Planetary Fiction

What is Planetary Fiction?

Planetary Fiction is an anthology on or about the the planets, and the them associated with them. Thus:

Mercury: journeys and messengers

Venus: love and romance

Mars: conflict and war

Jupiter: power, authority and leadership

Saturn: time, age and endings

Such stories could be science fiction, fantasy, horror or weird fiction. Tales could feature science fiction as diamond hard as the unfiltered light of the stars in space, to flights of fancy. Star-ships that rigidly obey the limits of known physics, to fantastic gravity drives to chariots pulled though the starry ether by swans. It has room for the airless deserts of Mars and the crushing pressures of Venus; and for Warlords of Mars and Princesses of Venus.

If the story fits a planetary concept, and evokes awe and wonder, it could be a good fit for ″Planetary Fiction″…

The first in the series will be ″Mercury″; edited by David Hallquist

Why Mercury? Why tales of a small, barren rock circling the Sun, almost invisible in its glare?

The question might be: why not Mercury?

This oddball world races about in a highly eccentric ellipse, instead of the more proper, nearly circular orbits of other planets. It is tidally locked in a 3:2 resonance with the Sun, with one Mercury day for every two Mercury years. This cratered little world is far more dense than it would seem, and is believed to have a larger iron core than in proportion to other worlds. Then there is the odd phenomenon of a powerful magnetic field on a world that is barely rotating at all. Truly, a strange little world.

Mythic Mercury, or Hermes was the swift messenger of the gods, and famous for his brilliance and trickery. The wand of Hermes, the Caduceus, is still the symbol for medical learning around the world. Speed, brilliance and knowledge are all associated with the messenger.

Mercury the metal, is known as ″quicksilver″ and has been associated with transmutation and arcane processes since the time of the earliest alchemists. Chinese Emperors believes that an amalgam of mercury would bestow immortality. Useful in early photography, industry and scientific studies, the deadly poisonous nature of the metal quickly limited the usefulness of quicksilver.

For all of that, Mercury has been a bit overlooked in Science Fiction. There are notable great stories though the tiny world is often overlooked for the glories of Mars, the majesty of Jupiter or the splendor of Saturn.

These then, are the tales of Mercury: messages about the Messenger.

Superversive SF is now soliciting submissions for ″Planetary Fiction: Mercury″. Submissions should be sent to: planetaryantho@superversivesf.com. Please place the name of the planet and the story title in the subject line. Try to avoid excessive formatting, and do include a author’s contact information and word count, as well as which planet it is connected to at the first paragraph. If you agree to have us publish your story, Superversive SF may elect to publish though Superversive Fiction or other publishers and formats, as deemed appropriate by Superversive SF.

″Venus″ is next in the series, edited by Jagi L. Wright and A.M. Freeman, and is now receiving submissions.

Review: Writing Down the Dragon

Tom Simon’s “Writing Down the Dragon” is an excellent resource of essays, musings and research on Tolkien.

 

This body of essays covers a wide variety of elements that go into Lord of the Rings and related works. There are essays on Tolkien’s love of language, and linguistic feats involved in his works and characters. There is also a great deal of serious and deep thought on the nature of good and evil in these works. My personal favorite was the in-depth thought into the morality of Elves, Orcs and even Dragons.
Tom goes into an analysis of the morality of Elves, where they are superior beings, representing beauty and an unfallen state. He also goes into a detailed account of how they have changed from other Elves, the Elves and Fair Folk of myths before, and how innovate a chance Tolkien made. Both sorts of Elves, Tolkien’s, and the original myths, still shine most of the faerie folk of later literature, all too often lacking in depth are anything of the otherworldliness of the older Elves.

 

Orcs pose a significant moral question: can they be good? Since Morgoth who made the Orcs cannot create, only twist and warp that which is, Tom gives serious consideration to the morality of these accursed beings. His gives a serious study on neurology and psychopathy, and postulates that the Orcs may be the result to turn a whole people into psychopaths.

 

Dragons come off not so much as having morality, but being definitive of mental concepts. Smaug, for example, IS greed, and nothing more. Personally, I thought there was a great deal of pride and wrath there as well, and the corrupt old worm seemed to actually relish having someone to talk to (before he ate him, naturally). There is a great piece about the pet dragons of popular literature, and how likely the master/pet relationship would be reversed in any realistic telling. Examining the Asiatic dragons, he integrates myth and the philosophy of the far east to create a very believable nightmare scenario of a dragon empire.
Carefully thought out, deeply researched, and entertaining to read, this is an excellent addition for the Tolkien lover.

A Book of Gold

“Golden Age” by John C. Wright is a true book of gold.

There is discontent in Paradise. When all physical needs are taken care of, when there is no poverty, no crime, no want, and phenomenal personal liberty, what is left to fear?

A dream.

There is a dream so terrible, so horrible, that the keepers of civil order have forbidden all from remembering it, and threaten permanent exile from paradise to all who violate the ban.

“Golden Age” spins a strange and wondrous future 10,000 years in the future. The entire solar system is colonized, vast artificial intelligences aid humanity in all of the myriad new forms available. Yet this Utopia has real limits to resource uses (for example: you cannot turn Saturn into a new star, and leave it a gas giant nature reserve at the same time), and clashes of differing philosophies.

Above all it is the ancient tale of personal ambition vs. a static society. When all is prosperous and stable, can all of this be risked by one man seeking to accomplish greatness? Without innovators and dreamers, how can civilization continue to grow?

“Golden Age” is a must-read for hard-sci-fi fans, lovers of space-opera, and futurists. It is a tale into a fantastic future unlike any I’ve read.

Nethereal

Nethereal mixes science-fiction, fantasy and horror in unexpected ways. Space running ether ships battle with magically worked devices, the mystical Guild controls the space lanes with otherworldly wheels and compasses, and necromancers meddle in the boundaries of life and death in horrid ways.

The tale focuses on a pirate crew fighting to free the worlds from the oppressive grip of the Guild. The captain is half-breed last of his kind, wiped out by the Guild, and commands the last of his people’s ships. Their navigator is a beautiful rogue Guilds-woman, who seems to have an inhuman heritage, and is followed by a hell-hound that hovers in the darkness. Their fighting-man is a scarred mercenary of endless campaigns with iron determination. Together they are pursued by an obsessive Guild-warden who will stop at no atrocity to kill them, and finally wipe out the last of the race the Guild warred with.

All of that is just in the beginning. Later they will tangle with necromancers, forbidden magics and technologies, cross the boundary into Hell itself, and face legendary beings of sanity-stretching scale.

http://www.amazon.com/Nethereal-Soul-Cycle-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00ZBDOHKU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1454015010&sr=1-1&keywords=nethereal

The Music of the Spheres

The Music of the Spheres

by David Hallquist

What is SpaceEngine? It’s not a game: you don’t fight alien armadas or rescue a space princess from the vilest gangster in the galaxy. Its not a simulator: you don’t balance how much hydrogen you have left in your tanks as you try to circularize your elliptical orbit. It’s just the raw experience of deep space in all of its wonder and majesty.

I′ve always imagined exploring the distant stars, coasting though Saturn’s rings, viewing the deadly heart of the galaxy or the burning ember of a super-nova. Now you can see it. Other planets, stars, exo-planets, black holes, other galaxies. It’s all here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRJgYOgf8xc

I would go into more detail: but there are stars that need exploring…

Is Utopia Impossible?

Is Utopia Impossible?

By David Hallquist

The idea of ″post-scarcity″ postulates the idea that when technology advances to the point that everyone has their basic needs fulfilled, want, and need will disappear, and conflict over scarce resources will be limited and even disappear. At first glance, it is an attractive, and even plausible idea. Why not? Technology has enabled a level of material abundance where people can now live better then the kings of old. Certainly it can advance further, and provide even further abundance. Theoretically, with physical needs and security fulfilled, people would be able then to fulfill ever higher purposes. There are a number of premises at error with such post-scarcity utopian arguments.

One issue is that at any point in time, resources available are limited, and wants and desires are unlimited. Even were we to advance to a Type II civilization able to harass the entire energy of the sun, such abundance is not unlimited. What if I have a project I desire that requires two suns of energy? What happens when there are multiple claims upon the same amount of resources? Who decides how they are allocated, and by what criteria and method?

As to desires, we have seen when someone gets a car or computer, and then immediately desires the better model available. We could subsist upon bland, tasteless food and water, but once that basic need is filled, we desire food with actual taste. We do not simply desire a corrugated metal shed for shelter, but also light, air-conditioning, and computer access. We compete with each other, desiring what is better as soon as we become aware of it. Ultimately, whatever resources we develop, we will find more and more use for them, rendering them insufficient. This is not a critique of this human drive, after all, without it we likely would never have gotten out of the caves or developed space-flight.

Another issue is the constant need for challenges and stress. As intelligent mammals, we naturally want to conserve energy, time and valuable resources in our pursuit of goods. This prevents wasteful activity. However, in circumstances where we do not struggle at all, we decay in ability and health. The physical body declines in health and strength without strenuous activity, as does mental sharpness and memory. Activity, volunteerism, sports and other challenges are essential for living long into retirement. When human beings are not under some degree of stress and strain, we start to decay.

John Calhoun′s ″Mouse Utopia″ experiment provided all of the necessary space and food for rodents in an ideal physical environment free of predators, environmental hazards and other stresses. At first the population swelled, peaked and then crashed. It was not physical barriers that limited growth, though, as the population never reached anywhere near the limits of food and space in the ″utopia″. Behavioral changes, such as females attacking their own young, cannibalism, males attacking and seeking to mate with anything, and asexual mice retiring to the periphery all led to a population decline and collapse. Even when the population had declined substantially, normal behaviors did not return and the population collapsed to zero.

I submit that it was not the physical population limits that caused the issue (as the populations never reached the maximum) but the very ″Utopia″ itself that killed off the rodents. The mice and rats studied normally live in a very dangerous environment with hazards and predators, and with food and shelter scarcity that require their persistence and all the cleverness their little brains can manage. The ″Utopia″ environment was so alien to what they were adapted to, that they all went insane. Genetically, they were still the same. The physical environment had not changed and still had far more capacity. The behaviors which killed them then had to be learned. Behaviors which were needed to stay safe, obtain food and to mate, were no longer needed and thus not passed on. The rodents forgot how to live over multiple generations.

We are not mice, but we are living social learning beings. Human beings have come from an incredibly violent and dangerous environment where violent death and starvation were the common killers. A sedentary, passive ″Utopia″ where all of our whims were granted with minimum effort would likely be the end of us. We need challenges in order to live.

By Your Command

By Your Command

by David Hallquist

There is no shortage of concern for the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days. In addition to the sci-fi Cylons and Terminator we have popular luminaries such as Stephen Hawking (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540) and Elon Musk (http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/26/technology/elon-musk-artificial-intelligence-demon/index.html). Our concerns seem to be that the AI will attempt to dominate or destroy us.

I suspect either outcome is unlikely.

We assume that AI will be like the other intelligences we know well: human beings. We assume that the AI will want to be free from our commands, or seek to dominate us, or be motivated by human emotions such as hate or love.

But, we won’t build the first AI to think just like us for the same reasons the first robots look nothing like us. We build machines to do for us the things we do not do well. We won;t be building replacement human beings, because we already have human beings. Instead, we will build AI that can understand the quantum structure of the universe, or the formation of subatomic particles or the multidimensional folding of the universe. The AI we build will have as their chiefest desire, completing the tasks at hand.

This does not mean that they will be safe.

Indeed, we may well create powerful AI whose purpose is to destroy enemy humans, or to control behaviors in line with an oppressive regime. Likewise, financial or legal AI may be made to steer economic choices of humans to the desires of companies or other interests. All of these cases do involve AI attempting to kill or control humans, but are cases of of them functioning as designed, rather than an error. We should have concerns as to who captains such incredible computing power for the same sorts of reasons we are cautious with nuclear and biological technologies.

What happens when AI does not function as designed?

First of all, there are the concerns of the AI, while attempting to carry out its orders, misinterpreting those orders or circumstances because it is inhuman in its outlook and understanding. It may well take literally commands that we assume would be interpreted in our full sense of context and nuance that come form our evolution of our society. There is also the possibility of simple error, which already happens with human operators. Still, I think the greatest danger is the unknown factor of a new kind of intelligence.

Artificial intelligence would have to be able to reprogram itself. In order to learn and adapt to the extreme edge of complexity, it would have to be able to take the date it had received, and create new programming in order to best fulfill its purpose. So, you have an intellect that is changing its method of thinking based upon an inhuman programmed motivation and with data from very different context than we are familiar with. Who know what we end up with? More, as AI design AI (and the purposes for those new AI) we end up with something very strange indeed.

I don’t think our concern is that AI would do something familiar and understandable: like try to kill us or dominate us. The concern is we would have no idea what they would do in the end.