May 10, 2014

Free Formed Pixie Dust

It has been almost a year since I wrote a nonreview of a book. Unlike a book review, a "nonreview" is an exploration of a book's plot and it can even be accomplished without reading the book!

I have not read FreeFormed Hybrids by Joe Vizanko. I've read some online reviews of the book and the first half of this science fiction novel can be downloaded and read before you pay for the second half. Based on what I've read about FreeFormed Hybrids, I'm intrigued by the concept of this novel.

Assignment: Earth
Gary Seven
Even before I realized that there was such a thing as a science fiction novel, I had been charmed and delighted by the Star Trek episode, Assignment: Earth. Over 40 years ago I fell in love with the idea that long ago some humans had been taken off of Earth an "cultured" on other planets. In Assignment: Earth, Gary Seven returned to Earth as part of an effort to help we Earthlings through our dangerous "technological adolescence".

One of the joys of stories in which we mortals are visited by gods or space aliens is deciding who the lucky Earthlings are who get to know the "secret", the fact that Earth is not alone, but rather, is secretly visited by interesting folk like Robert Lansing.

Terri Garr and Victoria Vetri
In Assignment: Earth, the lucky Earthling was Terri Garr. Garr was a great choice for the role, providing the required mix of befuddlement and resiliency. Some of the best fun came when Garr was allowed to see Mr. Seven's "cat", Isis, take on human form (played by Victoria Vetri).

I like to imagine that Isis was an alien shape shifter who functioned as a kind of guardian angel for Gary Seven. It would have been a great adventure had some network funded the production of Assignment: Earth as a television series. I wonder what Gene Roddenberry would have been allowed to include for the back story of Isis. Apparently his original vision was rather dark.

*****Spoilers below!******

****Stop now and read FreeFormed Hybrids****

Earthlings and Pixie Dust
Many science fiction writers have a soft spot in their heart for Earthlings. Sometimes it is amazing the extremes of plot bending that we will go to in order to make sure that we humans can defeat the evil space aliens.

In the Exode Trilogy, the space aliens don't match the typical Hollywood template for evil aliens. Readers have to decide if the Interventionists, the Overseers or we Earthlings ourselves are the "evil ones".

Both FreeFormed Hybrids and Exode start with the fact that we humans were created. In the Exode Trilogy, humans were created by the pek, an artificial life form that has hundreds of millions of years of experience finding planets like Earth and trying to make sure that their evolving life forms can merge peacefully into Genesaunt Civilization. About a million years ago the pek decided that we humans were losers. We were allowed to evolve freely on Earth, but the pek lost interest in us. On other planets of the galaxy, the pek set about crafting other primate variants that are better suited for pek purposes. In particular, the Prelands are about ready to inherit the Earth.

Assembling R. Gohrlay
In the Exode Trilogy, a strange set of circumstances allows we Earthlings to win an opportunity to reach the stars. 1) When the alien Huaoshy modified the dimensional structure of the universe so as to make possible faster-than-light travel, they unwittingly also made possible both telepathy and time travel. 2) Neanderthals evolved a type of unconscious telepathic contact. 3) The pek carried out experiments aimed at introducing special Preland gene combinations into humans. At Observer Base on the Moon, these experiments led to the development of a small, technologically sophisticated group of humans, including the genetically and phenotypically modified Neanderthal, Gohrlay. Of particular interest is the development of positronics by the humans who live at Observer Base. 4) As told in Foundations of Eternity, Gohrlay's neural networks become the structural template for brains of positronic robots. 5) R. Gohrlay and "her" fellow positronic robots use their telepathic ability to kick the pek out of our galaxy. Further, they develop time travel technology. R. Gohrlay's use of telepathy and time travel eventually forces the Huaoshy to give we Earthlings a chance to develop a technological civilization and reach for the stars.

So, in the Exode Trilogy, the "magic pixie dust" that makes we humans special hinges on  a strange genetic fluke. In FreeFormed Hybrids, we are told that a decision was made to intentionally make Earth a special human world (among many), a world where human brains are free to exercise their full powers and not be artificially "dampened".

Not having read the novel, I don't understand in what sense humans were created, how they are "dampened" or in what sense we Earthlings are "hybrids" in FreeFormed Hybrids.

Technology Stagnation
I don't understand the back story of FreeFormed Hybrids that accounts for how most humans in the galaxy were intentionally "dampened", but it reminds me of a puzzling feature of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Fictional Universe. I've long imagined that mentalic manipulators like Daneel used their telepathic powers to control human creativity and inventiveness. During the 20,000 years during which humans colonized the 25,000,000 worlds of the galaxy there were no scientific and technological advances. Even when inventions like the visi-sonor or the synapsifier were developed, little use was made of them. I imagine that Daneel simply wanted to spread trillions of humans through the galaxy in preparation for creating Galaxia. He wasted no sudden technological developments that might alter humanity and disrupt his plans.

The "real reason" for technological stagnation in Asimov's Foundation Saga was that he had an interest in history. "Psychohistory" was the main plot device, and in order for anyone to predict the future by means of psychohistorical calculation, there could be no major shifts in human civilization. Besides, even Asimov could not envision technological innovations like those that have reshaped our civilization since the 1940s.

Similarly, in Jack Vance's "future history" of the Gaean Reach and the Oikumene, the Institute actively suppresses new discoveries and prevents rapid technological advances from occurring.

Even in the 10,000,000 year Saga of Asimov's time Travel novel, The End of Eternity, Asimov found a way to constrain technological advancement, causing a 10,000,000 year delay in the development of practical space travel.

Technological Advances
In FreeFormed Hybrids, someone first created we humans then intentionally "dampened" us down to an IQ of 70. Apparently our bodies were just needed as "pleasure generators", and our natural intelligence and inventiveness were inconvenient design flaws that needed to be suppressed. Lucky for us in the 21st century, our "freeform intelligence" is now in demand, so at least a few of us get an invitation to go on spaceship rides through wormholes.

Similarly, in Asimov's The End of Eternity, he had just lived through the startling development and use of nuclear bombs. He made the development of nuclear physics in the 20th century dependent on technical tips provided by time travelers.

When Asimov returned to and expanded his original Foundation Trilogy, he introduced some technological innovations. I like to imagine that Daneel was struggling to complete Galaxia and he needed a few technological breakthroughs. Half way through the planned 1,000 year long Foundation Era, Daneel allowed humans to help complete the final bits of technology that were needed in order to bring Galaxia on line. Otherwise, Daneel was happy to "keep the cognitive dampers" on humanity.

Structure of the strange temporal attractor
that governs our Reality
In the Exode Trilogy, I follow Asimov's lead and concerns over the dangers of developing nuclear physics align the plot with our era in history. I imagine that the temporal momentum of human civilization on Earth is guided by the activity of a strange attractor. We Earthlings can either go down the path envisioned by Asimov with the rapid development of nuclear energy, positronics and hyper-spatial drive or we can languish in an era of extensive fossil fuel use, global warming and catastrophic sea level rise.

In Exode, I imagine that a 15,000-year long-timer is set on the development of human civilization. A Buld spaceship set out for Earth from the Galactic Core 15,000 years ago. Traveling just below the speed of light, that ship's arrival in the Solar System is the time point at which we Earthlings will be taken off of our leash and allowed to reach for the stars.

Even if it is Mary Shelley using electricity to animate dead flesh or Jules Verne using a cannon to send people to the Moon, science fiction story writers can always find a way to pretend that our time is the most pivotal for human technological advancement or contact with space aliens. But really, what do we know about "Joe"? Here are five interesting quotes from the first half of FreeFormed Hybrids...

1. "At the center is the human homeworlds, a three planetary system where humans were born." Given the unreliability of book blurbs, I'm feeling puzzled about what it means that humans were "born" in another star system. At the center of what?

2. “Mars was once a thriving human colony. So was Venus.” I probably just have time travel on my mind, but I'm wondering if the "homeworlds" are really Venus, Earth and Mars of the future. Particularly since....

Everyone speaks English
3. "The guides explained that basic communication is implanted in all humans." How convenient. Is this a job for nanotechnology? Oh, hell, just try a PCI-E x4 to x16 cable.

In Exode, the pek go to a huge amount of trouble to make sure that English is spoken on Hemmal and people who grow up there (such as Parthney) have some familiarity with Earth culture and history. There other pek-managed worlds of the Galactic Core where other Earthly languages are spoken. All the effort made to align the languages of Earth with those spoken on distant planets is in order to adequately prepare Interventionist agents such as Parthney for their missions on Earth.

4. "...humans were a conglomerate of humanoid creatures, but engineered by who? No one knew. Often the subject would turn be on how humans were engineered. The two lobes in the brain meant two creatures were fused into one entity." Tee hee. Joe is "An Engineer in California's Silicon Valley". Okay, I'm sure that my fictional physics ideas offend physical scientists. On to...the human mind as a software program...

Mind Transfer
...has always been a popular SciFi plot element, even before the term "science fiction" existed. Humans have no problem imagining mind transfer and even the existence of a mind with no physical substrate.

5. "These strange machines that many thought were left by the creators could transfer the life force from one body to another."  FreeFormed Hybrids uses the concept of "body farming". Don't want to die? Transfer your mind into a new body. Again. And Again.

Poor Joe's addiction to mind transfer reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day. "I've died so many times I don't even exist any more."

Stuff just laying around
One of the first science fiction movies I ever saw was Forbidden Planet. The Krell had left behind technology for establishing a mind-machine interface. Of course, when humans stumbled upon that technology Bad Things happened.

I was rather shocked to see the "Krell System" appear in FreeFormed Hybrids.

The Gods Must Be Crazy
In his science fiction novel Contact, Carl Sagan imagined that a long-gone alien species built a "galactic subway" of wormholes, a transportation network that primitive creatures such as humans can use. This is apparently the plot device that is adopted for faster-than-light travel in FreeFormed Hybrids.

All Human Galaxy
Asimov tried to make his Foundation Fictional Universe have an "all human galaxy" without any aliens. I'm not sure if there are really any aliens in FreeFormed Hybrids. Towards the end of his Foundation Saga, Asimov raised the possibility that the arrival of aliens from beyond our galaxy might be immanent. I've expanded on that possibility in my fan fiction sequel to Foundation and Earth. My opinion: diversity is fun. I'll  take my SciFi with both robots and aliens. Sadly the word "robot" is only found once in the first half of FreeFormed Hybrids.

Assignment: the world!
I'm always happy to see more SciFi stories that remind me of Assignment: Earth. It will be fun when one such story finally goes up on the big screens. I'm not holding my breath while waiting for Hollywood to get around to it.

It is nice that some readers have taken the time to review FreeFormed Hybrids. I wish people would give writers who independently publish their work a break on issues like minor textual errors and the quality of amateur or semi-professional editing.

2015 non-review: another story with ancient aliens

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