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Apr 17, 2016

Political Science Fiction

brain variants (source)
This is the second in a series of blog posts about continuing investigations into the secret history of Earth. This blog post started with the title "tryp'At Overseers", but I soon suffered pangs of guilt.

Why guilt? The fundamental source of my guilt is that I'm a picky science fiction reader. For example, I don't enjoy the insertion of horror elements into science fiction. Also, I am bored by real world politics and bored to tears by science fiction stories that expect me to read page after page of invented fictional politics. I'm thankful that one of my favorite science fiction authors, Isaac Asimov, rarely included horror in his stories. He tried to depict a world consumed by terror in his story Nightfall, but I could never take seriously the idea that a civilization would collapse because it suddenly got dark.

Asimov and Politics
interior art by Paul Orban
What about Asimov and politics? Unlike me, Asimov did not seem averse to including fictional politics in his science fiction stories. Here are three examples.

1. Asimov wrote a couple of stories ("Evidence" and "The Evitable Conflict") about Stephen Byerley, a robot who became involved in politics. These stories could be called "The End of Politics" because they depict how the rational calculations of machines could replace human politicians.

cover art by Oscar Chichoni
2. Near the start of Asimov's Foundation Saga, Mayor Hardin makes use of advanced technology to establish Terminus as a viable political force in the galaxy.

3. When he was nearing the end of constructing his Foundation Saga (in Forward the Foundation), Asimov explored an odd plot twist in which Hari Seldon was forced to become a politician. With Trantor crumbling around him, Seldon had to find a way to survive long enough to establish the First Foundation on Terminus and the Second Foundation on Trantor. Seldon was able to go toe-to-toe with the military junta that took control of Trantor and he helped Daneel guide Humanity into the Foundation Era.

I prefer fictional universes in which there is no mention of politics, but Asimov managed to bend his fictional politics to the needs of an interesting science fiction story. In the case of Asimov's fictional universe of robots and the Foundation, Daneel was secretly at work behind the scenes guiding Humanity towards the creation of Galaxia.

Politics of the tryp'At
original art work by Virgil Finlay
I feel guilt over having introduced the tryp'At into the Exodemic Fictional Universe because the tryp'At play a fundamentally political role. For several years I imagined that after the end of the Time War and establishment of the Trysta-Grean Pact, the humans of Earth would be free to find their own path into the future.

Some readers of the Foundation Saga felt that Asimov made a mistake when he depicted Daneel as a kind of benevolent dictator who had created and controlled the Foundation. In the Exode Trilogy, I face the same problem with R. Gohrlay, who I reveal to be the meta-puppet master that controls Daneel. The remaining question is this: are the tryp'At Overseers also puppets of R. Gohrlay? Does it matter?

Why should we care?
cover art by Jim Burns
Martin Harry Greenberg was a long-time friend of Asimov. Not long before Asimov's death, Greenberg talked Asimov into a new project that required Asimov to create a new fictional universe that could be a playground for other science fiction writers. In "Isaac's Universe", there were exactly six planets in our galaxy that gave rise to space-faring species.

In Isaac's Universe these six different species are biologically quite distinct. In addition to we humans, there is a species that is similar to Earthly porpoises. Aquatic alien species have long been popular in science fiction. In the Exode Trilogy, the Nereids play a major role, but rather than transition from aquatic life to life on land, the Nereids originated on land and then engineered themselves to be able to exist in an ocean environment.

cover art by Martin Andrews (click image to enlarge)
Isaac's Universe also includes a species that can fly. I've never read any of the stories that are set in Isaac's Universe, but judging from the Martin Andrews cover art (image to the right), these flying critters have some serious wings.

In the Exode Trilogy, there are two species that can fly...sort of. One of these is the legendary Retair species. Their juveniles had vestigial wings that allowed them to fly in micro-gravity.

Michael Whelan cover art
Michael Embden cover art
The Fru'wu are an ancient client species of the Nereids. On worlds with a thick atmosphere, the Fru'wu can use their webbed limbs to glide through the air, but they really can't fly very well even under low gravity conditions.

Science fiction authors have always struggled with how to depict alien species. One approach is to simply make humanoid versions of various Earthly species such as cats or insects.

Martin Andrews cover art
If you diverge too far from familiar Earthly creatures then you are in danger of making them too alien. In some cases, there is no logical accounting for how some alien species achieved a technological civilization, but we are not expected to ask if technology is possible underwater or how tools could be crafted and used by a species without suitable appendages.

Martin H. Greenberg apparently wanted a fictional universe that was ready-made for politics. For Isaac's Universe, a group of competing species needed to be similar in the sense that they were each spreading their culture through the galaxy and colonizing exoplanets. I find it interesting that Asimov was not interested in writing stories set in "Isaac's Universe". I suspect he had no stomach for the imaginary intricacies of alien politics.

Here is how Asimov described the political terrain of Isaac's Universe:

insectoid cover art by Martin Andrews (click to enlarge)
"...since disputes may arise [between the six species] there must be some form of political/social machinery to settle them."

Life not as we know it
Just how different from we humans could biological organisms be? NASA has spent decades trying to "follow the water" in its search for life in our Solar System. However, the discovery of methane oceans revived the question: could there be forms of life that do not depend on liquid water?

Imaginary "methane bear" in a methane ocean
A recent theoretical investigation examined the possibility that a radically different type of biological cell might be crafted as an azotosome. It is theoretically possible that a non-polar solvent such as methane might hold organisms with "inside-out membranes". For organisms like us, a cell membrane is polar on the outside, but in a liquid methane sea, cell membranes might form with their polar parts in the middle of a bilayer cell membrane.

Imaginary silicone life form (Horta)
Asimov was a biochemist and he long ago considered possibilities for how life might exist without water as the fundamental solvent. See his life not as we know it article. Yes, we would feel foolish if we ignored another form of biology by too narrow a focus on worlds that have liquid water, but I believe that Asimov knew that the other possible biochemistries (such as life in liquid methane) are improbable long-shots. And even if there was primitive cellular life in some methane ocean, what possible implication could that have for we humans and our science fiction adventures in the galaxy?

Too Human?
Map of the Sedronite species
The problem that I face in my investigation of the tryp'At is that they are "too human".  Last year I accepted the hypothesis that I am tryp'At. The uncomfortable corollary is that I was "planted" here in the Final Reality as a kind of "sleeper agent". In recent years, all non-humans (such as Ivory and Thomas) have been evicted from Earth, but apparently the tryp'At were crafted so as to meet the definition of "human".

The green blob in the diagram to the left is my attempt to define a boundary that includes those Sedronites who we should think of as being part of the human family. It may be that only the "run-of-the-mill" humans who make up the bulk of the current human population of Earth and a few tryp'At are "human enough" to be allowed on Earth at this time.

tryp'At Overseers
I fear that under the terms of the Trysta-Grean Pact, R. Gohrlay was forced to agree to establish the tryp'At as a type of "police force" that would enforce the ethical laws of the Huaoshy. R. Gohrlay might have been given a choice: either you do it or the pek will do it.

Not only do I now find myself having to investigate the political motives of the tryp'At, but I fear that I am "on the wrong side" in that I'm apparently playing out my role as an agent of the tryp'At. My remaining hope is that the tryp'At have seen into the future and they know that their efforts to remove non-humans from Earth will have beneficial effects. My fear is that I'll be tricked into doing something that will have disastrous consequences for our world. Will the Exode Trilogy turn out to be a horror story after all?

Next: the Hugos
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