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Jan 22, 2017

Unconscious

by Jasper Schreurs
"one of the most important tasks of the artist is to create a world of his own" -Hanna Segal

I'm comfortable with the idea that science fiction world building is an artistic endeavor when it is carried out by skilled writers such as Jack Vance and Isaac Asimov. Vance and Asimov each crafted a fictional future galaxy where they could play and exercise their imaginations.

Space Aliens
Fwai-chi
One of that classic science fiction plot elements that Asimov largely ignored was the issue of encounters between humans and technologically advanced beings from other worlds. Vance was much more willing to include alien creatures in his stories, but when he did so, he was usually taking an approach that was exactly opposite from that used by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke often depicted aliens as being much more technologically advanced than humans. Vance's aliens were usually at a technological level that seemed quite similar to that of we humans, although he included artifacts such as the Rigel Concourse and the Star Kings that suggest a previous presence of advanced civilizations in our galaxy, beings who apparently long ago moved on to bigger and better things.

source
An ambiguous case of an alien creature found in Vance's work are the Fwai-chi. I like to imagine that various life forms in Alastor Cluster including the Fwai-chi and the Merlings of Trullion played important roles if shaping human evolution. Maybe most of the Fwai-chi and Merling species transcended their physical bodies and "moved on" to become artificial life forms in the Hierion Domain. However, devolved versions of both species might have been crafted as "devices" for putting environmental pressure on the humans who arrived in Alastor Cluster. Such "devices" might be "puppets" that are controlled by master programs existing in the Hierion Domain. The individual Fwai-chi and Merlings who appear in Vance's stories might not actually be independent, conscious beings.

source
In Chapter 8 of A Search Beyond, the question is broached: might some Earthlings also be unconscious automatons? This topic is raised by Anney who is familiar with the efforts that her clone sister Ivory made to reveal part of the secret history of Earth to the people of Earth in a published format that was not science fiction. Ivory had genetic evidence of her own biological uniqueness, but when she tried to publish that evidence in a science journal, she met with resistance and was quickly removed from Earth by the tryp'At Overseers. This matter is discussed in the context of the tools and methods that are available to the tryp'At Overseers for monitoring events on Earth.

source
Yōd and Zeta argue that it is not a matter of some Earthlings being unconscious automatons, forced to behave in a pre-programmed way. Rather, humans were originally constrained by their zeptite endosymbionts to only be able to use their brains for the generation of wish-fulfilling fantasies. In the First Reality, the bumpha carried out a human breeding program that was designed to reduce the ability of pek zeptites to constrain human thought in this way. At Observer Base, the first Earth humans who became free of their pek zeptites started the first human flowering of artistic and scientific creativity.

source
Of particular importance in the First Reality were 1) the members of the Escapist Clan who became the first human science fiction story tellers and 2) the first human scientists who devised the science of positronics. Yōd and Zeta believe that first flowering of human creativity was made possible by completely liberating a few human brains from their zeptite endosymbionts.

Later, when the Trysta-Grean Pact was being crafted, the pek insisted (and R. Gohrlay agreed) that a more elegant means was needed to "liberate" humans from the constraints imposed by their zeptite endosymbionts. Thus, during the Trysta Truce, a Phari endosymbiont was crafted that could work in parallel with human zeptite endosymbionts.

A Search Beyond (image credits)
Yōd believes that here in the Final Reality, only a subset of the human population on Earth has the special genetic pattern that is required to allow them to even host a Phari endosymbiont. In contrast, Zeta suspects that all Earthlings now carry a Phari endosymbiont, but only a subset of humans have a special gene combination that allows that Phari endosymbiont to modify the activity of the person's zeptite endosymbiont. These competing hypotheses are raised in A Search Beyond, but questions about the status of humans as being truly "free" or behaviorally constrained by their zeptite endosymbionts hangs over the entire Exode Saga.

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Jan 21, 2017

Anti-science Fiction

cover art by Mitchell Hooks
Many science fiction stories arise from a playful "what if?" game in which the author explores the possible implications for -and impacts of- some imaginary future scientific discovery or technological innovation.

Future Science
Part of the science fiction game is that after the author makes a leap of imagination and introduces some fantasy science, the rest of our understanding of science and how the universe works is respected in the story. Explorations of imaginary future science and technology are best accomplished by authors who have some scientific training and knowledge of modern science, technology and how the universe works. Science fiction story writers who, out of ignorance, ignore existing scientific knowledge or contradict the laws of nature risk alienating Sci Fi fans by making bone-headed errors and destroying the ability of readers to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story.

Jesse Franklin Bone
cover art by Donald Maitz (see this)
J. F. Bone was born in 1916, he graduated from college (1937?) and then served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. After the end of WWII, he completed his education, earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (1950?) and then he worked in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. He started publishing science fiction stories in 1957. His first novel was The Lani People.

Thamber: The Gentilly Protocol
Although it was first published in 1962, I have no idea when Bone began writing The Lani People. I wonder if the story was constructed in stages: 1) pre-WWII beginning with mutant humans who have a tail, 2) early 1950's, the protagonist becomes a veterinarian, 3) late 1950's insertion of "spindizzy" spaceship drive technology and telepathy.

The story is set thousands of years in the future. The setting reminds me of Jack Vance's imagined future in which humans spread outward from Earth into the galaxy. Some early colonies on exoplanets became "lost" and cut-off from Earth for long periods of time, developing their own unique cultures. Then, at some later point, the "lost" worlds could be found again and brought back into the confines of a galactic civilization.
source

Lost World, Lost Genes
Seeds of Life (see this description)
What makes no sense to me is that The Lani People, written by a man with a doctoral degree, makes no mention of genes. We do hear about genetics, but not in a good way: "physical changes had already appeared—and it would only be a question of time before these would probably be followed by genetic changes". Is Bone trying to tell us that humans on exoplanets evolved by some Lamarckian process? Rather than use the term "gene", Bone used the old-fashioned term "germ plasm".

As Bone tells the story, the Lani people arose as the descendants of "Alfred and Melissa Weygand—a missionary couple with the idea of spreading the Christian faith to the heathen...they were a unit in a missionary fleet that had gone out to the stars with flame in their hearts and Gospel on their lips to bring the Word to the benighted heathen on other worlds.” (source) However, the whole story is built upon the absurd premise that nobody can tell that the Lani are humans.

The Man Who Evolved
Evolution in Science Fiction
There is a long history of absurd depictions of evolution in "science fiction" stories (example). I put 'science fiction' in quotes here because many of these stories read more like "anti-science fiction" in which the author was playing some other game besides the science fiction "what if?" game. When a writer intentionally violates a known principle of science then they might have an agenda that goes outside the realm of the science fiction genre. Or could a trained biologist who got his doctorate in 1950 simply have been unable to recognize the importance of DNA?

DNA in science fiction (source)
For the Exode Saga, I imagine that the fictional universe invented by Jack Vance (and used for his stories that were set in the Demon Princes series, his Cadwal Chronicles and his Alastor Cluster books) was a real part of Earth's Deep Time. The Asimov Reality was named after Isaac Asimov because he helped bring that Reality into existence, but Jack Vance was later (in subsequent Realities) able to write science fiction stories about events that took place in the Asimov Reality.

Magic Mutations?
Tall tail.
In the far future of the Asimov Reality, humans were allowed to settle on the worlds of Alastor Cluster where they could be "infected" by Phari endosymbionts and allowed to evolve. Under those environmental conditions, a set of genes were found that can allow humans to use the Bimanoid Interface. Creating the tryp'At and the Ek'col did not involve magical mutations like the one that gave the Lani a tail... it was all by means of a sophisticated process of artificial selection and directed evolution. A Search Beyond explores the question of who did that directing.

Next: which humans are conscious?
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