Mar 5, 2016

Mirky Porod

1958; artwork by Richard Powers
When I was 12 years old and beginning to discover the science fiction literature it was exciting to go along for the ride to distant stars with authors such as Edward Smith. The interstellar journeys of the early years of science fiction were often fun but silly adventures by Earthlings who had just attained the required technology to leave the Earth behind.

Secret Formula
Secret Formula QX47R
Later, in 1945 when Asimov published his account of the discovery of hyper-drive technology and the arrival of interstellar travel, he followed in the path that had been blazed by Smith in the 1920s. Asimov portrayed the development of space travel by a non-governmental organization.

In the case of E. E. Smith, the key technological advance was made by the brilliant scientist, Dick Seaton. In Asimov's story, hyper-drive is invented by a brilliant artificial intelligence called "The Brain".

original cover art by Christopher Moore
Even later, when Jack Vance imagined the spread of Humanity to distant exoplanets, he invented the Jarnell Corporation, a private company that had a monopoly on the technology required for powering interstellar spaceships (the Jarnell Intersplit).

In Vance's imagination, an inexpensive spaceship such as the Model 9B was within the reach of people such as Kirth Gersen. Gersen had a small inheritance from his grandfather, so it was natural that he buy a Model 9B and head out among the stars in search of the Demon Princes who had killed his parents.

Of course, for a boy like me who grew up during the space race and the Apollo missions to the Moon, the idea of cheap and easy space travel seemed absurd.

Old Earth
Vance was a master at imagining new worlds and new human cultures. However, he also provided readers with a quirky vision of a future Earth and sometimes his adventuring space explorers simply had to return to Old Earth for a visit. Thus, in The Palace of Love, Gersen comes to Earth and finds the Mad Poet Navarth living on his houseboat with a clone of Jheral Tinzy.

Mirky Porod on the shore of Lake Jerest
Later, Vance sent Wayness Tamm to Earth in search of the Cadwal Charter. While in search of the stolen Charter, Wayness is led to the ancient home of the founder of the Naturalist Society: Mirky Porod, a castle located somewhere in central Europe.

During her days at Mirky Porod, Wayness must sponge up an ocean of dog urine, avoid provoking low blows from the cane of Countess Ottilie, and also avoid the amorous lecherous advances of both the Castle's chief of staff (Mr. Lenk) and the new footman (Baro).

The Girl From Cadwal (source)
It is a great pleasure to read science fiction novels in which the future of Earth is depicted as a place that we might like to visit. Mirky Porod is just one of several places on "Old Earth" that we see through the eyes of Wayness.

Although Vance seasons the tale with rustic settings and endless humor, he also continually subjects readers to a rising tension of dangers, anxiety and fear.

With the story set several thousand years in our future, we readers might marvel at how little Earth has changed in Vance's imagined future.

What about our past? Being subjected to my persistent questioning, Gohrlay has revealed a few facts about Earth's past in Deep Time. Previously, I was allowed to believe that Gohrlay's first life was lived out some 20,000 years in our past.

Just About Now
Foundations of Eternity
However, Gohrlay insists that she was first born "just about now" in the First Reality. She was born into the small scientist class at Observer Base. At a young age, her interests turned to evolutionary biology, which was a subject that had been actively suppressed by the Overseers.

While growing up, Gohrlay was taught that Observers were Prelands, a primate species that is biologically distinct from the humans who were almost extinct on Earth. However, by secretly visiting Earth and gaining access to gene-scanning technology, she discovered that the Observers were genetically human. Later, after being taken to the Galactic Core, Gohrlay became aware of the use of nanites to alter and guide embryonic development. Observers were shaped and crafted to have the form of Prelands by the nanites that existed inside their bodies.

our Reality Chain
According to Gohrlay, we need not be surprised that the mini-society of Observer Base had many similarities to our own human society here and now on Earth. The Observers were humans and apparently when a technologically advanced human society was allowed to develop on Earth, here in the Final Reality, some effort was made to force it to recapitulate features of human social interactions that had originally appeared at Observer Base in the First Reality.

Next: the love boat
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