Without further delay let’s look at that point, the story “The Way of All Ghosts” from 1999.
Contrary to what I was expecting, William Hope Hodgson does not show up as a “ghost” (like Edgar Allan Poe did in Eternity) in this, the last published story in Bear’s Way series though.
Bear makes no secret of the story’s link to Hodgson. It’s dedicated to Hodgson. Bear’s introductory notes talk about Hodgson and The Night Land.
As with Eternity, I am not entirely sure I understood this story. Perhaps my brain has rotted. Perhaps I’m out of practice reading hard science fiction. Perhaps I’m just no longer tuned in to Bear’s literary frequency.
My suspicion is that Bear wanted to do a novel using the strange ecology and biology of Lamarckia and decided to incorporate it into his Way series.
This book is narrated by Olmy, military man, secret agent, and fixer for the Hexamon. We finally learn the details of the mission that got him the gratitude of the Hexamon and an extra bodily incarnation.
It’s a prequel to all the Way novels. Besides Olmy, the only characters that seem to be present from the other books is the gate opener Ry Ornis and Konrad Korzenowski, here still, of course, a downloaded mind residing in an implant in Olmy’s skull.
We hear more of Olmy’s upbringing. While he had Naderite parents, he has Geshel sympathies (hence the implants). He’s ambitious and serving in the Hexamon defense forces and, by his own admission, somewhat callow.
He is selected to go on a secret mission to Lamarckia, one of those planets accessed through the Way. Lamarckia has a strange biology. As the name suggests, life does not operate there on the principles of Darwinian evolution. The planet is divided into zones, ecoi, ruled over by a scion, an entity that creates new biological forms and “samples” (as in taking genetic samples) new lifeforms (even humans) entering its zone and generates new forms. This is not evolution by random mutation sieved through fitness criteria determined by the environment or sexual competition. In fact, there is no sexual reproduction. The different scions don’t reproduce with each other. It is speculated that there may be an intelligence, a queen, directing Lamarckia’s version of evolution in each ecoi.
The political aspects of the story involve a breakway group of Naderites, about 4,000, “divarticates”, who secretly settle Lamarckia and take two of the “clavicles”, the instruments that manipulate openings in the Way, with them. The group was led by Jamie Carr Lenk aka Able Lenk.
The various factions of the upper Hexamon government want to know what’s been happening on Lamarckia and the return of those clavicles.
Stripped of his implants to maintain his cover, Olmy is dumped on Lamarckia.
What he finds when he gets to Lamarckia is that 35 years have passed on the planet, not ten, due to the differential rates of time when passing through an imprecisely tuned gate. Second the colony has experienced famine and now is in the midst of a civil war.
Right from the start, Lenk’s conspiracy was undercut by people who followed him onto Lamarckia but had their own agenda. The inability to grow a lot of normal crops on the planet and its lack of metals further exacerbated the strife.
There were breakaway groups of radical feminists resentful of their status as little more than baby factories. Piracy exists. Children are kidnapped to prop up declining populations. Others have become wistful for the medicines and other technologies they abandoned in the Way. There’s even a small underground expecting a Hexamon agent like Olmy.
I liked the political aspects of the novel, and the final revelations of the personal rancor and slights behind a major political schism seemed realistic.
But I found the exploration of the alien biology tedious at times. Olmy goes on a voyage to finally complete the circumnavigation of Lamarckia and makes friends and starts a love affair.
It all goes wrong at the end. The brutality on Lamarckia ends with an ecological change unleashed by a breakaway group. Olmy, who has been appalled by what he sees in the colony, reconciles himself to it. It’s just another unpleasant episode in human history.
Of course, Olmy survives all this – but not before living a along and unpleasant life on Lamarckia before he is rescued. In keeping with a theme that runs throughout the series, there is an argument on the value of death in human societies.
I’d say, despite the biological speculation – a Bear specialty – this is the least appealing of the Way novels.
But, next posting, we’ll finally arrive at the intersection of the Way and the Night Land.
I liked this book better than its predecessor, Eon.
For one thing, Bear summed up the nature of the Way with a concise metaphor instead of the bits and pieces of, for me, confusing superscience that were in the last novel. One character describes the Way thus:
‘The tunnel itself an immense tapeworm curling through the guts of the real universe, pores opening onto other universes equally real but not our own, other times real and equally real’
That character is Pavel Mirsky. He went off, down the Way with other humans at the end of Eon. Now he’s back from the end of time and, seemingly, from another universe.
Secondly, other characters from the prior novel appear, and they mostly manage to be more interesting this time.
Of the Old Native stock, as the members of the Hexamon refer to the humans that survived the nuclear war of 2015, the major returning characters are Gary Lanier, now acting as a liaison and administrator between the Hexamon’s recovery efforts – managed, of course, from Thistledown orbiting Earth – and those stuck on Earth. He’s now married to Karen. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: A Detour (Eternity)”→
Well, we’re now traveling down the Way, Greg Bear’s far future/time travel/alternate history/superscience series at the end of which, I’ve been told lies something to do with William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land.
There was a time, after I read Greg Bear’s Blood Music¸The Forge of God, and Queen of Angels, I enjoyed him enough, thought him an important enough science fiction writer, that I was going to read all his books. So, I bought a lot of Greg Bear as it came out and his earlier works. However, in my usual desultory way, I didn’t actually read any Bear novels between 1990 and this year. Still, I just had to pull the books off my shelf to read this series.
However, returning to Bear’s novels was not as enjoyable as hoped.
Since the point of reading this now is to get to the end of the series where Hodgson will somehow show up, I’m not going to dwell in detail on it.
I’ve read plenty of dated science fiction so a 1985 novel that imagined a limited nuclear war between the US and USSR in 1991, the year the latter of those countries ceased to exist, didn’t bother me.
It was the confusing plot, the superscience that seemed rather hand-wavy for a “hard sf” novel, justifications built on references to higher dimensions, talk of
probability without extension. Half-spaces, quarter-spaces, spaces composed of irrational fractions . . . geodesics,
The subtitle of this blog is “Literary Reconnaissance into the World of Books”. Think of this as following the Greg Bear river downstream to see deposits of Hodgson. I’m told that, at the end of the Thistledown aka the Way series, Hodgson’s influence shows up. That series begins with the title story of this collection.
The very memorable title of Bear’s eponymous story comes not from him but a Michael Bishop poem.
Bear’s “Introduction” to this, his first collection, talks about how science fiction served as a gateway for much later reading in philosophy, history, and literature. It also talks some about how each story came to be. Bear, at this point in his career, doesn’t seem to plot his stories out much in advance.
“The Wind from a Burning Woman” comes from an intellectual exercise. Bear, appalled by the idea of terrorism, decided to confront its morality by giving his terrorist a motive dear to his heart, space exploration.
Even if I hadn’t looked at the copyright page, I would have guessed this is an Analog story from the 1970s or 1980s. Its villains are Naderites, followers of the “good man” Ralph Nader. He along with, as I recall, Senator William Proxmire and Jeremy Rivkin were occasional real-life villains in the technophilic pages of Analog.
In the wake of a nuclear war, Earth and the Moon are under the rule of the Hexamon, a government dominated by Naderites. The minority party in this state are the Geshels (a name Bear says has no great significance). It’s the party of engineers and scientists.
It isn’t just Greg Bear saying in interviews that this novel was both a homage to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars or critics guessing that. Hodgson shows up right on page 398, and Bear subsumes the man and his novel into his own creation:
’Like a battlefield,’ said Glaucous. ‘I walked the trenches around Ypres, almost a hundred years ago, looking for a particular gent – a fine strapping fellow and a poet. He dreamed, so I was led to believe, of a place he called the Last Redoubt. He’d written a book before shipping out, detailing his dreams . . . But the war had already blown him to bits. Lean years for hunters, during wartime.’
Everything I’ve ever heard about Stapledon is correct judging on the basis of this novel. He was a totally unique voice in sf when this novel was published, and he is still totally unique. His epic style in which millions of years can routinely pass in the space of a paragraph often has a religious flavor to it harkening back to psalms (his first book of poetry was called Latter-Day Psalms).
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (in a blurb at the front of this book) claims Stapledon is the second most influential writer in sf next to Wells. I think that claim is arguable. Certainly Wells introduced, or gave a big boost, to such perennial sf motifs as time travel, alien invasion, surgery on/genetic manipulation of animals, the far future story, the physical evolution of man. Stapledon creates few new ideas, but his epic style and his spiritual concerns are different than Wells’. [Certainly, I would put Stapedon in the top five most influential science fiction writers.]
While it probably has been done already, this novel and Greg Bear’s Blood Music naturally suggest a compare-and-contrast essay.
Both were published in the same year (though Bear’s novel was based on an earlier short story of the same title which may or may not have inspired Preuss – there is a blurb from him on Bear’s novel) and both are based on the same idea: biological computers that develop sentience and become, as Bear’s novel has it, an “intelligent plague”.
Both novels have ugly, social misfit scientists who unleash – accidentally – the plague on man (both are even from the South). Vergil I. Ulam is a reckless, selfish, impractical man who foolishly – and unmindful of the dangers of infection even his non-scientist mother immediately sees – unleashes the noocytes in Blood Music. Adrian Storey of Human Error is less irresponsible, less criminal (Ulam tampers with computer records and tries to steal work from his employer) than Ulam but more careless in managing his Epicell work.
Both novels feature profound, scary, transcendental changes in man. A Locus reviewer very rightly compared the tone and emotion of Blood Music to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. Continue reading “Human Error”→
A tale of Bear’s that mixes religion and politics to good effect.
I liked the central point that even libertarian minded scientists, businessmen, and technicians who despise administrators and politicos have to pay attention to politics – not only the external threat of foreign governments but the ability of a government to hold a community together, to help it resolve disputes between citizens. The lunar syndicates learn that politics “is the art of avoiding disasters, of managing difficult situations for the benefit of all” in their political fight against a domineering Earth and the Church of Logology.
The Church is quite obviously based on L. Ron Hubbard’s movements and Mormonism, a satire against both. The Mormon parallel is founder K. D. Thierry being handed a crystal rock by a huge female figure (the “last of the True Human”). The rock is supposedly encoded with the secrets to free the mind and body from its shackles (like Dianetics). Like Hubbard, Thierry expounds his doctrines with many books while wondering about the world and eventually retreats into seclusion. Like Hubbard, Thierry sponsors a contest for budding Lit Vid stories. Linking these two is an eerie program by one of the moon syndicates to interrogate some severed heads for archaeological knowledge. (Cryonics was popular in the early twenty-first, but no one figured out how to thaw them out, so – and I liked this feature – keeping the frozen corpsicles around became a real nuisance. They’re frequently sold.) Specifically, the head of one Thierry. The Church of Logolists objects strongly, eventually turning to violence to stop the program. The project is partially run by the strange artificial intelligence QL (for quantum logic) – built by a singular Chinese genius. The QL works beyond regular logic and in the post Boolean realm, completely in tune with the “Planck-Wheeler” continuum. (Bear is a master of creating plausible sounding history, science, and technologies with just a few words.).
The ending was weakened a bit by the almost mystical violation of time and space, the creepy speaking of the dead frozen heads to our narrator. Still, Bear does a nice job melding science, religion, and politics.
“Blood Music” — This was even creepier than Bear’s novel of the same expansion. By shifting the narrator from the novel’s third person to first person, Bear heightens the already present horror in the novel. The narrator relates the horror and grandeur of being transformed by microscopic creatures within. Like most tales of transformation and transcendence, there is a mixture of awe, grandeur, and horror. Indeed, those tend to be the reactions of most sf readers (in varying ratios) to the possible futures presented in them. Vergil Ulam is a realistic “mad” scientist — a technician of the most dangerous, if uncommon, sort — one who gives no thought to the implications inherent in the use, as opposed to just the pursuit, of his knowledge.
“Sleepside Story” — This was a pleasant example of what Bear calls an urban fairy tale. I’m sure there are other examples of this sort of thing, but this is my first exposure to the sub-genre. All the fairy tale elements are here: three brothers (the oldest two stupid and greedy), a rescue, a princess of sorts, a journey among the dead. There is also a strange city with an eerie, sinister subway). The character of Miss Belle Parkhurst, whore, added a note of grittiness to the story. Yet her character and her attempts to escape the weight of the past were poignant.
“Webster” — An interesting and poignant fantasy. I liked Regina Coates reverence for the dictionary as a book containing all thought, all potentials, all emotions. It’s a way of thinking about the dictionary that hadn’t occurred to me before. I liked the idea of creating a man from the dictionary, and Webster’s mental processes. The metaphor for life suggests that life can be thought of as a collection of words that is gradually organized as time goes on. Each life is a potential of all the words. Continue reading “Tangents”→