Jun 18, 2011

Old Earth

I previously mentioned the Jack Vance novel Araminta Station, the first of a trilogy. The second novel is called Ecce and Old Earth.

Ecce is one of the continents of the planet Cadwal, the distant world where Glawen Clattuc is born. In his effort to save Cadwal, Glawen eventually travels to Earth and finds the missing Charter, the founding document that established Cadwal as a Naturalist preserve. Glawen is preceded to Earth by Wayness Tamm, another resident of Cadwal who discovered that the Charter had been stolen from the vault of the Naturalist Society. Here are Glawen's thoughts about Wayness:

"If through some extraordinary circumstance he became endowed with divine powers and assigned the pleasurable task of designing a new Wayness, he might well diminish the proportion of sheer single-minded obstinacy and intractable, volatile self-willed independence by a soupçon or two: not enough to disturb the flavor of the mix, but to make her just a bit more...manageable? predictable? subservient? Certainly none of these. It might well be that no improvement was possible."

Poor Glawen is tortured by the fact that Wayness goes off to Earth, alone, to take on the dangerous task of searching for the valuable Charter. Most of Ecce and Old Earth is an account of Wayness as she travels around Earth on her search. With Wayness off on her adventure, Glawen suffers acutely, in part because early in Araminta Station his first love, Sessily Veder, is murdered. Glawen can all too well imagine also losing Wayness.

By the end of Ecce and Old Earth the Charter has been found and replaced, thus removing the fate of Cadwal from the hands of the nearly extinct Naturalist Society. By this point in the trilogy some of the forces that are arrayed in opposition to Glawen have been revealed and there is no obvious way that Cadwal can be saved from the fate of being over-run by greedy people who reject the idea that the planet should remain a nature preserve. Glawen needs a new and powerful friend from beyond Cadwel.

If this were one of Vance's Alastor Cluster novels then we might expect a visit from the Connatic, arriving just in time to set things right. In this case, Vance has already introduced us to Cadwal's future benefactor, ironically identified as a visiting guest of one of the Cadwal natives who is working to open the planet to wider human occupancy and exploitation. Upon re-reading the book it is fun to watch the lurking savior of Cadwal quietly passing among Glawen and his adversaries.

In Apollo 23, I'm trying to be quite open about showing the reader how Sakir is manipulated by aliens, but I also need to keep open a path by which poor Sakir can play a trick or two on her puppet master.

Vance always seems to meander back and forth between the protagonist being saved by luck or by competency and skill. At one point in Ecce and Old Earth, Wayness believes she has found the location of the Charter and she triumphantly calls her uncle to share the news. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Wayness, an enemy is within ear shot. It all works out fine because she soon learns that she was wrong and the enemy is sent off on a wild goose chase.

When Sakir first meets Jack Swigert, he has already been subjected to years of "debriefing" by a robot pretending to be Jill Lyons. Sakir is a clone of Jill and she is 20 years younger than than the "Jill" that Jack has known. When interacting with Jack, Sakir pretends to be Jill's daughter and manages to learn an important fact from Jack that escapes the attention of Jill's puppet masters. After she is sent to Earth, that hidden fact will allow Jill to double cross her alien handlers.

Jun 15, 2011

Araminta Station

Araminta Station is the first of a trilogy (The Cadwal Chronicles) by Jack Vance. The story is "science fiction" set in the far future when humans have started spreading to many Earth-like planets such as Cadwal, the home planet of Glawen Clattuc. Glawen is the main character in the story, a young man who must save Cadwal from impending catastrophe.

Cadwal is a world with a complex ecosystem that includes some "tribes" of nearly human animals. Centuries before Glawen's time the planet Cadwal was designated a nature preserve. The impending catastrophe is that Cadwal might now be over-run by humans with disastrous consequences for the native lifeforms.

The interesting thing about Vance's stories in The Cadwal Chronicles, his Demon Princes series and the Alastor Cluster novels is that so little has changed in the future that Vance imagines. There is no "technological singularity" in this future history. Glawen enjoys sailing as much as traveling between the stars.

No singularity. Why not? In the Demon Princes series, Vance included "The Institute", a powerful organization that protects humanity against self-destruction due to damaging technological innovations. If we were in Hollywood, we would be forced to worry about the danger of humans running into technologically advanced aliens. This is not a probelm until you get to Vance's Durdane series, and even then the aliens are basically at the human level of technological development.

Occasionally Vance mentions a world where there are remnants of a lost civilization, possibly that of an alien species that long ago destroyed itself...or moved on to bigger and better things. How long ago? In The Star King, Vance mentions the idea that some humans were taken off of Earth about 100,000 years ago and transplanted to another planet. Transplanted by who? Vance never explains.

I like the idea that Earth was visited long ago by aliens, alien beings who could not resist hauling away a few humans for genetic engineering, domestication or who knows what. In Apollo 23, there are aliens who want to keep themselves hidden from those of us who live on Earth. The aliens use time travel to destroy the "Olmec Reality" and protect humanity from destroying itself.

I also like the idea that such aliens would want to protect the rich ecosystems of planets like Earth. Maybe there are such aliens at work behind the scenes of Araminta Station, aliens who make sure that Glawen saves the day and Cadwal...and gets the girl.

Jun 14, 2011

Apollo 23

I just noticed that there is a story called Apollo 23 by Justin Richards. I recently started a new collaborative science fiction writing project that was tentatively called Apollo 23. Collaborating authors are welcome.

An alternative title for the new story could be "The Olmec Reality". Here I'm using the term "Reality" in the way that Isaac Asimov did in his time travel novel The End of Eternity. If you travel back in time and change the course of events then you cause a new "Reality" to come into existence, essentially a new timeline of events. In the Olmec Reality a technological civilization originated in Mesoamerica and humanity started developing nanotechnology as early as the year 1850. In the Olmec Reality, by 2012 a disruptive form of nanotechnology went out of control and destroyed human civilization on Earth.
Jill travels through time

In order to prevent the catastrophe of 2012, a time traveler was sent back to 300 B.C.E. in order to put an end to the Olmec civilization, but that intervention into the course of events left behind some traces...including hints about the importance of the year 2012.

Unfortunately, while preventing the nanotechnology disaster, new problems were created. Another trip through time is needed and the designated time traveler is Jill Lyons. Here is a brief account of Jill's life: born in 1941 and transported to the future from 1969. She arrives in the year 2027 where alien technology is used to produce a few clones of Jill. In 2053 one of those clones is sent back in time to take the place of Jill in 1969.

There are some important technical limitations on time travel. First, moving matter into and out of Reality requires a large amount of energy. Second, travel through time disrupts other attempts to travel to or from the same point in time. In order to minimize the amount of matter being shifted in or out of time, a common trick is to use a cloned copy of an individual as the time traveler who goes back into history and creates a new Reality. However, if someone travels through time to/from 1969, then it will be impossible to perform another trip through time that is close to 1969.

The story takes place in the "Exodemic Universe" so there are aliens who control the time travel technology. The reader will be wondering what the aliens hope to accomplish by sending human time travelers into the past. In the story, there are some humans who work closely with the aliens and other humans who wonder if the aliens can be trusted.

Related reading:
The Earth Experiment