Jan 26, 2014

In The Beginning

I originally imagined The Foundations of Eternity as a stand-alone sequel to both Asimov's saga-ending novel, Foundation and Earth, and, simultaneously, his time travel story The End of Eternity.

Chapters in
The Foundations of Eternity
During 2013 I started imagining The Foundations of Eternity as the first book in the Exode Trilogy. I now need to rewrite the first chapter and incorporate my new ideas about how the main players (Observers, Overseers, the orbho, the Kac'hin and Neanderthals) interact. Out of the odd confluence of these forces (at a hidden Base on the Moon) arises the opportunity for our species to become something other than just one in a series of obsolete tool-using primate species on the evolutionary trajectory to the Prelands.

While planning some required modifications to "Design Space", I could not avoid the temptation to shift the start if the story to the minutes just before Gohrlay begins to have her brain disintegrated ("Brain Scan"). I'm a fan of starting stories at a dramatic juncture that is "in the middle if things". I started thinking of about some modifications to the story that would allow me to first insert poor Gohrlay into the destructive brain scanner and then have a "flash back" that explains her earlier life and why she "volunteered" to have the structure of her brain converted into positronic circuits.

Following that revisionist chain of thoughts, I could not avoid contemplation of how the chapter "Trysta and Merion" fits into the story. Frankly, it does not fit in very well since it is a somewhat awkward transition chapter at the end of Part I of the novel. The beginning of Part II of The Foundations of Eternity comes after a very long temporal discontinuity between the first four chapters of the story and the later events that were set in motion by Gohrlay "in the beginning".

So, I must ask, just what should be "the beginning" of the Exode Trilogy? This becomes a rather complex question in a time travel story!

Chapters in Part I of Trysta and Ekcolir
Another Option
Maybe the Exode Trilogy should start with Trysta and Ekcolir?

I originally thought that Trysta and Ekcolir would start with the capture of Fengtol, the last remaining positronic robot. I first imagined the "subtraction" of Fengtol from Earth as being a surgically precise elimination of Fengtol, but it now occurs to me that there is no need for "clean sweep" of positronics from the history of least in the Grean Reality.

Grean is able to travel through time, so if Fengtol "makes a splash" because of the public nature of "her" demise, then such messiness can be cleaned up later. Or even "earlier", given Grean's time travel capability. One dramatic way to start the Exode Trilogy would be to have Fengtol's demise be a very public event. Imagine the fragments of Fengtol's positronic brain spread out before viewers on television.
Fanciful brain spillage from a dead robot.

Back when I began planning the Exode Trilogy, here is the first thing I wrote in my notebook about the start of Trysta and Ekcolir: "even with Fengtol prevented from providing Earth with sedronic technology and the resulting nuclear war averted, Grean looks into the future and sees that Earth is still facing a technological disaster."

As shown in the diagram above (source), the "Grean Reality" is part of a Reality Chain that comes into existence when Grean starts using time travel technology. Actually, because of name recognition issues, I prefer to label such Reality Chain diagrams with "Asimov Reality" rather than "Grean Reality".

Trapped by the dynamics of a strange attractor, even if we Earthlings avoid nuclear war, global warming and catastrophic sea level rise will eventually catch up with us.

I've never thought much about Grean as an individual. Grean is a Kac'hin hermaphrodite and I have to eventually decide just how un-human "her" appearance is. Kach is a Kac'hin female who was shaped during her embryonic development so as to have a normal human body plan.In contrast, Grean is noticeably not a normal human of 20th century Earth.

When the Huaoshy finally develop time travel technology, they need  a tool like Grean who can work efficiently with Trysta and use time travel to craft an acceptable future for Earth.

In addition to the issue of Grean's physical appearance there is the question of thons mind. To what extent is Grean a humanoid with free will and how much of the time is Grean simply a "puppet" for the Huaoshy, a set of hands carrying out the wishes of the Huaoshy? I want Grean to explicitly raise this question for readers of Trysta and Ekcolir. If Trysta and Ekcolir becomes the first book in the Exode Trilogy then I can keep returning to this issue, particularly in the context of Gohrlay's revolt in The Foundations of Eternity and Kach's search for the Creators in Exode.

Cognitive Modes
In Jack Vance's novel Araminta Station, Glawen slowly becomes aware of Simonetta co-Clattuc Zigonie, a former resident of the Station who departed years previously to find her fate among the stars. I particularly like this commentary on the function of Smonny's mind: "She seems to be guided by an instinctive or subconscious shrewdness, rather than formal intelligence".

Similarly, I imagine Grean as being able to function in two distinct cognitive modes: one featuring a normal humanoid consciousness and the other being "puppet mode", with a subtle subconscious influence imposed by the unseen Huaoshy.

THE MULE by Michael Whelan
I've long enjoyed how Asimov depicted the ability of The Mule to control human minds: "minds are dials, with pointers that indicate the prevailing emotions...I learned that I could reach into those minds and turn the pointer to the spot I wished".

I Imagine that the Huaoshy can quietly observe Grean's on-going behavior and guide it so as to assure that Trysta and Grean will reach a satisfactory compromise on the nature of the final Reality Change. For the Huaoshy, Grean's brain is like a control panel for determining the future of Earth and the prospects for we humans.

Mind Control
Any story that introduces mind control as a plot element will risk offending readers. I'd like to reveal to readers the idea of mind control at an early point in the Exode Trilogy. I want to include several characters who have doubts about their own free will and fears about being mere puppets for the Huaoshy. At times, Gohrlay, Kach and Grean all worry about being subjected to telepathic mind control.

One of the most annoying reading experiences of my life was grinding through Philip José Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go. I've never been able to decide what was most annoying, 1) the relentlessly dualistic premise that humans have two parts, a physical body and a "wathan" or 2) the idea that there were otherwise stupid and bumbling aliens who could manufacture replacement human bodies as hosts for the wathans that carried the memories of dead humans.

Farmer enjoyed writing fantasy stories in which he could combine real figures from history with fictional characters. His silly methods for dressing up his stories in the guise of science fiction simply did not work for me. Had he been born after fantasy became a better paying genre, I doubt if he would have bothered to present his stories as science fiction.

I've previously described my preference for a less magical science fiction plot device as an alternative to the "wathan". I certainly want to avoid annoying readers of the Exode Trilogy by teasing them about the Creators and mind control and leaving them in constant doubt about the free will of the characters in the story.

I found it hard to care about the characters in Riverworld...they just seemed like a jumble of puppet-like characters in some computer game...simply restart the game and you can play out their fates along a different plot arc.

This is a danger in time travel stories too. Why care about the characters when the author of the story can, upon a whim, go back in time and change everything that happens in a character's life?

Exode, the final book of the Exode Trilogy, puts an end to such time travel worries since the Huaoshy have by that point changed the dimensional structure of the universe so as to make time travel impossible. Is there an equally effective antidote to reader doubts about mind control puppetry?

Pod People
For the Hollywood folks who think "science fiction" means "horror", it can be profitable to trigger the human aversion that is experienced when something has human form but alien behavior.

One of my goals in the Exode Trilogy is to parade before readers a collection of non-human characters while usually allowing the aliens and robots to seem quite human.

The Exode Trilogy character that I want to come closest to having some zombie-like behavior is Syon. When the Pla pay attention to Syon it is important that they see "her" as a rather simple robot without interesting behavior. However, the reader will have the pleasure of knowing that Syon is a sophisticated artificial life form.

Grean knows that the Kac'hin were created with the intent that they function to allow efficient interactions between humans and the Huaoshy. However, Grean has never experienced any conscious communication or contact with the Huaoshy.

While on Earth and working to find a viable future for we humans, Trysta challenges Grean and demands to know why Grean does the bidding of the alien Huaoshy. Trysta, as an Asterothrope, is not particularly alarmed by Grean's physical appearance, but Grean's devotion to the unseen aliens annoys Trysta.

Grean's "odd and annoying" behavior arises from the fact that "she" is all too aware of the fact that technology-wielding humans have a real knack for self-extermination.

During training for a mission on Earth, Grean spent many years trying to view alternative Realities in which humans could successfully spread a technological civilization between the stars. It is only after having the chance to reside on Earth and work with Trysta that any glimmers of hope for a happy human future begin to appear.
at Urgark

Freak out
If I'm willing to have Fengtol spill her brains on live TV, then why not also let the viewing public see Grean? I'm imagining that Grean has distinctive Asterothrope features such as very long fingers. Maybe Kac'hin hermaphrodites, like Asterothrope hermaphrodites, should also have small bodies.

When Fengtol realizes that "she" has been lured into a trap, she might decide to move into a very public place in hope of forcing Grean to give up pursuit. If the first televised baseball game was in 1939 then I should be able to let Fengtol suffer a dramatic "death" on live TV with Grean seen in hot pursuit of the robot.

Jan 20, 2014

Intergalactic Demons

As noted by Kat, for his novel The Palace of Love, Jack Vance created "the Mad Poet" Navarth. Navarth was reluctant to leave Earth, comparing himself to Antaeus and saying, "never may I detach my toe from Earth". During the flight through space to visit the Palace of Love on the planet Sogdian, poor Navarth, "simultaneously became afflicted with both claustrophobia and agoraphobia".

Asimov's fear of flying and enjoyment of small enclosed rooms seems at odds with his famous "Galactic Empire" and his science fiction journeys across vast interstellar distances. My own brain came equipped with a powerful system for generating fear of heights, so I know how difficult it is to overcome such "phobias". Recently a candidate gene has been identified that seems to be associated with claustrophobia.

I'm often thinking about brains and human memory processes while writing science fiction (most recently). Sometimes it is amusing when our all-too-faulty neuronal memory systems reconstruct reality for us. Keith described the Demon Princes as being "a group of five intergalactic criminals".

Vance's Demon Prince series is set within our galaxy, among a region of stars not too distant from Earth. I've long concerned myself with Asimov's apparent inability to extend his "Galactic Empire" saga beyond our galaxy. In Vance's fictional universe, might there be  "intergalactic" connections for the Demon Princes?

I've previously thought about writing a fan fiction sequel to The Book of Dreams. I must say...any story that does not involve life forms from beyond our galaxy inflicts me with a tingle of claustrophobia, so let's explore how to bring Vance's Demon Princes saga to the wider stage of intergalactic space.

Alice Wroke flirting
with Henry Lucas at
their Extant office
Intergalactic Demons
What if the Institute is a "front organization" for alien influences from beyond our galaxy? Maybe Alice's father and Treesong were initially working together to penetrate the Institute's Dexad. I imagine that alien forces slip their nanites into some humans such as Treesong. Suppose that Benjamine Wroke was experimenting with ways to take control of those alien nanites and turn Treesong into the tool of Interventionists. In the end, Treesong double-crossed Benjamin Wroke and murdered him.

When Kirth Gersen (in the role of Henry Lucas) first realizes that Alice is an associate of Tressong, he briefly contemplates the possibility that she is a wicked woman. Why else would she work with the "King of Thieves"? However, he soon learns that Treesong is forcing Alice to spy on Lucas and the Extant offices by using threats of violence against her father. Not knowing that her father is already dead, Alice infiltrates the Extant magazine headquarters and reports to Treesong what she can learn from Kirth.

Alice on the verandah at Gladen's Hotel
Eventually Kirth and Alice join forces to take revenge on Treesong. Kirth is already smitten by Alice and over dinner at her hotel on the evening of Gersen's return from space, she vows to never let him out of her sight again.

It is a puzzle for Kirth and Alice: how did Treesong rise to Institute rank 99? Just what advanced technologies might Treesong have at his command?

I've previously speculated that Treesong might be endowed with a nanite symbiont that could account for his "multiple personality" disorder.

In the Exode Trilogy, the Nereids make some advanced technology available to the Interventionists.

Alice, triumphantly
indispensable at
Blue Forest Camp
on Bethune Preserve
If I place Kirth Gersen and Alice Wroke in the Exodemic Fictional Universe then I have to contemplate which might be the most effective groups who are working to speed human technological advancement and counter the Institute's efforts to limit human cultural development.

Vance indicates that the IPCC does try to counter criminals like Treesong, but, as Gersen says, the IPCC is not very effective. Somewhere, hidden away in the many worlds of the growing Oikumene (or maybe Beyond) is there an Interventionist cabal that can turn the tide in the struggle against a mysterious alien force that would unleash criminal demons like Treesong upon humanity?

Follow the Money
I recently came across some commentary on Vance that took note of how frequently the main characters in his stories have to deal with strangers who try to "extort an extra cent from whoever". Often it is more than just a "cent". A typical example comes in The Book of Dreams when Gersen, who is a billionaire, lands on the planet Moudervelt, the home world of Treesong. He is greeted by a spaceport official who tries to charge a 200 SVU landing fee. Gersen knowingly hands over just 5 SVU while commenting that "some public officers tend either to larceny or daydreaming".

Just down the road in Cloutie, Gersen needs a room for the night. At the Hotel Bon Ton an attempt is made to rent him a room for 83 SVU, but Gersen calmly asks to see the schedule of room rates and suddenly the price of a room drops to 5 SVU. A short time later, Gersen is out strolling through town and an attempt is made to sell him a map (the price is marked 25 centums) for two SVU. Gersen the billionaire calmly argues over the price of the map for the duration of half a page of the novel.

Back in the "golden age" of science fiction, Vance probably sold some of his stories for the painful price of one cent per word. Under such working conditions he figured that he had to turn out a million words a year in order to earn a living. It would not surprise me if Vance pointedly developed the habit of including in his stories little scenes in which haggling over prices not-very-subtly depicted the frugality of a rich character...and by extension, publishers.

Jerdian Chanseth dressed in green,as first seen by Kirth Gersen
Jerdian Chanseth in Skansel
Plaza, Sarjeuz, Dar Sai
I've been trying to imagine how Gersen might spend his money to help the Interventionist cause and defend humanity against an "evil" alien influence. While Gersen might well argue on the street over the cost of a 25 cent item, at other times he is willing to spend money without a qualm. Early in The Book of Dreams Gersen is out on the streets of Pontefract killing time before an appointment. He impulsively buys a set of mechanized chess playing puppets. During this time, playing the role of Henry Lucas, he resides at the upscale Penwipers Hotel, where every day he is dressed in elegant clothes by his valet, providing him with an excellent disguise (normally he wears plain spaceman's attire).

In The Face, the first evening he is in Twanish on the planet Methel, Gersen eats dinner at the Medallion Restaurant. He enjoys the Grand Repast featuring "Authentic Dishes in the Style of the Grand Masters". This meal costs about the equivalent of $300. Later, while contemplating a possible future life of frivolity and comfort in retirement with the charming Jerdian Chanseth, Gersen spends a million SVU to buy the fine house Moss Alrune in the exclusive Llalarkno district.

Drusilla III at Arodin's Temple
In all of the Demon Princes saga, Gersen seemed most comfortable spending money when in the presence of Navarth. In The Palace of Love, Gersen is out on the town for an evening with Navarth and Zan Zu. While searching for Viole Falushe they stop at the Hotel Prince Franz Ludwig for dinner and then they go bar hopping. Dinner, muscatel, champagne, krystallek, coffee and trifles of pastry at the Hotel Prince Franz Ludwig alone cost Gersen more than 200 SVU. When Navarth must throw a carefully crafted party to lure Falushe near, the cost is one million SVU.

At the end of the story, when Falushe has been eliminated and Gersen leaves Zan Zu and her clone sisters (Drusillas III and IV) with Navarth, he provides additional funds to Navarth for their care and rehabilitation.

In my imagined fan fiction sequel to The Book of Dreams, after visiting Terranova and learning that his mother is still alive and living at a hidden Interventionist base on Earth, Kirth and Alice recruit help from Navarth, using the "Mad Poet" and his antics as cover while Gersen penetrates a Interventionist enclave which is hidden in the mountains of the northern Iberian peninsula.

Alice extracting nanites
Finally Gersen's vast fortune becomes useful. The Interventionists help Gersen extract nanites from Treesong's corpse then use his wealth to develop the means to reprogram, control and replicate the nanites. Treesong's nanites developed a defect that caused his multiple personalities and that also makes them vulnerable to "hacking" and reprogramming.

Although Falushe's body is never recovered, Gersen is able to verify that there are also alien nanites in the bodies of Lens Larque, Attel Malagate and Kokor Hekkus. Gersen and Alice travel to Lambda Gruis III where they discover that the bodies of all Star Kings contain a nanorobotic symbiont. Long ago, the pek bioengineered Homo sapiens on the world "Ghnarumen".

That aliens are responsible for our species' origin becomes quite clear. Kirth and Alice learn that Interventionist agents secretly transplanted some of the engineered humans back to Earth. The pek still plan to replace humans with more advanced Star Kings that are still being evolved. Can the Interventionists successfully equip humans with nanites so they can defend themselves against the Star Kings?

almost heaven
Paladins Triumphant
This is my 250th post to this blog. It somehow seems fitting that I am here again indulging myself in the "fan fiction disease" of imagining a sequel to one of my favorite science fiction novels. Sorry about that, Jack!

Princess Gisseth
This blog has become a rather meandering exploration of the science fiction terrain that so fascinates me...

Why would aliens target "a shy brown-haired boy known as Howard Hardoah" growing up on a farm near Gladbetook, Maunish district of planet Moudervelt? In his youth, Howard was transformed and he imagined himself born of Princess Gisseth of Treesong Keep.

The eerie paladin Eia Panice.
What did Vance imagine was going on with the "paladins" who shared Howard Treesong's body? Mewness: There are long roads yet to be traveled and many an inn where I would take refuge.

The alien and eerie Eia Panice has eyes like pale fire. "Eia, as fearsome to enemies as death itself speaks little. His deeds tell their own tale and terror trembles in his wake."

Immir of the graces
Panice calls together the departing paladins and they topple Howard to his death. Cleadhoe: "The chair was solidly fixed! He could not have tumbled it alone!"

Gersen turned away, "Whatever has happened, it is enough for me." But later, he and Alice must extract the nanites from Howard's corpse and risk re-instantiating the mysterious paladins.

Kirth and Alice eventually realize that some of the "paladins" who haunted Treesong originated as non-human life forms. Maybe Panice, like the Nereids, originated in another galaxy.

Vance indicated that there was some kind of controlled breeding program in Maunish. I assume that program caused Howard's brain to be particularly suitable for hosting an alien nanorobotic symbiont. "Immir" was the intended symbiont for Howard, but something went wrong and multiple artificial life forms took up residence inside him.

Visit the Gallery of Posters and the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.

Jan 19, 2014

Society for the Abolition of Footnotes in Novels: Gentlemen's Auxiliary

Amanda formed the Society for the Abolition of Footnotes in Novels. Tim gave a reasonable reply to Amanda's blog post, but I want to run in another direction with this abolitionist idea. I ask: are linear novels the way we should tell stories or do we have other options?

In addition to his penchant for using footnotes in his science fiction stories, Vance often graced the start of chapters with quoted text from fictional writings. Furthermore, he was not afraid to include an appendix or two at the end of a novel.

My favorite example of Vancian divergence from narrative tradition is at the start of Chapter 6 in Star King, where we are provided with an excerpt from Preface to Men of the Oikumene, by Jan Holberk Vaenz LXII. I love the idea of authors sneaking themselves, or even distant imaginary descendants, into their own stories.

Gentlemen's Auxiliary
In his novel Araminta Station, Vance mentioned the Medusa Cult. According to Jerdys Diffin, there had at one time been a Gentlemen's Auxiliary for the cult, but they were all used as sacrifices.

At the risk of meeting a similar fate, I've formed a gentlemen's auxiliary for the Society for the Abolition of Footnotes in Novels.

"when a novelist uses footnotes in a novel, they should know better"

I agree! We are now in the era of hypertext. Rather than use footnotes, novelists should make hypertext links. For example, in Exode, there are many hypertext links including those that take readers from the main text to the glossary.

"if this information is important to the story, make it part of the story. If it’s not, leave it out"

Efraim must search for his lost identity.
Some of my favorite science fiction stories, including many that are told in the novels of Asimov and Vance, are mysteries. Vance's novel Marune centers on the mystery of Efraim's lost memories.

Beloved features of mysteries are the "red herring" and stray story threads that the reader must sort through while trying to guess the identity of the cad. It is expected that authors will add some "irrelevant" information to their mystery stories.

I suppose in this age of the microblog, some readers don't have time to savor the "less important" elements of a novel.

I've previously given my opinion about the style of fiction that I prefer. I want to luxuriate in a Fictional Universe...the more complex the better. Vance knew the power of "random" bits of information to give readers a "feel" for an alien world.

One of the great pleasures of reading a Vance novel is being dropped into the strange culture of a distant world. I'll grant Vance any tool he wants to use, footnotes included, for the purpose of immersing me in an alien culture. I say, slow down: read and enjoy the footnotes, even if they are not central to the plot.

"Why should we all have to strain our eyesight to read footnotes, and strain our brains to decide if they’re worth reading or not?"

Fine print is so last millennium. Some day we will have ebooks that allow us to effortlessly navigate complex multilevel texts. Flat and linear print will go the way of cuneiform.

Brain Strain
Many people read science fiction for recreation and relaxation. However, readers should not be surprised to find that some "brain strain" is part of the science fiction experience. Vance was a master at tossing readers into the rich milieu of a strange new world. It is fun when we have to think about a new culture, even if we are called upon to exert ourselves cognitively.

Just a guy thing?
A typical Jack Vance science fiction novel centers on a young man like Efraim who must struggle against adversity. Efraim's mother died when he was young and in the story line of Marune his father is recently murdered. Efraim himself narrowly avoids being murdered.

Maybe such stories are inherently of more interest to a male reader. I can understand why a female reader might struggle to successfully achieve significant intellectual engagement with the typical Vance novel which features "one dude's struggle against the world". Imagine an alternate universe where there was a Joan Vance who wrote a novel called Maruna in which Maerio is the main character. One day she finds herself on the planet Bratazil, without memories of her past and she is six months pregnant.

I've never made sense of what Vance imagined could be achieved by Fwai-chi "drugs". What if Maerio was given a "drug" that removed her memories while at the same time inserting into her unborn child the kind of "memories" that Vance wrote about Efraim "recovering" at the end of Marune?

Maerio and son
It is fun to imagine the adventures that the Maerio in Maruna could have trying to recover her past life and return home with the help of her newborn son and his unusual "memories", including some from Maerio...

...Maerio makes her way to Numenes and with the help of the staff at the Connatic's hospital she discovers that she can communicate with her newborn son....

Maybe in an alternate universe Vance could have written a novel with footnotes that would have intrigued Amanda and swayed her to the dark side, to an appreciation of the value of footnotes in novels.
Maerio's home: Belrod Strang by Joël

The Structure of Reality
One of the tasks that was taken on by Vance was consideration of how a person's understanding of reality can be shaped by one's physical body and by one's culture. In Marune, Vance introduces us to the natives of the planet where Efraim was born: the Fwai-chi. Humans are recent arrivals on Marune and Vance suggests that the native Fwai-chi could perceive reality in a fundamentally different way than we humans. Efraim is given a Fwai-chi "drug" that allows him to have an unusual experience, consciously accessing "memories" of his father and his earlier ancestors.

Do linear novels reflect the structure of reality or is the linear narrative format an artifact arising from human cognitive limitations? Humans are equipped with specialized brain regions such as the hippocampus that provide us with a linear autobiographical memory. Still, research studies have shown that this linear "recording device" in our brains is not perfect and most humans often struggle to recall specific autobiographical memories upon request (see). Efforts are underway to explain how human brains efficiently provide us with semantic memory. By definition, "semantic memory" is conceptual knowledge that we can use independent of any specific spatiotemporal autobiographical context.

photo by Hayford Peirce
Some people might have brain structures that make them particularly obsessive about linear memory and linear narratives. Other people, like Jack Vance, might have brain patterns that allow them to easily meander away from strictly linear narratives. What if "the production of language and the storage of logical, linear and automatic knowledge" interferes with creativity? It might be that authors with the kind of creative imaginations that are prized by science fiction readers are able to easily over-ride the temptation to obsessively remain in a linear narrative mode. Jack Vance had an interest in music and I wonder if his literary creativity was part of a general brain pattern that promotes creativity including musical creativity.

In Exode, Thomas becomes a writer at a very early age. Thomas, shown to the right with Parthney, has an unusual brain. His mother is an Asterothrope and his father is an Ek'col. In addition to his unusual genetic endowment, during early development his brain structure was shaped by an advanced sedronic artificial life form that resided inside him as a symbiont.

Imagine that the Fwai-shi are an ancient race. In Marune they wander through the hills from station to station on their Path of Life. In the Age of Man, the Fwai-Chi have no obvious technology. However, what if the Fwai-chi who remain on the planet Marune are the remnant of what was once a technologically advanced civilization...maybe their technology is so advanced that it is invisible to we primitive humans.

Maybe inside the Fwai-chi are sedronic symbionts that give them access to the sedronic domain, and maybe that is the basis of what Vance described as their special access to the "paracosmos". Maybe the "Fwai-chi drug" that restores Efraim's memory is really advanced sedronic technology. Maybe that technology provides Maerio's son with access to what is essentially a sedronic copy of his father's memories. In my imagined novel Maruna, maybe that Fwai-chi technology could provide Maerio's newborn son with the means to communicate with Maerio.

Maybe some people are forced by the limitations of their brains to feel that linear novels are the way we should tell stories. Maybe Vance, like Thomas, was endowed with an alternative brain structure -or a sedronic symbiont- that allowed him access to a "paracosmos" a domain where the inherently nonlinear nature of reality is easier to perceive.

I've never read any of Vance's "Nopalgarth" stories, but I'm intrigued by the descriptions of them that I have seen.

In the Exode Trilogy, the alien Huaoshy are a billion years ahead of we primitive humans. It is through the transgalactic species domestication program of their agents, the pek, that our particular primate variant came into existence.

Another creation of the pek are the Kac'hin. The Kac'hin are kind of human-asterothrope hybrid, created by the pek about as casually as we might craft a pair of wire cutters. In book one of the Exode Trilogy, the Kac'hin are often mistaken as being the Creators. However, by the third book, another Kac'hin, Kach, sets out on her quest to make contact with the Creators. It is her relentless search for the truth about "paracosmos" that finally provides we Earthlings with our first glimpse of the secret history of our universe.

The Editor
Kach gets a bit out of control and by a strange twist of fate "the Editor" of the Exode Trilogy becomes the means by which some of the hidden history of Earth can be revealed. Of course, "the Editor" has no proof that his stories are part of reality rather than just science fiction.

With a jumble of memories from several other people tumbling around in his mind, "the Editor" struggles to produce a coherent linear narrative. Such are the Editor's excuses for his joining the Gentlemen's Auxiliary of the Society for the Abolition of Footnotes in Novels.

Jan 12, 2014

Let There Be Light

art by Ian Barton
I'm not a fan of short fiction.
I prefer mega fiction sagas, fictional universes that have been intricately crafted and lovingly evolved over the many long decades of an author's life, stories that have been bled out of the veins of an author who was, at a young age, possessed by a demonic muse and forced to imagine an alternate universe that will puzzle, challenge and delight me, a fictional alternate world that I want to visit on the printed page more than I want to exist in our mundane world of reality.

Fictional Universes
The first such fictional universe that I got to explore in the golden science fiction age of my youth was "Doc" Smith's Arisian Universe. The image to the left is a re-imagining of a Lensman cover by William W. Connors.

Then I immersed myself in Heinlein's "future history". His Time Enough for Love includes a character (Lazarus Long) who lives for thousands of years.

Sky with no night.
Those fictional universes were "child's play", for me. I later explored Vance's Oikumenical Universe and Asimov's Galactic Empire and knew that I had arrived "home", I had found my place among the stars.

Sadly, not all of Asimov's science fiction fits into his sweeping saga of the galactic empire...for example, Asimov's story Nightfall, which I was forced to read while in school. If it is the greatest or "best science fiction short story" of the golden age of science fiction then I must lament the quality of the competition. Stories that are constructed as a wordy way to encapsulate a "punch line" and be sold to the editor of a magazine often set my teeth to grinding. To "meet the requirements" for a world where civilization would suddenly collapse, were it ever to become dark, Asimov had to write about an unpleasant place that I would never want to visit. However, the idea of a world with no real night intrigues me.

The bright night of Trullion, by Ian Barton
Alastor Clustor
Jack Vance lovingly invented the world Trullion, a planet nestled in Alastor Clustor, and populated it with a cast of memorable characters.

The folk of Trullion enjoy "sky watches". As imagined by Vance, the night sky of worlds like Trullion are a "flamboyant display of star-streams, luminous webs, sparkling nodes."


"at night the stars of Alastor Cluster blaze in profusion: the sky quivers with beams, glitters and errant flashes."

Galactic Core
In his novel Pebble in the Sky, Asimov wrote about "the unbearable glory of the skies of the Central Worlds, where star elbowed star in such blinding competition that the black of night was nearly lost in a coruscant explosion of light".

Asimov's planet Trantor is morphed into "Tar'tron" in the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

In Sagan's Contact, Ellie has a vision of a "crowded" sky as seen from some point near the center of the galaxy.

The story of Parthney's life begins on the planet Hemmal, a world that is located in the central part of the galaxy. I imagine that the night sky of Hemmal would be quite bright with the combined light of all the nearby stars of the galactic core.

In the night when Parthney leaves his home at Demon Lodge on Hemmal, there is a storm...the clouds are thick and the sky is unusually dark. In order to find their way down the trail, Kach and Parthney need an artificial light source. The fanciful cover to the left depicts the two on a clear night.

Science vs Religion
In Nightfall, Asimov imagined a world where scientists could learn the astronomical truth about their world: once every couple of thousand years an "eclipse" blocks out all sunlight and the stars can finally be seen. However, it is a world full of religious fanatics who feel obligated to argue with the scientists and deny that astronomical truth in favor of belief in their own religious dogma: that blasphemous scientists will bring the wrath of God and cause the destruction of the world.

Such "science vs religion" stories can be tedious and ugly. If I want to contemplate religious bigotry I need only look at our own world...I don't need fictional accounts of ugliness. Sorry, but I don't want to pay young Isaac to waste his time writing about such an ugly subject.

In his novel Contact, Sagan managed to depict a rather tediously long discussion between scientific explorers and religious seekers of Truth. I'm grateful to Robert Zemeckis for bringing to the screen a slim version of Sagan's story in which the religious Palmer and the scientific Ellie are able to "find common ground and bring down the barriers that had kept them apart".

The Darkest Hour
After sweeping readers off to Alastor Cluster, Vance decided to include among its 3,000 human-inhabited worlds a planet (Marune) where night falls only about once a month. During this brief period of "Mirk", the Rhunes experience a kind of temporary madness.

According to Vance, the Rhunes are disgusted by sexuality. However, "about once a month, the land grows dark, and the Rhunes grow restless...sexual activity occurs only as a night-deed."

Both Efraim and his friend Lorcas can't help but be fascinated by Sthelany. During Mirk, both men can't resist the temptation to visit her chamber in Benbuphar castle. Efraim escapes alive, but Lorcas has been lured into a trap by the waspish Sthelany and he is murdered.

Whirling Suns, Dancing Stars
At the dramatic climax of Marune: Alastor 933, Efraim is given back his memory by the Fwai-chi. Efraim experiences the return of his memories as a kind of vision of past events. He suddenly recalls growing up and coming to know Maerio: the sweet discovery that "her company was extraordinarily stimulating" and that she was "remarkably pleasant to look at".

What are we to make of the Fwai-chi "medicine" that restores Efraim's memory? Vance suggests that the alien Fwai-chi are better in tune with a paracosmic medium that lies beyond normal human senses. Has Efraim, with the aid of Fwai-chi nanites, been allowed to tap into a "new" source of knowledge?
Belrod Strang: Efraim comes by aircar to visit the home of Maerio.

Bimanoid Interface
Imagine that the Fwai-chi long ago had a technologically advanced civilization. All that remains are bands of wanderers who cling to the surface of Marune, now a world invaded by humans. The Fwai-chi lead a dual existence: partially in the universe of conventional matter but also with special access to the Sedronic Domain, the part of the universe that is characterized by sedronic mater which can move through additional compact dimensions.

In Exode, Kach is fascinated by the religious faith of the Prelands. The Prelands are hermaphroditic, designed and constructed by the pek to be replacements for we humans. The Prelands know that Hemmal was created for them. In their temples, the Prelands commune with their Creators by a kind of telepathic connection established by femptoscale devices composed of sedronic matter, tiny devices that exist as symbiotic artificial life forms inside the Prelands. Syon refers to this "hotline to the Creators" as a "bimanoid interface".

Kach is a Kac'hin, a human variant that was designed to facilitate the passage of Asterothrope gene combinations into the human gene pool. Because of her genetic background, Kach has some innate ability to use the bimanoid interface. She can sense the existence of the Creators and she is driven to make more complete contact with them.

Parthney also has his fair share of Asterothrope gene combinations. He is a clone of Thomas, the first child of an Asterothrope and an Ek'col to ever be born on Earth. The Ec'kol are another human variant that was crafted by the pek to be inter-fertile with Asterothropes.

Asterothropes are from more than 10,000,000 years in the future of the Malansohn Reality, a time after we humans became extinct. The Asterothropes were designed and constructed by Gohrlay as a tool for spreading people out to the stars from Earth.

When Parthney was young, no attempt was made to adapt his developing brain for efficient interactions with either "pek nanites" or the "bimanoid interface". Parthney views belief in "Creators" as the result of religious indoctrination by the pek. After Parthney has completed his mission to Earth, he is recruited by the Fru'wu to go to the Andromeda galaxy and try to make contact with the Nereids. Parthney returns to the Koly star system where he hopes to recruit helpers for this new mission to Andromeda, but neither Syon or Gwyned want to go with him.

Parthney returns to Hemmal where he finds that Kach is tired of her efforts to understand Preland culture. She has made no progress in her attempts to learn the basis for Preland faith in the existence of Creators. Parthney is surprised to learn that he is the father of Kach's son, Boswei. On the journey to Andromeda Parthney falls in love with Kach and he tries to understand her relentless quest to find the Creators. For a time she explores the hypothesis that the Nereids might be the Creators.
The journey to Andromeda

Planetary art by Geoffroy Thoorens
Now that Kach is older and no longer dresses like a Preland, Parthney is also intrigued by her resemblance to Syon. Long ago, Gohrlay developed a protocol for shaping Asterothropes into human form and that same developmental sculpting program was adopted for the Kac'hin.

After Boswei and Hana decide to settle on Luk'ru, it is eventually discovered that the Kac'hin were designed and created on that world in the Andromeda galaxy. However, by that time Kach has been lost to Parthney. With time, he is able to interest his grandson, Izhiun, in the puzzle of Kach's disappearance.

Izhiun finds the remaining Kac'hin on Luk'ru and learns the secrets of his grandmother's origin and the fact that she has gone to Earth. He agrees to participate in the rescue operation that will try to free Kach from Observer Base on the Moon.

I previously decided that Kach would contact the Nereids on a planet near the core of the Andromeda galaxy.

I'm now thinking that the planet Luk'ru should also be in the crowded central part of the Andromeda galaxy. It is one of the worlds engineered by the pek as a place for crafting special human variants like the Kac'hin during the time when Gohrlay was in control of our galaxy and the pek had to create human variants in another galaxy.
There are more thoughts about the Fwai-chi in my next blog post.

Note: for more about the Bimanoid Interface see my blog post on Cory Corneigh.

Related Reading: more on the role of nanites and artificial life forms in Alastor Clustor.
More book and magazine covers.