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Oct 26, 2012

Dreamtime

Dreamtime
In the Jack Vance novel Wyst, the protagonist, Jantiff, finds himself blinded and near death. Drifting into a kind of dream state he has visions of the people he has known, and then, "Miracle of Miracles," he seems to hear the mute girl, Glisten, speaking to him. She begs him not to give up: "Jantiff, please lift yourself." Jantiff rouses himself and survives.

In The Robots of Dawn, Isaac Asimov wrote some similar scenes in which his protagonist, Baley, is at the mysterious border between waking consciousness and dreaming. The telepathic robot Giskard has blocked some of Baley's memories, but in the strange brain state between waking and dreaming, Baley is able to imagine a startling idea that Giskard is trying to hide and prevent Baley from deducing.

In Exode, two of the major characters are Kach and Parthney, born on the distant planet Hemmal. They meet under unusual circumstances and as a result of that meeting their lives are kicked out of their previous orbits. Upon meeting Kach, Parthney undergoes a kind of transformation...it is almost like he wakes up from the first part of his life, from what might later seem like a dreamtime.

The blinded Jantiff
Kach feels that she cannot be honest with Parthney and she forces her friend Muchlo to participate in a delicately deceptive game that allows Kach to perform a trick on Parthney. Muchlo is reluctant to lie to Parthney, so Muchlo must find a way to provide Parthney with some critical information while at the same time protecting Kach's secrets.

In Wyst, Jantiff only later learns that Glisten was actually speaking to him. The mystery surrounding Glisten's voice begins to crumble when Jantiff is told that her apparent inability to speak is actually only a social custom of her people. However, Jantiff still does not allow himself to believe that he heard Glisten speak because he fears that Glisten had been killed....he still thinks that he only dreamed that he was hearing her voice. Vance's approach allows the reader to share Jantiff's doubts and uncertainties. Only on the last page of the novel do we find out the the truth about Glisten's fate.

In the case of Asimov's character, Baley, the reader is being toyed with for several hundred pages. Baley and the reader are not aware of the fact that Giskard is telepathic, but along the way through the story Asimov is dropping hints and every time that Baley starts to realize the truth about Giskard's telepathic ability, Giskard must try to use his telepathy to make Baley forget. Only at the end of the story do Giskard and Asimov finally reveal what has been going on. I guess we are not supposed to resent being kept in the dark about Giskard's telepathy...after all, this is a murder mystery and the solution to that mystery involves Giskard's telepathy. In the end, Giskard allows Baley to solve the case, even though the secret of Giskard's telepathic powers must be revealed to Baley.

In Exode there is no telepathic warping of Parthney's mind by Muchlo, but Muchlo does have a technological means to modify Parthney's memory. At the start of Exode, Muchlo must pretend to be human, but Muchlo is actually pek, a type of artificial lifeform that is similar in many ways to Asimov's robots such as Giskard. The pek are physically composed of nanoscopic components, nanites. These nanorobotic devices are versatile: a large group of them can assemble into a pek and take on human form or a smaller swarm can invade a human body and modify brain function from within.

Muchlo sends some nanites into Pathney's brain and uses them to confuse Parthney. Parthney is tricked into thinking he has had a dream about Kach. The "dream" puzzles and disturbs Parthney, and it is only much later (after 17 years!) that the nanites relax their hold on Parthney's memories and Parthney is able to understand the truth about Kach. Finally, after all that time and after having made his way to Earth, Parthney becomes fully aware of "Muchlo's Secret" and he learns how Kach and Muchlo tricked him, and why. "Muchlo's Secret" actually has two meanings and I allow the reader to think that "Muchlo's Secret" has been revealed by the end of that chapter, but it is only later that the second secret is revealed.

I've previously done some agonizing over the "trick" of letting readers believe that a character has died, only to later say: "No, he's really still alive!". I also feel like a dastardly sneak for making use Muchlo's control over nanites to allow me to trick readers of Exode. I want to allow Muchlo to reveal to Parthney the fact that Muchlo is a pek. Parthney will feel that Muchlo is so honest that Muchlo could not follow orders and hide from Parthney the fact that Muchlo is a pek disguised as a human. Parthney will be so convinced of Muchlo's honesty that he will not allow himself to imagine that Muchlo is keeping another secret.

At the end of The Robots of Dawn, Baley is allowed to know that Giskard is a telepath, but Baley is not allowed to share that fact with others. Similarly, at the end of the Exode chapter called "Muchlo's Secret" Parthney knows that Muchlo is a pek, but Muchlo has placed nanites in Parthney's brain that prevent him from sharing with others on Hemmal what he knows about Muchlo pretending to be human.

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