Oct 28, 2017

Evil Edit

discuss the evidence
Before discovering science fiction as a literary genre, I had already adopted a scientific outlook in my life. My interest in science created a problem for me and made it difficult for me to deal with the types of narration that are commonly used for science fiction stories. How so? Well.....

who wrote this?
My first reaction upon reading anything is to wonder: "Who wrote this? Why should I believe anything that this author says?" Due to my love of science, I'm a skeptic and I really want to know if a story writer cares about little things like logic, collecting evidence and testing hypotheses.

Job 1: entertain.       ...then maybe
we'll worry about scientific plausibility....
Too many writers spew page after page of creative nonsense; they spin stories that are too disconnected from reality for my taste (which leans very heavily towards hard science fiction). Here is a short definition of "hard" science fiction: science fiction that was written by science nerds for other science nerds.

Many Sci Fi stories are told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who is free to try to slip anything past editors and on to the poor defenseless readers. For me, such stories can be a real turn off when they disconnect from reality and get entangled in fantasy. I believe that there should be some constraints on science fiction story tellers. There are some things that I don't want to hear from an omniscient narrator when I'm reading science fiction. Perhaps the most fundamental constraint is that science fiction story tellers should be scientifically literate: I don't want to find scientific nonsense in a story.

Assignment Nor'Dyren
Also, just because a story is set in the future or has a spaceship in it, that does not mean that the story is a science fiction story. I lament how much time I've spent during my life sorting through the ocean of stories that are labelled "science fiction" in search of the types of stories that I will enjoy. Sometimes it is easiest just to go back to old science fiction stories that I know are safe...

10 Years
In my previous blog post, I traveled 10 years into the past in order to look back (through time travel-tinted lenses) at the film Next. Another movie that came out in 2007 was The Man From Earth, written by Jerome Bixby. I no longer remember how I first became aware of Bixby as a science fiction story teller, but he provides an interesting case study as a writer who could sometimes entertain me and at other times annoy me.

plot holes
I first discovered Bixby's Sci Fi either through the episodes of Star Trek that he wrote (and that I watched in re-runs during the early 1970s) or it was when I read his short story "The Holes Around Mars" that was originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1954.

I read "The Holes Around Mars" when it appeared in Where Do We Go from Here?, a collection of stories assembled by Isaac Asimov and published in 1971, right when I discovered that a written literature of science fiction existed.

cover by James St. John (1941)
I've previously described how I grew up at a time when old stories about life on Mars were over my Sci Fi event horizon. By the 1960s, too much was known about Mars as a real planet. A little science nerd like me could not pretend that there might be canals on Mars and jungles on Venus. However, even if you ignore all mention of Martian life in "The Holes Around Mars", the story failed to be believable (even for a 12 year old kid). It was obvious that Bixby had constructed the entire story around a silly pun. There was nothing in "The Holes Around Mars" designed to satisfy a science nerd like me. The idea of a moon of Mars that would behave as depicted in the story was scientifically absurd.

One of the first Sci Fi books I bought
cover art by Paul Lehr (1969)
I can understand why Asimov included "The Holes Around Mars" in Where Do We Go From Here? Asimov's famous story called "The Last Question" was designed to lead up to the last line of the story: a fantastically advanced artificial life form simply says "Let there be light!" and a new universe comes into existence. I first read "The Last Question" in Nine Tomorrows. The cover of my copy of Nine Tomorrows proclaimed: "Tales of the Near Future", but the final line of "The Last Question" is in the far future, after the stars have all gone cold.

The Last Question
Some Sci Fi stories simply cannot be resisted. Their authors are compelled to write them, even if they are written just to express a pun or a silly joke. There is room in science fiction for humor (I accept the axiom: entertainment is the first priority), but if I want to hear something funny, I'm not going to look towards the science fiction genre to provide me with laughs. I seek out and read science fiction for nerdy science and technology-encrusted "what if?" stories, not chuckles.

The needed sequel.
Asimov's story "The Last Question" deals with three of the larger topics that have ever been explored in speculative fiction: 1) the ultimate fate of Humanity, 2) will it be possible for we humans to create artificial life forms that will eventually replace ourselves? and 3) is it possible to create a new universe? His entire story works as "hard" science fiction right up until the very end, then Asimov can't resist pulling his final line from the Bible. Other authors (such as Carl Sagan in his novel Contact) have taken more seriously the question: could a living being create a new universe? However, "The Last Question" still has the look and feel of a Sci Fi story that was written by a science nerd for his fellow science nerds. In contrast, "The Holes Around Mars" reads like a vehicle for a silly pun and is full of scientific nonsense that will annoy science nerds like me.

A major reason why I find it difficult to enjoy most stories that get labeled "science fiction" is that they are not written by fellow science nerds. Here is an example. A more famous example is "By Any Other Name", one of the more scientifically absurd Star Trek TOS episodes that originated from a story that was written by Bixby. I suspect that I would have been happier had I simply read Bixby's original story instead of watching the television episode. After Dorothy Fontana re-wrote the story and it was crammed into 50 minutes of television, it was full of scientific absurdities.

Barbara Bouchet
I've never enjoyed Sci Fi stories about super advanced aliens who always can be defeated by bumbling humans. In "By Any Other Name", we are told that alien invaders from the Andromeda galaxy have super technology that allows them to travel intergalactic distances in 300 years. However, after making the long trip to our galaxy, their super sophisticated space ship fell apart and now they need to borrow the Enterprise so that they can return home. Also, we are expected to believe that the aliens created human bodies and transferred their minds into those "containers" because they must take human form while they ride in the Enterprise back to their home galaxy. Also, we are asked to believe that the aliens want to invade and conquer our galaxy because they can no longer survive in their galaxy due to rising radiation levels. After 50 minutes with Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty, the alien commander realizes that he should abandon the evil plan of conquering our galaxy and he and his fellow alien invaders should live happily ever after in their new human bodies. This is the obvious conclusion to reach because the alien commander will get to live happily ever after with Barbara Bouchet.

"It's green."
"By Any Other Name" was intentionally given a light tone by Fontana. Besides the sexy alien played by Barbara Bouchet, the other memorable part of the episode comes when Scotty drinks an alien under the table.

The Man From Earth
As much as I dislike the scientific nonsense of "By Any Other Name" and "The Holes of Mars", Bixby wrote one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, "Requiem for Methuselah". Sometimes I wonder if "Requiem for Methuselah" is autobiographical. I've long been frustrated by how little information is available about Bixby's early life and education. Supposedly Bixby began writing stories about an immortal human in the early 1960s. He did not finish writing about this idea until just before his death and his work was turned into the 2007 film The Man From Earth.

The Man From Earth: Holocene
Now, here in 2017 there is a sequel to The Man From Earth. I hope that this series of films will actually one day get around to including an interesting scientific account of what is going on, of how a human was able to live for thousands of years. Bixby seemed to be able to craft a science fiction story that would not offend me when he did not try to explain any of the details. It is probably good advice for most story tellers: when possible, leave the details to the imagination of the reader.

Third person omniscient
You can call it a science fiction story,
and put it in your Sci Fi encyclopedia,
but do not expect us to believe
that it is really science fiction.
More often than not, I reach a point in a Sci Fi story where I want to say, "This story is silly. That would never happen. The author has let his imagination run off the rails. This makes no sense." I often end up feeling that the author of the story got lazy and grew tired of trying to tell a coherent story. [And, in some cases, the author never even tried to make the story believable; there was some other objective... the story is not really science fiction, it is from another genre, and only contains some superficial features of a science fiction story. That is another issue. In this blog post I want to focus on stories that are true science fiction.] Absolute power can corrupt and the absolute power of omniscient narration can too often corrupt an author.

...the human mind is so far from omniscient...
Science fiction in another Reality
cover art by Antonio Schomburg
"The Exile of Time" was published in 1931, near the start of the Sci Fi era. Ray Cummings used a first person narrative, but he was trapped in the pre-science fiction past, when the need for action and a struggle of "good vs. evil" routinely trumped any efforts directed towards believable science and technology.

The type of murderous clanking robots that Cummings depicted in "The Exile of Time" provided motivation to a young Isaac Asimov, driving him to imagine robots from an engineering perspective rather than the Frankenstein's monster perspective. I like to imagine that in another Reality, writers like Ray Cummings might have managed to start the golden age of science fiction a few years earlier than in our Reality.

Asimov's robot Daneel.
Engineered to help Humanity,
not exterminate the population
of New York City.
When I read a science fiction story, deep down inside, I have a bias towards wanting a first person narrative, just like what we read in a scientific journal article that is reporting new data from experiments. I want to hear about a known person (a sane person who is reliable) and what their experiences have been. In all honesty, what I'd like is the opportunity to ask questions of the narrator and what I'd really like to be able to verify what I've been told by the narrator.

Given my personal biases, I feel like there is something magical when
1) the author of a story is part of the story and
2) I feel like I can trust that author to tell me the truth.
However, I also like objectivity. Any one person can have too narrow of a perspective on a story. I like to imagine that a group of collaborating authors should be able to tell any story better than a single narrator could.

The Editor
The Exode Saga (image credits)
My biases (outlined above) account for how I arrived at the idea of story narration that is organized by an editor. For the Exode Saga, there is a group of collaborating authors and all their various experiences are assembled, organized and presented to the reader by an editor.

A Few Good Aliens by Ivory Fersoni
For example, I pretend that parts of the Exode Saga are told by Ivory Fersoni. The Editor was able to interact with Ivory and collect some of her stories and include important parts of Ivory's stories in the Exode Saga.

image credits
Within the Exode Saga, characters such as Ivory and The Editor are depicted as struggling to understand the world and trying to share what they have learned with the reader. The reliability and believably of information is explicitly examined and questioned. In particular, the Editor does not want to be tricked into misinforming readers.

Evil Author
Characters such as Ivory are explicitly depicted as wondering if they can trust the Editor. Similarly, The Editor must wonder if Ivory's stories can be trusted and verified. Ideally, the Editor would like independent confirmation of anything Ivory claims to be true. The struggle for proof and verification of information is explicitly part of the Exode Saga, just as the struggle for truth is explicitly part of scientific endeavors.

In particular, The Editor is depicted as struggling with the question: "Should I be trusted?"
Stated more dramatically, is The Editor evil?

the tryp'At
The Editor is forced to wonder: am I just a puppet, being forced to play a particular role, a role that will turn out to have disastrous consequences? Again, stated dramatically, The Editor wonders: am I a force for good or evil?

Side characters
Some of the lesser characters in the Exode Saga are Interventionists. They believe that Earthlings should know the truth about their origins. From the perspective of such Interventionists (such as Ivory), The Editor is performing a necessary function that will help the human population of Earth survive and spread outward among the stars.

Other characters in the Exode Saga stand in opposition to The Editor and his efforts to share the Exode Saga with the people of Earth. For example, the tryp'At Overseers feel that The Editor is dangerous. Some of the Overseers worry that The Editor is being used for evil purposes.

in the Ekcolir Reality
Isaac Asimov believed that good science fiction stories can successfully present readers with characters who are caught up in a struggle while leaving the reader uncertain about which characters are right (or "evil") and how the struggle should turn out in the end (see this discussion). I put "evil" in quotes, because it is not necessary to depict anyone in a science fiction story as "evil". Being quick to depict a character as evil is often a sign of authorial laziness. When an author is lazy, sophisticated readers notice and they quickly become bored.

So, for the Exode Saga, I encourage the reader to wonder if the author is evil. I should probably be very explicit and have a member of the tryp'At council present the evidence supporting that view.

Next: fixing the Foundation
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Oct 22, 2017

Mutant Time

1983 cover by Richard Sparks
I'm rather obsessed with science fiction stories about time travel. Back when I was a young boy, I saw The Time Machine on television and I was exposed to the idea of time travel technology: using an imaginary machine that can transport people through time. Great fun!

What about other types of time travel that do not involve moving an entire person through time? I like the idea of science fiction stories that involve a technology for sending just information back into the past (example).

April 1954
What about a time travel story where there is no technology needed, no machine required to transmit information to the past? What if a human brain had the ability to "see the future"? One such story is "The Golden Man", a story by Philip K. Dick from 1954.

The issue of If magazine containing "The Golden Man" can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.

My Problem
The "golden man" is a mutant. As a biologist, the frequent appearance of mutants as characters in science fiction stories is a great source of aggravation for me. The mutants found in most Sci Fi stories are not biologically plausible; the mutations often confer amazing (and absurd) super-powers.

ladies love the super hard Hugo
Tales about dudes with super-powers can be traced back to old Sci Fi stories such as "The Gladiator" by Philip Wylie (in 1930). But why stop there? We could interpret some of the Greek myths as being stories about "mutant" humans with super-powers.

Super Atom
Then along came the atomic age. I suppose that back in the 1940s and 1950s every science fiction story writer simply had to write a story about a mutant human with some super-power. Isaac Asimov did it with his story about the Mule.

Cris knows when he is about to be shot
In the aftermath of a nuclear war, mutants pop up within the human population of Earth. Dick's Mutant of the Day (named Cris) is literally a golden man, physically perfect except for his golden skin. Cris represents the 88th type of human mutant discovered. All the previous 87 types were exterminated because the government agents who hunt down mutants don't want we humans to end up like the Neanderthals: extinct and replaced by a new type of mutant human that is superior to us.

Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel
But the golden skin is just the surface. Cris' brain allows him to see the future. Not ALL the future, but 30 minutes into his immediate future.

This is the 10th anniversary of Next, a film that was inspired by "The Golden Man". For this film, Nicolas Cage plays the role of the "mutant" who can see into the future. For Next, Cage was put on a shorter leash than Cris; Cage can only see 2 minutes into the future, which provides enough information from the future so that he can make a living by playing blackjack.

Jessica Biel
In "The Golden Man", everyone is impressed by the ability of Cris to survive to the age of 18 without being caught by the army of government agents who constantly search Earth for hidden mutants. In Next, Cage plays the role of a middle aged man who had lived for decades without anyone noticing that he can see the future. He disguises himself as an unpopular Las Vagas stage magician. Maybe as compensation for only being able to see two minutes of the future, Cage gets to spend the night in a motel room with Jessica Biel.

There is some kind of unexplained connection between Cage and Biel. Maybe Cage is like a "receiver", able to cognitively process information that arrives from the near future. And maybe Biel is a kind of transmitter.

see the future
Biel seems to be able to transmit information back to the past and so Cage discovers that it is possible for him to "see" several days into the future as long as he can "tune into" Biel's transmission from the future. Working together, they are a powerful, if faulty, "device" for looking far into the future.

using time travel to get the girl
Given the age difference between Cage and Biel, I was wondering if we might be told that Biel is playing the role of Cage's daughter and that she had inherited her ability to send information through time.

In "The Golden Man", Cris has two special super-powers. The first is his ability to see the future. The second is that woman seem to find him irresistible.

in the Ekcolir Reality
In Next, we see how Cage can look into the future and see how to behave exactly right so as to first win Biel's trust and eventually, get her into bed. Next is like the movie Groundhog Day, where even-though the character played by Andie MacDowell dislikes the time-looping character played by Bill Murray, because of his ability to keep repeating his day with her, eventually he figures out how to successfully seduce her.

"Radio Free Albemuth" by Dario Rivarossa
If a new mutation conferring the ability to see the future did appear in the human population, how could that new gene combination be passed on to future generations without being lost?

Next: another film from 2007, The Man From Earth
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Oct 14, 2017

SIHA Award 2017

Wander an Isla of despair until you discover the Will to live.
The 2017 search for interesting science fiction in Hollywood is over (nominated films). The SIHA award winner for this year is The Discovery.

Only the lonely
I've looked around enough to know
That you're the one I want to go
Through time with

-Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce

On one level, we can view The Discovery as a love story. Jason Segel (in the role of neurobiologist Will Harbor) and Rooney Mara (as Isla, the suicidal mother of a drowned boy) meet "by chance" on a ferry boat ride to an enchanted island where they fall in love, as they were fated to do.

Robert, Rooney and Jason (the necronauts)
But no. That would be a different movie; The Discovery is a romantic science fiction movie and we do not have to view this story as a magical fantasy. So I'm going to get excessively nerdy and technical while I over-analyze The Discovery...

"It’s a true case of the viewer getting from a film what they themselves bring to it." -Paul Klein

...let's think about this...
What if we could put our memories in a bottle and send them back to ourselves across the ocean of time, back to an earlier time point in our lives? Would we be able to learn from our future self?

Information age
Will Harbor is on a mission that he can't remember. He keeps having little cognitive spasms and he experiences quick flashback-like images, but those haunting fragments of stray information do not seem to deflect him from bumbling along through his life the way we humans do. Maybe he can dismiss his odd memory fragments by telling himself that he is under stress and nervous about returning home to confront his evil scientist father, Thomas.

The Evil Scientist
"Maybe it would."
"If you knew what came next after
you died, would that matter to you?
Thomas Harbor (played by Robert Redford) is presented to viewers as some kind of emotionally stunted monster who refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of his scientific research program. We learn that Will used to work in collaboration with Thomas on consciousness research, but then Will abandoned their shared research, leaving his father to complete the project and announce his startling discovery to the world.

Doubting Thomas kills himself in order to get a
glimpse of another plane of existence.
Too much information
Viewers of The Discovery learn that Thomas has been using a machine that can reversibly take people to the edge of death. Results from near-death experiments reveal that some manifestation of a person's consciousness can seemingly continue to exist after someone dies.

Will simply wanted to study and learn about the physical nature of human consciousness, but Thomas went "a step too far"; results obtained with his {reversible} killing machine showed the world that consciousness can continue after we die.

Will is horrified by the suicide epidemic.
The unquestioned starting premise of The Discovery is that scientific evidence for life after death would trigger a suicide epidemic that sweeps the world. In the two years since Thomas reported his scientific results, the deaths of over four million people have been attributed to the discovery of evidence for life after death. And just to ramp up the angst, one character in the story suggests that it is just a matter of time before a new cadre of mass murderers starts killing everyone in order to help others move along towards their next life.

The Discovery
While still officially inside the part of this blog post called "too much information", I want to say that there is (mercifully) not too much Hollywood in this film. And that is a good thing. Even the Sci Fi cliché of the evil scientist is used with finesse; the complexity of Thomas as a character is gradually revealed during the film and his actions are shown to be nuanced.

Even with all of the suicides, corpses and one on-screen murder, The Discovery is more of a mystery story than a horror story. For me, the most annoying part of the movie is the sound track. I don't usually notice or think about the background sounds of movies, but during The Discovery, occasionally the volume level rises and we are subjected to VERY loud and annoying thuds that are supposed to tell us that something dramatic is happening.

don't annoy the audience
And then, at other times, the volume of the dialog drops to barely audible levels when some character mumbles a line and we are left wondering if we just missed some profound clue that might explain the mystery of what is going on. The first rule of film should be: 1) this is entertainment, don't annoy the audience. Duh. I'm thankful I did not see this movie in a theater. Watching at home, at least I could manually turn the volume up and down.

The Discovery
The Killing Machine
For as long as there have been humans, we have been telling each-other stories. We enjoy inventing solutions to the mysteries of life such as our unseen origins and our future fates. To some extent, we all tend to exist in a self-constructed world of fantasy rather than simply admit to ourselves that our minds are just severely constrained and limited memory storage devices. We have fun inventing fantasies about more interesting worlds where maybe there is something more to life than just bumbling through one imperfect set of years to a dead end. I've seen it suggested (here) that The Discovery is a fantasy that is similar to Nietzsche's imagined "eternal return". Are we all in some sort of infinitely repeating cycle of lives that start and restart and never end?

"The most important fact of human life is the infinity of space....does infinity as an object of experience daunt the human mind?" - Jan Holberk Vaenz LXII

let me try that again
As humans, we are dual beings. We exist, trapped, within the limited cognitive universe of our personal memories. However, with the help of imagination, we constantly explore the negative space of the vast unknown universe that surrounds us. As social mammals who share language and culture, our minds are shaped by the stories that become popular memes, passing from mind to mind down through the centuries. Stories of life-after-death provide some of the most popular human memes.

According to Taylor Holmes, "In Buddhism, the goal is to achieve perfection through constantly retrying and redoing a failed life." This kind of process for perfecting a failed life is what the main character, Will Harbor, spends his time doing in The Discovery. The romantics among us can believe that Will is constructing and perfecting a life that will be spent happily with Isla: a new life in a new world that will erase the horrible dystopic world that Will was stuck in at the start of the movie.

"No, Will, I'm only a part of you... a memory."
Science Fiction
The Discovery is good science fiction because it starts with a new (and imaginary) scientific advance and then plays around with how people react to that new scientific discovery. The weavers of this story (Justin Lader and Charlie McDowell) do not bother to try to tell us any scientific details about the discovery at the start of the film, instead they dive into showing us how people have reacted to the discovery that it is possible to detect what looks like continuing thought processes in the brains of dead people, new thoughts that are being generated after they move on to a new existence.

What next?
Due to expectations arising from their religious beliefs, some people assume that the existence of an "afterlife" has been scientifically demonstrated to be objectively real by the experimental results that were generated by Thomas. Further, after learning about this scientific discovery, some people (millions of people around the world) kill themselves, apparently in an attempt to speed up their movement on to a new life.

Doubting Thomas needs scientific proof
that there is life after death.
The burden of all these suicides falls on both Thomas Harbor (who made the discovery) and his son, Will. During the events depicted in the movie, Thomas and Will are struggling to deal not only with the new suicide epidemic that is resulting in the deaths of millions of strangers, but also with the earlier suicide of Will's mother. We are told that she apparently killed herself because she was unable to compete successfully against Thomas' obsessive effort to pursue his scientific muse, an obsession that ultimately demonstrated the existence of some sort of life after death.

A shocking discovery!
The Discovery is also good science fiction because it depicts Thomas' discovery as being a work in progress. Nobody completely understands what sort of life comes after death, only that there seems to be something there. This uncertainty captures the nature of scientific endeavors: seldom do newly discovered scientific "facts" efficiently and quickly wrap up a mystery with a neatly tied bow.

Will is drawn into the on-going process of trying to make sense of his father's discovery of life after death. As an outside observer, Will does not share his father's obsessive drive, a drive that now seems directed towards making everyone in the world adopt a view of life after death as a simple fact that should be accepted for what it is and not condemned because of the suicide epidemic it has spawned.

Can you put a scientific discovery
back in the bottle?
In fact, Will hopes that it might be possible to put this genie back in the bottle. Maybe Thomas could lie and say: "I was wrong, I did not really discover evidence for life after death. My mistake. Now stop killing yourselves!" After Thomas refuses to voluntarily end his research project, Will then tries to sabotage his father's on-going experiments. And then Will dabbles in well-intentioned scientific fraud by trying to spread the incorrect idea that Thomas' equipment only reveals the latent memories that remain in the brains of dead people.

Right at the start of this film, there is one more important backstory fact that is revealed about Will. He is haunted not only by his mother's past suicide, but also by jumbled and confused memories that he believes might be from his own childhood: what he seems to remember as a near-death experience of his own.

The Exode Saga
Story behind the Story
The Discovery is also good science fiction because it inspires the creation of fan-fiction. In the remaining part of this blog post (below) I'm going to let my imagination play around with The Discovery. This involves wedging The Discovery sideways into the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

Search for Aliens
There is no mention of aliens in The Discovery. Viewers are supposed to take it on faith that humans simply have the ability to die and then "re-live" important moments in the past. However, if The Discovery is a science fiction story rather than just a fantasy, then there could be some scientific explanation for what is going on.

Reality Viewing
What if alien visitors to Earth secretly provided we humans with a type of technological environment that can allow us to "travel back in time"? Also, what if the aliens want to keep the existence of time travel secret? The aliens know that humans can't be trusted with knowledge of the existence of either alien visitors to Earth or time travel. Aliens who take pains to hide their existence from us is one solution to the Fermi Paradox.

Isla and Will are genetically
well suited to use the Bimanoid Interface
What if it is only when the aliens occasionally allow Earthlings access to time travel technology that "we" are given an opportunity to help create a new Reality, a new timeline? Further, while we humans live our lives, we are usually not allowed to be aware that time travel is possible, even when we actually are having our lives altered by the application of time travel technology. Further, the aliens also have "Reality Viewing" technology and under some unusual conditions, humans can get a look at another Reality, without actually "going" there. As Isla says: look at the advertising brochure for a resort before you actually travel to a tourist destination.

Maybe those "unusual conditions" are only present right after we die. Why should that be true?

Endosymbionts and Infites
Imagine that we humans are dual beings. Long ago (about 2,000,000,000 years ago) aliens (like these) arrived and inserted their advanced nanotechnology into the structure of our planet. During the course of evolution, every living organism on Earth became a hybrid mixture of biological cells and invisibly small zeptites.

What if the aliens are letting we humans make use of time travel technology so as to help to bring into existence a new, better Reality. And what if when we are given a chance to use time travel technology, it is not an entire person who is sent back into the past?

time travel
What "travels back in time" is not an entire person, but just some infites, a packet of memories, that can alter the behavior of a person so as to bring into existence a new, better Reality. If so, then maybe our world is being gradually constructed by means of a collaborative effort: ours is a world made better by alien technology and alien support of our own well-intentioned efforts to fix things and make a better world.

Time travel
Most people prefer to view The Discovery through the lens of religion, but for me (as a science nerd) this is a time travel story. Aliens know humans should not be allowed to know that time travel is possible. As soon as Thomas makes his discovery (what he actually discovers is that time travel is possible), the aliens must quickly act to correct Earth's timeline and erase human knowledge of the existence of time travel.

Oliver is saved.
By the end of The Discovery we learn that Will's jumbled memories of a possible near-death experience when he was 5 years old are actually caused by his need (his will, his desire) to make himself remember in "his next life" (the next Reality) that he must act to prevent the drowning death of Isla's 5 year old son, Oliver. After repeatedly "going back into time" to save Isla from drowning herself, Will finally realizes that he must go further back in time and save Oliver. As Isla says in Will's "dream" near the end of The Discovery: "There is more than one way to save me." If Oliver is saved then Isla will also be saved, too.

In the Ekcolir Reality.
Original art by Luis Royo.
In order to make their time travel project viable, the aliens long ago invented a way to defeat the butterfly effect. Each person on Earth has a corresponding replicoid within the Hierion Domain. The existence of those replicoids is what generates the required temporal momentum that assures the same people are found in each successive Reality of Earth's Reality Chain.

Bimanoid Interface
image credits
We humans are constantly connected to our replicoid by means of a communications link that involves our zeptite endosymbiont. Normally, any communication with our replicoid only works at the level of our subconscious mind. When our biological brain cells start to die after death (define "death" as being when the heart no longer beats), the "brain wave" detecting equipment that was invented by Thomas Harbor can still detect a signal coming from the zeptite endosymbiont remaining inside the dying person.

When a human dies, their replicoid (inside the Hierion Domain) automatically (with the help of alien technology) begins to view a possible new Reality that would come into existence if some of "their" memories were sent back in time. The replicoid contains an exact copy of every memory from the person who just died.

Sadly, there were no aliens written into The Discovery, but in my dreams this film can be imagined as a pilot for a television series in which we get to find out what happens next to Will, Oliver and Isla. In such a sequel it could be revealed that aliens had provided the time travel technology that allowed Will to "go back in time" and save Oliver. I put "go back in time" in quotes because this sort of time travel technology only allows Earthlings (or, more precisely, their replicoids) to send packets of information back in time.

The Discovery II
I'd also like to imagine that by "traveling back in time", Will has erased/prevented his father's discovery and the suicide epidemic never happens. However, the timeline of Earth is far from perfect and the aliens are planing a new mission in time... once more they need some human helpers...
...on the road to SIHA 2018
2017 SIHA nominations
2016 SIHA awards
Next: more time travel: "The Golden Man"
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