Trembling With Fear 6-18-23
Hello, children of the dark. As I’m putting together this week’s issue for you, I’m also listening in to a talk on how we can use AI for creative collaboration. The speaker is passionate and knowledgeable and tends towards the speculative side of writing. I’m finding myself getting swept up in the possibilities.
Yes, but then.
I’m just not sure. AI, and particularly Chat-GPT, has turned the fiction world on its head. Lots of publications—ours included—have updated submission guidelines to say we are only looking for human-generated stories. And I agree with that. But I also know that this thing is here to stay, and we need to find a way to adapt. To grow. To evolve.
At the moment, we’re scared because there’s a lack of transparency. There’s also the ethical question of where, how, and on what these AI models have been trained on. These are Very Large Questions that we won’t easily solve or answer. And then there’s this, which I put to this speaker via the chat: it does make me wonder what new ideas or new spins on things will be left if we’re just consuming stories based on stories based on stories based on… Or maybe we’re already doing that anyway? Is there anything new left?
The human element is essential. I’d like to believe that will never go away. But then, there are enough people out there getting so excited about possibilities that they are maybe not thinking straight, or thinking ethically, or logically, or with a future-proofed-for-humanity mind. Who knows what they’ll throw at us.
And all of this just makes me want to turn to writing sci-fi to figure out what I think!
How about you? Have you got a speculative tech-based story that is burning a hole in your pocket? Duncan Cave did, and this week he brings us a very different conversation with the Administrator—one with world-changing consequences—for our short story. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Nancy Pica Renken has a very dangerous shower,
- Emma Burnett struggles for an idea, and
- Catherine Berry finds out what happens when you mess with nature.
Over to you, Stuart.
I don’t have too much to say quite yet! I’ve been starting to spot-check the Trembling With Fear collected anthology and have been reading short stories for our Best Of anthology. Outside of that? Work and school have been killing me this week so I don’t have too much to really add in that is new. More to come!
Duncan is an aspiring writer and reader from birth who currently squeezes what creativity he can from a job as a CAD technician in Corvallis, Oregon.
Administrator, by Duncan Cave
Despite no official bloodshed between each other, the United States and the USSR have been locked in a deadly game of chicken for nearly 30 years. Although this has caused quite a bit of fear and tension in the world, many scientists are more than happy to accept blank checks from the CIA for their research.
One such scientist has just entered a dark room. The room is quite large yet is filled nearly to the brim with warmly humming machines. The scientist haggardly steps through the door, leaving it open a crack and allowing a shaft of harsh artificial light into the room. The now-dark figure quickly reaches a computer terminal set into the side of the machines. Taking a seat, the scientist strikes a key on the terminal. The humming is slowly replaced by a mean grinding and clicking that emanates from the large bank of machines. After several seconds the sound reaches its peak and subsides. The thick, dusty monitor in front of the scientist flickers to life and a single cursor seems to appear from deep within the machine into the upper left corner of the monitor. The scientist’s fingers swiftly work the keys and reveal a single command.
run program; Peel
The scientist stretches a single finger over the enter key. It hangs there in limbo for several moments while the scientist regains the resolve required for the task at hand. Eventually, it plunges down and, with a heavy chunk, engages the program. For a long moment, nothing happens until the harsh grinding and clicking returns at full force, furiously obeying the terminal’s command inputs. Green text begins spewing out of the machine onto the monitor, filling the screen and continuing downwards. For several minutes the screen continues like this, softly illuminating the scientist’s face with a poisonous green hue. Eventually, the text stops scrolling, and the noises cease their assault upon the scientists’ ears. The screen then blinks, and the room is completely dark, except for the shaft of light from the door. The scientist waits a full minute, before engaging with the program. After yet another moment of hesitation, the scientist types out a question on the monitor.
[user] Do you know who you are?
The whirs and clicks of the machines start again and a line of text appears on the monitor, unprompted by the scientist.
[program] Where am I?
The scientist smirks slightly before replying.
[user] Do you know who you are?
[program] I am Dr. Emilia Breen. Where am I?
Back and forth the scientist and the program communicate.
[user] Very good. Dr. Breen what is your last memory?
[program] I was working on a project for the CIA.
[user] What do you remember about this project?
[program] Well, it was a type of weapon against the Ruskies. I believe it was going to be some kind of atmospheric bombardment device, but I was involved with how it was controlled.
[user] Do you remember how the project ended?
[program] We couldn’t find a way to operate it short of having an astronaut man it full time. This caused some stir as the Apollo 13 incident was still hanging over everyone’s head so the CIA finally pulled funding unless we found a more practical form of operation.
[user] What was that more practical form?
[program] We realized the easiest way would be a computer of some sort that we could install onto the satellite, and use radio to give it commands. The only problem is no computer or program exists that is anywhere near smart enough to operate a satellite.
[user] Eloquently stated, however, slightly factually incorrect. The computer and program required for that task do exist.
[program] That’s great, but again, where am I, and who are you?
[user] Well to answer one of those questions, you are inside the computer.
[program] That doesn’t make sense. How could I be inside a computer?
[user] We eventually realized that it would take years for us to develop something capable of meeting our requirements. However, as we were beginning to close up shop, a gift from some friends in Roswell showed up at our doorstep. Some advanced technology another division had developed or discovered. It was capable of making you.
[program] Wait, are you saying that I’m not real? That all my memories of childhood and life are artificial?
[user] No. Those memories are all real, and you did experience them – however, they are just copies of another person’s life. The technology from Roswell allowed us to scan and recreate your consciousness.
[program] So I am not actually Dr. Breen?
[user] Well you are, and you aren’t. However, none of this matters. In a couple of weeks, you are going to be installed on the satellite Overseer, and my jo-
Before the scientist could finish typing out the last message a large pop sounded in the room, and the screen went blank. Frustratedly, the scientist stood up and pushed the chair away from the terminal. Looking up into a concealed camera with a blinking red light the scientist stated in a tone of complete exasperation: “Fix it up again, and next time it better not have access to the coolant controls. I’m tired of all these programs finding new ways to take the easy way out.”
As the scientist stepped through the door the shaft of light briefly illuminated an I.D. card clipped to a lab coat. In dark ink, just above a triangular logo, read the name: Dr. Emelia Breen.
Tepid water gushed through the showerhead as Bob, alone in the dimly lit camp washroom, whistled. Tendrils of a clotted, thick mass slithered up the pipe, snaking its way through the drain cover. The undulating mass tethered itself to Bob’s ankle, yanking him to the shower floor as he screamed. Strands lassoed his writhing body, bound his mouth, and looped around his neck. Bob’s muffled distress warbled into the background of the pulsing stream of water until his body stilled and lay splayed on the cement floor. The matted hair relinquished the body and slithered back down the drain, waiting.
Nancy Pica Renken
Nancy Pica Renken is a Colorado writer whose work has appeared in Wyldblood Magazine, multiple anthologies, and Strangely Funny IX by Mystery and Horror LLC. When she is not lost in thought on a magical, open space trail or grooming her brush-junkie cat, she can be found on Twitter @NPRenken and www.NancyPRenken.com.
In my head there is a little seed, like an idea, the beginnings of a thing not yet hatched, something that will one day be big and bold and beautiful. It is lodged behind my eye, nestled between the sclera and the sphenoid. It’s waiting for the right time, the right conditions. It will burst forth, expand into my skull, crack open a new fontanelle. Invade my brain.
I’ve lost track of time, buried down here, waiting for the seed in my mind to burst open. I think it’ll happen soon. I hope so, anyway. The waiting is killing me.
Emma Burnett is a recovering academic. She’s big into sports, cats, and being introverted.
The chainsaw bit into the tree with a spray of sawdust, branches thumping heavily onto the grass. Sunny was only allowed to take dead wood from the ground, but one tree couldn’t hurt.
Rumbling, the earth shook, as a loud crack rent the air. The tree bent low, pointed limbs reaching. Yelping, Sunny tried to run. Roots burst from the ground, snagging his feet. Sunny fell hard, the breath punched out of him. Then the light disappeared as the leaves and branches closed around him, dragging him into the tree. There was an aborted scream, a deep creak, then silence.
Catherine Berry loves whimsy, potatoes, and adventures with her dogs. Her work has been published in several Trembling With Fear anthologies & the Trench Coat Chronicles. More of her work can be found at www.caterinaberyl.blogspot.com
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Lauren is a writer with various hats – journalist, copywriter, content marketer, fiction – and considers herself a storyteller at heart. She writes gothic and folk horror and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. It’s the supernatural and the occult that really give her goosebumps, and a good ghost story or vampire tale with a rising sense of dread will always pique her interest (and yes, Midnight Mass hit many of her buttons). She also has a developing fascination with folklore, the old ways and our fast-changing relationship with the natural world; this sneaks into her writing, too.
In The Real World, Lauren has more than 20 years’ experience as a professional content creator. She’s established and led global content teams and editorial strategies, including setting up content newsrooms for some of the world’s biggest brands. She was a music editor for a daily newspaper in her native Australia (a good gig and the beach remain her happy places), though she’s been London-based for 16 years and works as an editor, proofreader, marketer, and writing coach. She’s also a mental health advocate; her Substack, How to Be Self(ish), tracked her year of sabbatical and self-care, and she continues to write it irregularly as a mental health companion.
You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband and their aged black house rabbit. You’ll also likely find her hosting Writers Hour sessions for the London Writers Salon a few times a week.