Mar 27, 2016

Gunther Primes

Asimov's Prime Radiant
If mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences, then once in a while there should be some math in our science fiction. Last May and also in March, I blogged about pi and primes: both prime numbers and other types of primes in science fiction such as the Prime Radiant.

Dr. Garlock, S.O.B.
gets the girl (source)
Here, I explore another science fiction prime, Edward Elmer Smith's novel The Galaxy Primes. The story is set in the not-too-distant future, in a time when humans have already spread out to "three planets and eight satellites" of the Solar System and are now ready for the initial test flight of Humanity's first starship.

Maybe it happens to all aging science fiction writers at the end of their careers. In the case of Asimov, we got the Trevize and Pel transgalactic road trip. Jack Vance indulged his wanderlust with Ports of Call. "Doc" Smith sent Earth's first two Prime Operator telepaths out on a random walk through the universe.

a 3 hour film in the Ekcolir Reality
Dr. Garlock and Dr. Bellamy are described by Smith as:

"Her hair was a brilliant green. So was her spectacularly filled halter. So were her tight short-shorts...."

"big, clumsy, muscle-bound gorilla"

The later (above) is what the shapely Dr. Bellamy calls Dr. Garlock after he threatens to give her a spanking. Thus properly introduced, they set off in Earth's first starship, named Pleiades, to explore the universe and each other. Later, half way through the novel, after they've gotten to know each other, she sweetly calls him "big lug" and they finally have sex (actually, since this was published in the 1950s, they get to "pair" behind the closed doors of the spaceship crew compartments).

cover art by Edward Valigursky
In keeping with the animal theme, our heroes must do battle with various alien creatures, including flying tigers (see the cover art to the left).

Many reviewers have not been kind to The Galaxy Primes. For example:

"One wonders how something this bad ever got published....."

I think this other review is correct; we are not expected to take The Galaxy Primes too seriously.  John McCreery views The Galaxy Primes as a window into the past, a view of how people thought in the early 20th century, a time of optimistic and simplistic futurology.

Dr. Bellamy exercising her telepathic power 
Smith was trained as a food chemist and apparently worked to create recipes for things like doughnut mixes. When I was 12 years old, I felt that Smith "jumped the shark" when he wrote into his fictional universe the idea that really fast spaceship travel went at the "speed of thought".

I've previously blogged about the "all human galaxy" of Asimov. In Asimov's Foundation Fictional Universe, humans are the only intelligent creatures in the galaxy and they spread out from Earth, colonizing 20,000,000 Earth-like exoplanets. In The Galaxy Primes, Smith takes us to far off galaxies where there are so many planets, all of them inhabited by humans, that Dr. Garlock estimates their number as: "millions of millions, instead of millions and millions; and squared and then cubed at that". Not only that, but on each of these worlds human civilization has reached the same state of development, give or take a few centuries.

cover by Albert Nuetzell
The other "jumped the shark" moment for me that brought to an end my reading of Smith's stories was the idea of his Arisians, ancient aliens who have big brains and vast mental abilities: so much so that they can calculate and predict the future. Asimov went on to become famous for his "psychohistory", a science of predicting the future, but the idea was already there in Smith's fiction and, indeed, in the Newtonian equations that formed the foundation of 19th century Western science. Of course, during the 20th century, all the West's fantasies of predictability came crashing down.

In his Lensman Series, Smith used a technological device (the "lens") to provide humans with telepathic abilities. For me, The Galaxy Primes reads like an early draft of a Lensman story that Smith might have put in a drawer after he "invented" the "lens". If so, it is not clear why he later (1959) published it. Maybe he needed money.

convergence of the Primes
After their journey across the universe, during which they discover Prime Operators on other worlds, Dr. Garlock suggests that the fate of telepathic Prime Operators is to merge into a vast intergalactic group mind. Dr. Bellamy is staggered by the concept:

"If it is true that our vaunted mentality is only that of one blood cell compared to that of a whole brain ... and that intelligence is banked, level upon level ... well, it's simply mind-wrecking."

After some snuggling, the good Doctors regain their swagger and are ready to fulfill their intended purpose in life, the formation of a great Galactic Service which will organize the telepathic abilities of all humans on every planet to promote the betterment of all.

40 twin primes
How does this intergalactic group mind business work? According to Smith, the key math/science discovery is enshrined in "Gunther's Theorems" and their Psionic Corollaries: they provide a grand unified theory of both the physical and paraphysical. The starship Pleiades is expensive, so Earth only builds one ship. Interstellar travel depends of the "Gunther Effect" which can "annihilate distance", and space travel involves the poorly-understood "Gunther Field", which requires human psionic guidance for the control of which one of the "myriads of billions of equiguntherial points" will be reached by space travelers who utilize the Gunther Effect. Oooh, now I get it!

Our heroes, Dr. Bellamy and Dr. Garlock eventually learn that to control their destination during interstellar travel: they need to merge their minds, undergo a "fusion". Men and women form "Prime Pairs". As demonstrated by Bellamy and Garlock, it is for the best when the minds of two people are most dis-similar; then when they form a Prime Pair they have greater psionic power... or something.

According to Gohrlay, there were many television shows and movies with mathematical themes in the Ekcolir Reality. The partial analogue of Ivory Fersoni was one of many science fiction writers who helped bring the work of E. E. Smith to video formats in that Reality.

Agents 101 and 103 in the 9th episode of Prime Pairs.
The long-running television series Prime Pairs had a formulaic plot that was used in each episode. Two telepathic Primes (usually from different countries on Earth) were deployed by the Galactic Service to deal with some evil doing on a distant exoplanet. Each Prime Pair included two people who at first came into conflict and struggled to cooperate with their partner.

Drunken Aliens
However, by the end of the episode of Prime Pairs, the two stars of the show had learned to work together. During the initial broadcast of each episode, fans of the show got to vote on how that episode would end. Either the two stars would decide to 1) permanently remain on their exoplanet or 2) return to Earth. In the later case, they would be re-deployed in a future episode of Prime Pairs.

Next: more unlikely science fiction from Deep Time

Note: this is the first of a series of blog posts about forgotten science fiction stories. The next three are Drunken Zombie Aliens, Sound Science and Incomprehensible Alien Invaders.
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