Aug 19, 2018

Vanishing Science Fiction

telepathy or nanites?
Five months ago I began my search for an online service that would allow me to watch Before We Vanish in the comfort of my own home (see this blog post) and I finally found this movie on HULU where it became available about a 3 weeks ago (July 30th).

We never get to see the aliens in Before We Vanish. In fact, we are told that humans can't see the true form of the aliens. However, the aliens can take control of human bodies, so during the film we see three "pod people", the bodies of three humans that are under the control of three aliens.

Yuri Tsunematsu as Akira (alien-A)
Before We Vanish is a techno-thriller with a strong horror element and minimal devotion to the science fiction genre. Most of the horror elements cling to Yuri Tsunematsu, who plays the role of a woman (Akira) whose body is controlled by one of the three aliens. In the image to the left, she is causing a car accident by walking down the middle of a highway. Latter, she is killed by being struck by a car that is driven by Masami Nagasawa (in the role of Narumi Kase).

Original cover art by Jerome Podwil
It is not clear that this film can support the weight of a Sci Fi-oriented analysis, but here I go... The type of alien invasion depicted in Before We Vanish might make sense if the aliens are a form of nanoscopic artificial life. The alien nanites can take up residence inside human bodies and set about the task of trying to understand human culture.

Maybe the aliens do not really have telepathic powers. It looks like they can take partial control of nearby people, functioning like thought vampires and rather than sucking blood, they suck out people's thoughts. However, maybe what looks like telepathy is all accomplished by sending nanite probes into people's brains so that the aliens can learn about Humanity.

The alien invaders
Why do the aliens in Before We Vanish even bother visiting Earth? We are told that the aliens intend to exterminate Humanity. Why? No explanation is given. The answer is that some human wanted to make a movie and, as usual, there need be no further justification... just splash enough blood across the screen and watch the money role in.

Stories about invasions are well ingrained in human society simply because our planet is large and human tribes have been invading each others territories for as long as our species has existed. When human fascination with invasions was brought into the science fiction genre by H. G. Wells, he created a fully British invasion story; there was even a "reason" for the alien invasion. The poor Martian's were from a cold, dry, dying world and they coveted the lush green planet Earth.

Invading spores - 1955
It is tempting to imagine that the alien visitors in Before We Vanish are similar to the Borg or the "spores" in The Body Snatchers. Maybe they simply spread from place to place, assimilating other forms of life or exterminating them. However, an alternative reason for the invasion is suggested during Before We Vanish: maybe the aliens arrived on Earth in order to save Humanity from self-destruction. The only way they can so this is to start an invasion of Earth, stimulating the Earthlings to work together.

The Gods Themselves
Wiii 3
The three alien visitors depicted in the film remind me of the aliens in Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves. Asimov imagined an alien species with three different genders: rationals, emotionals and parentals. In Before We Vanish the three individual aliens seem quite different, each with their own mission on Earth. However, we have no doubt that the three aliens are working together; they arrive at the same time, in one small region of Earth and we are told that these three alien scouts must collect information then assemble as a group and transmit a signal to their kind who will then launch a full-scale attack against the people of Earth.

Akira (host to alien-A) is introduced to viewers as a school girl who carries home a goldfish in a bag and announces cheerfully, "I'm home." Minutes later she is covered with blood and her two parents are dead; the poor fish is floundering in a pool of blood. Later, "alien-A" tells us that upon arriving on Earth, "she" first was inside of the gold fish, then she transferred "herself" into the body of a woman, but she pulled out her own internal organs in order to study them. Eventually, "she" settled down inside the body of Akira.

"Settled down" is a joke, because alien-A is quite violent, killing a dozen or more people during the course of the movie. Alien-A's mission on Earth is highly constrained: she is supposed to construct a communications device that will be used to signal for the main invasion to start, a fiery battle fought with flaming meteor-like bombs which will destroy human civilization.

Shinji (alien-C) and Narumi
However, soon after the flaming meteor bombardment starts, the attack is called off. This is apparently due to the fact that alien-C (Ryuhei Matsuda as Shinji Kase) has learned about love from his wife, Narumi.

In The War Of the Worlds, we humans are saved when Earthly microbes kill the invading Martians. In Before We Vanish, the people of Earth are (mostly) saved by love.

The third alien, Amano (played by Mahiro Takasugi) keeps the plot of the movie moving along. Alien-B makes use of a journalist (Hiroki Hasegawa as Sakurai) as his "guide", someone who conveniently has a van with a radio transmitter on the roof. Alien-A is a tech wizard, crafting a hi-tek communicator out of bits of wire and various crappy electronics components that are available on Earth.

school girl vs soldier
I don't know which is sillier: 1) hand-to-hand combat scenes in which a school girl (alien-A) is depicted as incapacitating soldiers armed with machine guns, 2) the movie's equivalent of Japanese Men in Black, unexplained dudes who lurk in the background of the film and who are depicted as having the cover story that they are trying to deal with a "new virus" that is relentlessly filling up local hospitals with deranged patients during the course of the whole movie, or 3) Sakurai, the journalist, who after unsuccessfully trying to sell his alien invasion story to the press outlets then gleefully helps call down the storm of flaming alien meteor bombs that is designed to wipe-out Humanity. Is Sakurai under the telepathic control of Alien-B? Who knows.

3 aliens
A Cinelogue Concerning Two World Systems
Salviati (alien-C) and Simplicio (alien-A) represent the Interventionist and pek factions of these alien invaders. Salviati becomes intrigued by the importance of family and love for Humanity, and ultimately "he" decides to stay on Earth. Simplicio casually kills any human who gets in "her" way while she relentlessly works towards the destruction of Humanity; from "her" perspective, humans are no different than fish. Sagredo (alien-B) just does his job, although he seems to have fun doing his work. In particular, "he" seems vastly amused that Sakurai is ready and willing to place Humanity's fate in the hands of the alien invaders.

In a sense, Before We Vanish is a study of contrast in human nature. On one side there is the human capacity for curiosity, cooperation and caring for each other. Those aspects of human nature are contrasted with human isolation, indifference and narcissism. In this film, Sakurai embodies the human capacity for isolation, indifference and narcissism; he is quick to abandon all hope for his zombie-like fellow humans and join forces with the aliens who seem to wield vastly greater power than we Earthlings. When the end grows near, Narumi's first impulse is to give up on life and reach for death. Only in a final act of desperation does she think to give herself up and pass her understanding of love on to alien-C.

Sakurai calls for the alien invasion.

results from Google translate
It's green.
Welcoming You
I feel like parts of Before We Vanish were simply lost in translation. I've seen various translations of the Japanese title of the film, usually these are a variant on "aliens wandering"; the three alien "scouts" of the film seem to spend a lot of time just wandering around... even bumbling around in full-on inept alien invader fashion. However, none of the bumbling quite rises to the level of Scotty drinking an alien invader under the table.

invading Martians
At the end of the movie, Earth and Narumi are slowly recovering from the aborted alien invasion. Alien-C is at her side, waiting for Narumi's damaged memory system to heal.

aliens save us from ourselves
As viewers of Before We Vanish, we can't avoid making comparisons to The War of the Worlds. Near the start of Before We Vanish, we see a sign that says "Yankees Go Home!" However, at the end of the film we are left with the idea that the alien invasion somehow "saved us from self-destruction".

I'm not sure if the people of Japan ever feel that the American military occupation of Japan saved the Japanese from self-destruction, but that seems to be an idea that is raised by this film. The European view of invaders from Asia has often been that militarily powerful barbarian invaders disrupted European civilization. An alternative view is that contact with Asia brought technological innovations to Europe.

invasion of the heptapods
In the case of alien invasions, it is certain that any space-faring civilization that reached Earth would be far more technologically advanced than we are. Such technologically advanced aliens are not going to come to Earth for some mundane purpose such as collecting our gold. So why would an advanced lifeform travel across vast interstellar distances to a planet like Earth? The recent film Arrival also played up the idea that aliens might arrive and unite the people of Earth, saving us from self-destruction.

SIHA Nomination
Arrival: the 2016 SIHA winner
I'm nominating Before We Vanish for the 2018 SIHA award. At least in my mind, I can imagine the aliens of Before We Vanish as being an artificial lifeform composed of nanites. These aliens are able to recognize that Earthlings have some interesting features, so at least until the sequel, we humans are allowed to survive.

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Aug 12, 2018

Vance Clones

This is my annual August blog post in honor of Jack Vance who was born in August of 1916.

I've recently been concerned with the "positive feedback" phenomenon that occurs when multiple copies of the same mind link to the Bimanoid Interface. This topic is of importance to the Gohrlay clones, two of whom were present on Earth when the Bimanoid Interface received an upgrade (as described here).

In the Ekcolir Reality.
Original cover art by Stephen Fabian
In The Palace of Love, protagonist Kirth Gersen meets several cloned sisters, all the daughters of Jheral Tinzy. The last of the clones that Gersen meets is named Karalin Umdys. The mysterious Retz, who worked with Viole Falushe, was secretly an agent for Zodiac Control and Karalin played a role in revealing his secret identity.

August 1952: the sequel
In 1952 Vance published two stories featuring Jean Parlier;  "Abercrombie Station" and "Cholwell's Chickens". Jean discovers that she is one of a group of 8 identical women, all derived from a single fertilized egg cell.

Minus Yōd
I could sense that Yōd was trying hard to resist connecting to me by way of the Bimanoid Interface. As soon as Zeta slipped into sleep, Yōd was there, in my mind: Turn around.

I had been driving north, trying to put as much distance between us and Yōd as quickly as possible. I thought Yōd was suggesting that I return home. Well, now that Zeta is sleeping... but what if she wakes up?

Yōd continued: Just turn around. I'll explain while you drive. I'll have no trouble keeping her asleep now.

I exited off the highway, trusting that I should follow Yōd's instructions. In her thoughts, I could sense a feeling of confidence, that she knew what was best. However, I was unsettled by the idea that she could control Zeta's mind and keep Zeta in a state of sleep. I asked Yōd: You can control her mind?

Yōd asked me: What do you think was going on this morning when you woke up? For years Zeta and I have been time-sharing her body. She did the same with Alpha for decades. Of course, you never noticed.

Looking into Yōd's mind, I could see that she was telling me the truth. Yōd continued: Right now, Zeta has taken control of her replicoid at Observer Base. At times like this, I can even wake up her body and live vicariously through her senses, but with the change to the Interface, it is best that she stay asleep until you reach the antinode.

I now had the car headed south and I could see in Yōd's mind what she meant by the 'antinode'. I asked: So it is true? Picacho is a special telepathy node?

Anti-telepathy. Yōd explained: That's one of the three places on Earth that is shielded from the hierion tubes that link Earth to the Hierion Domain.

I asked: Why those three places?

Hykrafa and Ruth
I could sense that Yōd was unable to answer that question. This was one of the subjects that her zeptite endosymbiont prevented her from discussing with me. I could not resist jumping to the conclusion that there must be some sort of hidden alien technology at Picacho. Yōd warned me, Remember. Under the terms of the Pact, you are not allowed to have any physical evidence of the existence of aliens. You should satisfy yourself with knowing the hidden history of Earth. Zeta is searching the archives at Observer Base for information about how the Bimanoid Interface effects clones.

For a minute I was simply shocked and dismayed by the fact that I had previously been made aware of the existence of Mt. Picacho as a location near my home that was of special importance for telepathic communication. Of course, at that time, I had no appreciation for the fact that I would one day be faced with the problem of Yōd and Zeta trapped in some feedback loop generated by the Bimanoid Interface.

I suddenly felt Zeta's thoughts in my mind, stronger than I ever had before. She told me: I'm looking at some of the stories that the Vance analogues published in the Ekcolir Reality.

in the Ekcolir Reality
I could sense that Yōd was also receiving Zeta's telepathic signal. I asked: Is it safe for you two to be linked via the Interface?

Yōd explained: As long as I keep Zeta's brain in a deep sleep state, the positive feedback problem is temporarily restrained.

Zeta added: Here at Observer Base, it was quickly found that replicoids can function in a low bandwidth mode, strictly limited to sending verbal thoughts through the Interface. The positive feedback phenomenon seems to involve deeper, perhaps unconscious parts of human brain activity.

I could see in Zeta's mind that she was reading a story that was the Ekcolir Reality version of Vance's story that was known in the Final Reality as "Cholwell's Chickens". The Ekcolir Reality story was called "Inverse Zodiac". In that version of the story, the Mycroft character was named Hykrafa and she was a special agent of the secret organization known as Zodiac Control.

While I drove south and Zeta slept, her replicoid described to me and Yōd the plot of "Inverse Zodiac".

The planet Codiron was not the home of extinct "Trotters", but rather a humanoid species called the Pharithould. Zodiac Control had identified Codiron as a world where the human inhabitants had a high rate of psychological problems. Dr. Cholwell was one of many scientists and physicians sent to Codiron by Zodiac Control to investigate.

Alastor Cluster
Dr. Cholwell reported to Zodiac Control that a local woman named Ruth, a nurse working with the psychological patients at Dr. Cholwell's research facility, claimed to have telepathic connections to some of the patients. Upon arriving on Codiron, Hykrafa and Ruth soon experienced an unusual type of telepathic contact. Their mutual telepathic connection seemed to allow them to connect to remnants of the ancient Pharithould civilization that had once existed on Codiron. However, that contact had psychosis-inducing effects. Hykrafa and Ruth were forced to leave Codiron and they went to Earth, however, they both provided Dr. Cholwell with some of their egg cells.

Dr. Cholwell created a new individual, the daughter of Hykrafa and Ruth, by combining one of Hykrafa's eggs with a pronucleus from one of Ruth's eggs. Dr. Cholwell isolated a dozen blastocytes from the early embryo and implanted them into women who were being studied at a research facility on Codiron. When the "Jean clones" were born, Dr. Cholwell discovered that the 9 surviving clones were telepathically linked.

Dead or taken to Earth?
One of the children, Angela, seemed to become a nexus for the focused telepathic signals of all 9 of the clones. However, Angela became increasingly disturbed and died at age three. Jean then began to take over as the nexus of the clones. Desperate to avoid another death, Dr. Cholwell tried to separate Jean from her sisters. Jean and her birth mother were quickly released from Dr. Cholwell's research facility while her clone sisters remained there, together. Jean's sisters seemed to live vicariously through Jean via a low intensity, mostly unconscious type of telepathic connection. While Jean became a precocious young woman, her sisters lived quietly at the research facility. Over time, the various patients at the facility were released and Dr. Cholwell was able to completely devote himself to study of the clones and their special telepathic abilities.

Jean grew up about 100 miles from the research facility, forgetting her early life, she grew up unaware that she had sisters. Finally, at age 10, Zodiac Control moved Jean to another research facility, an orbital station near Earth where additional clones of Jean were created and tested for the effects of developing in the presence of Jean's powerfully telepathic mind.

Jean was never told about her clones, but she eventually became aware of telepathic links to them. Her own telepathic abilities continued to develop and strengthen until she finally became aware of the minds of her parents.

Agent of Zodiac
Finally, Jean escaped from the orbital research facility and went to Earth. Using her telepathic abilities, Jean was able to find her parents who worked at the headquarters of Zodiac Control.

Zeta's replicoid told Yōd and I: In the Ekcolir Reality, "Inverse Zodiac" was published first, as part of a planned series of novels. A year later, Sam Jaqy published "Amplification Station", which ended with Jean's return to Codiron, accompanied by some of the "second generation" clones. There was to be at lease one more novel in the series, but no further stories about Jean and her sisters was published. According to Mahasvin, there were many different experimental groups of clones created on Codiron, but the so-called "Parlier" clones were the most interesting and had the most impressive telepathic abilities.

I could sense that Yōd and Zeta were rapidly exchanging additional information that they did not want to share with me.

I had long been curious about the effect of distance on telepathic communication. I asked Zeta: When Jean moved away from Codiron and went to Earth, another of her sisters then became the nexus for the remaining clones?

in orbit
Yōd replied: According to Mahasvin, there was an age dependence for human contact with the Pharithould remnant species. When Jean went to Earth, one of her clone sisters became a new nexus, but her contact with the Pharithould was weak and she simply became something of a trouble maker... occasionally sneaking out of the research facility and having a brief adventure in the nearby towns of Codiron.

I was now driving into Picacho park on a rather rough side road and wondering if Zeta might be awakened. Yōd told me: You are almost at the telepathy antinode. Stay there with Zeta and we will try to find a solution here on our end. We'll-

Suddenly I lost telepathic contact with Yōd and Zeta. The next bump in the road shook Zeta and woke her up. She gazed out the window at Mt. Picacho then looked at me, "I can't sense a connection to the Bimanoid Interface."

connections to the Hierion Domain
I was just pulling into the parking lot of Picacho Lodge. "Mt. Picacho is one of the few places on Earth that is not connected to the Hierion Domain by telepathic conduits." I parked and turned towards Zeta. "Do you you know that Yōd was in control of your body?"

Zeta rubbed her forehead and replied, "Yes, it is like a dream. Yōd really clamped down on my brain this time, almost shutting it off, but I know that I ... my mind... has been at Observer Base, researching what is known about experiments performed in the Asimov Reality. Mahasvin is certain that Zodiac Control used the clones of Jean Parlier as detectors. Using the telepathic sensitivity of the clones as a probe, Zodiac Control were able to find dozens of planets where the Phari had visited and guided the evolution of species like the Pharithould."

I muttered, "Zodiac Control seems to have recognized the importance of clones even before Jean was born."

I could tell that Zeta was trying to tell me something, but no words came from her mouth. We went into the lodge and got a room for the night. It was a blistering hot day, but the room was cool and had a fantastic view of Mt. Picacho. We went to the Lodge's restaurant for lunch and continued our discussion. Zeta said, "Mahasvin told me that Hykrafa was herself a clone, developed by Zodiac Control and deployed as a field agent searching for other people with advanced abilities to use the Bimanoid Interface. Of course, at that time in the Asimov Reality, no human knew of the existence of the Bimanoid Interface. Humans were spreading outward from Earth, but Alastor Cluster had not been found yet."

I said, "Vance placed the time of Kirth Gersen about 1,500 years in our future. When did Hykrafa and Jean live?"

Zeta replied, "I'm not sure. I'd guess that it was approximately 1,000 years in the future."

I was impressed by the vast scope of the research project that had eventually led to a system of technology-assisted telepathy for humans. "Zodiac Control carried out human breeding experiments for centuries... for millennia... and kept the existence of human telepathy secret..."

Zeta shrugged. "In the beginning, it wasn't telepathy of the type that we now have. Jean's access to the Bimanoid Interface was mostly at a subconscious level. Speech-like communication via the Interface did not become possible until much later, when the home world of the Phari was finally discovered in Alastor Cluster. Ultimately, someone had to create the specific type of Phari endosymbiont that the tryp'At can use for telepathy."

I asked, "Is there any doubt that R. Gohrlay was the one responsible for the development of human telepathy?"

The tryp'At Overseers
Once more Zeta fell silent. I've long suspected that there is a genetic trail that could be followed on Earth which would prove that certain artificial gene combinations were introduced into the human population of our world. However, I've resigned myself to never learning the details of how R. Gohrlay engineered a change in the human brain making it compatible with Phari endosymbionts. When Ivory got close to identifying the key gene combinations that allowed her cloned sisters to access the Bimanoid Interface, she was taken off of Earth and exiled to Observer Base.

I believe that the special genetic make-up of the tryp-At was engineered on another world, but somehow the key tryp'At genes were "smuggled" into the human gene pool of Earth. Technically, that was a violation of the Rules of Intervention, but under the terms of the Trysta-Grean Pact, the pek seem to have not objected.

That afternoon we explored the unusual geology of Mt. Picacho. Zeta and I suspected that a buried and unmovable object deep in the crust might have created Mt. Picacho. When I explicitly stated that hypothesis, Zeta fell silent. I take that as evidence that there must be something of alien origin down below Mt. Picacho.

After dinner we speculated about the location of the other  places on Earth that might, like the Mt. Picacho are, be isolated from the Hierion Domain. Previously, I had imagined that there are several special locations for telepathy and that they were all equally spaced out around the globe, but I had absolutely no evidence to support that idea.

the Trysta-Grean Pact
In the morning we investigated the extent of the protected zone around Mt. Picacho. For approximately five miles around the mountain in all directions we were blocked from using the Bimanoid Interface. The third time we strayed too far and made telepathic connection to Yōd, she warned us: I've been teleported to Observer Base. I'm going to try to enter the AR Simulator. She added: Now don't distract me. We quickly moved back into the antinode and lost our telepathic connection to Yōd.

Zeta and I spent one more night at the Lodge. Zeta stayed awake all night and planned to be sleeping when we departed from Picacho park. The next morning we checked out and headed home. Zeta was tired, but too excited to sleep. When we moved back into contact with the Bimanoid Interface, I could sense that Yōd had been waiting for us to emerge from the shadow of the telepathic antinode. Zeta quickly fell asleep and Yōd was hurriedly bombarding me with information. Yōd told me: I'm ready to enter the AR Simulator, but there is something I need to tell you.

Suddenly an image appeared in my mind; a clear visual image of Yōd's bedroom back at the house. Via telepathy, Yōd had just shown me the exact place in her room where she had left a packet of infites. You can thank R. Gohrlay for this gift. She is leaving the galaxy on-board Many Sails, but she wanted you to know what Ivory's fate was. The infites that I left for you explain that... Ivory will also not be returning to Earth, but you will now be able to accept Ivory's fate.. she will be happy on Cynk.

Exoditions on Cynk
At that point, I lost my connection to Yōd's mind and I knew that she had somehow shifted herself into the AR Simulator. I also had seen clearly in her mind that she expected to become trapped inside the AR Simulator with Azynov and they would never be able to escape from that virtual reality generator. My mind was overloaded with information and I had to pull to the side of the road to sort through the swarm of memories and thoughts that I had just received from Yōd.

When I slowed the car rapidly and hit the warning ridges in the shoulder pavement, Zeta opened her eyes sleepily. She tried to ask why I had stopped the car, but her speech was slurred. After a minute of grogginess, she finally became more alert and confirmed that she no longer had any telepathic contact with her sister.

During that minute, I was able to process most of the swirl of information that I had just seen in Yōd's mind. I knew that Yōd had become a dual mind, containing memories from a teleporter-generated copy of herself who had been sent to the planet Cynk five years previously. That copy of Yōd had seen Ivory on Cynk and knew that a teleporter-generated copy of me was going to stay there on Cynk with Ivory. That copy of Yōd had provided the infites that were now waiting for me back home.

Zeta said, "Yōd is gone."

I pulled the car back onto the highway. I was eager to get home. "She found a way to enter the AR Simulator."

the AR Simulator
I could sense uncertainty in her thoughts. Zeta replied, "Yōd wanted me to believe that, but there is another possibility. She may have simply gone into hiding, within the data array of the teleportation equipment at Observer Base."

I asked, "Can you shift your mind into your replicoid at Observer Base and find out for sure?"

Zeta shook her head. "Not without Yōd's help." In her thoughts she told me: Unless someone in the Hierion Domain contacts us, we are on our own.

I knew that there was another possibility. With effort and practice, I might be able to learn how to establish a connection to Mahasvin. I could still occasionally sense the faint touches of her presence in my mind.

human cloning
Around 1900, it was observed that calcium ions were involved in holding together the cells of early embryos. The molecular basis of that role for calcium was later shown to be the presence of calcium-dependent call adhesion proteins on the surface of blastomeres. By the 1940s, tiny mammalian embryos could be manipulated and it was then shown that individual mammalian blastomeres could develop into complete embryos. It is interesting that Jack Vance was writing about cloning humans by blastomere isolation in 1952.

another set of clones from Codiron
There have been several sets of clones who played roles in creating the Final Reality, including the Tayge clones. It would be interesting to know which sets of clones were carriers of Phari endosymbionts. I suspect that the clones of Wyzalex Torvaya were like the Gohrlay clones: carriers of zeptite endosymbionts.

Mahasvin seemingly remains as an outlier; someone who can use the Bimanoid Interface, but who seemingly relies on neither a Phari endosymbiont or a G-sym. Still, Yōd's expectation was that I might eventually learn how to communicate telepathically with Mahasvin and that might be my only remaining opportunity to learn more about the hidden history of Humanity.

Next: a SIHA nomination before we vanish

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