In Which I Break My Own Advice and Respond to a Critic (or three)

As a general rule, it’s a bad idea for authors to respond to their critics. There have been enough real world examples in the past year alone that prove it’s rarely, if ever, a good idea.

[Insert big fat HOWEVER] A few times now — well, three to be exact — someone has told me that Episode One of THE MINUS FACTION was great and generally a believable superhero kinda story… except for one thing: muscle memory.

(Note: what follows has a spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, but there are no spoilers for the rest of the series, so if you’ve read E1, you’re in the clear.)

The criticism goes something like: there would be no way for John to perform the kinds of complex martial arts moves that he does because, in projecting his consciousness into another body, he leaves behind his “muscle memory,” which is where the ability to do those things is stored.

The first two times someone said this to me, I just shrugged. (Okay… there might have been a small rant in private.) Every reader or viewer has different tolerance for suspension of disbelief, and it’s rarely consistent. Like all matters of taste, there’s no point in arguing it.

Also, I want to be clear that no one has to like the book. No one has to think I pulled off the story well. As an author, it’s my job to be convincing. You shouldn’t have to push yourself to buy into it. If I’m doing my job, it should be automatic.

But since I just heard this criticism a third time (that’s three out of — I’m happy to say — a few thousand readers), I want to address it, whether that’s a smart thing to do or not.

Here’s the deal: there’s no such thing as “muscle memory.” Muscle tissue doesn’t have information storage. What’s more, the axons that ennervate muscle tissue only carry information one way. That’s actually the primary classification for nerves, whether the fibers are afferent or efferent.

Nerves that carry pain information are afferent. They run from the body to the spinal cord (the threshold of the central nervous system) and are different than the nerves that tell the muscles in the arm to contract in response to that pain. Those are efferent fibers whose axons conduct a pulse from the spinal cord to the body.

What we call “muscle memory” is a type of procedural memory stored (with all your other memories) in the brain and that “guides the processes we perform and most frequently resides below the level of conscious awareness. When needed, procedural memories are automatically retrieved and utilized for the execution of the integrated procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills, from tying shoes to flying an airplane to reading. Procedural memories are accessed and used without the need for conscious control or attention. Procedural memory is created through “procedural learning” or, repeating a complex activity over and over again until all of the relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity” (Wikipedia).

If you believe that a man can control another human being remotely, and in so doing take all of his memories, his experience, his ability to read, to speak English, to swim, to tie his shoes, or even to walk upright — all of which are things we had to learn how to do at some point — then martial arts moves really wouldn’t be any different.

“Muscle memory” is not a GOTCHA! It’s not a criticism of the premise. At all. It’s like saying you don’t believe the conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination because everybody knows Bigfoot did it. And being serious.

I hope no one ever feels the need to look very deeply at the story — that suggests you weren’t just reading along and enjoying yourself — but if you did, you’ll notice that beyond this, I even went so far as to make sure that the things John does in someone else’s body are completely able to be performed by that body.

For example, in the opening chapter, he’s in a coma patient. Probably there would be some muscle atrophy, even after 2-3 months. Thus, John’s moves are limited to a couple slaps of the hand and some pushing. Other than that, it’s marksmanship, which takes no special strength but is a motor skill (that also requires “muscle memory”) like walking, speaking, or tying his shoes, which no one seemed to have any problem believing would convey.

Also, during the fight scene at the end, he’s inside a special agent — a soldier basically, someone whose job it is to fight and use weapons. Presumably that person would be in “active duty” shape at least well enough to reasonably enact the kind of moves John performs.

Finally, I don’t really get into this in E1 (but it will come up more later as it ties to the overall plot of the series), John doesn’t actually “leave” his body. It feels to him like he does, but in this fictional world, I have it where he’s actually able to quantum entangle the particles that mediate his consciousness (the way air molecules mediate sound information) with a nearby brain, thereby allowing for instantaneous action at a distance. But his physical brain is still the seat of his consciousness. It’s just controlling another central nervous system remotely like a drone pilot controls a drone.

But ALL OF THIS is fantasy. It’s science fiction. It’s just supposed to be fun. Period.

I don’t want to offend anyone. Again, no one is obliged to enjoy the book for any reason, and if it just didn’t work for you, there’s no further explanation required.

But the “muscle memory” bit is hogwash. I’m sorry. The great thing is, you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s actually some science involved here, so you can Google it and see for yourself.

Thanks and have a nice day.