Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Kings of Ancient Narnia

I've noticed there is room in C.S. Lewis' Narnia tales for more stories.

Those who know the series well might think there couldn't be any more Narnia tales, since C.S. Lewis isn't around anymore and because the series as he wrote it went from the very beginning of Narnia (in The Magician's Nephew) to the very end (in The Last Battle). But there is, in fact, at least one noticeable gap in the stories, something that happened of interest that's never been written into books.

Between the time of the establishment of the first King of Narnia and the situation where the White Witch rules Narnia (that is, in between The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) the actions of these kings have never been documented, nor has the rise of the White Witch to power.

Since the whole series of current Narnia books is called "The Chronicles of Narnia," calling a series of books that covers the time period I'm referencing "The Kings of Ancient Narnia" would play off the contrast between the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible--the word "ancient" would point to the early time period of the stories. In these stories, there would be no visitors from the Earth we know, though the books could still form a children's series...focusing on Narnian children, or young talking animals even.

Or perhaps, the "Kings of Ancient Narnia" could have a more serious, adult tone. After all, the last of these books (I'm thinking there could be four or five of them) would end in a pretty dismal state--Jadis, the White Witch, on the throne of Narnia. Such a change in tone might make up for the fact the author couldn't be C.S. Lewis--you wouldn't expect a current writer to write the same way he did anyhow...

Of course, the bigger problem is that Narnia is copyrighted. You'd have to get specific permission to write books that furthered the series...which may be an unlikely occurrence. I must say though, if I were given the chance to write new Narnian stories, I think I'd thoroughly enjoy the opportunity...


Sunday, December 9, 2012

"The Garden's First Sinner": A Story, the Serpent, Satan, and a Strange Take on Evolution

"The Garden's First Sinner" is a short story idea I had years ago but never got around to writing, partly because I'm more interested in the idea than the story. Let me be clear up front that the purpose of this story would not have been to advance any new theological notions (I don't believe what I suggest below myself), but simply to make its readers think about what could be possible...

The story would be based on the observation that there is a difference between Satan, the spiritual adversary of the human race, bits of details about whom are visible throughout Scripture, and a serpent, which is described in Genesis as being the most "subtle" beast of the field (in King James English). That is, the serpent is described as the most intelligent of animals, short in smarts only to mankind. Yet Scripture also portrays Satan as a serpent or serpent-like (most famously as a dragon in the book of Revelation) and specifically links him to the temptation of the human race in the Garden of Eden.

Many Christian interpreters of the text over the ages have decreed the serpent was Satan, period. But, as not everything there is to know about God is known (or can be known) in Genesis, not everything is known about other words, he who is later known as the "prince of demons" was in disguise as an animal in the Garden. And later we find out the real identity of the "serpent."

Many modern interpreters hold the original text has evolved, so that it really was supposed to be an animal at first, but later Scriptures changed that original idea to something else, a spiritual sense. This is not an interpretation I agree with--I prefer the "not everything is revealed yet" school of thought.

Still, just as the gospels mention that Satan entered Judas before he betrayed Jesus and demons entered a herd of swine (with the permission of Jesus), could it be that the serpent was a real animal of great intelligence, but Satan possessed this animal? So it the tempter was both a very clever animal and the greatest of evil spirits at the same time?

In the "what if" sort of story I imagined, that situation would come about because the serpent became jealous of Adam and Eve's privileged position. So in this hypothetical scenario, the serpent actually sinned first, before the man and woman did, just that event happened "off camera." As a result of that sin, Satan was able to enter the beast and lead it to tempt humans to sin--so both of them were responsible.

Satan's judgment actually comes at the end of the world, when he is cast into the Lake of Fire in Revelation. But the living creature, the serpent, my story would conjecture was punished by God by being forced to crawl on its belly and "eat the dust of the Earth"--which would mean more than simply serpents now being lower to the ground than they apparently used to be--it would also be a reference to the animal becoming unintelligent.

I imagined at the end of this story God making this humiliation of the serpent a long process, while He held the garden itself in suspended animation, so time there would not change. The long process would involve generation after generation of reptilian creatures rising and falling, some becoming enormous and powerful, but all basically unintelligent, until a shock came over the Earth that got rid of all the tall reptiles, leaving only those who "crawl on their belly" left alive. In short, the story would imagine God directed the evolution of life to happen over real time that was not experienced in the garden, as a form of punishment, real time that came about after the original creation of life, in Adam's experience of time, thousands of years ago.

The punishment of evolution would not just touch the serpent, because as the backstory of life was rewritten, suddenly the same creatures Adam already knew would have different backstories. Animals would instantly be more at odds with the human race (though that instant would have taken millions of years to produce)--plants would have produced the thorns and thistles associated with a struggle for survival of a sort that had never been originally intended by the Creator. Evolution would be real, occurring over millions and millions of years--but at the same time, in another timeline, the world would be thousands of years old in its original form, evolution being nothing more than a divine form of punishment...


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Multiple Multiverses of Science and Imagination

I haven’t read Brian Greene’s 2011 book, The Hidden Reality, but according to an online post which includes a summary of this work’s explanation of the most current thinking by theoretical physicists on the subject of multiple universes—a.k.a. “multiverses”—a.k.a. parallel universes—there are not only physicists who believe more than one universe is possible, as a collective whole they have proposed nine different types of multiverses. Although naturally they disagree among themselves concerning which of these, if any, has any valid possibility to really exist.

Of course, in the classical understanding of the word it’s a contradiction to speak of anything other than one universe, since the word by definition embraces all of material creation throughout all space and time. But what’s meant by more than one universe is that we human beings may be isolated in one possible reality, in which we would only be able to see a certain amount of the “total universe.” All that we could possibly detect with our senses—or even the best of scientific instruments, even imaginary futuristic ones—is confined to our “local” universe. Theoretically, others could exist.

Science fiction writers like to play with the idea that these differing universes somehow interact, even though by definition they can’t—or else craft a story set in a separate universe entirely, without making any reference back to our own world. I make specific suggestions on how these theories of different universes can apply to science fiction as I mention the different categories, so let’s look at Greene’s identification of nine types of multiverses (note the explanations of these types are my mostly own and any errors are solely mine):

Inflationary Multiverse – According to standard cosmic theory, the big bang caused the universe to expand, or inflate, from a single point. If that inflation exceeded the speed of light (as some physicists think happened), space could approach infinity in size, but we would not be able to see all of it. That’s because the speed of light is only so fast and therefore some parts of the cosmos would have expanded away from us so far that light from that area would never reach us. So each area of what is really one continuous universe would be isolated in separate bubbles and each of these separate bubbles would in effect count as a separate universe. Each of these universes would share the same dimensions and laws of physics we have and if there were some means to travel much faster than the speed of light, in theory we could visit other “inflationary multiverses.” If the number of these multiverses were infinite, it stands to reason that everything that can exist in them, does exist somewhere. Which would indicate there is another world out there “far far away” that mimics everything as it unfolds on Earth as we know it. If the universes are in fact infinite in number, there would actually be an infinite number of everything, including an infinite number of possible planet Earths…a story featuring other universes of this type requires some kind of near-infinite speed drive (perhaps based on the hypothetical particle the tachyon), which perhaps could have an explorer zoom out to the edge of known space and back…but accidentally enter an entirely differently “universe,” in which everything is either blatantly or subtly different than it was before.

Quilted Multiverse – Another view of the big bang says our universe would have expanded into separate pockets, as in the inflationary multiverse theory, but in a way that creates distinctly separated regions of space that occupy separate dimensions. Between these separated universes would be regions with no light between them, though light from all the separate “patches” in the quilt would be able to enter the void between them and would be in fact rushing to meet one another. In theory, a very much faster than light vessel could travel to these other regions, but it’s unknown what effect the interactions between pieces of this separated-by-distance and dimension multiverse would have with pieces of our own. The idea of a quilted universe embraces the infinity as I understand it and therefore also would imply duplicate Earths “far far away” much more than does the idea of an inflationary multiverse, so stories of finding another Earth in a quilted multiverse would seem natural. But also this framework of universes of differing dimensions, in which divergent multiverses can actually impact each other as light from each expands into one another, raises the hypothetical possibility that some sort of extraordinary effect would happen at the boundary between universes. Perhaps even whole universes would explode…

Brane Multiverse – As touched on in my previous post on Angels in Other Dimensions, String theory (which is not embraced by all theoretical physicists) leaves open the possibility that our universe occupies just one 3-dimensional brane, while other branes of other dimensions could have whole other universes contained within them. In this case, other multiverses could well have a differing number of dimensions—there could be less, as in the classic story Flatland, or somehow more. The characteristics of each of these universes might be wildly different from one another and there would seem to be no way for residents of differing branes to interact—though I speculated in my Angels post that perhaps the world of spiritual beings could form an exception to that…

Cyclic Multiverse – For those that embrace the idea that the universe is composed of vibrating strings (String Theory), that some of these strings can occupy three dimensions (String Theory “branes”), and that these branes could be infinitely large—all ideas that can’t be either proven or disproven, at least at present—then the next step is to imagine what happens if two separated branes collide. There’s a theory that such interactions could create a new big bang every time it happens, allowing the possibility that new big bangs occur on a cyclic basis, generating a new universe inside a brane each time. Again, the inhabitants of these universes would seem to be separated from one another forever, in this case more by time than by space. Although in theory something outside the branes could see within them and interact with them. My first thought of creatures that can pass outside of branes would be those inhabiting a supernatural role of some kind, though one could imagine multidimensional aliens who are masters of the cyclic universes…who may in turn, aware or unaware, have a supernatural Maker greater than them...

Landscape Multiverse – If you think of inflationary multiverses occurring within the confines of Brane Multiverse or Cyclic Universe-style branes, String theory makes it possible that many of these separate universes could have fundamentally different physical laws that we have in our universe. For example, the speed of light in another of these universes could be more or less than the speed of light in our own, or the amount of energy contained in matter, instead of being e= mc2, could equal e = m + c, or c (the speed of light) could cubed instead of squared or something. Again, travel between different universes of this sort would seem to be impossible. If you could travel to a universe with a fundamentally different laws of physics, most likely you’d be dead before you knew where you were. Life of any sort we understand depends on a precise balance of physical laws...though it might be interesting to have a story in which creatures from a universe of differing physical laws find a way to thrive in our own universe…creepy monsters are the first sort of thing that comes to mind…

Quantum Multiverse – The Many Worlds Intepretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics: has an interesting way of dealing with the strange nature of the smallest particles of matter and energy (quanta), which by repeated experiments seem to indicate that quanta have the disturbing habit of occupying more than one place at the same time—unless directly observed, in which case they will “pick” one place to be, as if they knew they were being watched. The Many Worlds Interpretation (a.k.a. “Quantum Multiverse”) states that this is because quanta in effect still inhabit all the possible places they could once be observed—only not in our universe. In other words, each possible choice happens, each in a separate universe, each quantum decision generating multiple universes at a shot, uncounted trillions of quantum decisions per second causing the number of universes to continually increase in an unimaginable froth. Where these universes are supposed to physically be located is unanswered by this theory, so it’s impossible to even guess if we could ever travel to another one of them. But note that each of these multiverses would share the same physical laws as our own. Also note that according to the theory, every possible choice that ever could happen, actually has happened in one of these quantum multiverses—every possible choice occurs somewhere—which is why this notion is a darling of science fiction writers (there would be, for example, multiple universes in which Nazi Germany won WWII). Personally I think this is far from the simplest view of quantum mechanics, but some physicists readily embrace it. For a uniquely Christian view of quantum multiverses, see my previous post on Greg Mitchell’s Rift Jump.

Holographic Multiverse – According to the holographic principle, there would be a physically-equivalent parallel universe that exists on a distant surface (i.e. the edge of the universe), in which everything about our universe is precisely duplicated—we are just a holographic projection of the real thing or vice versa. This notion is an odd one and as stated would allow just one other universe, in which physically there is a second copy of everything—yet all the second copies would be just like us in every way. Perhaps a “mad scientist” type would seek a way to enter the second copy of the universe as a way to retrieve a lost loved one, even though this doesn’t make sense according to the theory. Or better yet, someone comes from the second universe to our world seeking a lost love…

Simulated Multiverse It’s been suggested that technology will advance to the point where a fully realistic simulation of the universe could be possible, including each particle of everything. If it’s becomes possible to do that, who’s to say it hasn’t already been done and we aren’t in such a simulation right now? And if you allow that there can be one such full 100% detail simulation of the universe, perhaps there could be more than one, or as many as you like. Travel from one of these other “universes” to the next would simply involve the simulation programmer (whoever that would be) moving you from one simulation to another…a Grace Bridges story I blogged about (in A Vision of the Real and Unreal), could be expanded to embrace a multiverse-engaging tale.

Ultimate Multiverse – The ultimate multiverse would say that all possible variations of the different types of multiverses discussed above, all of them, exist somewhere. So multiverses would come in many different types and flavors, in some sort of infinity times itself infinite times combination. A book series exploring such a setting could perhaps be called something like, “The Infinite Universe of Universes.”

To wrap this up, it’s interesting to note that the majority of the theoretical physicists generating these notions don’t embrace a belief in an infinite God—yet they find it easy to believe in various versions of infinite universes that self-create. They see an infinite intelligent God as unbelievable, in part because He has never been directly observed, but a system that’s equally infinite, but without any purpose or plan, yet still containing the complexities of life, is believable. Even though the ideas of multiverses are in general chaotic, messy, and improbable—and never have been directly observed.

In my view, there is no inherent contradiction between multiple universes and a single God who created them. Yet a simple reading of Scripture implies there is just this one world we inhabit, surrounded by the heavens which the Psalms describe as God having “stretched out.” I personally don’t have a hard time imaging that God could have created more universes than just our own (which we simply haven’t been informed of yet), but my hunch is that the infinite Creator would not have seen any need to make another infinity. My gut instinct on the matter is that even if there really are multiverses, they are finite in quantity…which is why, when I had the chance to create my own version of a gateway between worlds (universes really) of science fiction and fantasy and history in The Crystal Portal, I wrote the story so that there were only a limited number of universes on the map of worlds discovered by my protagonists near the end of the novel…


Saturday, November 24, 2012

LIfe on Titan--Metabolism Inverted

Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. With an atmosphere about twice as thick as Earth, but much colder (the average temperature on the surface is around minus180 Celsius—approaching 300 below in Fahrenheit), life on as we know it on Earth would seem to be impossible on Titan. Liquid water forms the common solvent of all life on our planet, of all sizes, for plants, animals, bacteria, and everything else. On Titan, water is a rock as much as slate is on our world. As on Earth, internal heating can cause the rock to melt—but on Titan, this would mean that liquid water would flow as a cold version of lava, only to solidify again into water rock. On the surface, no life could exist that depends on liquid water.

It could be that if there is a permanent reservoir of molten water under the surface of Titan, just as there is a permanent flow of magma under the surface of the Earth. If so, liquid-water based bacteria might live below. That perhaps could be, but what interests me is the possibility of life on Titan’s surface.

It so happens that Titan has another form of liquid on its surface, lakes of liquid methane and ethane, as imaged by radar on the Cassini probe and shown in false color below:

A number of scientists think it’s possible that liquid forms of the hydrocarbons methane or ethane could serve as a solvent for the chemicals of life. It also has been proposed that this life in liquid  hydrocarbon would gain metabolic energy on Titan by breaking down more complex molecules like ethane into methane, releasing hydrogen molecules as a byproduct (as discussed in this Wikipedia Life on Titan link). 

In contrast to the most-widely accepted theories of possibilities of life on Titan, I think it would be interesting to create a story that features life there as more of a direct inversion of life on Earth. To illustrate what I mean, think of a jet airplane. For fuel, the jet carries a hydrocarbon chemically related to methane (but more complex) in liquid form in its fuel tanks. As it flies through the air, the fans of the engine capture atmospheric oxygen and combine in with the fuel in a reaction that generates a lot of heat, causing expansion of the propelled exhaust, driving the plane forward.

On Titan, a jet could fly through the atmosphere by fueling up with liquid oxygen (which would only require a small amount of refrigeration at Titan’s temperature and pressure) capturing atmospheric methane in its turbofans and combining the two for propulsion. The chemical reaction would be the same as on Earth (or nearly so) but the means by which the chemicals enter the reaction would be inverted.

So imagine plant-like creatures on Titan that ingest solid water and incorporate it into their body structure (at least in part). For them energy would come from some analog of photosynthesis, but would probably function pretty slowly, since Titan gets around 1% the sunlight Earth receives. The plant might easily produce oxygenated compounds other than water, such as hydrogen peroxide, which is also a solid at Titan’s temperatures.

Then an animal of Titan could consume the leaves of this plant and the oxygenated compounds would be digested and pushed through liquid ethane-based blood into each body cell. This sort of animal could also inhale atmospheric methane (like Earth, most of Titan’s atmosphere is nitrogen, but the next most common gas is methane), maintaining just enough body warmth to maintain the fine balance where methane is gaseous but the ethane stays liquid, doing what water does for us. Just as our blood carries oxygen and dissolved hydrocarbon (for us, glucose) which are combined in each cell to provide the energy it needs, the blood of these Titan aliens could carry both fuel (for them, methane) and oxidizer to each cell, where they would combined for energy much the same way as life on Earth, only inverted in terms of means of entry into the body system.

Carbon dioxide, the exhaled waste product of human metabolism, is a solid on the surface of Titan, but carbon monoxide is a gas and could be exhaled by Titanian life. Other waste products of metabolism could flow out with ethane “urine” or pass out in semi-solid form with the undigested body ejecta.

So life on Titan could in effect operate much as we do—they could even look virtually the same as Earth life forms—only with the means of metabolism inverted and at a much colder temperature. The lower temperature would have the effect of making chemical reactions run much more slowly. Giant tree sloths might easily outrun the speediest life form on Titan…

Note though that the temperature difference between liquid methane and ethane I referenced above is only about one degree. A human’s body easily maintains its core temperature within one degree on a regular basis, so it does not seem improbable to me at all that a complex multicellular organism could do the same on Titan. But note that a single-celled organism would be very unlikely to maintain such precise temperature control (Earth microorganisms can’t do that).

So someone who believed in random evolution of life probably would say my proposed method of metabolism is impossible for complex life, since simple life could not use it, meaning there would be no opportunity for simple life employing that mechanism to evolve to a complex form. 

But what if a story portrayed complex life existing on Titan without any single-celled organisms of the same metabolism type in existence? Would human scientists landing on such a Titan speculate the simpler life forms must have gone extinct? Or that life on Titan evolved somewhere else in the galaxy, only to be somehow transported to our Solar System? Or would they wonder if these creatures had been directly generated by some kind of creator, perhaps even the same one I would call “God”…


Friday, November 16, 2012

Libertarian America: An Alternate Earth Story Setting

Libertarianism can actually mean a lot of things, actually, but for the sake of this post, let's imagine that the American government as it originally existed remained in that form, that is, a small federal government with low taxes (including no income taxes), a mostly laissez-faire attitude toward business, and a non-interventionist attitude toward foreign powers, but otherwise as much as possible like America as we know it. If a science fiction story took place in a setting where America had followed that path (either through some kind of time travel intervention or quantum alternate universe), what would that look like--how would American Libertarianism have influenced world history?

First off, America's largest war, the internal conflict between the Confederate States of America and the United States Federal forces, would almost certainly have kicked off anyway. Some Libertarian types might argue that Federal overreach caused the war, because otherwise the North would have let the South leave the Union, thus no conflict. But the actual fundamental point of friction of the war was whether or not it's legitimate to consider another human being private property. To this, a commitment to follow Libertarian principles offers no unequivocal solution--thus I believe the war still would have happened...(please note that I am not a Libertarian, but do not consider myself inherently hostile to Libertarianism)

But without the expansion of federal power (under the Lincoln administration) that included the creation of income taxes to fund Union Armies, it's unlikely the North would have won. The history of an America split into two immediately becomes very difficult to predict. Certain Southerners always advocated expansion of the South into Latin America in order to counter-balance the power of the industrial North. If the CSA had won the war, it's hard to even guess what would have happened next--would the slaves have been freed eventually anyway, but live in virtual serfdom? Or eventually be equal citizens? Would the South expand into Latin America? If so, how much? Would Southern expansion cause another war between the USA and the CSA--or perhaps even a whole series of wars? Would an expansionist South eventually conquer a United States committed to limited government (and hence, a small military)?

To be able to continue with this thought experiment requires keeping America as much as possible like it is today, so let's assume that somehow the North won the Civil War anyway, perhaps through a temporary expansion of federal power that it eternally regretted afterward, going back to the small government the United States started with and never straying away from it again. So, America would exist as a nation from sea-to-shining sea, but with no later foreign intervention in the Spanish American War, thus no expansion into Latin America or the Philippines (and other locations in the Far East), so there would probably be no statehood for Hawaii or Alaska, and no Panama Canal.

A strictly neutral, non-interventionist, small government, 48-state America would not have built the large navy required to support the limited overseas empire our America had at the turn of the twentieth century. When World War I kicked off, not only would a non-interventionist America be unlikely to join Britain and France in a war against Germany, it would not have been able to fight even if it had wanted to, since it would not be able to defend its own troop transports against U-Boat attack (if it somehow it decided to violate Libertarian principles and enter the war). Without American intervention, it is virtually certain that Germany would have won WWI, which was a rather close thing as it was.

And what then? Germany winning WWI would not have destroyed Western liberty. German imperial ambition was to become a first-rate colonial power like the United Kingdom and France, to have the right to build its navy and expand it's commercial interests. It's unlikely they would have demanded permanent possession of the piece of northern France they occupied during the war--though they probably would have forbidden permanent armaments in regions bordering Germany and would have perhaps limited the British navy or something similar. That means the German Empire would have remained in Africa and probably would have expanded, possibly taking over French African colonies as recompense for returning occupied northern France to French control. A weak Spain, still corruptly in control of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines (due to US non-intervention), likely would have lost these territories after WWI to an expansionistic Germany--though Imperial Japan probably would have taken the Philippines, as without America intervening, only Britain would have a major interest in curtailing Japanese power--but after a losing war with Germany, they would only have limited means to do so.

I believe World War II would have still happened, but not the way we know it. Consider that the conditions that allowed the rise of the Nazi Party were as much a product of the Great Depression and the post-war cultural malaise of Germany as of Germany's defeat. In other words, I think there still would have been Nazis or similar Rightist parties that would have challenged the authority of the then-legitimate German government. In my opinion, the Kaiser would do a better job controlling the expansion of Nazi power than the Weimar Republic  managed, but I believe he would have done so by co-opting their nationalist positions and harnessing their energy, rather than by destroying them. After all, Communism swept through Western nations in the wake of its victory over Czarist Russia (in part because of clandestine support from the Soviet Union), and the Kaiser would want the help of Rightist militants to fight insurgent Communists and Anarchists in his empire. Keep in mind that Fascism took over Italy, which was on the side of the victorious allies in WWI, and did so without supplanting the monarchy, while vigorously fighting Leftist parties. On the other hand, it's possible that France or Britain could even have become officially communist states after a WWI defeat, but I doubt either of these nations would have ever become Communist in the Soviet sense or would have stayed in that camp for long.

So, a post-Great Depression Germany, influenced but not controlled by Nazis, surely would have declared war on the Soviet Union, the Rightists echoing Hitler's cry for "Lebensraum" in the East. The nations of Eastern Europe would face the hard choice of allying themselves to German power or being destroyed. After a loss to Germany the first time, it's possible France and Britain would never have dared to intervene. If they did intervene, a non-interventionist America would have guaranteed their defeat.

I think this would lead to the Soviet Union ceasing to exist, with a German-installed puppet government in Moscow, and probably the entire Baltic region dominated by Germany--and perhaps the Black Sea as well. Japan very likely would have taken this opportunity to continue to expand its empire in the Pacific region by conquering all of Russia that borders the Pacific Ocean. In fact, it's very easy to imagine the entire world-wide British Empire (and other European empires) eventually falling mostly to Germany but also to Japan.

In fact, I believe a historically non-interventionist America would have realistically led to a world divided into two spheres of influence. Japan would control the Pacific rim, probably including Alaska and Hawaii and likely Australia and New Zealand (and Southeast Asia). Germany would be the dominant power in most of Europe and Africa, have tremendous influence in South America, control part of the Caribbean, and would take the role in the Middle East that in our history had belonged to Britain and the United States. India might have a precarious independence between the two powers (or be German-controlled), but with China almost wholly subject to Japan.

Hypothetical science fiction story settings like this allow an author to comment on real world conditions. I think any realistic examination of the results of American interventions in our world show themselves starkly in contrast with a story world like this, showing easily that if America has always stayed non-interventionist, the world as whole would be much worse off. Much--most of the world would easily suffer under totalitarian control, ethic minorities would be brutally oppressed, and forget about any establishment of a modern-day Israel.

But the same story would show in fairness how many things in a Libertarian America would be better. Taxes would be very low, simultaneous with no budget deficit to speak of. Government social services would be non-existent, but church and charitable organizations would do a remarkable job of picking up the slack. American business would prosper--playing economic middleman between competing Japanese and German interests. And there would be no Defense Authorization Act, no government spying, no department of Homeland Security, and no intrusive checks at airports. Islamic terrorism would largely be a German problem and to a lesser extent, a Japanese problem (assuming they controlled the Islamic nations that in our world include countries called "Indonesia" and "Malaysia"). The throes of insurgencies fighting against occupying powers would be entirely their problem, not ours.

Since America would have a well-armed citizenry and a tiny but highly professional military, neither Germany nor Japan would want to invade us, because doing so would give the other world power an automatic ally, an economically powerful one. So they would leave us alone as they competed with one another to gobble up the rest of the globe. Unless, one of the two should somehow manage to conquer the other...then nothing would keep the militarily dominant (and overwhelmingly powerful) victor from adding the United States to its empire (perhaps in the story linked to Canada), fulfilling the strange ancient human greed to rule the entire world.

A story could be set on the cusp of a war that Americans in the tale believe will destroy the status quo and give, say, the Germans, supreme world dominance. The American characters in the story could struggle among (and perhaps within) themselves over whether or not the time had finally come for the USA to intervene on behalf of the weaker power, even though there has been no direct attack on US soil, coming to Japan's rescue before the balance of power has been irrevocably destroyed, before it's too late for America to be able to defend itself...


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Interchangeable Brain

The "black box for the brain" idea I discussed in my suggested video game idea (REVIVE) carries with it some interesting implications:

If it really were possible to record the total neuron function of the brain and map its structure in such a way to capture its memories, allowing the brain to be rebuilt, that would also logically allow a person's brain to be placed in a head other than the one it came from. For my story idea, that would mean that people would not just medically come back from the dead, they might come back as someone other than who they used to be--a futuristic, surgical-based version of reincarnation...

Please note I'm not stating it actually would be in any way possible to record total neuron function. It might be possible, but I think even if so it would be very difficult--there are just so many neurons. Nor do I consider it probable that any such surgical reconstruction on a cellular level will ever really happen--though it makes sense to me that bringing a person back from the dead with the exact same brain they used to have would require cell-by-cell replacement, exactly reproducing each cell of the original brain. As I understand it, it's the exact configuration of your brain that makes it carry the specific information that makes you who you are. Nothing short of total reconstruction is plausible to me as a means to bring someone back from the dead--or to make a brain "interchangeable."

"What about the soul?" someone is probably asking. Bringing someone's brain back should not bring back the soul, according to how most of my fellow Christians think of it. They would object that totally rebuilding the brain is not the same as having the person return in the way that they used to be. 

That's actually something a story like this could play with--those so operated on could be portrayed as seeming subtly different somehow, not themselves. Or perhaps even radically different. But since it's at least theoretically possible that the soul is a product of brain function (the soul would then be immortal because God retains a copy of it in His memory), I think a story could also portray people coming back exactly as they used to be--or very close anyway. Again, not that I think such surgery will ever be possible, no matter how advanced medicine may become...

That I doubt this could ever happen shouldn't stop a writer from crafting a story where it somehow does happen.  And if a brain can be reconstructed to bring someone back to life, that would allow bringing them back with their brain in someone else's body.  Applied to the REVIVE game setting, that could mean the very rich who revive themselves perhaps would choose to come back in a different form on a regular basis--switching from male to female, or between races, for example (though some individuals or the majority even might prefer to always be themselves). They could have the procedure done even if they had not passed away, in fact, though waiting for death would seem to be a good idea, since such radical surgery might well be risky and certainly would be expensive--many might choose to undergo the procedure only when strictly necessary, i.e. after death. But some might have it done at other times. In story terms it could mean that the villain is very difficult to find because he is always changing who he is--or who she is. 

And if a brain can be surgically reproduced in such a way it could be placed in a body other than the one it belongs to, why couldn't someone make multiple copies of the same brain? Especially if this were frowned upon or illegal--the law may say you are allowed only one brain and doctors are forbidden to do more than that. But the antagonist has found a way around that rule so that he and she, or she, she, and he--they--act together to foil the hero in a way he never understands at first, because there is only one of him (or her) and many of them, many exact copies of the same interchangeable brain and personality working together, masked by differing bodies...


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Impossible Water Zombies

I seem to have a zombie fixation...

Blame it on AMC's The Walking Dead--as noted in part in a previous post reacting to the show (where is the military?) I'm having a hard time with how improbable the basic "Zombie Apocalypse" setting is. As I noted, any zombie attack would be easily dealt with by any halfway decent military unit. Seriously--I used to be in a US Army Reserve maintenance company which had some of its own vehicles and a little compound with a security fence. The unit had just enough weapons for each person in the unit but didn't keep any significant amount of ammunition. Still, I'm confident that if things started to get bad with everyone in the world turning into zombies, the Sergeant First Class in charge would have bought M16-compatible .223 caliber rounds out of his own pocket, would have arranged the purchase of fuel and goods to support the unit, and would have no problem organizing his handful of mechanics into a defense that would hold up against a zombie tide for a long time. Because zombies are so dumb, it's not really that hard to defeat them...

So if an Army Reserve maintenance unit would have no problem wiping out any zombies that dared come their way, imagine what a unit like the 82nd Airborne Division would do--or Navy Seals, Green Berets, Marine Recon, or the 1st Armored Division--or even field artillery guys. 155mm cannonfire would have little trouble blowing a whole zombie horde into a quivering pile of goo...

And look, it's not just military units. Any decent police department or volunteer fire-fighting unit or even a family-owned hardware (or sporting goods) store with a large extended family should be able to organize a basically zombie-proof defense. All you would need for that is some kind of even half-way secure building, some weapons and supplies, and enough people to pull shifts to thwart the unexpected night attack.

So while a zombie uprising would create chaos, I just don't see it taking over everything--not the AMC version of a zombie, anyway. Our society has far too many pockets of people that are too resilient and resourceful for that.

Of course, if you imagine the zombie plague spreading by a means other than you-catch-it-if-a-zombie-bites-you, such as a highly infectious plague spread by an airborne virus or through insect bites, the scenario becomes more plausible. Especially if the zombies are fast moving and aggressive. But, still, as long as zombies are brainless (and if they aren't, they aren't really zombies any more), they'd actuality have a hard time taking over all the institutions of society, even if they spread to all parts of the world and did enormous damage. People can be very resourceful when it comes to defending themselves--perhaps more zombie stories need to be written portraying them as such--I mean stories in which whole towns or regions and numerous government institutions have survived basically intact...

So the zombie apocalypse as portrayed in so many zombie flicks seems impossible to me, even if you grant a lot of artistic license on how people could actually become a mindless undead monster in the first place. Part of the problem has to do with water:

The relation of zombies with water forms its own particular stripe of objection to a zombie apocalypse--the beasts aren't portrayed as being coordinated enough to swim as a general rule. And while the traditional undead version of zombies would be immune to drowning (since they are already dead) the virus-borne types would have to drown eventually. Plus, while it would be easy enough for them to cross relatively shallow bodies of water, walking across the bottom is not an option for major bodies of water, especially those that have a current. I don't think zombies would ever successfully cross the Mississippi river, for example. Or the Rhine in Europe. If they did, it would be a sheer luck sort of situation and they'd probably not come in enough numbers to threaten alerted citizens.

So what does that mean for zombie stories? Well, why not make every island in such an apocalypse a refuge for those fleeing the undead? I don't really mean major islands, but little islands, like one in the middle of a fast-flowing river (and of course people would blow up bridges and use boats). Or any one not far off the coast, especially in a place with strong ocean currents. Like Alcatraz, or any of the castles in the middle of the Rhine--these would make a natural zombie refuges.

Of course, major islands would be interesting, too. Imagine shortwave radio broadcasting that Jamaica (for example, or Guam or somewhere else) is zombie-free, so a story could revolve around people killing each other over the transportation  to get them out to that zombieless ocean-surrounded land, wherever that might be.

But what if zombies attempting to cross water were regularly attacked by fish...and what if the fish caught the plague? And anyone who ate the fish with the plague would become a zombie? (It's noteworthy that it would be challenging to tell the difference between a zombie fish and a regular fish, since fish are pretty much brainless all the time...) Because fish form a major part the diet on nearly any island, this could prove to be quiet the threat. Imagine a story setting in which normal humans are trapped on a small island separated from a zombie-infested mainland. They are safe there, but have just discovered they can't eat the fish--and there is nothing much else to eat. They are forced between choosing starvation for most of them or going back into the hellish struggle for survival they thought they had escaped...

Or what if a zombie story featured a version of the monster that actually liked water--or preferred it even? Assuming these zombies floated well and had a simple instinct for swimming, perhaps they would be in effect like crocodiles in places in Africa...imagine extremely thirsty human survivors of an apocalypse wanting to go down to the river for some water...but they have to be very, very careful, due to lurking water zombies...


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Angels and Aliens

As a Christian science fiction writer, perhaps it's no surprise that I'm interested in both angels and aliens as topics for stories. What I do find surprising is that some people don’t believe there is any difference between the two. 

Such angel = alien correlation has a variety of forms:

American Astronomer Carl Sagan pointed out in 1995 that stories of alien encounters here on Earth resemble stories of demonic capture of earlier times—or of the appearance of angels, or fairy creatures, or gods or demi-gods of even earlier times. Sagan believed that intelligent extraterrestrial life likely exists because he was persuaded evolution most certainly would not have produced life only on Earth—yet he denied that aliens would actually come to Earth and would clandestinely visit and/or abduct people (he was convinced if aliens had come all this way, they surely would have announced themselves). For him, the fact that these kinds of appearances have always existed demonstrated that this is a phenomenon that springs forth from the human psyche rather than what aliens do or do not do. For him, at least one kind of alien, the kind who are supposedly visiting Earth right nowand angelsconsist of the exact same thing, pure neurotic human imagination.

Also surprisingly to me, the atheist Sagan is quoted by an Evangelical Christian website to show evidence for a belief that Sagan would never have agreed to. The creators of the site would concur with the Biblical concept that God has created creatures that serve Him in the spiritual realm—angels—some of whom rebelled against Him and are now called demons. For the creators of the website, Alien visitors to Earth are real but are actually demons. For them, the fact the phenomenon of human beings having reported bizarre encounters with strange beings throughout history demonstrates that the demons are real and have been active for a long time—but now disguise themselves as “aliens” or are mistakenly reported as such. In looking up background information for this post, I stumbled onto an entire sub-culture of Christians concerned about demons posing as aliens. If you’re curious about what they have to say for themselves, I found an interesting place to look around.

By the way, I don’t claim to know what the reality is behind stories of alien encounters and abductions. I’m inclined to agree with Sagan that if an alien species were to travel all this way (which is not at all an easy to do according to the best human understanding of the science of interstellar travel), it would not likely content itself with random captures of lost truck drivers and lonely housewives in remote areas…but I in fact don’t know what aliens would do in reality. One of the prime characteristics they are supposed to have is to be different from human beings—perhaps that means they would do strange things we would not do ourselves. I also in fact believe there are fallen angels operating in the spiritual realm—and I further believe there’s such a thing as human imagination and hysterical hallucination (not to mention hoaxes). Which of these is responsible for the alien abduction phenomenon? I don’t know, but it seems at least possible to me that there may be multiple causes...

As far as the correlation between angels and aliens are concerned, there’s another point of view worth mentioning: the “ancient alien” perspective, the notion that aliens came to Earth in ancient times and were mistaken for spiritual beings. So when the Bible talks about heavenly creatures, these creatures “really” were aliens. Barry Downing in 1968 wrote The Bible and Flying Saucers  in which he laid out this idea. He also claimed, by the way, that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, eventually called up to “heaven” by a UFO…It’s interesting to me that Biblical narratives are supposed to accurately capture what aliens look like (as the description given in Ezekiel 1 would be taken as accurate), but then when these supposed aliens land, everything they talk about concerning, say, the morality and religious practice of ancient Israel either 1) Would not make a lot of sense coming from aliens, 2) Is contradictorily taken as being an inaccurate representation of what really happened. Yeah, I’m definitely not in agreement with this particular concept…

But note the variations among the notions that hold aliens and angels to be the same: 1) Both are imaginary 2) Both are spiritual 3) Both are extraterrestrial. I think all three ideas, while interesting, are wrong.
I believe in the reality of the spiritual realm and accept the Biblical descriptions of angels, as far as they go (there are actually quite a lot of details about angels the Bible never addresses). Aliens, life existing on other planets in our physical universe, would not be the same thing as angels (duh). I think Aliens may or may not exist (for an original idea of mine on this topic, please see a previous post for ideas relating to the Biblical seraphim) but I believe it’s possible they do; I have Christian friends who would disagree that aliens can exist—perhaps I will address their objections in some future post...but I want to make it plain I hold that any alien life would be created by God as much as life on Earth has been created by Him.

Having clarified that, what story ideas can the commonplace confusion between aliens and angels offer a writer? Well, I think playing up similarities between the two would be inherently interesting. In fact, in the  Avenir Eclectia story anthology I contributed to, you would see exactly that. In that story universe, a certain set of intelligent undersea aliens with telepathic abilities are called "angels" by the people of the world Eclectia and their sinister cousins are called "demons." Grace Bridges wasn't equating aliens and angels in the world of AE she created, but rather playing with perceived similarities to create an unusual story situation in which the differences between the two things are blurred in people's minds. I found this very interesting, which is why I wrote a number of tales featuring an "angel" for AE. There are even story arcs I didn't write that mention human beings worshipping the-aliens-partially-confused-with-angels. Which I think would realistically happen—and it would be interesting to see the effects on human beings...

Another potential story idea could create alien races that like us have accounts of a creator God and a fall into sin and a redemption...and also of heavenly beings that serve God but resemble the aliens, literally "alien angels." What would these look like? And if you put them into a story from a point of view that takes faith in God seriously, would these angels be the same set of angels that on occasion interact with human beings, just "in different clothing"? Or could it be that the one creator God would retain a whole entirely different set of heavenly beings for this other purpose—who are not mentioned in the Bible because we humans don't "need to know" about them. If so, what would the relationships be like between angels we know of and the alien angels?

Wouldn't it be interesting if some sort of alien angelor alien rather like an angel—resembled something we think of as evil but was not evil? So imagine one that resembled dragons...or (entirely innocently) one that had cloven hoofs and horms...


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Zombie Physiology

So how does the zombie body function? How is it that only a head shot is guaranteed to kill one of them?

As mentioned in a previous post on Zombie Ecology, there have been multiple ideas of what a zombie is. The original concept of spirits animating dead flesh requires no physiological explanation--that's how it works just because it does.

But the zombie stories that feature a virus, some sort of non-supernatural phenomenon animating dead flesh such as in AMC's The Walking Dead, could use some scientific explanation. How is it that the zombies are able to move about when most of their major organs are non-functional? How is it they resist completely rotting away into skeletons?

I've got some proposed answers (and I thank Paul Clyde and James Lehye for engaging in the conversation that inspired this post):

First off, the easy stuff. Zombies don't feel pain because their brains don't function right...the pain signals arrive at what is left of their brain, but nothing there particularly cares. However, even though the brain is hardly working well, it's still working (as is the nervous system) directing the body of the zombie to move forward and attack. That's why destroying the brain by a head shot or traumatic head amputation stops a zombie every time. Without a brain, no signal arrives at the zombie muscles to drive them forward...

This is a bit of a sidetrack, but that should produce an effect that I've never seen in The Walking Dead. Carrion birds and other animal flesh eaters should be all over zombies, eating them as they shuffle along...since the zombies don't feel pain or react to it only feebly, they would only waive at the birds occasionally to stop them, as say, turkey vultures or magpies perch on their shoulders, eating away at the decaying body as it trudges along...So something about zombie physiology must stop this from happening--more on that in a bit.

So we know why head wounds do kill--why is it that chest wounds don't? Physiologically, the chest is the center of the circulatory system: via the lungs it oxygenates the blood, so destroying the lungs eliminates this capacity, while the heart pumps the blood to the body, so destroying the heart keeps the body from receiving the oxygenated blood. Plus the chest abounds in major blood vessels, many of which will cause someone to quickly bleed to death either externally or internally, should a bullet (or other weapon) pass through them.

So it seems the virus reworks the body so that its need for oxygenated blood is either zero or greatly reduced. Zombie body cells, operating on some form of metabolism that doesn't use much oxygen, can do without the blood, or without much of it. Bear in mind that even without the heart, some circulation of blood could still happen through extrinsic compressions of blood vessels caused by muscle movements--which is partly how lymph flows through the human body.

This could imply that the nature of blood itself is different in a zombie. It could be the blood becomes very thick (I mean with high viscosity), which could have the effect of making it less likely to leak out of damaged blood vessels. It could also be the blood greatly increases somehow its ability to carry oxygen, so what little flows through parts near the skin absorbs enough atmospheric oxygen to carry that to the zombie's internal organs, which don't need a lot of oxygen anyway...

In any case, any zombie is very resistant to bleeding to death and is immune to damage to the heart and lungs, though probably not through any form of rapid healing. This implies to me significant changes in the nature of circulation and blood but alternatively, it could be that interstitial fluid and lymph become the primary way to carry nutrients for a zombie's body. Damage to circulatory system doesn't matter because the zombies aren't using it anymore...

Clearly the zombies do use the digestive system, since they are always trying to eat human flesh. So a gut shot (or multiple gut shots) should in theory kill a zombie, though it would by no means be a quick death. It's noteworthy that among the reasons gut shots kill even if the body doesn't bleed to death from them is that the digestive system carries a lot of bacteria, which can multiply within wounded intestines and directly enter the blood stream and threaten the entire body. Clearly this is not an issue for zombies.

So it would seem then that the virus that creates zombies must also have some antibacterial properties. Actually, a lot of viruses are bacteriophages, so like them the zombie virus would probably need the secondary function of eating bacteria that would naturally attack zombie flesh. This explains why zombies don't rot into skeletons within a few months and how it is they can walk around (seemingly) for years on end, carrying all kinds of dead tissue without loosing it to bacterial decay.

Might this virus also effect the taste and smell of zombie flesh? So it's unappealing to carrion birds? And also to other zombies as well? Who instead of eating each other, always prefer live human flesh...

Since the virus would have to do a rather radical reworking of the circulatory system for zombies to make any sense, perhaps suggesting a radical reworking of the digestive system is in order. Normally, the human body takes what it eats and breaks it down into constituent amino acids, lipids, and carbohydrates and uses these basic building blocks not only to fuel the body in motion, but also to build replacements for body cells that are continually in the process of dying. Could it be the zombies are so radically re-worked that when they eat live human flesh their digestive systems takes whole cells from their unfortunate human victim and transports these whole cells somehow to the parts of the zombie's body that needs new tissues?

That a zombie would be able to process whole human cells to rebuild damaged tissues in itself is a pretty far-fetched suggestion. The virus would certainly have to be genetically engineered to achieve any such effect--but some heavy genetic engineering would also make its replacement of the circulatory system and antibacterial properties more plausible as well, so why not?

To be honest, whole cell replacement probably goes too far in terms of what is in any way possible for zombie physiology. But it would explain, very clearly, why it is that zombies want to eat live humans more anything else...because only the body tissues of a human alive at the time of eating would would have whole cells suitable to rebuild zombie body tissues.

So whatever else a zombie may eat, its deepest instinctual craving would always remain the desire for living human flesh...


(For a 99 cent short story I've written featuring Zombie Physiology, please follow the Zombie Doc Kindle link.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Eclectia and other Worlds Stranger than Star Wars in Fact and Fiction

Star Wars treated its fans to visually striking worlds, from the ice planet Hoth, to the desert world Tatooine, forest moon Endor, and others covered with ocean or city or lava. Or the Death Star itself, which was essentially a fully mechanical version of the moon. These planetary bodies were generated by a relatively simple method--take a climate or condition available on the Earth we know and craft an entire world out of it.

The real universe is significantly odder that Star Wars. In our own Solar System, consider Venus. With its dense atmosphere, 92 times thicker than Earth's, at a pressure equivalent to a kilometer underneath the ocean, but hot enough to melt lead, lightning swept, with sulfuric acid rain, it forms its own particular version of hell. Or ice-covered Europa, Jupiter's moon, which highly likely has an ocean trapped under the ice, but whose surface is swept by a radiation that would be quickly fatal to humans because of charged particles trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field. George Lucas never took us any place as extreme either of these very real worlds.

Stranger still are more recently discovered planets outside the Solar System, including the discovery of a miniature solar system around a pulsar. These planets have their obits in almost exact proportion to the spacings among Mercury, Venus, and Earth and are immersed in an extended cloud of gas, around 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. The smallest and latest-discovered of these planets is no bigger than one-fifth the mass of Pluto and all the orbits are proportionally smaller than what's found in our own Solar System. But what's truly exotic about this system isn't its relatively tiny size--it's that these worlds orbit a pulsar—a former star that exploded and collapsed into a dense object that now spins 160 times per second, emitting a pulsing radio signal broadcast from the star's magnetic poles. The sun for these worlds might be nearly invisible and all other stars in the sky hidden by the dust cloud, forming worlds of perfect darkness...unless a planet's orbit intersected at some point with the magnetic pole of its star. Then for several days each orbit the sky would flash weirdly bright...

A new planetary find seems to indicate a world made of diamond based on the temperature, mass, and carbon composition of a planet that closely orbits its star. At an approximate surface temperature of 2150 degrees C (3900 degrees F), Jean-Luc Piccard won't be beaming down anytime soon--not without some kind of suit offering protection from its high temperature (and high gravity). But imagine aliens who could live under such conditions, not unlike the high-temperature crystalline Tholians imagined in Star Trek (who were actually conceived of living in conditions far less extreme, but you get the idea). Or better yet, imagine such a world formed in high temperatures which somehow got pulled away from its star, cooling enough for humans to land on this massive planet with a thick diamond crust. Such a world hollowed out, forming a sphere within, would be not unlike something I created for The Crystal Portal. But as diamond is the hardest substance known, such a world would not only allow diamond mining for jewels--it would allow mined diamond to be used for structures, for cities, or anything else. Imagine a starship carved from a single massive crystal of diamond...

Real worlds observed by the best methods available to astronomy include far more that's odd, as you can see in this Wikipedia link for Extrasolar planet. Most planets that have been discovered, of course, are not in any way realistically inhabitable, since most orbit their stars far too hot or too cold.

Science fiction of a more realistic stripe than Star Wars has at times portrayed living creatures on the most extreme of possible worlds. For example, in 1980 Robert Forward produced Dragon's Egg, which portrays life being somehow possible on the surface of a neutron star (a.k.a. pulsar). This imaginary life is made of highly compacted matter--neutronium life--thriving under conditions completely incompatible with human life. 

Not surprisingly, science fiction usually portrays places humans can inhabit, though many of these are inhospitable. As early as 1935 Stanley Weinbaum penned Parasite Planet, set in a jungle on Venus (not well known in 1935) far more hostile to human life than any jungle of Earth. Even a single unsuited exposure to air would bring an attack of killer fungi that would literally eat a human being alive...

The Planet Eclectia of the newly-minted Avenir Eclectia collection (which I helped edit and wrote stories for), is itself barely on the edge of inhabitable. Pulled by heavy moons into a wobble so fast that the world shifts from winter to summer and back every five days, Eclectia has a badly fractured crust, continual earthquakes, and an atmosphere choked with volcanic ash. If not for the two separated oceans that cover each of its poles teeming with life to produce oxygen, the world would be altogether uninhabitable...but for humans, even these oceans are dangerous, subject to sudden tsunamis, with vicious aliens eager to take human life lurking in the depths. Hostile life isn't limited to the ocean depths, since giant bugs roam the surface of the planet, always ready to attack.

It's noteworthy that even under these extreme circumstances, people find the will to survive and to even thrive. And that some of the most dangerous enemies human beings face, even in extreme conditions, remain other human beings...