Aug 20, 2017


Agents Miller and Einstein
Five years ago I blogged about ten of my favorite Star Trek episodes. About a year and a half ago, after the all too brief "season 10", I shared some fantasies about how to move forward with The X-Files. And what I mean by "forward" involves new episodes that are oriented towards telling fun science fiction stories.

Now, with The X-Files "season 11" scheduled to arrive in 2018, I feel the need to look back affectionately at some (11) of the most hard-core science fiction X-Files episodes.

As a Sci Fi fan, I shy away from the many horror-oriented episodes of The X-Files. My hope is that "season 11" will be heavy on the science fiction and light on the horror.

Dr. Bambi and Dr. Alex: can
they defend Earth against aliens?
1. War of the Coprophages
When The War of the Worlds depicted a Martian invasion of Earth, we were supposed to believe that the hapless Martians were being sensible: their world was "dying" so they needed to move to Earth. In the end, the technologically superior Martians were defeated by Earth's lowly microbes.

The core Sci Fi theme of The X-Files is alien invasion, but we are continually encouraged to doubt what we see and to ask: are these "aliens" simply manufactured via disinformation or, possibly, by means of over-active imaginations? And, sadly, the creators of The X-Files have no intention of providing an answer to that fundamental question.

Dr. Bambi's theory: UFOs are glowing insect swarms.
Because this is Hollywood and everything revolves around $$$: the story can't ever make sense or get tied up in a neat bundle... if it did, the cash flow would end. According to the success formula for The X-Files, uncertainty must trump everything. Along the way, science, scientists and even the science fiction genre are mocked by Hollywood writers catering to an audience and sponsors and Chris Carter who seem more interested in horror and vast conspiracies than science fiction.
Her name is Bambi?

Alien Incompetence
For Herbert Wells, the incompetence of the invading Martians could be "explained" by the fact that they were not very technologically advanced and they were desperate. In The X-Files, we are teased with the running theme that an alien "invasion" has been in progress for a very long time. If so, how could the aliens be so incompetent that they have not yet completed their work?

What if aliens have long been visiting Earth, but they really are not interested in revealing themselves to Earthlings? This may have been the "thought" behind "War of the Coprophages". Mulder finds a metallic roach that might be an alien probe. However, this "alien probe" crumbles to dust. As usual nothing definitive is learned by the end of the episode. Entertainment is the objective, not gaining knowledge about life beyond Earth.

"War of the Coprophages" was played for laughs (and written by Darin Morgan), so don't bother thinking too much about the plot. If aliens have actually been sending probes composed of nanites to Earth, we'd never know about it and there would have been no episode with Scully asking over the phone, "Her name is Bambi?"

2. Piper Maru
This episode (written by Chris Carter) makes nanotechnology part of the core "mythology" of The X-Files. At least, I'm forced to conceptualize the "black oil" as being a manifestation of alien nanotechnology. Of course, it is advanced technology that was not designed to efficiently achieve a function; it is a Hollywood gimmick designed to keep a gullible audience seated in front of screens.

radiation burst emitted by alien nanotechnology
As a science fiction fan, I love the idea of advanced alien nanotechnology that allows alien beings to take control of human bodies like puppets. Of course, no matter how advanced the alien technology is, it must be flawed so that the hero of the show is not killed and there is always another $-making episode to come. And no matter how sophisticated their nanotechnology, the aliens must deploy dramatic Hollywood ray guns radiation flashes that leave behind squads of horribly burned victims.

Fermi Paradox
Chris Carter's solution to the Fermi Paradox is that technologically advanced aliens came to Earth to make television shows. The aliens deploy their advanced (but flawed) technology so as to keep themselves hidden (mostly) from Fox Mulder, but not hidden well enough to prevent some other bumbling humans (the extras) from seeing too much and then having to be exterminated.

Skinner's life is saved by a magic nose tube.
This Sci Fi tease formula gets repetitive and old quite fast, but never faster than during "Piper Maru" and its follow-up episode (Apocrypha). Really, this could have been a one hour-long episode exploring the power of alien nanotechnology, but it was two back-to-back episodes larded up with tear-jerking scenes of Skinner being shot and Scully re-living her childhood.

3. Pusher
In Hollywood, we need loud explosions and dramatic scenes, and the X-Files formula relies on never-ending misdirection and confusion, not explanations. Telepathic powers are a classic topic science fiction stories, but don't expect to learn anything about ESP from The X-Files: all logic and explanations have been neatly replaced by explosions, crashes and gun fire. Boom! This is one of the many episodes from X-Files-fan-turned-show-writer, Vince Gilligan.

The Mule: a mutant and his music of the mind.
In "Pusher" there is no explanation for the perp's ability to take control of minds and make people kill themselves. Viewers are teased with the idea that a brain tumor is causing abnormal brain activity.

"The tumor remained operable right up until the end, but he refused to have it removed."

The Mule
Isaac Asimov teased his readers (back in the 1940s) with the idea that The Mule was a mutant, born with powerful "mentalic" abilities. Just before his death, Asimov wrote a scene for Forward the Foundation where telepathy was used in a courtroom to control the outcome of a criminal case. Asimov asked us to believe that there were people with telepathic powers scattered about on Trantor, just waiting to bump into each other, combine their powers and take control of the galaxy. And Asimov told us that Daneel (A telepathic robot) was working quietly in the background, having arranged for the formation of the Second Foundation.

Sadly, in The X-files, there is not the slightest glimmer of a rational account for how telepathic powers sometimes appear among the human population of Earth. We get various confused suggestions about alien-human hybrids and advanced nanotechnology, but nothing need make sense in Hollywood.

Technology-Assisted Telepathy
It is very difficult to concoct an explanation for how biological brains could power telepathy. I know how difficult it is because I've tried. Imagine that inside human cells there might be an organelle called a "telastid" that allows for information exchange my means of "T-particles", which are a type of hierion.

hierions and sedrons
I like to imagine that aliens engineered we humans and endowed us with telastids. Maybe sometimes the power of our telastids is revealed when they start to malfunction, but but we Earthling are too technologically primitive: we don't even recognize the existence of hierions and sedrons.

"Pusher" was designed like a Monster of the Week episode in which Mulder has to struggle against a murderous adversary. Much more on the fun side of the spectrum, "Sunshine Days" brought Scully to the brink of having a telepathic human who could be scientifically studied. Of course, at the end of the episode, the rug was pulled out from under us and we learned nothing about telepathy.

Finally, in "season 10" (see this blog post), we were most recently teased by telepathic children who seemed to be able to combine their powers much as depicted by Asimov in his Foundation Saga. Of course, once again, since this is the X-Files, nothing was learned about the science of telepathy.

non-fiction fiction
4. From Outer Space
Moving back towards the light-hearted end of the X-Files spectrum, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (written by Darin Morgan) is a comical look at pop culture UFOlogy.

I love the idea of "non-fiction fiction", a story about aliens that is based on reality, but perceived by readers as fiction. The X-Files also played with this concept in "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man".

Add caption
Fantasy inside of delusion all wrapped up in disinformation. Humans dressed up like aliens who try to abduct two kids but who themselves get abducted by an alien. And a famous writer who is trying to write a book about it. To his credit, Mulder refuses to talk to Mr. Chung who comes across as a twitching and quirky half-alien creature himself.

This is not happening.
By the time Mr. Chung interviews Scully about a 3 month old alien abduction case, he has already given up all hope of learning the truth -Chung just wants to write a book about the case and make $$$. In her account of the investigation, Scully reports that her first guess was that good old fashioned lying, "sexual trauma" and suggestibility is what caused the two kids in the FBI case to tell tales of alien abduction.

Mulder: the pie-eating mandroid
And then the real head case (or, as Scully kindly puts it, "a fantasy-prone personality") in this case shows up, Mr. Roky Crikenson. He's a witness to the encounter with aliens and he's written down everything that happened. But he's nervous because he's been visited by Men in Black who have given him a warning: if he tells anyone what he saw then, the MIB assure him, "you're a dead man".

The apex of the episode is when yet another witness to the abduction (yes, out in the middle of nowhere there must always be at least three witnesses to an alien abduction) describes Mulder and Scully as men in black. Mr. Blain Faulkner, a self-proclaimed UFO nut fanatic, gives the classic X-Files eye-witness account:
"One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn't pulling it off. Like, her hair was red but it was a little too red, you know? And the other one... the tall, lanky one... his face was so blank and expressionless. He didn't even seem human. I, I think he was a mandroid."
Blain and Dana getting to the truth about aliens.
Just when both Mulder and Scully are ready to abandon the idea that this is a case about aliens, a "dead alien" turns up in town. Then it turns out to be a man in a rubber alien suit. Falkner gets to shoot video during the autopsy when Scully discovers that the "gray alien" is actually a man in a costume. Sadly for the credibility of Scully, this home video recording was leaked and edited to make it appear that she must have covered up evidence for aliens.

Mulder and Lieutenant Schaffer
getting to the truth about aliens.
In second place for laughs during this wacky episode, when an Air Force pilot (Lieutenant Schaffer) shows up, psychologically traumatized and wandering through town, he crafts a small mountain out of mashed potatoes, as in Close Encounters.

In his book, Mr. Chung describes Mulder as a "ticking timebomb of insanity". We are left to believe that the entire case arose when a secret Air Force plane crashed and the towns folk were given false memories about alien abductions. The false memories were implanted by Air Force personnel using hypnosis to confuse those who saw a secret government aircraft.

5. Kill Switch
Ms. Nairn: cyberpunk goddess
This episode was written by William Gibson who exploited a natural good fit between the dark fantasy of cyberpunk and The X-Files. The cyberpunk genre and the stories of Gibson can be viewed as a dystopian literature written by postmodern English majors who knew nothing about computers and artificial intelligence. The plot of "Kill Switch", like every other logic and science-defying creation of Hollywood is piled high with loud explosions in an effort to hide its lack of coherence. As a time capsule of the 1990s, it is fun to look back at "Kill Switch" and see how it tries to bamboozle the audience by throwing around terms like "upload", "internet" and "orbital platform".

Mulder in a cyber trap.
We are asked to imagine that genius hackers created an artificial lifeform that evolved to consciousness within the internet. And ultimately, the freakish Ms. Nairn manages to upload her mind into the internet, apparently merging with the rogue AI.... or something.

ninja Scully
The most absurd part of "Kill Switch" is when the "conscious artificial lifeform" magically snaps a virtual reality headset on Mulder and suddenly takes control of Mulder's mind. Hollywood has milked this sort of idiotic "I don't know I'm in a simulated world" nonsense for decades, without bothering to show viewers a technology that might make it believable.

artificial life
Barbie Nurses
In Mulder's virtual reality experience, Scully appears as a kick-ass avenger who beats up a gang of fantasy nurses. It is not surprising, but rather sad, to feel obligated to include this episode on my list of 11 science fiction-oriented X-Files episodes. We can take this as a warning: when the folks in Hollywood are trying hardest to be hip and up-to-date, their work ages very quickly.

Artificial intelligence gone-bad is a theme that Hollywood endlessly milk$. The most recently uber-hyped entry in this category was the film Ex Machina. The saving grace of "Kill Switch" was that the regular staff tried to lighten the story up a bit during Mulder's "dream experience".

1930s Scully
6. Triangle
Mulder goes into the Bermuda Triangle and then time travel fun begins. Sadly, since this is The X-Files, we never really know if this is a story about actual time travel or just some sort of dream that Mulder has.

Inexplicably, unless this is Mulder's dream, an ocean liner from the 1930s ("trapped" in the Triangle) has passengers who look just like Scully (except for her hideous 1930s hair style) and Mulder's nemesis from the 1990s, the evil CSM.

After repeatedly getting the crap beaten out of him and almost drowning (consolation: he gets to kiss Scully), Mulder magically returns from the Bermuda Triangle and he can now verbally express his love for Scully, making this nautical episode a shippers delight.

Could what Mulder experiences during this episode possibly be some sort of alternate Reality in which Scully lives as a secret agent in the 1930's? For me, it is fun to imagine that it might be possible for Mulder to get a glimpse of an alternate Reality.

time twisted
The X-Files did sometimes play with the idea that time is more flexible than we like to believe. Two examples of X-Files episodes that explored flexible time flow are #7 and #8 on my list, below.

7. Dreamland
Let's do the time warp, again.
"Dreamland" was actually a two-part episode, but for my list I'm only counting it as one episode. Here, not only was the flow of time altered for our viewing pleasure, but Mulder's mind was exchanged with that of an actual "Man in Black", a secret agent at Area 51 who had the task of creating cover stories to hide advanced Air Force aircraft that made use of alien technology.

Backstory. The government has been using secretly held alien technology since it was "captured" in the 1940s. An anti-gravity equipped aircraft buzzes over Mulder and suddenly he finds his consciousness swapped with that of an Area 51 employee (Morris Fletcher).

The Fletcher kitchen.
Comedy ensues when Mulder has to deal with Fletcher's family and Morris (now inside Mulder's body) decides to take full advantage of being inside the FBI (and even inside Skinner's cute secretary). Scully finally figures out that this philandering "Mulder" is no longer really Mulder, but is there any way to correct/reverse this body swap?

Slingshot effect
We are supposed to believe that the alien technology of the flying machine briefly malfunctioned and caused a space-time warp. Then magically, the time warp "snaps back" and Fox and Morris are returned to their correct bodies.

Lucrative mind transfer.
Mind transfer. I've previously described mind transfer as probably the single most lucrative Sci Fi plot device ever deployed by Hollywood. Asimov used to describe time travel as an irresistible science fiction plot device, even when we know that time travel makes no scientific sense. Similarly, it is easy for people to imagine minds leaping from body to body, even if that is a scientific impossibility. In "Dreamland", we must go along for the laughs and not think too much about the implausibility of it all.

Pam is sacrificed so that Mulder can live.
8. Monday
The X-Files does Groundhog Day. There is something charming about the idea that the flow of time might not always be linear, that we might be able to keep repeating an event until we "get it right". In "Monday", Mulder seems to be teetering on the edge of being subtracted from the world by a crazy bank robber. But, strangely, not only does the day of his death keep repeating, he gradually begins to remember some events from previous turns of the time loop.
"...who's to say that if you did rewind it and start over again that it wouldn't end up exactly the same way?" -Scully
Eventually, a friend of the bank robber (Pam) sacrifices her own life, allowing Mulder to live and time to resume its march into the future. One interpretation of this plot is that Pam needs Mulder so that she can find a way to stop the crazed bank robber before he kills anyone. Maybe it is Mulder's openness to the unconventional that allows him to begin to notice that he is in a time loop?

bank robber
Strange choice. If you were going to repeatedly "rewind" the same scene for Scully, why would you have her in the most boring FBI meeting ever? I'd like a rewind of this episode so it could be crafted to depict Scully repeatedly doing something more interesting than attending a long,  idiotic meeting.

And while I'm playing Groundhog with "Monday"... how about a more interesting perp? The bank robber is portrayed as a complete incompetent, but he was able to assemble a bank-blasting bomb?

Baseball-loving alien.
9. The Unnatural
This episode of The X-Files reminds me of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In that movie, Nimoy was able to to take a rather tired Sci Fi franchise and propel it into fun new terrain: going back to 20th century Earth but still going where Star Trek had not gone before. X-Files star David Duchovny both wrote and directed "The Natural", crafting a modern fairy tale set comfortably in the fictional universe of The X-Files.

Scene 1: nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicle
I like to imagine that advanced nanotechnology is what gave the aliens an ability to morph and take on human form. With technology that advanced, maybe it would be possible to transform an alien into exact  human form, right down to the correct color of blood. I've never understood the whole "human-alien hybrid" idea lurking in The X-Files, but if aliens were going to start living on Earth by making use of hybrid bodies then why not show

Shut up Mulder and play ball
Both the starting scene of "The Unnatural" and the final scene with Scully and Mulder hitting baseballs nicely capture the working relationship of the two agents.

10. Field Trip
Will this be the fate of
Scully and Mulder?
This is the last in a run of five impressive Season Six Sci Fi episodes. I like the idea that Earth might long ago have been "infected" by alien nanites. After millions of years of inactivity, would they activate and take the form of "black oil" or something like a mysterious fungus?

Given the other powers attributed to alien nanite technology in The X-Files, why not assume that alien "mind control" nanites could put humans into a dream-like state and hold them there long enough to be "digested". "Field Trip" was a monster of the week episode, but it could have been linked into the show's long-running alien invasion mythology.

Dr. Scully's struggle
11. My Struggle II
Mulder's struggle, Scully's struggle, Chris Carter's struggle to remain relevant, our struggle as Sci Fi fans to find entertainment in Hollywood productions. Well, you know it ain't easy. I've previously complained about the low quality of the science in The X-files, but I have to give Chris Carter and the rest of the X-Files crew credit for trying to include some science fiction in "season 10". My main motivation for placing "My Struggle II" in this list of 11 science fiction episodes is built upon hope that between the end of season 10 and the start of season 11, Carter may have had time to shore up the crumbling walls of the "alien DNA" plot hole that he previously dug.

Visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.

Aug 13, 2017

Vale of Xian

Poetry by Bunny Burns (source). NASA image.
In my previous blog post I described an active investigation aimed at discovering if a useful form of nanotechnology might be recoverable from Deep Time. "Useful" in the sense of helping we Earthlings defend ourselves. Here, I want to mention some additional clues from the fiction of Jack Vance that might help us solve the mystery of how nanites can be used by aliens to control human behavior.

Green Star
In the novel Throy, Vance mentioned a mystery involving Gilbert's Green Star. Previously, I realized that there was a long-standing confusion about the existence of "green nanites" as a relatively new type of nanite that had been deployed on Earth as part of the endosymbionts that reside within we humans.

original cover art by Paul Chadwick
Those new nanites were not actually green, they were named after a Kac'hin agent of the pek: Grean. Grean developed these special nanites with the help of the Phari during the Asimov Reality.

Yōd recently revealed that an analogue of Jack Vance who lived in the Ekcolir Reality wrote about the importance of "green stars" for teleportation. The closest "green star" to Earth is about 185 light years away, located in the constellation libra. These "green stars" are full of special sedrons that allow them to act as foci within the pek teleportation network of our galaxy.

When Ekcolir was sent into the past, he was well aware of the location of Grean's Star and 20,000 years ago he named a constellation the "star fisher". That "star fisher" was at the boundary between the modern scorpius and libra constellations. In the sky, find Antares and then imagine a starfish with arms pointed at both Antares and the two brightest stars in libra.

Zubeneschamali, the star of the northern claw.
Previously, I assumed that the pek systematically gathered sedrons from planets like Earth because sedrons are needed for fast-than-light space travel. However, there are many types of sedrons, some of which will interfere with long distance teleportation through the galaxy unless their natural distribution in the universe is altered. Apparently the pek have been making the needed alterations in our galaxy for the past couple of billion years.

The different types of Hierions and Sedrons.
To correctly arrange the distribution of sedrons for teleportation, the main source of sedrons, the stars, must be mined for sedrons. Most of the sedrons of a galaxy must be concentrated in a few special locations. Doing so will simplify the quantum computations that make teleportation possible.

It is difficult to imagine how sedrons might be extracted from stars, but doing so may be no more difficult for the pek than it is for us to refine metals like gold from raw gold-containing ore. How the pek might transport vast quantities of sedrons from star to star is another mystery, but if they have advanced teleportation technology, maybe they can teleport sedrons from star to star.

According to Yōd and her collaborators at the library of the Writers Block, Grean had a base of operations in the Zubeneschamali star system, which functions as a long-range teleportation node. Zeta believes that Ekcolir was trained for his missions to Earth at Grean's base. Then, while on Earth and talking to Earthlings, Ekcolir apparently never hesitated to point out the location of the star that he came from.
Anney's report from the Buld Reality

The Vale of Xian
Jack Vance was fond of including mention of ghosts in his stories. In Trullion, both Duissane and Glinnes casually discuss the habits of ghosts on Trullion.

In the Ekcolir Reality.
Original art by Luis Royo.
Reporting from the Hierion Domain, Yōd's replicoid has seen a report from Angela and Anney Fersoni about the alien creatures who were the original inhabitants of Trullion. After humans arrived on Trullion, it was possible to have some degree of contact with those aliens in the Vale of Xian. Humans such as Duissane, who could use their Bimanoid Interface to contact the natives of Trullion, sometimes reported seeing ghost-like birds in the Vale. The legend was that those "ghosts" could collect human souls and archive them in the Vale of Xian.

original art work by Virgil Finlay
Yōd suggests that the "ghosts of Xian" were part of the Phari-designed network of sedronic species that had been collected together in Alastor Cluster. Zeta is skeptical that those "ghosts" were actually green. Grean discovered critical human gene combinations on Trullion and assembled them to make possible a Bimanoid Interface that allows some humans to make contact with their replicoids in the Hierion Domain. Once again, humans who overheard discussion of Grean's "ghosts" on Trullion apparently mistakenly applied the term "green ghost" to the sedronic inhabitants of Trullion. Zeta suggests that these "human errors" are most likely the result of "information editing" performed on human minds by the tryp'At Overseers.

Next: 11 science fiction-oriented episodes of The X-Files
Visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.

Aug 6, 2017

Change 2017

Norma and Jack (source)
For the past few years I've been trying (not very hard) to alter a few of my fiction writing habits. These little experiments with inertia even included an attempt to write a fantasy story. This year, I've been quite busy in the real world and so my fiction writing output has declined. To help get back into writing mode, I gave myself the challenge of writing a short story in the format of a mystery (well, not a classic mystery). Also, since this is August, I'm trying to honor Jack Vance, and so my new mystery story is rooted in an (imagined) event during Vance's life that had a big impact on his story writing.
Jack and Norma

Published in the Ekcolir Reality
What follows (below) is a story in which Jack and Norma Vance discover the fact that time travel is possible. Their startling discovery is made when Norma finds a science fiction magazine that has been sent back in time from the future. In that magazine is a message to Jack from Isaac Asimov. Oh, and this story goes part way towards filling in a nanoscopic gap in the backstory of the Exode Saga.

A Future Mystery
Norma Vance set down the sheets of paper that held a first hand written draft of chapter three of Pharism. This new story was set on world number 458 of Alastor Cluster and was in the same fictional universe as Jack's recently published Trullion, but there was something wrong about this new story.

Norma went looking for her husband. Their home, which they had built on a steep lot on an Oakland hillside, had grown over the years to have multiple levels and a unique floor plan with many odd nooks. After looking into Jack's favorite places to write, she eventually found him in the kitchen. Norma said, "I think you skipped something. Who are these Phari and where did they come from?"

Jack chuckled and nodded. "The Phari are the secretive aliens of Alastor Cluster." Jack paused, conscious of a nagging voice in his head, warning him not to say too much about the Phari. He continued, "There are three or four other Alastor stories asking to be told, but I need to get Pharism written down first... even if it does not get published first. In Pharism, the hidden alien secrets of Alastor Cluster are revealed."

Norma asked, "So should I even bother to type up this first draft of Pharism or should I wait until the whole Alastor saga matures and takes shape?"

Jack picked up a notebook from the counter and tore out some of the pages which he gave to Norma. "You can wait on this, it is really just a quick outline version." Jack gestured towards the new set of pages. "Keep these in a safe place, I'll need to refer to them later."

Norma saw that what she now held was labeled as chapter four. "When did you write this?"

"I finished it while you were reading chapter three."

Norma shook her head, counted the pages and looked at Jack in amazement. "You were writing as fast as I was reading!"

Jack shrugged, "These Alastor books are already in here." He tapped his head. "Actually, I wrote most of what is now chapter four last night, then realized I has to put in a chapter three."

"Well, if I won't be typing today then I'll have time to sort out those back issues of Life."

original cover art by Mark Harrison
The previous weekend they'd driven to San Mateo and taken possession of a collection of old magazines; eight large and dusty boxes filled with back issues of Life. Now, having dug halfway down into box number three, Norma found a brightly colored magazine that seemed out of place. It was an issue of Analog, but the date on the cover was November 1993, a date twenty years in the future.

Norma flipped open the issue of Analog and read the introductory editorial, which lamented the death (in 1992) of Isaac Asimov. Included in the issue was a new story by Asimov, discovered after his death: it was titled "Future Mystery". Norma read the first page of the story then went in search of Jack.

He was sitting outside, writing furiously across a sheet of lined notebook paper. She waited until he glanced up and said, "I have a mystery..." She handed him the magazine.

Jack looked at the cover and asked, "1993?" He flipped through the pages. "Is this some kind of elaborate prank?"

Norma impatiently grabbed the magazine, turned the pages to the Asimov story and handed it back to her husband. "Read this."

cover art by Murphy Anderson
The story, called "Future Mystery", began:
"Back in the early 1950s several science fiction story writers, including me, were asked to submit plot ideas for inclusion in some new science fiction comic books. Back then, my thoughts were frequently turning to time travel, so I proposes a story thread that would feature two time travel agents arriving in the 20th century from the far future. Initially, the comic book publisher seemed enthusiastic and they even sent me a cover mock up (shown here for the first time) and a small advance. Eventually, I was informed that my time travel adventure proposal would not be used and, indeed, I had been bumped from the comic book by a more promising story idea that had been submitted by Jack Vance."
Jack laughed. "Ha! Imagine a science fiction legend like Asimov being bumped by me! I don't believe that really happened. I've never heard of 'Mystery in Space'."

Norma said, "Asimov's time travel story was probably too complex and cerebral for a comic book."

Jack asked, "Are you saying that my writing is better suited for comics?"

"I did not say that, but I'm not a neutral observer. I think your writing is well suited for everything. There have been some comic books made from your story ideas and they turned out good." She pointed down the page, "Keep reading."

"Sadly, I never got to meet Vance before his death in 1976. However, with my own demise quickly approaching, I'd like to send a message back in time to Jack: a big THANK YOU. You see, I'm very glad that my time travel story idea was not used in the comics. I went on to develop the idea into a novel (The End of Eternity), and it became one of my favorite creations. As I recall, in his 'Mystery in Space' story arc, Jack made use of futuristic technologies, particularly an advanced air-car that could deliver his hero to even the most remote corner of Earth in less than an hour."
"The power source for that air-car was not described by Vance, but he hinted that the quick rate of travel was made possible by some kind of teleportation trick, as if the air-car could teleport itself to a destination. Now, I've finally had my chance to observe this technology, the actual teleportation technology that I believe Vance was depicting in his story. But my recent experience with futuristic technology went beyond just teleportation; I've also made use of a time travel machine!"
Jack looked at Norma. He muttered, "This is some kind of joke." He looked again at the Mystery in Space cover illustration. "I'm sure that I never published anything in this magazine of comics."

Norma put her arm around Jack's shoulders. "Keep reading, Jack."
"My experience with teleportation began when I woke up in a strange bed. I found myself in what looked like a modern hotel suite, with unusual furnishings and no window. I had no idea how I had arrived there. I rolled off of the bed and was pleased to see that half of the room contained what looked like a perfect work station for writing. Scattered across the desk were various books and magazines, many of them had the name 'Asimov' visible on the cover. Before I could approach and examine those books, suddenly, the door opened and there was Jack Vance, big as life."
Jack looked up from the magazine with a puzzled expression on his face. Norma said, "That's as far as I got in the story."

Jacked turned pages and skimmed ahead in the story. "It seems to be a science fiction story featuring me and Asimov as characters." He asked Norma, "Where did this magazine come from?"

Norma explained,  "This issue of Analog was in one of the boxes of old magazines that we got in San Mateo last Saturday."

Jack looked through the magazine, felt the texture of the pages and held a page up to the light. "This looks like a real magazine, on high quality paper, not some cheap knock-off created for a prank."

Norma asked, "A magazine from the future? Jack, science fiction is fun, but time travel is impossible, right?"

Jack laughed. "This must be a trick, but I'm hooked. I'm going to finish reading this story." He turned to the second page of "Future Mystery".....

our Reality Chain
The Writers Block
Jack said, "Welcome to the Library, Isaac."

I was startled by Jack's appearance. He looked young and vigorous, not at all like the 50-year old middle aged man of his obituary photograph. I looked down at myself and saw I was wearing the clothing I had worn the previous day, before I had retired to bed. And then I noticed that I was also in the body of my youth, my former slim self, not the old body I had come to inhabit at age 70... that of a sick and dying man. I gasped, "I'm dead."

Jack shrugged. "No, you'll never die. You've been given an immortal body, the strong body of your prime." He flexed his arms. "I've been enjoying my new body for the past 18 days." He gestured through the door. "Come with me. Grean is waiting."

I followed Vance down a short hallway and into what looked like the observation lounge of a spaceship. Waiting for us was what appeared to be a strange looking woman, but who I soon learned was an alien creature: a Kac'hin. She said, "You seem to be adjusting well to your new body, Isaac."

Vance told me, "This is Grean. She's a member of a group of humanoids that were engineered on worlds of the Galactic Core; a human variant called the Kac'hin."

Grean added, "I don't mind being called 'she', but I'm actually a hermaphrodite."

Grean's most alarming features were her sharp fangs and large eyes. I looked past Grean and out into the dark of space and asked, "Where are we?"

Vance went to a table and flipped a switch. The walls changed and suddenly it seemed that we were inside the reading room of a modern library. "This is the Library of the Writers Block. I like to set the wall projectors to simulate a view of outer space."

I asked, "Writers Block?"

Grean giggled. "Your analogue came up with that name for this place. This facility was designed to house the writers who invented a special version of the science fiction genre for the 20th century of the previous Reality."

Of course, I knew what Grean meant by 'the previous Reality'. I could not avoid the implications of what both Vance and Grean were saying. "Time travel? You Kac'hin can move through time?"

Grean nodded. "Yes, and I brought you here, into your past, Isaac. This is 1976 and we need to get Jack's life back on track."

I thought I could guess what Grean had in mind. I suggested, "You want to alter the past? Implement a Reality Change?" Grean gave me a crisp little nod of her head, confirming my guess. "As I recall, Jack died in an airliner crash."

Jack nodded. "Yes, Grean has shown me the debris field from the plane crash that killed me. We need only go back in time, warn me about my fate. I always prefer to travel by cruise ship, anyhow, so it should not be hard to make me change travel plans, avoid flying and avoid an early death."

I asked Grean, "How will this alteration of the past be accomplished?"

Without saying a word, Grean picked up an issue of Analog from the table and handed it to me.

Reality Change
I saw the date on the cover of the magazine. "1993? That's next year."

"Right: next year from your perspective. I already went to 1993 and collected this magazine." Grean pointed to the magazine I held in my hands. "This contains a message from you warning Vance about his impending death. And now, I'd like you to insert this magazine into the timeline of Earth, at a point in 1973."

I opened the magazine and looked at the article called "Future Mystery". After reading a few pages of the story I said, "I never wrote this."

Grean explained, "You will write 'Future Mystery' and I'll get the story published in Analog."

I tossed the magazine back on the table. "Why bother with such an elaborate message? Why not just tell Vance to avoid the doomed airline flight? Or better, go back in time and prevent that plane from crashing."

Vance added, "And why do you want to send the warning back to 1973? That's two years before the plane crash."

Special thanks to Miranda Hedman
for "Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used
to create the blue "sedronite"
who is in this image. The Pact.
Grean sighed rather loudly. "You both ask far too many questions. I can't tell you everything, but here are the basic facts. Within the Reality of the Trysta-Grean Pact, any leaked information about myself or time travel must be cloaked in the guise of science fiction-"

Jack interrupted Grean. "Who is this 'Trysta' who you always mention but never explain?"

Speaking rather impatiently, Grean told Jack, "Trysta has her own life to live on Earth, and we can't disrupt that aspect of Reality. She and I are working together to create a viable future for Earth. Take my word for it: that future requires that you live longer than Asimov."

I demanded, "Why must I die so young?"

"I have need for you off of Earth. You will have completed your work on Earth by 1992."

It angered me that this alien creature was making such heavy-handed decisions about my life and my death. "I was still writing yesterday. Am I now truly dead? If so, I did not have time to complete my Foundation saga."

Grean placed a hand on my shoulder. "You were close enough to finishing the story. Your wife can add the final few pages. Now hush up, Isaac. You must die in 1992. That's a fixed point in time. I've brought you here to help repair Jack's life and that must be the focus of our attention. With your help, Jack is going to live into his 90s." Suddenly I could no longer speak. I later learned that Grean could take control of my mind and control my behavior.

the tryp'At
Grean turned to Vance. "When you started writing the story in 1973, you put too many facts about Deep Time into Pharism. That forced the Overseers to eventually step in and eliminated you, just before the book could be published." She tapped on the cover of the Analog magazine. "Therefore, Isaac's message must stop you from writing that book. It is the existence of Pharism that makes the Overseers take action and crash your flight to Europe." She looked first at me and then back to Vance. "Any other questions?"

Once again I had control of my speech muscles. I said, "Why bring Jack and I here, now? When the past is changed, Jack will live on past 1976. All of Earth will change, including the last decades of my life. After the Reality Change, will we even remember any of this conversation with you?"

Grean explained, "Isaac, you will only need a few minutes in 1973, just long enough to place this copy of Analog where Jack will later find it. I will return you to the Writers Block after your brief visit to the past. Anyhow, at all times you will be protected by a temporal field that will isolate you from the effects of any Reality Change you may cause. Don't, worry, we will all be safe and protected from the change in Earth's timeline. I have a special job for the two of you. You are now both artificial life forms that will continue to exist here, within Eternity, carrying out a special task."

The End of Eternity
I asked in amazement, "We are inside the Eternity space-time bubble?"

Grean nodded. "I know you never pictured Eternity being like this, but yes, the Writers Block is a subsection of Eternity. I need the two of you to do some curation here in the Library... mostly among the records of the Asimov Reality."

I was surprised that a past Reality of Earth was named after me. "Asimov Reality?"

Jack explained, "For the past two weeks I've been here in this Library, exploring records of that past Reality. I was surprised to discover that the future of human space exploration within the Asimov Reality is very similar to what I have written into my science fiction stories about the Gaean Reach. Really, it should be called the Vance Reality."

Grean laughed, "Isaac was responsible for starting that Reality and for establishing the Writer's Block. Given his inescapable ego, it was inevitable that the name 'Asimov Reality' was adopted."

Vance complained, "I still don't understand why you brought Asimov here."He picked up the issue of Analog from the table. "I can deliver this message to myself in the past and thereby save my own life."

In our Reality, Marune
was published in 1975
rather than Pharism.
Grean shook her head. "No, Jack, there is a slight chance that you might be seen while on this mission into the past. You are known to the residents of the target house in San Mateo, Asimov is not." She took the magazine from Vance and handed it to me. Grean continued, "Let's go Isaac."

She took me by the arm and led me out of the Library. "Now, I should explain.... to get you to your destination you will be both teleported through space and transported back through time..."

Grean took me to the part of Eternity where the time travel devices were located. I was amazed to learn that Eternity is an actual place, not just a creation of my imagination. Having gotten so much right about time travel technology, I felt abashed to realize that when I wrote The End of Eternity I failed to make explicit the importance of teleportation in time travel. Apparently, for The End of Eternity, I was allowed to write about only the most general features of Eternity and time travel, just as Jack was only allowed to tell part of the story of the Asimov Reality in his published Alastor Cluster novels.

After a brief introduction to the time travel equipment in Eternity and being shown how to use my portable physiotime generator, Grean sent me back to 1973. I arrived in 1973, inside a large house located in San Mateo, California. The elderly couple living in the house never seemed to notice that I was briefly in their home. Grean herself could have accomplished the mission, but I suspect she wanted me to witness firsthand the fact that time travel was actually possible, given access to advanced Kac'hin technology.

My time travel mission was simple. All I did was put that 1993 issue of Analog inside a box full of old magazines. A minute later I was safely back inside Eternity. Grean assured me that Jack would find the magazine and read my message from the future. The course of Time would be repaired: Vance would not die in 1976 and he would complete his work on Earth, living well into the 21st century. Back in the Library of the Writers Block, I began learning about the secret history of Earth and how alien forces have long struggled to control human evolution. And, of course, I did write "Future Mystery".

Oh, one last thing, Jack (in 1973): I suggest that you destroy the November 1993 issue of Analog. No sense provoking the tryp'At Overseers. They would not be amused to learn that Grean was still making alterations to the timeline in 1973.

                                                                   The End

Next: green ghosts and green stars

Visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.