Jul 6, 2014

Second Life

As Isaac Asimov described the historical twists and turns of his Foundation saga, it was after Avon books published editions of the first three books that the Foundation Trilogy was lifted from obscurity and became a fan favorite. I have the 14th Avon printing from 1972. After a pause of a couple of decades, Asimov returned to writing Foundation stories, extending the trilogy and eventually weaving his robot character Daneel into the Foundation saga. In my view, Asimov's trick of slipping Daneel into the history of the Foundation was pure genius, giving it a kind of second life.

Cover art by
Gino D'Achille
Jack Vance wrote the first three Demon Princes novels during the 1960s. Then 12 years passed between publication of The Palace of Love and the 4th novel in the series: The Face. Some readers rank The Face as the high point of the series (example).

Lucky for me, I discovered the Demon Princes series about the time that The Book of Dreams came out, so I did not have to wait through the 12 year-long pause between the third and the fourth novel.

For me, it was about 12 years between discovery of the original Foundation Trilogy and reading the 4th book, Foundation's Edge. I was not impressed by Asimov's new novel and I felt that the story of Golan Trevize read like a rather desperate and uninspired attempt to bring the Foundation saga into the space age. Thus, I was in no hurry to read the 5th book in the saga, Foundation and Earth. However, when I eventually learned that Daneel was waiting for Golan on the Moon, I was very much impressed.

The Demon Prince Trilogy
a parade of "Drusilla clones", inspired by The Palace of Love
What if Vance had quit writing Demon Princes novels after completing The Place of Love? At the end of that novel, Kirth Gersen was on the Esplanade at Avente with "Drusilla I", one of the clones of Jheral Tinzy.

Sailmaker Beach on Alphanor (one of the Rigel planets) seems to have been a popular resort for Gersen. Had he decided to take up permanent residence there, his buddy of the IPCC, Walter Koedelin, would have been close at hand.

With his vast wealth and as owner of Cosmopolis, maybe Gersen could have invented for himself a new career, possibly writing about crime and criminals for the Rigellian Journal.

However, Gersen had no real prospects to simply settle down with the "immensely appealing" Drusilla. We can have no doubt that he'd feel compelled to continue searching for Lens Larque and Howard Treesong.

A woman like Drusilla, who "obviously had been raised in an atmosphere of gentility and good manners" would find it hard to understand Gersen's compulsion to destroy Larque and Treesong. If Gersen pursued a relationship with Drusilla, would it end any differently than Gersen's time with Alusz Iphigenia?     

Director's Cut
Both Asimov and Vance wrote for science fiction magazines in the 1940s. Often authors were paid by the word for stories published in magazines and parts of the Foundation saga and the Demon Princes stories seem a trifle bloated. Editing and condensing the Foundations saga and the  Demon Princes novels, perhaps reducing their bulk to new "essential trilogies" would be interesting projects. At the same time, it would be fun to update the level of technology in the stories. For example, updated and streamlined versions could throw in a few modern conveniences like cell phones and genetic testing to identify alien Star Kings. Maybe these tweaked versions could even find a place on the Big Screen.

The pain of cutting
cover art by Ed Emshwiller
I suspect that every science fiction writer can benefit from the help of a good editor. However, Asimov wrote about his dislike for both reviewers and editorial intervention into his writing. Asimov attributed a central feature of his Foundation stories, the "all human galaxy", to the editorial meddling of John Campbell. However, having been "forced" to imagine a future in which only humans existed in our galaxy, Asimov seemed quite happy to stick with that severe restriction.

I've never read the original version of Star King, as published in Galaxy magazine. However, apparently Demon Prince Attel Malagate (the Woe) was originally called "Grendel the Monster" in the magazine version of the story. The cover art for the magazine showed "beauty" Dasce, a character who deserves to be brought either to television or the Big Screen. He once had his eye lids cut off, requiring him to wear prostheses that can moisten his eyes or cover them. I suspect that even Vance was happy with the change from Grendel to Malagate, but I would not mind Gersen using modern genetics to quickly identify Malagate as the Star King, possibly cutting the whole novel to about 25% of its original length. After introducing "Tehalt's planet" early in the story, it seems to take forever for Vance to get the readers to that destination. Vance probably knew that the story was too long; at two points he has a character give voice to hopes their "fantastic voyage" can hurry up and end, already.

Generation Gap
I suspect that reader preferences have changed greatly since the Golden Age of science fiction. Apparently Edmund Hamilton wrote 40 stories that were all published in pulp science fiction magazines before he ran into an editor who gave him some suggestions for how to modify a story. (He was totally spoiled and threw away the story rather than make the changes.) A hundred years ago, people had time to read. In this age of information overload, young readers often don't have the patience to luxuriate in the slow pace of a novel. Why not provide streamlined versions of science fiction classics? I enjoy every last word of Vance's Demon Princes stories, but some folks might prefer shorter versions that cut to the chase.

planet of the apes (source)
The Stars, My Brothers is a good example of how science fiction stories can benefit from being updated and condensed. In 1962 it was fun to suggest that there would be Moon bases and Moon orbital stations in the 1980s, but why not update the story and move the date of the accident and update the cryogenic science? Also, do we need to hear about the poor student, Gertrude Lemmiken, who sent Reed Kieran to his early death off to be space-struck? As in Vance's Star King, we again have a character in the story begging that the story speed up! I suspect that most members of a modern audience would agree with that sentiment and prefer to read a condensed version of The Stars, My Brothers.

Trysta and Ekcolir
In Asimov's novel The Stars Like Dust, Joseph Schwartz must find a way to adapt to the future times that he suddenly finds himself in. Similarly, in The Jameson Satellite, a man is thrust 40,000,000 years into the future where he must integrate into an alien society. In The Stars, My Brothers the time jump is "only" 100 years, but Kieran must quickly adapt to a new reality that includes a nasty conflict between rational aliens and primitive humanoids. For Trysta and Ekcolir, I'm currently writing an introductory chapter in which Ivory Fersoni realizes that she is an alien.

The problem I'm confronting is how to quickly provide readers with enough backstory so that they can understand the shock experienced by Ivory when she realizes the true meaning of her unusual genetic endowment. At best I can only provide readers with a hint of what is going on, then they must follow along with Ivory while she tries to find the mysterious place where she was born and those members of her family who can help her sort out the secret history of the human species.

The Hierion Domain
in the Hierion Domain (source)
Isaac Asimov faced a similar challenge when he wrote The End of Eternity. Asimov chose to start his novel with a description of Andrew Harlan taking a trip through time. With his credentials as a time traveler established, Asimov then takes several chapters of the novel to fill in the backstory for Harlan.

For Trysta and Ekcolir, I could take the same approach as that used by Asimov. Six months ago, I originally imagined that Ivory's place of birth was a secret undersea base located in the Atlantic Ocean, rather jokingly called "Atlantis" by its residents. However, locating "Atlantis" in space is just as tricky as locating the space-time bubble where Harlan lives: Eternity.

More recently, I realized that the only thing located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is a kind of portal, a "hierion tube" that connects our world to the Hierion Domain. Ivory's place of birth was within the Hierion Domain.

portal to the Hierion
Domain (source)
Having never entered the Hierion Domain, I'm a bit uncertain about what would be involved in moving through a portal connecting our conventional world and "Atlantis", the "place" within the Hierion Domain where the Atlantis Clones must be produced.

Asimov's description of Harlan traveling through time provides no wiz-bang Hollywood moments. When Harlen moves from Eternity into Time, there are no flashing lights or dramatic sounds. Similarly, I imagine that Ivory could (with assistance from Many Sails) simply "step sideways" into the Hierion Domain and seemingly disappear from her home in Salinópolis, Brazil, rather like being teleported.

In my whimsical cover image for Daveed the Luk'ie (shown to the right), I included a mysterious red device connecting two people, one in the Hierion Domain and the other on Earth. I'm trying to imagine an object that Ivory could find in her childhood home in Salinópolis that functions as a "key", allowing her to slip quietly from our world into Atlantis. Arriving in Atlantis, Ivory begins her second life during which she helps develop her clone sister Angela's ability to access information about other Realities, information that exists inside the Sedronic Domain.

Zoromes of Zor

July 1931
Isaac Asimov suggested that the elements of his science fiction stories could be traced to the pulp science fiction magazine stories that he read as a boy.

In the July 1931 issue of Amazing Stories was "The Jameson Satellite" by Neil R. Jones. Jones wrote about the Zoromes, artificial life forms from the distant ("millions of light years") planet Zor. Legend has it that Asimov read the story and was favorably impressed with its presentation of "mechanical men" who could have interesting adventures. I've previously described Asimov's dislike for stories that depicted robots as murderous, clanking evildoers.

April 1938
The Human Zorome Project
For the next 20 years, Jones turned out more Zorome stories. "Jameson" was an Earthling who, having preserved his brain inside a radium-powered spaceship for 40 million years, was assimilated as a Zorome, eventually rising through the ranks to become captain of a Zorome spaceship.

The Zoromes were telepathic, having no need for spoken language. Poor old Jameson woke up from his 40,000,000 year long sleep and noticed, "strange ideas which seemed to be impressed upon his brain" (Chapter 3). Quickly, Jameson's brain (his body having been discarded) adapts to telepathy and control of his new metalic body.

April 1936
Finding humanity long gone and Earth lifeless and after contemplating suicide, Jameson decides to "live" on as an immortal Zorome and join them in their "most popular passtime" of exploring the universe.

The Zoromes were willing to share their advanced technology with the residents of other planets. Apparently their "brain in a box" system could assimilate any humanoid brain and place it in control of a robotic body. 

The clanking metalic Zoromes, as depicted in the art work of Amazing Stories, are stuck in the early 20th century. Other science fiction authors like Asimov would later explore the possibilities of "humaniform robots" who could not be distinguished from humans.

1906, The War of the Worlds
Jones depicted Jameson as the last surviving human. Apparently Jones was influenced by The War of the Worlds and I suspect that he preferred writing adventure and discovery stories rather than stories about evil alien invaders. The choice by Jones to set his Zorome stories in the far future allowed him to avoid writing about how human civilization would react to aliens.

Jan 1928, source
Additional inspiration for the Zoromes came from Edmond Hamilton’s story “The Comet Doom”. Hamilton's stories such as "The Man Who Evolved" were another strong influence on the young Isaac Asimov. I wonder if Hamilton's story "Devolution" was a source of inspiration for Asimov's stories about the radioactive elements of Earth making it possible for life to mutate fast and evolve quickly on our planet.

From Ancient Earthlings to Ancient Aliens
Book 1 of the Exode Trilogy
I previously mentioned At the Mountains of Madness in a footnote... I don't accept the idea that Howard Lovecraft's 1931 story brought to science fiction the idea of aliens visitors reaching Earth at a time far in our past. Lovecraft was writing fantasy or horror, not science fiction. I'm more comfortable with placing folks like Hamilton and Ed Smith at the foundation of the "ancient alien" sub-genre within science fiction.

However, I must confess that I've never been a fan of placing a Good vs Evil theme at the heart of a science fiction story. "Doc" Smith imagined human history being tied to a billion year battle between the "good" Arisians and the "evil" Eddorians. Lovecraft, like Carl Sagan, found it easier to imagine more stand-offish aliens who would have little interest in we primitive Earthlings. This is also the tone of the Exode Trilogy, but a strange technological fluke forces the alien Huaoshy to pay attention to planet Earth. Given their advanced technology, the Huaoshy (actually, just their minions, the pek) can spend millions of years on Earth without we humans noticing.

Jul 5, 2014

Escape from a Bitchy Obitus

cover art of the DAW edition
Can Ghyl escape?
I've previously commented on the rather gloomy and dismal setting of Emphyrio. In this science fiction story by Jack Vance, we tag along with Ghyl as he grows up on the planet Halma and discovers that his people are economic slaves of alien masters.

According to John Dolan, there is only "one truly sad Vance novel": Emphyrio. In the legends of Halma, Emphyrio is a long-dead hero who resisted an alien invasion and for his trouble he ended up having a spike driven through his head. Nothing is quite as it seems to be in Ghyl's world, and he must rediscover the lost and obscured history of his people's past.

I read this story in the format of the DAW paperback shown to the right. That's poor Ghyl about to get run over. Vance often seemed to have fun with the pulp fiction plot device of introducing a horrible and complex way of killing the hero, fortunately so complex that it might not actually work.

The Killing Machine
On the planet Halma, if you are a convicted criminal you might find yourself exiled to the country next door, only to discover that rival "nation" is very small, no bigger than a small stony courtyard. Worse still, periodically a set of grinding wheels roll the length of that courtyard, flattening out all residents.

In Vance's Alastor Cluster novel, Trullion, the mentor Akadie is awaiting "justice" and fearing that he fill be executed upon the prutanshyr along with a gang of pirates. However, it is his lucky day and the executioner's machinery jams. "Sixty-two pirates to be killed, and yesterday the thing managed to grind asunder only a single man." Glinnes shows up and is able to spring Akadie from jail, revealing that he had been imprisoned on the basis of false claims by the scheming Lord Gensifer.

Kedidah the sexivationist
In both Wyst and Araminta Station, Vance depicted entire industries grown up around suicide. In Wyst, the lovely Kedidah is seduced into a stint as sheirl for the Ephthalotes. Her pathetic adventures in sexivation end with the team's loss and her being defiled by a mechanical demon. She slinks off to the Pier of Departure in Disjerferact and loses herself in the golden prisms of Halcyon House.

However, in Emphyrio, Vance allows us to escape the dismal tone of the story's beginning when Ghyl escapes from his killing machine and goes on to liberate his people.

A Bitchy Obitus
I was rather startled by the tone of Dolan's obituary for Jack Vance. I'm particularly surprised by the suggestion that Emphyrio was written for "his son, the one person he seems to have loved". As far as I can tell, his wife Norma was Vance's loving muse and partner through his entire writing career.

More Cover Art
Through the years, I've seen some strange cover art for Emphyrio, perhaps none more shocking than the dance scene shown to the left.

Yes, within the story, Ghyl does attend a dance, but this seems like a strange scene to select for the cover. This ballroom cover art makes it look like Emphyrio is a Broadway musical!

Recently I've seen new cover art for some foreign language books such as  Emphyrio et autres romans.

I like the alien-looking creature that appears in this cover art (image to the right).

The guy with the gun on his shoulder (shown to the left) seems out of place and does not adequately transport us into an alien setting.

Thank you, Jack, for so many great stories where the aliens lurk for so long, just off stage...and there is always the young hero who will defend us.....

"To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable about enjoying the good things."  -Isaac Asimov

A reader of the Exode Trilogy might wonder if we humans are nothing but slaves to the alien Huaoshy. As discussed in my next blog post, although we can rightfully think of the Huaoshy as having created the human species, the aliens are rather indifferent towards we Earthlings.

As shown in the image to the left, I like to poke fun at the idea that Huaoshy and their robot-like pek might come to Earth and enslave humans for some mundane purpose like mining gold.

The Exode Saga (image credits)
However, I have no interest in "alien invasion" stories beyond the fact that readers might, because of their long exposure to the alien invasion literature, wonder about the motives of the pek.

I bundle up this human tendency towards xenophobia and put it right into Exode, allowing Parthney's handlers at Lenhalen to fret endlessly about the fate of we Earthlings.

Related reading: a quick summary of Emphyrio
more covers