Dec 25, 2015

The Genetics of Luck

cover art by Richard Sternbach
When I read Ringworld, the idea that you could "breed humans for luck" struck me as absurd. When I reached the page in the story where Niven trotted out that idea, I felt that the biological bottom had fallen out of the story. Here was an idea so biologically implausible that only a physicist could possibly have the power to write it down (let alone publish it).

Okay, it is a romantic notion: that Teela somehow had the power to alter the flow of events in the universe so that her descendants would have the chance to populate the Ringworld. For decades I tried to push the whole crazy idea out of my thoughts.

Teela Brown by RobCaswell
Later, when I heard the idea that Captain Kirk "always knew he would die alone" that seemed like a good way to account for someone who never seemed to have enough sense to be afraid of anything. At least it was a better explanation than the idea that his brain was damaged and he could not experience normal emotions.

But maybe Teela and Kirk simply had the ability to see the future.
what a way to go

Bimanoid Interface
Now, after I've had a couple of decades to calm down and cool off, I just had a horrible realization. Maybe there is a way that you could breed for luck.

I've been developing a fan-fiction sequel to Jack Vance's novel Trullion in which an artificial life form (the Phari) is discovered to have carried out a thousands-of-years-long breeding project aimed at creating humans who can use the Bimanoid Interface.

Vance often had fun including in his stories the idea that some aliens and some humans had access to a paracosmos that is outside of the awareness of most people. In particular, Vance made the paracosmos an integral part of his Alastor Cluster trilogy.

Vance told the tale of Efraim, Kaiark of Scharrode, who was poisoned by Fwai-chi shag. The main effect of the poison was that he lost his memory.

The native inhabitants of the planet Marune are depicted as having an interesting biology. Their shaggy body surface can secrete chemicals and potent drugs. By sampling and nibbling on each other, the Fwai-chi can construct a newborn who is vomited into the world.

I like to imagine that the Grendels had similar advanced reproductive abilities, allowing them to manufacture tryp'At from human biological source material.

Vance enigmatically suggests that the Fwai-chi are more closely attuned to the paracosmos than we humans.

Marune: interior artwork by Stephen Fabian
In The League of Yrinna, I need to account for the uncanny ability of Glinnes Hulden to anticipate the moves that opposing hussade players will make on the playing field. Further, his grandfather gained renown for having won a fortune gambling on hussade matches, almost as if he had know the outcomes of the games in advance.

The League of Yrinna
When Glinnes and Duissane arrive on the planet Yrinna, they spend a few days a tourists. They visit a casino and Duissane demonstrates an astonishingly good run of luck at the gaming tables. How can her good luck be accounted for?

In the end, Glinnes and Duissane make contact with the alien Phari and discover the truth: humans on planets such as Trullion have long been carefully bred in order to adapt them to become better hosts for the Phari.

With the help of a Phari endosymbiont, a human such a Duissane can use the Bimanoid Interface and gain access to the information content of the Hierion Domain. With some additional assistance, information from the future can be channeled from the Sedronic Domain to Duissane, allowing her to take action based on knowledge of the future. Normally all of this takes place outside of human conscious awareness, but with the help of the alien Pheni, she learns to take conscious command of her Phari endosymbiont.

For many years I was puzzled by the way Vance described the return of Efriam's "lost" memories. After first informing Efraim that his memories are gone and nothing can be done about it, the Fwai-Chi change their story and provide him with a vial that "contains his memories". Efraim drinks the mysterious fluid and then his memories return.

"Your corporeal substance itself contains memory; it is called instinct. I give you this medicine. It will prompt all your cells to erupt memories -even those very cells that now block your memory."

As the memories "erupt", Efraim receives "memories" from his father and a series of even more distant ancestors. What is going on here? I like to imagine that Efraim carried an endosymbiotic artificial life form inside his body. With help from the Fwai-Chi, that endosymbiont could provide Efraim with the "lost" memories.

internal art for Marune by Stephen Fabian 
Next: breaking a bad science fictional habit

Related Reading: the September 1975 Amazing with the ending of Marune is available via the Internet Archive.
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