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Dec 29, 2015

666

Improbable 666
I seldom watch television and I can barely remember the last time I was in a movie theater, but I did recently watch the 6 hour Syfy adaptation of Childhood's End. Next month I'll watch the 6 hour-long 2016 X-Files miniseries.

Science Fiction?
Neither Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End or Chris Carter's The X-Files fit into the conventional science fiction mold. Clarke wrote his story at a time when people like John Campbell were pushing science fiction writers towards explorations of paranormal pseudoscience. Chris Carter found himself creating a television show that included some science fiction elements in amongst a tossed salad of horror and mystery and paranormal themes. However, given my personal interest in science fiction, I have to look at both of these 6 hour television "events" from a Sci Fi perspective.

monster of the week
Previously, I've fantasized about how one might push this X-Files miniseries in the direction of more science fiction and less horror. Horror stories don't interest me, particularly when they involve a cheesy rubber mask monster.

Mythology
Annet Mahendru
I've always been more interested in the "mythology" part of the X-Files rather than the "monster of the week" stuff. It would be fun if some television network would go ahead and do a pure science fiction genre "X-Files: The Next Generation". Mulder and Scully could be "retired" into minor roles and a new group of actors could be brought on board to move the mythology forward.

Subtract Carter
Tad O'Malley
A major impediment to such a Sci Fi reboot of the X-Files is that Chris Carter has learned that he can endlessly tease a television audience with aliens who never show up. Carter is fixated on conspiracy theories, not aliens. Thus, we get Tad O'Malley as a character who is playing the role of the kind of "journalist" that Chris Carter would probably enjoy being.

Add a New Producer
If there could ever be a science fiction spin-off from the X-Files, you would have to subtract Carter and bring in a producer who wanted to work in the science fiction genre.

THE X-FILES  Re-Opened
The Tease
In advance of the 2016 miniseries, we are being teased with a Roswell-type alien spaceship. My guess is that the "spaceship" crash scene will turn out to be the crash of some super-secret government-built flying machine.

Or part of a dream sequence.

Or some other trick that Chris Carter can erase and forget about after that particular episode.

"prop" takes on new meaning...
how did they prop-up all that paper mâché?
Spaceship
The "crashed spaceship" looks like 1940s aircraft design gone wrong. What happened? Did aliens fly half way across the galaxy to Earth and then run out of gas?


gone William
Shippers Gone Wild
It sounds like we will not see what has become of William, but we will get all of Scully's tearjerker angst about not being a good mom.

Monica Reyes
What about other old hands from the past? Skinner is back as the unpromotable FBI figure-head. Monica Reyes will apparently show her face in the mini-series. However, Annabeth Gish is almost as old as Gillian Anderson, so I don't see any hope there that she could pick up the flag and lead an "X-Files: The Next Generation" charge coming out of this miniseries.

"Einstein was one of them."
Humor
One of the new 2016 episodes will be "funnier than the others". For humor, my bet is on the "Lone Gunmen" to be involved.

Another possibility for the "funny episode" might involve Agent Einstein. Lauren Ambrose is pushing 40, so despite the red hair cred, I don't see her as being a "new generation" flag-bearer for a possible X-files reboot.

X marks the spot
Get out your new 2016 calendar and put a big X on January 24th.

Next: 2015 recap of the wikifiction blog. 
______________________________

January 23rd update.

I wrote this blog post (above) on December 29th, 2015. In advance of the televised "6-episode event" some people have already been allowed to watch the first 3 episodes.

I just read that episode 3, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" by Darin Morgan is funny.


Dec 27, 2015

Reading Disease

Robert Heinlein's bu$ine$$  rules
About a month ago I mentioned "the reading disease" in a blog post that was about how writing can be a disease. Continuing that theme, today I was again reminded of Heinlein's rules for writing and I also saw the following tweet:

source

Do The Math
I suppose you might diagnose me as having a "reading disease", but the evidence might be hard to come by. These days I seldom buy new books. One reason for this is that I already own plenty of great books that I like to read. Another reason is that I have very little interest in most books. I think that Sturgeon's Law needs an update for the current millennium: I'd say that after taking into account inflation,  99% of "science fiction" is crap.

Some Sci Fi can put me to sleep.
First of all, note that I put "science fiction" in quotes. Most of what gets called science fiction (particularly in Hollywood) does not qualify to be included in the genre according to my rather narrow definition. So, I might have a reading disease, but over the years I have become much more selective about what I read.

And as I emphasized in my recent blog post about "writing as a disease", I'm particularly interested in cases where a reading disease progresses to a writing disease. My two favorite science fiction story writers, Isaac Asimov and Jack Vance each produced a huge amount of published writing.

In the Spirit of Festivus
in the Ekcolir Reality
Original cover art by Milton Rosenblatt
For each of these great authors, I find some of their writings to be unreadable. As they say, everyone should have an editor.

In the case of Vance, I just don't even try to read some of his books. A few of these sit on a self beside me right now, but I know I will never open them again. I tried once and fled. I have not been able to stop myself from mentally exploring the hypothesis that sometimes Vance became bored with a story and dropped it. Later, someone, possibly his wife, finished it up and sent it off to the presses. Ew.

Whoa, don't step in that crap!
In the case of Asimov, some of his novels are among my favorites, but when I re-read them, I just skim through the boring parts. Really, someone should do the world a service an re-issue most of his work in a condensed format.

The practice of paying pulp science fiction writers by the word did a whole lot of damage. There should have been special bonuses paid for elegantly written short stories without all the lard.

Live and Let Die
When I was in the first phase of my personal golden age of science fiction and reading every story I could find, I soon started to rein-in my reading disease. This was a natural reaction to the crappy stories I had read. I knew that I could not continue being a science fiction fan unless I learned how to protect myself from all of the horrible stories that got marketed as "science fiction".

in the Ekcolir Reality
original cover art by Walter Popp
About the time that I had this epiphany, 'Live and Let Die' was filling the airways. I went through all of my accumulated science fiction books and ranked them (A, B, C...). The real stinkers I simply threw away. I vowed that I would never buy another "stinker". From that point on, I'd only buy a book after carefully reading a good chunk of it. I spent a lot of time reading books in book stores and not buying them.

Funny Story
Asimov told the story of once being asked by Robert Heinlein how many revisions an Asimov story went through before being submitted for publication. After hearing the answer, Heinlein asked a follow-up question: "You type it twice? Why don't you type it correctly the first time?"

She put it on the market. Original
 cover art by Isaac Paul Rader.
Of course, before computerized word processors became available to authors, it was tempting to only type a story once and then move on. I had to type my senior thesis and believe me, with the painful way I type, there was no way I was going to type out a second draft. White-out was my savior. Asimov also described another factor that helped him learn to limit the amount of story revising: when he started writing his science fiction stories, typing paper was so expensive that he would make the most narrow page margins possible, saving on paper but infuriating editors. There was great motivation to get it right the first time.

Asimov eventually had a good paying day job, but Vance needed to turn out large volumes of story material to support his family, so he wrote at "pulp speed". I don't fault anyone for writing in torrents, but I'm horrified to hear the words "everything I write gets published" coming from an author. I despise the fact that once an author becomes popular and well-known then book publishers know that they can sell any crap that has that author's name on it.

Pulp Speed
I'll read it! I'll read it!
original cover art by Milton Rosenblatt
I have loads of fun reading old stories from the pulp science fiction magazines that helped create the science fiction genre. Lucky for us, many of the old stories are no longer behind copyright walls and we can access them via the internet (example). And of course, Sturgeon was correct: the vast majority of those old stories were really bad and it is no wonder that they were never included in the many anthologies that were put together as a way to share the better stories with a new generation of readers.

Still, I'm not sure I've ever seen a science fiction story that I completely despise. Particularly if someone had fun writing the story or if there is at least one person who enjoyed reading it. Some stories that did entertain me when I was 12 years old are painful to read now. No matter how bad the story, somewhere there is somebody in the throws of their reading disease, someone who is ready and willing to read it.

Next: in anticipation of the X-Files 2016 miniseries.
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Dec 26, 2015

Breaking Bad

"Where No Man Has Gone Before"
The title of this blog post might have been "breaking bad habits" or even "breaking barriers". I've never seen the TV show. The topic here is, as usual, science fiction and my starting point is writer Samuel A. Peeples.

Wagon Train
I arrived as a child of the Space Age, coming into existence at the same time as NASA. The early 1960s were a strange time to become conscious. My brother, just 2 years old than I, was a fan of Westerns. In contrast, I became a fan of science fiction.

In the black and white world.
Going where no European Settler
has gone before.
Some of my earliest memories: watching people who were watching Westerns on television, shows such as Wagon Train. Back then, the world was only black and white. I was like a dog watching people who were watching television and thinking: "Please take me outside for a walk."

Breaking the color barrier.
When my eyes could finally focus on the images that danced upon our small black and white television screen, I tried to understand my strange world, a place where primates would sit for an hour watching horse-drawn wagons spend 8 years traveling from Missouri to California.

Wagon Train to the stars
source
Of course, primates were making rapid progress. Soon, the world was in color and Project Apollo took us from Yuri Gagarin in low Earth orbit to the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon in just 8 years. Peeples, a writer of Western-themed novels, ended up writing some television scripts right at the start of the Space Age. He crossed paths with Gene Roddenberry and when Roddenberry started talking about the idea of creating a television program set in outer space, Peeples suggested that the new show be a "Wagon Train to the stars".

From the stars to Wagon Train.
In a previous blog post, I expressed my fascination with writers who had the audacity to "cross over" from Westerns to science fiction. In the case of Peeples, while his main interest was in the Western genre, he was apparently a fan of science fiction. Wagons spaceships, ho!

Galactic Barrier
When Star Trek was being born, Peeples wrote a script for what became the episode called "Where No Man Has Gone Before". This story and its paranormal theme provides a fascinating example of the boundary between science fiction and fantasy.

Sally Kellerman
We can take the Star Trek story that Peeples wrote as a challenge: can we imagine future science that would "explain" the events depicted on screen in "Where No Man Has Gone Before"? A fundamental bit of future science that Peeples inserted into the Star Trek fictional universe is the idea that humans have a latent capacity for paranormal abilities. Contact with the "energy barrier" at the edge of the galaxy causes those latent abilities to activate, so Sally Kellerman was soon able to wield an amazing telekinetic superpower.

Gary Lockwood
Good vs Evil
And, lucky for us, Sally happened to be on board the Enterprise because she was able to resist the temptation to become a goddess and she helped Kirk and Spock kill Gary Lockwood. Apparently Lockwood was selected to play the role of lieutenant commander Gary Mitchell because he naturally struck other people as being an arrogant and egotistical prick. In the episode, Lockwood did a great job of transforming into an evil god-like creature who would not hesitate to lord his paranormal superpowers over lesser beings. In 1965, Peeples would not have been working in Hollywood unless he was willing to write 50 minute morality plays in which good triumphs over evil.

Village of the Damned (1960 movie)
The Peeples Monster
In Hollywood, one formula for creating a "science fiction" story involves first inventing a monster. Freaky monsters with paranormal abilities are fairly common in Hollywood, but where do all these raging monsters come from? In Hollywood, a popular method to create a monster is by "mutation". Suddenly, an ordinary guy or critter transforms into the star of a horror story! Peeples transformed Gary Lockwood into a monster by crashing the Enterprise into an "energy barrier" at the edge of the galaxy.

Galactic "energy barrier"
The question becomes, why does crashing your starship into the "negative energy" barrier at the edge of the galaxy trigger the latent paranormal abilities of humans to activate? What part of Gary Mitchell is the source of his paranormal abilities? His eyes? His brain? What is his source of power? The melanin of his graying hair? Well, in 1965, in Hollywood, we are not supposed to ask such questions.

The nicotine laser!
I blame John Campbell for giving a paranormal tinge to science fiction. Through his editorial biases, Campbell gave authors motivation to include paranormal plot elements in science fiction stories even if there was no thought given to the future science that would account for magic tricks like telekinesis.

When it came to his favorite types of paranormal phenomena, Campbell favored non-critical thinking over skepticism. Apparently he was a sucker for people like Joseph Banks Rhine and Lafayette Ronald Hubbard who found ways to deceive themselves and others about paranormal phenomena. After helping create the science fiction genre, Campbell became an embarrassment to writers such as Isaac Asimov.

A Sedronite family tree.
2015
However, here in 2015, I've been exploring the future science of telepathy and precognition. Specifically, my current writing challenge is this: how should the Phari activate the latent "paranormal" abilities of Glinnes Hulden and Duissane Drosset? Ya, I put "paranormal" in quotes because in the Exode Trilogy, all of the seeming magic can be accounted for by advanced technology at work. My fan fiction story, The League of Yrinna, fits nicely into the Exode Fictional Universe.

Gift Exchange
Both humans from Earth and the Pheni of planet Yrinna are Sedronites. As such, they contain within them sophisticated artificial lifeforms.

Sedronites
Those artificial lifeforms are composed of zeptites and the bumbling humans have no means of detecting such tiny sedronic devices. All of the zeptites inside each person function as a living endosymbiont that can influence the behavior of the host organism. Reading this over my shoulder, Gohrlay continues to insist that my distinction between a human organism and its zeptite endosymbiont is an artificial distinction. Humans evolved in the presence of zeptites and all of our biology and behavior is constrained by the presence of zeptites inside our bodies.

Special thanks to Miranda Hedman (www.mirish.deviantart.com) for the DeviantArt stock photograph "Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used to create the blue "sedronite" who is in the image to the left.

If we think of our zeptite endosymbionts as being a "gift" from the pek then we can ask: what would happen if we could exchange our usual endosymbiont for a different "style" of endosymbiont? In particular, let's say, the kind of endosymbiont that is inside a Pheni on the planet Yrinna.

in the Ekcolir Reality
(click image to enlarge)
For The League of Yrinna, I imagine that this type of "endosymbiont swap" was performed long ago and the results were dramatically bad. Then the Phari began trying to adapt humans to become better hosts. Glinnes Hulden and Duissane Drosset are not perfect hosts for the Phari, but at least they don't die or go insane when a Phari takes up residence inside them. In particular, with a Phari endosymbiont, Duissane can use the Bimanoid Interface and (with some help) access information in the Sedronic Domain.

Psychomorphosis
A key issue that I have not yet resolved is if such a "gift exchange" of one endosymbiont for another is permanent. I'm toying with the idea that Glinnes and Duissane might have to travel through time in order to find a time/place where they can live happily ever after.

I like the idea that they might do historical research at the Connatic's Library on Numenes and discover some of Glinnes' ancestors. Only later will they realize that they must travel back through time and become their own ancestors, thus providing Trullion with critical genes that were needed for the Phari breeding project on Trullion.

Related Reading: going beyond science fiction -Ray Palmer
Related Video: 16mm format Star Trek

Next: do you have the reading disease? 

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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.

Marune
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.

Fwai-chi
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.

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

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?

Pheni
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.

source
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."

paranormal
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.

Next: breaking a bad science fictional habit
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