Feb 25, 2015

The Dancing Earth

Science fantasy adventure
Jack Vance's character Ghyl Tarvoke
is brought into Reality to live
in the world as we know it.
During the past few weeks, since Irhit severed my links to the Hierion Domain, I'd begun to suspect that I've been cut off from the Dead Widower Society. However, I was just given access to a new "story" attributed to the founding member of the Dead Widowers. Actually, the online "document" that I was allowed to read is in the form of an interview conducted by a news reporter. The "story" is only hinted at during the interview, so it is left as a creative writing exercise for us to recreate the story in our minds and judge to what extent it represents reality.....

"Dance is one of the most powerful forms of magical ritual" -Ted Andrews

Star Dance- Brisé
As mentioned in my previous blog post, Ghyl Tarvoke is the protagonist in Jack Vance's science fiction novel Emphyrio. In the previous Reality, the one that existed before world as we know it (what I think of as the Buld Reality), Ghyl "arrived" on the planet Tar'tron and soon found himself in a confused state of mind, as if he were waking from a thousand-year-long dream. At first, Ghyl could see nothing: there were only voices.....

Voice 1: He's emotionally stable at this level. I won't push him to the next.

Voice 2: He's like a bee in a bottle, getting more and more angry. It's time to let him out.

Voice 1: Why are you suddenly in such a hurry? He's still just a larva.

Voice 2: Ghyl, can you hear me?

Ghyl: Yes, I hear.

Voice 2: Excellent. Svahr, finish the assembly sequence. Now! Help me bring him to full consciousness.

Svahr: Stop that! I'll do it. You're messing it all up. Let me do it.

For Ghyl, something changed and he suddenly became aware of sensations from his entire body. He was trapped and unable to move. Trapped! Now, with his emotions fully engaged, he could feel sweat begin to form on his skin. The sweat began to evaporate and a cool sensation teased his panic, it accented his fear of the darkness that oppressed him. He could feel that his eyes were open; he could blink, but he was in a horrifying well of gloom. From the depths of that darkness, Ghyl could feel the warmth of a nearby body: the second voice came from someone who stood close by. It was a crisp, enchanting female voice. The voice of Svahr came from further away and, if Ghyl's hearing could be trusted, it was a voice being formed by an inhuman mouth.

Ghyl wondered: was a Lord preparing to exercise the Rites of Inquisition?

Svahr: I'm bringing him online, but his global pattern buffer is completely empty.

Voice 1: I want to try it this way. Just do it.

Ghyl imagined that the woman standing close by his side was bored, as if she had previously been through this a dozen times already. In contrast, the inhuman voice of Svahr sounded tense and annoyed, as if  being forced to proceed with a dangerous task while ignoring common sense precautions.

"Core" by Andrey Lifanov
Svahr: But he knows nothing of the Core or Tar'tron or Obsidia's Observer program nor will he remember us.

Voice 1: So what?

Svahr: Look for yourself. Ghyl is having a bad reaction to this assembly sequence.....see the activity in his amygdala? He's caught in an emotional storm, even worse than last time. Observe how he struggles against the restraining harness. Put yourself in his position, Janet, what would-

Janet: Oh, for Time's sake, stop worrying! We have to set him free's just going to be sooner rather than later.

Svahr: I don't trust you. Did you send Bet away so that you could pull this stunt? Did you even bother to discuss this with Obsidia?

Janet: Discuss? With Obsidia? No, but she gave me orders. The schedule is being modified and we need to speed up the assembly. Ghyl, I'm going to slowly bring up some longer wavelengths of light so that you can begin to see again. Svahr, stand by to squelch any positive feedback loops that develop in the occipital lobe.

Ghyl's first glimpse of Janet.
A red-tinted visual world formed in Ghyl's mind. Janet was there, peering down at him. She smiled and asked, "Do you feel in control, is your mind clear?"

Staring up at Janet, a Janet seemingly composed of dim bloody clouds, Ghyl decided that she was human: a normal woman, not a Lord. Actually, she was quite pretty and her calm demeanor projected a suave intelligence. Ghyl felt like he somehow knew her inner nature, her soul, while at the same time she was a complete stranger. He relaxed and stopped straining against the harness. His throat was hot and dry, but he manage to croak out a word, "Better." Light, even a sick red light, was far better than a prison of darkness.

Janet pointed a finger at his face and Ghyl felt a rinse of clean cold water enter his mouth and sooth his dry throat. Sensing that Janet would not harm him, Ghyl began to babble a bit, expressing his relief. "I thought I was back with the Lords, being subjected to another interrogation." His thoughts were full of searing memories of past torture.

Janet giggled, awash with a giddy sense of relief, knowing that by taking a risk she had cut the Gordian knot: her decades of waiting were almost over. She was thinking far beyond that pain of his dire memories and was clearly amused by something that escaped Ghyl's comprehension. "Just relax, Ghyl, I'll get you through this." There was a minute of silence during which the room continued to slowly brighten then Janet said, "Svahr, I told Obsidia to just butt out and stay out my way now. She's been leading us up this mountain along the longest possible route, but now we're on the fast track. Quick now, release him; these restraints are just annoying him. He won't attack me."

Svahr muttered, "Fast track? You're far too impatient." Now Svahr moved closer to Ghyl and briefly passed through the edge of his peripheral vision. Svahr moved by quickly and starting with the straps that immobilized Ghyls head, began releasing his bonds. When Svahr moved close along Ghyl's side, he was surprised by Svahr's appearance. Svahr seemed to be a queer beast, some anomalous mixture: possibly a hybrid of primate and cat.

Janet continued to talk, "Ghyl, I'm sorry that you've been caused anxiety by the activation protocol. Since we don't have the luxury of another week to impregnate your mind with artificial memories, I had to risk just giving you back your consciousness and bluntly explaining what is going on." She looked over her shoulder at some distant object then turned her face back towards Ghyl and seemed to sigh with relief. "It appears that I was correct. This is working."

Now both of Ghyl's hands were free. The room had become significantly brighter, with some shades of blue seeping in among all the redness. He felt his body and confirmed that he was naked. Goosebumps had formed on his skin as his sweat evaporated.

Ghyl in the assembly room.
Janet knew that Ghyl was not an exhibitionist. She reached out towards him, "Here, you can use this robe." For a moment Janet's hand gently touched Ghyl's finger tips and he felt a small wad of silky cloth. As his fingers closed on the fabric, he watched in fascination as it magically assembled and grew into a shining white colored whole: arm holes formed and then a collar.

Svahr finished unbuckling the restrains from Ghyl's legs. Svahr and Janet then each took a firm grasp on one of Ghyl's arms and helped him sit up. He was dizzy: the world seemed to move in a strange way that was unlike anything he had ever previously experienced.

Svahr cautioned, "Wow, he's doing much better than I expected, but don't rush him. It's going to take a while for his higher motor control centers to adjust his conscious mind to this body."

Janet helped Ghyl pull on the "robe" which was still forming and growing to cover his torso. He commented, "Nice. Clothing that grows."

Janet nodded, "Ya, when I first reached Tar'tron, I was baffled by all the new magical experiences. Just kick back and enjoy the ride. You'll soon get used to the conveniences and wonder how you lived your former life without the magic. Now, do you want to try standing?"

Ghyl was still disoriented. Some brighter greenish light was beginning to seep into the room and the dark, featureless floor began to come into focus for him. He was sitting on a padded platform, his feet dangling several inches above the floor. Ghyl could sense that Janet was waiting, rather impatiently, for Ghyl to act. Alarmed by his inability to fully assimilate his sensory experiences, but not wanting to act like a weakling, he put one foot on the floor and immediately lost his balance. Janet and Svahr were there at his sides, helping him to stand and preventing him from falling. Ghyl put his arms around their shoulders. For a minute he stood there, breathing rapidly and fearful that he would vomit, then his senses cleared and the world stabilized. The robe finished shaping itself to his body: now it extended down over his legs and ended a few inches above the floor. He noticed that Janet wore a loose black shirt and tight black pants. Svahr wore a robe similar to his own, its pale fabric contrasting with Svahr's dark pelt. Something shifted in his mind and Ghyl's nausea dissipated almost as rapidly as it had arrived. "Okay, now I feel better."

Svahr as a primate/feline hybrid.
Image credits: Will Stephenson
Fascinated by the Svahr creature's glossy fur, he stroked its neck and scratched behind its left ear.

Svahr spat at him, like an angry cat, revealing small sharp teeth.  Janet complained to Ghyl, "This isn't play time. Don't provoke Svahr until you can deliver and satisfy thons desires."

Ghyl asked, "Thons?"

Janet prodded him forward and he took a small step. With the help of Janet and Svahr at his sides, supporting some of his weight and guiding his motion, he moved slowly across the room. To Ghyl's fractured sensorium, the wall in front of him at first seemed like a fuzzy fog bank.

Svahr said, "You're doing great, Ghyl!"

Ghyl had difficulty keeping his eyes off of Svahr, and for the length of a dozen small steps he was distracted and not thinking about how difficult it was to walk. His automatic motor control system seemed to function better without his conscious attempt to take steps. Looking at the short fur on her face, Ghyl decided that Svahr was a handsom beast, indeed.

When they reached the wall, Ghyl was finally able to focus his eyes on it and he stared in fascination at the data displayed there: a kind of complex swirling mist, a pattern sketched out in bright colored lines and a deeper layer of abstract symbols that somehow held a meaning that danced just beyond his awareness. Svahr explained, "That's a representation of your mind's activity.....more precisely, a high-level projection of your executive functions."

Ghyl had a powerful sensation of déjà vu. He blurted out: "I knew you were going to say that."

Janet asked excitedly, "And are you also reading me?"

Ghyl knew what she meant: he could also sense a bundle of thoughts emanating from her. He asked, "Mind reading?"

Svahr laughed and said, "Welcome to Tar'tron, Ghyl. You now have magical powers, including telepathy."

With their arms still wrapped around each other, the three of them turned as a unit. Svahr and Janet opened their minds to him and let Ghyl explore their thoughts. He could sense their moods and emotions and he could receive language-like patterns that they silently "sent" to his mind. Ghyl liked what he sensed in their minds, but there was something odd about Svahr's mentality, a swirl of thought linkages that clashed with his own cognitive system. He said to her, "You are a Lord."

Janet explained, "Svahr does carry alien gene patterns, but you are going to have to expand your vocabulary. There are no 'Lords' here on Tar'tron. Try walking back to the table."

Ghyl let go of Svahr and Janet, taking the full weight of his body upon his own wobbly legs. He flexed his knees and decided that the gravity of Tar'tron was slightly stronger than that of his home world. Feeling a growing confidence, he glance one last time at Janet's smiling face. She nodded reassuringly and then he gingerly walked across the room. Reaching the table, he turned and leaned back against it for support, his knees quivering. The room was now lit with almost normal light and he looked carefully at Svahr, trying to detect alien features, but she looked like some kind of mythical creature from a fable, like an illustration in a child's book of fairy tales. A cat girl. Briefly he wondered: what kind of world would give rise to such a strange beast?

Svahr sent a telepathic reply back to Ghyl: get used to being among human-animal're going to need to learn a new scale for measuring strangeness.

Ghyl turned his attention to his own body. Something was not normal. Rather than smooth and automatic, his movements were now sluggish and labored, as if he was moving someone else's body. Alarmed by his inability to control his body in a normal way, Ghyl tried to imagine what was wrong. Pulling up his sleeves and looking carefully at his arms, Ghyl was led to wonder: when did I grow to have such a well-toned body? Was the floating sensation he was now experiencing a reaction to the different gravity here, was his sense of unreality and dissonance a reaction to new environmental conditions that his body was getting used to? He'd been on several different planets and had never previously had trouble adjusting.....

Janet, apparently reacting to a telepathically transmitted request, said to Svahr, "You're such an exhibitionist! Oh, go ahead; get it over with. Show him."

Svahr; in humanoid form.
Ghyl watched with amazement as Svahr transformed into what he imagined to be her natural alien form. The dark fur that had covered her skin disappeared and the robe she was wearing transformed also, morphing its contours and forming holes that revealed "her" structural details: a set of four breasts adorned "her" torso and, below, a small, inhuman, protruding penis. Ghyl sputtered, "You're a hermaphrodite!"

Ghyl received Svahr's transmitted thoughts: I'm not female. Don't think of me as 'her'. Here you should use the pronoun 'thon'.

Janet nodded. "Get used to it, Ghyl. Most people of Tar'tron, of the entire Core, are hermaphrodites."

Ghyl asked, "Are you?"

Janet shook her head, "No, I'm a simple Earth woman. All I got was the penis envy." She giggled at her own joke.

"Earth!" The word erupted from Ghyl's mouth before he could think. He asked, "What do you know of the Historical Institute?"

Janet dismissed Svahr, "Thanks for your help. He's in good shape. I'll take it from here."

Svahr transformed back into thons animal-like form and thon nodded to Ghyl. Svahr performed a complex dance step that ended with a graceful little backwards jump: thon went -poof-, disappearing from the room.

Janet said, "Thon's such a show off."

Startled by Svahr's sudden departure, Ghyl asked, "More magic?"

Janet laughed, enjoying the look of surprise on Ghyl's face. "Simple teleportation. I'll let you try it in a little while; it's one of your new powers." She took Ghyl by the hand and led him out of the assembly room and slowly guided him down a short hallway. They reached a doorway and she said, "Here, this is my office."

Janet pulled him into a dimly lit room that contained a desk and a small bed or couch. Nodding towards the couch, she explained, "The tool of my trade: I'm a psychologist." She sat behind the desk and Ghyl remained standing in the center of the room. For a minute Janet examined a complex data readout from her desk that provided her with an evaluation of Ghyl's bodily functions and the activity pattern of his mind. Finally, satisfied that he was mentally stable, she glanced up and commanded, "Sit down, Ghyl. Try to relax. We'll now start the next phase of your education: getting you in tune with the culture of Tar'tron."

He sat on the couch and stubbornly repeated his question, "What do you know of the Historical Institute?"

Janet shrugged and her loose-fitting shirt slipped down off of one shoulder. She tossed her long hair to one side and smiled gently, trying to think of the best reply and knowing that she could easily confuse Ghyl. She made only a halfhearted attempt to answer his question, "Not much. I know that in your time it will keep track of the many human-settled planets and their various cultures."

"My time?"

 "Yes, you are from the future. Here, now, in this time, the Institute does not yet exist."

Startled by the possibility, Ghyl asked for confirmation, "Time travel?"

Janet nodded, seemingly bored by the idea of travel through time. "Yes, traveling through time is another of your special powers."

Ghyl took a deep breath and tried to control his anxiety. He asked himself: when would anything start making sense? Luckily, Janet seemed like an island of normalcy. In fact, she seemed to be batting her eyes at him and flirting a bit. He suggested, "Maybe you should tell me why I'm here."

Janet pulled her shirt back up to cover her bare shoulder. "Oh, it's rather simple: I offered to help Obsidia with her little project. Of course, I soon came to regret it. Having to spend the past week watching you act like a zombie nearly broke my heart."

Ghyl could sense that the answers to the mysteries that baffled him were just beyond his reach in Janet's mind and the inaccessible nearness of that knowledge was frustrating. "I see. Now, I just need to know is who the mysterious Obsidia is and why she brought me here."

Janet was enjoying the process she had set in motion and could not restrain herself from thinking of Ghyl as a bumbling child (her child); he was confused and stumbling around in the confused corners of his mind, just like she had done when first on Tar'tron. Continuing to smile at Ghyl's obvious state of disorientation, she sent him a telepathic command that she hoped would help: just relax and open your mind to change. "Well, I can't really help you with that: for some reason Obsidia thinks you are the key to the Buldoon Arques, but don't ask me why. Obsidia has a special relationship with the Kac'hin and, thus, deeper knowledge of Reality.....of Realities. My job is simple: she's expecting me to help you adjust to your new life here on Tar'tron. Towards that end, I should first make you fear Obsidia as much as I do." Ghyl could sense that Janet disliked Obsidia and he could see that mere mention of Obsidia brought a tense little smile, a forced smile, to Janet's face.

Ghyl felt a trickle of perspiration run down his side from his right arm pit. He nervously asked, "Fear? Why fear?"

Janet tried to explain. "As a trained Observer, Obsidia has a rather detached attitude towards the problems of mere mortals like you and I. In short, she can be a real bitch. She expects you to perform and if you hesitate to do her bidding then she'll bust your balls." Janet gave a wild little laugh. "Believe me, I know; she's broken me, completely."

Ghyl noticed a change in his peripheral vision: a tall, oddly dressed woman had appeared and was looking into Janet's office from the hallway. She strolled into the room and stood in front of Janet's desk. Ghyl was distracted by her clothing which had provocative slits and gaps that narrowed and widened as she moved and seemed to be composed of multiple independent sections of cloth that had been pasted on her body.

She said, "Janet, you need not set him against me."

Janet shrugged, "He needs to know what he's getting into." Janet glanced over at Ghyl and gave him the briefest of introductions, "Ghyl, meet Obsidia."

Obsidia turned and looked down at Ghyl.

Ghyl finally allowed his eyes to focus on her face. He gasped in surprise. "Shanne?"

Next - Chapter 2: Obsidian Penché

Jump through time to Star Dance Chapter 3: Hortensia
Chapter 4: Harlem 

Feb 22, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

I've never tried to write a "proper" book review for a novel and I'm not going to start now. I do have the category "nonreview" for this blog, so this blog post could be called my non-review of Mythos by Vrinda Pendred. As is typical for my "nonreviews", don't expect me to stay on one topic. Further, as I have previously admitted, I find it hard to read most novels and I have no difficulty just abandoning a book in mid-sentence. Full disclosure: I was unable to finish reading Mythos and I've not made any attempt to read beyond the prologue of the second book in the series (The Descendants).

Fantasy and SciFi
Quetzalcoatl the ancient alien visitor.
I describe myself as being "fantasy blind", which means I can't really enjoy fantasy.

Vrinda Pendred has described her Descendants series as being young adult fantasy, which I feel is an accurate categorization. I tried reading the first novel in this series with the hope that doing so might help cure me of my fantasy blindness.

I'm fascinated by the idea that any fantasy story could be re-written as science fiction. Similarly, a science fiction story could be altered and turned into a fantasy story. Many people find it possible to read and enjoy both science fiction and fantasy, but fantasy sticks in my craw. However, I have an on-going project: my goal is to write a fantasy story.

fantasy blindness is a cognitive defect,
not a visual system problem
My affliction (fantasy blindness; think in analogy to color blindness) is frustrating for me, because Mythos has many story elements that appeal to me. Most attractive (for me) is that the basic premise of Mythos involves aliens who long ago visited Earth. As the story unfolds, Earthlings are trying to understand the hidden history of Earth and the role that aliens have played in creating the world as we know it. Further, Mythos is full of odd dreams and explorations of a mysterious cognitive boundary that can be navigated by its protagonist (the 17-year old Itzy): a boundary between the world of our everyday experience and some alternative domain that her alien genes allow her (and her human-alien hybrid friends) to penetrate.

Genetic Wisdom by John Pitre
For me, these story elements are irresistible fun, so I tried reading Mythos as part of my ongoing efforts to break down my resistance to fantasy.

What is this Wisdom thingy, anyway?
As Mythos unwinds, readers are introduced to the Wisdom. The alien visitors who came to Earth long ago lost the Wisdom, and now they are returning to claim it again for themselves, and, as Itzy herself completes the story: "blah blah blah".

The Director.
Charon of Nibiru
Will we ever learn what the Wisdom actually is or how aliens who fly gigantic spaceships could have "lost it" on Earth? Does it even matter, in the end, as long as readers are entertained?

I suppose my personal preference for science fiction over fantasy arises from the fact that when I read a science fiction novel, I expect the story to make sense. If there is logic and consistency within fiction writers' fantasy worlds, I'm unable to fathom it (I'm fantasy blind). In a story such as Mythos, when we reach the point where a character such as Itzy is "floating in the ether as pure energy", then we seem to have left behind any chance of connecting Mythos to the world as we know it. Of course, if you enjoy paranormal fantasy then you will probably find sufficient fun in reading such a story; you'll keep turning the pages and returning for the sequels.

It's not you, it's me
"Mayan god: Ixchel v2" by Andrés
Frustratingly, for me, Mythos teeters between the worlds of science and fantasy. We are introduced to an Energy Sensor and then it devolves into the "energy thingy". I suppose it detects "pure energy". When words like "gene pool" and "Energy Sensor" and "spaceship" pop up in a story then my hopes start to rise that something might soon make sense. In Mythos, such expectations are smashed, my frustrations rise and I find it impossible to keep waiting for answers that I suspect will never come....or if they do come, they won't make any sense (like when I turn a page and discover that "oxygenless air" is outside the spaceship, rather than vacuum). Oh, well. We have been warned: Itzy is guiding us through an adventure in a world of "magic and mythology", not some technology nerd's science fiction world.

My Rose Colored Glasses
soon on SyFy network:
Childhood's End TV series
Apparently Vrinda Pendred was born in the U.S.A., but she now lives in England and we get references to television shows like Doctor Who and Top Gear and characters who say things like: "I wish I’d known ye all along," he said. "Something tells me I might have been happier, like." I was left wondering if Vrinda ever read Childhood's End by Sir Arthur Clarke. The way that Vrinda erases adults from Mythos reminded me of Childhood's End. While reading, I started imagining Vrinda's The Descendants as Childhood's End transformed into a fantasy story. This is a danger of being an old science fiction fan: almost any new fiction that I read reminds me of old science fiction stories that have more meaning for me than the new story.

Daveed the Luk'ie
Trying to attain the fantasy mood
I've previously tried to "get myself into a fantasy mood" by imagining that Thomas could write fantasy stories. So far, I've been unsuccessful while playing that game, so I need more powerful magic.

Fanfiction Disease
Maybe I could write fantasy if I discovered the best way to combine my "fantasy blindness" with my on-going case of fanfiction disease. Could I start from a science fiction story that was written by one of my favorite authors and create a fanfiction sequel that is a fantasy story?

I confess that I'm sickened by this idea of transforming a perfectly good science fiction story into fantasy. Still, Jack Vance moved between various fiction genres and some of his science fiction stories are not really all that far into the domain of science fiction. Really, it should not be hard to transform one of Vance's science fiction novels into a fantasy story, particularly if you are allowed to leave a few stray spaceships and other techno gizmos in the the story.

One of my favorite parts of Mythos is when Vrinda casually mentions that alien visitors to Earth "influenced whole religions". For the Exode Trilogy, I'm currently trying to figure out exactly how Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan could be responsible for founding a new religion. Vance, Asimov and Sagan all included religion in their science fiction.

For Exode, I've already brought John Vance (the imaginary twin brother of Jack) over into our Reality from the Ekcolir Reality. I'm intrigued by the possibility that John Vance might start with a Jack Vance science fiction story from our Reality and make a kind of sequel that becomes a fantasy story.

Ghyl Tarvoke, fantasy pirate?
A candidate for being taken through this kind of Sci Fi-to-Fantasy transformation is Vance's novel Emphyrio. Vrinda's story Mythos  reminds me of Emphyrio since Vance's story also involves the protagonist's father, who, having secretly kept alive ancient knowledge, dies early in the story, leaving the young hero to discover the secrets of his/her world's past. The protagonist of Emphyrio is Ghyl Tarvoke, a native of the planet Halma. Halma was long ago "conquered" by aliens (the Damarans), but the human residents of Halma are unaware that they live as slaves, toiling in the service of alien masters.

elements of fantasy
My cynical theory of fantasy genre stories is that a random number generator can be used to select the fantasy elements that crop up during the course of a fantasy story. Here are some random fantasy elements that John Vance can include in his Emphyrio sequel: 1) human characters with special (magical, supernatural) powers, 2) animals and/or inanimate objects with human-like abilities, 3) characters who are not restricted by the normal constraints of space and time, 4) characters who constantly battle fear and anxiety because events make no sense and EVIL lurks, 5) sudden plot twists, emotional outbursts and miracles are constantly needed in order to keep the attention of readers, 6) some characters search for something paranormal/mysterious while others are skeptics about the possible discovery of something new. Just for fun I want to add a 7th element: religion.

Religion and Fantasy
Last year an article about the influence of religion on how children think about fantasy stories was in the news (see "Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds"). I want to allow John Vance to explore a fantasy story that explicitly addresses the idea that some people are predisposed to accept supernatural events as real while others (the skeptics) always anticipate a mechanistic explanation for mysterious events.

Science Fantasy. In my current science fiction writing project (the Exode Trilogy) I'm exploring how human belief in Creators of the human species has a basis in reality. I want to take this a step further and devise a "story within a story" for Exode about how a new type of religious faith can come into existence and lead to discovery of an important scientific fact (specifically, a trick of bioengineering that can potentially solve Earth's global warming problem).

Fantasy sequel to Emphyrio
I want John Vance's fantasy story to create doubt about the true nature of reality, leaving unresolved a collection of plot elements from the 7 "fantasy element" categories listed above. However, when this "story within a story" ends, I'll be free to pop back into the larger science fiction story of the Exode Trilogy. I don't want the fantasy "story within a story" to solve the global warming problem, but, rather, to suggest that we need to be open to wonderful new discoveries if we are going to survive as a technology-wielding species of primate.

Next: The Dancing Earth 

Related Reading: 2016 Annual Change Challenge

New by John Vance, The Dancing Earth : a sequel to The Dying Earth

Feb 16, 2015

Sapient Books

the Demon Princes novels
In an article called "Centireading force: why reading a book 100 times is a great idea" by Stephen Marche, he wrote:

"books pick us, rather than the other way around" -Stephen Marche

Marche uses the term "centireading" to refer to having read a book more than 100 times (in another Reality it could be hectareading).

Marche notes: "There is a definite affinity between centireading and madness".

Alastor Cluster series
The first novel written by Jack Vance that I read was Trullion: Alastor 2262. I've never tried to count how many times I've read that book, but it might well be about 100.

In addition to the Alastor Cluster series, I've also often re-read the books in Vance's Demon Princes series and the Cadwal Chronicles series.

Apparently P. G. Wodehouse was one of Vance's favorite authors. Stephen march describes The Inimitable Jeeves as one of the two books that he has read 100 times.

What kinds of books might provoke someone to read them 100 times? Books that are playful and full of humor probably stand a much better chance of lasting through 100 readings than grim books that take themselves too seriously.

Vance's books are full of jokes, pranks and amusing prose even when the protagonists are struggling through difficult times.

the Cadwal Chronicles
Probably the most well-known example is in The Face when our hero, Gersen, first does battle with a gang of thugs across hundreds of pages and hundreds of light years of space. Finally, Gersen poisons the Demon Prince known as  Lens Larque. Knowing he is about to die, with is last breath,  Larque asks Gersen to complete his last great prank. Gersen says "no", allows Larque to die an agonizing death and then Gersen decides to go ahead and complete Larque's last great trick: turning the moon of planet Methel into a giant leering sculpture of Larque's face.

Books That Grab You
I'm intrigued by the idea that a book could literally select its reader. Stephen Marche described books that one reads 100 times as being like family. Here are four  examples of times when I can easily imagine that a book selected me.....

The Gods Themselves
Perhaps the first science fiction book that I ever read was The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov. I was in grade school when I discovered this book on the shelf at my local library. As a child of the television era, I don't think it had ever really occurred to me that such a thing as a hard-bound science fiction novel might exist and be available in libraries. Somehow, I was called to the small shelf where the selection of Sci Fi books waited.

cover art by Jasper Schreurs
I'd been introduced to Jack Vance in English class during my first semester in college. During the break between semesters I was looking through a pile of books at a discount store. All those books had their covers ripped off. Somehow, from deep down in the bin, a woeful copy of Trullion: Alastor 2262 called out and attracted my attention before it was carted off to the dump.

Star King
When I was in graduate school I was looking through the Sci Fi section of a book store. I was familiar with the Alastor Cluster series, but unaware of the existence of the Demon Princes series.  This was about the time when the last novel in the series was published. I was lucky enough to be able to read the early books in the series without having to wait long for the last one.

Araminta Station
art by Rudolf Eizenhöfer
I was busy working when the first book in the Cadwal Chronicles came out and I did not even notice that Vance had begun a new series. However, my wife knew well my practice of re-reading (endlessly) the books in the Alastor Cluster and Demon Prices series, so she bought me a hard-cover copy of Araminta Station.

Assignment Nor'Dyren
1 More
For completeness, I need to mention one more book that I endlessly re-read: Assignment Nor'Dyren. This is a novel that along with Solaris really brought home for me the idea of a planet as a living being.

Vance seemed to enjoy crafting delicious moments of "tragic drama" in which an unsuspecting character is about to have their entire world come crashing down around him.

In Trullion, Vance introduces the mysterious Ryl Shermatz, who describes himself as a wandering journalist. In fact, Shermatz is the absolute ruler of Alastor Cluster (the Connatic), a man who enjoys secretly moving among his subjects without being recognized. In the scene where Shermatz is first introduced to Vance's readers, he is sharing a quiet evening of conversation with Akadie the mentor. Akadie is in an exulted mood, glad that he is now free of the $30,000,000 ransom money that he was assigned to collect, having just handed it off to the blackmailer's messenger that afternoon.

other cover art
However, while they talk, Shermatz is patiently waiting for Akadie and the people of Trullion to learn that the space pirate Bandolio had been captured. Both Glinnes (Akadie's friend and the protagonist of the story) and Shermatz must coldly allow suspicion to fall on Akadie (who is thrown in jail) until the true identity of Bandolio's local accomplice on planet Trullion can be determined.

Near the start of the Alastor Cluster series,  readers are told that, "When in doubt, do nothing" is one of the Connatic's favorite sayings. Shermatz lets Akadie sit in jail until Glinnes tips his hand (he has found the $30,000,000 that Akadie is accused of stealing; in locker #42 at the local spaceport) and shares with Shermatz evidence of Akadie's innocence. At that point, Shermatz assumes another of his cover identities: Over-Inspector in the Whelm, the Connatic's military service. In the role of Over-Inspector, Shermatz can quickly arrange for Akadie's release from jail. It is only in the last book in the series (Wyst: Alastor 1716) that Vance gives readers enough clues to convince us that Shermatz is actually the Connatic. Upon re-reading Trullion we can fully enjoy Vance's literary construct and understand fine points such as why Shermatz allows Glinnes to keep the $30,000,000 in ransom money.

For Araminta Station, Vance crafted two linked scenes that take place during formal dinners, one at Clattuc House and one at Wook House. The first of these dinners comes 30 pages into the novel at the time in his life when Glawen comes of age. Glawen Clattuc's relatives are shown anxiously waiting to observe his reaction when his Status Index (SI) is announced by House Master Fratano at dinner on Glawen's 16th birthday. A rumor has spread suggesting that Glawen's SI will be so bad that he will have no chance of winning one of the numerically-limited positions for adult family members within Clattuc House. "All now awaited the moment when Fratano's announcement would blast Glawen's life..." However, as the protagonist, and with the help of several turns of good luck, Glawen ultimately survives this "scare" and another dastardly attempt to "roll him out of the House"; eventually he joins the ranks of Clattuc House with full Agency Status.

The second dinner comes 500 pages and 5 years later. Glawen has just returned to Araminta Station after completing a dangerous police investigation mission off of Cadwal on the distant planet Tassadero. Having been betrayed by Kirdy Wook and left for dead on Tassadero, Glawen has the pleasure of sitting down to dinner across the table from Kirdy. The moment is described as "high drama" by Bodwyn Wook, Glawen's supervisor in the Cadwal police force. Kirdy has previously assured Bodwyn that Glawen is dead, forestalling a rescue mission that would have otherwise been sent to Tassadero. When Kirdy noticed Glawen across the Wook formal dinning table, his smile disappears, his shoulders sag and he looks down. Bodwyn Wook comments to Glawen that Kirdy's reaction reveals, "pure and unabashed guilt".

In both the Alastor Cluster series and the Cadwal Chronicles, Vance's protagonists must live among family and friends who harbor dark secrets and who hatch horrific plots. The reader does not know the true nature and extent of those plots until the end of the story, but Vance is adept at showing us the character flaws of the evil doers and throwing them into conflict with the protagonist right from the earliest chapters. Less well written books would not support re-reading after the mysteries have been revealed, but knowing the identities of those who will ultimately come into mortal conflict with the protagonists allows the "centireader" to more fully experience and enjoy the journey of discovery, danger and adventure that Vance imagined for his protagonists.

Vance's protagonists make use of skill and good luck to survive their many adventures during which they struggle through dangerous circumstances. In The Face, Vance provided readers with a dramatic scene on the world Dar Sai that is both amusing and deadly.

After their romp among the Chailles
Jerdian takes a call from Gersen
After a magical night under the moon Mirassou, in the shadows of the Chailles, Jerdian Chanseth has fallen in love with Gersen. However, Gersen has come to Dar Sai in order to find and kill demon prince Lens Larque. He can't allow himself to be distracted by the "charming, stimulating and endearing" Jerdian.....well, not too much, anyway. In order to complete his mission, Gersen must participate in a game of Hadaul, with Jerdian among the spectators. Gersen has previously presented himself as a banker, and when he steps onto the robles at the start of the game, Jerdian watches "in total bewilderment".

Gersen battles Bel Ruk (source)
Vance describes Hadaul as "between a game and a gang fight". According to Games of the Galaxy by Everette Wright, tricks, crafty betrayal and duplicity are natural elements of Hadal. However, Gersen is skilled in hand-to-hand fighting and he manages to win the game against a dozen experienced players of Dar Sai. He is then challenged to a knife fight by Lens Larque's henchman, Bel Ruk. Jerdian must watch in "fascinated horror, with her heart in her throat."....Gersen is injured but he ultimately prevails, killing his adversary, Bel Ruk.
Jerdian on the planet Dar Sai, as
first seen by Gersen in Serjeuz:
"Delightful and superb,"
thought Gersen. (source)

Vance crafted scenes such as the one described above (with Gersen watching for Jerdian's reaction when she sees him on the robles) knowing full well that readers would not really be wondering if Gersen might be killed. Of course Gersen must survive and go on to vanquish demon prince #5 in the next book of the series. So there is nothing lost by re-readers of The Face who already know the outcomes of Gersen's battles. Knowing the outcomes allows the "centireader" to pay attention to the tricks and pranks of the roblers without being distracted by the life-and-death struggle. The only robler who seems not to be having a good time is the overly-serious Bel Ruk: "but it is not expected that he should".

By re-reading Vance's novels, we can fully appreciate the scenes where Vance has arranged for a character to be waiting patiently, enjoying the relentless unfolding of the inevitable. Only the well-informed reader, such as the "centireader", can fully appreciate how Vance crafted these scenes.

The Exode Trilogy
I recently blogged about the value of viewing the planet Earth as a sentient creature. Long ago, a nanorobotic life form took up residence inside our planet, a form of life that is only marginally interested in primitive creatures like we humans.

If the entire planet can be "animated" by an alien artificial life form then why not smaller objects like books?

Writing about his favorite books, Stephen Marche commented, "I need them close to me".

Contact by Carl Sagan
Previously, I've speculated about how Irhit and others might have guided my course through life, introducing me to particular books and even using time travel technology to bring me back from the dead.

What better way might there be to keep guiding me towards the path I must take then to keep me surrounded by certain books, particularly if those book had the power to make me read them 100 times? Carl Sagan wrote about having the sensation of hearing his parent's voices after they had died. The human brain is designed to adopt what Dennett called the intentional stance, and we apply it even towards inanimate objects. But what if a book were given a slight boost, a nanorobotic endosymbiont that that could literally communicate directly with your brain?

Next: Memories from the future....can a religion based on science fiction save humanity and allow us to have a future among the stars?
An alternate Alastor Cluster

Feb 15, 2015

The Triatom from Planet Klyz

I've never seen The Man From Planet X. Apparently that movie involves the same basic alien invasion plot as does The War of the Worlds. The aliens have advanced technology (in particular, spacecraft) but their "world is dying" so they must invade Earth. We bumbling Earthlings get lucky and manage to repulse the invasion.

Think Small
In my previous blog post, I made reference to a fun episode of The X-Files called "War of the Coprophages". In "War of the Coprophages", rather than have a biological entity from a distant world come to Earth, the alien "invaders" are depicted as an artificial life form that resembles a metallic cockroach.

Here, I want to describe The Triatom from Planet Klyz as if it were a new Hollywood film, a variant of The Man From Planet X. Rather than have a green humanoid alien arrive on Earth, the "triatom" is an artificial microscopic biological organism that provides Earth with the means to solve our global warming problem.

Dana Scully
Back in 2005 I wrote a fan fiction story called "Fly Paper" in which I depicted Dana Scully as the discoverer of a type of alien DNA that had six nucleotides. In 2014, a journal article called "A semi-synthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet" reported an artificial life form that could replicate a newly designed type of DNA that has six nucleotides. The "triatom" is an artificial life form with DNA that has six nucleotides.

In "Fly Paper" and the following episode, "X-Seven", special alien-derived expression vectors are used to alter gene expression, first in the brain of Dana Scully then in photosynthetic bacteria. The DNA of those alien gene expression vectors makes use of six distinct nucleotides that can form three different base pairs.

The source of Triatoms
Pre-human origins of the Fru'wu (source)
In the Exode Trilogy, a humanoid alien species called the Fruthwa existed in our galaxy about 10,000,000 years ago, long before the human species.

The descendants of the Fruthwa who are still around to interact with we humans are known as the Fru'wu. The Fru'wu exist on some planets of the Galactic Core including Clu'ten'iun, which is a Fru'wu name for "Clutence". Triatoms are an artificial life form that was designed by the Fru'wu.

It is common to speak of Clutence as the home world of the Fruthwa, but that seems to be an over-simplification. Linguistic analysis suggests that "clutence" is a plural noun that can be roughly translated as "home worlds". The pek have a technology that allows for entire planets to be "copied". Apparently, a copy of a planet first exists in the Hierion Domain, but according to Fru'wu legend, such copied planets can later be sent back into the hadronic domain of conventional three dimensional space.

Thus, according to the Fru'wu, there are many "copies" of the planet Clutence. Here is the version of this legend that I received from Izhiun. Billions of years ago, in the home galaxy of the Huaoshy, there were several humanoid species that evolved independently on various planets in that galaxy. Eventually, those species discovered how to transcend their physical form and become a type of artificial life existing in the Sedronic Domain.

However, after the Huaoshy came into existence, a form of hadronic artificial life known as the "bumpha" remained behind in the universe of stars and planets. In many ways the bumpha were similar to the pek, but the bumpha and the pek had some philosophical differences.

The pek mission, the reason for their existence, was to assure that the Huaoshy would always remain in control of the Sedronic Domain. The pek mission was to spread outward from the Huaoshy home galaxy, relentlessly taking control of all the sedronic matter in the Hadronic Domain. Sedrons are required for faster-than-light travel, and the pek seek to maintain a monopoly on sedronic matter and faster-than-light space travel.

Probability of extinction as a function of technological
advancement from nucleons to hierions to sedrons.
The pek had little interest biological life forms. This disinterest arose naturally from the fact that biological organisms tend to be self-limiting. Even when technologically advanced species evolve, they tend to exist for only a short time before destroying themselves.

The pek are guided by a fundamental ethical principle which defines planets like Earth as "garden worlds" that should be protected as bastions of biological diversity. The pek feel that technology-using species should not be allowed to freely wield their technology and cause mass extinctions on their home worlds. The pek prefer to hurry new tool-using species towards transcendence of their biological form and on towards merging with the Huaoshy as artificial life in the Sedronic Domain.

In contrast, the bumpha took it upon themselves to experiment with ways to help young species avoid self-destruction. The fundamental philosophical position of the bumpha is that biological species should have an opportunity to explore space and spread to new worlds among the stars.

With time, the pek and the bumpha attained a kind of dynamic equilibrium governed by a shared set of ethical guidelines. First, garden worlds like Earth were to be protected. Towards that end, when the pek discovered advanced biological life on a garden world, they transplanted such life forms to other worlds, usually worlds of the galactic cores, planets that had simple ecosystems because of exposure to gamma rays from dying stars. The pek then "inoculated" the garden worlds against the development of technological civilizations.

The second great ethical principle of the pek arose from a discovery that was made by the bumpha. The bumpha could not resist the temptation to help young tool-using species speed up development of their technological civilizations. However, what the bumpha managed to demonstrate was that "helping" a species by accelerating their natural pace of technological advance almost always results in problems. Further, when a biological species is aware that it is being helped by a more advanced life form, there are also negative consequences. Thus arose what we Earthlings know as the Rules of Intervention. We do not know the exact formulation of these ethical principles as they exist for the pek and the bumpha, but there can be no doubt that they guide and shape all human interactions with the aliens.

The original humanoid organisms that evolved into the Fruthwa were brought to worlds of the galactic core and subjected to genetic manipulation. Eventually, the Fru'wu were brought to Clu'ten'iun by the pek from some other world, a planet that exists in Fru'wu legend as either "Reahand" of "Clutence", a world that is not known as an identifiable physical planet by we Earthlings. Izhiun speculated that the bumpha made several duplicate copies of Clutence. In particular, Klyz exists in the Hierion Domain as an archive world of Clutence. Although it seems clear that the Fru'wu did originally call Clu'ten'iun by another name (Clutence or Clustence), doing so was no different from the way we humans might speak of an Earth-like planet as being "Earth-2" or "new Earth". Since the original inhabitants of Clu'ten'iun probably came from Klyz, it would not be surprising if they simple continued using the same word ("Clutence") to refer to the world that they inhabited.

Special thanks to Miranda Hedman for
"Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used
to create the blue "sedronite".
What is clear is that Clu'ten'iun has an atmosphere with a high concentration of carbon dioxide. I suspect that when the Fruthwa developed a technological civilization on their home world, they used fossil fuels and had to deal with a sudden increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Later the Fru'wu came into existence as a kind of hybrid biological-nanorobotic artificial life form. The Fru'wu spread to additional worlds, including the legendary Reahand. According to Fru'wu legend, Reahand was an Earth-like planet where the Fru'wu "de-evolved" into a new biological organism that was similar to we Earthlings. However, after being "planted" on Reahand, that new variant of the Fruthwa eventually went down the same technological path of fossil fuel use as had the Fruthwa, resulting in high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

Climate Fiction
Regardless of the exact nature of the original planet Clutence (which supposedly had a naturally carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere), planets such as Clutence, Reahand and Clu'ten'iun provided the Fru'wu with multiple opportunities to experiment with synthetic photosynthetic bacteria that could efficiently capture carbon dioxide and convert it into sedimentary sea floor deposits. "Triatoms" are the product of such Fru'wu experimentation with efficient carbon-sequestering bacteria. The term "triatom" is a neologism, a kind of verbal joke. It was derived as a combination of "tri" (which refers to the existence of three distinct nucleic acid base pairs in its DNA) with the "tri" as a new prefix on the English word "diatom".

See the original cover art by Ed Emshwiller.
I first heard of "triatoms" from members of the Dead Widower Society. They believe that triatoms are an alien technology that could solve Earth's problem with rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses. They believe that Klyz is an archive world not only for the Fruthwa but also for organisms such as triatoms. It would be a trivial matter to bring triatoms to Earth and begin growing them in the ocean.

A fantasy sequel to Emphyrio
However, in order for triatoms to solve the global warming problem, they would have to be carefully integrated into Earth's biosphere. Potentially, if they went out of control, triatoms could damage the ocean ecosystem or even trigger a disastrous ice age if too much carbon dioxide was converted into ocean sediments.

If all this is true, then can we Earthlings find a way to use triatoms or bacteria of our own design to put an end to the relentless rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide that our world is now experiencing? In future blog posts, I'll explore the importance of triatoms in a fan fiction sequel to the Jack Vance novel Emphyrio: see The Dancing Earth.
More book and magazine covers.