fill in the blank makes the world go round…

Not being an economist suggesting an alternative to existing answers to the problem of unlimited want v limited resources would very likely not provide a utopian blueprint. With that in mind, ideal societies are probably best left as part of the domain of satire and/or fantasy. Astral – the working title for my science fiction novel in progress – does not attempt to paint a grand and perfect future for humanity the setting. Nor is the setting a dystopia.

Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter) mentions off-world colonies and the supposition is that they are not all people might hope. In Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity we’re told, “Earth That Was could no longer sustain our numbers; we were so many.” There’s a streak of disposable planet in science fiction that my first love in the genre – Star Trek – avoided almost completely. The inhabitants of Earth had, in fact, abandoned a dangerous courtship with self-extinction and Starfleet’s mission to seek out strange new worlds was not just about mineral rights.

better-worlds

As mentioned in prior entries here, the world(s) of Astral spans about 60 solar systems. The motivation for expansion splits the difference between Earth being used up and something Neil deGrasse Tyson said about a year ago (Oct. 2015): “If you have the power to turn another planet into Earth then you have the power to turn Earth back into Earth.”

Most science fiction does not concern itself with the cost of putting fleets of ships in space and terraforming exoplanets. Again, not being an economist, I’m not planning on making any estimates in that regard. However, just as I’ve been musing on alternative political structures, the future on Earth’s colonies is not mute about the downside of capitalism and its contentious cousins.

There are at least half a dozen private entities reinventing space travel and while that’s thrilling it also based on some aspect of a profit motive. That has certainly been part of the equation in all exploration – from Magellan and before to NASA and beyond. This is probably not going away but it could actually get us into space even in the sci fi sense.

A friend of mine once observed that the utopia of Earth in Star Trek was not – could not be – based on some flawless ideology and the logical consequences of implementing it. Someone prior to the career of Mr. Spock had invented a machine that turned energy into matter. The cornucopian replicator solved all the quandaries of what to produce, in what manner, and for whom.

I wanted to argue with him at that point and part of me still does. Pointing to the problems in Star Trek has always bothered me and quite a bit of my thinking over the years has gone over the same steeplechase as others in fandom to mend plot holes. With Astral that’s a reminder to avoid some of them during the making of.

The Federation is not faced with the riddle of a used-up planet somehow still able to build enough ships to colonize and exploit strange new worlds. The philosophy of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” is a direct and natural result of technology solving major sources of waste, class-based tensions, petty behaviors and so on.

The first human colony in the world(s) of Astral was Mars. There are at least four links in a chain from there to α Fornacis/Dalim where the story opens. That chain is not a disintegrating set of broken and corroding links. There is without doubt satirical value in suggesting any human destiny in space will be a series of strip-mined worlds under runaway greenhouse atmospheres but I remain more hopeful… still.


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straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog


 

let’s make it a good one…

Astral is my first effort at a sci fi novel since high school. I don’t have any of the scripts or books I wrote then with one exception and while the retained short story is not The Eye of Argon it isn’t The Time Machine by any stretch.

As noted previously, my science fiction preference requires space travel. But what about the rest of the world(s) in which the story takes place? We’re quite unlikely to invent any propulsion system that could make reaching exoplanets feasible without seeing advances in other scientific and technological fields. By the time any visit to α Centauri is made, it seems probable that we might also have taken a significantly more active role in our own evolution.

Astral won’t be a big bucket into which I’ll pour all the science that appeals to me. However, the characters in the novel will consider many  machines yet to be dreamt of to be common, everyday things. Part of the world-building has to include a fairly thorough understanding of the societal repercussions of fictional innovations. What will it mean if we can travel faster than light and have mastered manipulation of the genome?

Opinion of human civilization 500 years ago can range widely. Should our emphasis be on the artistic achievements of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo or on the rise and impact of Imperialism? Is it more important to note the wars and plagues or the contributions of Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei? In 500 more years what will be the state of art and thought? Human nature may never change, despite our technological sophistication.

By the time audiences first took seats in the Globe Theatre in London and other people were excavating Pompeii near modern Naples, what humanity was and probably would always be was already on full display – fully developed. The fact that Shakespeare and Vesuvius still interest us may prove this point.

There will be more than a few exceptionally dark, perhaps ugly moments in Astral. Tonight I’ve been pondering which aspects of the characters who inhabit one human colony find beautiful and how they find it in their lives.

Any moment in time is both great and horrible if viewed from a wide enough point of view. What sort of future we create and whatever tales we tell about it depend – as it always has – on what perspective we adopt.

Imagine


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The Return of Strangely Beautiful!

Good People,

Permit me to (re)introduce you to a very important book. If an earlier addition of Strangely Beautiful is on your shelf, you’re in for the special treat of new content. If you’ve not had the pleasure of reading this tale, you are invited to make a purchase of it today. Once it arrives, I’m certain you will enjoy the time spent with Leanna Renee Hieber’s finely crafted and much beloved characters.

SBcard

The unique and original creation – Percy Parker – features in this work by a true pioneer in Gothic & Gaslamp fantasy. Miss Parker is, in a sense, an outcast from birth but who among us hasn’t felt the same way some point in our lives? She and Alexi Rychman take center stage, surrounded by mystery and almost Poe-like goings-on.

If you’re a fan of such film and television series as Crimson Peak, Ripper Street, and Penny Dreadful than Strangely Beautiful must adorn your attention and library.

You can read more here.


This post is, of course, utterly share-able.

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But Thinking Makes It So…

As part of his forward for the 16ᵗʰ topic treated by The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Harmony/Crown Books, US; Pan Books, UK – 1977) Larry Niven stated that telepathy, psionics, and the like could result in poor writing and suggested that it is the limitations an author sets on such fantastic powers that makes them interesting. His caution was one of avoiding wish fulfillment.

There are similar arguments made about souls and any sort of after life. Devising a series of tests for the existence souls and what fates may await them could be more difficult than scientific analysis of psychic prowess. Nikola Tesla performed an experiment to do just that. Would Mr. Niven make a similar argument about wish fulfillment here too?

The wish made manifest is one of the components of achievement. Isn’t what we do and make how we craft our sense of meaning and value? What tests may show often matter less than the results of having some belief in something eternal, particularly in conjunction with those crucial senses.

I look upon death to be as necessary to the constitution as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning. Finding myself to exist in the world, I believe I shall, in some shape or other always exist.”
Benjamin Franklin

In an interview in the San Francisco Examiner (26 August 1928), Henry Ford said the following:
I adopted the theory of Reincarnation when I was twenty six. Religion offered nothing to the point. Even work could not give me complete satisfaction. Work is futile if we cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the next. When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock. Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more. The discovery of Reincarnation put my mind at ease. If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it so that it puts men’s minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long view of life gives to us.”

KarmikPrinciple2Franklin and Ford were both (arguably) great. Both the lightning rod and automobile are still in use. These views very likely helped both inventors in being able to accomplish their work. It seems to have reassured them and helped them recharge.

It might matter less who we have been in past lives than who we may be in future iterations. Imagine a reliable method of access to what we’ve learned so we can always hit the ground running. I could put it on my perpetual calendar that I had an appointment with Dr. was-Franklin and Mr. was-Ford on 17 June 2373 in a little pub called The Silver Lining, deep in the Oort cloud . Imagine We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the Nᵗʰ degree.

“I’ll get back to this.” Scheduled.

There is no Reincarnation Axiom. Tesla’s experiment did not substantiate transubstantiation. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; there was no proof either way.

Be diligent in what you wish for. Anything can happen.

infinity sergeant copy

i⁽ᵗ/ᵉ⁾ = :)

Postulate: There is a very easy way to determine if one has an artist’s soul.

The formula/title of this entry presented in words would be – “(the) imaginary, raised to the power of time divided by energy (or effort), yields a smile“.

If – while engaged in the act of creation – one smiles, one is likely an artist or may “soon” be.

“Soon” is a variable. The specifics of the act may also not be a constant. Both the process and product might seem radical and/or irrational. If the creation, intended or not, proves smile-inducing – should it not count as art?

Pandora’s Pets are part of my art and process. As individual creations, I smile at each one as they evolve. I have been fortunate enough to sell nearly 50 of them – not counting the Pets out on consignment.

As a group – and as the subject of an evolving “mythology” – they satisfy the need to remind myself of patience, innocence, and hope. They will also be featured in an illustrated book for inner children (in progress). It deals with emotions and stars Pandora and her bestie, Hope.

Pandora's Pets 3

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”
Henry Ford in his autobiography, “My Life and Work” (1922), speaking about the Model T in 1909.

The Pets‘ horns and black coloration are obvious but they are intended and presented as creatures of hope (ἐλπίς, or elpís, in the original myths). Their appearance and presence in my own mythology probably dates to about my first birthday during college.

I can no longer say for certain but they might have stemmed from “personification” of attention to detail. The tiny and good devils in the detail, if you will.

The most frequently used word regarding Pandora’s Pets when I am presenting them to potential customers is “adorable”.

They just make me smile.

The Second Law…

Six years ago, almost to the day, I was asked to create a 3-page comic for a magazine. The assignment was to make something challenging – even provocative. I chose to make the story an answer to the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”.

The premise was that the Shaarei Tefillah (the Gates of Prayer) are closed. In essence, I used those Gates as a symbol of the Age of Miracles having come to an end. We’re told by several religions that our culture exists between an epic past and an epic future. Are we bored and eager?

Fiction has us in the doldrums between epics, too. J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga is set on this world – just 6,000 years in the past. Magic and epic was leaving Middle-earth. I recently read someone’s opinion that magic was alive and kicking even after the events of The Lord of the Rings. Although I’m not Tolkienist enough to argue, I will say it’s been a long while since I’ve seen a spider that wasn’t dwarfed by pocket change.

The opinion, however, stands to show that people Want their magic and will defend it. Tolkien’s suggestion that Arda (Earth) would face Dagor Dagorath (the End of the World) means that defense may be Pyrrhic-Cadmean and ultimately Sisyphean.

If the majority of arrows point in the same direction or aim at the same target, what is the point of other arrows? I am not writing (this blog or the stories it may mention) to be defeatist, pessimistic, or nihilistic. Quite the opposite. Therefore, the Second Law of Magic is: All magic is permanent – at least in my fiction. Any subsequent magic gets stacked on top to either counteract or augment the initial intent. But that first magic will always be there. (Yes, I can hear the arguments about entropy already. The answer to that is: Remember, this is magic.)

ThomaturgySo… what is a good person to do when a bad thing happens? I would begin with Shaarei Tikvah (the Gates of Hope). Sola Spes (By Hope Alone).

Hope + Compassion has been my definition for Minimally Human for at least the last 15 years. For about the same amount of time my motto has been, “The only raw material required to manufacture hope is time.”

And “minimally” may not be fair. Achieving that combination is often a high enough hurdle.