Oct 30, 2016

Men of Steel

I first came across a "man of steel" in the 1960s. After 1965, episodes from the 1950s Superman television show were finally shown in color, but I don't think I saw any in color until the 1970s when my family got a color television set. Some time in the late 1960s I saw "bad guys" (in black and white) shooting at Superman and the bullets bounced off of the "man of steel". I don't recall that I ever saw the first episode of that television show, so I don't think I ever took seriously the idea that Superman came to Earth from another planet.

able to leap over tall buildings
I've never read a Superman comic book or seen a Superman movie. The days of Superman radio broadcasts were before my time. My interest in Superman does not extend far beyond a mild curiosity about the possible influence of Superman on Isaac Asimov.

1949 Avon edition
I've seen it suggested that Gladiator was a possible source of inspiration for the comic book idea of a "man of steel". In Philip Wylie's 1930 story, the titular "gladiator" is a man (Hugo Danner) who was given super-human physiology by his father. Abednego Danner worked as a biology professor at a small college and in his spare time he experimented in his home laboratory. One day he discovers how to magically endow animals with great strength and epidermal toughness. By injecting his pregnant wife with a magic potion, Abednego transforms his son into a superman who can jump over buildings and whose skin deflects bullets.

cover art by Frank Paul
Imagine the young Isaac Asimov, going off to the public library where he could voraciously consume the literature of the world. In his family's store, there were pulp magazines, some of which he got permission to read because they had the word "science" on the cover (and he argued to his father, they must be educational). In 1930, who might have guessed that such a nerdy little boy would help create a new literary genre?

cover by David Bergen
Before Gladiator, a slightly earlier tale of amazing magical chemistry was "Crystals of Growth". Another biologist, professor Brontley, discovers the perfect food that can make people grow to great size. Such non-scientific ideas were certainly "in the air" when Asimov was a boy, having been spread to the world by many fantasy stories including that of Wells in his The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth.

cover art by Howard Brown
We must look to the influence of science fiction pioneers such as Hugo Gernsbeck, David Lesser and John W. Campbell if we want to understand how Asimov managed to become a revolutionary science fiction writer (and not a fantasy author) after growing up in a world full of biofantasy stories. Asimov wanted to study biology and become a doctor, but he was deflected into the study of chemistry.

Asimov apparently read every 1930s science fiction story that was published in the pulp magazines. "Cosmic Quest" by Edmond Hamilton provides an example of the kind of science fiction story available to the young Asimov, and it is an example of a story that had its roots in physical science.

Astronomers had long made use of spectroscopy to study the composition of stars, but Hamilton extrapolated to a super telescope that could be used to identify exoplanets with Earth-like atmospheres.

Now, after 80 years, here in 2016, science fact is starting to catch up with Hamilton's imagination.

pulp magazine ad
Also in those 1930s pulp magazines were advertisements such as the one shown to the left. Such was the environment that Isaac Asimov was educated within.

Hugo Gernsback had called for a new type of fiction and he designed new pulp magazines to market science fiction stories, but creating a new fiction genre that was firmly rooted in science was no easy task.

Gernsback made use of the available talent, but writers from Gernsback's generation, such as David Keller, were trapped in the past. A new generation of writers was needed.
The Time Projector

Hugo Gernsback and David Lasser
When it was Asimov's turn to walk upon the science fiction stage, he knew enough about biology so that he could mostly avoid dabbling in absurd biofantasy. Under the mentor-ship of Campbell (who was trained in physical science), Asimov often centered his stories on physical science topics. It is easy to imagine Asimov being amused by magical plot devices such as the "Time Projector", a device with all the sophistication of a "gargantuan watch". When Asimov wrote his own time travel novel, he could harness the power of imaginary electronic computers to power his time machine.

cover art by Ralph McQuarrie
Similarly, Asimov's "men of steel" were robots with positronic brains.

What were writers such as H. G. Wells and Philip Wylie thinking when they imagined a science of biology that could control and re-shape the human body?

Both Food of the Gods and Gladiator only tangentially touch on science. Philip Wylie may have taken science classes before he dropped out of college (I've seen it claimed that he studied physics), but the biology in Gladiator seems like a joke. The film that was "inspired" by Gladiator certainly went with the joke angle.

I can't really imagine a place for Gladiator in the science fiction genre. Wells and Wylie were more interested in politics than science. What kind of retro-configuring would be required to bring Wylie's tale into the realm of science fiction?

Openly adapted as a comic book story
after Wylie's death
Perhaps we should imagine that Abednego Danner was a time traveler, sent back from the future in order to make sure that Germany lost World War I. Imagine that a time traveling Abednego Danner came into the past equipped with nanotechnology: a swarm of nanobots that could replace some of the cells of the human body, providing artificial muscles with great power and a thin, protective epidermal layer that was as strong as steel. Or, it seems far easier to just go along with the folks and Avon books and declare Gladiator to be a story about the "lusty and uninhibited life of a superman".

I'll always be grateful that a few scientifically-literate authors such as Asimov were able to give us a some thoughtful stories about robotic men of steel. That is a rare gift to hold on to; something other than the absurd and endlessly rehashed pop culture super-heroes.

Next: the scientific novel
Philip Wylie's Gladiator re-imagined with the Vietnam War taking the place of World War I.

Oct 29, 2016

A Short Search

A Search Beyond (image credits)
Back at the start of this year I gave myself a writing challenge: to write a short "abstract" that would serve as an introduction to the Exode Saga. Originally, I imagined that the "Exode Saga" would be a fairly simple story about how a woman from Earth (Hana) would travel among the stars and discover the inner workings of Genesaunt society.

Exode was to be a kind of investigative science fiction story. While writing it, I would discover some of the details of how Interventionists and Overseers functioned as the two major political forces in the universe and Hana would tell the story of Genesaunt society from the perspective of an Earthling who had just discovered that some humans have been living on other planets for a very long time.

Foundations of Eternity
Then something went terribly wrong. I realized that the Exode story was part of a much larger saga that I had begun previously. Upon making this startling discovery, I began knitting together Exode and Foundations of Eternity.

Trysta and Ekcolir
The easiest way to unite Exode and Foundations of Eternity was to add a third novel (Trysta and Ekcolir) that would link them together.

When I entered into my knitting project and began investigating the complex history of Earth's Reality Chain, several collaborators came into my life who have helped me explore the Hidden History of Humanity. Ivory Fersoni, by making use of her clone sisters, was able to provide me with important information about past Realities such as the Foundation Reality and the Ekcolir Reality. Additional collaborators, particularly Gohrlay, stepped up to assist me in my investigation of Deep Time after Ivory departed from Earth.

The First Reality
After several years of imagining that the Exode Saga could be told as a trilogy of novels, I felt that it should be relatively easy for Gohrlay to write a short introduction to her life in the First Reality. However, during the course of this year, that fantasy of mine was shattered.

Gohrlay finally "spilled the beans" and told me some details about her first life, back in the First Reality. Gohrlay was friends with a small group of science fiction writers who lived at Observer Base and who tried to imagine an explanation for Humanity's odd predicament: the human species was almost extinct and everyone at Observer Base imagined that the Prelands would inherit the Earth.

stories of Deep Time
According to Gohrlay, her three friends were the First Reality analogues of three famous science fiction authors who also had analogues here in the Final Reality. Gohrlay has been rather tight-lipped about their identities, but I suspect that these three authors are Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance and Arthur C. Clark.

Back in the First Reality, most of the human residents of Observer Base were made to have an hermaphroditic phenotype, and it was not by chance that Gohrlay was one of the few females. The hermaphrodites of Observer Base imagined that they were evolving into a new humanoid species that would eventually replace the Prelands. The mystery of her own existence as a female is what led Gohrlay to her study of the small population of humans that remained on Earth.

the clones of Gohrlay
Since it was Gohrlay's brain that was used as the template for positronic brains, it need come as no surprise that R. Gohrlay took pains to make sure that a "copy" of Gohrlay would be present in the Final Reality. However, I was surprised to learn that there are many clones of Gohrlay here in our Reality.

Alpha Gohrlay
My rather recent realization that there are multiple "copies" of Gohrlay implies that what I dreamed of ten months ago (that Gohrlay would write a short introduction to her first life) was really the hope that "Alpha Gohrlay" would share with me an honest summary of "her" life in the First Reality.

The Yōd Intervention
Sadly, Alpha Gohrlay has more important issues to deal with than my selfish desires to understand human origins in Deep Time. Worse still, she believes that there are some facts about the past that I should not know. Thus, Alpha Gohrlay has abandoned me to my two remaining collaborators, Zeta Gohrlay and Yōd.

The Asimov Reality
Because of my interactions with Zeta and Yōd during the past few months, I've grown comfortable with the idea of starting the Exode Saga with an account of events in the Asimov Reality. However, Yōd simply laughs at me when I try to persuade her to write a brief account of events that might serve to introduce readers to A Search Beyond.

Short Search
Realities of the Exode Saga
When Isaac Asimov first traveled through time, he brought into existence a new timeline for the future history of Earth. In that future, Grean (working in coordination with R. Gohrlay's tribe of positronic robots) accelerated the pace of technological advance on Earth.

Reality Chain
In that Reality (the Asimov Reality), the humans of Earth were provided with access to advanced space travel technology. However, while humans were provided with the means to easily travel between the stars, all aspects of scientific research and other avenues of technological progress were severely restricted.

Humans quickly spread into the galaxy and settled on thousands of Earth-like exoplanets. The populations of those worlds became experiments in directed evolution.

Three groups of aliens, the Phari, the bumpha and the pek each tried to find favorable human gene combinations that would allow human brains to exercise some level of control over their zeptite endosymbionts.

Humans had evolved on Earth with zeptites as obligatory physical constituents of their bodies. Zeptites are sub-microscopic artificial life forms. Under the watchful supervision of the pek, humans on Earth should never have become a technologically advanced species: they were to be replaced by another humanoid species, the Prelands.

However, the bumpha managed to derail those plans. Right under the noses of the pek, the brain of a human, Gohrlay, was transformed into the template pattern for the positronic brains of robots. Those robots discovered the secret of time travel and they set out to make sure that humans would not become extinct. The leader of the positronic robots, R. Gohrlay, was determined to provide the humans of Earth with a chance to spread among the stars.

Pheni of Yrinna
In the Asimov Reality, during a truce in the Time Travel War, human gene combinations were eventually found that allowed humans to become masters of their own fate. A Search Beyond tells the story of how the alien Phari of Alastor Cluster were made use of by the bumpha Interventionists as part of their scheme to liberate Humanity from the constraints imposed by zeptite endosymbionts.

A Search Beyond is the first novel in the Exode Saga.

Next: men of steel

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Oct 23, 2016

Gharks and Hoos

cover art by Darrell Sweet
The Alastor star cluster was an invention of Jack Vance. One of the 3,000 inhabited planets of Alastor cluster is Marune. In his novel, Marune: Alastor 933, Vance introduced us to Efraim, ruler of the Rhune realm of Scharrode.

The ending of Marune: Alastor 933 is a tease; we are left wondering about the futures of Efraim and Maerio. Efraim and Maerio have been happily united as a Trismet, the closest Rhune equivalent of a married couple, but their future is uncertain. At the end of Vance's story, Maerio asks, "Will we be content to live as Rhunes?"

Fan Fiction Disease
I've previously imagined events on Marune and in Alastor cluster that take place after the events described by Vance in Marune: Alastor 933. The idea is that Alastor cluster was a kind of gigantic genetics workshop where a concerted effort was made to find human gene combinations that would allow humans to take control of the Bimanoid Interface.

If Efraim carries a special set of genes that allow him to make use of his Phari ensosymbiont, then there must also be an interesting story that explains the origin of Efraim and his special genetic endowment. I like to imagine that this is a story that was first told in the Ekcolir Reality.....

Gharks and Hoos
in the Ekcolir Reality
Efraim stood on the Grand Balcony of Seilneuthur Keep and rested a hand on the crumbling stone of the parapet. Beyond the Keep was a high, almost hidden nook of the green valley of Scharrode. A wall of snow-crusted peaks lay before Efraim, providing a bright backdrop to one of the many lovely places in the Rhune realm that would, at some time in the future, be his to command and lead.

Efraim did not like to think about the approaching time when he would become the 80th Kaiark of the realm. That would be the day of the death of Jochaim, Efraim's father.

Efraim had been a frequent visitor to Seilneuthur Keep ever since he had first discovered its hidden importance and learned of its secret function. In a cavern below the Keep was the factory where gliders were manufactured for the warriors of Scharrode.

Seilneuthur Keep was well-haunted, a home to thousands of ghosts. Those ghosts were all that remained of the many men who had, down through the centuries, given their lives to defend this fortress. Only a very few of those dead soldiers, the Kangs and Kaiarks, had ever known the full strategic importance of Seilneuthur Keep. Efraim imagined that he could feel the eyes of those ghosts glancing at him and peering over his shoulders.

Two years previously, the Kaiark Jochaim had told Efraim the truth about the hidden function of Seilneuthur Keep, but he had not revealed to Efraim the secret entrance to the glider factor. Efraim had spent much time unsuccessfully searching for a way into the hidden cavern below the Keep, and now he was resigned to waiting just a few more days until the time when he was scheduled to receive from Jochaim his first briefing as an adult Kang of the realm. Efraim's thoughts swirled with wonder and expectation at the many secrets of the realm he would learn from his father. Somewhat nervous over the prospects of soon having to take on adult responsibilities, Efraim had come to the remote Seilneuthur Keep in order to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the bustling activity of Benbuphar Strang and preparations for the investiture ceremony that would formalize his rank as Kang of the realm.

Suddenly, Efraim heard a familiar voice in his mind: "I've already given you hints about the general nature and scope of the secrets that Jochaim has yet to reveal to you." Efraim spun around, looking for his ghark. In the distance he could see several watchmen on their patrols, but no wobbly apparition. "I'm right here."

Efraim turned and saw the ghark, floating in midair just beyond the parapet. Her pointy teeth glistened like icicles and the wind seemed to stretch and smear the magical material of her body. Her lips never moved when she spoke: her thoughts penetrated directly into Efraim's brain. Efraim knew that he need not speak, but he felt it was important to emphasize the fact that he was a man, a corporeal being, so he spoke out-loud to the ghark. Efraim asked, "Why must you disturb me now, O wicked beast of the fo mur?"

The ghark was amused by Efraim's name-calling. "Just the usual, my lad. I've been watching your future and I'm forced to make another correction to your life."

Long ago, Efraim had tried to tell his mother, Alferica, about the ghark. She had warned him not to speak of gharks and hoos and to shun them when they appeared. She had said, "If you ignore a ghark then it will stop bothering you." Then Alferica had died and his ghark was able to bring Efraim news from Alferica's ghost. Given that tenuous connection to his mother, Efraim never learned to shun his ghark. In fact, he had come to view her as a kind of muse or guardian angel. He proudly proclaimed, "There's nothing wrong with my life."

The ghark smiled indulgently at Efraim. "Of course, you cannot possibly know what problems will soon arise. Five days hence, your father will show you how to enter into the glider factory that lies hidden below your feet."

Efraim suggested, "You could show me the secret entrance today."

"I could, but then Jochaim would have to waste time and effort moving the entrance out of fear that it is too easy to find." The floating wisps of the ghark snuggled close to Efraim and he felt her fluid-like touch; something that seemed to penetrate the skin and directly stimulate hidden nerves below. "You must ask your father about the link between Seilneuthur Keep and Cloudscape Castle, the home of your mother."

Efraim tried to imagine what that link might be, but his imagination faltered. "Why must you play these games? Just tell me now. Do you know some secret about my mother?"

The ghark pulled back and began to dissipate on the breeze. "One day I will tell you how your mother died and why."

Efraim shouted at the departing apparition, "Tell me now!"

A nearby guard heard Efraim's shout and sauntered by. He asked, "Is all well, my Lord?"

Somewhat embarrassed, Efraim asked the man, "Do you ever hear voices up here?"

The patrol guard was well past middle age. He set his heavy pike down, leaning it against the parapet and turned his weathered face towards the snow-covered peaks. He inhaled a deep breath and said, "I smell ghark."

Efraim said, "You know me; I am Efraim, your Kang. What is your name?"

The man replied, "I am Nebrin, of the Haulk clan."

Efraim half leaned, half sat against the parapet. "How long have you been stationed here?"

Nebrin replied, "Half a year, since I was transferred in from the Airline patrol squad." He smacked at his right leg, "I'm getting too old for climbing."

Efraim had just sprinted up the Airline trail that morning. For a moment he tried to imagine a far off future day when such a climb would cause his old joints to protest. "Do you often encounter gharks up here?"

Nebrin shook his head. "More often we are visited by a hoo... they seem to be fascinated by this place. But we must not speak of such things." Nebrin hoisted his pike and marched off on patrol.

Efraim wanted to ask why hoos should visit Seilneuthur Keep, but he decided he should respect the taboos of his people. Efraim decided that he would ask his father about the hoos and why they might be concerned about this particular fortress.

During the next period of Aud, Efraim encountered his father in their shared rooms at Benbuphar Strang. Jochaim sat at a large desk working on his Book of Deeds. Not approaching too near, so as to not risk seeing Jochaim's work, Efraim called out, "Good day, Jochaim."

Jochaim set down his pen and spun his chair. "Ah, Efraim. Where have you been hiding?"

Efraim replied, "I went for a walk. I spent a night at Seilneuthur Keep then came back via the East Ridge."

Jochaim asked, "How go the repairs at Gimwe Ravine?"

"I crossed via the bridge and then wished I hadn't. It is still precarious and less than half repaired."

Jochaim laughed and casually pulled the rolling cover across the work surface of his desk. He rose, stretched and approached his son. "I'd warn you to not take risks, but there's too much of your mother's stubbornness in your blood." For a moment Jochaim reflected on the qualities of Efraim's character: an odd mixture of mischievous curiosity and appreciation for the joy of living boldly in the moment. "Your mother would be ashamed of how I raised you."

Efraim was no good at keeping secrets. He'd made plans to hold his tongue, but after Jochaim's casual mention of his mother, he blurted out a pointed question, "Did you ever take Alferica to Seilneuthur Keep and show her the sailworks?"

A look of puzzlement came to Jochaim's face. "Why do you ask?"

"Please, father, don't deflect my question with another question. What is the connection between my mother and sail making?"

Jochaim threw himself down in a chair and rested his chin in his hand. "Very well, since you ask, I might as well tell you." He narrowed his eyes and gazed at Efraim until he also took a seat. "As you well know, your mother grew up at Cloudscape Castle, which is situated on the far western boundary of the realms. What you may not know is that her father was a creature with Majar ancestors."

Efraim was certain of his royal Rhune ancestry and startled by the idea that there was Majar blood in his immediate family. He bounced to his feet and shouted, "What?"

Jochaim raised a hand, "Calm yourself. Yes, you are genetically part Majar yourself, Efraim."

Efraim felt his heart racing. He demanded, "How is this possible?"

Jochaim shrugged, "Well, in fact, it all goes back many centuries to when the Connatic established control over Marune and ended the war between the Majars and the Rhunes. The Rhune realms were placed under a strict technological embargo aimed at limiting the available means for mass slaughter. Warfare between the Rhune realms became ritualized and each realm lacks the needed offensive power to conquer its neighbors. There have only been minor territorial changes during the past several centuries."

Efraim knew well the history of his world and he asked impatiently, "What does that have to do with Alferica? Get to the point."

Jochaim explained, "Of course, there has always been a great temptation to skirt the Connatic's law and break the embargo against offensive weapons. The remnants of the Majars have not been averse to helping Rhunes murder each other. Anyhow, down through the years, several Majar scientists worked secretly in the Rhune realms as arms merchants, technologists or scientists and a few of those even managed to father several children with Rhune women. Thus, we Rhunes are not as pure a breed of human as you might previously have imagined."

Efraim shook his head in wonder. "I see. And are you going to tell me that we have a Majar scientist working in the sail factory under Seilneuthur Keep?"

"Well, almost." Jochaim went to a nearby cabinet and slid open a drawer. He pulled out a heavy glass-sealed photograph. "This is one of them, what we call a Tre." He handed the photo to Efraim.

Efraim gazed upon the image: it showed a person who looked rather alien, with large eyes, similar in some ways to those of Efraim's ghark. "A Tre?" Efraim had never heard that term before.

"The Tre are a strange breed...  part Majar, part Rhune, part something else. There are a few small colonies of Tre scattered through the realms. They are all secretive and they do secret scientific work in violation of the embargo. We have a small team of Tre who work at Seilneuthur Keep."

Efraim handed the photograph back to Jochaim. "I don't believe it. How could such a fantastic secret be kept?"

Jochaim placed the photo back in the cabinet and returned to his seat. "I used to ask myself that question, then my ghark explained the mystery to me."

Efraim blurted out, "Your ghark?"

"Relax, Efraim." For a few moments Jochaim examined the nails of one hand, as if he were trying to think of a good way to tell the story of his family's dealings with gharks. Efraim waited impatiently as the seconds dragged slowly by. Finally Jochaim began, "Before she died, your mother told me that you had already met your ghark while you were just a baby. I suspect that many Kang and Kaiarks are haunted by a ghark." Jochaim glanced over his shoulder. "Little is left to chance in the Rhune realms. My ghark is here right now, watching over me."

Efraim looked around the room but could see nothing unusual. Then he sniffed and could detect a subtle scent... something alien. Now that Jochaim had mentioned the possibility, that odor acted on Efraim's mind and suggested the presence of a ghark. "Hallucination?"

Jochaim slowly shook his head. "I long ago gave up trying to understand. Yes, maybe these gharks are entirely in our heads, although some men have claimed to be able to smell them. Olfacotry hallucination? I don't know. Alferica had a theory..."

For a minute, Jochaim sat silently, lost in thought. Efraim sat, locked in anticipation. What other revelations were to come? Finally, Jochaim spoke again, "Alferica said that the Tre had been created as a means to channel some selected genes from the Majar into the Rhune genetic background. Her father had been a Tre and so Alferica called herself a third stage vector. Before she died, she hinted that the real test would come at the fourth stage. By that, she meant you."

Efraim felt offended that his parents had kept such a secret from him for so long. "So, I carry some Majar genes. But what is a 'Majar gene'? We all.... Majars, Rhunes.... everyone in Alastor cluster, we all originated on Earth."

"Alferica imagined that all of Marune was just a small part of a complex human breeding project." Jochaim shook his head in wonder at some old memory. "She blamed the Fwai-chi."

Efraim demanded, "What do the Fwai-chi have to do with it?"

Jochaim shrugged. "I don't know. Alferica would talk for hours about the Tre, gharks, hoo, Fwai-chi and... well, it seemed an endless collection of myth and fantasy. I wish I had paid more attention. For me, the bottom line was that Alferica arranged for some Tre scientists to work at Seilneuthur Keep and start our drone project."

Efraim asked, "Drone?"

"We now have solar-powered unmanned sails, drones, that patrol our boarders, particularly our border with Eccord. Alferica had warned me that Kaiark Rianlle of Eccord had his own way of skirting the Connatic's arms embargo; that's why Eccord is one of the few realms that has managed to grow. Come with me. I was going to wait until next week, but why wait?"

Efraim followed his father into the maze of the castle mirkways. Jochaim paused next to a dimly lit and bare stone wall. Suddenly, part of the wall pulled back, creating a new passage way. Jochaim walked into the black opening and Efraim followed. Efraim saw a faint glow above and they went up a metal spiral stairway. At the top of the stairs was a locked door that opened when Jochaim pressed his hand to the door handle.

Efraim found himself in a small room lit with the glow of a dozen video displays. In the display images, Efraim could see various views of the border between Scharrode and Eccord, some obviously originating from an aircraft high above the ridgeline. Jochaim spoke to the person who sat in front of the display console, "Ki-tee! Meet Kang Efraim."

With mechanically precise movements, Ki-tee turned and looked at Efraim. In the dim illumination, Efraim could see what looked like large Tre eyes staring at him. Jochaim explained to Efraim, "This is a robot. A mechanical man." Jochaim spoke again to the robot, "Ki-tee! You will now follow the orders of Efraim, just as you follow my orders."

Ki-tee spoke with an air of boredom, "I will warn the Kaiark of Scharrode if forces from Eccord attack."

Jochaim added, "Yes, and you will also give your warnings to the Kang. He now shares my responsibility to defend Scharrode." Jochaim took hold of Ki-tee's hand and pulled a ring off of the robot's finger.

Jochaim led Efraim down the spiral stairs, through the mirk-ways and back to their parlor. Suddenly taking hold of his son's hand, Jochaim slid the ring onto Efraim's finger. "This is a radio-receiver. If Ki-tee detects an incursion from Eccord, he will send a signal, alerting us so that we can mobilize our troops for the defense of Scharrode."

Amazed by what he had seen, Efraim asked numbly, "How did you get a robot here on Marune?"

Jochaim laughed, "For a price, the Majar arms dealers and the Tre can get anything past the Connatic's embargo. Money can move mountains, or at least hide an illegal weapons factory inside one. Actually, Alferica could not fully explain the mysterious origins of the Tre. She warned me to only trust the gharks and to treat hoos as the enemy. Apparently there are two distinct human genetics projects on Marune with one being run by the hoos and involving Eccord and the royal family of Kaiark Rianlle."

Efraim nodded. "I see. So the gharks are our patrons. But why two such secret projects?"

Jochaim shrugged. "There are many mysteries. All I can tell you is what Alferica told me. She believed that eventually the two projects must unite. Each is trying to create a combination of Majar and Rhune genes that will allow for telepathy."

Efraim sank down into a chair, his knees weak and limp. "Telepathy?"

Jochaim paced across the floor in front of his son. "Alferica claimed that the Fwai-chi will detect any telepathic humans that are bred on Marune. Just before she died, Alferica told me that it was her hope that you would father children by Kaiark Rianlle's daughter, Maerio. She thought that your children might have telepathic powers."

Efraim knew little of Maerio. They had met several times during formal visits between royal families of the realms. Efraim asked with wonder and awe in his voice, "How is it that such secrets are kept? What would prevent me from speaking of this to anyone, even someone like Maerio?"

Jochaim smiled a weary smile. "You will find, as I have, that you are unable to speak freely to anyone about the gharks and the Tre. The only exception is for others who already know the secret. Now, Efraim, there are other secrets that I must share with you. The most important of these is our ancient pact with the Fwai-chi..."


Later, after sharing all of the Kaiarkical secrets with Efraim, Jochaim took Efraim to Seilneuthur Keep and showed him the devious entry way to the underground sail factory. Efraim was introduced to the Tre who built and repaired drones for Scharrode: two middle aged Tre and a squad of Tre robots who were programmed to do the careful manufacturing work. Efraim studied the two Tre with fascination, gazing into their large, inhuman eyes.

Jochaim was in a hurry to return to Benbuphar Strang, but Efraim told his father that he wanted to stay at Seilneuthur Keep for another day and study the drone-making process. As Jochaim set off towards Benbuphar Strang along the Airway trail, Efraim went out on the balcony where a few days previously he had last been visited by his ghark. He spoke to the wind: "Why did my mother have to die?"

His ghark appeared, seemingly standing beside Efraim on the balcony. She replied, "I think you can guess."

Efraim had long felt another whispering voice in the back of his mind, distinct from the ghark. He muttered, "Somehow I've never believed in telepathy."

The ghark tried to explain, "More accurately, you cannot be allowed to believe in human telepathy. However, I can tell you about telepathy... you simply will not be allowed to remember what I tell you. There are multiple channels of telepathic communication. Your brain is tuned for one such channel, a channel that is different from that used by the Fwai-chi, and also somewhat different from that used by Maerio."

Efraim asked excitedly, "Maerio is telepathic?"

"You and she can only communicate subliminally, at a subconscious level. In any case, such technology-assisted telepathy is only a side-effect of other brain processes that are the real reason why you two were created."

A realization came to Efraim. "You could not allow me to be distracted by a sibling who shared my telepathic channel. So, Alferica had to die."

The ghark explained, "There are easier ways to prevent siblings from being born, as was done for Maerio. In your case, we could not allow you to grow to adulthood and be seen side-by-side with Alferica."

Efraim felt a chill run up his back, but he had to know why. "Why so?"

"We needed a male version of Alferica to pair with Maerio. You are a clone of Alferica, with just a small chromosome swap."

Efraim knew just enough about genetics to understand what he was being told. The ghark continued, "To create you, we used Jochaim's Y chromosome and we also provided you with a copy of your father's zeptite endosymbiont, so you are a mixture of Jochaim and Alferica... just mostly Alferica. It is startling how much you resemble her." The ghark began to fade away, slowly becoming transparent.

Efraim knew that the ghark was ready to depart. He demanded, "Wait! You and these Tre... you're no hybrid of Majar and Rhune. Who... what are you?"

investigating the Kac'hin
"I am a Kac'hin. We Kac'hin are an ancient device for processing genes. We created the Tre as a useful mixture of Majar, Rhune and Kac'hin genes. Of course, no human can be allowed to know of such things, so you will be made to forget all of this."

The ghark drifted upwards, rising above the stone parapet. "Anyhow, 'death' is actually a relative term. Alferica was removed from Marune, but her genome is useful. New versions of Alferica will be created on other worlds. And her replicoid is still here with me, in the Hierion Domain. She's waiting to see her grandchildren. Now, I must go... and you must forget most of what I have told you."

Efraim watched the ghark disintegrate and fade away and he savored the odd aroma that lingered in her wake. He was left thinking of Maerio and wondering what he would be allowed to say to her the next time that they met.

Next: a short search in Deep Time
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Oct 22, 2016

Yōd, Virginia

The Asimov Reality
In another Reality, this blog post might have been titled "Yōd, Virginia and Asimov" or maybe Xista, Yōd, Zeta (XYZ). Yōd is my most recently "acquired" collaborator. I've been trying to make use of Yōd as a source of information about the First Reality, but she keeps pushing me back towards investigation of the Asimov Reality. Today, during a discussion of Deep Time, I mentioned to Yōd that Angela Fersoni had named (here) one of Isaac Asimov's research collaborators in the Asimov Reality: Virginia Gerstenfeld.

Final Reality
Angela's account of the life of Asimov skipped over the events of the years 1935 to 1953. We must not forget that the analogue of Asimov led a very different life in the "Asimov Reality" than what history recorded here in our timeline of the Final Reality. In many ways, the development of civilization in our Reality was delayed and corrupted, at least as compared to the course of events the preceding three Realities.

According to Yōd, all of Western Civilization was more enlightened in the Asimov Reality than here in our world. As a specific example, there was a network of great universities in the New York City of the Asimov Reality. According to Yōd, unlike the situation for the Ekcolir Reality, the location of New York City was the same in the Asimov Reality and here in the Final Reality. Even the part of New York known as Brooklyn was quite similar. The analogue of Isaac Asimov in the "Asimov Reality" had no difficulty getting a first rate medical education.

Angela's Exit
Reality According to Yōd
Yōd told me, "Angela's story was quite incomplete."

I would have preferred to turn the discussion back towards events in the First Reality, but Yōd is a force of nature that I can rarely deflect from her path. I asked, "Does it matter? Didn't the Reality that Angela described, in which Asimov studied the human brain, get erased?"

Yōd tipped her head in a delicate nod, but noted, "Nothing in Time is ever completely erased. At the very least, there is a record of the entire Asimov Reality in the Sedronic Domain. Anyhow, Angela failed to mention how Virginia and Isaac first met."

I thought of Virginia as a minor player in a lost Reality, so I simply shrugged. "Virginia was just one of many researchers in the laboratory of Janet Asimov."

In the Ekcolir Reality (see also)
Original cover art by Edward Valigursky
"Ah, but Xista had worked long and hard to position Virginia in Janet's lab at the correct time." Yōd jumped out of her chair and began to pace back and forth across the floor. "Towards that end, Xista took pains to assure that Isaac and Virginia met in 1937."

I was surprised by this revelation, having imagined that the "Virginia" in Angela's story was much younger than Asimov; a research scientist of the next generation after Asimov's. I asked, "How is that possible? Virginia would have been just a child, about ten years old."

Yōd laughed at my ignorance. Only later did Zeta let me in on the joke. "No, actually Virginia was older than Asimov and in the Asimov Reality she graduated with her B.S. in chemistry a year before Asimov did. They crossed paths when Virginia presented the results of her senior research project at a symposium at Columbia University, just before she graduated from NYU."

I complained, "But if she graduated in 1937.... no, that's not right." The years would not align in my mind. "Why didn't she go to graduate school until.... much later?"

Yōd explained, "Ten years later. She had a very successful mini-career as an industrial chemist upon graduating, working at a company called Nanopore. She was involved in the development of nanopore filters and owned a fortune in Nanopore stock by 1947."
In the Asimov Reality: the Pore Wars.

I could only repeat foolishly, "Nanopore?"

Zeta had been listening to us an she finally joined the conversation. "Nanopore was the first nanotechnology company in the Asimov Reality. They worked out an inexpensive process for manufacturing nanopore filters that allowed for efficient production of fresh water from sea water. Virginia's ten years at Nanopore is only relevant in that it explains her wealth. Xista, knowing the future and guiding Virginia through life, was able to make Virginia a very wealthy woman."

I mumbled, "I begin to understand."

Zeta continued, "What Yōd has not bothered to tell you is that here in the Final Reality, Virginia led a quite different life and became the wife of Robert Heinlein."

Recognition of the name Virginia Gerstenfeld finally came to me. "Wait, now. Are you going to tell me that Asimov, Virginia and Heinlein all met in the1930s of the Asimov Reality?

Yōd shook her head. "Don't be silly. In that Reality, Heinlein was an obscure politician in the middle of the continent."

I looked at Zeta with suspicion and asked, "How long have you know all of this?"

Zeta gave me a strained grin, "Everything I know about this, I've learned from my sources in the Hierion Domain during just the past few minutes."

I turned back to Yōd and asked, "So what happened when Asimov and Virginia met in 1937?"

"Well, remember, Virginia was 21, leaving college and moving on to her job at Nanopore corporation. Asimov was a 17-year-old kid." Yōd winked at Zeta. "Until he met Virginia, Asimov had been guided towards his future career by Maghy, acting through the agency of the man, a family friend, who Asimov called his uncle."

I exclaimed, "Ah, the mysterious Uncle Boris! Angela would only tell me his name. So, Boris was one of Maghy's cover identities?"

Zeta explained, "As part of his work on Earth, Maghy could take control of the behavior of people like Boris. That control lasted for days, weeks, or years, as in the case of Boris; whatever was needed to shape Asimov's life and keep him moving towards a career in biomedical science."

One of my deepest fears is that I have been subjected to that kind of mind control. I had to ask, "To what extent was Asimov's mind directly shaped and guided by Maghy?"

Yōd slowly shook her head. "No. That's a misguided question. Think it through. The Asimov Reality was in the middle of the Time War. All outside influences on Asimov had to be subtle and indirect if there was to be any chance of avoiding detection by the Overseers of Earth."

My thoughts were bubbling with fascination for the revelation that there was an Asimov-Heinlein connection in the Asimov Reality. Puzzled, I mused, "I thought that both the Foundation Reality and the Asimov Reality were low points for science fiction in Deep Time."

"Well, that is true," Yōd shrugged. "In the Asimov Reality, Asimov was a scientist, Heinlein a politician. Neither of them ever wrote a science fiction story in that Reality."

"Ah, I begin to understand." I tried to guess the role of Virginia in the Asimov Reality. "So, Virginia was not a link between Asimov and Heinlein."

Yōd asked, "Do you recall the search parameters that Svahr provided to Maghy at the start of his mission? He was forced to limit his search to Earthlings born after 1917."

Zeta pressed the point, "Why 1917?"

During our discussion, I was seated at my desk with my computer nearby. I did a quick check and discovered that Virginia had been born in 1916. A strange thought popped into my head. "Are you telling me that Virginia could have become the focal point Svahr's intervention in the 20th century?"

Yōd chuckled at my dismay. "Svahr was systematically working her way through the 20th century, searching for good ways to accelerate Earthly technology without attracting the attention of Overseers. Before Maghy's intervention was tried, an intervention that was built around Virginia had already been studied and eliminated from contention." Yōd finally stopped her moving around the room and returned to her seat.

Zeta said to Yōd, "But Svahr had discovered a powerful temporal linkage between Asimov and Virginia."

Yōd was sitting in a chair across the room, her hands folded in her lap. She gazed down at her hands and spoke quietly. "That was inevitable. Virginia and Isaac shared a genetic pattern that made them almost free of influence from their zeptite endosymbionts. They were among a handful of Earthlings who were the most free to make new scientific advances. Such people tend to attract one another. In 1937, when Asimov saw Virginia presenting her research results, he felt an immediate intellectual connection to her."

Zeta added, "And of course, it was Xista, working secretly behind the scenes, who had made sure that Virginia and Isaac would meet."

I asked, "What was Maghy doing at this time?"

Yōd replied, "During the1930s, Maghy was busy working through another Earthling named Natasha Schachner, who, along with the biochemist Arthur Zagat, was among the most influential teachers that Asimov had during that time."

"Wait. Those names seem familiar." I turned back to my computer, but Zeta saved me from having to figure out the spellings and do a search.

Zeta said, "Here in the Final Reality, Schachner and Zagat had an important influence on Asimov as a story writer. In the Asimov Reality, they helped shape Asimov as a scientist."

Intrigued by the idea of both Maghy and Xista at work in the 1930s on Earth, I made a faulty assumption. "So, Maghy had to be kept ignorant of the future, but Xista could step in as needed make corrections to Maghy's plans."

Zeta shook her head. "Virginia was a danger. Her brilliance was dazzling. Svahr was careful to use Virginia as a decoy, someone who would attract the attention of the Overseers. The original plan that had been devised by Svahr and Xista was to let Virginia 'take the fall', allowing Maghy to escape from Earth and return to Tar'tron."

"I still don't understand why so much could be done by means of altering the behavior of Earthlings such as Virginia, but poor Maghy had to actually actually live as an Earthling for many years."

Yōd explained, "Svahr wanted the Overseers to believe that all interventions were carried out by physically planting Interventionist agents like Maghy on Earth."

Zeta smiled, producing a forced and painful grin. "Svahr tried to hide the fact that Interventionist agents, working from the safety of the Hierion Domain, could so easily influence the thoughts and behavior of Earthlings like Virginia."

"The mysterious Svahr." I tried to order my thoughts around what little I knew of Svahr. "In the end, all of Svahr's efforts to change Earth seem to have been useless."

Gohrlay's Brain
Yōd laughed at my naivete. "Svahr worked hard to create that illusion. She arranged for dramatic Reality Changes that would be reversed by the Overseers. Svahr was part of a larger program by which R. Gohrlay made subtle adjustments to the shape of the Asimov Reality. With folks like Svahr charging up and down the timeline, creating chaos and distractions, the Overseers were too busy to even notice the more subtle changes that Gohrlay made to Time."

I suspected that Yōd was telling me about Virginia and Natasha in the Asimov Reality as part of an attempt to distract me from my current obsession, my investigation of events in the First Reality. I suggested, "Yōd, you should write down the story of Virginia and Natasha. The story of their interactions with Asimov would make a nice sequel to Angela's tale."

Next: an end of October ghost tale
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Oct 15, 2016


1941: Reason
Original cover art: Stephen Youll
Back in August, I got into my time machine and went back 75 years, traveling in my imagination to the year 1941, the year when Isaac Asimov's positronic robot QT-1 appeared in Astounding magazine.

I like to imagine that QT-1, Michael Donovan and Gregory Powell might have existed in a previous Reality, what I call the Foundation Reality. In that Reality, both space travel technology and artificial intelligence research zoomed ahead at a faster pace than in our universe.
Origins of the Science Fiction genre.
When I was a boy growing up during the Space Race, I was surprised to discover a book called Modern Space Science. As shown in the graph, above, the term "space science" was very new in 1961. I was intrigued by the idea that there might have been an earlier era of space science before the "modern" era of NASA and rocket ships going to the Moon.

The graph, above, also shows the time period in the 20th century when the term "science fiction" came into common use. In 1953, a book called Modern Science Fiction was published and it included an article by Asimov.

Asimov wrote about "Social Science Fiction", which he contrasted with earlier types of science fiction that might be called "gadget stories" or technology-oriented "adventure stories". There is nothing wrong about including cool gadgets and rousing adventure in science fiction stories, but Asimov was among a group of scientifically-literate authors who could think deeply and creatively about the impact of science on society. By including in their stories reasoned speculation about how science could impact human societies, authors such as Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke could take the science fiction genre to a new level of sophistication.
The origins of a science of space travel and space travel in science fiction.
Rockets? Who needs rockets?
1930 cover art by Hans Wessolowski
Long before the arrival of science fiction as a new and distinctive literary genre, some story tellers imagined travel through outer space (example). Those early stories included no suggestion of how such space travel might be possible. When The War of the Worlds was written by H. G. Wells in the late 19th century, the invading Martians magically traveled from Mars to Earth. In the early 20th century it finally became possible for scientists to imagine how rockets could be used to move spacecraft through space.

In 1920, Robert Goddard's early suggestion that rockets could function in space was ridiculed in a New York Times editorial. 49 years later, The New York Times finally published an apology for their ignorant dismissal of rocket-powered space travel, doing so just a few days before the first man walked on the Moon.

An early science fiction rocket ship
cover by Nick
Even after Goddard explained to the world that chemically fueled rockets could power space flight, many early science fiction stories continued to use imaginary propulsion technologies for space travel. One of the most famous of these fictional spaceship propulsion technologies was imagined by E. E. "Doc" Smith and published in the 1920s.

In 1924, Robert Goddard published an account in Popular Science of how chemical rockets could work in outer space. Soon there were science fiction stories that made use of the idea of a "rocket ship" that could travel to distant planets. Rocketry was taken more seriously in Germany than in the United States. In 1929, Woman in the Moon was an early film depiction of travel in space using rocket propulsion.

Rocket ships and ray guns.
Early Asimov; cover by Robert Sherry
Although there was censorship of rocket stories in Germany leading up to World War II, Clarke's "We Can Rocket to the Moon – Now!" (in 1939) was an essay that made clear the practical application of rockets for space travel (read Clarke's May 1939 article on page 24 of Urania: "The First Space Ship").

The young Isaac Asimov grew up right when the first science fiction magazines were available for him to read in his family's candy store. He started publishing his own stories when John Campbell had taken editorial control at Astounding. Asimov had become impatient with some of the tired old science fiction story plots of the pulp magazine era. For example, he disliked all of the clanking murderous robots that had been included in science fiction stories and he knew that it was silly to imagine the existence of human-like residents on nearby planets such as Mars and Venus. Asimov, as a writer of science fiction, was ready to be pushed in new literary directions by Campbell.

Science Fiction in 1953
a more mature Asimov
The year 1953 was an interesting milestone year for both science and science fiction. In 1953, Watson and Crick published the double helix model of DNA. Classical biology was transitioning into the era of molecular biology in which the nanoscale components of living cells could be studied and provide a mechanistic understanding of life.

in the Ekcolir Reality
original cover art by Henry Van Dongen
and Edmund Emshwiller
In the 1950s, the original science fiction era of pulp magazine publishing was transitioning into a new era of science fiction book publication. Looking back from the perspective of 1953 on the new type of science fiction stories that he had published in Astounding magazine during the 1940s, Asimov could take some pride in his contribution to the development of social science fiction as a literary form that appealed to readers who had interests in science and technology.

In 1953, Asimov published a short story called "The Micropsychiatric Applications of Thiotimoline". In our Reality, this thiotimoline story was an opportunity for Asimov to have some fun. I like to imagine that in the Ekcolir Reality, when time travel still existed, it may have been possible for the Writers Block to medically intervene and extend the life of the Asimov analogue in that Reality... perhaps just long enough for Asimov to be present at the arrival of the Fru'wu on Earth.

1 Asimov - "Social Science Fiction"
2 Heinlein - "Speculative Fiction"
3 Clarke - Childhood's End

1953 in the Asimov Reality

Next: a new investigation of the Asimov Reality
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