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Mar 10, 2012

Franny

Cover art for Exodemic.
In my previous blog post I mentioned Exodemic, the first story set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. The image at the top of this blog post (to the right) is the back cover of Exodemic, but I envisioned the novel as a ebook with an animated "cover image" (see below) showing Judy Renshaw morphing from the garb of a woman living on Earth in the 1700s into a space suit-wearing member of Genesaunt culture.

Judy is the first person who the "exodemic" saves from an early death caused by the smallpox virus. Judy's extended life is part of a series of fortunate events that greatly alter the development of human civilization, leading to an alternative Earth that is better than our world.

A nanorobotic artificial life form.
The exodemic starts with Judy's mother, Kate, who grows up near a volcano and who is almost killed during an eruption. Kate is taken off of Earth by an Interventionist agent (image to left) and trained for a return mission to Earth.

Back on Earth and living in England, Kate becomes the friend of Donald Miller. Don was born at a hidden base inside the Moon and is a secret Genesaunt agent, one of the Observers. The Observers only watch events on Earth, but the Interventionists want to intervene into the course of human civilization on Earth. Working like a police force for the Observers are Overseers who enforce the Rules of Observation, rules that forbid any alteration of Earthly events by Genesaunts. Overseers are always looking through data collected by the Observers and watching for evidence of Interventionists. Eventually Kate is recognized as being a tool of the Interventionists, but not before Judy is born. Kate and Don are taken off of Earth, but Judy remains in England, believing (along with the readers of the story) that Kate and Don died in a shipwreck.

Judy becomes friends with Howard Miller, who takes over Don's position as Observer in England. Judy becomes infected by a virus that is carried to Earth by Howard. By the Rules of Observation, Observers must be genetically similar to Earth humans, and when they are stationed on Earth they need protection against microbial diseases that exist on Earth. Normally, the viruses that are used to immunize Observers can't infect the people of Earth, but Judy carries a gene that allows her to be infected by engineered Genesaunt viruses. Rather than die, Judy survives her smallpox infection. Further, she carries a gene that allows for interaction between her egg cells and Howard's sperm cells. Judy gives birth to Franny who eventually becomes one of the first female medical doctors in England. Among other changes to the course of history caused by Franny, Mary Wollstonecraft does not die young and has a son named Ralph. Eventually, Ralph forms the first computer manufacturing company with Faraday and Babbage.

The Overseers eventually discover that Franny is Howard's daughter and so at that point, long after the damage has been done, Judy, Howard and Franny are taken off of Earth. At that point in the story, the reader finally becomes aware of the fact that Howard and Don were born on the Moon and worked on Earth as Observers. Also, Judy is reunited with her mother, Kate. Within Genesaunt culture there is a sophisticated nanotechnology and life extension technologies. A still youthful Kate meets Judy and Franny and welcomes them into Genesaunt culture. Judy and Franny go on to have interesting lives within Genesaunt culture and the reader learns most of the "backstory" of how there came to be Observers on Earth and what the Interventionists hope to accomplish.

Mary Shelley lived in the age when it was common for children to die young and women to die from infections soon after giving birth. Still in her teens, already with her first born child dead, Mary began writing Frankenstein. Mary's mother had died when Mary was just a few days old. In looking for a horror story topic, Mary needed to look no further than the horrors of everyday life....and death. Mary lived in a time when scientific study of biology and medicine was starting to make some progress, but there was often one step backwards for each step forward.

In 1816 there was no shortage of men who were able to get themselves into trouble by over-confident application of one small piece of knowledge. In Mary's time, there were doctors who would apply electric shocks to patients in the wild hope of getting lucky and curing some medical problem. There was a long struggle between the tradition of midwives assisting at home births and male doctors promoting deliveries in hospitals with supervision by male physicians, particularly for unusual high-risk pregnancies. It was not until half a century later that systematic analysis of birthing records by people like Florence Nightingale finally clarified the risks and benefits of hospital delivery. Adequate sanitation was finally recognized as the key to preventing the type of maternal death suffered by Mary's mother.

Before the late 1800s, the emerging discipline of microbiology was unable to systematically isolate and identify and characterize the microbes that cause infectious disease. When Ignaz Semmelweis demonstrated in 1847 that hand sanitation could greatly reduce the type of maternal death suffered by Mary's mother, the medical profession was not yet ready for the "germ theory" of disease and scientists were only just starting to think of the human body in terms of a collection of cellular subunits.

In the absence of any understanding of the microscopic cellular components of living organisms there was a vast amount of speculation about hydrological, magnetic and electrical mechanisms in an attempt to understand bodily functions (a nice account). When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the Age of Enlightenment was over and European intellectuals were often reacting against the bumbling enthusiasms of natural philosophers and their primitive efforts to reduce even life itself to a collection of mechanistic processes.

Following behind Mary Shelley, it has been hard for dramatists to resist the temptation to create a spiffy reanimation scene with lightening and electricity jolting dead body parts back to life. In our current age of video, science fiction stories are routinely contaminated by silly efforts to create a dramatic visual moment, often built around some recent scientific discovery or popularized buzzword. Think of the role of antimatter in the movie Angels and Demons. We get an emotional rush from a dramatic light show that is triggered by the antimatter, but no real intellectual stimulation.

One of my goals in writing the Exodemic alternative history novel was to show a version of Earth where the Age of Enlightenment never ended. The fact that Judy Renshaw was not killed by smallpox not only led to a long life for Mary Shelley's mother but also prevented the French Revolution. In Exodemic the USA never forms and the British colonies in America remain as part of a British Union where slavery is abolished and Lincoln never has to fight the Civil War. Similarly, France and its colonies develop into an economically powerful collective of nations that bring the continent of Africa into the Enlightenment.

One of my goals for Exodemic was to achieve early discovery of the non-human apes in Africa and depict the creation of successful efforts to protect animal species that are endangered in our world. In the Exodemic alternative history, the ranges of the great apes are turned into parks, not farmland. In Exodemic, philosophical Romanticism quickly gives birth to an effective environmentalism movement. Similarly, the Exodemic plot shows that Mary Wollstonecraft and like-minded people are able to liberate women and bring effective birth control to the world a century earlier that in our version of history.....world population peaks at 4,000,000,000 and most of the people alive today never have a chance to be born.

In Exodemic, Franny is a recognizably modern woman, well educated and practicing medicine and conducting scientific research...all a century before such things were possible in our world....all made possible by the sly Interventionists and the way they were able to alter the course of human civilization by slipping a few fast ones past the Overseers. When Franny is taken off of Earth, she has no trouble merging into Genesaunt culture and sets about trying to understand the dynamics of the planet-wide chess game that is played by the Interventionists and the Overseers.

The Overseers are descendants of Neanderthal-like humanoids who were taken off of Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago, even before modern humans had evolved. Overseers are no longer biological life forms; they are composed of nanoscopic nanite subunits and can morph their external appearance to match the human body form. In this image, the spaceship's staircase is also composed of nanites and is being constructed before Kate Renshaw's eyes within a suffocating volcanic cloud that is killing Kate during the eruption. This scene is the "teaser" for Exodemic, a kind of "alien abduction" in the 1700s that is never explained to the reader until much later in the novel. As an Interventionist agent, Kate is kept under tight surveillance by the Overseers when she is taken off of Earth (the second time she leaves Earth, after the Overseers finally recognize her as a tool of the Interventionists).

Franny has never violated the Rules of Observation. She is given the option to leave Earth with her parents and she goes. She is free to explore Genesaunt civilization which has been spreading away from Earth to nearby star systems. Genesaunt civilization does not have access to faster-than-light space travel, so it is not easy for Genesaunts to travel between the stars. However, the alien Huaoshy arrived at Earth millions of years ago and they have the technology that allows for faster-than-light space travel. The Huaoshy are few and far between and most Genesaunts never interact with the Huaoshy. The Huaoshy make use of assistants that are nanorobotic artificial life forms and some Genesaunts do have interactions with those assistants, much in the way that a few humans on Earth (such as Judy) interact with Observers (such as Howard). Some of the Huaoshy assistants play roles similar to the Overseers in that they function as a kind of police force for Genesaunt civilization.

Just as Judy got herself into trouble and was taken off of Earth and inserted into Genesaunt civilization, sometimes Genesaunts are extracted from Genesaunt civilization and are allowed to join the vast intergalactic civilization that has been created by the Huaoshy. In Exodemic, Franny is insatiably curious about how it has been possible for Earth to be secrely under Observation for millions of years. She manages to make contact with the Interventionists, but she is being followed by the Genesaunt "police", which allows the Huaoshy to uncover a plot by which the Interventionists were being given illegal access to advanced technology in violation of the Rules of Intervention. Franny has never violated the Rules of Intervention, but she is given the option of having her hard-won knowledge of the Huaoshy erased from her mind or being extracted from Genesaunt civilization. She decides to rise another "level" and allow herself to be taken away from the Solar System in a faster-than-light space ship. Franny goes on to learn about how the Huaoshy colonize galaxies like our own over the span of millions of years.

More about Franny and her interactions with Genesaunts.

Related Reading. Comments about the prelude to Exodemic. There is more about Exodemic in my next blog post.

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