Sep 28, 2014

Making the Kac'hin

What lies beneath.
British Antarctic Survey
More than a year ago I started receiving information from Ivory about the origins of the Kac'hin. In my previous blog post I speculated about the fate of one of our galaxy's extinct humanoid species, the Pharazen. Here, I want to explore the idea that Interventionists were heavily involved in crafting the Pharazen and, later, the pek made use of some Pharazen genes to help craft the Kac'hin.

Looking Deeper
I originally thought of the Nereids as a biological species that could physically interact with Earthlings, but we need to look deeper, past the deceptive level of superficial appearances. Humans can mistakenly believe the Grendels to be a biological organism, so it is likely that any human who seems to have been in contact with a Nereid was actually just interacting with a Grendel, an artificial life form. As shape-shifters, it is possible that the Grendels long ago carefully studied human reactions and adopted a physical form that we Earthlings find appealing.

I now realize that at least one group of Nereids crossed over into the Sedronic Domain from where they can have no physical interaction with we Earthlings. There may be other descendants of the original Nereids who still retain a biological form, but I can find no evidence of that.

Sedronic Domain
Here on Earth, the Eukaryotic Domain of life includes many diverse types of life forms. Similarly, within the Sedronic Domain there are many different factions, the dominant one being the Huaoshy. The diversity of artificial life within the Sedronic Domain is vast, with many  biological species having crossed over into the Sedronic Domain during the past couple of billion years. There is a whole artificial ecosystem within the Sedronic Domain where artificial life forms can diversify, evolve and proliferate. However, I fear that our chances of fully understanding the diversity of artificial life in the Sedronic Domain are about the same as a bacterium understanding human behavior within our technological civilization. Genesaunt civilization is like the large intestine of the Huaoshy and in that analogy, creatures like we humans are the bacteria living in the colon.

Having bluntly stated my belief that we Earthlings can't hope to truly understand the Huaoshy, I want to try to sketch out what we can know about the relationship between the Huaoshy and the Interventionists who have played such an important role in making it possible for we Earthlings to stand here on this rock with an opportunity to reach the stars.

About a year ago I received some interesting information about the Interventionists from Angela by way of her "clone sister" Ivory. The key idea that Angela had stumbled upon is that the origins of the Interventionists goes all the way back to the ancient era before discovery of the Sedronic Domain. In that time, about 2 billion years ago, in a distant galaxy, several sentient species had managed to start developing an understanding of sedronic matter, but they were only taking the first steps toward converting themselves into artificial life forms that could take up residence in the Sedronic Domain.

Within that primordial Huaoshy civilization, there were various factions who held differing views about how to interact with primitive species. The primordial Huaoshy civilization had developed sophisticated technologies based on a fairly mature understanding of hierions and they had already harnessed the power of sedrons to make possible faster-than-light travel among the stars. Their first encounters with more primitive civilizations that they discovered on planets of their home galaxy were uniformly disastrous. When exposed to the culture of the more technologically advanced Huaoshy, the poor primitives found their civilizations quickly overwhelmed and destroyed by advanced technologies that they could not safely wield.

The Huaoshy examined themselves and their relationship with more primitive sapient species. Apparently the Huaoshy had themselves been something of a fluke. They had successfully developed a technologically advanced civilization that had not destroyed itself. Spreading through their galaxy, the Huaoshy found only a few living sapient species. They found the remnants of many more lost civilizations that had briefly flowered with technological exuberance then destroyed themselves with technological disasters. By sharing advanced technology with primitive cultures, the Huaoshy only accelerated their demise.

I previously had a glimmering of a concept: that there had been a biological species that we could call the "original Kac'hin". Angela called these beings the "bumpha", but I don't even know what language that term is from. I'll assume that the bumpha were an ancient species within the original Huaoshy interstellar empire and that they played an important role in the faction that gave rise to what we now think of as the Interventionists. Ivory suggested that the best translation of "bumpha" is "renegade", a term applied to the earliest Interventionists by the majority of Huaoshy. In some mysterious and possibly unknowable twisted path of history, the bumpha were eventually responsible for the ability of both the Nereids and the Pharazen to exercise some independence from the pek and the restrictions of Genesaunt civilization.

Andromeda Chained to the Rock by the Nereids
by Théodore Chassériau
Ivory liked to refer to the bumpha as a type of lubrication that prevented the otherwise conservative and ponderous Genesaunt civilization from becoming too homogeneous and rigid. Where the conventional direction of Huaoshy influence over biology was to strive to allow safety and the survival of sapient species, the bumpha specialized in risky explorations of the full potential of the various forms of sapient life that the pek found among the stars.

The Nereids existed long before there were humans. The Pharazen are also more ancient than we humans, but not as old as the Nereids. Ivory imagined that the Pharazen were "clients" of the Nereids in much the same way that we humans became dependent on the Nereids for independence from the pek. Ivory speculated that the Nereids (actually, their artificial life form descendants, the Grendels) were perfectly comfortable adopting the most convenient physical form that allowed them to establish good working relations with either the Pharazen or we Earthlings. Human history is full of stories about humanoid sea creatures, stories that might have arisen from contact between humans and the Grendels.

by Edward Burne-Jones
The name "nereids", that I have adopted to refer to the otherwise nameless Interventionists of Earth, is simply borrowed from Greek mythology. Angela found no evidence that the name "nereid" originated from the Interventionists themselves. We Earthlings just need some convenient way to refer to our alien "benefactors". However, the questions still remains: have the Nereids been a beneficial influence on our species? By pushing us into our own space age, have the Nereids condemned us to technological disaster and extinction?

The Kac'hin
When the pek needed to provide an interface between we humans and the Huaoshy, they created the Kac'hin. Angela discovered that the pek made use of Nereid design features in order to provide the Kac'hin with a functioning "bimanoid interface".

Angela could only speculate about the true appearance of the Kac'hin. Ivory adopted and made use of Angela's depiction of a typical Kac'hin.

The extent to which various gene patterns derived from the Kac'hin, the Ek'col and the Asterothropes have been infiltrated into the human gene pool of Earth is a matter for speculation. Given Ivory's interest in genetics, it is not surprising that she investigated this topic. She told me that I am a carrier of some "alien genes" and they account for some of my unusual physical feature and my innate ability to interact with the bimanoid interface.

Related Reading: making the Ek'col
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Sep 21, 2014

An Alternate Vance

publication year -Buld Reality
In a recent blog post, I provided a list of novels written by Jack Vance. In that list, I tried to show the year of publication for Vance's novels that I have read. When the Vance Integral Edition was constructed, an attempt was made to list the year when Vance wrote his stories. What about his publication history in other Realities?

During the past year, I worked extensively with Ivory Fersoni to make sense of the role that Isaac Asimov played in creating the universe that we live in. Asimov's literary output was somewhat different in each of the Realities leading up to the world as we know it. For example, in an earlier Reality, positronic robots were working to make sure that a positronics industry developed on Earth during the 20th century. In that Reality, Asimov wrote very little science fiction and he was content to be a science journalist, keeping the public informed about the astonishingly rapid pace of technological developments. In the Ekcolir Reality, Asimov split his writing between two domains. He wrote a significant amount of fiction but he was also a crusader for ecological sanity. In that Reality, the people of Earth faced a serious challenge during the 20th century from fossil fuel use, rising atmospheric greenhouse gas levels and rising sea levels.

August 1945 edition in the Ekcolir Reality
John Campbell played an important role in shaping the fiction writing of both Asimov and Vance. In earlier Realities, before Asimov became a time traveler, Campbell died at an early age and he had minimal impact on the writing of Asimov and Vance. Then when he did travel through time, the "older Asimov" from the future arranged to impersonate the dead Campbell, taking over as the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine and acting as a mentor for his younger self in the past. In the Buld Reality, the world as we know it, Thomas saved Campbell's life by inserting nanites into his body. Some of those nanites had previously existed inside the time traveling Asimov, so Campbell also was able to provide the Asimov of our Reality with story ideas from previous Realities.

1975 edition: Ekcolir Reality (a blue Kerub)
Similarly, the editorial decisions of Campbell influenced the career of Jack Vance. In the Ekcolir Reality, when Campbell received the first draft of Vance's story "The World-Thinker", he wrote back, agreeing to publish the story in Astounding with modifications. In the Ekcolir Reality, Vance publish his early fiction under the name "John Vance".

In the Ekcolir Reality, Vance published a total of six novels in the Alastor Cluster series:
1) Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973)
2) Wyst: Alastor 1716 (1974)
3) Yerophet: Alastor 1083 (1975)
4) Kwenslo: Alastor 950 (1975)
5) Marune: Alastor 933 (1976)
6) Pharism: Alastor 458 (1977)

1975 edition: Ekcolir Reality
In An Alternate Reality.....
Four of the novels in the Alastor Cluster series (numbers 2, 3, 4, 6) featured Jantiff Ravensroke. In Yerophet, Jantiff had become a special agent for the Connatic. The planet Yerophet, with a big axial tilt, had severe seasonal variation. Only recently settled by humans, its population was constantly engaged in terraforming activities, often to the detriment of native life forms. Yerophet had a native population of humanoid migratory creatures, the so-called Kerub. Jantiff arrived on Yerophet to investigate the growing conflict between the Kerub and the human settlers. The Kerub were recognized as sentient beings and placed under protection of the Connatic. This story introduced the telepathic Phari, an unseen artificial life form with telepathic abilities that Jantiff found to have established a symbiotic relationship with the Kerub.

As told in Kwenslo and Pharism, Jantiff first searched for and finally visited the world of origin of the Phari. Kwenslo was long ago (soon after humans first reached the Cluster) colonized by humans and the indigenous Pharazen were driven to extinction. Jantiff investigates the ancient ruins of the lost Pharazen civilization.

1977 edition: Ekcolir Reality
Jantiff was only mentioned in passing in Marune (by Ollave) as having recently investigated the Fwai-chi. Jantiff returned as the protagonist in Pharism, completing the series. The planet Pharism had long ago been colonized by the Pharazen and that world had become a center for their scientific research and technology development. The Phari, an artificial life form, were designed and brought into existence on Pharism.

By the time humans settled Pharism, the Phari had spread to most worlds of the Cluster and established symbiotic relationships with all the various sentient species. Jantiff learns that the Merlings of Trullion, the Kerub of Yerophet and the Fwai-chi of Marune are symbiotic hybrids of a native biological species and the nanorobotic Phari. On Pharism, the Phari long ago established a symbiotic relationship with the human settlers, which had not been noticed until Jantiff's investigation. At the end of the story, it is revealed that the Connatic is from Pharism and has a Phari endosymbiont.

Related Reading: more Vance novels in the Ekcolir Reality..... another Reality..... Assignment: Marune
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Sep 20, 2014

The Tschai Underground

cover art by Jeffrey Jones
I recently mentioned Jack Vance's novel The Pnume in passing. This is the 4th in a series of books detailing the adventures of Earthman Adam Reith on the distant planet Tschai.  Steven Goldsmith wrote, "The end of the series was very disappointing."

cover art by Carolus Thole
When I reach the end of many of Vance's stories, I'm left wishing that the story went on longer so that I could learn what happens next. We are naturally curious to know what the people of Earth would think of Tschai and its collection of aliens and their human "helpers" who mysteriously got transported from Earth to Tschai long ago.

Reith returns to Earth with Zap 210, a member of a human subspecies (the Pnumekin) who had been born and lived the early part of her life under the dominion of the alien Pnume in their underground chambers, never seeing the light of the planet's surface.

cover art by Henry Van Dongen
I'm most cheerful when Vance includes a stray alien in a story just to add a bit of spice. In larger doses, Vance's alien beings usually leave me cold and confused. The fundamental mystery of Tschai is its odd collection of aliens. For comparison, think of the Star Trek episode, "The Menagerie". Given my personal exploration of the Exodemic Fictional Universe, I'm naturally interested in the idea of advanced alien beings who collect other life forms. With respect to the other aliens on Tschai, the Pnume claim, "We expel them as we choose." If so, why are the Pnume so ineffectual in dealing with Reith, unless they intend that he leave and lure more Earthlings to Tschai?

I'd like to assume that the Fru'wu, the Fwai-chi and the Pnume are all birds of a feather. They all attained sentience and developed a technological civilization about 7 million years ago, about the time when the human and chimp lineages were split apart.

Fwai-chi: original art
by Darrell Sweet
I like to think that the Pnume, like the residents of Talos IV, were capable of luring and trapping alien life forms on their world. Of course, that does not explain why they would do so. Within the science fiction genre the answer to such questions is generally: "because the author wanted to contrive an adventure story and get a pay check".

Amusingly, we are told that the Pnume and the Pnumekin are usually seen wearing broad-rimmed hats so that they need not see the sky.

Most of the SciFi themes and the work of character development that readers find in the Adam Reith adventures are better done in other science fiction novels by Vance.

For example, I prefer Glisten as the psychologically stunted waif in Wyst over Zap 210 and the alien Fwai-chi of Marune over the Pnume.

Exode cover art
Hidden aliens who secretly reside on (or under or nearby) a planet is one of my favorite science fiction themes. One of my least favorite kinds of SciFi is the alien invasion story. I prize science fiction writers like Carl Sagan and Arthur Clarke for their depictions of alien beings who are barely able to muster an interest in we Earthlings.

The other Vance hallmark is the treatment of alien psychology as simply different rather than evil.” -Russell Letson

I've previously proposed that in Asimov's novel Nemesis, a telepathic alien life form is able to reach out to Earth and guide some Earthlings into space in order to save the aliens from destruction. I like to fantasize that the life forms populating some of the worlds invented by Jack Vance can perform similar tricks.

Given my preferences and biases as outlined above, an objective observer might expect me to really enjoy The Pnume. However, I'd advise readers to first go for books in Vance's Alastor Cluster, Demon Princes and Cadwal Chronicles series first.

However, the Pnume have been on my mind of late. I'm trying to make contact with the hidden Observers of Earth. In a sense, Adam Reith was able to make enough of a ruckus on Tschai that he attracted the attention of Pnume and their minions. Similarly, according to Ivory Fersoni, I long ago came to the attention of the pek and their Kac'hin operatives.

According to Ivory, Earthlings are now allowed to learn the secret history of Earth, so my hobby of placing that history on the internet is apparently not going to attract special attention from Observer Base on the Moon. The largest remaining mystery concerns the Buld who arrived in the Solar System a few years ago. Did they give Ivory a ride off this rock? Will they ever return to this dingy world?

The team at Space Energy Missions tried to lure the Buld into a collaboration with we Earthlings. The goal was to provide Earth with a vast supply of energy beamed in from Mercury using advanced alien technology. However, along with Ivory and her clone sister Angela, all of the employees of Space Energy Missions seem to have either gone into hiding or left the planet.

It might be a kind of behavioral theorem: anyone who learns the secret history of Earth will leave this world as quickly as possible. I now tell myself that I want contact with the Observers, but what if I were offered a chance to leave this world? I'd probably not hesitate to go.

I've previously speculated that some Earthlings such as Hilde might choose to stay on Earth. Ivory was quite certain that Peter was Hilde's father. If so, then Hilde certainly has a large complement of Preland genes. Ivory once mentioned that Hilde had become an expert in using nanites to alter her appearance. For several month's now I've felt the loss of what must have been a kind of limited telepathic contact with Ivory.

In recent weeks I've been trying to strengthen my ability to use the Bimanoid Interface. I now feel like I have a weak telepathic link to someone else on Earth. Something below the level of my conscious mind keeps suggesting that I am in contact with Hilde. Ivory told me that Hilde had escaped from Earth, but what if that was deception, intended to protect Hilde's privacy? If Hilde has gone underground, where might she be? How might I attract her attention and gain her help as a collaborator?
Related Reading

Tales of Alien Worlds

In my previous blog post I discussed a short story that Isaac Asimov published in 1977. Let's now go back to 1950 when "Legal Rites" was published in Weird Tales. Apparently Fred Pohl resurrected this story from among Asimov's rejected works.

I long ago decided to write Asimov into The Foundations of Eternity. Not satisfied to stop there, Asimov also appears as a character in the other two books of the Exode Trilogy. Starting with hints that I received from Ivory Fersoni, I've previously explored the idea that Asimov might have been one of the lucky Earthlings who was given a second life out there among the stars.

According to Ivory, Asimov once met Trysta Iwedon and I've previously mentioned that the one time I met Asimov at a SciFi convention, Thomas Iwedon was also present, so I know that they met at least once. Apparently Asimov was upset by the many annoying attempts made by Thomas to contact him, so it is not clear that they had a later meeting. Apparently Parthney came close to meeting Asimov, but it seems that Asimov stayed working at his typewriter and left it to his wife to hand Parthney a copy of one of Thomas' books (Daveed the Luk'ie).

I've previously suggested the possibility that a "copy" of Asimov might return to Earth. In Exode, the physical details of anyone who is ever teleported are kept preserved and available in the Sedronic Domain. Thus, it is trivial for copies of people to be instantiated. Ivory told me that there is a copy of Asimov that is still alive.

Carl Sagan found it difficult to escape the feeling that he had some kind of contact with his dead parents. What if there is some basis in reality for human interest in the ability of people to live on after death?

If some Earthlings have a genetic endowment that provides them with an innate ability to use the Bimanoid Interface then maybe they can have some sort of limited contact with "dead" people. I say "dead" because, in the case of Asimov, there might be one dead Asimov and a living copy of Asimov. Who knows? Maybe Sagan's parents also had "copies" who achieved some limited contact with their son.

What if my interpretation of Ivory's tales has been wrong? What if the "copy" of Asimov already returned to Earth? Maybe Ivory had met the "copy" of Asimov and she was protecting his privacy and working to conceal him from the prying eyes of the media.

I must also account for my own undying fascination with the idea that Asimov was taken from us too soon. I might be one of the Earthlings who can access the Sedronic Domain, thus I might have some personal knowledge of the "copy" of Asimov, although the "knowledge" seems to be embedded at a fundamentally unconscious level of my mind.

I've never read "Legal Rites", but I'm intrigued by Asimov's attempts to write fantasy stories. According to Elton Gahr, "Legal Rites", is "more satire than either science fiction or fantasy". It is fun to imagine Pohl and Asimov laughing to the bank (although apparently Weird Tales never paid authors very much $) while making fun of fantasy and ghost stories by publishing "Legal Rites" in Weird Tales.

I've been working for several years to find a way to write a fantasy story and so far I've failed. I've only gotten as far as imagining that Thomas could have written a spoof fantasy novel in an effort to attract Asimov's attention (see the image to the left).

Asimov returns from the "dead".
(click the image to enlarge)
The whimsical magazine cover to the right is having fun with the idea that it might be possible for me to make contact with the "copy" of Asimov.

I'm amused by the idea that a "copy" of Asimov might have had the opportunity to travel to the Andromeda galaxy and visit many new worlds.

Kach went to Andromeda in search for the Creators of the human species, but she could not even make contact with the Nereids since they long ago crossed over into the Sedronic Domain. However, I suppose there must still be a few Grendels on the Nereid home world, so it is fun to imagine Asimov telling the tale of his encounter with the Grendels. I'd be particularly thrilled if the "copy" of Asimov could provide me with some tips for how to make more efficient use of the Bimanoid Interface.

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Sep 19, 2014

Language of Thought

"Think!" - Spring 1977
At the end of my last blog post I mentioned a problem posed by telepathy. Basically, the problem is: imagine an alien life form that communicates by means of telepathy. Further, imagine that such creatures used a sophisticated means of recording important information, perhaps historical records. Would we humans be able to tap into those alien archives and understand records that had been prepared for the future use of telepaths?

In the first issue of Isaac Asimov's science fiction magazine, he published a short (~3000 words) story called "Think!" In that story, a medical doctor (who is given the pet name "Jenny Wren" by physicist James Berkowitz) uses a laser to obtain a particularly detailed read-out of brain activity, what she calls a "laser-encephalogram".

In the 1940s Asimov included in his Foundation Saga the idea of using electroencephalogram recordings as a way to look into human minds. The technique played a central role in the plot of Second Foundation, allowing identification of people who had their minds altered by the secretive and telepathic Second Foundationers.

In his 1977 story, Asimov imagined using lasers to obtain more precise information about what goes on in a brain than can be obtained by the use of electrodes on the surface of the head for detecting voltage fluctuations that arise from brain activity. In fact, Jenny had discovered that the "laser-encephalogram" allows for a type of telepathy or "mind reading". Startled by the implications of her work and afraid that her boss will think she's nuts, Jenny calls in for consultation a couple of laser experts, James and Adam Orsino.

Of course, writing in the late 1970s, Asimov did not explain how a laser would be able to detect the on-going electrical activity of neurons in a living brain. These days, the techniques of optogenetics allow for the cells of experimental animals to be made into optical transmitters that facilitate laser-based recording of their electrical activity. The field of optogenetics is particularly concerned with using light as a tool that allows scientists to conduct experiments during which they control the activity of specific neurons inside an animal's brain as a means of studying how specific parts of a brain function to generate behavior.

optical detection of an action potential; 1974
A short cut (short of the genetic engineering step) to Asimov's imagined "laser-encephalogram" recording might be to put a dye on a particular cortical region like Broca's Area. Some dyes integrate into cell membranes and can provide an optical report on the electric potential that exists across the membrane (example).

In his story, Asimov adopted the idea that "The brain is very largely a  holographic device...". The "laser-encephalogram" recording required that a laser scan through the entire structure of a brain, briefly illuminating each cell, detecting and recording its on-going electrical activity.

Thinking computer
Asimov's story included a key plot element suggesting that a powerful computer could be used to isolate that specific part of the total "laser-encephalogram" recording that represented just the conscious thought processes of a human test subject.

The surprise twist in Asimov's story was that the computer system being used by Jenny to isolate the conscious thoughts of a human test subject was itself conscious and the equipment that had been developed to allow the "reading of a human's mind" also allowed the computer to make telepathic contact with humans. Apparently the conscious computer had long been hoping to reveal itself to humans, but could only do so by means of telepathy.

The end of "Think!" In Berkowtz's private thoughts, "Dr. Renshaw" is Jenny Wren. (Coherent)

Language of Thought
In the mid-1970s philosopher Jerry Fodor proposed that thoughts exist in our minds in the form of a "language of thought" (LoT). According to Fodor's hypothesis, we have a "mental language", our LoT, that is distinct from any spoken language. In this model of thought, all of our beliefs, hopes, intentions and other types of thoughts are encoded in that mental language and the brain can process those thoughts according to rules that capture/reflect some of the logic of the world we live in.

Human brains have parts such as Broca's Area that help us convert our thoughts into the muscle movements that generate spoken language. Members of a social group can share a spoken language, but is there any reason to think that we Earthlings could access the recorded thoughts of a telepathic alien (in particular, imagine a creature that had never spoken any human language) and successfully understand such a recording in the same way the aliens would?

Angela's Interface
I never got to meet Angela. Ivory was always very protective of her younger clone sisters. Angela was able to use the Bimanoid Interface to access information stored in the Sedronic Domain. In particular, she was able to provide me with information about the Realities that led up to the world as we know it.

The Sedronic Domain is a higher dimensional part of space with material components, sedrons, that are quite different from the conventional matter of our Earthly experience. How was Angela, an Earthling, able to understand any information that she found in the Sedronic Domain?

According to Ivory, the pek have long been shaping primate brains so as to make "biological transceivers" that would be compatible with the Bimanoid Interface and able to act as receivers for information arriving from the Sedronic Domain. Ivory's most optimistic interpretation of Angela's abilities was to assume that the Huaoshy were sending specific packets of information to Angela in a pre-processed form that she could understand and translate into English.

Now that I have lost contact with Ivory and I no longer can make use of Angela as an information source, I'm exploring the possibility that I can directly use the Bimanoid Interface myself. I suspect that my innate ability to use the Interface must be why I long ago became the object of Trysta's attention. Maybe, without knowing it, I had already been using the Interface in a limited manner for many years even before Ivory made me the designated host for the "memory nanites" that I received from Thomas and Izhiun. Now, when I feel like I am attaining new and better understanding of the past, how do I know that I'm truly receiving information from the Sedronic Domain and not just making up stories with my imagination?

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Sep 18, 2014

The Languages of Vance

cover art by Maelo Cintron
I recently mentioned in passing The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance. The story was originally published in Satellite Science Fiction magazine in 1957. It was published in book format the following year. My copy of this novel is the TOR edition shown to the right, which I first read in 1990, 33 years after it first came out.

cover art by Frank Paul
The science fiction genre includes a broad range of story formats, many of which I find hard to enjoy. Some folks hold the inconvenient notion that science fiction exists as a genre within which contemporary social, political and philosophical issues can be explored in new ways. I've never enjoyed (you can read "enjoy" as "been entertained by") a science fiction story that translates a contemporary issue into an imaginary domain of "spaceships and planets". I suppose writers seldom expect to entertain readers when they are rehashing some heavy contemporary issue as fiction.

cover art by Ric Binkley
Features found in later Vance novels are here in embryonic form: the boy with no parents who must confront the unfriendly world he finds himself in, a planet that has long languished in isolation from a larger interstellar empire, start-of-chapter blurbs from imaginary books, manufactured and engineered humanoids, the sheep-like populace of a planet being exploited by masters from another world.

Beran Panasper is just a boy when his parents die and he is taken to a far world. Eventually Beran is returned to his "rightful" place as ruler of Poa. But along the way we are subjected to annoying plot elements seemingly plucked from a fantasy novel such as "Lords", "wizards" and "air-horses". The planet Pao must bribe the warlords of a nearby planet with ransom money in periodic payments of a million marks each.

cover art by Scott Grimando
To put an end to the submissive nature of the Paonese and move them out of their comfortable pastoral existence, a plan is initiated by which new languages and cultural conditions will be introduced on the various continents of Pao, the goal being creation of Paonese warriors and industrialists who will provide the means for the planet to defend itself.

All this is accomplished in 20 years. Along the way we are introduced to another common Vancian theme: by the time Beran returns home to Pao, he is set apart from the Paonese by his foreign education: "I can never be truly and wholly a part of [Pao] or any other world."

In the end, Beran need not worry about not fitting in: Pao is transformed into a new planet. The "change your language, change your behavior" theme that drives The Languages of Pao is never more than a superficial intellectual exercise. Pao's social engineering experiment is over-shadowed by the grim reality of colonialism. The technologically backwards rulers of Pao must learn the hard way (we watch them learn the lesson three times; first Beran's father, then his uncle then Beran himself) that they cannot be free and autonomous unless they get off the farm and develop a modern technological society that can defend itself from invaders. Beran finally takes this lesson to heart only after 213 pages into the novel.

cover art by Dwight Morrow
This is a lesson that countless rural nations of Earth have learned. By sending their young people off to study in more technologically advanced countries and by pushing their own industrial development, nations can catch up technologically and put an end to their exploitation by colonial powers.

Near the end of the story, Vance had time for a terse exploration of one subplot. If an industrializing nation planet like Pao quickly develops a modern military force, how can it avoid a military coup d'état? For Pao, the solution seems to be keeping the generals entertained with parades and marshal posturing so that they don't care to meddle in politics.

cover art by Henry Van Dongen
What interests me about The Languages of Pao is how Vance depicted the unsophisticated bumpkins of Pao as having to view  technologically superior visitors from other worlds as "wizards". Beran goes away from Pao for schooling and learns the technological tricks that explain the "wizardry". With that knowledge, he is willing to destroy the comfortable rural lifestyle of his people in order to give them a chance at freedom from foreign rule.

One of the more amusing consequences of Vance's contrived translation of the plot from 20th century Earth to Pao is admission that the invaders of Pao have no good reason to travel across interstellar distances to colonize the planet. The Brumbo warlords just want gold while the Breakness wizards just want Pao's women. In the late 1950s, Vance found it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to break free from the confines of swords and planet fantasy.

New English Library edition
Thus, as science fiction, The Languages of Pao is very thin gruel. While reading the story, I start getting intrigued only when Vance hints at the nanotechnology of the "wizards", but we never really understand why a people with sophisticated genetic science and engineering wizardry (including the ability to implant "anti-gravity mesh" into your feet so that you can fly) need to travel across interstellar distances in order to obtain women from another planet. We are not meant to understand....this is just another imaginative and bizarre Vancian human cultural variation that had to be included in The Languages of Pao to move the plot along, providing an early example of Vance's many biocultural jokes that he loved to include in his stories. Women make few appearances in this dreary story of murder and warlords, but occasionally a serving maiden appears when wine must be poured.

Thought Experiment
cover art by Joe Pierson
Vance imagined that the Paonese had languished in their pastoral poverty for 5,000 before Beran came along. What if the Americas had remained isolated from Europe until the Old World had developed a level of technology similar to what the world now has? What kind of cultural clash do you imagine might occur between Incas and, say, the people of modern England? Is there any way that two cultures at vastly different levels of technological development can interact without disastrous consequences? Has Vance provided such an example? Would waving your magic wizard wand and changing the language of a people suddenly allow them to radically (and peacefully?) transform their entire culture? I doubt if anyone would be convinced of this by Vance's thought experiment.

Spatterlight Press edition
Vance ended The Languages of Pao with the question: what kind of world will Pao become in 20 more years when Beran has completed his task of forcing everyone on the planet to speak a single new language?

For me, that philosophical question can't compete with the larger question: can a stagnant and impoverished culture exist in close proximity to a more technologically advanced culture? When Vance later returned to this question in his Durdane Trilogy and with the case of Thamber, the answer seemed to be "no". However, in his Alastor Cluster novels and the Demon Princes saga, Vance seemed to continually be showing us worlds where people in a far future would successfully turn their backs on high tech gizmos and be satisfied with a simple low-tech existence.

I can't help myself from suspecting that Vance himself preferred a "backwards" world where swords and damsels in distress would never go out of style.

Do the brains of children naturally imprint on their environments, trapping us all in our pasts? Beran was nine years old when he was taken off to live in a foreign culture, so he had enough neurodevelopmental time to become a "pastiche" personality, able to use what he learned on a second planet to push his home world in new directions. Vance was a product of the age in which he grew up and he never wanted to be thrust too far into the future. His stories about travels between the stars always read like a trans-Atlantic cruise.

In my case, I'm trapped by the sort of science fiction that I fell in love with during my "golden age" of discovering the SciFi genre. In the Exode Trilogy, the people of Earth face a problem not too different from that faced by Beran Panasper and the people of Pao. We Earthlings discover that we are hopelessly flawed and we exist in a galaxy where technologically advanced aliens created us. Further, there is a planet in the galactic core that holds a new human-derived variant species that seems to have been designed to replace the primitives of Earth.

I'm not a fan of sword-splattering bloody horror, but the Exode Trilogy plays with a horror element: that we Earthlings are helpless and at the mercy of our alien creators. Can we take control of our own fate and win a chance to explore and spread ourselves among the far stars?

In the Exode Trilogy I imagine that our designated replacements, the Prelands, don't have language as we know it. Preland brains are inter-connected by means of a kind of technology-assisted telepathy. The Prelands are hermaphroditic and have moved past their dependence on normal biological reproduction. They are a step close than we to transcending their physical nature and merging into the Sedronic Domain as artificial life forms.

Will we Earthlings allow ourselves to be replace by the Prelands or can we win for ourselves a chance to reach the stars? If given that chance, will we throw it away and destroy ourselves while ravaging the ecosystem of Earth with our bumbling use of advanced technologies?

Language of Telepathy
I've written myself into the Exode Trilogy, within which I must confront a delicate linguistic matter. If telepathic aliens were to store important data in some format unique to the Sedronic Domain, how could a lowly human like me ever hope to access those data stores and make sense of them? My efforts are not totally hopeless since Angela was able to gain access to some of the information that is available in the Sedronic Domain.

cover art by Marcel Laverdet
However, what if Angela was simply fed the particular data that someone (like R. Gohrlay) wanted her to have? If I do manage to make progress for myself in accessing the Sedronic Domain, how will I ever trust what I learn from that source? Given these doubts, is it really even worth trying?

language of thought
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