Review: “The Names and Motions,” by Sheldon J. Pacotti

My top pick of short stories from the Clarkesworld December Issue is “The Names and Motions,” by Sheldon J. Pacotti.

It should be no surprise that Pacotti’s work is stunning – he previously won an award for advancing the art of storytelling with his work as the primary script writer for Deus Ex.

Still, as soon as I opened the story, I knew I was stepping into something extraordinary.

“{ You love me now. }

        We love you now.

{ Let us remember why. }

   Knowing is loving.

        All-knowing is all-loving.

{ We begin. }”

“The Names and Motions” is my favorite type of story – the type that deals with a future where our ways of thinking and feeling are revolutionized.

When I was in college studying neuroscience, Scientific American ran an article dubbing the 21st century “the Century of the Brain.”

This illustration in the public domain of the United States.From where I stood, it was easy to see why: in the early 2010s, we’d learned just enough about how the brain produces memory, thought, feeling, and sensation to know how drastically powerful it was.

We understood that memory, thought, feeling, and sensation could be reproduced, altered, or destroyed whole-cloth using brain interfaces. The world of the Matrix seemed more plausible with each passing year, rather than less.

Some computer scientists were optimistically predicting that they’d be able to model all of the important actions of a human brain in real-time within a few years, raising the question: would these “virtual brains” be conscious?

We understood just enough to begin to realize how little we understood. And how powerful that knowledge was.

Now as we close out the 18th year of the 21st century, mind-shattering advances in brain technology seem to come with each passing year.

Paralyzed patients are currently testing interfaces which allow them to control machines using brain/machine interfaces. Scientists say they’ve managed to create false memories in mice using a similar interface. One startup company has promised to develop “artificial hippocampi” – the part of the brain responsible for creating memory – by creating electronic chips which mimic the activity of a healthy hippocampus.

It’s appropriate, then, that in this “Century of the Brain,” we’re increasingly writing, not just about changing technology, but about changing our minds.

“The Names and Motions” is about exactly that – about the fascinating (and unintended) consequences of brain-machine interfaces which allow their users to know, feel, and experience the activity of other brains.

In some ways, “The Names and Motions” eerily echoes the principles at work in my Unification universe. Pacotti and I have both asked the question: “What if Unity?”

Did we arrive at the same answer?

You’ll have to read to find out.

“The Names and Motions” is free to read, thanks to the generosity of Clarkesworld Magazine, here:

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