Memories fond go trooping by

Memories of people are different from memories of places. Before I realized that, I felt guilty at being unable to recall a single interaction with a friend from fifty years ago. I could see his face, and almost hear his voice, but what did we do together over those three years? That was gone.

The place was the fraternity house during my college years. I remember the brick building clearly. The front porch, the cloak room, the portico, the parking lot with the gravel covering. The railroad ties that held back the sloping lawn from the patio behind the dining room. The freezer full of ice cream sandwiches at the bottom of the stairs. The room in the back corner where we played poker and hearts. I can feel the surface texture of the metal door to my room on the second floor. I can see the nude picture of a brother painted by my roommate and taped to the inside of our door. Pink and blue, I recall. I can remember cleaning the moldy tiles of the shower room as a pledge.

But the brothers wander like ghosts through those otherwise solid memories. And yet, that is the difference. They wander. They almost solidify, then evaporate again. Their voices would sound familiar if I could remember their words. But they were always changing. Living. Growing. Learning. Each encounter with them was slightly different from the last, despite the multitude of beer pong games, the frequent touch football afternoons on the back lawn, the regular formal dinners on Sundays after the football games. They did not remain solid and fixed for three years, the same physical reality constantly reinforcing itself inside our minds each time we touched. The brothers wander like ghosts.
Yes, of course I remember events. Probably distorted now, and out of sequence, but I remember them. And those events are populated with many strange characters. But have you ever tried to clearly see who sat next to you watching Star Trek? Or who your roommate’s date was on Homecoming? Or who drove you down to Selinsgrove for an after midnight hot dog? Only those who you brought along with you out of the past are solid. And they are no longer who they once were. Neither are you.

Memories of people are different from memories of places. It’s not your fault; you can’t do anything about it. But next time you go walking down the second floor hallway of the house in your bare feet, you may bump into brother X’s ghost. Say hello, and listen carefully to his response.

The Expanse and Me

I just finished reading Leviathan Wakes, the basis of the TV series The Expanse. They are both great and I have reviewed them elsewhere. Here, I want to consider their relationship to my own writing.

The indie author works alone, like the lonely long distance runner. That does not bother me. I get some of my best ideas running through the woods of the nearby park. I have no editors, cover artists, research assistants, or armies of proof and beta readers. What you read is mine, flaws and all. So far, my readers seem to appreciate the results. My goal is to become such a great writer and artist that I’ll have no need for the assistance. Leviathan Wakes and The Expanse is a fantastic production, but the work of hundreds.

I think of my writing as metaphysical sci-fi or speculative fiction. Leviathan Wakes is not hard sci-fi either, unlike The Martian. So I was happy to see Eros move on its own with Miller feeling no acceleration. Maybe the physics of that will be explained later, maybe it will remain the magic of a higher technology. I used a similar concept, our entire solar system suddenly moves onto the surface of a globular cluster, in my Perturbations Of The Reality Field. As far a religion goes, there was an interesting twist with the Mormons building their generation ship to the stars, the Nauvoo. One of them says, “As long as we’re humans, some of us believe that we shall all eventually become angels.” Unfortunately for that possible story line, the Nauvoo does not launch as expected.  The best mathematics in this story was in the TV series, not the book, and occurred with the crazy technician trying to understand the protomolecule.

Religion in Sci-Fi: The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

This time travel masterpiece keeps the sci-fi in the background, avoiding the usual paradoxes. Instead it creates a perfectly horrible historical dystopia. Religion is fundamental to life in England in the 1300s, so naturally it pervades the story. It also appears in the present/future setting in Oxford, where the time traveler comes from. In Oxford, it is treated comically to lighten the mood of the book. There is a group of American bell ringers and an overbearing woman reading depressing Bible passages. But the best part is the section that gets metaphysical, comparing God and Jesus to the time traveler’s predicament. “God didn’t know where his son was. He had sent his only begotten Son into the world, and something had gone wrong with the fix, someone had turned off the net, so that He couldn’t get to him and they had arrested him and put a crown of thorns …” I find that comparison to be fascinating, but perhaps too sensitive a topic to treat directly.

Mathematics In Sci-Fi: A Wrinkle In Time

I just read A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, one of two dozen young adult books my wife won at a church fair. It was a disturbing book for me. I did not like it.

Why? How could I dislike a classic? Jealousy? Maybe. You see, I tessered in my first novel without even knowing it. Tessering, as in using a tesseract to travel through the universe faster than the speed of light, is L’Engle’s method of getting around. I, on the other hand, used a four dimensional hypercube! Check out Wikipedia to discover the difference. And I used a deus ex machina of hyperthreads instead of mental powers to achieve the physical jumps.

Even worse were the few diagrams used to explain the concept of folding space-time so that one could leap across “the wrinkle.” The diagram uses an ant crawling along a string. Horrors! One of my favorite scenes in my Time Travelers Are Schizophrenic was when Krizel Kane explained how they all got to Altheris by having a Prometheus beetle walk across his blue bandana. Prometheus beetles are deadly, and you would not want one walking toward you.

Then there was L’Engle’s “it is exciting to discover that matter and energy are the same thing, that size is an illusion, that time is a material substance.” You see, in my multiverse, it is time that is the illusion! I never thought about size.

So, was IT the black spectre of plagiarism that disturbed me? No. This was the first time I read her book. One of L’Engle’s main philosophical points is that “like and equal” are not the same. Everyone is unique. Her style left many of the details unexplored, which is what really bothered me about the book. It was too fuzzy. Good and evil were almost abstract concepts. My style is much more detailed and my evil is solidly based in the Empire Of The Foreverones. As in evolution, my Family Of Man series solved similar creative problems in similar ways, so there are intersections in our ideas. Whew!

Math in Sci-Fi: Jack London’s The Star Rover

Jack London’s hero is in solitary confinement on death row, trying to pass the time. London devotes a paragraph to one of his techniques. “I squared and cubed long series of numbers, and by concentration and will carried on most astonishing geometric progressions.” This was long before calculators and apps destroyed the ability of students to do arithmetic and make change. Trachtenberg had an interesting book on how to do mental arithmetic, which I read and managed to do briefly before moving on. “I even dallied with the squaring of the circle … until I found myself beginning to believe that that possibility could be accomplished. Whereupon, realizing that there, too, lay madness, I forwent squaring the circle, although I assure you it required a considerable sacrifice on my part, for the mental exercise involved was a splendid time-killer.” That made me smile at the memory of trying to construct an angle trisection back in elementary geometry. I should say that I see this book as early science fiction with a metaphysical theme, which is why I read it. Those reasons appear in the next post.

Coincidence or destiny?

I just went down to my local bakery to get a donut and coffee to celebrate the publication of my latest book, The Strange Reincarnation Of Lucinda Tarne, when my fiction and my reality crashed into each other. It was an OMG moment for sure! I met Yori 02 and his friends, either waiting for a train, or a danish. (See pic)
Without giving too much away, let me tell you that the book is about the development of an artificial intelligence from a fortune telling arcade machine, through the open source iCub project for universities, and into the sci-fi future of VIA Inc’s (think Apple) Wonderball replacement for Alexa. Lucinda Tarne’s unexpected reincarnation is the plot twist. The fragments of the sequel, tentatively titled Wonderball Apocalypse, are already running rampant through my mind. The ‘Apocalypse’ should give you a hint at why meeting Yori 02 on the sidewalk in my hometown freaked me out!
My first book was The Fifth Prophet. If I am a prophet, it is an uncomfortable profession. Has my writing crossed over the edge of reality, blurred the boundary between science and fiction? Was the meeting a simple coincidence, or something more?

A Perfect Book But A Flawed Philosophy

The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942. Spoiler alert! Not that it matters anyway, but don’t read this review if you don’t already know how it all ends. The Stranger is a perfect book, with a flawed philosophy. Camus is a liar. If he really believed in the absurdness of the universe, then why bother to create this book, and the others?
I chose to read this, not because of the philosophy, but to learn a trick or two from a great writer. I write metaphysical science fiction, and one of my favorite authors is Philip K. Dick. I was not disappointed in Camus’ art. The story is balanced upon the violent act of murder, unpremeditated, and absurd. By then, I had lost all sympathy for a very unsympathetic character, and I began to realize the theme that nothing the character did made any difference to him or to the reader. Thou shalt not kill, God commands. Camus uses the breaking of that commandment to attack religious beliefs, although I did not see that until Mersault was throttling the priest in his prison cell. That resolution comes in the last hours of the antihero’s life, in the final pages of the story. Once it is over, you realize how it balances the scene around Mersault’s mother’s coffin in the quiet room at the Home at the start of the book. I am still studying how all the pieces of the plot fit together in such a very complicated pattern for such a simple story.
But it was the poetic and striking descriptions of the reality through which Mersault wanders, that I liked the best. The cat crossing the deserted city street, the struggle between the old man and his dog, the long lines of cypresses beside the road to the graveyard, taking the streetcar to the harbor for a swim, all of these images stay with me. Even though Camus says, “never in my life had I seen anyone so clearly as I saw these people … and yet I couldn’t hear them, and it was hard to believe they really existed”, his sparingly described supporting characters, Marie, Raymond, Salamano, Mother, and the Arabs, are more believable than Mersault himself.
I should read another of Camus’ books, but I am afraid that it could not possibly be as good as this one!

No Tresspassing

Imagine you are on a farm. You don’t want any of the hippies from the fairground to cross the road and come onto your property. So you get a couple of pieces of wood from the barn, some paint from the shed, and you create a “No Trespassing” sign. Black letters on white background. Or, more abstractly, a red circle with a line through the middle.
You walk on down the dirt road to the gate, and hammer the sign into the dirt by the highway. Several days later, someone hurries across the highway and stops before your sign.
Materialist neuroscientists claim that the flow of chemicals in the brain, combined with the electronic activity of the neurons is what thought is. Nothing else. Purely physical.
So, how does that electro-chemical activity that they can associate with the idea, “No Trespassing”, exist for days as mere paint and wood, and then suddenly become the electro-chemical activity in the receiver’s brain? Where was the idea in the interim?
Take this concept and apply it to modern day physics. Think of the “No Trespassing” sign as a marker on the boundary of the known physical universe that you are not supposed to cross. We call that “c,” the speed of light. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. “Thou shalt not go supraluminal.”
Science claims, and has experiments to prove, that as a traveler approaches the speed of light his mass increases and time slows down.
So what would happen if you could travel faster than the speed of light? If you dared to trespass. Would time stop entirely? Would it cease to exist? Isn’t that eternity?
What if the place where ideas exist, is the place beyond the speed of light? Then ideas would be eternal. Platonic shadows?
Mankind has been thinking for a very long time. If all those thoughts actually exist forever in some “spiritual universe,” what form do they take? Are all our thoughts collected into a package called the soul? We haven’t really forgotten what we had for dinner last night. The entire experience is out there waiting for us.
But ideas are not always personal, nor unique. Everyone has similar thoughts: love, hate, curiosity, jealousy, pride. Everyone has dreams and nightmares. So maybe the personal thoughts associated with individual souls permeate the “spiritual universe,” combining and disintegrating like weather in some collective unconscious.
What we need is a map of this “spiritual universe.”

My Writing – new ideas?

When I first started writing my science fiction I reluctantly stopped reading sci-fi. I was concerned about plagiarizing. Of course, I had read so many books in the genre over the years that I already had absorbed thousands of ideas that could not be erased from my mind. My book, The Fifth Prophet, was an inspired idea, and the beginning of a wonderful journey through the land of literature. Subsequent novels were more deliberately constructed. Gradually, I returned to reading sci-fi as I realized similarity of ideas did not mean they were stolen. Of course, I never tried to rewrite Dune with different characters, or change the setting of Middle Earth. My stories are as unique and weird as I am.
Now, I am constantly noticing similarities in the details between what I write and what I read. I just finished Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The review is elsewhere. One of the objects recovered from the Zone is a “spacell”, a mysterious power source that is used like a thumbdrive and powers automobiles when inserted into the dashboard. They have “applied them, discovered conditions when they multiply, can’t create them.” This is also a good description of my “hyperthreads” from The Fifth Prophet, that have fallen to Earth in several places like manna from heaven. The Strugatskys make little use of spacells in their story, whereas hyperthreads are fundamental to the success of my Family of Man.
The similarities and coincidences are not just between my writing and my reading, however. In Perturbations Of The Reality Field I stepped across the line of hard sci-fi, or so I thought. My hero, a young cab driver, and his angelic telepathic border collie, end up fighting to save the Earth’s moon from destruction by the ratpeople. He ‘drives’ his Ford Escape SUV into orbit near the moon, enclosed in a space suit. Trust me, it is embedded into the story in a reasonable fashion. Still, the scene worried me until … a few months after publication I watched Elon Musk’s Tesla and the spaceman!!! Maybe I’m more ‘prophetic’ than I realized?