Dec 25, 2012

Secrecy in Science Fiction

The End of Eternity
I enjoy typing topics into a search engine and seeing what other people have written about matters that are on my mind. I was surprised to find nothing online when I typed in "secrecy in science fiction".

"spaceships in science fiction"        5,120,000*
"biology in science fiction"                233,000 
"the moon in science fiction"               58,800
"telepathy in science fiction"                 1,440
"neuroscience in science fiction"              949
"space elevators in science fiction"             40
"hermaphrodites in science fiction"              6
"secrecy in science fiction"                           0

Secrecy has been on my mind in the context of Exode, a story in which a secret has been kept from the people of Earth for 7,000,000 years. A major element of fun in Exode arises from the fact that the Interventionists have struggled and schemed for millennia to reveal the existence of that secret to we Earthlings, then, just when the veil of secrecy is finally to be withdrawn, the Interventionists get cold feet.

With the exception of the very first story set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe I have typically depicted Interventionist agents as being male. I gravitated towards this choice for several reasons, one being that their bitter rivals, the Overseers, are females. The Overseers play the role of a kind of planetary police force for Earth and it was fun have genetically engineered female Overseers who were stronger, smarter and quicker than the Interventionists. I've had fun depicting Overseers as arrogant and convinced that due to their engineered biological superiority, when push came to shove, they were always going to defeat the hapless male Interventionists. In fact, it is important that the Interventionists always seem to be defeated in any confrontation between Interventionists and Overseers. The over-confidence of the Overseers is always their undoing....the Interventionists always seem to loose, but in fact, they do manage to alter the course of human development on Earth....and most importantly, the Overseers, certain of their success, never even notice that the Interventionist really are able to change the fate of we Earthlings (albeit in subtle ways).

My previous blog post described some of the new twists on the Interventionists that are being included in Exode. Here is one more: the seemingly bumbling yet marvelously effective male Interventionists eventually paint themselves into a corner and onto the stage strides the first female Interventionist since Exodemic, Kach, intent on cleaning up a mess that was made by other Interventionists.

Secret agents
Making Luck
In his time travel novel, The End of Eternity, Asimov imagined a male-dominated group of time lords who, through their relentless control of historical events on Earth, unwittingly caused the extinction of humanity. In order to set things right and give humanity a chance for survival, Asimov called upon the seductive Noÿs Lambent to infiltrate Eternity and bring the time lords to their knees. Job One for the time lords was to keep secret from the people of Earth their power to alter the historical timeline. How does Noÿs penetrate that secret? It suffices to say that Asimov equips Noÿs with the requisite technology, and the rest is becomes history.

In Exode the heroine (Kach) has no wiz-bang technological means of saving humanity. What Kach has going for her is a lifetime devoted to learning about the strange reality she is born into: a reality where humans are an artificial construct, a most unlikely species that has been designed and crafted by space aliens who came to Earth from a distant galaxy. It is by learning as much as possible about human origins and the Creators that Kach can make wise decisions, but, frustratingly, Job One for the alien Huaoshy is making sure that primitive creatures like we Earthlings are completely unaware of the existence of the Huaoshy.

Asimov's tiger woman
Heinlein's spunky heroine Friday Baldwin was given a built-in advantaged. As an artificially engineered person she is genetically superior and, consequently, physically superior to run-of-the-mill humans. In Exode, genetic modification of humans is also a major theme, but Kach is at the bottom of the gene pool...genetically indistinguishable from we Earthlings.

Friday reminds me of another of Asimov's heroines, Dors Venabili. Dors is an artificial person with a positronic brain and other non-biological enhancements that make her a powerful bodyguard for Hari Seldon and earn her the label "tiger woman". In contrast to science fiction heroines like Friday and Dors, Kach is no superwoman.

In addition to high tech gizmos and superhuman physical prowess, another boost that is often given to science fiction heroines is for authors to hand them all of the advantages that can come from being born into a wealthy and powerful family.

Carolyn Cherry's character Allison Reilly was born into a rich family and her inherited social advantages contrast dramatically with those of Sandor Kreja whose family was destroyed, leaving him with only a rundown spaceship. In contrast to Allison, Kach can never even know who her parents were...and more to the point, she was born on a planet where knowing your parents can have no possible benefit.

So, what is the secret to Kach's success? Well, there is also the Chauncey Gardiner type of heroics where all you need to do is show up, or, as Choire Sicha puts it, "She is the hero because, why not?" Of course, if someone "just happens" to become a hero we must try to look behind the curtain...there might be a hidden reason, right? For example, Larry Niven imagined that you could "breed humans for good luck": such was the explanation given for Teela Brown's ability to be in the right place at the right time. We can imagine all kinds of magical "reasons" for why things come to happy conclusion for an unlikely hero, but I'm personally unhappy when magic creeps into a science fiction story.

In the case of Kach, things seem to go her way because of her relentless persistence...she will not rest...she just keeps pushing. But is her "good luck" really only the product of hard work?

Possession is 0.9 x Thing
I want to raise another possibility in the minds of readers. In Exode, the Huaoshy lurk off stage, but their presence permeates Genesaunt consciousness and the Creators are worshiped and feared because of their god-like powers. Their power is not magical or supernatural, however, for primitives like we Earthlings, it might seem like it. The Huaoshy have had advanced technology for a billion years and they long ago transformed themselves into an artificial lifeform that enjoys an existence that is as far beyond human existence as we are beyond the lives of bacteria. In Chapter One of Exode, Parthney has his paranoid fears confirmed when he learns that the pek can effortlessly monitor human thoughts. Parthney is left wondering to what extent he is a puppet with his behavior subject to control by the pek and the advanced nanite technology at their command. Kach inherits that paranoia and takes it to the next level.

The more Kach learns about the pek the clearer it becomes that the pek have a relationship to the Creators (the Huaoshy) that is similar to the relationship between a plow and a farmer. The pek are a tool that the Huaoshy use to transform wild and dangerous environments (environments such as planet Earth) towards a "sanitized" state of existence that is compatible with conditions that the Huaoshy require within their 100,000 galaxy-wide domain of operations. In this analogy of plows and farmers, the human species can be viewed as the time all the plowing is complete, the wolves might very well be extinct.

Irene Kelly
In Exode, is there hope for humanity? Rather than simply exterminate the wolves (humanity) the farmer (the Huaoshy) would prefer to domesticate us. Why? That is not clear...possibly domesticated wolves would make fine pets for the farmer's children. Kach is forced to ask: do the Creators (the Huaoshy) simply use the pek as a fully automated system for domesticating wolves or do the Huaoshy sometimes concern themselves with the day-to-day affairs of primitive creatures like humans?

If the Huaoshy did concern themselves with humans, would they just show up on our doorstep? In The Start of Eternity I included the idea that the Huaoshy can "instantiate" themselves in humanoid form when there is a crisis on Earth. However, these "instantiated" Huaoshy do not just wander around on Earth making a spectacle of themselves. The Huaoshy have learned by long experience that it is best if primitive creatures like we humans are not aware that the Huaoshy exist.

It is a trivial matter for the Huaoshy to disguise themselves, so they could easily visit Earth and go unnoticed. Another option would be for the Huaoshy to "appropriate" or take possession of a human body and use it to accomplish a task that needed to be completed on Earth. In Exode, Kach cannot avoid wondering if such "appropriations" take place, and in particular, might she herself be a puppet for the Huaoshy? How can she know if she is acting of her own "free will" or if she is simply behaving the way that the Huaoshy make her behave?

What form might human possession by the Huaoshy take? In Star Trek, Spock was able to make goo goo eyes at Irene Kelly and make her activate a communicator, allowing the Enterprise crew to come to the rescue. The Huaoshy are technologically masters of the very small and they could easily slip their probes into a human brain and take control. How do any of us know that we have free will? What if everything went along well in your life, so well that you could not help wondering if you were benefiting from "divine intervention"...would you question your good fortune or just happily accept it? And what if things went well for you personally (and your breed of dog), but all the wolves on some little planet (such as Earth) just happened to get annihilated? Kach worries about such questions.

Izhiun to the rescue!
Kach can never lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the Huaoshy. In Exode, the Huaoshy remain a theoretical construct devised by hapless humans (like Kach) who want to know their Creators. But, propelled by her dogged persistence, Kach arrives on Earth and tries to save the day...and here is where I risk provoking the ire of the science fiction heroine police. Nothing seems to upset the heroine police as much as a failed heroine who stumbles in the last mile of the marathon and must be helped across the finish line by, ew, a guy.

In the case of Kach, the guy who comes to her rescue is Izhiun, her grandson. What does Izhiun have that Kach does not have? First of all, it might seem very unlikely that Izhiun should ever find his way to Earth. Izhiun is born on an obscure little planet in the Andromeda galaxy. However, the Nereid Interventionists have a long history of making the trip from Andromeda to Earth (and, most recently, it is they who send Kach to Earth) and they feel an obligation to send reinforcements to Earth when Kach gets into trouble on Earth.

So, Izhiun gets a helping hand from the Nereids and he is provided with the needed technological gizmo that will allow him to rescue Kach. As usual, it was important that Kach appear to be defeated by the Overseers. In this case, the "technological gizmo" is a cloned replica of Kach that the Nereids have carefully manufactured. The replica goes with Izhiun to Earth and is secretly substituted for Kach, allowing Kach to escape and leaving the over-confident Overseers none the wiser.

In addition to rescuing Kach, Izhiun has one more task to complete on Earth. After 7,000,000 years of pek meddling in Earthly affairs, we Earthlings have finally earned to right to start learning the truth about the existence of humans on distant planets like Hemmal. Izhiun finds a way to leave a copy of Parthney's story on Earth. However, at the end of Exode, it is not clear that anyone on Earth will be able to view Parthney's tale as anything more than science fiction. Izhiun is plagued by doubt, the Interventionists having reached the conclusion that the Huaoshy might be right and it might be best if the Interventionists not reveal the secret of our human origins.

* The numbers in the table came from Google. I don't trust the numbers, I just copied them down. As soon as I made public this blog post, the Google search engine said that it suddenly found thousands of hits for "secrecy in science fiction". Related reading.
Follow up: after a week or so Google has cleaned up their search results and only a few of the major scraper sites were still listed.

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