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Dec 16, 2012

The Undead of Exode

horror trumps science
For me, part of the fun of writing science fiction is trying to break out of my rather restricted comfort zone. Ever since discovering Isaac Asimov and Author Clarke back in the 1970s I've been a fan of what I view as being "hard" science fiction. As a science nerd, I enjoy stories that include science, high tech gadgets and characters who logically solve problems in a futuristic setting.

With my narrow focus of interest on hard science fiction, I don't have much patience with other genres such as fantasy. However, on the distant horizon of my writing "to do" list, I have my ultimate challenge: to write a fantasy story ... but I still really can't imagine how I will bring myself to do that.

magic trumps logic
In the same way that some people can be color blind, I'm "fantasy blind". I recently saw part of one of the Harry Potter movies where two of the characters were able to magically fly across an ocean in a flash, then in the next scene it was a major challenge for them to cross an additional 100 feet of water inside a cave. I've never understood the rules that guide the course of events in fantasy stories. I would not know how to construct a fantasy story...when I write I enjoy working within the constraints of natural laws that limit what is possible.

Through my participation in a collaborative fiction writing project (The Search for Kalid), I discovered how to appreciate the fun of including Space Opera elements in stories. That was a major breakthrough for me because I began writing science fiction with the intention of creating only "serious" stories that would not have room for goofy Space Opera elements. Most recently, I decided that rather than gripe about horror in science fiction, I'd make an attempt to include a horror thread in the story Exode. I'll need to mve gently towards my goal of including an element of horror in Exode: I want the horror element to be part of the suspense and mystery in adventure of the story, not an excuse to splash blood and guts across the pages.

zombies in political commentary
I'm impressed by authors who can effortlessly work in multiple genres, jumping between genres with agility. I've long enjoyed the science fiction of Jack Vance, but I've never been able to follow him into his fantasy or the "thriller" Bad Ronald. As a long-time hard science fiction fan, I'm just not very adventurous in seeking out othrer types of fiction and I frequently suffer when it seems that the science fiction genre is being over-run by types of stories that I do not enjoy reading. I recently came across the blog of David Loeff, another suffering science fiction fan, who wondered if the science fiction genre had become "un-dead" after having been over-run by vampires and zombies. David lamented the fact that writers seem to find it easier to jump on the band wagon some current pop culture theme like zombies rather than write more conventional fiction (pointing towards Vance as an author worthy of emulation).

Higgs-induced zombie eats a physics student.
As an example of where zombies trump science fiction I'll point to the recently released "Decay", an amateur movie built upon one of the great science stories of this year, the observation of Higgs particles at the LHC facility in Europe. In Decay, we are asked to imagine that when the Higgs decays, the resulting radiation magically turns people into cannibalistic zombies. It seems a sad commentary on our time that rather than create an interesting science fiction story about physics, a bunch of Ph.D. students would simply punt and make a silly zombie movie.

Apparently, part of the fun for the makers of Decay when they produce a movie about zombies at the LHC, was using zombies as a way to make commentary about how some people in the world view science. When the LHC was first going online, some people feared that black holes would be generated, leading to the end of the world. I suppose it is just a short step from fantasy black hole production to imagining that the LHC can turn people into zombies. Still, I'd be happier if the makers of Decay had been able to make a creative science-based adventure story.

zombie economics
It might well be the case that for writers trying to put bread on the table, it pay$ to write about zombie$ these days. The entertainment industry is driven by fads and if I was a starving artist I'd be tempted to $pin a few zombie tale$ simply to cash in on the craze. I occasional fantasize about a story in which Hollywood film executives are zombie-like aliens who simply make movies about topics that they are familiar with on their home world.

Immortal Buld
Since deciding on a rather unusual process of linked birth and death for the Buld in Exode, I've been trying to finalize my construction of a particular Buld character who needs to be at least 15,000 years old. When a new Buld arises as a conceptus, it quickly sets about the task of replacing the cells of its mother's body with its own cells. Part of the neural network structure of the mother's brain is retained when the baby's neurons replace those of the mother, so some of the thought patterns and personality of the parent can be passed from generation to generation. The Buld are hermaphroditic and, due to the ubiquitous presence of nanoscopic medical repair robots, they all retain the ability to become pregnant, even those who abstain from sex and live to be thousands of years old.

One of the great religious pillars of Hemmal is the dictum: "live eswer, die eswer". "Eswer" is from an ancient Preland language and in this context it can best be translated as "sword". Although the Prelands and Buld of Hemmal use the English language, there has never been a sword on the planet: the meaning of many words such as "sword" have never found their way from Earth to the culture of Hemmal. However, many of the heroic epics that are popular among the Prelands include the tragic theme of a hero who makes a tool. At first the tool affords magical success to the hero, but ultimately, the tool use backfires and there is a tragic ending. These tools are often called esweri ("swords") but they are depicted as being a magical hand-held device, rather like a basket hilt with no attached sword blade.

Among the Buld of Hemmal, a second interpretation of "live eswer, die eswer" (English translation: "live by the sword, die by the sword") has arisen. For the Huaoshy, the Buld Clan is a means by which new combinations of human genes can be produced, tested, and if found beneficial, transferred to Earth. Buld sexual behavior is shaped by religious ritual in Buld temples and Buld reproduction is carefully guided by the pek. Some of the Buld are aware of the mechanism of Buld reproduction and that when a "true" Buld becomes pregnant the new conceptus will usually develop into a true Buld by means of a process that causes the death of the parent. A Buld individual can live indefinitely...as long as thon does not become pregnant. In Exode, Yandrey is a Buld who has lived on Hemmal for more than 15,000 years as an Interventionist agent who helps make sure that "false" Buld such as Parthney can leave Hemmal and make their way to Earth.

Yandrey
Because of past connections to the Buld Scholars, Yandrey is one of the few people on Hemmal who knows that "eswre" and "suen" were the ancient Preland words for the genitalia of the hermaphroditic Prelands. Among "modern" Prelands, "live eswer, die eswer" means roughly, "if you make use of tools then those tools will kill you". This meaning is known to the Buld, but for a few Buld such as Yandrey the alternate meaning is "preganacy will kill you", although other Buld often mis-translate this as "sexual activity will kill you".

Over the long history of pek-human interactions, a continually reoccurring problem has been a tendency for some Prelands to mistakenly worship the pek as the creators of the human species. The pek actively try to keep the lives of Prelands short so as to facilitate a rapid pace of evolution and it is possible for Prelands to become aware of the fact that the pek are non-biological, what we might call artificial lifeforms...and immortal. Some Prelands come to think that their Creators want humans to become "undead" immortal beings like the pek. Unavoidably, some of these memes from Genesaunt Culture have made their way to Earth and been twisted into forms that can persist among humans who are allowed no contact with pek.

Yandrey is like an immortal seeker of souls who extracts poor unsuspecting humans such as Parthney from Hemmal, sending them off across space to do the bidding of the Interventionists. The pek like Reginal do their best to make Parthney stay on Hemmal. The tension that exits between Yandrey and Reginal spills over into the first chapter of Exode, but Parthney himself is largely unaware the battle for his soul. The reader is left to wonder what is best for Parthney and humanity.

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