Where Human Meets Machine

As much as I’ve been losing sleep recently over Affrar’s next scene in chapter 2, a question that’s been bugging me for the better part of a year now, is the role of Nik Rhostov in the course of the novel itself.

When I first presented the outline during a writers’ workshop that I belonged to, the tutor (a published crime writer, with many years of experience in other genres as well, including sci-fi), said to me that she thought that Rhostov’s part in the novel needed to be bigger – if not one of the main threads of the story. I had expressed concern as to whether or not to include him at all during the course of Use’ara: Thirteen Stars because the original vision was for a series of stories (whether novels, or novellas), that would follow on from the introductory tale presented in the first novel, and Rhostov’s was to be one of those. The scope of the outline for Thirteen Stars was already huge, and I worried that including elements of Rhostov’s journey would make it simply too unwieldy. So, I thanked her for her feedback, and tucked the comment into the dark recesses of my mind, doubtful that I would ever take any notice. What can I say? I can be headstrong at the best of times. However, the more I’ve worked with the outline, created the scene by scene treatment, and worked with mind mapping and brainstorming ideas, the more I’ve come to realise that Jane was right, and I was wrong to doubt her.

Nikolai Rhostov is a BiSI – a Bio-Synthetic Interface. He is a human that has been genetically altered to allow him to literally interface with the computer systems of space stations, ground stations and colonies, and space ships. The concept isn’t new, I know. In an attempt to prevent computer systems’ artificial intelligences from taking over, and thus protecting humanity from their own creations, human scientists created a way of genetically enhancing certain, already highly intelligent individuals, with the ability to interface, and thereby modify human and computer interactions. There’s a whole back-story that I can explore in some detail either as part of Nik’s story in Thirteen Stars, as Nik’s story itself, or a combination of both, but the question that leaps into my mind in respect of Nik’s first appearance in the Use’ara series is: What happens when that close psionic relationship between a human and his computer, (in this case ZHACIS), breaks down?

During the course of trying to answer that question to my own satisfaction, I’ve come to realise just how ‘big’ Nik’s story, and the possibilities for concept exploration really are. What does it mean to live as a human ‘outside of humanity’? What are the limitations (in statute and law) placed on these genetically enhanced individuals, and how are they viewed by their fellow man? How do the enhancements affect the individuals emotions, attitudes and abilities to form relationships, and in what way does this reflect those abilities of the unenhanced – humanity in general? Through Nik is another opportunity to explore the nature of what it is to be human and how humans differ from their Use’aran ‘cousins.’ The latter exploration comes in the shape of Nik’s relationship with the Use’aran female that rescues him from his LiSSSC when it makes planetfall. E’fframe is not like most other Use’aran females in one important respect, and through the dynamic of the interactions of these two outsiders many interesting facets of human and Use’aran culture can be explored, adding different layers to the other conflict-driven threads in the story.

Ultimately, however, Nik Rhostov does face conflicts and dilemmas of his own, in the changes he will face. From being an ‘expanded’ consciousness in his interface with the ship’s system, through the narrowed, restricted consciousness of living as a ‘simple’ human, and experiencing some parts of human emotion for the first time in a long while, to ultimately sacrificing what remains of his human consciousness in order to save his sanity, and explore planetary consciousness itself, Rhostov’s part in Thirteen Stars certainly does seem to be greater than I had, at first, thought, when it became buried in the action of the other threads in the story that is the beginning of the Use’ara series.


About Eirian Houpe

Writer and Teacher. Published works: Eternal Dance (as Linden S Barclay) and articles for Wigston Magna Dog Training Club, and SFX Magazine.
This entry was posted in Characters, Use'ara, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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