Re-coil

Cover for the book, Re-coilI just finished reading J. T. Nicholas’ Re-coil, a space opera novel.  It takes place in the solar system, so it’s not an interstellar story, although there are hints the series might go there eventually.  It involves a future where everyone’s mind can be backed up and instantiated in a new body if they die.  Bodies are referred to as “coils”, so the title, “re-coil”, refers to being put in a new body.  (Not to the kickback of a fired gun, although there is plenty of gunfire in the book.)

Minds are stored in “cores” within the brain of the coil, and can be retrieved if the person dies, but new coils are very expensive.  In some ways, the premise resembles Altered Carbon, but with a couple of important differences.

Unlike in AC, backing up a mind, in and of itself, is not that costly, so everyone is able to do it.  The expense of the body does mean that normal people can’t re-coil casually.  But in this universe, people noticed this was an issue and a business opportunity, so there are insurance policies to provide new coils.  However, the premiums are high, and average people have to devote a substantial portion of their income to paying them.

Most can’t afford a policy that gives them exactly the replacement coil they’d like.  So they can end up in a very different type of body, including one of the opposite sex.  And a low end policy might put someone in a body with defects of one type or another.

Also, being restored to a new coil only includes memories up to the point you were backed up, an important plot point.

As the story starts, Carter Langston is on a salvage team who discover what appears to be an abandoned shuttle heading into the sun.  He spacewalks over and enters it.  Things go horribly wrong and he never makes it out, with the shuttle being destroyed.

Langston awakes in a re-coil facility, with only memories up to his backup, and with the attendants concerned that his mind might have been corrupted.  Shortly afterward, someone tries to assassinate him, and he finds himself on the run, his teammates all missing.

Eventually he discovers a message from his prior self on the derelict shuttle, and realizes that someone is out not only to kill his body, but erase all his backups.  Backup storage is supposed to be among the most reliable and secure assets in the solar system, indicating that whoever is after him, they are rich and powerful.

This was a good book, although I can’t say it was a great one.  Nicholas has a lot of talent, but it seems like he’s still learning the craft.

In particular, he really seems to enjoy his fight scenes.  Throughout most of the book, they are a solid part of the story.  But the final act largely becomes a giant sequence of fight scenes.  It was thrilling but, for me, verged on tedious.  I personally could have seen that final sequence be a bit briefer.  That said, I suspect some will eat it up, and it certainly wasn’t bad enough to stop reading.

So, if you’re looking for solid entertaining space opera, it’s worth checking out!

21 thoughts on “Re-coil

  1. Do you believe this premise (that also appears in Altered Carbon) that the technology to copy a mind exists and is ubiquitous, while the tech to clone a body (which already exists in 2020) is hugely difficult and expensive and only available to the elite? Seems like a contrivance to me, and one that turns a fundamental principle of technology on its head – that new inventions tend to spread wealth and disrupt entrenched interests.

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    1. Prediction is hard, particularly about the future. But I could see cloned bodies being a scarce commodity, at least at a certain technological stage. Yes, we have the tech today to clone someone. But growing the new body still has to be done the long way, and there’s the pesky detail of it having its own mind along the way. Growing a body in a tank, providing all the resources to keep it alive, while not letting a mind develop? If anything like that technology exists, I’d love to read about it.

      That said, it absolutely is a contrivance. Our ability to really predict what a world with these technologies would be like is hampered by our existing paradigms. It’s kind of like 18th century authors writing about the year 2000, and being preoccupied by which royal families had risen to dominance.

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      1. Grow it in a tank and keep it unconscious? Just an idea.
        Perhaps it’s just my political views. I resist the notion that technology is creating inequality, when it’s very obvious to me that new tech (cell phones, youtube, twitter, digital content) spreads very rapidly to all income levels and all countries.

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        1. I tend to agree. It’s not as if the materials are expensive, and if the technology exists to grow one body, then it’s just a matter of making more machines. The time span Mike mentioned would be a factor of some kind, though. (As for the pesky brains, maybe if you’re good enough to grow a body, you’re good enough to switch off the genes that express the brain. Or can make the brain primitive or stunted or whatever.)

          That said, fiction always has gimmes, SF all the more so (canonical example: warp drive), and sometimes an author constructs something clearly artificial in order to tell a story. The question is whether readers will buy it or not.

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          1. Warp drive – of course. The whole brain copy thing – of course. You have to suspend disbelief or the story sucks. And I understand the tech being super costly and only available to big governments or wealthy elites. Not everyone can have a supersonic stealth jet in their back yard. But when high tech is freely available to everyone but low tech isn’t, I get narked.

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          2. Totally agree. As you said, cell phones are ubiquitous. If technology is characterized by anything, it’s that it gets cheaper and easier to make. Remember the very first VCRs? 🙂

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        2. I also tend to agree about technology, in the long term, leveling things out. Although it depends. I don’t have my own private jet yet, or nuclear powered submarine. What it often comes down to is, is there a scarcity somewhere in the materials or process? As Wyrd noted, not for the raw materials. But maybe something involved in the process?

          I also give authors a bit of leeway on this. I’ve been through the naive exceptance stage, followed by the utterly jaded one, and now I’m willing to suspend my disbelief to some extent. A story set in a happy utopia where everyone who gets what they want, or where the problems are utterly trivial by our current perspective, makes for boring reading. There has to be something that challenges the characters.

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          1. Security and public safety are reasons why some tech isn’t allowed to be casually owned. And large systems, like airplanes, are expensive just because of having lots of high-precision parts.

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  2. Early in high school I had a world history teacher who always said “shuffled off this mortal coil” when he meant a historical figure had died. (He also used to say they “played checkers” when he meant they had sex.) It wasn’t until we did Hamlet in theatre (I was the ghost!) that I realized he got that first phrase from Hamlet’s most famous speech:

    “To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    […]
    To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,…”

    As for the book… I think this is one of those thanks for reading it so I don’t have to situations. The plot itself sounds familiar. Guy does something (or sometimes not even that; he’s just no one doing nothing) and suddenly mysterious forces are trying to kill him. (It goes back at least to the 1959 classic, North by Northwest.)

    I was always a Greg Egan fan, but Black Mirror and Altered Carbon have made the brain stuff mainstream, so we’ll be seeing a lot of that sort of thing now. I wonder if the author sparked the idea thinking about how auto insurance (or any insurance) sometimes doesn’t really restore what you had before, but gives you a sub-par “replacement.” That’s the new element, and I think I see the thinking behind it.

    For me it was what you said about fight scenes. That speaks to me of a young author who grew up with fight scenes in movies and TV — where it adds visual excitement. In a book, as you say, it gets tedious fast. A fight in a book shouldn’t last more than a page at most, and a story doesn’t benefit from a lot of them (IMO, obviously).

    And I am so utterly bored with the story structure that leads up to the big battle at the end. That’s the most tedious thing of all. It’s so comic book. (OTOH, after over a half-century of heavy reading of SF and other adventure fiction, I have to admit I’m pretty jaded.)

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    1. Many of the best quotes seem to come either from Shakespeare or the King James Bible. Now that I think of it, it’s interesting that both of those come from the early modern English period, near the foundations of our modern dialect.

      The thing about plots is that, fundamentally, there are no original ones. “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (That one’s from Ecclesiastes.) Not since the classic Greek plays, and maybe not even before then. The sense of originality we sometimes feel comes from combining plots in different ways, or presenting them with new twists, or with different character or setting combinations, etc.

      The extent to which they work for us depends on our personal history, and which fantasies work give us emotional satisfaction. As I noted in the post, the book basically worked for me, except that the fight scenes tended to go on too much. But groundbreaking it wasn’t. Which is okay. I don’t need every book to break new ground. I just need it to distract me from the world for a few hours. (Particularly the world right now.)

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      1. There is a lot of literary material from that period, but only the greats — the “classics” — persist across centuries. (Which is kind of the definition of a “classic.”) That longevity leads to a lot of usage, and the really great phrases stick with people. Especially true of the Bible.

        I was blown away the first time I read Hamlet. I had no idea how many common phrases come from it. And it’s one of Shakespeare’s best.

        But I am also blown away by how many common phrases we get from baseball.

        I suspect it has to do with lots of usage and phrases that appeal. The Bible and Shakespeare certainly have a lot that is powerful and human and worth remembering and repeating.

        FWIW, I don’t entirely agree there is nothing new under the sun (when I was a teenager, imagine my surprise at finding out the rock song by The Byrds, Turn, Turn, Turn, was based on a bible chapter). As you said, we create new combinations of things. And some things are new to humanity. I’ve long argued our sheer scope and size are a new thing we’re just learning to handle (or not).

        And, as you also said, it’s all a matter of one’s personal taste. I get my distractions from older fiction (and mathematics 😉 ). To each his own!

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        1. Definitely what gets propagated has more to do with the needs of the propagator than the source material. I agree that Shakespeare and the KJB have been around so long that the quotes have been in circulation and repeated and amplified over the centuries. The fact that most people using them don’t know their ultimate origin speaks to that.

          I like my older fiction too, but I’m less into re-reading stuff these days. I feel like my time is too limited. But whatever works for the distraction!

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          1. “Definitely what gets propagated has more to do with the needs of the propagator than the source material.”

            That’s the opposite of what I’m suggesting — that good source material commends itself. Individual needs aren’t likely to bring phrases into common use. It’s when the material is so universal that it touches many people that it gets used.

            Shakespeare and the Bible are just really excellent sources. They’re universally engaging.

            “The fact that most people using them don’t know their ultimate origin speaks to that.”

            Yeah, at some point quotations become distinct things. Just consider all the things people claim Einstein said. Many of them taken for granted as actual quotes.

            “I’m less into re-reading stuff these days.”

            I know you are. 🙂 Most of what I’m reading isn’t stuff I’ve read before. Or if I did, it was just once and it’s lost in the mists of time. Lots of classic SF short stories (courtesy of Apple ebooks “Megapacks”) and digging into authors I never really got around to (like William Gibson).

            One of these days I might even finish Moby Dick. 😀

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          2. “That’s the opposite of what I’m suggesting — that good source material commends itself.”

            I’m just saying that what “commends itself” is what meets the need of the people who uses it.

            The Einstein phenomenon is interesting, because a lot of stuff gets attributed to him that he didn’t say. He’s become one of a number of authority figures that happens with. Another is Winston Churchill. These are modern figures where it’s relatively easy to separate the memes from the reality, but there’s no reason to suspect it’s different with earlier historical figures, where the mythology is often now all we have.

            The thing I do find interesting with older sci-fi is what it often shows about the paradigms of the times it was written in. There’s a tendency to assume trends of the period will continue unabated and overlook new ones. Transportation is usually assumed to have progressed much further than it did, but computing is utterly underestimated. (Arthur C. Clark, in one of his novels, has a writer on a trip to Mars using a typewriter.)

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          3. An Einstein (or Churchill) quote that supports what one is selling gives it more authority and connection, so it’s not surprising people attach their own ideas to them. Einstein, especially, makes an idea seem smart. (This is exactly where the needs of the propagator you mentioned kick in.)

            Older SF does have a lot that makes one smile. For me, one of them is how many authors didn’t predict portable screens for messages. The number of spaceships with (high tech “futuristic”) fax machines cracks me up. In some cases, people had pocket fax machines! There is also the idea that CRT screens would be a thing forever. It’s hard to imagine the future!

            What I do like about older SF (say up to about 1960 or so) is the focus on story and ideas. I’m struck by how, for a recent example, I tend to link Philip K. Dick with Blade Runner and thus classify him as hardish SF. But, reading his short stories, he was much more a surrealist and fantasy (and horror) author than that. The science in some of his short stories is pretty wack, even for the time.

            A lot of authors saw SF as license to be creative with reality, including surrealism and some very strange fantasy. I’ve been going through various curated collections, exploring nooks and crannies of SF I barely knew about (so much SF, so few hours in a day). I thought I really knew the field, but it’s been an eye-opener.

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          4. A while back I was watching old Space 1999 episodes, and I was struck by two facts. One is that the characters always looked at an instrumentation panel and reacted as though they were getting the kind of information you could get from a display screen; however it being the early 70s, there were no computerized screens, so the actors just looked at the panel as though they were looking at a screen. The other was that there was one central computer for the whole base, which produced its output via printout, a small receipt like printout. (Of course, Space 1999 had far worse sins, but these struck me as cute.)

            I’ve come to see the vast majority of what is labelled as science fiction as actually fantasy with the trappings of science. Of course, it’s especially obvious in media sci-fi (at least to science enthusiasts) but it’s mostly true for literary SF as well. True diamond hard SF is rare, although some stories are closer on the spectrum to it than others. Different readers seem to accept different parts of the spectrum. Many are satisfied with straight out fantasy, others with space fantasies like Star Wars, others want a little more rigor and go for Star Trek, and a few won’t accept anything except where the science has been worked out, restricting themselves to the hardest works of Clarke and similar material.

            I’m reminded of Orson Scott Card’s statements about how vast speculative fiction is. I’m sure it’s gotten even vaster since he wrote those words decades ago.

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          5. Heh, yeah, or Spock peering into his viewer. He sure got a lot of data from blinking lights.

            Very true about the hardness spectrum, and I do generally favor harder SF. I’ve long been a a fan of Egan, Benford, Brin, Hogan, etc.

            It seems a little less common these days. Maybe fewer people with science or engineering backgrounds writing? Or just more people without those backgrounds now writing, more likely.

            I’ve pretty much decided SF&F isn’t a genre at all; it’s a platform. For any other genre, ‘X’, you can name, you’ll find SF-X. I’ve enjoyed a lot of SF-detective stories, for example.

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          6. Ah, I’d forgotten about Spock’s viewer thing. The limitations of 1960s stagecraft!

            There are scientists out there writing. Alastair Reynolds comes to mind. He stays away from FTL in his stories, which makes them harder than the usual space opera. But he also makes compromises to make them work. One of his more recent stories used a time travel mechanism he freely admitted in interviews is bogus. And I’ve noticed (probably unintentional) mistakes for non-physics related story elements.

            And Brin and Egan are till pumping out books. (Although we don’t really know Egan’s actual profession.) Egan I think intentionally writes his in a way that only a certain type of science oriented reader will be interested. It pretty much relegates him to a niche role.

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