a machine which can predict missiles ahead of impact and respond faster than any human pilot can respond. The project had been a failure with every scientist they took it to, so they finally settled on bringing it to a psychologist since it meant a level of intelligence that would warrant an almost artificial intelligence.

Or something like that. An older Joe gets wrapped into things because the lead of this new government project had an inkling of his abilities, and knew that if her were to be able to sense something beyond normal human sensing he’d need a telepath.

“In other words,” Billings said slowly, “they want a servomechanism designed which can foresee the future, and work out a pattern of mechanical operation which will cope with that future at the time it becomes present.” He realized his voice showed his incredulity, and that it would displease Rogan. It did.

If I have lost you yet, the story then progresses to the creation of Bossy, a machine named after a cow due its cow-like shape. Using his abilities to influence other’s, Joe helps the entire scientific community to look past their individual prejudices and doubts, and instead contribute to the project. Bossy is the most complicated machine ever made, but the knowledge to make it already exists. The problem is the infighting and bickering among learn’d individuals who would rather cling to their own worldview than contribute to anyone else’s. It is a major theme of the novel, and the authors hammer it home at every turn. Mankind is smart, but holds itself back by clinging to truths that fit only into each individual’s framework.

Only, it turns out that Bossy is a machine that can re-educated each cell of the human body, thus rejuvenating the individual into eternal youth and beauty, and providing them access to hidden telepathic powers. There is a catch: Bossy only imparts immortality to the outliers of society who see civilization for the charade that it is. Holding on to dearly to any convictions prevents Bossy from working.

“The patient must be willing to be relieved of all tensions,” Joe said. “Yes,” Billings agreed. “A firm belief in anything acts as a tension, in that it disallows the opposite of that belief. The admission ticket to immortality is the willingness to divorce oneself from all frameworks of preconception and prejudice.” “Would that be so difficult?” Hoskins asked, with a challenge in his voice. “I think so,” Joe said quietly. “I think, gentlemen, you will find that they’d rather be right—and die.”

Before Bossy is finished, a wave of public opinion turns against the project. People are afraid that Bossy will replace workers or render jobs obsolete. The whole of the United States begins to turn against anything that would upset their status quo, and the government turns on the project as well. Joe and the two lead scientists go into hiding to complete the project, and the rest of the novel turns into an entanglement of finger waggling at the ineptitude of the masses and a unthrilling thriller of who will control Bossy forever.

There are a few elements of the modern day scattered throughout the novel’s ideas. Machines replacing people, check. A machine that can do everything and answer any question? Sounds remarkably like the Internet. In fact, when it is decided that no one will control Bossy and everyone will have access, They’d Rather Be Right comes close to the notions that new technology should be made accessible and open source for the masses to use as they see fit.

“Apply this everywhere in man’s knowledge. The vast majority of what he thinks is knowledge is pure assumption—the forcing and pounding of unlike pieces together to make them fit.”

A lot of it doesn’t work though. The writing isn’t bad, but dear god did this book ramble, often about the same things. I get it: humanity is a mixed tribe of people warring, fighting, and debating. We could be so much better if we just stepped outside our own shoes. It’s so cliche as to be boring.

The science also doesn’t hold up. A machine that does everything? They even predict the internet by linking every Bossy up in a way so that they can machine learn as a network. How do they explain that working? Harmonics. Yes, this is a musical internet, stored on tape and plastic, traversing the globe by sound alone.

In conclusion, let me leave you with a short chapter toward the end of the novel. This chapter introduces no new characters and contains no old ones. It’s entire purpose seems to be reflecting on the novel’s central themes if discord between people of unlike social status. In other words, it does a better job of summing up the entire novel than I could ever do, and is really the only thing you should bother reading if you want to get the “point” of what Mark Clifton and Frank Riley were trying to convey:

A car, driven by a scholarly old gentleman, had just pulled past the pumps of the service station and over to the door of the garage at one side. The motor was missing, would the mechanic please look into it? The mechanic lifted the hood, and saw that one of the wires from the distributor cap had worked loose. Well of all the stupid old goats. Naturally that spark plug wouldn’t fire without any juice getting to it! He curbed the impulse to flare up in disgust at the helplessness of drivers in general. All the guy had to do was lift the hood and look! But that was human beings for you. Ninety-five per cent of them wouldn’t know a piston ring from a fan belt. If it weren’t for the five per cent of guys like himself, guys who knew what made motors tick, the whole civilization would come to a stop. No matter how mechanized things got, it still boiled down to five per cent of the people carrying the other ninety-five per cent on their backs! Interplayed with his thoughts was the great excitement in the old man’s mind. He was on his way up to the University with an unmistakable connecting link between the Tu’un and the Sung Dynasty in Chinese Art. He was filled with elation at this long sought discovery. He could hardly contain his impatience at the delay, but his visit would be a long one and last far into the night; a night of exhilarating discussion. And if that pesky motor got worse, he might be left afoot. The mechanic was still bent over the frame of the car, fiddling with wires. The old gentleman tasted the triumph of saying to the mechanic, “I have just discovered the connecting link between—” The awe which would fill the man’s face! Then realization. The mechanic probably wouldn’t even recognize a Ming piece, much less a Tu’un! Like the simple peasants of China, beasts of toil and burden, living only to sleep, to eat, to procreate their own misery. It was only about five per cent of mankind which carried the lamp of knowledge and kept it glowing! Only five per cent to carry the other ninety-five per cent on their backs. He unconsciously straightened his back, as if to shift the load, make it easier to bear.


*If you are at all curious, I found They’d Rather Be Right in a collection of science fiction short stories on Amazon.

An Undertale Follow-Up (w/ Spoilers)

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If Undertale reminds me of any one game, that game would be Bravely Default. Beyond the surface similarities like roleplaying game, both excel in those select moments when they are games about games. While Undertale ramps up the metacommentary even more, I am not sure that either game would exist in any world in which JRPGs were not as successful as they once were or not as boring as they now are.

Undertale’s story concerns a human trying to escape an underground world where monsters have forged their own civilization. King Asgore, the ruler of the land, has declared a war against all humans after his family’s own suffering, and the player’s character is hunted throughout the game because of it.

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I personally love the self-aware nature of Undertale. There are almost too many moments to name when it comes to examples. So much of the game is a glorious tease in which the game knows what you’ll do, why you’ll do it, and it often responds in bizarre ways.

My favorite example was the moment I chose to use the Instant Ramen item in the middle of a boss battle. I was low on health and looking for a health boost. There aren’t potions are or other more typical health recovery items in Undertale; instead, you eat food that you find/buy throughout the game.

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In this particular instance, I had swiped the ramen from an otaku obsessed with catgirls and human “history” (see anime). When I used the ramen in the heat of battle, I expected a cute line of text and some health. What I got instead was about a minute and a half of text and waiting, since, despite being called instant, there is absolutely nothing instant about making ramen. The thought that I was taking a brief respite from a challenging encounter to boil water and wait for ramen to cook had me laughing loudly. The four HP I recovered replaced that laughter with a knowing despair. “Oh you, Undertale, oh you.”

It was also sufficiently shocking when I learned the true meaning of EXP and LV (or LOVE score).

I knew Undertale was an unusual game in the sense of being able to do a pacifist run, but it also had experience points and levels, or so I thought. By the time endgame rolls around, it is revealed that EXP actually stands for Execution Points and the LOVE rank you get for accumulating more and more EXP actually means “Level of Violence“. I hadn’t slaughtered that many monsters, but I felt bad for the few I had killed. I also felt uneasy the entire game about my low level or the lack of experience I was gaining. The system goes against everything RPGs have ever taught me.

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The boss fights are also memorable. Since the game isn’t constrained to choosing options on a menu, boss fights are wild, unpredictable, and a ton of fun. I especially liked the fights with Mettaton, not only for his game-show-host-turned-killer-robot personality but also because the last battle with him was great.

Most memorable of all, my final encounter with Flowey, a nihilistic and murderous flower, involved many restarts of the game. I had spoiled myself with a brief look at a guide for the final battle, so I knew a bit of what to expect, but it was still surprising. In many ways, it reminded me of the ‘HIDEO’ parts from the fight with Psycho Mantis in the original Metal Gear Solid. It’s rare to see a game as actively aware as a boss who controls the saving and loading of your game.

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Also, closing out the game entirely on any boss fight is a ballsy move.

All in all, there was a lot to like and enjoy about the game. I loved talking my way through fights, and I liked the variety of challenge too. Undertale was a very fun experience. I wasn’t so enamored that I am aching to go for other endings, but I am very happy with the ending I did get.

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So, I finished Undertale … [No Spoilers]

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I purchased it during a Steam sale not that long ago. I had heard some of the hype, especially from a couple of friends who were already enamored with the title. But going in, I knew very little. I knew it was a JRPG, but ‘combat’ was more about having dialogues with the ‘enemies’. I knew it was an indie darling, one-man passion project too. After having finished the game one time, I better understand the hype, but this is definitely not my Game of the Year.

Undertale is about a human who wakes up deep in the underground world of monsters. Long ago, humans from the surface sealed all of the monsters behind a powerful gate. Forced down deep in the earth, the monsters have since built a civilization of sorts, and its player’s job to navigate this world en route to the surface.

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Without a doubt, Undertale is one of the funniest and most subversive games I have ever played. Humor infuses itself into every action, every line of dialogue, and every bit of flavor text. The game manages to be both a love letter to its JRPG predecessors, as well as a mirror that challenges anyone making those kinds of games still to this day to reconsider what they are doing. Undertale is an anti-JRPG, but in order to do that as well as it does, it also has to know all the in’s and out’s of the genre, including it memes, its tropes, and how players play these kinds of games. Undertale succeeds on the passion that most definitely spurred on its creation.

The game’s equivalent to combat, a mishmash of typical JRPG combat and puzzle-esque dialogue choices, is brilliant. There are many ways to playthrough Undertale and, in my one run, I opted to be friendly rather than bloodthirsty. I thoroughly enjoyed taking the non-combat approach to battles. In an age where people argue over whether or not games without combat are still games, it is great to see something like Undertale combine traditions with something totally new.

All pleasantries aside, Undertale did lose me in a few areas. While I would recommend anyone give it a try, all the hype over the game’s writing led me to believe it would have something more than witty one-liners or fun banter. I was really hoping for a better overall plot, and I don’t think I got one.

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Also, for as much as I did love the combat, nothing about completing the game made me want to do it again, even with the promise of a dramatically different run. I got my fill of Undertale in my one playthrough. I am obviously missing out on a lot of additional plot and adventure, but not every game is something I want to 100%.

Undertale is a great game. It is fun and funny. If you grew up on JRPGs like I did, then you owe yourself to try this game out. Even if it isn’t my game of the year, the puzzles and the laughter were well worth the price of admission. Undertale is easily one of my favorite indie games in recent memory. I’d check it out when you get a chance.

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Last Night’s Ringside View (WWE Royal Rumble 2016)

Last night’s Royal Rumble was the best WWE PPV I have watched in ages. Every match was fun. It wasn’t perfect, but even the animals woke up to watch it …

Eventually. They mostly just did this:

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Truthfully, it was too much Roman Reigns for any animal to take.

WildStar: Looking Back

WildStar wasn’t perfect, but it was something. Though I am still a little turned off looking back at the game’s absurdity, I remain happy with many of the screenshots I took. WildStar has a visual all its own, despite the inanity. Since returning Free-to-Play, I’ve tried to pick it up again for another go, but like most MMOs it remains too slippery to hold in my hands.

Alas, there are always these memories:

Uncharted in Captions Only

The games have some fun characters.

They also have some great environments.

I hope you enjoy leaping off of things though.

Or lifting people up to things …

Bosses suck; the only difference between a boss and a regular enemy is how many clips you need to unrealistically sink into their heads.

There were at least two sequences that were laughably bad.

Sneaking around was fun though.

And this guy kept his poker face even in death.

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