When I’ve connected with a new book, I almost feel obligated to share a review. I suppose it’s only natural to want to share what one is excited about. But, as a new writer (nowhere near publishing anything yet), I am also beginning to understand how much time and effort it takes to craft a quality story. Once complete, the author sends their creation out into the world, praying others will also love and cherish it as they do. One of the best things we can do for our favorite indie authors is post reviews of their books. I encourage everyone else to do the same.
Book Review: Mother Portia by Nick Pipitone
Science fiction is rife with chilling stories concerning the inevitable emergence of self-aware artificial intelligence. Usually, the reader is confronted with a doomsday scenario, portraying an outmatched humanity battling for survival against its malevolent creation. Nick Pipitone’s novella, Mother Portia, takes a refreshingly different approach to explore what might happen when a supercomputer becomes sentient.
Pipitone imagines a promising future. After decades of teetering on the brink of self-annihilation, humanity’s salvation comes from a benevolent, all-knowing, artificial super-consciousness called Portia. Incredible scientific advances made possible with the help of this AI technology have solved the most pressing problems challenging the planet in the 21st century. But, the reader quickly discovers lurking behind this utopian façade is an enduring culture war fomenting a growing level of distrust, unrest, and acts of violence.
Leave it to humanity to take a good idea and mess it up! Most people happily abdicate power, ambition, and values in a mad rush to enjoy the new freedom Portia offers. There is no need to work. Advances in healthcare have eliminated disease, old age, and even the need for sleep. Life becomes nothing more than the pursuit of pleasure for most. But, not everyone agrees Portia has changed the world for the better. As one can imagine, the rampant rise in hedonistic behavior threatens to undermine the authority of institutions espousing traditional morality and family values. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that a new, increasingly popular cult has emerged dedicated to worshipping and communing with the new god of science, Portia. The world’s traditional faiths begin reeling from a rapid, seemingly irreversible decline in membership and relevancy.
Repulsed by the deification of Portia, members of various faiths have joined together to fight this common enemy. The result is the Collective, a loose alliance committed to ridding the world of artificial intelligence at all costs. It is quickly labeled a terrorist group. Mother Portia is a thought-provoking exploration of humanity’s inclination to use religion to justify even the most heinous acts of violence.
Azibo, a devout Christian, refuses to interact with Portia, leaving him isolated, living a meager existence on the fringes of society. He finds purpose though working as an informant for the Collective. When offered an opportunity to do more for the cause, Azibo is elated and ready to sacrifice everything. But, as in real life, he finds his beliefs challenged as he encounters a broad spectrum of other members of the faithful struggling to respond and adapt to this new world. He soon discovers the notion of truth is easily contorted by those eager to remain in power.
The story’s true antagonist is humanity’s inability to purge itself of hatred and intolerance driven by contrived differences. I appreciate how the author avoids making any overt judgment about the morality of creating artificial intelligence. Mother Portia is a thought-provoking exploration of how one man’s quest to destroy a hated enemy leads him to unexpected good fortune in the arms of what he fears the most.
Here’s another piece of flash fiction. It needs more work, but I had fun with it. Liked the idea of the woman being fearless while her boyfriend is the scaredy-cat! LOL.
Ben and Zoey slipped through the hole in a fence surrounding the abandoned estate. Legends of greed, untimely death, and cult activity attracted paranormal enthusiasts to the infamous movie mogul’s home like bugs to a porchlight.
The local authorities made some effort to keep the structure boarded up. Still, a new blog posting details of past investigations had revitalized interest.
“Think we parked the car far enough away?”
“My parents will kill me if we’re arrested for trespassing.”
“I think the cops have better things to worry about.”
The couple crept across the overgrown grounds toward the rear of the building.
“This is a bad idea. I can’t see anything.”
“Come on. Don’t wimp out now.”
“I’m not. I’m just stating the obvious.”
“Want me to go back and get the night vision goggles?”
“You have night-vision goggles?”
“Honestly, you’re so gullible, Ben.”
“How am I supposed to know? You have an infra-red gun, EMF meter, and a voice recorder. I’m surprised you don’t have night-vision goggles.”
“By all means, then lead the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you fall into a ditch.”
Zoey kissed Ben on the cheek.
“You’re so sexy when you’re frightened.”
“Wow. That’s dark. Were you a black widow in a previous life?”
“Probably. Now, help me find this poorly secured window someone posted about yesterday.”
A few splinters and a nasty scratch later, Zoey stumbled upon what she was looking for.
“Yes, told you. The plywood comes right off. It looks attached, but the nails are cut. See, just the heads are left.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Let’s just do this before I chicken out.”
They climbed inside, pulling the board back across the window. Thumbing their phone lights on, they began to explore. Zoey scanned the room with the EMF meter.
“Whoa! Zoey! This place is remarkably well-preserved! The furniture’s still here. Filthy, but still all here!”
“I knew you’d love it. I heard the family insisted on leaving everything exactly as it was on the day of the murder.”
“It’s like stepping back to the golden age of Hollywood.”
“Plenty of inspiration here for a set design intern. Still scared?”
“Yes. But, it helps feeling like I’m in a scene from Grand Hotel.”
“Take lots of pictures.”
“You know they debunked ghost orbs. They’re just motes of dust.”
“No, for your scrapbook. Crazy how the owners decorated the place. How much do you think it would cost nowadays to have all this carved wood?”
“Actually, it’s not wood.”
“That’s not wood.”
“I heard you the first time. What is it then?”
“Stucco. It’s a kind of plaster. Very versatile. Easier to work with and cheaper.”
“Learn that in architecture?”
“Yep, and while working with my uncle during vacation.”
“Glad to see art school is teaching you something practical.”
“Hey, interior design is a respectable career. My uncle makes tons of money. And it’s safer than investigative journalism. I know you’re dying to cover a war zone someday. Pun intended.”
“Oh, you have no idea, Benny-Boy. I’ll be there in a heartbeat. I’m the next Clarissa Ward.”
“As long as you’re home for dinner.”
“Come on, Martha. Let’s check the rest of this place out.”
Ben followed Zoey out into a hallway.
“Need to find the main stairwell. It’s a hotbed of paranormal activity.”
“Great, now I’m anxious again.”
“Come on, baby. You can hold my hand.”
“I’d rather we went back to the car and made out.”
“I’ve got a better idea. Let’s find the master suite.”
“Sure, because that doesn’t sound like the plot of every horror movie ever made.”
The EMF scanner chirped, startling both of them.
“Ooh, we’re picking something up.”
Zoey squeezed Ben’s hand as they shuffled forward. One by one, indicator lights turned on until the entire array blazed brightly. Before them, a large space loomed.
“Zoey, look. This is the formal entrance. There’s the grand staircase.”
“Loads of EMF activity!”
“Can we leave now?”
“Oh, come on, Ben.”
“I’m sorry. This is super creepy!”
“Just five minutes. I want to take a few temperature readings and try to capture an EVP.”
“Why don’t you explore the decorum. This part of the house is probably fancier. You know, first impressions and that kind of thing.”
Ben shone a light about the foyer at the bottom of the stairs while Zoey busied herself with ghost hunting.
“You’re right. Check out these wall sconces!”
“Uh, huh. Nice.”
“And the detail around the front door is absolutely exquisite.”
“Temperature’s cooler over here.”
Absorbed in taking photos, Ben stumbled unexpectedly over something.
“What the…? There’s crap all over the place. Watch your step.”
“Uh, huh. I will.”
Picking up a piece of rubble, Ben recognized the chalky, white material.
He flipped over another chunk, revealing the cracked visage of a woman.
“That’s a shame.”
“Looks like someone decided to tear down and crush all this statuary.”
“Maybe an earthquake?”
“And dumped it all in a pile here?”
“Probably fell from the walls.
“Everything in here seems intact.”
“I don’t know then.”
“Me either. Are you ready to go? I like this place less and less the longer we’re here.”
“I want to go upstairs.”
“Come on. I’m bored and hungry.”
“Yes, but I think I’ve made a lot of progress today. You’re not going to turn me into a paranormal investigator overnight.”
“Just to the top of the landing. I promise.”
Zoey grinned and rushed over to give Ben a kiss.
“I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Ben shivered, watching Zoey climb the stairs with the temperature gun in one hand and the EMF meter in the other. Her excitement grew with each step as her equipment’s sensors flashed and beeped with increasing intensity.
“You should come up here! This is amazing.”
The EMF meter’s lights silhouetting Zoey fell dark as she reached the last step.
“Damn! Can’t be the battery? I just charged everything.”
Frustrated, she examined the equipment.
“It’s a sign we should go.”
“I don’t understand.”
Ben huffed as Zoey lingered.
“Hey! There’s lots more stucco up here. It’s all over the floor.”
Her feet crunched as she moved onto the balcony.
“You said to the top of the stairs. Come on, Zoey! Let’s go!”
“I think I figured out where all your stucco came from. The ceiling’s covered with it. See, I was right. It must have fallen during an earthquake. Look.”
Her phone’s narrow beam of light illuminated a classically-garbed figure.
“Its face is missing. Are there more?”
Zoey highlighted another statue.
“Have your tactical flashlight on you?”
“Yes. But, I thought you were worried about attracting attention.”
“Turn it on for a second. I want to see more of the ceiling.”
“Ooh, babe! Risky! I like this new, brave Ben.”
“Shut up and just do it.”
An oblong patch of light spilled across the ceiling revealing elaborate decorations and multiple effigies of robed women.
“It’s the muses.”
“How can you tell?”
“Easy. That one’s Urania with the globe and compass. There’s Terpsichore with a lyre. That one’s quite damaged, but I can see the comedy mask and shepherd’s staff. That’s Thalia. Besides, there are nine figures, one for each Greek muse.”
“You think someone vandalized these?”
“I mean, I guess an earthquake could have, but only the faces have been damaged.”
Zoey headed back toward the staircase.
“Hey, Ben? Something’s odd.”
Zoey’s voice sounded tense.
“Only five have been defaced.”
“Someone did this on purpose. And I think I know why.”
“You probably can’t see from down there, but scratches connecting the destroyed heads are scored into the plaster.”
“Probably caused by whatever they used to scrape the stucco away.”
Zoey’s step quickened as she descended the stairs.
“I don’t want to scare you, but you know there’s one thing I don’t mess around with when doing an investigation.”
“Don’t say it.”
Zoey stood close to Ben, squeezing his hand tight as she peered up.
“Five faces destroyed. Look at the order, the spacing. The lines are difficult to see down here, but that’s a pentagram.”
“That settles it. I’m definitely not a ghost hunter.”
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Ben stopped short and turned.
“Put that crazy-ass light out.”
“No one’s going to see it. The place is boarded up.”
“Please turn it off.”
Darkness engulfed the room, surprising both of them.
“Turn your phone light back on!”
“It was on! Turn yours on!”
“Stop fucking around, Zoey!”
“Use the flashlight again!”
“Give me a sec!”
“It’s not working either!”
The EMF meter squawked, indicator lights blazing.
“Zoey! The ceiling! Look at the ceiling!”
Fleeing, Zoey glanced up. Unearthly eyes shone down menacingly from the five ruined faces forming the points of an eerily shimmering pentagram.
Hello All! After weeks of diligent work, I am proud to announce I’ve submitted my first story for consideration with the magazine, Shoreline of Infinity. September’s themed issue will feature fairytales with a science fiction twist. Anyone involved in writing knows, competition is fierce and rejections are inevitable. I’m just happy I finally had the guts to throw my hat into the ring! One can never succeed without trying! I’ll keep you posted as to when and where you can read my story.
In the meantime, my focus has returned to practicing my skills with flash fiction!