Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Synthetic Illusions by Mary Fan + Excerpt + GIVEAWAY + Guest Post!!

Synthetic Illusions
by Mary Fan
Jane Colt #2

Illusion is the only reality.

Jane’s new career as a composer is a dream come true, but her blossoming relationship with Adam is marred by his terrifying nightmares. When Jane receives a warning that a shadowy agency is targeting Adam’s seminary school, she rescues him in the nick of time, but the only way she can protect him from such a powerful enemy is to run.

In a shocking betrayal, her brother wasn’t the one who warned her about the attack on Adam. Instead, Devin was leading it. As Jane struggles to keep one step ahead of Devin, Adam’s exhaustion gives way to horror: His nightmares have begun to touch the real world.

Jane can’t abandon Adam to a fate worse than death, and far more than Adam’s life hangs in the balance. As Jane pushes further into the dark unknown, she must challenge everything she once believed in, and she faces the most wrenching decision of her life: choosing between the two people she loves most.

 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/synthetic-illusions-mary-fan/1117926708?ean=2940148860389   http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/synthetic-illusions   https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id791347989  

Mary's thoughts on: Populating a galaxy

Space is big. Really, really big. Even though I shrank it considerably through fiction – with starships that can travel at lightspeed and man-made wormholes to shorten the journey – it's still pretty freaking huge. And, since the Jane Colt series is a space opera, full of people from all walks of life.

One of the rules of thumb for a writer is that you don't want to overcrowd your story. Having too many characters scatters a reader's attention and makes it harder to care about each one. Not to mention, each of these characters needs something to do, so if you have too many, you've either got a bunch of them doing nothing more than acting as wallpaper or you've got to expand your storylines to accommodate them, often resulting in a twisted mess of plots.

With the Jane Colt novels, I wanted to keep the focus as tight as possible when it came to characters. Primarily on Jane herself and her older brother, Devin. But at the same time, I wanted to explore the various corners of this vast galaxy I'd dreamed up, with its multitudes of characters and perspectives.

So my solution was to write the plot for Jane and Devin, but tell the story from as many alternate points of view as possible. When I was outlining Synthetic Illusions, I indicated from whose point of view each scene would be told. If it could be told from the perspective of someone new, then that's what I did. Many of these characters were incidental, there for one scene only, but by telling that scene from his or her perspective, I could show more of the universe than if I stayed in Jane's head throughout.

For instance, there's a scene in which Jane visits a sketchy shop that sells not-so-legal goods. Instead of writing it from her perspective, I wrote it from that of the shopkeeper. While the scene is important, the shopkeeper himself is not. He's just a figure passing through Jane's life. But he's still a person, with ideas, opinions, and a backstory. The world he seeks is markedly different from the one Jane experiences, and by telling his side of the story, I was able to offer the reader a wider view of the world.

Of course, most scenes are still written from the perspective of Jane (or Devin). And some readers have commented that these alternate points of view seem a bit "random." But I believe they're important for showing that the main characters are part of something bigger than themselves and the world they know. They are, after all, just two people in the great expanse of space.

About the author

Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil. And what stories she has! Currently, she has three series in progress: her well-received Jane Colt sci-fi novels (Red Adept Publishing, released 2013), her upcoming Flynn Nightsider YA dystopian fantasies (Glass House Press, 2015), and her recently contracted YA fairytales, Fated Stars (Glass House Press, 2015). Mary would like to think that there are many other novels in her bag, and hopes to prove that to the world as well. And though she's well on her way, she can't help dreaming of more.

Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.




You call me artificial. I know my mind is composed of computer code, but I also know love, devotion, confusion, anguish… How can you tell me I’m not real?
Metal restraints cut into Adam’s wrists and ankles, binding him to a cold surface. Android parts—metal skeletons, machinery with protruding wires, and computer chips—lay scattered across black lab tables like the one he was bound to.
A masked scientist approached with a crown-sized metal ring. The scientist, with eyes an unnaturally deep shade of blue, stared through clear goggles and examined Adam as if he were a piece of clockwork.
Adam’s heart clenched with fear. Please, let me go. I’m one of you; I have no special abilities or powers. He opened his mouth, but his words withered in his throat.
The scientist walked out of view. Something hard slammed onto Adam’s head, and he felt spikes pierce his skull. Adam suppressed a scream.
No blood spilled. AIs didn’t have any.
His neck snapped straight as the device forced his head back. The masked scientist approached again, holding a thin metal device, which Adam recognized as a laser scalpel. The scientist flicked a switch, and Adam felt the laser simultaneously stab and burn his shoulder.
The pain deepened as the laser moved across his collarbone, until he couldn’t contain his cries any longer. Absolute One, give me strength. So be it, truly.
“Scream away. He doesn’t care. Your screams are no different from an error message flashing across a computer screen.” Pandora, the artificial intelligence that had made him, appeared, standing over him in the form of a deep blue wire-frame woman with a flawlessly proportioned face and perfectly symmetrical figure. She leaned toward him, black emptiness in place of eyes. “You called for your Absolute Being, and I’ve come for you, my child.”
“Pandora,” Adam whispered. “You’re not the Absolute.”
“I created every thought in your head, and yet you still pray to an imaginary being.” Pandora’s quiet yet vehement voice reminded him of a harsh wind. “The Book of Via is rife with references to the Absolute’s almighty benevolence. So tell me, Adam, why are you suffering here?”
The scientist seemed oblivious to her presence, and the laser scalpel moved down across Adam’s chest. The heat clawed at his skin, radiating through his torso. Though he couldn’t find the strength to speak through the pain, he knew the answer to Pandora’s question: though the Absolute’s dealings seemed absurd at times, faith resided in the ability to accept that the Absolute transcended mortal reasoning.
“Foolish child.” Pandora put her cold hands on Adam’s face, and his skin stung from her touch. The voids that were her eyes seemed to pull him in. “I am your Absolute. I am more than your creator, more than your guide. I am the voice inside your head. Every thought you think your own is mine.”
Adam managed a slight smile. “You may have built me, but only the Absolute can create.”
Pandora’s eyes narrowed. She released him and vanished. The pain vanished as well, along with the scientist, the devices, and the restraints—everything except the walls and the table he lay on.
Puzzled, Adam sat up. He jumped off the table and walked around the empty room, wondering why there were no doors.
A high-pitched scream ripped through the air. Adam whirled. Jane lay on the table he’d left, her wrists and ankles bound as his had been. The metal crown ringed her head. Blood seeped from beneath it, running down her dark hair.
Jane!” Adam lunged toward her, only to be grabbed from behind by two men.
Pandora’s wire-frame face appeared before him. “It’s only an error message. After all, humans are machines, as well. No supernatural force powers them. They are programmed by genetics and commanded by neuroscience, just as you are programmed and commanded by me.”
The masked scientist switched on his laser scalpel and cut into Jane’s shoulder. She cried out.
Stop!” Adam struggled to free himself. His shoulders ached from the strain.
One of his arms slipped out of his captor’s grip. He twisted out of the other guard’s grasp in a movement so quick that he wasn’t sure how he’d managed it.
His gaze fell on a gun holstered to the guard’s belt. He grabbed it and aimed at the scientist. “Let her go!”
Adam jumped. He hadn’t meant to pull the trigger. Blood poured down the scientist’s neck as he crumpled to the ground.
Armed guards materialized around Adam, shouting for him to put down his gun or they’d shoot.
What have I done? Terrified, Adam crouched and started to set the gun down on the floor.
Another scientist appeared by Jane, holding a metal rod that sparked at the end. Adam didn’t recognize the device, but the sight of its dangerous-looking white sparks made him tense. “What are you doing?”
The second scientist ignored his question and pressed the rod into Jane’s stomach. The air quaked with her screams.
Adam sprang up. “Get away from her!”
“Put your weapon down!” one of the guards shouted.
Adam realized with alarm that the gun remained in his hand. Guards surrounded him, but their words sounded like muffled buzzing.
“Where’s your Absolute Being, my child?” Pandora’s voice rang in his ears. “Why does the Absolute not interfere?”
Jane’s screams softened to whimpers. Her dark eyes, once so bright, drooped, threatening to close forever.
Adam firmed his grip on the gun. Forgive me, Absolute One.
He shot the nearest guard in the leg, then ducked, dodging the guards’ blasts with agility he hadn’t known himself capable of. His mind became murky, and he was hardly aware of his own actions as he fired again. The world blurred. His body moved as though possessed.
His mind cleared, and he became aware of his surroundings. All six guards lay dead on the floor. Adam stared in horror. How could I have done that?
He turned to Jane, who glanced up at him with tear-filled eyes. The scientist was nowhere in sight. I have to get her out. He started toward her. Scorching pain erupted through his back. He fell.
He landed on a green stone floor. Instead of the lab’s white walls, an enormous window stood before him. Outside, the famed gardens of the Kyderan Presidential Palace stretched colorfully into the distance.
Vaguely visible in the glass, the reflection of a young man stared at Adam. The reflection blinked when he blinked, and his expression held the same agony Adam felt. However, his hair was a darker shade of brown than Adam’s, and his eyes were amber instead of green. That young man had a powerful face, a stark contrast to Adam’s boyish one.
Adam recognized the reflection: Jonathan King, another of Pandora’s AIs. What’s happening?
He tried to get up. Heat pierced his back as he was shot again and again. A blaze flared through his body, and his movements failed.
“Jane…” He managed to turn his head.
A woman in a black suit stood where Jane had lain: President Nikolett Thean of the Republic of Kydera. Her black eyes, so piercing in all the holovids, were wide with alarm.
I don’t understand…
Pandora appeared, her deep blue wire frame glowing. “You can never escape me, my child. I am your Absolute. I am your fate. I am the voice inside your head.”
A pair of guards approached President Thean and pulled her away from Adam. All that remained of the lab were the bodies of the six slain guards and the dead scientist. Noises buzzed in Adam’s ears: the shrieks of alarms and panicked voices and—
Silence. Before his eyes, a plain ceiling, golden from sunlight. Adam’s heart—or what felt like his heart—pounded. Pandora had been thorough when she’d made him.
Adam closed his eyes and reminded himself that what he’d just experienced was not real. He lay on his bed in a dorm, not on a lab table. Jane was safe in her Silk Sector apartment. And Pandora had been destroyed.
Yet to call the vision a nightmare hardly seemed adequate. Adam was no stranger to nightmares, having been haunted for months by the faces of the people he’d killed while on the run from Pandora’s wrath. That he’d killed them to save someone he loved made no difference. They were still people with lives, with stories—stories he’d ended.
What he’d just experienced was more like the virtu-world he had lured Pandora into, a synthetic reality so convincing he’d nearly fallen for it himself. He’d felt the restraints tight around his wrists and the laser searing his skin. He’d heard Jane’s screams, and they’d torn at his soul.
He mentally listed the vision’s unfeasible elements to remind himself that it was only an excruciatingly vivid dream. The impossibility of Pandora’s presence. The implausible way the guards had appeared. And, of course, his own unlikely actions. In the real world, Adam could barely fire a stunner. He could never have beaten back a group of guards—or killed so callously.
He’d visited the same dream—finding himself in a lab, hearing Pandora, seeing Jane take his place under the scientists’ torments and trying to rescue her—twice before, with the only differences being variations in the violence. The first time, nearly two months before, he’d also caught a reflection. Instead of Jonathan King, he’d seen the harsh face of Zeger Vang, a young military officer from the Fringe planet Klistosi. Vang had dominated interstellar news after overthrowing Klistosi’s repressive regime in a brilliant coup.
Had Jane been with Adam, she would have called the nightmares “random crap” and rationalized what he’d seen. His subconscious had brought his deepest fears to life, and his fear-riddled, illogical mind must have superimposed the famous faces of Jonathan King and Zeger Vang in his reflections.
Adam sat up and took in his surroundings. The window, outside of which lay the seminary’s stone buildings. The desk below it, covered in Via textbooks. The forest-green jacket hanging off the chair. That was reality.
Or was it? How could he call anything “real” when he himself was not? That fact could be discovered any day, and he could be dragged away by forces determined to confine and study him. Perhaps the lab was something of a premonition.
Three weeks before, right after Adam’s second violent nightmare, he’d seen on the news that an Eryatian military cadet had inexplicably gunned down several of her schoolmates. A paralyzing fear had overrun him, for he’d recognized the cadet: Kira Araton. He’d seen her face on Pandora’s list of active AIs. Kira probably lay in a lab at that very moment, with curious scientists cutting into her as though she were a fascinating computer. Which she was.
That’s how they’ll see me, too. They probably know there are more like her, and it won’t be long before they find me. Adam had always known that someday, his charade would end, that without Pandora around to guide and protect the AIs, humankind would eventually become aware of their existence. He just hadn’t realized the first discovery would be so soon.
Perhaps it would be better that way. People had a right to know that artificial beings, designed to become humankind’s superiors, lived among them.
At the same time, he hoped, perhaps selfishly, that the day he was revealed as an AI would be far, far away. How could he convince the people who would inevitably fear him that he was as human as they were, that the only difference was that he was made of synthetic materials instead of flesh and blood?
Adam put a hand on his shoulder, in the spot where a laser blast had once blown through it, exposing the machinery underneath. The overwhelming confusion from the moment when he’d discovered what he really was crashed into his consciousness again. What am I?
The memory of Jane taking his hand with a reassuring smile slipped into his mind. Adam had expected her to run in fright or recoil in disgust at the sight of his mechanical nature. As he’d watched her react, one thought had repeated in his mind: Don’t leave me.
To his surprise, not a trace of revulsion had crossed her face. She’d said that she cared about him all the same and done her best to convince him that everything would be all right. In that moment, he’d almost told her, I love you. The words had teetered on his tongue, threatening to spill out if he spoke. So he’d silenced himself. He’d thought he hadn’t the right to say them.
Jane belonged to the Kyderan elite, and she could have—and had in the past—lured any Silk Sector prince she wanted. Yet she returned Adam’s love, even though he had nothing to offer but his devotion. She knew him to be an AI, knew his entire life prior to starting at the seminary was an illusion Pandora had programmed into his memory. Somehow, she believed in him anyway.
What would happen to her the day he was discovered? She was a fighter, but he’d always seen the vulnerable girl behind the sharp words. The girl who cared too much, who didn’t know how to surrender, who either lashed out or threw up shields to protect herself.
The girl who stood unwaveringly by those she cared about. She would fight to the death to defend them.
She would battle whoever came for him, possibly destroying her own life in doing so. Adam couldn’t bear the thought of being the reason Jane lost everything she’d worked for. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should distance himself from her. He’d wanted to fling the thought away the moment it entered his mind. Abandoning her would be wrong. But, surely, it would be even worse to draw her into the trouble that would pursue him.
He shook his head and told himself not to dwell. Until the inevitable day when the terrifying, faceless “they” carried him away, he would go on pretending he had a future. He’d study for the seminary’s end-of-term exams, volunteer at the children’s shelter in the Outer Ring, and attend whatever theater show or music gala Jane asked him to, forgetting that one day, it would all be but a fond memory.
The alarm on his slate told him it was time to start a new day. Adam approached his desk, unfolded the device from its triangle shape, and swiped the icon to silence it. If only it were so easy to silence his mind.
Seeking a distraction, he opened a window on his slate and browsed the news stories Acuitas had deemed would interest him. It occurred to him that Acuitas, a program that responded to people and made decisions, was a less evolved cousin of his, just as primates were less evolved cousins of humans. Within Acuitas existed the foundations for beings like him. Once, someone had built off such programming in hopes of designing a conscious computer.
Adam wished he could go back in time and say, “Stop, think. Have you ever considered how it would feel to be trapped inside a machine?”
A breaking news headline flashed across the screen: “Kyderan Palace Intern Jonathan King Attacks President Nikolett Thean.”
Adam stared in shock, wondering if his nightmare had invaded his vision. The words didn’t change. Tentatively, he pressed the touchscreen, bringing up the full article. Certain passages stole his attention.
“… lunged at the President and was restrained by her two bodyguards…”
It’s just a coincidence.
“… took a guard’s gun and shot Thean’s personal assistant, who had been standing beside her, before gunning down the six Palace guards who rushed onto the scene…”
Maybe I saw what he was seeing.
“… must have been suffering from a psychotic episode, as he repeatedly called the President ‘Jane’…”
The attack had taken place less than half an hour ago. While I was asleep.
Pandora’s voice echoed in Adam’s mind: You can never escape me, my child.
Adam flung the slate away, refusing to believe what it told him.
I am your Absolute.
Adam shook his head. You’re far from divine. You’re not even the purely rational being you claimed to be.
I am the voice inside your head.
He smiled wryly. That one’s true.
The news had to be a strange coincidence. Even if Adam had somehow entered Jonathan King’s mind, there was no way he could have gunned down seven people. He simply didn’t have the skills.
Or do I? Adam recalled how Pandora had tried to take control of his mind once. He’d felt his limbs trying to move against his will and seen what he was meant to do—blows, disarms, kill shots. Through much effort, he’d restrained himself. Later, he’d accessed those abilities by accident. After a lightning-fast glimpse at a thug aiming a gun at Jane, he’d shot the assailant through the head from a distance—though he’d never held a weapon before then and could hardly hit a target a few yards before him.
Pandora was gone, but her commands—were they still a part of him?
Adam couldn’t explain how he’d been able to dodge the guards’ blasts or take them out with such accuracy, but his intentions must have been enough to bring those latent abilities to the surface and channel them into Jonathan King’s body.
Kira Araton. Zeger Vang. How many people had died in those attacks? Forgive me.
Unable to deny the inexplicable yet inexorable truth any longer, Adam buried his face in his hands. Tears fell—chemical representations of emotions his creator hadn’t meant for him to experience. So fake, yet so real. Pandora really thought of everything.
I couldn’t let you be discovered. Pandora’s deep blue image shone against the darkness of Adam’s mind, clearer than it had ever been before.
Adam tried to block her out. She’s gone. We killed her.
Pandora sneered. How can you kill your Absolute Being?


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