Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Book Review of Revelation Space


 Science fiction in its best forms pushes the boundaries of the possible for those individuals who have relatively open minds. That's especially true for the sci-fi subgenre called “hard science fiction,” which builds its stories around known scientific principles and logic. This not to say hard science fiction novels and movies don't include incredible futuristic technology and bizarre situations, they just have to be within the realm of the possible given current knowledge.

In other words popular culture favorites like Star Trek and Star Wars are more accurately defined as science fantasy since they require faster-than-light propulsion (FTL), various forms of extrasensory preconceptions, and near human-like aliens among other impossibilities. \When the legendary Arthur C. Clarke first made this distinction clear to me, I about had a fit with what I thought was an insult to my beloved Star Trek. But he was absolutely correct, anyone can create a space opera fantasy but I have found that stories which built within the realm of what is possible far more satisfying.

This is proven with the Alastair Reynolds novel, Revelation Space. The novel begins in the twenty-sixth century with three seemingly separate story-lines that eventually merge.

The first story-line begins on a planet called Resurgam in the real-life Delta Pavonis star system. A guy by the name of Dan Sylveste is leading an archaeological colony researching the long extinct Amarantin species. Over the years since they arrived on Resurgam, Dan Sylveste has come to believe the Amarantin had developed a technological civilization before their sun had a massive flare and essentially barbecued anything and everything on the surface a million years ago. More importantly, Dan has a strong hypothesis that the flare wasn't a natural disaster, that some intelligence was responsible.

The second story-line centers around Ilia Volyova, who is part of a crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. A massive sub-light vessel called a lighthugger since it came come extremely close to the speed of light. See the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity all have nanotechnology augmentation devices in their brains and bodies, but in the captain's case he was infected with the “Melding Plague” which mutates both the nanotech and human cells. So Ilia and the rest of the crew want to find Dan Sylveste, who also happens to have considerable knowledge on how to treat the Melding Plague.

At first, the good crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity believes Dan Sylveste is on the colony planet, Yellowstone orbiting the star Epsilon Eridani. This is because with no FTL technology information can be decades out of date by the time it becomes generally known.

The third story-line involves Ana Khouri who is a bit of an accidental castaway on the colony planet Yellowstone. She was originally from a planet called Sky's Edge in a different star system but through a complex set of events, mainly a planetary civil war, is put in long-term hibernation. Hibernation chambers get mixed up and Ana wakes up on a completely different planet decades later. Oh yeah, she's married and her husband's chamber is either still on Sky's Edge or sent God knows where.

While on Yellowstone, Ana has to make a living and gets hired by a mysterious figure known as the Mademoiselle to infiltrate the incoming Nostalgia for Infinity, fly with them to Resurgam and kill Dan Sylveste.

While Dan Sylveste might seem a popular guy, he's a bit of an asshole with numerous people who literally hate his ass. The first being his ex-wife who lead a rebellion on the newly colonized Resurgam years before, stole the starship that brought them there, and high-tailed out of the system to never be heard from again.

Next, Dan's sparkling personality eventually lead to yet another rebellion overthrowing the colonial government he setup and controlled. Which I can't really blame since Resurgam is far from being a garden spot. The planetary atmosphere isn't directly breathable and the surface more or less looks like a heavily burned bagel covered in dust. The rest of the humans on the fledgling colony are tired of digging in the dust and want to turn their attention to terraforming the planet.

After the second coup, Dan is a prisoner of the new government but finds time to fall in love with the daughter of the man who took over and marries her. At the wedding there is yet another coup with Dan and his new wife, a lady named Pascale about the only people who escape the attack.

When the Nostalgia for Infinity arrives at Resurgam the crew radios down demanding that they cough up Sylveste. There are of course issues, this third colonial government tells Nostalgia to go to hell. Illia in turns hacks into the planetary internet altering records to “create” a fake outpost and nukes it from space. This justifiably terrifies the government who quickly offer up Dan and Pascale.

Dan Sylveste being a really clever asshole is brought aboard Nostalgia for Infinity with the crew not knowing he has smuggled microscopic amounts of antimatter hidden inside his own nanotech implants. You might say big deal, but the antimatter is more than enough to destroy the ship.

Dan makes a deal with the crew to not blow up the ship and try to save their captain if they take him to the nearby dwarf planet Cerberus which orbits a neutron star. Dan believes Cerberus is the key to unraveling what happened to the Amarantin.

I'm stopping here because the rest of the novel is about as mind blowing as they come without actually having to cleanup all the blood, bone, and goo off the floor and walls.


One of the real scientific topics the novel touches on is the Fermi Paradox. In summary, a bunch of real life top-notch scientists were having lunch on day and began puzzling over the fact that a starfaring species could colonize the galaxy in a couple of million years just zooming along at ten-percent the speed of light. Throw in a few other adventurous species doing the same and there should be ample evidence of alien civilization even here in our own solar system.

So between bites of his Ruben sandwich, Enrico Fermi asks just where in the Hell is everyone. Decades later numerous smart men and women have pondered the question with most possible answers not very comforting and a few outright scary. Yes, this plays to the extinct Amarantin species in the book.

Another fascinating point of the book is the Melding Plague. Here in the real world nanoscopic particles used in various industrial and even household applications are already a health concern. Like microplastic trash, our bodies don't have a means to flush such artificial substances from our bodies. Nanoparticles could be totally benign but in all likelihood they will eventually be found to cause major health concerns.

Now add only slightly futuristic nanotechnology with the particles programmed to perform certain helpful tasks, like destroy cancer cells for example. Imagine billions of smart particles running threw a human body with bad programming, instead of destroying cancer cells they decide to go rogue and eat all the healthy cells.

One of the darkest nightmares of nanotechnology is the Grey Goo scenario where not only are the nanoparticles programmable, but can build new more versions of themselves from any convenient material. We're talking anything from steel, concrete, or even human tissue. Speculation has it that such a “plague” could go exponential and turn the entire surface of the planet into a massive sea of Grey Goo.

The level of universe building in Revelation Space is fantastic. The author, Alastair Reynolds is a master at painting a complex but grounded work of science fiction. The human societies occupying the universe of Revelation Space are in no way places I would like to live. But that makes them even more plausible in my mind given that human nature more or less stays the same in his twenty-sixth century.

If you're a fan of great science fiction go buy or borrow this book. Oh yeah, its part of a trilogy and the second book is even better in my opinion.

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Short Post From Crappy Suburbia



 As usual for me, August brings nothing but endless yard work and long, hot humid days with me dreaming of cooler weather. That was the case last weekend since my daughter and I decided to do the mowing and trimming on Saturday. By the time we were finished the only thing I wanted to do was get cleaned up and vegetate on the couch for the rest of the day.

I've done this blogging long enough to fully understand that a weary and overheated Beach Bum does not create audacious fiction nor insightful essays. However, I still wanted to post something so here is some new Jimmy Buffett. 

Have a good week and send me ideas on how I can get my wife to let me go to the coast next Saturday. Understand this, any ideas offered I will consider. I will not held back by moral or ethical concerns. I need a sandy beach, ocean waves, and a salty breeze.      

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Political Ramifications of Closed Temporal Loop Engineering


 The subject of time travel has been beat to death in every conceivable media format, including my humble but insightful and wise outlet. But after some deep, pointless thought, I feel the need to gather up the bones of this tired subject one more time and grind them to dust.

The reason for this foray began a couple of weeks ago while watching a documentary on wormholes. Which are theoretical connections between two distant point in space or time. The better description would be a blackhole that just happens to have an exit instead of dead end singularity crushing all in falling matter to an infinitely small point. Going massively simplistic but those wormholes are the only slightly feasible avenues to go backwards in time. Time machines, whether they be some H.G Wells Victorian-era looking device or a heavily modified DeLorean have no basis in reality.

A second impetus for doing another foray into temporal meandering had to do with a You Tube video I watched describing different points in history and what it would taken for a radical change in how those events unfolded. Yes, there were historical events that could have unfolded differently, radically changing the world. But these pivot points, according to the documentary, are quite rare.

For example armchair historians like me often speculate on what it would have taken to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. The problem being Rome didn't fall for just one easy reason. There were numerous interlocking factors that weakened Roman society to the point nothing could save it. Worse yet, even with the relatively minor factors some were so ingrained in the daily management of that civilization the average Roman couldn't imagine a different way of living. Off the top of my head the best example on that one would be the Emperor picking a successor. There was no established procedure, which often lead to bitter civil wars and enough palace intrigue to destroy the fabric of civil society. This says nothing about a foolish emperor picking a total incompetent or delusional psychopath to take his place.

Of course one of the possible historical points where events could have turned out differently was the American Civil War. Early in the conflict there were several times the Confederacy could have walked away with an easy victory. But as the war dragged on, and Union leadership improved the fate of the Confederate States became consistently darker.

My position is that the majority of historical events are like that or the fall of Rome. That there were just far too many combined factors that any one time traveling explorer could control. This includes such events like the outcome of the American Revolution and the rise of Hitler in Germany.

For the American Revolution, while Britain was the most powerful nation in the world at that time, the colonies were very far away making a set piece war quite difficult. While George Washington might have been defeated fighting the Brits by conventional means, a determined asymmetrical campaign would have eventually made the conflict too costly.

As for Germany, Hitler just didn't appear out of nowhere taking a wealthy and sophisticated nation down an evil path. Hitler's ideas and beliefs were common throughout Germany for centuries, he just used the circumstances of that time to his advantage to gain power. Someone going back in time and doing a John Connor on him would have probably lead to just another tyrant appearing in his place.

Understand that while Hitler had a talent controlling large numbers of people, his decision making skills when it came to war and logistics became increasingly insane as the Second World War raged. A less insane but more coherent Nazi leader might have been far more difficult for the Allies to defeat. In other words, while he plunged the world into chaos killing millions, someone else might have been far worse.

The same goes for our current real-life situation here in America. The Orange Buffoon is the result of decades of decline in the Republican Party. Just removing him will do nothing to correct the neared failed state condition of the United States Government. In fact, you can easily make a case that our national trajectory to our current situation began with the election of Richard Nixon to president back in 1968.

During that time we have a hopelessly intransigent Lyndon Johnson hellbent on victory in Vietnam. As support for the war here in the States goes sideways, LBJ is forced to abandon any plans for reelection. This sets up the big three of Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, and Robert Kennedy pursuing the nomination in his place. McCarthy's campaign falls apart while RFK is assassinated leaving a damaged Vice President Humphrey to take the nomination after a disastrous party convention.

So with a little help from George Wallace, Tricky Dick wins big and becomes president of the United States. This sends all those peace, free love, and Age of Aquarius types into the great cosmic abyss to later evolve into the “Me Generation” of the 70s and dirty stinking yuppies of the 80s.

Before that a paranoid Tricky Dick sends his henchmen to the Watergate Hotel to do a little breaking and entering. This leads to Tricky Dick having to resign with Ford becoming POTUS and picking up the disillusioned pieces of an angry and disgruntled population.

President Ford, a decent man, loses the 1976 presidential election because the country is still a mess. Jimmy Carter, and exceptionally good man, becomes president but is metaphorically run over by circumstance setting the stage for Reagan.

Ronny Raygun has the stupid good luck to be around as communism falls apart leading to First Bush coming after him. A distracted and disconnected First Bush is replaced by Slick Willy who while an able administrator can't keep is overactive dick in his pants. This brings Second Bush up to bat who is around when the 9/11 attacks scare and piss off the country.

Feeling the need to crusade and secure the blessings of big oil, Second Bush goes into Iraq ultimately bringing President Barrack Obama to the scene. Obama not only has clean up the Iraq mess, he has to manage an economic Chernobyl so the Great Recession doesn't become the Second Great Depression. Oh yeah, during this time the Republicans have slipped into the Twilight Zone of far right conspiracies and totally delusional ideas of moral and fiscal superiority.

Here we enter the Age of the Orange Buffoon in 2016 as all those descendants of the Age of Aquarius just can't make themselves vote for what they see as the “lesser of two evils.” I could drone on about that fucked up mindset and comment about how even if the “lesser evil” bullshit is true letting the greater evil win is approaching suicidal nihilism. But instead all I'll write that the Orange Buffoon has spent his time in office busily and productively dismantling American democracy.

Getting back to the time travel/changing history gimmick, I believe all this could have been avoided with one “small” change in to past events. That change is preventing the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

I hold that if RFK could have lived to win the nomination he could gave held together the blue collar Democrat types and the wacky peaceniks. George Wallace would still try to play the spoiler but the Kennedy legacy was exceptional powerful back then and might have been enough to send Tricky Dick to defeat and back home to California.

RFK's charisma and leadership skills might have been enough to forge an entirely different path for the country. His presidency could have cemented the reforms that began with his brother and were furthered by LBJ. It goes without saying that RFK would have almost certainly pulled us out of Vietnam quicker that Nixon.

There are times I feel the 1960s was the make or break era for the United States. In many ways America was at the pinnacle of its power and influence. Even with its systemic injustices our country, back then strove to do better, to live up to the principles set forth by every previous generation.

Don't get me wrong, we've never been saints and in fact we as a people are guilty of some hideous crimes. But I believe there was an overall desire to do better, to improve what we were given.

Now we seem to have not only given up but even abandoned the lip service we gave to our most cherish principles and ideals. We're a country now dedicated to increasing efficiency, maintaining an image, making greater profits, and worshiping the god of convenience. That if we can save a couple of bucks on a new coat we'll ignore that someone in China was forced into near slavery working in a factory with thousands of others in similar conditions.

The pinnacle of this mindset is of course the Orange Buffoon. To the small minded he is the epitome of the new American Dream. The Orange Buffoon is all image without a milligram of true substance. He is adept at playing angles and always ready to manipulate people for his benefit. But mainly the Orange Buffoon is exceptional good at hating and getting others to hate those that can't service him.

Even though the Orange Buffoon is much like Hitler in that he is the result of centuries of ignorance and unfounded arrogance, I believe he could have been avoided. That one small change in events could have pushed the world on an entirely different timeline. Of course, that different timeline would not have been utopia, it would certainly have its own flaws, disasters and persistent dangers. And yes, there would always be the chance that changing our history would lead to some darker event like nuclear war.

But right now if a wormhole opened up allowing me to save RFK, I would jump through and make sure he did not walk through that damn kitchen. It would be worth the risk to play god and alter our current dystopian present.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Irritating Forays Into My Subconscious

Giving myself a little credit here but my imagination is one of my few developed talents. So much that my creativity even extends to the dreams my subconscious weaves at night. The source of this creativity during both my waking and sleeping hours can almost certainly be traced back to all the science fiction novels I've read and the physiological and thriller movies I watched over the years. Many have left such a huge physiological impact that for years my nightmares hosted a bizarre array of terrible characters.

For example many of my dreams have hosted a collection of murderous xenomorphs from the Alien film series. In my dreams I usually find myself trying to allude the creatures whose only purpose is to find hosts for the parasitical “face-hugger” so more of them can be reproduced.

Joining in for the fun were the Borg from Star Trek, a polyglot of many alien species forcibly assimilated into a militaristic hive mind. During these dreams I find myself recoiling at how they violate the mind and body of captured individuals during the assimilation process.

One of the more curious participates in my nightmares were the Draka, a creation of the author S.M. Sterling, someone described as the H.P. Lovecraft of political science. See, in the world of these Draka the Americans loyal to the British Crown fled to South Africa instead of Canada at the end of the Revolution. This change in history led to the creation of a “super Nazis” society dedicated to the literal enslavement of every human on the planet. Spoiler here, but at the end of the Draka trilogy they end up in control of Earth and the entire solar system.

Those are just my dreams where familiar characters take part in playing with my anxieties. They're a disturbing bunch but I take some small amount of relief in having some truly evil phantoms running around my head. Where things take an abrupt turn to the surreal is when my brain begins to piece together random elements into something that leaves me wondering where the dream ends and reality begins.

Way back in the early 1980s when I was living on the coast, I had a particularly disturbing dream that left me confused for days. It all began during a late night summer thunderstorm with me “waking up” during the worst phase of the lightning and thunder. Somehow the lightning and thunder turned into someone desperately knocking on the front door. It was the kind of pounding knock of someone that in movies was fearing for their very life.

Since I lived in the middle of a fairly dense neighborhood, the idea of someone actually at the door in the middle of a thunderstorm didn't make any sense. In reality, I believed I turned over in my bed and went back to sleep. When I did truly wake up, possibly hours later but before sunrise, I went to the door to look outside. I saw nothing and went back to bed. The weirdness came when I later stepped outside to get the newspaper.

There was a woman's shoe on the front porch. I have no idea where it came from and while I'm mostly sure the late night knocking on the door was a dream, I've got to admit it took days for me to shake off the feeling I might have missed something real.

Over the intervening years I've had what I hope are the usual, normal amount of those strange dreams. But relatively recently I've had another that tends to replay itself with no apparent rhyme or reason.

The actual events in the dream are consistently fuzzy but they all revolve around the main point that I have forgotten an important piece of vital information. Sometimes during this dream I feel I might be on the verge of remembering that lost piece of information, but it metaphorically slips away again. I then wake up and have the irritating feeling that my subconscious was actually trying to send me a message. By the middle of the day I've shaken off that strange feeling but it really bothers me that the dream will return at some point.

Well, that dream did return last week and it has evolved a new level of complexity. I was once again trying to remember something I had forgotten but this time I attached a name of a person to this missing knowledge. Just to make the situation more puzzling, the name now associated with the dream is unknown to me. Yes, my assumption is that my subconscious has reached into the cosmic grab bag and pulled out a name from nothing. That explanation is reasonable and highly probable but it still doesn't feel right.

I've gotten to the point now that I'm starting to miss the xenomorphs and the Borg, but not the Draka, those bastards are really bad.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Maybe It's Aliens, If We're Lucky?

You know we live in interesting times when legitimate reports involving UFO's hit the mainstream media and they aren't the top stories in the evening news. But that is the case with both a New York Times report and the one Huffpost uploaded on their webpage.

On the surface both reports sound like the usual highly dubious and easily dismissible stories espoused by countless nutcases and con men for decades. The trouble though is that this time we have official statements from both the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon that yes, there have been sightings of strange aerial phenomenon displaying capabilities outside the abilities of current technologies.

More to the point, a few years back the Pentagon once stated that its covert program to study unexplained aerial phenomenon had been disbanded. Now real news outlets have discovered that this program was just renamed and moved to the Office of Naval Intelligence. Not exactly something an organization would do if there wasn't a reason to keep information hidden.

Those reason appear to be that these unknown craft have the ability to perform extreme maneuvers that defy known physics. One such unidentified vehicle was observed dropping from 60,000 feet to 50 feet in a matter of seconds. You don't need a degree in physics nor human anatomy to understand such maneuvers would destroy any known craft and turn any human pilot to chunky salsa.

Despite the possible crazed hoopla about aliens and first contact scenarios the more chilling possibility revolves around either Russia or China secretly developing technology that puts out best, most advanced planes on par with WW2 aircraft. Why Russia or China as possible boogeymen? Because they are the only countries with the money and/or technological clout to make such a breakthrough.

For the most part I despise Russia, but they do produce some seriously world class engineers and theoretical physicists. Their one drawback is money, it's one thing to produce fancy blueprints and maybe a prototype. It is another to have the money and industrial capabilities to turn such dreams into reality. China on the other hand does have the money, engineers, and the industrial might to possibly produce such revolutionary aircraft. What both countries do share is a grudge against the United States and an overwhelming desire to be the global top dog and remake the world pecking order.

Another possibility worth mentioning is that this release of information about UFO's is just a disinformation campaign by the United States Government. That our country has actually made a massive breakthrough in aviation technology and that we are just acting stupid to throw off our adversaries. Such possible advanced aircraft have to be tested and with surveillance what it is these days someone is bound to catch sight of these vehicles. At least that is my best case scenario when it comes to this situation.

Touching back on aliens, no I do not believe these UFO's are extraterrestrial in origin. The idea that an advanced alien race would travel hundreds, if not thousands of lightyears just to play aerial chicken with the primitive natives is just a bad science fiction movie idea. I've got admit though, given how supremely nightmarishly fucked up 2020 has been, we probably can't discount Little Green Men entirely.


Explosive UFO Report In NYT Mentions ‘Off-World Vehicles Not Made On This Earth’