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Jul 28, 2012

Samson Smash

In The End of Eternity, Asimov depicted a strange social group, the Eternals.

Noÿs Lambent calls the Eternals psychopaths. Here is how an Eternal, Andrew Harlan, the protagonist of the novel, sums up: "he saw Eternity with great clarity as a sink of deepening psychoses, a writhing pit of abnormal motivations, a mass of desperate lives torn brutally out of context."

What is the typical life of an Eternal? Almost exclusively the Eternals are boys who begin their careers when they are taken away from their homewhen at age 15, taken into Eternity and told the truth about Reality, a truth that cannot be shared with people living in Time. The truth about Reality is that from within the protected temporospatial enclave of Eternity, the Eternals watch over humanity and alter the course of Time so as to eliminate unhealthy social extremes.

Harlan becomes a Technician, one of the select few Eternals who actually steps into the flow of Time in order to initiate Reality Changes, alterations to the course of history. Technicians are shunned by the other Eternals because of the guilt and self-doubt that the Eternals feel arising from their handling of Reality Changes.

When Andrew first meets Noÿs he won't even look at her. He has no experience with women and thinks of them as a disruptive influence within Eternity. But then he falls in love and because of that love he breaks the rules of Eternity and he is willing to threaten the destruction of Eternity. And when when he thinks that Noÿs has been taken from him, he lashes out and attempts to destroy Eternity. His "Samson smash".

It is hard to know how Asimov conceptualized a "psychopath". In modern technical jargon a person with "psychopathy" is distinct from someone suffering from "psychosis". Currently, schizophrenia is a relatively commonly diagnosed type of psychosis in Western countries. Asimov wrote The End of Eternity in the 1950s and he might not have made much of a distinction between concepts such as "criminal psychosis" and antisocial behaviors, including criminal behavior, which at that time was was often falling under the umbrella term "psychopathic", at least among non-psychiatric specialists. During the past 70 years there has been a major effort to clarify and emphasize the distinction between non-violent people with mental illness and the much rarer violent criminals who suffer from some identifiable form of unusual brain function. Research on possible links between schizophrenia and homicide has been extensive and illustrates the difficulty of identifying and understanding epidemiological relationships between groups of patients who receive particular psychiatric diagnoses and the incidence of criminal behavior in those groups.

The Eternals constitute something like a monastic order, existing in an artificial social environment where they must set aside the joys and comforts of an ordinary human existence in order to focus on performing their task of watching over humanity by making use of time travel technology. The Eternals each have a job to do and they are expected to do it well and not be distracted by ordinary human concerns and emotions. When he is still trying to resist falling in love with Noÿs, Harlan wants to shout at her: "There's no fun in Eternity, Lady. We work!"

After years of trying to conform to the restrictive behavioral rules of Eternity, Harlen finally discovers the joy of something that gives emotional meaning to his life (a loving relationship with Noÿs). To maintain his happiness, he is willing to break the rules of Eternity, and he feels little guilt. Harlan is initially surprised that Twissell, the leading Eternal, admits to past criminal activity, but he comes to realize that the artificial social structure of Eternity makes it difficult for "model Eternals" to be anything but abnormal, petty, scheming, and environmentally predisposed to psychopathy. Any Eternal who acts on a natural human impulse and falls in love with a person in Time is likely to violate the rules of Eternity (as is the case for both Twissell and Harlan). Asimov tells us that only a select few individuals able to be extracted from Time and made into Eternals. Why? Maybe the entire process by which Eternity is staffed depends on identifying strange, antisocial individuals who, if left in Time, would never make a significant contribution to humanity. If there is selection of sociopaths to populate Eternity, we must wonder: what kind of behaviors will these antisocial people display when they are thrown together and made to live in Eternity?

For Harlen, his personally satisfying but unlawful love affair with Noÿs quickly becomes more important than his life as an Eternal. In the end, from the reader's perspective, Harlan can be viewed as a hero who destroys Eternity, and we come to see Eternity as a misguided system that must inevitably lead to the extinction of humanity. However, when Harlan delivers his "Samson smash" against Eternity, his motivation is very personal, selfish and does not really seem heroic....possibly romantic and gallant, but mostly just a desperate act of revenge, striking out against anything that frustrates his attempt to live happily ever after with Noÿs.

NBK
Readers of fiction intuitively understand characters who struggle against the world when they feel that they are frustrated by a crazy social system that treats them unfairly. Characters who are guided along a story line by a motive of revenge are a fairly common type of fictional hero (example).

Before reaching the happy ending of The End of Eternity, Asimov drags us through some plot twists. Harlan even comes close to murdering Noÿs. When he realizes that she is from the far future and has been using him like a puppet to make possible the destruction of Eternity, Harlan feels betrayed and, for a time, he is desperate to thwart Noÿs in her plan to destroy Eternity.

Along the way, Harlan brutally threatens Computer Finge with torture after Finge reveals how he tricked  Harlan. Harlan, wallowing in his hatred for Finge, goes from feeling that Finge is a pathetic figure to feeling humiliated by Finge and his cruel gloating about how Harlan was used by both Noÿs and Finge.

Is Harlan a psychopath?

Noÿs does not think so: she loves him. What gets Harlan into trouble as an Eternal is his capacity for love. Psychopaths often are abnormal in their ability to empathize with other people and maintain normal loving human relationships. Harlan ultimately shows his humanity and capacity for love and helps Noÿs destroy the pathological society of Eternity.

If you find yourself as a member of a dysfunctional society and you strike out against a dehumanizing aspect of life that is defended by your social group then are you a criminal or are you a heroic figure?

Amygdala
What about someone living in our society who, possibly due to an abnormal brain circuit, is unable achieve normal empathy and satisfying social relationships? The majority of psychopaths are able to navigate through life without becoming violent criminals. Harlan might have gone through life as a typical Eternal, staying faithful to his Eternals Oath, but Noÿs was able to trigger his emotional "Samson smash" by subjecting Harlan to a dramatic and provocative source of frustration. And more importantly, Noÿs made Harlan aware of a secret vulnerability of Eternity that he could brood about and scheme to use as a way to satisfy his own desires, illegal though they were. When Noÿs is taken away and upon deciding that all is lost, Harlan strikes out in the only way he can: the "Samson smash".

Would it be possible, for most people, to find a way to provoke them into a violent act? Stress someone over an extended period of time, repeatedly show them examples of how to strike out violently, then suddenly deprive them of something precious, perhaps the only thing that they value in life, then what do we expect to happen? Far too many people in our society, upon feeling hopeless pain and desperation, quietly destroy themselves. Even in the depths of hopeless agony, such people retain their empathy for others. But what about a person who is neurobiologically unable to feel normal empathy? One of the things that can go wrong in human brain development is disruption, sometimes with rather sudden onset, of the normal sense of self. Might such a person, rather than quietly end their own life, perform a more dramatic exit along the lines of Harlan's "Samson smash" through which he expected to obliterate the entire existence of Eternity?

Do some people suffer from Reality Assignment Disorder? Might fantasy worlds from video games and movies become "real" for some people? Various forms of disrupted brain function (example) might result in our loss of ability to maintain a coherent mental model of reality. Did James Holmes come to see himself as the Joker, an individual who exists in an alternative reality where normal human standards of social behavior do not apply?

Game not over. Was James Holmes ready to die? Was his plan to attract police to his apartment, giving him time to leave the movie theater before police could respond to the shooting?  When Andrew Harlan delivered his "Samson smash" he had no choice but to strike out at all of Eternity... Noÿs had maneuvered him to that fate. At that time, he was not aware of the reasons Noÿs had for wanting to destroy Eternity. Given any other less world shattering option, he would have taken it.

I generally prefer to write science fiction stories that do not contain "evil" characters. In the Space Opera The Search for Kalid we created two "evil" characters, Ketar and Aristark. Ketar and Aristark are two high-functioning psychopaths who will do anything to make sure that the Galactic Antiquist Party remains in power. Ketar is the head of a family that has struggled to maintain control over a planet and his fantasy is to rule an interplanetary empire. If humans have a form of neurodiversity that supports a social pecking order, is it possible for members of powerful families to have a strong predisposition towards callous and ruthless behavior?

Ketar and Aristark remind me of Mathor Borph and Sir Lonas, two Patrunes of the planet Natrice, in Jack Vance's novel Araminta Station. Sir Mathor is not a megalomaniac like Ketar; he and Lonas "merely want to live out their lives in placid self-indulgence", but they have been forced to take harsh measures against their foes, the Senart Scientists. When the story's protagonist, Glawen, shows up and presses an inconvenient police investigation, Mathor and Lonas show no remorse about murdering both Glawen and sergeant Kirdy Wook. Perhaps the callous attitude of Sir Mathor and Sir Lonas traces back to their ancestors, "retired pirates, slavers, fugitives and desperados of every type, along with a leavening of ordinary criminals".

While Sir Mathor and Sir Lonas might have had both a genetic predisposition for psychopathic behavior and a stressful environment that forced them to take callous and murderous action, the case of Aristark in The Search for Kalid included and additional twist. Aristark was a trained assassin and tool of the "evil" mastermind, Ketar. Aristark has been behaviorally programmed to defend Ketar's interests. When Kalid begins to realize the horrific consequences of Ketar's evil actions, and is simultaneously broadcasting the revelations to a courtroom audience, Aristark launches a murderous attack against Kalid.

To what extend can our experiences program us to take violent action under certain circumstances? Why is a murderer who strikes out in jealous rage treated differently than a murderer who has a motive other than jealousy? Can we all be "temporarily insane", can you be temporarily "out of your mind"? Can someone like James Holmes slip into an altered frame of mind, play a fantasy role like the Joker, and then have no memory of having committed mass murder?

When is it sane to defy your society's rules and become a criminal? For several decades Mutually Assured Destruction was the policy of the United States. The MAD doctrine was explored in Level 7 and the protagonist's calm participation in the extermination of humanity remains one of the most horrifying examples of non-heroic behavior that I have read.

Our species is in the middle of figuring out the world we live in. In the past, millions were mysteriously struck down by infectious diseases and it was all too easy to adopt an attitude of desperation and helplessness when we had no tools for observing microbes. Now the science of microbiology routinely makes it possible for us to understand, treat and prevent microbial diseases.

Each human brain is a tangle of circuits shaped by genes and experiences arising within a complex and changing social environment. Even if we are initially baffled by small pox, polio, AIDS, schizophrenia and a hundred other brain disorders, our species will not rest until we map that tangle and learn much more about how genetic predispositions towards mental illness can be amplified by certain experiences.

With study, we will learn how to more efficiently recognize and prevent lethal combinations of "wiring problems" and social experiences. Already we can sometimes prevent tragedy by actively providing mental health services for young people who abandon healthy patterns of behavior. In the future we should be able to increasingly prevent mental health problems rather than simply hope to be able to efficiently react to them.

Imagine a story about a boy who idealistically wants to understand the brain and mental illness. He grows up in a culture where "recreation" involving video games, movies, drugs and paintball becomes more real than his studies of neuroscience and the brain. His academic performance falters and he becomes increasing obsessed with "fantasy violence". The psychiatric safety net fails. You write the story; how does it end? With a Samson smash?
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Related Reading:

SUICIDAL COMPROMISES: PSYCHOPATHY AND REIABILITATION

Unusual Sleep Experiences, Dissociation, and Schizotypy: Evidence for a Common Domain

The Dark $ide of Hollywood

Jul 21, 2012

The Dark $ide of Hollywood

Back in the spring my thoughts turned to summer science fiction movies and my personal fantasy that Hollywood might actually depict an interesting space alien adventure on the big screen. But, now, on second thought, I wonder why we need look "out there" for space aliens when we have, right here at home, Hollywood and what passes for the modern "entertainment" industry.

When looking online for lists of 2012 SciFi movies I was surprised by some of the listed flicks. Part of the problem is that there has long been a blurring of the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. Another problem is that "superhero" movies like The Avengers often crossover into science fiction. Some SciFi fans included The Dark Knight Rises on their lists of anticipated summer films (example) and, sadly, some SciFi fans have gone to see The Dark Knight Rises, expecting summer time science fiction fun (example).

We find ourselves, all of us, as part of a great experiment in which "artists" try to top each other with ever more shocking video game and film depictions of murder and mayhem. We've gone from Psycho to Dark Knight in 50 years, from the innocent days when a bloody knife and the fictional death of one woman was shocking and on into a brave new era when the ca$h-centric folks in Hollywood can coolly and quickly calculate the marketing advantages to be had from shooting 70 moviegoers at a theater.

What, no movie theater massacre?
"Among the hundreds of innocent people he kills are numerous police officers, the police commissioner, a judge, and, of course, Rachel Dawes. Oh, and don't forget the he also blew up a hospital."

Don't forget. We know you will. Yawn. What is the new venue for mass murder this year? Give us something unexpected and cool, maybe a football stadium. But no murders at movie theaters! That would be too upsetting. Seriously, who in Hollywood could even imagine the mass murder of moviegoers?

When you go to see The Dark Knight Rises, who do you think you are going to be sitting next to? Hint.

Who are the kinds of people who thrive on -and flock to- the violence of Hollywood's Dark Knights? Hollywood marketing department motto: "depict a mass murder on screen and audiences will come." The pop gurus of the entertainment industry will keep telling us that we must respect the artistry, realism and deep philosophical meaning of the violence and anarchy that they $ell to us. Just as the tobacco industry assures us that $moking does no harm, just as oil companie$ assure us that global warming is natural, so too the entertainment industry assures us that flooding the minds of moviegoers with images of ever-more-realistically depicted "fanta$y violence" does no harm. And just to make $ure, the merchants of death will spend billions on marketing and anti-science disinformation campaigns.

The Joker is my Guru
"Is it bad that a homicidal, creepy, makeup wearing murderer can put a smile on my face?"

If it is only one in ten million fans of the Joker who is inspired to mass murder, can we ever, with scientific certainty, know that violence in movies has deleterious consequences?

On the day when 60 or 70 moviegoers were shot in Colorado,  my local newspaper described the Joker as a "valuable villain" who was "damaged in every way" and "doesn't care about the consequences". The secret to success in Hollywood? Find a drug-addled actor who can bring to the big screen a new "twist" on a mass murderer who jaded audiences have become bored with....and then collect your Oscars. If the actor manage$ to end up in rehab -or a grave- about at the relea$e time for the flick, then kick back and enjoy the wonder$ of free marketing.

WELCOME TO A WORLD WITHOUT RULES
Coming to a theater near you.
The human brain evolved so as to have neural circuits that promote survival, including special circuits that provide us with empathy. Scientific measures of altered brain activity in low empathy individuals might one day become possible. I'd like to run a test for empathy on the folks in Hollywood who have made it their mission in life to keep inventing new and audience-pleasing depictions of mass murder.

What brain changes occur in late adolescence and how might genetic predispositions or an environment full of fantasy violence deflect human brains from a healthy developmental pattern? Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes. Who will step up to be the next case study?

While the scientific mills grind slowly, get out there and enjoy all those violence-filled summer flicks. Maybe you will want to drop by your local "sporting goods" store along the way and pick out a nice firearm.

related reading: 
Associations between Electronic Media Use and Involvement in Violence, Alcohol and Drug Use among United States High School Students.

An uncertain line between fantasy’s lure, nightmare" by Ty Burr

"Today, there's a general numbing of the audience. There's too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible." - Peter Bogdanovich

Samson Smash

Jul 17, 2012

Assignment: Marune

Agent Joole returns to Blazon spaceport
Jantiff Ravensroke was not pleased to find himself back on duty. His leave time on Zeck had been both relaxing and a practical success: Glisten was now pregnant with their second child, this one a boy.

He'd been called back to active duty before the end of what had been planned as a half-year-long sabbatical, but the emergency recall order had been cryptic. As ordered, Jantiff reported to Blazon spaceport and he was directed to await a mission briefing in Agent Joole's office. The office assistant had informed Jantiff that Joole was inbound from Numenes.

Jantiff waited, pacing around the office, gazing out at the stars and trying to guess what might constitute the basis for an emergency mission. Becoming hypnotized by the endless depths of space, Jantiff shifted his line of sight to Blazon, hanging among the stars below the orbital spaceport. He knew that it was a world spotted with impact craters and inhabited only by mining robots, but the surface of the planet was hidden under clouds.

Finally the ascensor shaft sounded its swoosh and Chief Investigative Agent Joole arrived. While the platform was still coming to a halt she quickly stepped down to the deck and slipped off her travel pack. She pulled out three large books  then tossed the empty pack to her aide. Joole turned and nodded to Jantiff, finally acknowledging his presence. She spoke, her piercing voice a rather good match to her tall bird-like body, "Sorry to keep you waiting Jantiff." Joole placed the heavy books on a desk.

Jantiff could smell ancient paper and leather, a rich aroma that reminded him of the Connatic's Library at Lusz. Jantiff had completed his advanced studies at the Connatic's Academy and had often utilized the Idite Library which held literary treasures including a large collection of ancient books from Earth. Curious about the books that Joole had brought from Numenes, Jantiff offered only a small rebuke for the early end to his sabatical, "Send all your apologies to Glisten," His voice was calm but not entirely devoid of bitterness.

Joole raised an eyebrow and frowned, but she showed no inclination for small talk. Jantiff and Glisten had previously worked in association with Agent Joole, both at the Academy and on planetary missions. Jantiff had not seen Joole since her promotion to Chief Investigative Agent, but she seemed little changed in the new role: still aristocratic and precise in her movements and speech.

Joole quickly slid her hand into a scanclasp, transferring data and activating the projection well. The room lights dimmed and images of a terrestrial planet formed before Jantiff.

For a moment Joole seemed to collect her thoughts then she gestured towards the projected image, "Marune, Alastor 933. Not exactly a tourist resort, but you are authorize to bring your family out for duty stationing."

Jantiff gazed upon the jagged continents of Marune as depicted in the relief map; obviously a world with active tectonics. "Why didn't my recall orders mention that? I would have been happy to bring Glisten here with me." Jantiff made no effort to hide the tone of exasperation that tinged his voice.

Joole zoomed into part of the projected image and Jantiff now saw a view of Port Mar, as seen from above. Joole replied, "There is no need to rush Glisten out to Marune." Pointing to the crooked maze of streets and the clots of ancient buildings that was Port Mar clinging to its ten hills, Joole continued, "The Connatic suggests that you first take some time to establish yourself in a base at Port Mar. For cover, we've arranged your appointment as a visiting scholar at the Port Mar College of Arts and Technics. As soon as you arrive on Marune, pick out a house and prepare for Glisten and...." Joole fell silent and glanced at Jantiff.

Jantiff reminded Joole of his daughter's name, "Katette."

"Yes, Katette. Have them arrive on Marune a few days after you do." Joole asked, "Are you at all familiar with Marune?

Upon entering into the Connatic's service Jantiff had gone through orientation on Numenes and been introduced to all the worlds that were then on the Cluster Watchlist. By tradition, the List was capped at 300 worlds; about one third of those being like Marune and having been on the List for centuries.

During his years of study at the Connatic's Academy, Jantiff had developed the habit of keeping himself aware of which worlds of Alastor Cluster were on the List. As a Field Agent of the Connatic's Service, Jantiff's duties concerned those worlds and the Connatic's efforts to adjust and correct their social problems.

Jantiff could not immediately recall much about Marune. "Hmm...it has long been on the List, as I recall."


Joole nodded, "Indeed." She shifted the focus of the projected image into the rugged mountains adjacent to Port Mar. Joole described what Jantiff was seeing, "These are the mountain realms of the Rhunes. And here, limned in red, the territories of Eccord."

Jantiff began to recall part of the reason why Marune was on the Watchlist. "The Rhunes are under weapons restrictions."

"Yes, the Rhunes have long been subjected to a strict energy weapons embargo, dating back to their near extermination of the Majars." Agent Joole brought to the display a set of images of the favored Rhune hand weapons. "The Rhunes feud endlessly and Eccord has recently fallen under suspicion of using forbidden technology to expand its borders. Eccord is now the largest Rhune realm, its ruler is the Kaiark Rianlle."

Observing the harsh metal and leather of the Rhune weapons, Jantiff felt a chill on his spine and cold stone-like lump in his gut. "Who has been investigating Marune? Is there a Cursar in residence on the planet?"

"Since the end of Majar-Rhune hostilities, the Connatic no longer maintains an official diplomatic office on Marune. Agent Oswouk was the most recent agent stationed on Marune." Images of Oswouk were projected and Joole continued, "He was under cover as a census worker of the Demographical Institute. We lost contact with him three years ago, not long after he reported plans to visit Eccord. Having received no further reports from Oswouk we fear that he is dead."

Jantiff stiffened, wondering why Joole had so casually suggested that he take Glisten and Katette to Marune. "Marune does not sound like a family-friendly posting."

"True, but the Connatic selected you and Glisten, specifically. I agree with the choice; you are just what we need out there."

Jantiff had to admit that Glisten was technically still an agent in the Connatic's service, but she had not been on a planetary mission since going on parental leave four years previously. Jantiff asked, "I can say no?"

"Jantiff, the Connatic asked for you. The two of you. Bringing your family to Marune will provide excellent cover for the mission. Rianlle is probably expecting additional attention from our direction, so we must be careful." Joole smiled grimly. "You must be careful."

Jantiff bristled, "You expect my daughter to be careful?"

"Glisten and Katette will not leave Port Mar." Joole suggested,  "Pick out a secure house and hire a local security team, as you see fit, install them as domestic help. If you are nervous, Glisten and your daughter need not ever leave the house."

Jantiff asked, "Can Glisten say no to this?"

"She won't say no. She owes the Connatic favors. Anyhow, she's bored on Zeck and will enjoy a change."

Jantiff could not deny that. Glisten had never adapted to the tranquil social environment of Zeck. "She's expecting our second child."

"Yes, she reported that to us. I repeat, she need do nothing on Marune. The active part of the mission is yours."

Jantiff flicked the projection back to an image of Rianlle. "And what do you expect me to do? I'd have no better luck spying inside the Rhune realms than Oswouk did. There has been no information out of Marune for the past three years?"

"We have a local correspondent on planet, a Majar, but she is quite useless for penetrating the Rhune realms. Animosity still exists between the Majars and Rhunes, an echo of their ancient wars."

"So the Connatic has taken no action to investigate the death of Oswouk?"

Joole replied, "Just possibly Oswouk has gone into deep cover and is still alive. That is not likely after such a long time, but one of your tasks is to learn what you can about Oswouk's disappearance."

Jantiff suspected that Joole was not telling everything she knew. Jantiff asked, "Why the sudden rush to investigate now?"

"We've found a way to get you into the realms," Joole slightly shifted the map image, "And due to bureaucratic inefficiency, our department almost failed to recognize the opportunity." She gestured towards the map of the Rhune realms, "Here in green, the domain of Scharrode. By a stroke of luck, the new Kaiark of Scharrode is currently a guest of the Connatic on Numenes."

Jantiff was skeptical, "A Rhune on Numenes? Do they travel so far from home? From my reading I thought that they are essentially a freakish cult, cloistered in their mountain realms."

Joole replied, "Normally the Rhunes stay close to home." Joole projected images of Efraim. "A strange case: Efraim, Eightieth Kaiark, House of Benbuphar. A couple of months ago he turned up on Bruse-Tansel, Alastor 1102. He'd been poisoned by a Fwai-chi drug."

"Fwai-chi?"

"The indigenous sapients of Marune. The Fwai-chi drug erased Efraim's declarative memories. He made his way to the Connatic's hospital and investigators there were able to trace his origins to Marune. He's now ready to return to Scharrode as the new Kaiark."

"New Kaiark?"

"Efraim's father, Jochaim, was killed in a recent battle." Joole pointed to the projected map of the Rhune realms, "As you can see, Scharrode and Eccord share a common border. Over the years, Eccord has been conquering and absorbing its neighbors. Scharrode might be the next target of Rianlle."

Jantiff asked, "Efraim has agreed to take me into Scharrode?"

Joole shook her head, "He has not. He has no conscious memory of Scharrode nor the fact that he was born on Marune. However, he will soon be leaving Numenes and returning home. So far, he's been informed only that he is a Rhune. Once at Port Mar he will be recognized. The Rhune population is small; there are only 47 Kaiarks."

"Why should Efraim take me into Scharrode?"

Joole laughed, "As to that, the Connatic is counting on your cleverness and your charming personality. You will reach Port Mar a few days before Efraim. It might take him a while to get oriented and discover his connection to Scharrode. During that time, track his movements and make contact." Joole now picked up one of the three books that she had brought with her from Numenes. "These are three precious manuscripts from the Connatic's Library. This one is the Book of Deeds for a baron of Scharrode." Joole handed the large book to Jantiff.

Benbuphar Strange
Jantiff took the heavy book and looked inside, squinting at the impenetrable calligraphy and marveling at the illustrations. "I've heard of such books. Look at this artwork!" There were painted landscapes of Scharrode and numerous depictions of Benbuphar Strange.

Joole continued, "By the way, you are now the Cluster's foremost expert in Rhune Books of Deeds; thus your visiting professorship at Port Mar. While on Marune you will use the name Jantiff Fersten. It is our hope that you might be able to strike a bargain with Efraim and trade this book for a chance to visit Scharrode. At least the book might provide you with a chance to contact Efraim."

Jantiff was skeptical, "If he has no memories of Scharrode will he value the book?"

Joole explained, "The damage to Efraim's memories was selective for people, places and specific objects of his experience. However, much of his memory is intact, including the broad conceptual foundations of Rhune life and customs. Many of these memories have already been awakened at Numenes; Efraim is behaviorally recognizable as a Rhune." Joole handed the other two Books of Deeds to Jantiff. "Upon your return from Marune the Connatic wants these two books returned to his Library."

Jantiff nodded, "I'll take care of them."

Joole allowed herself a moment of personal digression,  "It has been years since you and Glisten spent time with me on my houseboat. Upon your return we'll cruise around the Solana Isles."

Jantiff nodded politely, but he much preferred the quieter expanses of the Shard Sea on Zeck. Thinking of the wealth of information about Marune available on Nemenes, he asked, "How much time do I have to prepare for duty on Marune?"

"None at all. Efraim will soon return to Scharrode." Joole deactivated the image projector and handed Jantiff a set of mission intags. "A fast spaceship, the Tressian, is waiting at dock 23 to take you directly to Marune. A librarian from Numenes is on board and will brief you on Rhune customs during the trip. You can take 5 minutes to send a message to Zeck, then be on your way. Efraim is departing from Numenes tomorrow, traveling by commercial liner."

_________________________________________________________________

This (above) is a fanfiction complement to Jack Vance's science fiction novel Marune: Alastor 933.

It is my intention that the story line of Assignment: Marune parallel that of Vance's story until Chapter 6.

Events in Assignment: Marune will diverge when Jantiff  discovers that the hired aircar pilot, Tiber Flaussig, has received orders to dispose of Efraim and Lorcas by stranding them deep in the high mountains. Jantiff will rescue Efraim and Lorcas from a snow storm and introduce himself to Efraim as the Connatic's agent. Jantiff will then fly Efraim and Lorcas to Scharrode, introducing himself to Singhalissa using his cover identity as a scholarly visitor to Port Mar. The story is under construction...if you want to help write it, let me know!

the Arches star cluster
Alastor Cluster. It was more than 30 years ago when I first picked up a copy of Trullion: Alastor 2262.

"Alastor Cluster, a whorl of thirty thousand live starts in an irregular volume twenty to thirty light-years in diameter."

I liked the idea of compact collection of 3,000 Earth-like worlds, but exactly what kind of star cluster is Alastor Cluster? Vance wrote:

"To the exterior view, Alastor presents a flamboyant display of star-streams, luminous webs, sparkling nodes. Dust clouds hang across the brightness..."

Some star clusters are young and represent relatively recent sites of star formation. Typically these clusters fall apart before they have time to mature and form planets with Earth-like atmospheres. Other star clusters are ancient, having formed many billions of years ago, their stars being metal-poor and possibly without Earth-like planets. Are there intermediate-type star clusters that might contain a mixture old stars with terrestrial planets and a romantic veil of dust clouds?

Possibly an ancient globular cluster passed through our galaxy, shedding most of its Population II stars. I imagine that the intermediate size black hole from that cluster recently emerged from the disc of our galaxy, now with a new group of 30,000 Population I stars. Now at the rim of the Milky Way, Alastor Cluster recently swept into a molecular cloud, creating the conditions similar to those described by Vance.

Gharks and Hoos
Chapter One - Blazon spaceport
Chapter Two - Port Mar
Chapter Three - Glisten
Chapter Four - Efraim
Chapter Five - Lorcas
Chapter Six - Flaussig

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Related Reading: Jack Vance's Alastor Cluster series in the Ekcolir Reality.
The League of Yrinna
Another adventure of Efraim

Jul 15, 2012

Beings Who Disguise Themselves as Humans

Howard Alan Treesong
I have great fun cruising the internet in search of reactions from readers to my favorite SciFi stories. Often the thoughts of another fan stimulate me to look at a familiar story in an exciting new way. Sometimes what I find on the internet makes me wonder if there is an alternate universe where my favorite stories turn out completely different. Example:

"The Demon Princes are a race of beings who disguise themselves as humans and delight in power and destruction."

The five Demon Princes from the pen of Jack Vance are Attal Malagate, Kokkor Hekkus, Viole Falushe, Lens Larque, Howard Alan Treesong. Do these five men "disguise themselves as humans"?


Viole Falushe
The concept that these five criminals are not human beings no doubt comes from the first novel in the series, Star King

Here is part of the blurb from the back of my 1978 DAW No. 305 copy of the novel: "Star Kings were a race of aliens who disguised themselves as human. They sought only power..."

The Star Kings are from planet Lambda Grus III and are so similar to humans that it can be hard to distinguish them from humans. Attal Malagate is a Star King, but something of an outcast from his own people.


As described in The Killing Machine, Kokkor Hekkus is a hormagaunt. A hormagaunt undergoes special life-extension treatments; Kokkor Hekkus is about 300 years old. He wears prosthetic face masks to disguise himself, his facial skin having thinned to a transparent sheet above his muscles.

In The Palace of Love, Viole Falushe is described as having grown up on Earth as Vogel Filschner. We are told that his mother went into hiding after Vogel began his criminal career by kidnapping a group of young girls.

Lens Larque is from the world Dar Sai, where the human settlers, selected over the course of hundreds of years for survival in the harsh desert climate, have become the "Darsh". While living on the nearby planet Methel, Larque wears a wig and passes himself off as a normal human.

Home Farm, Gladbetook
Howard Alan Treesong was born Howard Hardoah, a farm boy on the planet Moudervelt. From a young age Howard seems to be possessed by a group of invading consciousnesses: Immir, Jeha Rais, Loris Hohenger, Mewness, Spangleway, Rhune Fadder, Eia Panice. Does Howard suffer from a split personality, or is there something else at work?

As described by Vance, what the five Demon Princes have in common is that they were all outcasts and they all became "successful" and famous criminals. What if they really were all members of a "race of beings" disguised as humans? I've previously proposed a fanfiction sequel to The Book of Dreams in which we learn that Treesong was a host for nanites, submicroscopic nanobots employed by Overseers. In the Exodemic Fictional Universe I often imagine that there are forms of mind control mediated by nanites that take up residence in human brains. What if the ruling council members of the Institute and the Demon Princes were all carriers of Overseer nanites and, when needed, those nanites could turn their hosts into "puppets" of the Overseers?

Treesong might be a special case: a nanite host for whom there are problems establishing a normal interaction between his brain cells and the invading nanites.


Delight in power and destruction. Certainly the Demon Princes have gotten some bad press.  In his book The Demon Princes, Caril Carphene wrote that Malagate kidnapped the mayor of Desde on the planet Caro. Mayor Paragiglia had attempted to withold protection payments from Malagate. As a service to the Oikumene, Malagate telecast Paragiglia staring in a a 39-day-long torture session.

Carphene writes, "Viole Falushe can be characterized as arachnid vindictiveness, infantile sensitivity, monstrous self-indulgence."

The back cover of my copy of The Killing Machine says that Hekkus is, "...the most dreadful criminal in the universe, wanted and feared by every law agency existing..." As an example, in the course of the novel, we are told that Hekkus murdered an IPCC agent.
illustration by David Russell

Fear of Lens Larque and his whip, Panak, has been know to reduce grown men to a state of quivering fright. Carphene writes, "...he is expert in use of the whip and takes pleasure in so punishing his enemies." 

Larque's business manager, Ottile Panshaw, tells Gersen, "...your acts will cost you dearly...you will be carried away to a secret place. There you will slowly and carefully be flayed."

But we are also told, "...these men are constructive geniuses, motivated not by malice, perversity, greed or misanthropy..."


Malagate's plantation on Grabhorne
In words and deeds. What are the self-proclaimed goals of the Demon Princes? 

Facing death, Treesong says, "I intended to rule the human universe. I would have been the first Emperor of the Gaean Worlds."


Why does Malagate want to own a secret planet? "...to father a world and a people superior to both men and the people of Ghnarumen."

By the time of his death, Viole Falushe has long maintained his Palace of Love at a secret location on the distant world of Sogdian. Falushe proclaims, "My great pleasure is creation..." He tells Gersen, "I have an elaborate program of research underway," and we learn that he has cloned Jheral Tinzy.

Hekkus, rather than exchange banter with Gersen, rushes into the maw of Gersen's blaster, but what is his life's work? He plays out his fantasies on the secret world Thamber. Gersen sums up, "A single life was insufficient for him; he must drink at every spring, know every experience, live to all extremes. On Thamber he found a world to his temperament."

If the Demon Princes are "constructive geniuses" then what are they and the Institute constructing?


Asimov's Galactic Empire vs Vance's Gaean Reach. Asimov wrote many stories set in a fictional universe where humans colonized the galaxy under the benign guidance of the robot Daneel. Daneel planned for the consolidation of 25 million planets under the group mind of Galaxia.

In contrast, Vance's stories are often set on planets that are part of a more chaotic human diaspora. Rather than taming millions of worlds to suit a homogeneous humanity, Vance often depicted the human inhabitants of distant planets being cut off from Earth and evolving in new directions to fit the local environmental conditions.....sometimes even falling under alien influence.


Vance was comfortable including alien species in our galaxy, but Asimov wrote about an "human only galaxy". For the galaxy as depicted by Vance, it is not hard to imagine an alien influence guiding the course of human cultural development, acting through the Institute and others such as the Demon Princes. If that alien influence took the form of Overseers, they might be less benign than I usually paint them within the Exodemic Fictional Universe. Maybe willing and able to make use of the Demon Princes to advance their agenda.

"Is it conceivable that the Institute wields more control over the human psyche than we suspect?" - Jan Holberk Vaenz LXII

Fanfiction Disease


Where Parthney and Kach first meet.
I've been thinking about free will, determinism and slavery. I'm currently writing about Parthney and Kach and their lives on Hemmal, a distant planet where genetically modified humans live out their lives in complete ignorance of Earth and the origins of the human species. What they do not know is that humans, as a species, were created by the Huaoshy, an ancient artificial lifeform that originated in a distant galaxy about a billion years ago. Parthney is an oddly mutated human, which allows him to become aware of the fact that the humans on Hemmal are part of a complex breeding program. After visiting Earth, Parthney comes to view his former life on Hemmal as a type of slavery. My problem is, I can't think about a story that I am writing without also thinking about the stories of my favorite authors....

Gersen dispatches three henchmen.
Gersen's family. While thinking about slavery in science fiction I began to think deeper into the case of Kirth Gersen, the protagonist of the Demon Princes novels by Jack Vance. This series of novels begins:

"What a paradox, what a fearful reproach, when the distinction of a few hundred miles (nay, as many feet or even inches!) can transform heinous crime to simple unqualified circumstance!"

The fundamentally transformative boundary is the poorly-defined line that separates the lawless "Beyond" from the policed core of civilized worlds at the heart of the Oikumene. Vance's stories are set in a future when humanity is spreading outward into the galaxy and there are many lawless planets beyond the reach of the IPCC (the Interworld Police Coordinating Company).

Mount Pleasant on the planet Providence
In particular, Gersen was born in the Beyond at the community of Mount Pleasant. Among Gersen's earliest memories is the raid on his home village by space pirates. The historic "Mount Pleasant Massacre" which resulted in the death and enslavement of the community and was the evil handiwork of the five Demon Princes.

Although both Gersen and his grandfather witnessed the raid on Mount Pleasant and survived, we learn surprisingly little about what happened to Gersen's parents. The most simple assumption is that neither of Gersen's parents survived the Massacre, but we are never told that by Vance. We are told, in a memory from Gersen of his grandfather, that:

"Many fine things your father had planned for you: learning and useful work and a life of satisfaction and peace."

Why was the community of Mount Pleasant destroyed?

Enslaved!
Do the math.  In The Palace of Love, we learn that a skilled slave, who works in a tapestry factory in the city of Sabra on the planet Murchison, sells for 3,000 SVU. By convention, an SVU (Standard Value Unit) is set to the value of an hour of unskilled labor. In The Killing Machine, we learn that the Demon Prince Kokor Hekkus can earn 100,000,000 SVU in ransom by kidnapping just one person of wealth. Does it make sense that the Mount Pleasant Massacre would have been carried out by the Demon Princes in order to protect or advance their financial opportunities?

We have been told that the community of Mount Pleasant refused to pay protection money or taxes to Malagate the Woe. The community had grown to 5,000 residents and perhaps felt that they had accumulated the required resources to defend themselves. Malagate had to take dire action or lose the power to extract money from communities like Mount Pleasant. At stake is perhaps 50,000,000 SVU per year of steady income for Malagate and his fellow Demon Princes.

In The Book of Dreams, set many years after the Mount Pleasant Massacre, we learn that Howard Treesong has risen to become the "Lord of the Overmen", but at the time of the Mount Pleasant raid he was apparently just attaining his "full criminal stature" and participated as one of the pirate ship captains who could function as "enforcers", sent to raid Mount Pleasant and paid off in booty- what ever they could steal from the raided community.

Dwyddion's house at Athmore Violet
The Institute.
"Who are our basic enemies? This is a secret, unknown even to those basic enemies." -Xavier Skolcamp, Fellow of the Institute

 "We have agents everywhere. We know a thousand tricks to discourage research, sabotage experiments, distort data. We therefor control the dissemination of knowledge." -Madian Carbuke, Fellow of the Institute

During the course of the Demon Princes saga, Vance provides readers with some insight into The Institute. The Institute constantly acts to limit technology and keep humanity in a cultural state that is as close as possible to the conditions of ancient man on Earth.

In The Killing Machine,  Kokor Hekkus kidnaps the children of Duschane Audmar. Audmar is a high ranking member of the Institute. While discussing Hekkus, he tells Gersen, "The Institute finds him remarkable and regards certain by-products of his evil rewarding." Gersen believes that the powerful Institute could easily eliminate the Demon Princes, if it only bothered to try.

In The Book of Dreams, Gersen is told by Leta Goynes, another high ranking member of the Institute, "The Institute tends to ignore ordinary social problems, even criminals as egregious as Howard Treesong."

Alice Wroke
Gersen learns that Treesong has tried to take control of the Institute, killing the top leadership except for Dwyddion, who becomes the new head of the Institute. Gersen learns that Dwyddion is the only remaining person who knows a great secret that was kept by the small leadership group of the Institute. Dwyddion must now decide if there is to be a major change in strategy and a new direction for the Institute.

Alice Wroke. In The Book of Dreams, Gersen meets and befriends the miraculous Alice Wroke, the daughter of one of the high ranking Institute leaders who was killed by Treesong. Alice tells Gersen that her father worked at Wild Isle, a kind of resort for wealthy gamblers. Does it make sense that a high ranking member of the Institute would work at Wild Isle? As Alice describes the situation, her father was a "consultant", making sure that the gambling machines fleece the gamblers. Gersen expresses the view that criminals control the gambling casinos, but Alice insists that her father was no criminal.


Fanfiction disease. Sometimes science fiction stories work themselves into a corner. In The X-Files we were introduced to the idea of an on-going alien invasion, but it seemed like the main objective for Chris Carter was to avoid actually having the invasion because allowing aliens to exterminate humanity would be bad for buSine$$ in Hollywood. Since the alien invasion never materialized, I could not resist creating some X-Files fanfiction stories set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. I imagined Scully being subjected to an "alien abduction" and taken to the Moon where she learns that the aliens have no intention of invading Earth. While on the Moon, some Interventionists recruit her to help solve the global warming problem.

When Isaac Asimov returned to work on his Foundation saga in 1982 he quickly painted himself into a corner. He could see no good way to move the plot past Foundation and Earth. Rather than write a sequel to Foundation and Earth, Asimov went back and wrote two prequels to the original Foundation stories. Asimov seemed reluctant to introduce aliens into his Foundation stories. I had no such reluctance and so I went ahead and created The Start of Eternity, a fanfiction sequel for both Asimov's time travel novel The End of Eternity and Foundation and Earth. The Start of Eternity makes use of the Huaoshy in the role of the aliens who come to our galaxy from "far, far away".

Dr. Wye
When Carl Sagan died I was left wishing that he had been able to bring us a sequel to Contact. After waiting and wishing for years, I finally went ahead and started a fanfiction television series that continues on from the end of the Contact film. The television series is set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe, so the space aliens are shown as being much more intimately involved with Earth than was suggested in Sagan's original story.

But not too intimately. In fact, it is against the rules for aliens to visit Earth. However, rules are made to be broken and there are other interesting visitors to Earth even if they are not aliens. In the Contact movie we never get to meet any of the scientists and engineers who build The Machine. In the Contact television series, Ellie Arroway gets to work with Dr. Wye while they try to understand the advanced technology of The Machine. Dr. Wye is the Exodemic equivalent of Dr. Who. She looks like a human, but where does she come from? Somewhere beyond Earth.

I've also sketched out how to construct an Exodemic sequel to Assignment Nor'Dyren, a Sci Fi adventure story by Sydney Van Scyoc.

After creating fanfiction stories that are set in the fictional universes of Asimov, Sagan and Chris Carter, I've come to the conclusion that I can "rescue" any science fiction story that has worked itself into a corner or come to a dead end...or simply ended before I want it to end. How? By embedding the plot in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. This blatant pattern of hubris is a particularly virulent type of Fanfiction Disease.

Fanfiction sequel to The Book of Dreams. I wish Vance had written a sequel to The Book of Dreams. He left me wanting to how Alice had met Treesong and what would happen to the Institute under the guidance of Dwyddion. Is it true that none of Gersen's family survived the raid on Mount Pleasant?

Stories set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe generally involve ongoing tension between Overseers and Interventionisists. It is easy for me to imagine that the Institute functions as a front for Overseers who want to limit the pace of human technological development. I imagine that Overseers make routine use of criminals like the Demon Princes. In the case of Treesong, things get a bit out of control when he decides he is going to become the first emperor of the Oikumene.

Standing in opposition to both the Institute and criminals like Treesong are the Interventionists, a small cadre of humans who want to liberate humanity from the restrictions that are imposed by the Overseers.

I imagine that the parents of both Alice and Gersen were/are Interventionist agents. After the death of Treesong and leaving Bethune Preserve Alice and Gersen go to Wild Isle in search of Alice's mother, who, after the death of her husband and the disappearance of Alice, has gone into hiding.

Wild Isle Inn
Gersen and Alice visit Cletus Parsival at Wild Isle Inn. They learn that Cletus knew Ervin Umps as well as Ervin's brother and his wife. It is easy for Gersen to confirm that "Stanley Sparkhammer" previously rented rooms at the Inn and hosted a banquet at the Rainflower Room. However, both Cletus and the local police are baffled by the news that "Sparkhammer" murdered all his guests at the banquet. Gersen begins to draw upon his vast wealth and commissions the IPCC to investigate what Ervin Umps had been doing on Cytherea Tempestre and to help find Eileen Wroke, Alice's mother.

Eventually, Eileen is traced to Terranova, Denebola V. Gersen and Alice visit Terranova and she shows him her childhood home. After some detective work they finally find Eileen. She is happy to see that Alice is safe, but fears that her husband was tortured before he died and might have revealed Interventionist secrets to Treesong.  Eileen is pleased to meet Gersen and she tells him that his parents were Interventionists and that Gersen's mother is still alive.

Alice and Gersen are surprised to learn that their parents were secret members of an organization that struggles against the Institute. Eileen is intrigued by the fact that Gersen saved the life of the new head of the Institute and she wants to contact Dwyddion. Gersen wants to find his mother and Alice is intent on finding out if it was Ervin Umps who killed her father or some as yet unidentified member of Treesong's gang.

Gersen learns that following the Mount Pleasant Massacre his mother was sold into slavery by Viole Falushe. She was eventually rescued by Interventionists and continued her work at the new Interventionist training base that was established to replace the one lost at Mount Pleasant. After a sly trick, Gersen penetrates the concealed Interventionist base and meets his mother. She is intrigued by Gersen's description of Treesong's odd behavior and insists that they return to Bethune Preserve to examine Treesong's body. She explains to Gersen the existence of nanites, a powerful tool used by Overseers. The Interventionists have a secret research program aimed at learning how to program and control nanites.

The story unfolds from there with Gersen and Alice trying to decide if they agree with their parents' Interventionist philosophy. Perhaps they can be used by the Interventionists as bait in an effort to draw out the Overseers and allow the Interventionists to capture the needed technology that allows for control of nanites. If you want to help write a fanfiction sequel to The Book of Dreams, let me know!
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possible titles:
Tail of the Lion
Tale of the Lion
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...in an alternative universe....

Jul 13, 2012

Death, Take a Holiday

I recently blogged about death in science fiction stories and that got me thinking about death of science fiction authors.

When I was young (probably around 1970) I was just discovering science fiction and I read about Halley's comet. 1986 seemed so far in the future (further away than the number of year I had yet lived).

When 1986 finally arrived, the comet was a flop and I started treating the turn of the century as the next great calendar milestone to be anticipated. Haley's comet was a visual flop, but its arrival corresponded to a true disaster...the start of a long chain of deaths among science fiction authors I knew.

1986. By 1986 I had been reading science fiction novels at a fairly good rate for more than 10 years. I was going to school at the University of Washington and there were some people I knew who treated Frank Herbert like some sort of guru...they'd stay up all night playing the Dune board game. I had read Dune, but I was not inspired to read the entire series and I did not see the movie. Still, it was a shock when Herbert died in 1986 at the age of 66.

1988. Then in 1988 it was Robert Heinlein who died. Heinlein was among the first science fiction authors that I read (Orphans of the Sky). I also rediscovered Heinlein in his late period of science fiction writing through The Number of the Beast and Friday. Since he was one of the "big three" science fiction authors I felt a certain obligation to read his work. However, for me, he came in third behind Asimov and Clarke.

1990. When I was first starting to buy science fiction novels I would often look for the DAW logo. It was through DAW that I came to know many science fiction authors such as Andre Norton, John Brunner, M. A. Foster, C. J. Cherryh, Robert Trebor, Tanith Lee, and Jack Vance. Donald A. Wollheim died in 1990,  having been one of the most influential people in science fiction publishing.

1992. When Isaac Asimov died in 1992 I felt betrayed. I still wish that he had lived long enough to create a sequel to Foundation and Earth. Alternatively, we can make one ourselves.

1995. John Brunner died. When I was young I enjoyed his stories such as Born Under Mars.

Contact
1996. Death took a holiday in 1994, but while I was still recovering from Asimov's death, Carl Sagan died in 1996. Somehow he was able to push Contact to the brink of completion before he died. I wish he had lived long enough to bring us the needed sequel. However, I'd settle for a Contact television series.

1998. In 1998 Michael Crichton suffered his Hollywood death with the release of Sphere.

The first Crichton movie I saw was The Andromeda Strain, which was also the last Crichton movie I wanted to see. I actually had to buy the novel in order to see if it was better than the movie. As a budding biologist I was astounded by the idea of a lifeform from outer space that just happened to be perfectly suited to infect and kill humans, and it can also digest plastic! It is amazing how evolution by means of random mutations can work out just right so as to make possible Hollywood horror movie$.

After Sphere crashed and sank, Carlo Cavagna wrote, "Michael Crichton is a hack. He comes up with innovative concepts, but his characters are cardboard cutouts. Given the psychological foundations of the story, that's an egregious flaw, and the ending is absurdly dissatisfying." Siskel and Ebert, along with the rest of the world, gave Sphere a thumbs down (see the video below):



1999. James White died in 1999. When I was very young I read one of his Sector General medical science fiction stories. It was amazing that patients were treated and cured...that is, with distractions like nurse Murchison around. There is an amazing website devoted to White's Sector General Saga.

Alien cook book.
 2000. L. Sprague de Camp died in 2000. His novel Lest Darkness Fall was influential for time travel fiction and alternative history. It would be interesting to know how much this one novel influenced other authors such as Asimov (both his Foundation saga and The End of Eternity).

2001. Gordon R. Dickson died, the man who taught me to dislike military science fiction.

2002. Damon Knight died in 2002. His 1950 story To Serve Man became a famous episode of the Twilight Zone. In addition to his short story writing skills, Knight had the luck to be married to Kate Wilhelm who wrote stories such as Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.

2006. In 2004, Death again failed to take any science fiction authors who I've come to know during my life time. Stanislaw Lem died in 2006. His story Solaris was one of the first science fiction novels I read and it remains one of the most disturbing first contact stories I've ever read. It would be interesting to know how much influence Solaris has had on authors such as Asimov (Nemesis).

2008. Arthur C. Clarke died in 2008. The City and the Stars was one of the first science fiction stories I read. Many others followed including Rendezvous with Rama and The Fountains of Paradise. Clarke is best known for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I'd like to see remade.


2009. Philip José Farmer, author of Riverworld. Online story: The Biological Revolt.

2010. When I was young I enjoyed the early novels of James P. Hogan such as Inherit the Stars and The Genesis Machine. By the 1990s Hogan had "jumped the shark" in novels such as Paths to Otherwhere. I'm not sure that anyone was really sad when Hogan "retired" in 2010.

2012. Ray Bradbury died about a month ago. Of all the dead science fiction authors discussed on this page, Bradbury was the only one that provided assigned reading when I was in school: Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man.


So many authors who have been important to me died in even-numbered years. Strangely, 1984, 1994 and 2004 were exceptions. I'm ready for death to take another holiday in 2014. With any luck, no other science fiction authors will die before 2016. Mr. Vance, this means you, in particular.
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May 30, 2013.
John Holbrook "Jack" Vance died May 26, 2013.
http://foreverness.jackvance.com/

Related Reading: Jack Vancereflections

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June 9, 2013.
Iain Banks died.
I've read quite a bit about his Culture Series, but I've never read any of his work, mostly due to a long standing personal dislike of military science fiction. Maybe I should skip over Consider Phlebas and find a less war-oriented entry into The Culture.