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May 30, 2013

Jack Vance

In 1977 I read The Moon Moth and I have not stopped reading Vance's fiction since. At that time, The Moon Moth was an effective gateway drug since it was in story collections that could be slipped into a university curriculum without a "pulpish" cover to get in the way.

I'm not a big fan of short fiction, so after reading The Moon Moth I was pleased to come across several of Vance's science fiction novels including Trullion, Emphyrio and Star King.

Of course, Trullion and Star King were gateways to the hardcore Vance....they were just the first novels in the Alastor Cluster and Demon Princes series. With time the Cadwal Chronicles also came along. Those three series of novels are my favorite Vance works. Today I found out that Jack Vance died this week at the age of 96. I was thinking he might last an entire century here on this world, but...no.

Alastor
click map to enlarge (source)
I have a love of maps and I was thrilled to open up my copy of Trullion and find a map of the Fens. It is always a pleasure to think of the parade of Vance's characters traversing the waterways of the Fens: "Squire" Glinnes Hulden of Rabendary island, the golden Karpoun sheirl Farero... marooned on an island off shore from Welgen with Glinnes, pirates like Sagmondo Bandolio, Lempel and Alonzo "Ice Devil" Dirrig....the later pretending to be Lord Ambal, freakish Fanschers like Junius Farfan, gypsy-like Trevanyi such as Duissane Drosset, the Connatic -ruler of Alastor Cluster- in the guise of journalist Ryl Shermatz, Janno Akadie the mentor at his fine five-towered manse on Rorquin's Tooth, Chief Constable Filidice compliantly doing dirty work for the scheming lord "Tammi" Gensifer and young girls like Sharue...one wrong step away from being dragged under water by the merlings.

When Glinnes reaches the frustrating and futile end of his struggles he is assisted by the mysteriously appearing and reappearing Shermatz. Sitting across the central square in Welgen from the executioner's prutanshyr, Glinnes complains to Ryl, "Akadie may well be inserted into the cogs of yonder mincing machine."

Shermatz, puzzled by the lack of evidence against Akadie suggests, "A few words with Chief Constable Filidice might be worthwhile."

"Return to your seat," said Glinnes. "He won't see us." Glinnes has already been thwarted by Filidice who is corruptly wielding the force of Trill law and bureaucratic obstruction in support of lord Gensifer.

Finally Shermatz reveals his secret..."I think he will. I am something more than a roving journalist, as I hold the commission of Over-Inspector in the Whelm." After long fruitless effort, suddenly all of the many problems facing Glinnes are resolved and he walks off into the a bright new future with Duissane. Or does he?

Marune
In Marune: Alastor 933, Efraim, the young Kang of the House of Benbuphar in the Rhune Realms, is drugged senseless and sent off across space. To recover his memories and learn his own identity he visits the Connatic's Hospital on the planet Numenes. Efraim also visits the Connatic's "palace" -a soaring tower built upon foundations set within five islands- where upon seeing the display chamber for the planet Marune he begins to recall some of his past on his own home world.

Most of the story takes place in the Rhune Realms of Marune where almost always at least one of the suns is in the sky. About once a month darkness falls. During the dark of Mirk strange events often occur. Efraim survives a murder attempt, but his friend from Port Mar, Lorcas, dies at the hands of the vicious Destian and Agnois, First Chamberlain.

Efraim, still struggling to recover his damaged memories, renews his acquaintance with his childhood friend Maerio -daughter of the scheming Kaiark Rianlle- and falls in love again. With the help of the mysterious native Fwai-chi, Efraim regains his memories and control of his kingdom. But have his off-planet experiences destroyed is ability to fit in with Rhune society?

Wyst
The third Alastor Cluster novel begins and ends on Zeck, the home planet of Jantiff Ravensroke, but most of the story unfolds on the planet Wyst where Jantiff befriends a Wierdlands Witch who he calls Glisten. He saves her from the witch-hunting Booch and his dogs, but then she is lost in the forest along the shore of the Moaning Ocean.

Ryl Shermatz, again appearing in the role of "the Connatic's agent", ultimately finds the lost waif Glisten and reunites her with Jantiff on Zeck.

The bulk of the story concerns the odd culture of the vast cities of Wyst and how Jantiff's presence stimulates a vile plot by the devious Esteban aimed at taking control of the planet. Ultimately Jantiff helps Shermatz diffuse the plot and he save's Ryl's life, earning an offer of a position in the Connatic's service.

In all three Alastor novels the protagonist gets the girl and survives great travails, but we are left wondering what happens next in their lives.

The Demon Princes
In a recent blog post I reflected on some of the people and places in The Star King and other novels in the Demon Princes series. Last year I counted up the number of evil-doers that Kirth Gersen must kill and the number of damsels in distress that he rescues.

Gersen faces the rather grim work of murdering the five Demon Princes who had killed and enslave his family. The bloodshed is off-set by the many ingenious tricks that Gersen employs to thwart the plans of his adversaries. 

The Palace of Love
In the pages of book three in the series, Vance paraded the clones of Jheral Tinzy before our "eyes". These clones were created and manipulated by the nasty Vogel Filschner in attempt to produce a copy of the adorable Jherel who would return Vogel's love. To hunt down and approach Vogel, Gersen buys the magazine Cosmopolis and plays the role of a journalist.

Of course, Vogel's great plan never works out. The mad poet Navarth's ward "Zan Zu" instinctively dislikes Vogel even when he is disguised as Henry Tanzel of London. Clone Drusilla IV was kept in isolation until rescued by Gersen. Gersen is the first man she has ever seen and she calls him "wonderful". She later sees Vogel and comments on his foolish wicked face. Drusilla III was trained to worship a statue of Vogel, but she did not like the face and chipped it away.

The Killing Machine
In The Killing Machine, Gersen and Kokor Hekkus trade sly tricks. Hekkus imprisons Gersen at Interchange, but then Gersen escapes with 10,000,000,000 SVU of Hekkus' money and leaves Hekkus holding counterfeit cash that is worthless.

Hekkus has long been tricking the entire population of the planet Thamber, using that world as his fantasy playground. When Gersen arrives on that hidden planet it takes him a while to penetrate Hekkus' disguises, but Gersen ultimately tricks Hekkus into exposing his true identity as a hormagaunt. Hekkus is destroyed and Gersen rides off into the sunset with Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay.

The Face
In The Face, the Darsh rachepol Husse Bugold plays a devious trick on Gersen. Before blowing up a spaceship, Bugold takes out insurance from a company that Gersen owns.

While in pursuit of Bughold, Gersen falls in love with the endearing Jerdian Chanseth. However, Jerdian's father Adario is a wet blanket on the flames of their ardor. Jerdian realizes that as a Methlen, there can be no future for her with Gersen. However, in the end, after long struggles to get his hands on Bughold, Gersen gets the last laugh.

At the climax, after telling Bugold that he takes pleasure in preventing his greatest trick from being realized, and after Bugold dies a horrible death, Gersen realizes that he shares the same motivations to implement Bugold's fantastic trick. Gersen triggers the explosives that Bugold has planted inside the moon Shanitra, transforming it into a great copy of Bugold's face, a face that will now shine down over planet Methel and, particularly, over the garden wall of Adario Chanseth.

The Book of Dreams
In The Book of Dreams, the last book in the series, Gersen has achieved mastery of his trickish ways. He devises a Cosmopolis magazine contest that draws Howard Hardoah into the open. Gersen sneaks into the high school reunion of Howard and, disguised as a musician, he manages to shoot Howard, unfortunately the injury is not serious.

After obtaining Howard's beloved Book of Dreams, Gersen uses it to lure Howard to his doom. Along the way to Howard's demise, Gersen falls in love with Alice Wroke. In Alice, Gersen has finally found a woman who shares his motivations for destroying evil men. Alice, Gersen and the Cleadhoes, two more of Howard's victims, trap Howard on the wild planet Bethune Preserve for a final showdown. In the end, his own "inner demons" finish off Howard.

Cadwal
Doug Beekman cover art
The Alastor Clustor and Demon Princes series came to rather unsatisfactory conclusions...I want to know what happens next to Jantiff, Glisten, Efraim, Maerio, Gersen and Alice. The Cadwal Chronicles seemed more complete. I can imagine Glawen and Wayness living out their days in relative calm after their travails as young adults during the epic struggle to preserve the Cadwal Conservancy. It might be fun to know what trouble Chilke and Flitz get into while roving around the galaxy.

Before Glawen Clattuc ever meets Wayness Tamm, his young heart has been entangled with the charming Sessily Veder. That Glawen and Sessily are under a lucky star is revealed when they go into the wilderness of Cadwal to collect butterfly wings for her Parilia costume. Sessily is to play the role of a butterfly and she wants to decorate her costume with real butterfly wings.

While out collecting the insect wings they are nearly killed by a Muldoon tangle-top. Their terrifying escape leads to discovery of a plot against Araminta Station, timed to occur during the Parilia celebration. General tragedy is averted, but Glawan is devastated by the mysterious murder of Sessily minutes after her on-stage performance. Sadly for Sessily, the lucky star was only actively shielding Glawan.

Only years later does Glawen learn the identity of Sessily's murderer: Kirdy Wook, who played Glawen false, leading to his imprisonment by the perverse Zadine Babbs at the Monomantic seminary on the planet Tassadero. When Gersen escapes and returns to Araminta Station, he is attacked by the murderous Kirdy, but Kirdy drowns in the ocean during the attack.

After their dangerous search across space for the lost Cadwal Charter, Glawen and Wayness can finally turn their attention to the satisfying task of constructing their new home on a plot of land granted to them under the new Charter. Who knows what tales of adventure they will hear from Chilke and Flitz when they gather for the opening of Lewyn Barduys' new Bainsey Castle Lodge on the planet Rosalia.

John Holbrook Vance

John Holbrook Vance, who often publishing his writings and science fiction as Jack Vance, was born in 1916. He became a published author after World War II, his work ranging from mystery to horror to fantasy and science fiction. Assisted by his wife Norma Ingold Vance, his output of stories was prolific and much appreciated by his many fans. We can still wonder what other worlds he might have shared with us had we a better way of supporting our artists and promptly and efficiently treating, or better yet, preventing conditions like glaucoma.
__________________________________
His blinded eyes registered a watery gray blur...Shermatz spoke to Jantiff: "I have specified a treatment to restore a certain fraction of your vision."

Jantiff felt a cool sensation across the front of his eyes...the blur before his vision began to dissipate as if a wind blew through the optic fog. Jantiff once more could see, with almost the old clarity. Jantif thought: In later years, when I look across my life, I will mark well this moment in the Old Groar Tavern at Balad on the planet Wyst...
______________________________
source
More commentary on the science fiction of Jack Vance.....

The death of Jack Vance: One Year Later, Two Years Later
The origins of Jack Vance

Emphyrio

Cadwal Saga
     Araminta Station
     Ecce and Old Earth
     Throy

The Demon Princes
    Smade's Planet, Llalarkno and Brinktown
    The Face
   The Book of Dreams
   Evil Henchmen and Damsels in Distress
   Kirth Gersen: the 6th Demon?
 
Alastor Clustor
     Trullion
     Wyst
     Marune

The Durdane Trilogy
___________________________
Related Reading: re-reading the novels of Jack Vance 
A tribute to Vance by Fernando Salazar

some imaginary book covers
 

May 29, 2013

The Foundations of Eternity

Exode is a story about the struggle to save we Earthlings from extinction. We humans were designed as just one in a series of primates and our Creators intended that we would be replaced, tossed into the trash heap of evolution along with the rest of genus Homo and genus Australopithecus. Our replacements, the Prelands, are already waiting in the wings, ready to inherit planet Earth.

While developing the science fiction story Exode, I realized, to my surprise, that it is a sequel to another story. I previously thought of that other story as being called "The Start of Eternity" because Part IV told how positronic robots developed time travel and invented Eternity, the time travel device that is featured in Isaac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity.

The Start of Eternity was written as a fan fiction sequel to Asimov's novel Foundation and Earth. I imagined that the Foundation Reality was crafted by positronic robots in a desperate attempt to keep Humanity free of the universe-wide machinations of the Huaoshy, aliens with seemingly god-like abilities due to their billion year old technological civilization.

The Foundations of Eternity
After realizing that Exode begins right where The Start of Eternity ends, I started noticing some needed changes to The Start of Eternity as it had been originally written. For example, I had originally imagined that in order to bring the positronic robots of Earth under control, the Huaoshy could simply "instantiate" themselves in the form of the material bodies that they had abandoned hundreds of millions of years ago.

While developing Exode I recently decided that after several hundred million years of existence as a form of artificial life composed of sedronic matter it should not be all that easy for the Huaoshy to return to their former existence as beings of conventional matter. I've now decided on some of the details of the "instantiation process" by which the Huaoshy can return to a more limited existence within our universe of three spatial dimensions. Specifically, the Kac'hin have emerged as being the fundamental mechanism for allowing the Huaoshy to have a physical presence on Earth.

Realizing that I needed to throw some patches on The Start of Eternity in order to make it a proper prequel to Exode, I've decided that I should make an updated version of that story. Since there are going to be some major changes in the new version, I knew that I should change the title.

I want the new title to reflect the fact that it is a fan fiction extension of Asimov's novels so I prefer the title: "The Foundations of Eternity". However, several other possible titles have tugged at my heart strings.

The Klempse Corkscrew
I've been unable to resist writing Asimov into both The Start of Eternity and Exode. The Start of Eternity depicts the young Isaac Asimov just before he becomes a published science fiction author. Young Asimov is visited by his older self who has traveled back in time. The time traveling Asimov is being used by the Huaoshy to help them accomplish a Reality Change that will prevent the positronic robots from making any more Realities that include Seldon's Foundations and the formation of Galaxia.

Asimov is more interested in helping his younger self have a more interesting and rewarding life. One of the first science fiction stories that Asimov submitted for publication was a time travel story called "Cosmic Corkscrew".

An important character in The Start of Eternity is Vicktir Klempse. Klempse does important work to develop the technology that allows human brain patterns to be transferred into the positronic brain circuits of a robot: essentially what is called "mind uploading".

I thought it would be amusing to call his recursive brain scanning technique the "Klempse Corkscrew". Calling the entire story "The Klempse Corkscrew" would be an amusing joke that would only be appreciated by a few Asimov fans.

Galaxia vs Huaoshy
Galaxia vs Huaoshy is a joke title with potentially wider appeal. Inspiration:
Godzilla

When Asimov wrote Foundation and Earth he suggested the idea that the nearly formed Galaxia might be challenged by alien invaders from beyond our galaxy. In The Start of Eternity I imagined that Daneel and his fellow positronic robots would "battle" with the Huaoshy for control of Earth and the fate of Humanity. Here is a funny poster for the Hollywood movie Galaxia vs Huaoshy:
Daneel the robot (representing Galaxia) and a genetically engineered Kac'hin
(used to channel the Huaoshy). Click image to see the entire poster.

The Foundation Reality
attractors in a Foundation Reality
This was another possible title because the story shows how positronic robots caused the Foundation Reality to come into existence. It turns out that there are actually two "foundation realities" because the Huaoshy initially delete the original, but then the positronic robots manage to bring into existence a second "foundation reality". It is at that point that the Huaoshy realize that it is not going to be simple to avoid a "time travel war". Eventually they figure out how to put an end to all time travel.

As a title, "The Foundations of Eternity" captures the idea that the Eternity time travel device was used to make the "foundation realities".

The Foundations of Eternity is being crafted at its own website. Collaborating authors are welcome.
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Related reading. Orbho Anagro

May 27, 2013

Parthney and the Ek'col

Hank's house in Vermont
About a year ago I started thinking about a new science fiction story that would reveal how we humans were designed, created and scheduled for replacement during the past quarter million years. The first two characters that I had in mind met on Earth and were called Henry Montpellier and Hana Davgon. Of course, "Hank" Montpellier was just a cover name for a mysterious visitor from a distant planet and I later decided that his birth name was Parthney. The spelling of Hana's name has since morphed to "Davyon" and the story was given the name Exode.

I originally imagined calling Chapter One of Exode "Vermont" since that was where "Hank" had a dramatic scene with Hana and that was from where he teleported her away to a distant planet (now called Klyz).

Parthney the Interventionist
secret agent Robert Lansing
My original plan was to follow Hana when she left Earth and allow readers to learn about Genesaunt civilization by way of her experiences. However, Henry Montpellier quickly captured my attention and before long I realized that Parthney would be the main character of Exode.

In a very real sense, Parthney became my version Gary Seven since I decided to equip Parthney with teleportation technology similar to that depicted in the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth.

I can easily imagine Robert Lansing playing the role of secret agent James Bond, but it would be laughable to cast Parthney as a shrewd and tough agent. I've previously had some fun mocking Parthney in his role as an Interventionist agent. In fact, Parthney was sent off to Earth with the expectation that he would bumble around on Earth and be captured by the Overseers.

Parthney (to the right); Reginal (center)
Garage Band Parthney
Picture a kid down the street who dropped out of high school and who spends his days playing music in his parent's garage with his buddies...that's a good first approximation of Parthney as a young man on Hemmal. Snicker all you like: I feel no obligation to equip Exode with a conventional science fiction hero.

On the planet of Parthney's birth there is no real concept of a "rock star". First of all, nobody on Hemmal has ever heard of Rock and Roll music. Second, there is only one other human on Hemmal and she's not a fan of Parthney's style of music. However, the young Parthney is something like the Hollywood stereotype rock star in that he seems to always have a pretty girl on his arm.

I do mean "seems". Parthney is in his 60s before he finally "gets the girl". Up until then, his sexual partners are an odd collection of robots, other assorted artificial lifeforms and a surgically altered member of the Buld Clan.

Parthney starts climbing out of his adolescence, not when he is kicked out of his parent's basement, but, rather, when he is kicked off of his home planet. Parthney never actually gets to meet his parents since he is a clone and his parents are long dead. His birth mother is Reginal, a pek.

What is Parthney's crime that gets him booted off Hemmal? Making fun of musical conventions of the Prelands. The Prelands take their music seriously and they view Hemmal as their world and they insist that the Buld behave like guests. While living on Hemmal, Parthney is known as a "false Buld", which means he is viewed a mutant member of the Buld Clan. In fact, Parthney's genetic background is more complex than that, but he is one of only two humans on the planet. The term "human" is a problem in this context: more specifically I should say "humans who are genetically similar to Earthlings".

Although, it must be said that the Buld are almost human...they have an extra pair of chromosomes not found in we Earthlings. And the Prelands are Human Version 2.0, the next in the long line of primates that have been designed and crafted by the pek. The Prelands were designed to replace we humans. Hemmal is a convenient planet where Parthney can be born and grow up speaking English.

Noÿs
When Parthney leaves Hemmal he is on his way to Earth. If Parthney can be said to have a mission in life it is this: he was created so that he could play a role in giving we Earthlings a chance to survive. Originally, it was our fate to become extinct and be replace by Prelands.

Our chance for survival was won by Parthney's mother, a time traveler from the far future of Earth. Just as the name "Gary Seven" is never mentioned in Exode, the name of Parthney's mother is also not included in the pages of Exode. However, I don't mind saying -here- that Parthney's genetic mother is Noÿs, a character from Asimov's time travel novel The End of Eternity.

As described in The Start of Eternity, Noÿs is living in the 20th century when the Huaoshy have their opportunity to put the positronic robots out of the time travel business and regain control of Observer Base on the Moon.

The Ek'col
While writing The Start of Eternity I imagined that Noÿs and Harlan would live out their lives together in 20th century Earth. Later, while developing Exode, I decided that Harlan would be captured by the Overseers and Noÿs would go on to have two children fathered by Ekcolir/Deomede. Ekcolir and Deomede are the same person, they just exist in two different Realities.

Noÿs and Ekcolir have a son who they name Thomas. Parthney is genetically identical to Thomas. Parthney is interesting genetically because both Noÿs and Ekcolir have unusual genes. Noÿs is from 10,000,000 years in the future along the timeline of the Mallansohn Reality. Ekcolir is an Ek'col. The Ek'col are a variant of the human species that was designed specifically by the Huaoshy to be able to  breed with Noÿs and produce a male descendant.

As discussed previously, there are some major biological differences between Noÿs and Earthlings of the 20th century. Noÿs is from a population of humans where there are no males, only females and hermaphrodites. During her negotiations with the Huaoshy, it was agreed that Noÿs would not remain on Earth past 1974. However, while using Huaoshy "Reality viewing" technology, Noÿs selected a Reality in which she saw her son welcoming a Buld spaceship to Earth in the year 2012.

In order for Noÿs to have a son, the Huaoshy created the Ek'col. There are several genetically distinct types of human in Exode:
1) Earthlings
2) the Overseers are a genetically modified variant of Homo neanderthalensis.
3) the Buld Clan; specialized for space travel
4) the Kac'hin
5) the Prelands; designed to replace we Earthlings
6) the Ek'col

Kach
The Ek'col were designed after the Huaoshy realized that positronic robots had invented time travel. The Buld and the Kac'hin already existed, but they were heavily utilized to help prepare Earth for the Buld Reality. All three of these human variants were provided with some of the genetic features of Prelands, most noticeably, they are hermaphroditic (although the Ek'col are not exclusively hermaphrodites). The Buld were designed to specialize in travel between stars using spaceships that travel just below the speed of light. The Kac'hin were designed to function as humanoid "puppets" that allow the Huaoshy to interact directly with humans (this is important in The Start of Eternity). Both the Buld and the Kac'hin have extra pairs of chromosomes compared to we Earthlings. However, mutant Buld and Kac'hin can be born who lack those extra chromosomes. During the past 15,000 years quite a few "false Buld" have been sent to Earth as Interventionist agents.

The Kac'hin were created on the planet Luk'ru in the Andromeda galaxy. Parthney, Kach, Boswei and Izhiun all get to interact with some hermaphroditic Kac'hin on Luk'ru. Kach is the only "false Kac'hin" in Exode.

Gwyned
Exode does not show the home world of the Ek'col, a planet which is populated mostly by hermaphrodites. The Ek'col were designed to have androdioecy. The Ek'col have a large collection of gene combinations derived from Noÿs. Also, the Ek'col have some phenotypic features that differ from those commonly found among we Earthlings. The most obvious anatomical difference is that that the Ek'col have 4 fewer teeth than we Earthlings.

Exode includes two Ek'col/human hybrids who are the children of Noÿs. Gwyned is the daughter of Deomede and Noÿs. Phenotypically female, she has no interest in males. Born in 1939 and growing up on Earth, Gwyned is not very happy.

When Gwyned is teleported off Earth and sent to Lendhalen, she is exposed to a powerful magnetic field that is designed to remove nanites from her body. She learns that she has lived her entire life on Earth with nanite symbionts in her body that have disguised the fact that she has unusually small finger nails and no toe nails. When Parthney arrives at Lendhalen he has the same experience. As the son of Ekcolir and Noÿs, Parthney is Gwyned's sister.

Parthney at Lendhalen
When Parthney first meets Gwyned at Lendhalen, she is working in her laboratory and wearing gloves that hide her hands. She notices that Parthney has finger nails like her own, but she hides from Parthney the fact that they both share this unusual anatomical feature.

Noÿs, from 10,000,000 years in the future, has no finger or toe nails and fewer teeth than we Earthlings. While interacting with humans in her distant past, her futuristic anatomy is disguised by by nanite symbionts that she carries in her body. The Ek'col were designed so as to make sure that hybrid children of Noÿs and an Ek'col male retain the ability to host the type of nanite that Noÿs brought with her from the future.

When Parthney reaches Klyz he is provided with new "Noÿs nanites" that allow him to function on Earth as an Interventionist agent without his unusual anatomy being noticed.

May 26, 2013

Exodus From the Long Sun

Sometimes I search the web for words that are used in my stories. Yesterday my search for Exode
"science fiction"
returned the name Gene Wolfe.

I've never read anything written by Wolfe, but today I've looked at some online commentary about his novel Exodus From the Long Sun. I've also read some interviews of Wolfe. Based on a few interviews, he seems like an interesting guy, but I've never been tempted to read his stories.

If some people get paid to write what I view as "anti-science fiction" stories, then is it fair for me to write "anti-book reviews"?
source
When I was very young I read Rendezvous with Rama and fell in love with the idea of giant starships that would slowly travel through space. I was strongly influenced by Clarke's stories about ancient aliens who were enigmatic mysteries for we primitive humans. I still prefer science fiction stories about alien beings that are difficult if not impossible for bumbling humans to understand.

Based on the summaries I read today, here is my best guess of the plot in Exodus From the Long Sun. Set in the far future of Earth, some humans have been loaded into a big spaceship (Whorl), but they don't know that they are in a spaceship. The spaceship passengers worship "gods" that are some kind of artificial life: remnants of the family of the builder of the spaceship. Somehow, the "top god" lost control of Whorl and ended up having to work rather desperately by means of tricks and back channels just to be able to get some of the ignorant passengers out the door and down to settle new worlds in a star system that has finally been reached after a 330 year-long journey.

I'm not too clear on the technology of Whorl. This is supposed to be far in our future (the Sun is dying? Billions of years in the future?) so there are robot-like characters and Earthlings have the needed technology to construct the Whorl spacecraft, but I don't understand how humanity has changed so little in all that time....and is apparently just getting around to attempting space travel to other stars....and messing it up so badly.

I'm not much tempted to read a "science fiction" story where the main character sacrifices animals to bumbling "gods" who are on the verge of screwing up the mission of an interstellar colony ship. Do science fiction fans really want to read about a royally fucked up journey to the stars?

Based on the comments of Nick Gevers, I guess we are not supposed to ask such questions. It sounds like Wolfe transformed ancient Greek mythology by using a few convenient science fiction plot devices and made a modern  story in which an unlikely hero must struggle to escape a man-made hell while in a state of being bamboozled by technology. Science fiction creates a sense of adventure built on the power of science to help us understand the universe, but Exodus From the Long Sun sounds like new wave/reactionary anti-science fiction in which bumbling people fuck up technology and suffer a misadventure.

Kach and Parthney
Of course, what intrigues me about Exodus From the Long Sun are some apparent parallels to Exode, a story where we Earthlings have had a 200,000 year long journey on planet Earth during which we have been unaware of our origins. Parthney, the main character of Exode, is actually the son of a time traveler who arrived on Earth in the 20th century. With his inherited combination of genes, Parthney is simply unable to sustain religious faith and he would be offended by the idea that it is his job to lead some lost souls (we Earthlings) to the light of some spiritual transcendence. Still, he plays an important role in allowing we Earthling to become aware of our origins, of the fact that the alien Huaoshy created our species.

Parthney is no religious leader of an exodus, but at a tender age Parthney meets Kach, the only woman on his home world. Kach is quite different genetically since she is a Kac'hin, a specially designed variant of the human species that was created so as to allow direct communication between the Huaoshy and humans. In a very real sense, Kach has the innate ability to communicate with the "god-like" Huaoshy. That ability is a lingering side effect of the fact that the Kac'hin were designed to be human puppets and provide human bodies that could be used by the alien Huaoshy for dealing with a crisis on Earth. The Huaoshy are "god-like" in the sense that they are so technologically advanced that, from our primitive perspective, their abilities seem magical.

a pek in Preland form
Kach grows up in a culture where it is "common knowledge" that humans are the product of intelligent design and she is determined to "contact the gods" and put questions to her Creator. Like Parthney before her, Kach also leaves Hemmal behind and joins Parthney on a journey to the Andromeda galaxy in search for the "gods". Over the course of many years Kach is frustrated in her relentless attempts to find her Creator, but she and Parthney have a son, Boswei who helps advance her quest.

I have not been able to resist making both Parthney and Boswei the products of "virgin birth", but I intend no great religious meaning for this rather mundane reproductive fact. Parthney is genetically a clone and it was convenient to have him gestated in the artificial womb of a pek. Similarly, when Kach was ready to have a child, there was no male on hand, so Boswei was crafted "from scratch" by using stored genetic material that was originally obtained from Parthney: there wasn't any need for Kach to partake in a messy old-fashioned impregnation. Exode is science fiction that includes a religious theme, but Parthney and Kach are mortals and the alien Huaoshy only seem god-like to primitives like we Earthlings.


The Book of the Long Sun
"The experimental method of Science, incorporated into a work of Science Fiction, is used by Wolfe as a proof of Faith."
"Whorl is a Hell of misrepresentation and deception"

"Wolfe's works oppose the usual principle guiding most SF"

I'm not a fan of dystopic science fiction. I'm not rushing to read horrific scenarios in which marvelous technological wonders like Whorl are mismanaged by inexplicably stupid "gods". Having said that, I'm intrigued by the suggestion that Wolfe created a science fiction story that is designed to serve as "a proof of Faith". I wonder if Wolfe would accept or reject that description of his work. It strikes me as an interesting idea because, in a way, within Exode, Kach is ultimately granted proof of her faith in the idea of it being possible to contact the Creators.

Robin the robot
At the end of Exode and at the end of Kach's quasi-religious quest, a troublesome question is still going to be rattling around. Are we, as humans, better off living in a godless universe or having knowledge of our Creators? The Creators are as far developed beyond we primitive humans as we are evolved beyond bacteria. The Huaoshy have long been certain that nothing good can come from allowing a primitive culture like our own to gain a realistic understanding of our origins. However, a strange technological fluke has lifted the curtain and given Humanity a glimpse of the gods. Will that be our doom or our salvation? Hana believes that Earth history answers half of that question. She wants to create a brave new world where humans without faith can test their metal.


Half Empty or Half Full?
It sounds like Wolfe had fun tormenting the human passengers on Whorl with various inexplicably chaotic aliens and artificial lifeforms...not to mention simply letting the humans systematically abuse each other. In contrast, and as directed by my story telling preferences, in Exode I'm constructing a human environment that also includes aliens and artificial lifeforms, but in my story it is an environment where Parthney and Kach actually manage to exist on friendly and constructive terms with other people, the aliens and the artificial lifeforms.

In addition to my dislike of dystopia and horror when they invade the science fiction genre, I also have a problem with fantasy. Some people are color blind; I'm "fantasy blind". I've never been able to understand the arbitrary rules that guide fantasy stories. Over the years I've learned to avoid books that have the words "science fiction" on their cover when I detect the presence of fantasy inside. Wolfe has described himself as having a preference for "science fantasy". Some people neither understand, trust or welcome science: they really do prefer fantasy. I wish their books did not end up on the same shelves in book stores where I go in search of science fiction.

Exodus from Genesaunt
Central Dogma of Life
Parthney grows up within the forming human slice of Genesaunt civilization. He would have been happy to live out his life on Hemmal crafting and performing his music, but he was brought into existence for a more dramatic purpose. In a way, you could say that he was created in order to fulfill a prophecy. Parthney goes off to Earth because he is expected to do so and satisfy his destiny. As shown in the diagram above, the Huaoshy have spent the past billion years arranging for biological organisms that evolve in the "wild" to enter into a period of "observation" during which the most promising species are genetically modified in preparation for their entry into Genesaunt.

From the perspective of the Huaoshy, Genesaunt is the stage of existence during which there can be a gradual and graceful transition from biological life form to the artificial life form known as Huaoshy. From the perspective of primitive creatures like humans, "Genesaunt" means Genesaunt civilization, a vast interstellar civilization that includes thousands of sapient species. The Huaoshy originally had no intention of merging Humanity into Genesaunt civilization, no more than you might invite a skunk to a dinner party. But what if a skunk rudely wandered into your dinner party and started sniffing around the food? Maybe you could successfully maneuver the skunk out the door by dangling something yummy in front of its nose.

Dennett
In Exode, we humans are the "skunk" that crashed the Huaoshy dinner party. The Huaoshy still hope to perform some corrective surgery and remove the scent glands from this inconvenient "skunk". As part of that surgical procedure, Parthney violates the Central Dogma of Life. He violates convention and is sent from Genesaunt civilization to Earth where he contributes to the process by which Earthlings become aware of their hidden origins. Earth is still under Observation and is not yet part of Genesaunt. Later, Parthney manages to escape from Earth and he helps establish his son's family on the planet Luk'ru in the Andromeda galaxy. Hana and Boswei hope to create a "New Earth", a world that is "wild" and free of Huaoshy meddling. 

Wolfe
I wonder if Gene Wolfe might be offended by the central religious issue that is explored in Exode, the idea that humans can be artificially selected to either have faith or lack it. I'm intrigued by the idea that the human tendency to believe in human-like gods is a biological fluke. A key human survival strategy is "the intentional stance", which works well to help us form a coherent human society. However, when we naturally apply the intentional stance too broadly in the world we start imagining the involvement of human-like gods in every thunder clap and rainbow. Wolfe accepts the idea that people are primates, yet he also converted to Catholicism. After several centuries of struggle against science, the Vatican finally threw in the towel and began to accommodate itself to a new view of reality as revealed by science.

The Dark Side
Wolfe has suggested that The Island Of Doctor Moreau is one of his favorites (calling it a great horror story). I despise horror, particularly when it finds its way into science fiction. I imagine that Wolfe has a dark side that I can't even imagine, but I also enjoy the thought that maybe I can imagine speculative fiction scenarios that might horrify Wolfe and other people of faith while at the same time appealing to my sense of what could constitute a utopian future for our species.

Maybe if I had struggled to obtain an engineering degree and then found myself helping find ways to sell salt and starch to obese consumers then I'd also have a pessimistic view of technology and the future.

I seem to share Wolfe's fascination with the idea of a "good man stuck in a bad religion". In Exode, it is a good woman (Kach) who is stuck with the "bad" religion of the Prelands. The pek have, rather halfheartedly, provided the Prelands with religious faith in the existence of Creators who expect the Prelands to ultimately transcend their physical reality. Everything is arranged and if the Prelands "keep the faith" they will join the god-like Huaoshy on their astral plane of existence where eternal life is reality. However, contrary creatures that they are, people like Hana reject the Preland religion and want to "live in sin", going their own way in defiance of the god-like Huaoshy.

Wolfe rejects the idea of fate, but in a twist of fate the Huaoshy have been forced to help craft a population of humans who are biologically incapable of having religious faith. I wonder if Wolfe would be forced to view the alien Huaoshy as devilish distractors from the true faith.




Hana's last name is Davyon. On the planet Luk'ru she crafts her own version of Humanity.

May 25, 2013

200 - Blogging about Writing

The Olmec Intervention
This is my 200th post to this blog, so I'm going to take a look back and reflect on some of my experiences with collaborative fiction writing and blogging that have changed the way I write science fiction stories.

In 2005 I started exploring the use of wiki websites as a tool for collaborative fiction writing. Prior to that time, working by myself, I had created the first story set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. Exodemic was written as a kind of alternative history story, but I was feeling dissatisfied and constrained by that format. It was valuable for my growth as a writer to go online and find other science fiction writers who I could collaborate with and by doing so gain writing experience that expanded my fiction writing repertoire.

Elsewhere, I've summarized some the important online collaborative writing projects that I've had the pleasure to explore by making use of wiki technology and in 2009 I started blogging about my fiction writing, both here and at other websites.

Looking back on what I've learned from these online experiences, I can identify a few types of activities that have been particularly fun and educational. The rest of this blog post provides a summary of those experiences.

Fan Fiction
The Start of Eternity
Back in 2005 I had recently discovered the joy of fan fiction. I've occasionally blogged about my condition: I now suffer from "fanfiction disease", the incurable desire to write stories that make use of famous characters created by others and it is my habit to do so by inserting those characters into stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

My first act of fan fiction sin involved the creation of an X-Files/Star Trek story in which I brought together Gene Roddenberry's characters from Assignment: Earth with some X-Files characters. I've also sinned by making fan fiction using characters from science fiction novels published by Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Carl Sagan and Sydney J. van Scyoc.

source
The most egregious example of my tendency to hijack famous characters is a fan fiction novel called The Start of Eternity. As described in a recent blog post, I'm very pleased with The Start of Eternity because it allowed me to make use of the Huaoshy to provide an amusing ending to Asimov's Foundation Series. At the same time, I was forced to develop my thinking about the technological prowess of the Huaoshy and define some limits on their seemingly god-like powers.

Right now I'm feeling very happy with my fan fiction experience because as a consequence of my dabbling in this sinful activity I was able to imagine a satisfying backstory for my current science fiction writing project: Exode. That backstory involves time travel, but Exode is not a time travel novel.

Time Travel
One of the first science fiction movies that I remember seeing was The Time Machine. Even when I was ten years old I was disappointed by the idea of a time machine looked like a sleigh. The only time travel story that captivated me was The End of Eternity.

For most of my life I was a space travel snob, convinced that the proper domain of science fiction is stories about spaceships and distant planets with alien beings. However, I was haunted by the thought of Noÿs Lambent living out her life in the 20th century after having been born ten million years in our future. When I finally decided to write a fan fiction sequel to Asimov's Foundation and Earth I could not resist the temptation to include Noÿs in the story.

When I translocated Noÿs into the Exodemic Fictional Universe I had no desire to write a time travel story, rather, I wanted to put an end to time travel. This was possible for the Huaoshy, who, it turns out, were responsible for the existence of time travel. When the Huaoshy altered the dimensional structure of the universe so as to make possible faster-than-light travel, they inadvertently also made time travel possible. As described in The Start of Eternity, time travel was not invented by the Huaoshy. In a strange twist of fate, time travel was discovered by positronic robots.

Having developed the technology for time travel, the positronic robots of Earth caused a big headache for the Huaoshy. Eventually, the Huaoshy decided that the had to undertake one final dimensional engineering project that would make time travel impossible. At the same time, that shift in the dimensional structure of the universe ended the ability of positronic robots to exercise the telepathic abilities that Asimov had depicted in his robot stories.

About a billion years ago, in a distant galaxy, a sapient biological lifeform developed the technology that is required to harness fusion energy and antimatter-based spaceship propulsion. They started slowly exploring their galaxy while looking for the means to travel through space at speeds faster than light. These beings were not yet Huaoshy, but I'll use that label for convenience since they eventually transformed themselves into the Huaoshy.

The Huaoshy discovered that they could alter the dimensional structure of the universe. By first switching the dimensional structure from the "ground state" to a "transitional state" they made possible faster-than-light communications using hierions. This was a great advance for the management of their growing interstellar civilization.

However, the Huaoshy really wanted to be able to travel through space at faster-than-light speeds. They completed another even more technologically challenging alteration in the dimensional structure of the universe that gave them mastery over sedronic matter and which allowed for faster-than-light travel through space.

The Huaoshy were satisfied with that new dimensional structure and they slowly transformed themselves into an artificial lifeform composed of sedronic mater.

However, when humans invented positronic robots the Huaoshy discovered that their dimensional engineering had also made time travel possible. Eventually the Huaoshy made one more change to the dimensional structure of the universe which made time travel impossible while continuing to allow travel through space at faster-than-light speeds....which, afterall, is an important technology to have around for space operas!

Space Opera
My personal introduction to space opera was similar to that described by Will Stackey. When I was 12 years old it was fun to imagine building a spaceship and heading off to the stars...meeting aliens, defeating the bad guy and ending up with the girl...at least, for as long as the innocence lasted. Unfortunately, the more I learned about science the less I was able to tag along with Dr. Smith and his cosmic adventures, particularly when they involved spacecraft that flew at the speed of thought

Smith can be blamed for starting my revolt against science fiction written by physical scientists. Given my interest in biology it should be no surprise that I have trouble when chemical engineer starts trying to get me to believe that thought "travels" faster than the speed of light.

By the time I was out of my teens I had developed a preference for "hard science fiction" that never seemed to violate the laws of physics or trot out biologically implausible plot elements.

For example, when I started writing Exodemic, I wanted to depict a future in which there was no faster-than-light travel, no time travel, and no telepathy or "mental powers"....and no religion, too.

I had reached the point in my thinking where I was more comfortable traveling slowly from star to star in generation ships than flashing across the universe in defiance of the laws of physics.

Writing The Search for Kalid
Then I was lucky enough to participate in the collaborative writing of The Search for Kalid. Left to myself, I never would have started writing a space opera. Three of the important things I learned from that collaboration were 1) that some characters can be crafted and developed in certain ways just because it is fun to do so (plot-driven science fiction can take itself too seriously), 2) it can be fun to include social elements like religion in a science fiction story even if the story is not directly about cultural elements like religion and 3) I was able to start making room in my science fiction for imaginary technologies like faster-than-light travel, teleportation and even forms of "weird biology" that would make possible "mental powers" and telepathy.

These changes in my science fiction writing "comfort zone" were very liberating. I've learned to live with "imaginary science".

Fictional Science
My science fiction writing has been powerfully shaped by three key ideas: 1) the Fermi Paradox, 2) Richard Feynman's realization that there is plenty of room at the bottom and 3) Clarke's suggestion that advanced technology can seem like magic.

The plot of Exodemic involves the realization by humans that small can be powerful and during the past year while creating Exode I've further refined my thinking about how to include the power of the very small in my fiction.

Nanotechnology
When I wrote Exodemic I used the term "nanodevice". At the Fiction Wikia I picked up the term "nanite" and started using it, for example to account for the ability of Isis to morph between human and cat forms.

Originally I conceptualize nanites as microscopic devices composed of conventional matter. However, I imagined that sophisticated nanorobotic devices could use fictional "hierions" to exchange information. Hierion-based communication between microscopically small symbionts inside people became a means of achieving telepathic communication.

Later, I developed the idea that there could be a type of matter formed by hierions where the bond lengths were zeptoscale. In Exode, the pek are composed vast numbers of nanorobotic devices that are made from of such matter.

Not satisfied with that level of miniaturization, the Huaoshy have taken their technology to an even smaller scale where intelligent artificial life exists in the form of sedronic matter in which bond lengths approach to within a few orders of magnitude of the Planck length.

Mental Powers
I never understood how Asimov imagined that telepathy would work in his stories. In Second Foundation he wrote about returning "the recording of his original brain-wave makeup" to Bail Channis in order to restore his erased memories, as if our memories are some kind of electronic software program to be loaded into a computer, or erased.

Asimov wrote that the Mule could sense the electric fields generated by a brain, thus allowing him to "read thoughts".  He could also alter personalities using "mentalics", impressing his pattern of brain activity on others.

First Foundationers who lacked the biological equipment needed for "mentalic abilities", were shown using sensitive brain wave recording technology to detect evidence that the function of brains (like that of Homir Munn) had been altered by "mantalic manipulation". So, electromagnetism was the basis of "mentalics", but the brilliant Dr. Darell had to invent an electromagnetic "mental static" device with hundreds of circuits in order to prevent mentalic mind control by the Second Foundationers. Eh?

While working on The Search for Kalid I took the time to seriously think about how it might be possible for telepathy to evolve and be present in a biological species like we humans. Thus, the telastid was invented and used as the fictional explanation for telepathy.

Having grown comfortable with such an imaginary mechanism for telepathy I no longer have qualms about endowing technologically advance artificial lifeforms with "mental powers" that can involve hypothetical hierions and be entirely independent of any physics as primitive as electromagnetism.

Illustration and Video
In my teens, when I first started writing stories, I had a dream about a science fiction book that I would one day write. In my dream, that book had an animated cover like a miniature television screen. When we finally rumbled into this millennium I was pleased that my science fiction stories no longer had to be restricted to text.

One of the joys of writing stories in electronic format is that images and videos can be easily added to the text.
In the first scene of Exode that I imagined, Hana saw a business card from Parthney with the provocative text: "Change your world" and images of some planets located far away towards the center of the galaxy.

Hemmal became the most important such planet in Exode, the world where Parthney was born. The nearby planet Oib was where the Pla developed their plans for how to bring a technological culture to the people of Earth.

The Koly star system has one other inhabited world, Clu'ten'ium. No human would think to live there, but it is a world with some appeal to the Fru'wu, so that becomes the secret location of Lendhalen.

Blogging about Writing
As described above, my online experiences have greatly modified and expanded my interests as a writer. While I greatly enjoy collaborative writing, I've also learned to make use of blogging as a way to explore and develop a story.

Of course, when I say "develop a story" I really mean the development of the imagined universe that I think of as the Exodemic Fictional Universe. For me, that development process is endless fun because there is a logic to the Huaoshy. As an artificial lifeform that designed itself, the Huaoshy have an identity that is hidden from we humans, but if we keep chipping away we can reveal the structure of that logic.

There is no escape from the recursive nature of that logic. The Huaoshy created we humans and we find ourselves struggling to understand our origins. To do so, we we must imagine the Huaoshy and what they must be like in order for them to have created us and kept us so ignorant of our origins.
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Exode is the story of a small group of people who are trying to discover the nature of the aliens who made we humans. The story is under development and collaborating authors are welcome.
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