“shadow.net” (short story) by Toh Enjoe
English Publication History: The Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories (2017, Vertical)
Original: Japanese (shadow.net), 2017
Translated by uncredited, 2017
Synopsis: After an accident involving brain trauma that makes him unable to distinguish human faces, a man is deemed suitable to be given a privilege: the facial recognition “program” of flying drones; however, his trauma also leaves him unable to communicate in human speech regardless of still being able to understand it. With laws limiting facial recognition on various devices and locations, this man sits in a powerful position unbeknownst to many, however, there are many agents–both known locally and unknown beyond the Great Firewall–in corporal and AI form that pester systems and people on a daily basis; not even children are safe from emotionally-starved AI seeking companionship, so why would a central yet non-communicable figure be beyond their attention?
Pre-analysis: I remember in high school, there was once a food fight. I wasn’t involved in the throwing, nor was I victim of receiving that so-called food ballistically vaulted toward my person. Though that was more than half a lifetime ago, I clearly remember that to this day, which I’ve reminisced before with Friend #1. However, only a few years after the incident, Friend #2 recalled and laughed at how I had gotten hit in the head by a hamburger. I begged to differ but let bygones be blahblahblah. Later, I met up with Friend #1 again, who mentioned the food fight again, but remembered me getting hit in the head with a hamburger… a detail which wasn’t pointed out in our first conversation. It turns out that he had spoken with Friend #2 and heard about the hamburger from him. Somehow, Friend #2’s false memory became Friend #1’s false memory, though they both believed it to be true.
Anaysis: This false memory is like a virus for Friend #1; it hadn’t affected him before, but after exposure to the virus, it changed part of him: his memory. If our ego is only a collection of our memories, yet memories can be shaped and shifted by others, how much of ourselves actually belong wholly to us? Without us knowing it, tiny gleaming facets of memories that are reflections of the truth are simply flaws in gem of our ego.
Do you have childhood memories? Are these memories actually yours, or just personalized reminiscences of your parents that have long been forgotten? Further, have these same memories, after being replayed countless times in your mind like a well-worn tape, been idealized, honed down, exaggerated? In most instances, you wouldn’t know as the only memory of the event is your own.
Consider the unnamed man in the story whose only vision is that of the flying drones:
Only half-listening to their dialogue, I consider all that I’ve experienced. I’m supposed to be a human being hired to administer a flock of surveillance drones. Renting out my brain to part of a system, in order to enjoy the benefits. Come to think of it, however, the scenes that I’ve been watching can’t have come from drones … They might even be false memories, created on a whim somewhere or generated according to my own desires.
In that case, who am I, or rather, what is the entity that has to be executing me? Am I really the one generating this statement? (28)
The power of suggestion is strong. It’s like an insecure port to the human mind called gullibility, suggestibility, or hypnosis. It can be a power tool in manipulating people and it used every day by politicians and advertisements. But on the more personal level, suggestibility can affect our memories, which, in the long run, may not even be our own.
Review: This is a poor start to the collection as it feels like one of the least coherent. The narrative feels sandwiched: two sides of the brain-damaged man with one slice of Public Security in the middle. The story and flow are just as compartmentalized as the said sandwich with very little traction between the two (I could use a mayo analogy here but will suffice with putting it in brackets for brevity). If the story had been sunk in the five-story collection, it may have read better, but as it stands where it is, it’s a clunky start that has limited appeal to Ghost in the Shell fans, armchair philosophers, and science fiction readers. There’s just not enough meat in the story on which gain much purchase.