APPARATUS

APPARATUS

by Sasmito Yudha Husada

 

 

From roof to roof and door to door. My one dusty suitcase was the only thing I kept around. I convinced myself that I never felt lacking at all. Rejoicing at the good nature of my fellow men; reciprocal altruism at its best. Granted, sometimes circumstances refused to be on my team. Those were the nauseating nights when I cringed at my reflections and thought, “Parasite.” But in the grand scale of my quiet hell, I pranced as if it were a warm, friendly summer.

Rumors roared, that I lived in terror. In my hands, a suitcase. On my back, a cosmic despair. Waltzing around in the narrow circle of my thoughts. As narrow as what will be laid down to me for the structural collapse in times ahead. As wide as the space between commuters’ dreams in a train car at rush hour.

There was not a thing to deny. I dare not to claim that I knew myself better than them. It is not seldom, that people breathe their life in such ignorance, yet are able to ace some of their goals. My sole remaining goal was neither intricate nor anything fancy. I wanted to die alone and free. Uninvolved in politics, religions, and movements. Coupled with old age and a dozen bodily inconveniences, the end seemed so near. Yet, there was always a reason for the reaper to postpone his blessing; what had happened in the past, came back on the stage with a blast. I couldn’t block their noise assaulting my ears.

The stories of my extended family members were neat and humble. They consist of cushioned happiness, wrapped up in conservative fashion. One of their customs was to apply for government jobs. I had failed to avoid such a fate; since graduating from middle school, I already had a government collar on my neck; it was my parents’ decision for me to enroll in a state funded scholarship. That didn’t last long. Eventually, I fell into a disaster. Everything changed. The curse started to unfold when the government sent me back to uni for another scholarship after a few years of work.

We often went to a park not far from campus; feasting on flattened meatball dish. I was the freshman among them, though not exactly the youngest. They also regarded me as the most endowed because I was subsidized by the state. It was not surprising that they often asked me to pay for their food.

One day, after I paid the flattened meatballs, the most senior student among us put his palms on my shoulders and stared at me. His eyes wandered for a while before he tightened his grip. It hurt me. The thick moustache on his lips convulsed as he whispered, “Fall. Flat.”

As I went deeper into their world, the reasons for their extended stay in college unveiled. Those images of them in class, slouching at their desks with blackened eyes and dripping saliva, were replaced with images of fire. Their fiery enthusiasm made me curl into a ball. I feared passion. In the steps I have taken in life, it is my principle to doubt anything that is imbued with such fervor. Enthusiasm blinds people, and it dies quickly. Yet, I decided to walk deeper. Not out of passion. I had to know!

The world was changing in a swift manner. The Pirate Party that I once thought as mere satire, conquered the Scandinavian politics. Meanwhile in North America, an unlikely television show figure managed to put his ass on the throne. Surrounded by armed conflicts, people of Kurdistan decided to abandon the state; forming their own direct democracy. These fueled my colleagues into frenzy. They accelerated our projects in hasty manner. Such speed must be paid with the fact that cautionary milestones were skipped.

As far as my petty senses could absorb, our movement had never indulged in violence nor any evil deeds. We were just trying to hop on the train of technological advancement to realize our vision for the future. Said future will involve the replacement of current government structures with automated systems steered with efficient and effective AIs. But before major changes could be implemented, our struggles were halted by the rise of a bigoted regime. They wiped out any form of organizations they thought as a threat; including us.

I was clever enough to put some distance and safety measures the whole time that I was able to clean my hands and escape a cruel fate. But I was already deep enough that I failed to avoid guilt and pain from the fact that my friends were kidnapped, tortured, jailed, and have their lives transmogrified by the state. At nights they visited my slumber and I drowned in their moans and groans. During the days my mind turned into something akin to nuclear warfare between grotesque abominations; most of the participants though, decided that I was not supposed to be free, that I didn’t deserve it. Torrent of torments built up. I destroyed things that were not my own. Anger engulfed my guts all the time. I choked my boss into coma and lost my job. I sold all my assets and moved. I hid in remote places until I was stable enough to start over.

I clung to life between hope and despair. Many times I thought I had those moments of clarity. But changes never actually happened in an instant. I realized I had to work; slowly. Crashed, and burnt, tried again, and burnt again; I screamed the whole time. In a place of unknown people and language, I suffered two failed marriages and multiple bankruptcies. I was only able to build a home for my descendants in my third marriage. But I had to leave all that when I found out something about my great grandchildren. They were involved in flames that devoured my old friends.

It happened on my stargazing schedule. The night was clear. Atop a mini-tower I built on my backyard, I was feasting upon the flirtatious sky-dandruffs. That was the time when my ears captured the growl of choppers. I adjusted my telescope and saw them coming. I recognized the symbol on their fronts.

I killed my cigar and kissed my telescope. I hurried down and got inside my house. I took only my suitcase. I was ready to leave everything else behind. But my pace wasn’t quick enough. I shut down my emotions when I walked past those kids in the living room. My steps were bold and sure, as if I didn’t hear their words: MONSTER, THIEF, ABOMINATION. Yet before I closed the door, several of them kneeled, grabbed, and kissed my boots; begging me to come with them.

***

The reign of such a bigoted regime wouldn’t be free from international scrutiny. Soon after its rising to hegemony, various acts of resistance and international interventions decided to chime in. Exploiting the opportunities, many allies of past projects of my old movements resurfaced and regrouped. I had been a part of either the violent oppositions or the diplomatic efforts. The nations broke apart. People were desperate for orders. We grabbed our chance to install our massive automation systems. People didn’t like it at first. But it worked out.

People lived in a just and politician-free society guided by our intelligent systems. Our artificial intelligences were able to adapt and develop its connected infrastructures according to the needs of the people it served. But it didn’t last long. Many nations were outright hysterical by such blasphemy. Many of those nations that once had opposed the bigoted regime, now assault us from every directions. Under such a threat of defeat, I decided to save the system with my own method. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

***

“It’s hard to believe really. That this wasteland, wherever I set my gaze upon, is not, the end of things” I mumbled to myself, looking through a cracked and dusty window.

She told me, “This wasteland is actually healing. With the hands of our allies’ new systems, people are surviving and thriving in the world charred by the war waged before.”

In this very train route I was on, I used to commute back and forth every day to work. It was always crowded and hard to breathe and even sometimes gave me cramps. I guess the current population wouldn’t make any train nowadays overcrowded.

I sat there embracing my one and only suitcase. The sun already set and I needed charges. A cable plugged to a terminal hidden at my armpit was connected to the suitcase. A girl sat before me. She was wrapped in white latex, shaking her head. She scratched her head with the barrel of a gravity gun on her hand.

“Do you have any clue regarding why they let you get this far in life?”

She tilted her head closer. Her exhaled carbon monoxide reached the tip of my olfactory sensor. I grinned. She was nervous. She blinked fast. Sweat flooded her eyes because she had neither brows nor lashes.

I chuckled and tried to answer her.

“It isn’t hard for me to deem that everything was in vain. There was greed indeed in what I did. I wanted to be essential. Important. I wanted to be the key. But I was eventually too afraid to do shit, and so, I hid. I hid as flames burned civilizations to the ground.”

The train suffered a heavy turbulence. I sat, still supported by my iron grip to the nearest bar. Meanwhile, the girl fell. I smirked and helped her back up and continued my words.

“My old flesh wasn’t up to the task. Such a fragile complex of tissues wouldn’t handle the overload with mere basic augmentations to support it. I convinced myself I needed more. I craved crazier and more comprehensive parts. So, as time walked past me, the thing that used to be alien and strange, slowly took over the wheel. I never felt enough. I tried to fight the urge, but failed for most of the time. I was impulsively replacing my flesh for machines over several decades and counting. But I’m still myself, am I right?”

“You didn’t. No. Crap. This doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t programmed to act that way. Granted, I was informed it had the capability to learn and adapt to accommodate the dynamics of society it intended to serve. But nothing invasive would ever be permitted by the measures put in place. Such a loophole would put the fate of the people at risk.”

“Don’t blame me. I was not involved in its code development. But I admit the possibility that it was all probably just my insanity at fault. You know, the consequences of overwhelming loads on my augs. Imagine, a system designed for national scale compressed and crammed into my petty augmentations! No matter what, it was indeed my fault. With all the just and goody-goody stuff lies, I persuaded myself to commit that act. It was greed. It was a very human thing to do. A thing done by a person fraught with weakness. I desired its computational feats, its analytic and extrapolative performance. Yet, I was never sure whether or not I ever got what I wanted. Yes, I had built several giant entrepreneurial feats over the decades, but was it actually just me? Or it? I don’t know. I’m feeling blind, lost, and cornered inside my own self. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t.”

The train stopped with a quake. The girl didn’t fall this time. She held on to me. She showed her metallic teeth at me.

“They let you be. They even protected you. They thought the system could learn from you. It could learn all your inner algorithms as a human. They wish to see it grows in its capacity to understand and govern humans. Come, let’s get off this train and see your throne. You and it, shall replace the tentative system. Perhaps, for the rest of your life.”

“Why am I being involved also?”

“Are you kidding? You can see this as your punishment. Justice has to be served. To be honest, the majority of us already thought of you as a non-human.”

 

Review: Foundation and Empire

The clash against the Empire was inevitable. The Foundation was small but more advanced, while the Empire was massive as fuck. This conflict though, seem to me, only served as introduction to show the extent of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory; the people of the Foundation really put much faith in it. Such reliance on “scientific” prophecy made them arrogant and complacent. The Foundation grew too big and began to possess some traits of ugly bureaucracy they once opposed.

Bayta, a female character in the story said:

“It’s almost a century since the last one, and in that century, every vice of the Empire has been repeated in the Foundation. Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law: no change. Despotism! They know one rule: force. Maldistribution! They know one desire: to hold what is theirs.”

Then came the Mule. A terrifying opponent. He’s a mutant with an ability to affect emotions. This factor introduced an alien variable outside the psychohistory’s equation. When the holographic form of Hari Seldon re-appeared, the crises he described was different. Everyone shocked and panicked. They didn’t expect this. Their faith betrayed them. Soon after that, the Mule amassed tremendous power. World by world fell to his dominion. Allies turned and converted. The main characters fled here and there in desperation to avoid peril while also trying to find a solution. What’s the key to stop this powerful mutant? Even the great Hari Seldon didn’t foresee this.

This second book of the trilogy is more story based compared with the first book. Foundation and Empire has more focus on how people would struggle in what seemed like a comfortable predictable world against something alien, while the first book was more about how the Foundation survived by adapting its shape to the organic contraction of history. Of course I prefer the first book, but Foundation and Emperor is still a very interesting read and may or may not lay a solid basis for the next book I’ll read after this.

Review: All the Birds in the Sky

Beautiful, effortless, and calm. Like two rivers merged into a lake, where rainbows came for naps; only showing its magical strength when the time was ripe.

 

The book started like a story for children. Simple, but entertaining enough to reel me further. It started with each protagonist’s struggle against their own family. As they grew older, the number of their oppositions increased; schoolmate bullies. Laurence and Patricia sought an ally and found it in each other. They tried their best to help and comfort for each other, but life’s a mess, and both of them were little children. It got worse when an assassin decided to be involved in the growing resentment between their messed up alliance. They separated for quite a long time and had the chance to cultivate their own gift; Laurence’s mind for science and engineering and Patricia’s heart for healing and trickster magic. Their path eventually crossed, only to be separated again.  The rest was constant struggle against everything, and against each other, and against their own selves. Magic and science entwined; talking birds and tree, wormhole and time machine; struck each other violently because of fear, but there were also kisses because of love.

The first half of the story most comprised of ordinary slice of life events, except the quirks put here and there like, the talking animals and the two-seconds time machine. The book didn’t need to throw big things at my face. It’s pretty calm yet rewarding. That’s why it felt effortless to me. I got to know the characters in slow and intimate pace. The second half was when the lightning began to dance. They were so close yet so far, near but pulled apart. Super storm happened. War waged across the land. Doomsday machine. The unravelling. Parents and friends died. Fear. Fear. Fear. An oath got broken in order to save the dearest one. The story ended a bit weird. Not as satisfying as I would prefer it to be, but not bad.

 

Review: Foundation

It’s nice to feel validated, even by fiction. But it’s a fiction by Isaac Asimov for fuck sake. Reading Foundation made me felt that. I was always convinced that religion must be preserved for its utility to accelerate a civilization from chaotic deep shit into a recognizably lawful society. But like a weapon, it must be unsheathed and sheathed in a proper manner. To actually do that, unfortunately, we pudding brain apes aren’t capable of knowing surely when. But in Foundation, Hari Seldon managed to calculate it with his Psychohistory.

The Galactic Empire was on the brink of its own fate. There’s nothing that could be done at that moment to prevent the fall. But, based on his Psychohistory calculation, Hari Seldon said, he could, at least, try to build a foundation to reduce the dark ages that would come, from 30000 years to merely 1000 years. Thus, it was built at the edge of the Galaxy. At first, the foundation was there only to compile and to process knowledge into a gigantic Encyclopedia meant to be a source of light in the dark, but then it changed and evolved into so much more.

The men from Terminus –the world where The Foundation organization was built– was called “magicians” by the citizens that lived in the crumbling shadows of the old empire. Here is an excerpt:

“There have been stories percolating through space. They travel strange paths and become distorted with every parsec, but when I was young there was a small ship of strange men, who did not know our customs and could not tell where they came from. They talked of magicians at the edge of the Galaxy; magicians who glowed in the darkness, who flew unaided through the air, and whom weapons would not touch.”

The story itself is revolved around the powerplay happened within the Foundation, and its dynamics with external powers, and its whole fate against the crises that had been predicted by Sheldon. It’s merely about ideas illustrated clearly by clever characters and interesting events. It’s great. I really loved it. Thanks, Asimov! I’ll continue to read the next two books of the trilogy.

Ulasan: PK

Jarang-jarang. Banget. Nonton film dari bollywood. Ini pertama kalinya saya mengunduh sendiri sebuah film india untuk ditonton. Jadi ceritanya, pada suatu siang yang membosankan, seorang teman dari Lhokseumawe menghubungi saya. Ia merekomendasikan sebuah film berjudul PK. Sebenarnya saya sedang malas menonton film karena sedang tekun-tekunnya mencoba mengkhatamkan Silmarilion. But, what the hell, why not?  Lagipula saya mulai sebal dengan para elf di dunia ciptaan Tolkien itu; for all their wisdom and longevity, these fancy elves are too fucking obsessed with mere goddamn jewelleries. Yuck.

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PK ini film bercerita tentang Alien. Seorang pencuri merampas alat untuk memanggil pesawat ruang angkasanya. Bingung dan sendirian ia terjebak tak bisa pulang. Orang-orang yang ia mintai tolong memberinya jawaban: hanya Tuhanlah yang dapat membantunya. Maka dimulailah pencarian akan Tuhan melalui sudut pandang seorang alien.

boredofcoconutwater

Menyaksikan Alien ini bermanuver atas bermacam budaya dan agama yang tak hanya seakan-akan saling berkontradiksi namun juga dipaksakan kepada setiap individu, berhasil membuat saya tertawa terbahak-bahak dan tersentuh tersedu-sedu. It was very funny but also sad. Sampai setengah film, saya sampai berhenti sejenak untuk memberitahu teman saya bahwa film ini keren dan saya merasa sangat simpati terhadap alien ini.

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cluelessbreaking

Alien tersebut kemudian bekerja sama dengan Jaggu, seorang pencari berita untuk mengambil alat pemanggil pesawatnya dari seorang figur ahli agama. Menurut saya, mulai dari sini, kualitas cerita agak turun. Meskipun memiliki wajah konsep yang lugu “Wrong Number”, tindak-tanduk si Alien yang diarahkan Jaggu untuk “menyerang” agama jadi seperti menodai keluguan si Alien itu sendiri. Ia menjadi boneka. Alat media untuk meraup keuntungan. It seemed to me, the aggressive public questioning was too violent for his innocent nature. Jaggu’s campaign was effective, but vulgar and annoying. Reminded me of the strong atheist’s braggadocio. This could be delivered more subtly; but, oh well, at least the message was delivered clearly.

Selain pencarian kebenaran tentang Tuhan dan keinginan pulang si Alien. Ada satu lagi unsur yang menjadi sorot utama cerita. Yakni kisah cinta beda agama antara Jaggu seorang hindu, dan Sarfaraz seorang muslim, juga campur tangan si Alien untuk menyatukan mereka berdua meskipun ia sesungguhnya mencintai Jaggu. Ah, saya sesunguhnya ingin membahas lebih lanjut tentang ini, tapi, aduh saya lapar, belum makan lebih dari dua puluh jam hahaha. Yah, pokoknya secara keseluruhan saya sangat puas menyaksikan film ini. Recommended.

Nih sedikit bocoran screenshot lagi:

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Tapi kemudian, dari penghuni bumilah ia belajar untuk berbohong. Dan. Jaggu tahu ia bohong.

 

 

 

Review: Hyperion

I read the prologue and thought that I would be disappointed by the book. The words written and arranged, mostly to describe sceneries, and the acts of the character. Seemed lacking in the presentation of ideas for a sci-fi book. But when I read the awesome sceneries of Templar Treeship and the might of Tesla Tree in Flame Forest, I was convinced that, this Dan Simmons is the real deal. I kept reading, and still somewhat a bit disappointed though for different reasons.

The book itself is about a pilgrimage. A weird one, it involved a mysterious vicious creature and many death and a number of tragic events. Also, it happened when the world was about to be burned in flames of war. The seven pilgrims gathered and traveled together to the Time Tombs. The earlier banters between these people felt a bit cheesy at first, but when The Priest story unfolded, I was, WOAH, mesmerized, pretty much hooked by the book.

Each story of them are memorable. From the wonders of the flame forest, and the horror of the Bikura tribe in The Priest’s story, The Soldier’s nut-busting adventure and his magical time-manipulating mirror armor, The Poet’s bloody goddamn muse, the merlin disease of The Scholar’s daughter, the ala-matrix adventure in AI datumplane with The Detective’s cybrid boyfriend, to the love story of The Consul’s grandparents. They’re definitely rich, varied, and worth reading and rereading. Wonderful.

Even after finished reading the book, I still think about them sometimes. This afternoon, I wondered about The Consul’s grandmother and grandfather. It was almost tragic and sad when I read it at first, but something felt odd. The story of their encounter, was first, a non abnormal passion of youth, then became a myth, then became a part of subtle political machination, then a legend, and eventually a kickstart of rebellion. There were several reunion happened between them; between the shipman who flew among the stars with a time-debt that made him seem to stay young (compared to her) and the beautiful poet who stayed and waited and got old in her home planet. When was the love ended? Perhaps it never ended, perhaps it never started, perhaps it never mattered. Perhaps I need to read the story once again. Yes, this book is begging to be read and reread over again.

This reminds me of what Gene Wolfe once said in a chain letter to George R. R. Martin and Greg Benford:

“My definition of a great story has nothing to do with “a varied and interesting background.” It is: One that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure. The business about a varied and interesting background belongs to my definition of a good story.

But. It was just that. This whole book, Hyperion, is just that. Six great background stories of the seven pilgrims. Only six? Why? The Templar was mysteriously separated from the group. No, even until the book ended, I failed to find a decent explanation about it. What about the pilgrimage? No, the pilgrimage didn’t even finish. They didn’t even encounter The Shrike yet. The book ended with these guys singing some wizard of oz soundtrack, holding hands, walking to the Time Tombs together. Yeah. Just that.

If I were the author, I would end this book by using The Templar disappearance as a device so that he would reappear at the end, with a revelation of something worthy. Perhaps, that would make the book ended in more pleasing cadence; giving readers more sense of completion though the pilgrimage didn’t actually finish.

Anyway, I admit that I love this book, despite tossing it away in anger after I finished reading it.  As I read the story after story, each added a larger perspective of the setting. About the Web, the AI, the Farcaster, the Ousters, the Shrike. They’re more than the sum of its parts. Great job Dan Simmons. Love your work.

Because of this book, perhaps, I’ll break my own promise not to buy new books until I read all of the book I already bought. But, damn, now I really want to buy and read the sequel. Yes, I’ll break my own promise for the Fall Of Hyperion.

The Android Champion

When things gone quiet

Customers home; sky went red

I would sit, tilting my head

Picking apart my nerve casket

_

I sold advanced parts from various planets

But mine here is ancient and so fucking outdated

Everytime the related long term memories being accessed

My atomic heart maddened

_

Colossal was the effort to invent this

Primitive minds courageously shouldered dreams of bliss

But mountains of corpses were the sacrifices

And I,

took parts in its abrupt conclusion of peace

_

Yet, I was then, sent away to far galaxies

Forbidden to return, allowed only to reminisce

Through the news of its recent yearn

Back to earlier abyss

_

I erased and disabled my automatic calculation

So I can feel the joy of dreadful wonder

Will I, expire?

Before my homeworld die, in fire?