Dec 20, 2012

Northern Cuisine

I've been crafting the last few characters for inclusion in Chapter One of Exode. Mentioned previously, Yandrey is a 15,000 year old hermaphroditic Buld. In search of an image of Yandrey to hold in my mind, I went online and "googled" away, ultimately finding a young model who looks not at all like we might normally picture as an ancient individual, but I was thinking that almost all Buld look like young adults. Why "almost"?

At first, I entertained the possibility that there would be a fairly conventional way to expand the Buld population, so there would be a way for new Buld to grow through childhood and adolescence. However, the more I think about it, the less I want to make room in Exode for Buld children. Then where do the new Buld come from when the Buld Clan must be increased in number? I've decided that the pek have a special Temple ceremony during which new Buld adult can be "created from scratch" using a Buld conceptus and a nanite-based "template" for the Buld body form. I like the idea that the Buld religion includes the opportunity for such acts of creation. There need be no Buld children in the conventional sense. However, while new Buld individuals will have an adult body, they will have minds that are mostly blank, child-like and ready to learn the ways of their world.

the challenge of growing food on a spaceship
So much for the "true" Buld...but what of the "false" Buld? False Buld, such a the main character of Exode, Parthney, lack the special chromosome that distinguishes the "true" Buld from Earthlings. After being taken from the body of his mother at about 50 days of life*, Parthney was gestated inside a pek surrogate mother and then raised at a special school by a small community of pek. In Chapter One, at the start of Exode, Parthney is a young adult who has been out of school and exploring his world for a few years.

How diverse a biological group is the Buld Clan and what is their evolutionary history? In thinking about this question, I'm reminded of the people in Asimov's imagined Galactic Empire.

synthetic meat
70 years ago the first stories in what was to become Asimov's Foundation Series were published. Asimov imagined a galaxy-spanning Empire of 25,000,000 Earth-like worlds with Trantor as the capitol. That Empire was in collapse and hope for galactic civilization's recovery from collapse rested with Hari Seldon's plan for two Foundations, established at the extreme "opposite" ends of the galaxy as dictated by psychohistorical necessity. 45 years later Asimov finally got around to writing the story of how Hari Seldon came to Trantor and began his efforts to create a useful science of Psychohistory.

Like many science fiction stories abut the future, the Foundation stories were soon overtaken by the rapid pace of scientific and technological reality, but there are also some interesting gems in the stories, examples of where Asimov's imagination was ahead of its time. In Prelude to Foundation, written long before any of us could "google" the internet and search electronically for information, one of the characters is described as "computering" Hari Seldon in order to learn about his work.

northern Neanderthal
As an example of where Asimov's imagination failed, although Prelude to Foundation was written long after other science fiction stories like Star Trek depicted people in the future as being constantly in communication (by means of electronic communications devices), poor Hari Seldon becomes lost on Trantor, a planet with 40,000,000,000 other people, and the plot depends on Seldon having no means to communicate with anyone or call for help!

Also in Prelude to Foundation, Asimov addressed the issue of there being different types of residents on Trantor: what were known as Easterners, Westerners and Southerners. Seldon lives on Trantor at a time 20,000 years in our future and the telepathic robot Daneel has been careful to make humanity forget about Earth, so Hari must wonder why there are no "Northerners". Asimov wanted to show us that there were distinct populations such as "Easterners" on Trantor. I understad that Asimov needed to show the Galactic Empire in decline, but why did Asimov decide to depict humanity 20,000 years in our future as still being plagued by racial bigotry?

Human Evolution
What has produced the most obvious human phenotypic variations over the course of the past 100,000 years? Current thinking suggests that we are naked apes that spread across the world from an origin in Africa, modern humans have been subject to natural selection for different patterns of pigmentation and other minor genetic changes that set various human populations apart in terms of their superficial appearance.

In contrast to Asimov's vision of a phenotypically diverse future human population, Larry Niven's novel Ringworld suggested that about a thousand years in our future, due to easy travel, all of the original distinctive varieties of humans will have exchanged their genes and the people of Earth will have become a rather homogenous phenotypic mixture resulting from the recombination of all humanity's genes. When I first read the Foundation Trilogy it was in the form of paperback editions of the novels as published by Avon. I found the human figures depicted in the cover art on those editions puzzling and disturbing. For decades, with those Avon Foundation novels on my book shelf, I guessed that maybe the artist imagined an efficient gene mixing process for the people of Asimov's Galactic Empire...with no need for protection from Earth's equatorial sun light, maybe humanity in the future had mostly lost its dark pigmentation. What I found disturbing in those cover illustrations was that the depicted people seemed somehow alien.

I've been imagining that the people of Hemmal are all lightly pigmented. The "false" Buld from Hemmal (such as Parthney) are intended to travel to Earth and function as Interventionist agents in England or English-speaking nations. However, the Buld Clan originated as a group of Genesaunts who traveled between the many human-settled worlds of the galactic core. There needs to be significant diversity in Buld appearance spanning the full range of phenotypic diversity as found among Earthlings. When Parthney leaves Hemmal he travels to the nearby world Oib and meets some Buld who, in contrast to the inhabitants of Hemmal, were not intentionally designed to be genetically similar to the Earthlings who call themselves Englishmen. What should such Buld look like? Surely some of the humans on Oib must be more darkly pigmented than the pale folk of Hemmal.

There is some evidence that darkly pigmented human skin has evolved as an adaptation of "naked apes" to strong sunlight. If proto-human apes with light skin and dark hair were originally taken away from Earth about 7 million years ago and domesticated by the pek on worlds such as Hemmal then what would the first humans have looked like? Would phenotypic traits such as hair and skin pigmentation of the early Buld depend on the specific planetary environment where the first humans were crafted by the pek or would the artificial cultural conditions imposed by the pek be unlikely to constrain phenotypic variable such as skin pigmentation?

Food - another environmental wild card
On Earth, human evolution has been constrained by the need to obtain food from natural sources. What might happen to human evolution under conditions where people had an artificial source of food?

Back when Asimov was dreaming up the first Foundation stories it was hard to imagine how it might be possible to feed a large world population. And what about feeding people in spaceships or space stations where you can't easily grow natural food plants?

Asimov developed the idea that it might become possible (and efficient) to grow large amounts of yeast and process those cultured cells into food for billions of people. In Prelude to Foundation, this idea of manufactured food was developed extensively as an aspect of the strange culture that Hari Seldon finds in the "Mycogen Sector" of Trantor. For the proper development of Psychohistory, it is important that Seldon experience the cultural diversity of the various sectors of Trantor. Asimov depicted the people of Mycogen as being masters of manufacturing palatable synthetic food in their underground factories. Given sufficiently advanced technology, just how exotic might synthetic food become in the future?

Reginal the bothet, Parthney and Muchlo
In Exode, humans have been crafted by the pek under artificial conditions on worlds of the galactic core. For the past 7 million years there has been gene flow from these worlds back to Earth resulting in we Earthlings. On worlds such as Hemmal, the Buld continue to live under artificial conditions. I've decided that the Prelands are fed by artificial means as part of religious rituals in their temples. The pek have at their command swarms of nanoscopic devices. During Preland temple rituals food is shuttled into the bodies of the Prelands in the form of a stream of microscopic particles. Most Prelands believe that eating bulk food is nothing more than the undesirable predicament of primitive creatures. In contrast, Parthney, as a "false" Buld, enjoys eating "real food" and he insists that the temple pek provide him with food that he can eat "the old fashioned way". One consequence of the dietary practices of the Prelands is that they have small jaws and retain their "baby teeth" into adulthood. As mentioned previously, the pek who live among the Buld on Hemmal generally mimic some of the distinctive Preland facial features, particularly their small mouths and jaws.

Another derived Preland phenotype is greatly reduced olfaction and gustatory sensation. The synthetic food that Prelands find a palatable element of their temple rituals cannot be enjoyed by the Buld. However, the pek find it easy to synthesize food that the Buld can tolerate. Most Buld on Hemmal try to emulate the Preland indifference to food, but some Buld partake in the disreputable pastime of seeking out and savoring "bulk food" which the pek will prepare, when asked to do so. Parthney, as a "false" Buld, refuses to participate in temple food rituals and makes no attempt to hide his preference for "bulk food".

the paired planets Hemmal and Oib
Unfortunately for the "true" Buld who enjoy "bulk food", they have very small stomachs and can never consume much "roughage" at one time. This dietary restriction is one of the means by which the pek try to prevent "true" Buld from abandoning the organized Genesaunt culture that is maintained by the pek. However, there are some "true" Buld on worlds like Oib who try to live beyond the reach of the pek. Special liquid diets have been developed for the "true" Buld on Oib where there are no temple feeding ceremonies or pek-directed feeding nanites.

On worlds such as Hemmal, the "false" Buld are made use of in two distinct ways by the scheming pek. Males, such as Parthney, are recruited for service on Earth as Interventionists agents. Females, such as Kach, are valuable to the Buld scholars because they can live among the Prelands and obtain information about Preland culture. The true Buld carry too many nanites in their brains: their cognitive functions are disrupted when they try to live among the Prelands. In Chapter One of Exode, Kach is established in her career as an observer of Preland culture on Hemmal and Parthney is started on his path towards Earth.

Typically Interventionist agents on Earth remain there until they die, but Parthney is destined to be captured by Overseers and removed from his duty on Earth.

Before Parthney leaves Hemmal, Kach plays a trick on him. After Parthney is removed from Earth and makes his way back to the galactic core he learns how Kach tricked him. By this time, Parthney knows that he has been selected by the alien Fru'wu for a special mission to the Andromeda galaxy.

The Fru'wu initially plan that Parthney and Hana (a woman who was born on Earth) can travel together to the Andromeda galaxy, but Hana believes that Parthney killed her husband. Parthney goes to Hemmal and offers Kach the chance to go with him to the Andromeda galaxy. Kach agrees to give up her work on Hemmal for several reasons: 1) because she views the mission to Andromeda as a way to prevent her son from becoming an Interventionist agent on Earth, and 2) she wants to have a chance to meet the Creators, the alien beings who are venerated in Preland religion as the creators of the human species.

One of the fun parts of the dynamic between Kach and Parthney is that Kach's religious beliefs about the Creators essentially contain the truth about human origins. Parthney is a "skeptic" and believes that humans evolved on Earth.
* - Note: I later decided that Parthney's biological origin was more complex than what I suggested here in this blog post.

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