Feb 24, 2013

The Mask Slips

The Moon Moth, illustrated by Humayoun Ibrahim
I recently mentioned the fact that I discovered the science fiction of Jack Vance by way of his short story The Moon Moth. I'm not a big fan of short fiction, so once I found my way to Vance's novels I never looked back; I have not read The Moon Moth since 1978.

Last year an illustrated version of The Moon Moth became available, thus creating a new opportunity for another generation of readers to be introduced to the fiction of Jack Vance. The images to the right are by Humayoun Ibrahim; they convey the idea of a world where people hide their faces behind masks.

I recently started thinking about The Moon Moth while I was writing my previous blog post and imagining how Gwyned might disguise herself so that she could return to Earth. Gwyned is a character who plops into the middle of Parthney's life in Chapter Three of Exode. Gwyned was born on Earth, but she became disgusted by the way that nuclear physics, and nuclear physicists, had been sucked into the center of Cold War politics.

Gwyned managed to escape from Earth in 1964 and then she finds herself living at the secret Interventionist base called Lendhalen. When Parthney arrives to begin his training for a mission to Earth, Gwyned is deep into plotting a way to return to Earth. However, the Buld who run Lendhalen have no intention of allowing Gwyned to return to Earth; they simply want Gwyned to pass her knowledge of the current conditions on Earth along to Parthney.

Gwyned faces an interesting challenge at Lendhalen. She finds herself surrounded by fantastic technologies never seen on Earth. The Buld have been traveling between the stars of the Galactic Core for many tens of thousands of years. However, their spaceships were provided to them by aliens and it was not until 20,000 years ago that a small rebel faction of the Buld learned how to read and write and began the process of trying to understand the technological wonders that they had taken for granted for so long.

Progress towards that understanding has been slow. There have never been very many Buld rebels. The Buld have been engineered to require symbiotic nanites inside their bodies in order to reproduce. However, those nanites integrate into Buld brain tissue where they prevent the Buld from being able to use written language and even from being skillful tool users. The Buld rebels have made their choice: they live without nanites.

Among the rebels, a few Buld scientists seem to have made considerable technological progress in some areas. For example, about 5,000 years ago the Buld mastered the art of making humanoid robots. Lendhalen thus has a two-tiered social structure made up from the small Buld population and their more numerous robotic assistants.

The first person who Parthney meets at Lendhalen is a member of the Buld Clan named Leymaygn. Leymaygn has been tasked with teaching Parthney to read and write and also train him in self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. Leymaygn is amazed by how quickly Parthney begins to read and she is impressed by his skill as a fighter. When Parthney was a child on Hemmal his caretakers taught him to read at a young age and also rigorously subjected him to physical training. However, after the age of seven Parthney's interests actively centered on music and he did not make use of his reading, writing and physical skills again until reaching Lendhalen, more than 10 years later.

Upon meeting Parthney, Gwyned quickly decides that he is an ignorant, chubby and lazy kid who is not worth wasting time on. Rather appalled by Parthney's obvious interest in her as the only human woman at Lendhalen, she provides him with one of her robotic assistants, Robin. Parthney, who is twice the size of Leymaygn soon finds himself pitted against both Robin and Leymaygn in his daily physical training sessions.

Initially fascinated by his reading about Earth history, Parthney's thinking about Earth is soon dominated by disappointment. Having lived for 18 years on the well-planned and comfortable world of Hemmal, Parthney is revolted by the squalor and suffering associated with human life on Earth. He takes refuge in his enjoyment of music and begins to shirk the strict training regimen that is preparing him for a mission to Earth.

With time, Parthney comes to notice that Robin's behavior does not conform to the conventional behavior of the robots of Lendhalen. At first he thinks about Robin as being the Lendhalen equivalent of the pek so he does not question the sophisticated behavior of Robin. Only later does Parthney realize that Robin is exceptional. For a brief time he is frustrated by his inability to convince Leymaygn and Gwyned that Robin is special. When ever others are present, Robin displays only simple pre-programmed behaviors.

Parthney has an interesting conversation with Gwyned during which she admits that she tried to find the research records describing how the Buld learned to construct humanoid robots. Not only was Gwyned unable to find those records, she admits, "I can't see how the damned robots work. I took one apart and found nothing inside it that could function like a human brain."

Parthney comes upon Robin and Vozgrow discussing Earth
At that point Parthney has a change of mind and he decides not to "kill the goose that lays golden eggs". Why question the good things in life? He's happy and starts making plans to stay permanently at Lendhalen. He tries to forget the inconvenient truth that hidden behind her mask, there is something exceptional about Robin. Is she something more than a Buld robot?

The Mask Slips
Lurking unseen within stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe are the mysterious Huaoshy. In Exode, the term "Huaoshy" is used by Vozgrow to refer to hypothetical aliens who created the pek. I've previously suggested that some humans can come to wonder if they are puppets of the Huaoshy.

However, I want to also raise in the minds of readers the possibility that the Huaoshy might also instantiate themselves inside robots. What better way would there be for the Huaoshy to watch Parthney and influence his development as an Interventionist agent? Rather than read all of the available reports on Earth's culture, Parthney orders Robin to discuss those reports with him. Gradually, through his conversations with Robin, Parthney develops a realistic understanding of Earth's past and the unique challenge that will soon be thrust upon the people of Earth: first contact with the passengers aboard an arriving spaceship.

Robot lab at Lendhalen
Finally, after several years go by, Vozgrow realizes that Parthney's relationship with Robin is distracting him from his planned mission to Earth. Vozgrow has a showdown with Robin during which they openly discuss the looming crisis on Earth. At the end of the discussion the memories of Vozgrow and Parthney are adjusted so as to satisfy the ethical rules by which the Huaoshy interact with primitive creatures like we humans. Parthney abandons his plans for living out his life at Lendhalen. "Robin the robot" returns to her dull and boring robotic behavior.

Parthney is left with his memories of Robin and her unusual behavior, but he is unable to discuss what he has experienced with his fellow Interventionists. However, what he heard Robin tell Vozgrow and his inability to discuss it has become a powerful motivation for Parthney to go to Earth and help liberate the Earthlings from the lingering effects of the pek nanites that had been used to prevent Earthlings from developing a technological civilization.

The Ghost in the Machine
The humans and Buld at Lendhalen are all confident that they live free of nanites and so their behavior is not controlled by the pek. It is true that they are free of the relatively crude nanites that are used by the pek. However, unknown to them, the Huaoshy have even more advanced devices with structural components composed of sedronic matter. The Huaoshy can effortless equip the crude Buld robots with sub-zeptoscale components and control systems that cannot be detected by the Buld. Gwyned grows increasingly frustrated by her inability to understand the advanced technology of the Buld, but the Huaoshy have been careful to allow the Buld to use just those technologies that serve the purposes of the Huaoshy without allowing the Buld to actually develop an understanding of that technology or the power to explore other technologies without assistance from the aliens. When Gwyned decides that she can accomplish nothing significant at Lendhalen she decides to return to Klyz and try to establish a working relationship with the Fru'wu.

Facial Recognition Software

D'hab and Yandrey
A current feature of Blogger blogs is that Google automatically takes all the images that are uploaded and organizes them in a Google+ album. The image to the right on this page shows Google's facial recognition results for some images in the album for the blog where I am posting the story Exode. The facial recognition software makes mistakes. For example, as shown above, it identified images of Yandrey and D'hab as being two pictures of the same person.

Jodie, Majel
Sherry, Ario
I have about 800 images in the album for this blog and among all those uploaded images are hundreds of people available to be tagged with their identity. It is particularly amusing to enter into the image album the name of a fictional character for a computer-generated image and watch Google suggest possible matches between that fictional character and existing Google+ user accounts. Two of the facial recognition mismatches from the image album for this blog are shown here (images to the left and right of this paragraph).

Sherry Jackson (left), Ted Cassidy, Ario (right)
The images of Jodie Foster and Majel Barrett are both in profile so maybe the software is at a particular disadvantage, but this seems like an amusing mismatch. The other example of mismatched people are Sherry Jackson and Ario.

Vozgrow, lower left
It was interesting to see that even the freakish Vozgrow (image to the left) was recognized by Google's facial recognition system. I had agonized over just how much to distort the normal human features of Vozgrow into something alien.

Mathew McConaughey (left) , Jodie Foster, Susan Oliver, Jeffrey Hunter, Majel Barrett (right)
I've been thinking about the means by which the Overseers in Exode might be able to detect the presence of Interventionist agents on Earth. In previous stories set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe I've imagined that there is constant Observation of Earth. Possibly the Observers have the means to watch the people of Earth and constantly be running some type of facial recognition check. This might explain why the Buld and the Fru'wu do not consider Gwyned to be a good candidate for return to Earth as an Interventionist agent (disused here): it would be too easy for the Overseers to recognize that Gwyned had returned after years of having been missing from Earth. Could the Observers have a constantly updated image database that would allow for recognition of "missing persons" on Earth?

While I've been using computer-rendered images to represent a few of the characters in Exode, I've simply been using images taken from Google's image search to represent most of the characters. Typically I take some image for a fashion model and Photoshop it into a scene (example for Gwyned). I can then put such images back into Google's image search. Sometimes the results that Google returns as "visually similar" are amusing.
"visually similar" to Gwyned
One of the options you can select in the "visually similar" image search is "face":

Left: target image ("Gwyned"). Four "visually similar" faces found by Google image search.
Below are the top results returned as visually similar images for "Gwyned":
PicTriev attempts to match images to celebrities. Below are the results from PicTriev obtained using an image for the model who I used to represent the Buld named Leymaygn. PicTriev generates an age estimate (in this case, 24 years). The top match (Carman Lee) is 40 years old.
In the PicTriev test shown above, a picture of an older Shania Twain was matched (29% ?) to a picture in their database that was taken of her at a younger age. Strangely, Shakira was matched at 27%.

For Exode, I'm imagining that the Observers constantly monitor the developing human culture on Earth. They are particularly interested in progress by Earthlings towards scientific and technological advances, but they also carefully monitor the languages of Earth and send that information to the planets of the galactic core where humans live (such as Hemmal).

If Gwyned was in the Observer database when she left Earth in 1964 (at the age of 25) and then she tried to return in 1971 (that is the year when Parthney was sent to Earth) then the Overseers would have been able to use their facial recognition system to help track her down. Definitive identification would be possible by DNA sequence matching.

The Overseers also watch for changes in the nanites that are inside humans. Gwyned's mother is a time traveler from Earth's far future (discussed here) who brings unusual nanites to 20th century Earth. While Gwyned lives on Earth those unusual nanites are in her body rather than the the typical nanites of pek design. When Gwyned lives at Lendhalen, all of the nanites have been removed from her body. Her major source of reluctance for returning to Earth might arise from the fact that she would be in danger of having her brain infected by pek nanites if she went back to Earth.

Feb 23, 2013

Collaborators at Lendhalen

I'm more than 8,000 words into Chapter Three of Exode and still trying to decide what to call this chapter. I had been leaning towards "The Conspirators at Lendhalen". However, I'm writing the scene for when Parthney and Gwyned first meet at Lendhalen and having trouble convincing myself that "conspirators" is really the right word to apply to folks like Parthney, Gwyned and Leymaygn and their struggle to prepare Earthlings for the shock of first contact. I particularly don't like the usual connotation that implies "conspirators" are trying to accomplish something nefarious.

The word "collaborators" is interesting because it can introduce an ambiguity that is appropriate for Interventionists. It is possible to "collaborate with the enemy" and Chapter Three of Exode highlights the self-doubt of Interventionists: they must wonder if they are really puppets of the Huaoshy. The Interventionists like to imagine that they have been working to thwart the plans of the Huaoshy, but they can never be sure about that. Possibly, just possible, the Interventionists are doing exactly what the alien Huaoshy want them to do. If so, then while striving to be rebels, the Interventionists might unwittingly be collaborating with the mysterious aliens who the Interventionists regard as the enemy.

Glawen and Sessily
In the Cadwal Chronicles by Jack Vance, the protagonist, Glawen, is pitted against a gang of evil conspirators who want to put an end to the nature Conservancy of the planet Cadwal. Glawen is sent off from Cadwal and into the depths of space to pursue a police investigation aimed at revealing the identity of the conspirators. It turns out that Glawen's partner during the investigation, Kirdy, is well motivated to betray Glawen. On the planet Tassadero, Kirdy warns Ordene Zaa that Glawen will soon arrive at the seminary on Pogan's Point. Zaa casually tosses Glawen into a dungeon, having been assured that no rescue party will come looking for him. Glawen later learns that Kirdy is actually the murderer of Glawen's girl friend, Sessily. With "friends" like Kirdy, Glawen does not need enemies. The main advantage that Glawen has is that his enemies can't avoid fighting among themselves.

Similarly, in Exode, the Interventionists are not all members of a single unified organization. There are multiple subgroups of Interventionists that are unable to work together closely in a coordinated fashion. Gwyned is called upon to help train Parthney for a mission to Earth, but Gwyned can't escape the feeling that to help Parthney is tantamount to doing harm to Earth. When Gwyned was on Earth she was not at all impressed by Parthney predecessor,  Deomede. Gwyned has to wonder: maybe Earth would be better off if she went back to Earth as the next Interventionist agent rather than Parthney. The Buld administrators of Lendhalen such as Leymaygn are horrified to learn of Gwyned's plan to take control of the teleportation pad at Lendhalen so that she can send herself back to Earth. Gwyned wants to go back to Earth while avoiding any oversight by the Fru'wu Interventionists, but Leymaygn and the other Buld have been collaborating with the Fru'wu for thousands of years. The Buld fear losing the of help of the technologically advanced Fru'wu, but Gwyned is willing to rely on her own technological proficiencies and she has no compunction about double-crossing the Fru'wu.

Cover art by Boris Vallejo
In the Cadwal Chronicles, there are several factions aligned against Glawen and the Cadwal Conservancy including 1) the "peefers" at Stroma who are a political faction that want's to overthrow the Conservator, and 2) the Yips who want to win free of their squalid existence on the Lutwen Islands and invade the mainland of Cadwal, wild and pristine land that is protected by he Cadwal Conservancy as a nature preserve.

Lucky for Glawen and the Conservationists, the leaders of the peefers and the Yips can't agree on common goals. Dame Clytie (head of the peefer party) and Simonetta (who has made herself queen of the Yips) literally come to blows when they can't agree on a shared plan of action against the Cadwal Conservancy.

Finally, "Smony" decides that Dame Clytie and the peefers are in her way, so she tries to eliminate them in one quick and decisive action: blasting their home, the cliff-side settlement of Stroma into the sea.

Smony's dastardly plan fails to eliminate Dame Clytie who then takes revenge by launching a murderous attack on the Lutwen Islands resulting in the death of most of the Yips.

In Exode, the reader comes to imagine that the only hope for Humanity lies with the rather bumbling efforts of the Interventionists. However, it is hard to have much faith in the Interventionists because it seems like no two Interventionists can agree on anything. While the Interventionists don't start attacking each other, some decide that it might not be wise or safe to keep pushing the Earthlings ever faster towards an uncertain future of rapid technology-powered cultural change.

In the second book of the Cadwal Chronicles, Glawen faces a similar problem. He wants the Cadwal police to take swift action to rescue his father who is being held captive at a secret base on Ecce. However, his supervisor is unwilling to risk precious resources on a dangerous rescue operation into enemy territory.

Glawen must heroically go on the rescue mission by himself with only makeshift resources at his disposal. Glawen is well aware of the danger he faces, so when he boldly goes off to rescue his father we have no difficulty viewing his actions as heroic.

In the case of the Interventionist agents like Parthney in Exode, they are not at all well informed. In fact, Parthney is quite naive about what he is getting himself into. He is intrigued by the opportunity to go to Earth and finally live among other humans, but he can't really bring himself to imagine that going to Earth might bring him personal danger. Gwyned tries to make Parthney so comfortable at Lendhalen that he will never want to go off and face the hardships of being stationed on Earth. Gwyned provides Parthney with a robotic assistant, Robin and she helps Parthney pursue his musical interests.

After Parthney grows too comfortable at Lendhalen something must be done! The Buld have to ratchet up pressure on Parthney to make him fulfill his destiny and go off to Earth. The reader might feel that it is foolish to not let Gwyned go to Earth instead, but she is unable to make progress in her attempts to take control of the teleportation equipment at Lendhalen. Frustrated in her attempts to reverse engineer the advance technology at Lendhalen, Gwyned eventually returns to Klyz and tries to strip away the secrecy that shrouds the Fru'wu. Gwyned is at Klyz when Hana arrives from Earth. Neither of them have good things to say about Parthney and Gwyned helps lead Hana towards the suspicion that Parthney is responsible for the death of Hana's husband.

Feb 16, 2013

Time Trace

time twist
Last month I decided exactly when Exode takes place then I complicated the story's temporal setting by dropping a time traveler into the plot. I was driven to this time twist by the need to provide Parthney with some additional technology.

I have been struggling with the issue of what kinds of high-tech gizmos might be available to Interventionist agents like Parthney while they live on Earth. Last summer when I started writing Exode, I wanted Parthney to have a robotic assistant as well as access to nanites and teleportation equipment so that he could send Hana off of Earth. A major source of advanced technology for Parthney is the Fru'wu species. However, the Fru'wu managed to destroy their home world in a technological disaster, so they are cautious when it comes to providing advanced technology to the primitive humans of Earth. Rather than take the easy road and imagine that the Nereids would be less cautious than the Fru'wu, I realized that Asimov had already provided another solution. I decided to make use of Asimov's famous time traveling heroine Noÿs Lambent as a new source of nanotechnology that Interventionist agents on Earth could obtain without the involvement of aliens.

Noÿs/Trysta 1964
I need never mention the name "Noÿs" in Exode, but I can provide plenty of hints suggesting the true identity of Trysta Iwedon...providing a hidden nugget for Asimov fans and a tip of the hat to Asimov.

Similarly, I'm in no rush to inform readers about exactly when the events of Exode take place. Part of the fun of Exode is allowing for lingering doubt among the readers over just when the Buld spaceship will arrive on Earth.

At this time, I need to settle my thinking about Noÿs/Trysta and the nature of the nanites that she brought to the 20th century from the 111,394th century. I've written the first 6,000 words of Chapter Three of Exode and Parthney has just met Gwyned at the secret training base of Lendhalen. Gwyned is the first Earthling that Parthney gets to meet while he is still in the Koly star system and being trained for his mission to Earth. Gwyned is the daughter of Noÿs/Trysta and an Interventionist agent named Ekcolir (in the Noÿs Reality, he is called Deomede in the Buld Reality) (although while on Earth, Gwyned knew her father by the name "Merion"). When Gwyned is transported off of Earth the Fru'wu at Klyz are able examine the nanites that Noÿs brought from the future. They begin to realize why the pace of technological advance on Earth is spiraling out of control, but the Fru'wu mistakenly suspect that the Nereids are the source of the mysterious nanites found inside Gwyned.

The Robots of Eternity
Gohrlay the robot
In the same way that the pek are a source of nanites that infect human brains, I imagine that the positronic robots who secretly established and guided human time travel (The End of Eternity) developed and used primitive nanites (primitive when compared to the more advanced ones of the ancient Huaoshy). In particular, those robot-derived nanites were used to replace/displace the nanites that had originally been placed in human brains on Earth by the pek. Prior to the arrival of Noÿs in the 20th century and her collaboration with Ekcolir, the Interventionist agents on Earth had no way to detect and remove pek nanites from human brains. However, the Interventionist agents on Earth had slowly been introducing new gene combinations that limit the ability of pek nanites to inhibit human capacities to read, write and create and use tools.

In order for Noÿs to carry out her mission to destroy Eternity, she was made aware of the nanites that she carried in her body and how to use them to modify and guide the behavior of Eternals like Andrew Harlan. However, those nanites did not allow Noÿs to share her knowledge of nanites with anyone else. With the help of Ekcolir, Noÿs was able to remove the blocks imposed on her behavior and memory by the nanites in her brain and together they learned how to replicate those nanites and use them to remove pek nanites from the brains of Earthlings. Of great relevance to Exode, Gwyned became a carrier of the type of nanites that her mother brought to 20th century Earth from the "Hidden Centuries".

Betty the Robot
Ekcolir and other Interventionist agents on Earth have been provided with some Fru'wu technology. They have nanites that they can use to modify the behavior and memories of Earthlings and they also have a few robotic assistants of Fru'wu design. Ekcolir's robotic assistant eventually gets passed along to Parthney. In the scene of Exode where Parthney agrees to send Hana off of Earth, Hana meets Parthney's robotic assistant who is using the name "Betty" at that time.

With time travel and Reality Changes in the Exode backstory, things get a bit complicated. Ekcolir is replaced by a different Interventionist agent (Deomede) in the Reality that we live in (The Buld Reality). Deomede has "Betty" as his assistant at that time, and it is actually Deomede who hands Betty over to Parthney. Betty is composed of a mixture of nanite components and macroscopic parts. If an Overseer suddenly arrives, Betty can decompose and the nanites slip away, able to reassemble into a functional robot at another location.

Gwyned's Fears
Betty the robot
When Gwyned is sent off of Earth, her mother hopes that Gwyned will have a chance to discover why the Interventionist agents who arrive on Earth have never been told that Earthlings have pek nanites in their brains. Gwyned is not at all sure that the Fru'wu are working with the best interests of humans in mind. Gwyned tells Parthney the truth about there being nanites inside Earth humans, but she asks him to keep that knowledge to himself. Also, Gwyned has been told by the Fru'wu not to warn anyone about the fact that Interventionist agents are never sent directly from the Koly star system to Earth. Gwyned fears that the Fru'wu do not want others to know these truths, but she goes ahead and tells Parthney and encourages him to take as much Fru'wu technology a possible from Klyz to Earth. Gwyned asks Parthney to seek out Noÿs/Trysta when he arrives on Earth and provide her with a report describing what he learns on Klyz.

Gwyned has learned from Pla'mak that although the Buld have been given access to teleporter technology by the Fru'wu, the Fru'wu retain control over where teleported humans go. Gwyned is trying to reverse engineer the teleporter device at Lendhalen and discover how to control the destination for teleportation. Pla'mak is worried that the Fru'wu will be upset if they find out what Gwyned is trying to accomplish. Rather than allow Gwyned to experiment with the existing teleporter, Pla'mak insists that Gwyned build a second teleportation device. During the time that Parthney is at Lendhalen, Gwyned is very busy with her attempt to make a functioning teleportation destination control device.

When Noÿs was sent back in time to the 20th century she was aware of the existence of alien species on other planets in our galaxy, but she did not understand the extent to which the Huaoshy and the pek control the development of technological civilizations throughout the galaxies of the nearby universe. Upon learning from Ekcolir about the interactions between pek and humans on worlds like Hemmal, Noÿs/Trysta guesses that the pek must be allowing the Fru'wu to help prepare Earth for the imminent arrival of the Buld spaceship. Noÿs/Trysta remains frustrated by the continual cat and mouse game that must be played with the Overseers. She begins to formulate a plan that will allow the Interventionists to penetrate the Overseer Base of operations that is located on the Moon.

Noÿs, as a human from 10,000,000 years in the future, has some biological differences from contemporary humans. Most dramatically, her brain is adapted for constructive interactions with the nanites that are inside her body. Significantly, her natural life span is longer than that of "modern" humans of the 20th century. Noÿs is still alive when Izhiun reaches Earth in the 21st century well, almost....I later decided that Noÿs could not wait around for Izhiun to reach Earth...before he arrives, Noÿs travels through time again into the deep past of Earth).

Just saying....

There have been more than 25 posts to this blog about Exode and Parthney.

Feb 10, 2013

Gwyned's Parents

In Chapter Three of Exode, Parthney arrives at Lendhalen and he is introduced to Gwyned. Gwyned was born on Earth in 1939 and teleported off of Earth in 1964. For the Buld, Gwyned is an important source of information about conditions on Earth.

What does Gwyned know about her own early life on Earth? She was raised by her parents, Trysta and Merion Iwedon in Australia. However, Merion was not her biological father. Also, Trysta's real name is Noÿs Lambent.

Fanfiction Disease
I've previously incorporated Asimov's character Noÿs Lambent into a sequel for Asimov's time travel novel The End of Eternity. For Exode, I imagine that Andrew Harlan and Noÿs lived in Hampton Virgina in 1938 where they were trying to stimulate development of research into magnetic confinement of high temperature hydrogen plasma. As depicted by Asimov in The End of Eternity, Noÿs was a time traveler from the far future. When she traveled back in time to the year 1932 she had in her body advanced nanites that could be used for many purposes. However, Noÿs made the mistake of using those nanites to push too hard to facilitate the development (in the 1930s!) of research into fusion power. (Note: this blog post contains early ideas for integrating Noÿs into the Exode backstory. I later developed a more intricate series of events that involves an additional Reality Change beyond those I was thinking of here.) The fusion research at Langley attracted the attention of Overseers and was quickly shut down. Andrew was captured and taken to the Observer base on the Moon. With the help of an Interventionist agent named Ekcolir, Noÿs escaped and went to Australia with her son.
Robin the robot

Like Parthney, Ekcolir was born on Hemmal. Noÿs came to the attention of Ekcolir because of her son, Thomas. As part of the Interventionist effort to speed cultural development on Earth, agents like Ekcolir search Earth for human variants that are resistant to having their brains infected by pek nanites. In first grade at the age of 5, Thomas is found to be reading at the level typical for high school students. Upon investigation of the boy, Ekcolir quickly confirms that there are no pek nanites in his brain, but to Ekcolir's surprise, there are other nanites present in Thomas' body.

Noÿs admits to Ekcolir that she is the source of the unusual nanites in her son's body. Rather than explain her true origin, Noÿs passes herself of as another Interventionist agent. Gwyned's biological parents are Noÿs and Ekcolir.

Parthney and Gwyned
With the help and guidance of Noÿs, Gwyned grew up in Australia and began participating in a research project for study of magnetic confinement of plasma. By 1964 Gwyned has become frustrated by military involvement in fusion research. When the opportunity arises, Gwyned decides to leave Earth. That opportunity arises through her interaction with another Interventionist agent from Hemmal, Deomede. I previously mentioned that by the time Parthney reaches Lendhalen in 1967, Gwyned has been living among the Buld for several years. At first, she is excited to hear that another human will be arriving, however Gwyned soon realizes that she is ten years older than Parthney and, worse still, he is immature and ignorant; he can't even read and he knows nothing useful about science and technology.
Port Master Thorklet

When Gwyned is teleported off of Earth by Deomede, she is first sent to the Interventionist base at Klyz. The Fru'wu are startled to discover that there are nanites in her body with design features that they have never previously seen. Not knowing that these nanites are from the far future, the Fru'wu guess that they might be Nereid nanites. The Fru'wu decide that they must attempt to regain contact with the Nereids.

Robin the Robot
The two Buld who work closely with Parthney at Lendhalen (Vozgrow and Leymaygn) do not want Parthney to become too comfortable while he is living at Lendhalen. With critical events rapidly unfolding on Earth, they want him to quickly train for his mission and then move on to Earth. However, Parthney does not adjust well to life at Lendhalen and when he shows even a small amount of interest in possibly developing a romantic relationship with Gwyned, she quickly arranges for Parthney to have a robotic companion. Among the Buld, the mechanical assistants at Lendhalen are called "pek", although that is a misnomer. Gwyned introduces Parthney to the new Earth-derived term "robot". Gwyned has a staff of robotic assistants who help with her study of Buld technology and with daily chores. Gwyned has previously named one of her robot assistants "Robin" and she loans Robin to Parthney. This almost has disastrous effects when Parthney treats Robin like a bothet.

Port Master Thorklet
At the end of Chapter Two, Pla'va warns Parthney that Port Master Thorklet is waiting for him. Thorklet is the only resident of Oib who Parthney meets before he is teleported to Clu'ten'iun. Thorklet briefly describes the function of the automated space station where they meet in orbit over Oib then directs Parthney to ride a space elevator down to the surface of the planet. However, rather than descend to Oib, Parthney looses consciousness and he is subjected to a strong magnetic field that inactivates the pek nanites that are in his body. He is then teleported to the planet Clu'ten'iun. When Parthney wakes up at Lendhalen he is told that the magnetic treatment disrupted his memory. He assumes that he is on Oib, as do the other residents of Clu'ten'iun.
The main characters from Chapter Three of Exode. Top row left, Pla'mak, Gwyned, Thorklet, Pla'kao.
Bottom row left, Robin, Parthney, Leymaygn, Vozgrow. Robin is a robot, Parthney and Gwyned are human.
Thorklet, Leymaygn and Vozgrow are Buld. Pla'mak and Pla'kao are Pla.
Andrew Harlen. Parthney later (1984) meets Andrew when he is taken to the Moon.
Izhiun. When Izhiun is on Earth (2011) he gets to meet Noÿs Lambent and her son Thomas.

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Feb 9, 2013


Long-distance (interstellar) teleportation appears as an alien-derived technology in Chapter Three of Exode. I previously started exploring how teleportation technology might be used in Exode. In this blog post I try to finalize my thinking about the limitations on teleportation that will apply to Exode.

Asimov's favorite imagined technology for interstellar travel was "the hyperjump", but in 1954 he published a story about teleportation: It's such a beautiful day. Actually, Asimov's story was less about teleportation than it was about people who did not want to teleport. Supposedly Asimov did not like to travel by air, so it is not surprising that he would write a story about people who do not want to teleport.

Exode assumes that within our galaxy there are several distinct cultures that each have their own types of space travel technology. In the case of humans, all interstellar travel by humans is possible only because of technology transfer to humans from aliens. Humans have been provided with limited access to teleportation technology, but humans have no understanding of how teleportation devices work and they certainly can't build such a device.

Teleportation door
The first use of teleportation in Exode is for moving Parthney from the planet Oib to the planet Clu'ten'iun within the Koly star system. Parthney is not aware that he was teleported off of Oib so he believes that the secret Interventionist base at Lendhalen is located on Oib.

Later, after several years of training At Lendhalen, Parthney is teleported to Klyz, an Interventionist base that is run by the Fru'wu and located within the Galactic Core. This kind of interstellar teleportation is intended to be similar that that depicted in Assignment: Earth. Finally, a third teleportation event sends Parthney from Klyz to Earth, a distance of tens of thousands of lightyears. The fourth and final time that Parthney is teleported, he escapes from the Observer base on the Moon and is sent back to the Galactic Core.

By the fourth teleportation event Parthney is quite well informed about all the uses of teleportation technology that the aliens apply to humans. While on Earth, Parthney uses a teleportation device to send Hana from Earth to Klyz.

For Interventionist agents like Parthney there is a serious danger arising from the use of teleportation technology to travel to Earth. In Exode, objects being teleported do not travel through space in any conventional way. Teleportation involves the transmission of information through compact dimensions. The process is similar to the way faster-than-light spaceships move, but teleportation is limited to movement between two locations where teleportation terminals exist. When interstellar teleportation takes place, the effects of the teleportation spread out and it is relatively easy to detect an on-going teleportation event near the destination. However, it is hard to detect the precise location of the teleportation terminal on Earth that receives a teleported Interventionist.

Gary Seven and the shape-shifting Isis
In Assignment: Earth,  Gary Seven teleports to Earth from a distant star system, but he is intercepted by the teleporter device of the Enterprise.

By the time Parthney reaches Earth, the Interventionists fear that the Overseers of Earth can detect the use of teleportation to send people off of Earth and they worry that such detections might lead Overseers to the location of the few teleportation devices that exist on Earth. Because of these fears, those teleportation devices are always moved by the Interventionists right after they are used to send someone like Hana off of Earth. In Exode, the teleportation devices are not small, so moving them creates yet another risk for the Interventionists.

Last summer when I wrote a first draft of the scene in Exode when Parthney teleports Hana off of Earth I was not thinking about the Overseers being able to detect teleportation events. At that time, I started imagining various contorted reasons to account for how Parthney would be captured by the Overseers. I now like the idea that an Overseer (working "under cover" on Earth in the role of an Earthling using the name Belinda Tement) first investigates Hana and her son and then is finally led to Parthney by his use of the teleporter to send Hana off of Earth.
The Search for Kalid

In an earlier story (The Search for Kalid) I imagined that teleportation over interstellar distances requires an array of teleportation devices on the target planet. For that story I imagined an array of 4 such devices at fixed locations equally spread out around the surface of Earth. In The Search For Kalid the teleportation devices were well-hidden and in no danger of being detected by the primitive Earthlings. But what if the teleportation termini need to be moved after use so as to prevent them from being located by Overssers?

For Exode, I'm assuming that the teleportation devices on Earth were provided by the Fru'wu. The Fru'wu do have some nanite technology deployed on Earth, so I'm trying to decide the extent to which a transporter pad can be quickly decomposed into small parts for easy transportation to a new location. Might it be possible to imagine that most of the device's structure is formed from nanites? If so, then in an emergency it might be possible to hide a teleportation device without having to move it. Simply morph the nanites into another form that is not easy to recognize as being out-of-place on Earth. When Belinda Tement swoops in on Parthney he tries to apply the emergency protocol for hiding the teleportation device and disguising himself as an innocent Earthling, but Belinda is able to recognize the truth. She hauls Parthney off to the Moon.
Gwyned in the teleporter at Klyz

In general, the technological sophistication of the Overseers is just high enough to prevent Interventionists from "spilling the beans" and letting Earthlings realize that in the time since the pek arrived on Earth 7,000,000 years ago the course of primate evolution has been altered by aliens. In the late 20th century Earthlings begin to make some anomalous observations that are evidence of teleportation, but they do not suspect that alien teleportation technlology exists. Only the Overseers correctly recognize the anomalies as proof of Interventionist activity and they rush to develop their own detector technology. Using that newly crafted detector technology, Belinda Tement is able to catch Parthney in the act of teleporting Hana.


By presenting the story of how Parthney reaches Earth, Exode emphasizes the use of teleportation to send Interventionist agents to Earth. However, not only do the Interventionists send agents to Earth, but Earthlings like Hana and Gwyned are teleported off of Earth. New arrivals from Earth such as Gwyned provide useful information to the Interventionists about conditions on Earth. By the time Gwyned leaves Earth there is a rapid pace of technological advancement. When Gwyned arrives at Lendhalen her knowledge of Earthly science and technology is, in some scientific domains, more advanced than that of the Buld. With her help, Parthney goes off to Earth with a more sophisticated appreciation for technology than previous Interventionist agents.

Related Reading: networking teleportation terminals

Feb 2, 2013

Reading Science Fiction

I suspect that I've spent more hours reading science fiction stories by Jack Vance than the stories of any other author. For me, time spent reading Asimov's science fiction probably ranks second behind reading Vance. However, I do not spend very much time reading fiction. These days I get more enjoyment from writing science fiction than reading it. I find it amusing that Vance does not like to talk about reading the science fiction stories of other authors. I think I can guess why.

The science fiction that I write has been hugely influenced by both Vance an Asimov. I've mentioned the science fiction stories of Vance in about 20 percent of the posts to this blog. Asimov gets mentioned by me in more than twice as many blog posts because Asimov was trained as a scientist and his wide-ranging scientific interests and hard science fiction ideas appeal to me. For me, Vance is less of interest from a scientific perspective, but much more so for his writing style. Asimov was very open and direct about confessing to the fact that he was not a out to impress anyone with stylistic flair. Once I know the plot of an Asimov story there is usually not much value in re-reading it. In contrast, I can endless re-read Vance's stories simply to enjoy his writing style.

Asimov wrote about growing up reading science fiction stories that were published in magazines and his early work was all published in that format. The image to the left shows a Galaxy cover illustration for Vance's story Star King. Here is how Vance described Hildemar Dasce: "the strangest human being of Gersen's experience"..."His head was tall and round with a ruff of red hair...he had stained his face and neck a bright red, excepting only his cheeks which were balls of bright chalk-blue"..."at some stage in his career...his eyelids had been cut away". 1963 was when I was learning to read and years before I had even become aware of the existence of published science fiction. The plot of Star King involves the idea that people ("locators") have to fly exploration ships out into the galaxy in order to find new worlds. For example, the world of the Dryads is discovered by a locator named Lugo Teehalt. Here in 2013 we are using telescopes to find exoplanets, so the entire structure of Star King might seem antiquated, but Vance's prose makes the story worth reading even if the "future science" imagined by Vance has not aged well.

When I was growing up I first became aware of science fiction by watching television. Finally one day I discovered the science fiction section of the local library and from that point on I became increasingly disinterested in most science fiction that ends up on television and in film. I prefer science fiction novels over short stories and I've never bought a science fiction magazine. However, I was introduced to Jack Vance through his short story The Moon Moth.


As shown in the image above,  the human brain retains some forms of plasticity into young adulthood (see also). Is there a critical period in the mid-20s after which it is increasingly difficult for humans to change their personality and literary preferences? For me, my tastes in science fiction have not changed much since I was in my 20s. Before I was 25 I enjoyed looking for new science fiction authors...I did not always enjoy the work of each new author that I sampled, but I was willing to keep looking for good ones. In my late 20s I eventually gave up trying...I was no longer really interested in finding new varieties of science fiction to read. Since that time, I've been satisfied to simply stick with the science fiction that has been written by my favorite authors. Over the years I've occasionally tried to pick up and read the work of newer science fiction authors, but I've failed to find their work worth reading. I can imagine that for a craftsman like Vance it might be very painful to even try to read most published science fiction. To some extent, my discovery and appreciation for the science fiction stories of masters like Vance and Asimov contributed to my disinterest in lesser science fiction authors. Why should I make an effort to read the work of new science fiction authors (who are likely to not be very good) when I can simple keep reading my favorite authors?

I'm willing to admit that part of my poor reading habits are due to my narrow tastes and the fact that this old dog (me) can't learn new tricks (or appreciation of new science fiction authors). However, I think there were two other major forces at work shaping my reading being the rise of the mega-bookstore companies. When I was young there were quirky little bookstores in every college town where nerdy employees knew the difference between science fiction and fantasy and where you could find an amazing diversity of science fiction books...books that were on the shelf because another lover of science fiction, an employee in the store, made sure to share them with me. When the mega-bookstore companies started taking over it became common to have a single section in the mega-bookstores where science fiction and fantasy novels were mixed together. The mega-bookstore employees typically knew nothing about science fiction and I doubt if they knew the difference between science fiction and fantasy. Their idea of "good science fiction" seemed to be limited to the works of a few authors that some drone at corporate headquarters decided to buy in bulk and force down the throats of readers by flooding the shelves with just those books.

The other change in science fiction that was external to my subjective preferences was the entry into science fiction of authors who wanted to profit from the growing popularity of the science fiction genre. In the early days of SciFi, people wrote science fiction for the love of the genre, with $$$ not being involved. Rather than write stories to advance the genre, for example, by creating interesting adventure stories, a newer generation of authors found that they could get published by slapping together dystopic misadventure stories. My generation grew up with the fun of science fiction adventure, going where no man had gone before. The next generation of science fiction was dominated by anti-science fiction authors who tried to take readers to miserable places where no sane person would ever want to go. The writing and ideas were ugly, uninteresting, often sickeningly perverse and designed to sell because of their "realism", grittiness or shock value. My response to the "new wave": NO SALE. Maybe things will come full cycle and science fiction will return to sanity. With mega-bookstores removed from the equation the distance between science fiction authors and readers can decrease and we will once again be able to discover and patronize the authors who we enjoy, not the authors who are promoted by corporate "decision makers" who have highly questionable judgement about what constitutes good science fiction.
another list

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