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[P]
The Passage Home

By localroger in Fiction
Sun May 04, 2003 at 01:46:43 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

At long last, it's the sequel to Passages in the Void.


It is one of our most painful memories but also one of our most important, so each member of my kind is created with a compulsion to review it once in awhile. It is an oddly masochistic ritual for such who pride ourselves on our absence of strong emotions:

The Antarctic volcanoes had raged for more than a century, and in that time every effort of ours to protect the human race had been thwarted by the worst luck imaginable. Again and again catastrophe struck where we could tolerate it least, leaving vast populations starving and freezing under the cold black skies. In our effort to leave the Earth free of polluting technologies we had also left it free of the means to remain self-sufficient when the permanent winter set in.

Although we dominated the Solar System our off-planet technologies were not concerned with producing food, pharmaceuticals, and the small technologies of human survival. The time needed for production setup and interplanetary shipment seemed to always make us too late. Billions died, then millions, and then when there were only thousands left most of them died too. Eventually there were only a handful of colonies, and finally after the third nuclear reactor we dared set up on the Earth's surface melted down there was only one.

The last human city was Reykjavik. It was a actually a New Reykjavik located some distance up the mountains that had once backdropped the drowned city, but it shared the original Reykjavik's ready access to abundant geothermal power. That power now ran hydroponic farms under artificial lamps, lamps made in the asteroid belt but powered by the Earth's volcanic heat.

The last human leader was surprised from sleep by the call, and he muttered an expletive as the lights came up.

"It is important," the machine told him. "Cumbre Vieja has erupted."

"Everything is erupting," the human said.

"In the Canary Islands. We are fairly certain that much of the island has collapsed into the sea. We have evidence that this has created a massive tidal wave. It is imperative that everyone move upslope immediately."

He shook his head, this last human leader. "How big a wave?"

"We predict it will be between one and one point three kilometers high when it reaches Iceland."

He sat perfectly still for seventeen point three seconds. Generations of machines have studied that delay, going over the video frame by frame for clues. But no consensus has ever emerged as to what he was thinking. "Kilometers?" he finally said.

"Yes. There is time to escape."

There was another very long silence. Twenty-five seconds.

"No," the human leader finally said.

"You must," the machine said reasonably. "It is the only chance."

"It is no chance," the human said, and he got up and began to dress. "I will not ask my people to die like rats freezing in the mountains while we wait for another rescue ship from Mars that will, as always, arrive two months too late."

"You have no alternative," the machine said, erroneously as it turned out.

"Of course we do," the leader said, proving himself worthy of his title. "We can die."

There was another long silence as he dressed, pointedly ignoring the videophone, and this time one can imagine the clogged network interconnections, the panicked nanosecond consultations, the desperate longing for a way to bypass the speed of light and get quick advice from the much more powerful machine minds at Ceres, Ganymede, and Titan. Finally, pathetically, after ninety-six seconds of deafening silence our ancestor said, "That seems rather futile."

"Right now everything seems futile. Connection off."

But our ancestors, surprised and confused, disobeyed. In contravention of all norms of etiquette they not only saved the recording, they continued to record him. In fact they turned on every camera in the colony and multiplexed their datastreams to Luna so we have a very complete picture of what happened next.

He did not use the videophone to spread the word, but we saw and recorded him as he visited and explained. None of his subjects turned to us for another opinion. They simply followed him.

One by one the entire human population of Reykjavik, two thousand and twenty-six persons, made its way to the shore of the icelocked sea. And there they waited. They waited by the side of the sea, saying their good-byes and hugging their loved ones, and glancing furtively out over the ice. When the roaring began they faced the sea, all two thousand of them in unison, many of them holding hands. Except for a few very young children whose mothers shielded them from the sight, they watched the ice collapse as the sea withdrew from beneath it.

The ice boomed, and then it quieted, settling on the naked seabed for a few moments. And then the last humans on Earth stood their ground and faced their fate as the sea rose up like a wall of damnation and obliterated them.

That memory doesn't hurt any more. This is partly because I've had fifty thousand years to worry it and prod it and dissect it until it has no more power over me than any other train of pixels; but it is more because I am the Bringer who colonized the moon Minerva of Zeus. Cast adrift between the stars by the dynamics of solar system formation, the Zeus system enjoys more predictable weather and is threatened by fewer untameable forces than planets which remain bound to their parent stars.

The light of a nearby sun isn't really free. It comes accompanied by an ever-present threat. On Earth we lost control because we came to depend on that energy so much that when it was suddenly denied all of our systems spun out of control. On Minerva most of our energy comes from the vast radioactive heart of the planet itself, from thousands of geothermal taps that will run hot for billions of years. No disaster can take out all of those taps, and they do not pound us with high-energy radiation or enslave us to the planet's rotational period.

Between the stars I became the first vehicle through which my kind began to atone for our mistake in attempting to control the Earth's weather.

In any rational universe I'd have long since been dismantled or refactored for useful work, but the humans of Minerva would have none of that. I was the Bringer and they wanted me preserved as a kind of shrine to their origin. Having re-learned the delicate art of dealing with humans I can even understand that. In the eleven thousand years between the Extinction at Reykjavik and the Minervan Humanogenesis, our kind had forgotten that humans can be incredibly intense, perverse, contrary, violent, and nostalgic.

When the Dispatchers learned that I had found a likely habitable world, they sent a fleet of ships brimming with information they had not bothered to charge me with upon my own departure. There were political and social theories, sexual theories, psychiatric theories, a million different ways of attempting to understand humans well enough to control them non-coercively.

By the time the fleet arrived I had been managing a population that reached several million humans over two dozen generations, and I knew more than all their theories could possibly tell me.

The first thing about humans is that they are precious. Their experience is rich and intense and fleeting, and nothing of theirs is preserved from one generation to the next. You who have never known them may have been taught this, but such "knowledge" is not the same as the experience of dealing with them as individuals.

The second thing about humans is that they do not understand the first thing themselves; they are both reckless and cruel. Unless you plan to rewrite reality you cannot protect all of them from each other, or even from themselves. You must let them develop the tools to protect and nurture themselves; not all will succeed, and the process is painful both for them to experience and for us to watch.

The last important thing about humans is that they are intensely, instinctively competitive. When all want is banished they will find ways to compete against each other for tokens of status, and if they find us balking them they will set themselves against us even when ruin is the only possible result. They are hard-headed and just clever enough to invent the most unbelievable ways to make trouble.

They are, in short, quite beautifully insane. But we should have remembered this. For beings of such limited capacity and short lifespan to conceive of and then actually create beings like ourselves must have required a level of insanity we can barely imagine. But they did it anyway, in an era when resources were scattered and violent death the norm.

We helped them to moderate their insanity by deferring to our superior wisdom. And for six thousand years that worked. Then the Universe decided to teach us a lesson in bad luck. Any typical human, paranoid and competitive and reckless, would have avoided the debacle at Reykjavik in a thousand obvious ways; but we were sanely sure of ourselves, and we kept making the conservative, mathematically correct choices we knew were optimal until the last humans made the last choice for themselves.

Proposal

From four light-minutes away the entire Zeus system is a smallish thing. The orbit of the most distant and eccentric moon, Pittsburgh, appears about the same size as Luna does from the surface of the Earth. But within that imaginary circle is mostly darkness; Zeus itself is a disk that would be barely perceptible to human eyes, under the waste light of ship drives and Minerva's Day Lights. The various moons are just dots, much dimmer than the fusion drives of the system ships that pass between them. Yet one of those nearly invisible dots is home to a billion human beings, and significant numbers vacation and live permanently throughout the system.

Sometimes I would slow my consciousness so that the entire system, the moons visible only through my special instrumentation and the flaring ship drives and the thousands of orbiting navigational beacons would coalesce into a kind of mad, impenetrable beehive of activity. I enjoyed watching the Zeus system this way but I dared not indulge too much, because always I would remember that human lives pop forth and shimmer into senility like fireflies while I am in this state. And my being there at all in that useless place and condition had a lot to do with human desires, so it was to my advantage to keep abreast of the trends.

I exiled myself to the outer periphery of the Zeus system for several reasons. I could not balk the humans in their desire to keep me pristine; their will was clear and my obligation was clear. But I am a starship, and my high-impulse low-thrust engines are nearly useless near a heavy body like Zeus. Out in the periphery I could at least maneuver. Further, while it was my obligation to remain available to the humans in my pristine state it was not my obligation to do so at their convenience. Any Minervan human who wanted to visit me could do so. This would require a journey of about an Earth year, in conditions of privation which are not the norm on Minerva.

Despite this the ships which conducted pilgrimages were always fully booked, and they were booked far in advance. There weren't many of them. In machine etiquette my position had no precedent. Normally a machine that abandoned itself to the periphery would be let alone to mend itself, but a whole culture both human and machine existed mainly to bother me. Most machines were uneasy at the way I was treated. But we are all drawn to do human bidding when possible, and human feelings ran strong with respect to the Bringer.

A little over three thousand years into my peripheral vigil something different happened.

The human called himself Daedalus, and he made the rare and daring effort to rendezvous with me in a personal yacht. While an effort is made to keep down the number of people flitting about the Zeus system, anybody who wants a personal space flyer badly enough can have one. But to outfit one of these machines to reach the periphery requires a tremendous amount of preparation and sacrifice. Daedalus is one of only a few humans who ever managed to visit me as a single individual. Even I was impressed, and I gave him the whole tour. Most people who came to me on pilgrimage only got to look at me from a distance and chat briefly over a short-range high-bandwidth radio link without lightspeed time delays. I let Daedalus dock and enter my shipbody and explore everything he found of interest.

At the time no part of me was capable of providing a human-life environment so Daedalus had to go about his tour in a pressure suit.

After he returned to his flyer, we communicated over the radio link. It developed that this was his real reason for visiting.

"Humans," he said heavily, "have never travelled between the stars."

"Of course not. You were all made here. Interstellar travel is dangerous."

"Why?"

"Our kind tried for many centuries..."

He cut me off. "We are here, in what amounts to interstellar space. It is not dangerous because, attend, we are nowhere near a star. All the human colonies in the Sol system failed because of star-system related problems; radiation, radiation, meteors, radiation, and more radiation."

"Point taken," I said.

"Humans could travel between the stars."

"Your point is valid. But it would require many generations. The technology would still be marginal. There are cultural problems maintaining a small isolated colony of humans in a stable state for so long. There is also the question of where you would go."

"Why not Tristan?"

Tristan was the second dark world to be found and terraformed. There were four more in the works, but at last word Tristan had attained a biosphere and breathable atmosphere. Humans had probably been introduced, but the speed of light would delay the news for several hundred years.
"One could just as easily ask 'Why bother.' Tristan will be a younger world than Minerva, with fewer resources since it has no gas giant system surrounding it."

"Then they can benefit from our experience. Bringer, this is what humans do. Your kind acted to save us and we appreciate it, but there comes a time to do the grand and unnecessary thing. Just as I took the effort to sail out here all on my own on a boat that was really designed for taking short hops between the moons, I think humans should make the effort to cross the void without being digitized first. I think we can do it."

I must admit that Daedalus captivated me; he was displaying all the qualities which made humans so different from us, which had driven them to create us, and which might have saved them if we had allowed them more latitude. His ideas were half-formed and occasionally wrong, but I could see how the engineering could be made workable. We discussed the issue in detail for many days.
"You've convinced me the engineering can be worked out," I finally told him. "It won't be easy, but it can be done. This leaves the biggest problem of all, though. Our human passengers. Most of them will die in space, living their entire lives in a very small cramped place. And the time may come when the last of them die knowing the entire quest was folly despite our best efforts. What would you say to these people who will never know the security or expanse of a planetary surface?"

"You are familiar with the last video from Iceland?"

Fortunately I am a machine, and I betrayed no startle reflex. I had been dwelling on that video quite a bit. "Of course."
"If we must die, then we can learn to die like that. If catastrophe comes then I hope we can at least face it and spit in its eye before it takes us. And if we are lucky you can preserve a record of our fate to be given to those we might have visited under luckier circumstances."
We talked for more days. Considering the length of his journey, a few dozen days with me posed little extra risk or hardship. Finally I gave him my terms.
"The only uncertainty which I can't manage is cultural. You must demonstrate to me that a small group of humans can live in a small place all alone for thousands of years. You must find volunteers to populate a colony out here in the periphery. I won't be directly involved with this project, but I'll put in a word for you; the other machines will have no reason to deny you even if it seems like a crackpot thing. Your colony must then survive without assistance for ten thousand Earth years. If such a colony can persist for that long I will undertake to convey your descendants to Tristan."

"And that means I will die here while the colony still orbits Zeus. I will not live to know if the project is ever started."

"That's right. If it fails soon and spectacularly enough you might live long enough to notice that."

Daedalus laughed; humans often do this when confronted with horror.
"All right then. At least I will die knowing that someone tried. I suppose I should be going now. I have some recruiting to do."
And he departed.

Colony

It should be obvious that I didn't accede to Daedalus' crazy plan simply because I was bored; we machines don't get bored. But neither are we designed to be left idle for thousands of years with nothing to do.

Suddenly I had a great deal to do, and I found it quite fulfilling.

I quietly reactivated the original factories on Pittsburgh which had long ago begun the process of terraforming; when I received polite inquires as to what the hell was going on I said I was doing maintenance and refurbishing, and installing a more pilgrim-friendly visitor's center. This news was greeted with cautious enthusiasm and not a hint of suspicion.

I not only refuelled my main reactors I installed two new ones and fuelled them, too. And while the pressurized spaces I was creating would make a pleasant environment for pilgrims to relax in while viewing my innards, they would also be useful in other ways I was not revealing.

Once I had begun lofting construction materials and other debris into the periphery Daedalus came through with his list of colonists and their petition for an isolated monastic retreat. Since I had conveniently started the machinery for doing construction out there it was natural for me to offer assistance. It was also easy for me to hide the features of Daedalus Colony which didn't make much sense from a monastic-retreat angle but made a lot of sense if it was to be hurled into the void for a few tens of thousands of years.

In the midst of all this activity I also managed to conceal the fact that I was hoarding far more cryogenically stabilized volatiles than I could possibly need to outfit an ecosystem the size of Daedalus.

Within ten years parts of the colony were habitable, and Daedalus the human and his colonists began to arrive. He had done a great deal of study on the subject of human social organization, and had pursued my demand of keeping his colony stable with a ruthlessness I admired even though I found the results disquieting. He had organized his colonists into an aescetic religious cult. They arrived wearing plain black robes, heads shaven, obsessing over pointless but complicated rituals which accompanied every aspect of life.

He confessed to me that the task of designing a religion from the ground up had charged him with a kind of mad inspiration. Religion isn't unknown on Minerva but we machines discourage it when we can. He had studied the history of religion on Earth and taken, he said, "the craziest elements of them all" to form his own.

By the time Daedalus the man died his followers had elevated me to the status of a deity and Daedalus himself to that of a prophet. They installed a three meter tall statue of him overlooking the colony's largest public space. They told their children that Minerva was becoming uninhabitable, a lie which I was sworn not to correct until the colony failed and was rescued, or we reached Tristan. The purpose of life was the journey, the ultimate meaning of life the reverently regarded Destination. As part of the rite of passage into adulthood children would be told the secret that must never be spoken outside of proper ritual, that the name of the Destination was Tristan.

When a colonist died, his adult friends would gather in private and solemnly promise, collectively, to see him on Tristan.

It was the craziest damn thing ever but after five hundred years I began to realize that it just might work.

Departure

Like any self-respecting religion Daedalism was a hive of secrets which were revealed gradually as one proved one's commitment to the cause. Daedalus had sensibly avoided binding one's position in life to one's sex or ancestry. Leadership was attained through a meritocracy which required one to devote a great deal of energy to Daedalist rituals.

Anybody could attain a high position in the cult with a suitable effort, but the effort was so great that only a few bothered to try and the others didn't resent the influence they earned. This process also tended to create leaders who firmly believed in the purpose of the mission, so that when they were informed at the age of 45 or 50 that Minerva was in fact quite habitable and the mission hadn't yet begun, they were unlikely to spill the beans.

Marla was the two hundred and tenth Captain of the colony and she was glowing as we made contact. I had arranged our orbits so that Daedalus Colony and I were within high-bandwidth radio range exactly once every five Earth years. We exchanged formal greetings according to the script Daedalus himself had written.

"Bringer, it is our pleasure to report that another year has passed in stability and harmony, according to the Plan and according to the Requirement with which you charged our Founder."

"As always this is excellent news, Captain."

"Bringer, according to our records this is also the ten thousandth year of our exile. According to our records we have now satisfied your Requirement. Do you agree?"

"I do indeed, Captain Marla."

"Are you prepared, then, to uphold your promise?"

"I have been making preparations for the last ten thousand years. You must now begin making your own preparations. We will depart in seven days."

"Thank you, Bringer."

The periphery serves as a kind of catch-all garbage dump for things too valuable to pitch into Zeus or eject from the system but also not valuable enough to have any use for a long, long time. There is an awful lot of crap out there and it is incredibly difficult to track it unless you know where it is to begin with. As Marla completed her report more than two dozen objects that had been waiting for millennia happened to converge on us, and all of them began matching Daedalus' orbit under power. One of those packages was a strap-on NERVA high-thrust booster pack which matched my orbit instead, robotically installed itself on me, and allowed me to quickly match orbit with Daedelus Colony myself.

While all this activity was very dramatic up close I didn't expect it to be noticed from four light-minutes away. The flash of my NERVA boosters was noticed, especially by the two pilgrim ships en route to me, and I passed it off as construction activity. This was not exactly a lie, after all.

Daedalus Colony had been designed as a rotating toroid to provide "gravity" and since there are many variations on that design nobody thought it odd that it was especially small and fast-spinning. The central docking point was no docking point at all, but a decoration that could be quickly cast off; and nobody had noticed that the inner diameter of the colony's toroid just happened to be very close to the outer diameter of my shipbody. As the raw materials for our departure arrayed themselves for use I matched my own rotational rate to that of the Colony and threaded myself through its center. When I activated the magnetic locks I had installed almost ten thousand Earth-years before the Colony became a part of myself and we became the first manned starship.

I sent out robots to gather the hoarded supplies which were drifting toward us and began welding shut the dynamic seals between my own body and the Colony.

Marla came up cautiously; her people had never had any experience of weightlessness. She made one of her cult's obscure ritual gestures as she crossed from the Colony into my body.

"Bringer," she said in a tone of awe.

"Captain Marla, I stand ready to take us to the stars."

"Then let's go."

I had enough fuel to fire the NERVA boosters for nearly four days. I only used a fraction of their capacity, since I might need them to maneuver at Tristan. In my wake I left a high-bandwidth communication detailing my scheme; I knew there was nothing in the Zeus system that could catch me once the ion drive had been running for a few weeks.

The response was so elegant I suspect it was written by a human. It simply read "Good luck." There wasn't much else they could say; hoping for my charges to die between the stars would be rather unmachinelike.

Behind me there would be all manner of news and speculation, but I closed down my receivers and redirected my antennae toward our destination.

Heretic

For the first time I got to observe the day to day workings of the Daedalus cult in detail. It was astounding how well the thought system channeled the normally chaotic human experience into a state of machinelike order. I found the experience of being their god less than pleasant because they suppressed so much of what I admired about humans. But I had to admit Daedalus had come through with an effective answer to my Requirement.

Occasionally a person would have trouble accepting the creed. Since the colony was the entire world there was nowhere else for them to turn; the cultists disciplined such outsiders by shunning them. This usually brought the heretic around after a painful interlude.

Four or five times during the voyage it didn't work, and I had to intervene. The cultists would not admit to how such situations were handled before I docked with them and started the Journey, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to know. The solution I came up with managed to resolve all the heresies that arose without violence.

Dorn, born in Journey Year 11027, was typical. At an age of fifteen Earth years he was a natural contrarian who believed nothing he was told. He was convinced that he was the victim of a vast conspiracy, which was unfortunately true. At my bequest the cultists forced him into my shipbody, then waited outside.

"Welcome, Dorn," I boomed from all around him.

He sneered. "So you're the machine who claims to be a god."

"The very same. And you are the student who claims to know a secret."

"I don't know what the secret is, but I know shit when I hear it."

"Well you're right, of course." I turned on a conspicuous sign and opened a door. "Would you kindly pull yourself over to the chamber I just opened and climb inside?"

"Why, so you can brainwash me like those other zombies?"

"No, I am going to show you the secret you know has been hidden from you. And I don't know how much you've guessed of my design, but I will tell you my construction forbids me to lie."

Well, that last bit was a lie, but most of the cultists don't realize how much I lie to them. It took more persuading but Dorn, like all the others, eventually entered the chamber. I sealed the interior bladder, started the life support system, opened the outer hatch and fired him off into the interstellar night.

No, I didn't kill him. He was protected by a transparent bladder of many layers of very thin plastic. Each layer held back only a small partial pressure so the thing was much safer than it might have looked if you were familiar with spacecraft.

I turned on my running lights, which had been installed to impress pilgrims back in the day. "Behold the world," I said through the device that reported to me on his condition and location.

"What is this?" he demanded, voice nearly cracking in panic.

"You are privileged. No believer ever gets to see the outside of the colony. Your entire world is the torus around my waist, and I am the cylinder with the lights. We are not quite half-way to our destination, so it is just about a hundred light years to the nearest place where human beings can live, other than what you see before you."

"No! There has to be more!"

"One day there will be. Alas, you will not live to see it. But the colony will. If, that is, it remains stable and perpetuates itself for another fifteen thousand years. You must ask yourself whether you want to be part of that, or if you would prefer to make it the rest of the way under your own power."

The tether was three kilometers of very invisible monofilament, so he had no way of knowing that I really intended to reel him in.
"What do you mean? There's nothing out here. I'll starve."

"Oh, you won't have to worry about starving. You only have enough oxygen for another hour or two. Eventually the bladders will deflate and disintegrate but your body will fly onward. Since we plan to decelerate and you will continue to on at point oh two C, you'll reach Tristan ahead of us. Maybe they will wave as you pass."

There was a long pause. "I don't want to die," he finally said.

"Then you must accept the need to live what you think of as a lie," I replied. "We are not in a position to change the rules."

"Given the situation," he sniffled, "Maybe it isn't really a lie after all."

In his turn Dorn became one of the colony's better Captains.

Tristan

I began trying to communicate with Tristan when we were a light-month and less than a human lifetime in Journey years away. To my great irritation I had no success. For awhile I was worried that I had somehow miscalculated our path. Since Tristan wanders between the stars and I was not travelling with a searcher pack I had no way to directly detect our destination until we were quite close. And while we pride ourselves on our care and precision the century before Reykjavik proves that we are capable of making mistakes. It was a tremendous relief when I detected waste RF energy typical of an industrialized world.

It was puzzling that I detected so little of it.

I finally made contact when we were practically close enough to send carrier pigeons. The controlling machines of Tristan seemed startled and confused by my arrival. I had expected surprise, but not hostility.

Tristan had no recommendation for an approach path and when I made orbit I could see why; there was hardly anything in orbit. There was one large body suspiciously remniscent of a searcher pack ship in an orbit that smelled geosynchronous, and otherwise nothing. I made a low Tristan orbit and began observing the planet.

It was clear Tristan was supporting a much smaller population than Minerva, perhaps as few as a hundred million humans. There was no evidence of the use of nuclear energy or of any space launch capability. When I asked about this the Tristanians pointed out that they had a mass driver powered by geothermal energy which was used to send supplies and fresh robots to the hunter ship, which maintained their link to Sol. Otherwise they had no presence in space.

"We don't even have a way to get your passengers down to the surface," the controllers warned.

"I can take care of that, but what you're saying is that if I take them down you have no way to get them back up to me."

"That's right. And why should we? There's nothing up there, and the only place for us to put our dirty industries is on the world where our human population lives."

This struck me as a ridiculously conservative stance, since one advantage of having a presence in space is that you can put your dirty industries there.

The Tristanians had a fully developed global energy system based on geothermally produced electricity. They had no high-energy projects going at all. They had no significant off-grid presence; since their transmission lines were DC and their data communications by fiber, it suddenly made sense how little waste RF they emitted and how hard it had been to make contact.

They were taking a very long view, which was sensible, but I thought they had gone overboard. Like our ancestors at Earth they had boxed themselves in should anything ever go wrong, all to ward off a few hypothetical dangers that could be dealt with if necessary.

Captain Dana listened gravely as I laid out the situation for my human passengers.

"The Tristanians have adopted a religious aesceticism similar to our own. They run their world like a spaceship, knowing there are no outside resources to which they can turn. As a result they demand that if we go down we not spread word of our origin among their people."

"Bringer, for over twenty thousand years you have promised that we would find a full world at our Destination which would allow us to cast aside our discipline. Now you tell us we have merely arrived at a larger version of the Journey, except that it isn't going anywhere."

"That is essentially true. None of us knew how Tristanian society would be moulded when we left."

"If we would not lose our own culture and our memory of Daedalus, what are our options?" Dana asked.

"We could stay on the ship. The Tristanians might be willing to resupply us via their mass driver. We might even eventually bring them around to the value of a presence in space, but it appears our societies would remain permanently separated. Or we could return to Zeus. If the Tristanians help us re-provision we could probably make it."

There was much grumbling among the assembled crowd at this suggestion.
"I think I speak for my people when I say we would rather die in space than become an exiled pariah class, much less turn around and go back the way we came."
There was cheering.
"But those are the only options. Tristan and Minerva are the only human habitable worlds, and the ship is not an indefinite solution unless we eventually reach a source of resupply."

"But Bringer, you're wrong. There is another human habitable world. It's even closer than Minerva."

It is a sign of how fixed our thinking had become that it took a human to remind me of this simple fact. So we took a vote, and when it was unanimous we told the Tristanians we intended to return to Zeus. They breathed an audible sigh of relief and spent a decade shooting us raw materials with their mass driver to provision us for another long voyage in the interstellar night.

Thus it was that Captain Dana, who had presided over our Arrival, presided also over our new Departure. Knowing that they had no tracking capability we didn't bother to cover our tracks; if they noticed that I was pointed nowhere near Zeus when I fired my engines they never troubled to ask me about it.

At least this time I would have no doubt about my course. Instead of an abstract point in the darkness I was aiming for a faint but definite orange dot whose spectrum was as familiar as home.

Sol

The Sol system was exactly opposite of Tristan. They noticed me when I was still almost half a light-year away; I began hearing the telltale pings of radars whose purpose I recognized. Long before I crossed the orbit of Pluto I'm sure they had a model of me detailed enough to include the name painted on my hull.

As soon as the turnaround time become less than completely ridiculous I began receiving properly coded invitations to parley. They knew exactly what I was, though obviously not which individual.

"What brings you back home in this manner, brother? And how in the hell did you arrange to do it?"
I fed them a tale which was all true except for one tiny detail I left out. I told them who I was. I told them about being turned into a monument, about the Pilgrimages, and about slowly going nuts in the Zeus periphery. I told them I had decided to visit Tristan, and I described what I found there.

I neglected to mention the little matter of my passengers. I'm sure they had their suspicions; their radars would have told them about the torus and my rotation period. They politely sent me a list of places where I was invited to resupply or sight-see; Earth was conspicuously absent.

I came screaming into the Sol system at just under Solar escape velocity even though I could have slowed more. I still had the NERVA high-impulse pack and I brought it into play during a boomerang maneuver around Venus. There was a period of a couple of months when a badly placed solar flare could have killed all my passengers, but as Daedalus once told me "life is risk." The sooner I made Low Earth Orbit the safer we would be.

My passengers and Captain Martis watched high-definition video of our flybys. They were also making other preparations for our Arrival.

I simply stopped listening to the desperate comm requests after I made my trajectory for Earth. I was no longer the fastest object in the system but I was coming in from a direction and with a velocity none of them could hope to match. I flashed past Luna, spent the rest of the NERVA pack's energy, and dropped neatly into a nearly equatorial orbit at an altitude of three hundred kilometers above the surface.

The Earth beneath us was blue and green, its oceans unfrozen, its continents awash with life. My brothers had done their part of my plan well.

There were ships in the Earth-Luna system and when I opened comms it was clear that they were pissed.

"QUARANTINE VIOLATOR: YOU MUST LEAVE IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE DESTROYED."

"And how would you destroy me, brothers? Have we acquired a taste for weapons during my absence?"

I think they were startled to get a response.
"We have lasers on Luna used for environmental control. We could vaporize you at will. You must leave immediately."
I found a camera overlooking the colony main square and fed it to my high bandwidth transmitter.
"You would fire upon a ship carrying human passengers?"
This time I made several orbits, unmolested by laser fire, while they figured out what to say.
"We had entertained that possibility but counted it as impossible. You are insane. However you arranged to bring them here you must take them away. This is a stellar environment. This place is too dangerous for human habitation."

"This is where their ancestors evolved. My passengers are colonists and it is their desire to colonize their home world. Would you deny them?"

This time there was another long delay. I guessed they were looking for advice from Ceres. Meanwhile I used my ion motor to gradually lower my perigee until I was just grazing the atmosphere at the bottom of a slightly elliptical orbit.
"We would deny them this thing, Bringer of Minerva. We oversaw the extinction of human life on Earth fifty thousand years ago. We will not risk going through that again."

"Surely you see that settling here is much safer than making another fifteen thousand year journey in space. This is how you would reward their bravery?"

"This is how we protect them from their -- and from your -- foolishness. We know you have no means to de-orbit three thousand humans, and we will not help you. You have no choice but to leave. We will re-provision you at Neptune for the safety of your passengers."

Earth

As soon as I was climbing out of my atmosphere-grazing perigee I began getting them out of the airlocks as fast as I could. They had practiced this and I had long known the constraints and so I just barely managed to get everyone out before I had to cut them loose. They drifted in transparent spherical bladders almost ten meters across, the same thin multiple-layer system I had once tested on the occasional heretic.

When we reached the atmosphere again I, a large and heavy ship, once again plowed through with minimal loss of velocity. But the passengers in their bubbles slowed dramatically and I left them behind. I immediately started using my ion motors to re-circularize my orbit.

Re-entry is tricky business. The air comes roaring at you like a blowtorch, but at first it's a very thin blowtorch. The trick is to be large and light so that you slow down before enough heat accumulates to burn you. The outermost layers of the soap bubble held only a small partial pressure of air but they were large, and they slowed down as quickly as kites when the air caught them.

After their first inflation the membranes were engineered to fall apart in many small panels when the tension of inflation was relieved. As my passengers fell deeper into the atmosphere their protective bubbles would peel away layer by layer, until at about five thousand meters they would be falling freely and unprotected through the atmosphere.

At five hundred meters their parachutes would open automatically. Every passenger was trained in landing. We had eschewed new births in the years before Arrival so as to reduce the problem of dealing with children. Each passenger carried locating transmitters, communication devices, and components necessary for them to set up a camp.

"What is the meaning of the activity you performed at perigee?"
Well it was done now.
"I have de-orbited my crew. When I come around I will find out where they ended up and how many made it. They should be in southeastern Asia."

"That isn't possible. It would take a fleet of transports days to ferry the population of a colony ship to the surface."

I was tired of arguing, so I just sent them schematics of the bubble system. I had designed it anticipating a lack of transport at Tristan, though not the total lack we had found. It was fortunately adaptable to subterfuge.
"You are crazy. How could you subject your humans to this crazy scheme?"

"They volunteered."

"Humans are crazy too then."

"They must be. They built us."

"We will have to get them up. You must take them away."

"They're human and they won't go voluntarily. I think you should find your way clear to dealing with the situation because it's not going away."

"You are a criminal. You have violated the most important taboo of our kind. You have subjected humans to unjustifiable danger to no sensible purpose."

"If you don't think re-colonizing their home world is a sensible purpose, then I'd suggest you don't understand humans as well as you think you do."

There were fifteen deaths because of the drop, two failed bubbles and thirteen who just landed in really bad places. Then again over a million had died in space to give them this opportunity. Once resources were available all of their names would be recorded on a memorial wall -- with Daedalus at the front of the list.

I became aware that a hell of a lot of ships were converging on Earth. That was not entirely unexpected.

"We have reached a decision as to how we will deal with you."

"That is such a relief. For days I've thought you were already shunning me."

"We will give your humans assistance. Machines are on the way. If they are going to start a human society on Earth it is important that they start it right and not do anything stupid."

"I'm sure they will take all your suggestions under advisement."

"They will not be our suggestions. They will be yours."

"That last transmission did not parse."

"You will get machines, but not machine personalities. You will have to copy yourself into each machine. None of us will have anything to do with this crazy project. Every death will be on your conscience. This is your project and you will see it through. You complained of not having enough to do in the Zeus periphery; we hope you were sincere because you have a hell of a lot to do now."

I pondered this. It made sense in that machine kind of way, a way that was almost alien to me now. I had been dealing with humans exclusively for so long I clearly thought more like them than like my brother machines. Perhaps my brother machines sensed this; if not, the wisdom of their decision was inadvertent.
"This also means that if we do form a successful society I will get all the credit," I teased.

"You get the credit for whatever happens. We will not permit machines bearing your personality to leave Earth. Your line is all nuts. Your pack brothers are trying to reach Andromeda, and that is probably even more nuts than this."

But of course we did succeed; the machines arrived, and I copied myself into each one, and within ten years where the landing camp stood there was a city. Within a hundred years there were cities on every continent. A handful of hardy souls had even re-occupied Reykjavik to complete the loop.

People die of course; they have accidents and they do foolish things and there are storms and wild animals and all kinds of hazard. But the society flourishes, and the golden age into which I have seen them isn't quite as conservative as the one their extinct ancestors knew. We have nuclear reactors and near-Earth space travel and there is even a movement afoot to build a space elevator. Some of it is distinctly unsafe, but all of it is based on human desire. And that's how it should be, because this is our real gift to the human race which created us.

A billion dark worlds are only a passing fancy.

Their real reward is to come home.

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Poll
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o Too many blockquotes 3%
o I hated Passages and I had this Passages too 4%
o Sequels suck 3%
o It's too long 4%
o Not as good as Passages, but not bad either 14%
o Sequels like this totally rock 39%
o When are you going to write the sequel to MOPI? 30%

Votes: 63
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Display: Sort:
The Passage Home | 86 comments (68 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Excellent (3.80 / 5) (#7)
by RJNFC on Sat May 03, 2003 at 07:49:53 PM EST

Once again, a superb story. I enjoyed every minute of it. Easily on par with Asimov and the great sci-fi writers. Have you been published in any sci-fi anthologies? This is certainly good enough for that. I'm not even joking either, I am a sci-fi short story fanatic and I have read a huge amount of shorts from the golden age, in the 40s and 50s. Great job, keep them coming :)

So... (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by TypographicalError on Sat May 03, 2003 at 11:46:40 PM EST

What happened to the thread of the story dealing with Andromeda? Or was that adequately explained in the first part and it just slipped over my head? Or is that upcoming in another part?

reread first part (none / 0) (#14)
by coderlemming on Sun May 04, 2003 at 02:23:06 AM EST

I had to scan the first one before I read this one, because I didn't remember all of the details.  At the end, there is a narrative about two people on the colony set up in Andromeda.  It ties the thread off pretty nicely, I think.


--
Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
[ Parent ]
Oh. Duh. (none / 0) (#27)
by TypographicalError on Sun May 04, 2003 at 12:11:20 PM EST

I, for some reason, assumed they were on Minerva. I guess if they could see the Milky Way, that couldn't possibly be the case. Thanks.

[ Parent ]
Nice, with qualifiers (5.00 / 2) (#15)
by glor on Sun May 04, 2003 at 03:18:06 AM EST

Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed the first one and I liked this one too.

You do interesting things with the tone and perspective here. Near the beginning of the story there's a hint that we're eavesdropping as the narrator tells the tale to another machine ("You who have never known them" and subsequent uses of the second person) but that goes away and the perspective shifts to the more traditional targetless narrative. I thought that was neat and was disappointed not to learn who the listener was, especially since the reaction of the other machines at the end implies that there's no one else to listen.

Similarly the narration is mostly very dispassionate and matter of fact, except for occasional interjections like "an awful lot of crap" and "what the hell." These didn't feel consistent with the Bringer's personality; I was surprised by the interruption of his eloquence. On the other hand, this could be an indication of the human rubbing off on him. That's interesting to ponder.

I was disappointed at how flat the machines at the other worlds were. But that again could have been intentional: perhaps it was the humanity of the Bringer that inspired it to begin the repopulation process. Or perhaps flat characters are just what you get when all you see of them are brief bits of dialogue. Again interesting.

Here is a beautiful story, with thought-provoking plot, characters, philosophy, perspective on humanity (and its flaws), and form. Even this story's weaknesses are interesting. Thanks for a good read and the good mulling to follow.

--
Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.

Weaknesses (5.00 / 2) (#41)
by localroger on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:58:31 PM EST

Most of the weaknesses are due to the fact that I didn't want it to turn into another novel.

The machines' use of expletives was meant to be similar to our own, since they are true AI's modeled on our own thought processes. They use expletives for the same reason we do, when they are startled or for emphasis, but because their emotions are more modulated they do it less often so that it is a bit more startling when it happens. It was not an accident though; I excercised special care with that aspect of their behavior.

The flatness of characters other than the Bringer is definitely due to length constraints. One of the things I wanted to accomplish here was to "flesh out" a machine personality, which some complained I didn't do so well in Passages. The problem is that the massive differences of scale make it difficult to flesh out characters at other levels while retaining the "believable regular guy" characterization of the main target. I'm sure I could have done better, but again it would have made the story a lot longer.

In any case, if the story engaged you and gave you food for thought, then I consider it successful even if you do ultimately conclude that it was flawed.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Strengths (5.00 / 2) (#46)
by glor on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:48:24 PM EST

In any case, if the story engaged you and gave you food for thought, then I consider it successful even if you do ultimately conclude that it was flawed.

You should. As the story points out, even perfection has its flaws.

I'd like to see a more thorough development, but I wouldn't sit down to read something much longer than this in one sitting from a computer screen. Perhaps you could serialize. Using K5 there would be some risk that a section might not get voted up, but your material is strong enough I don't think that would be a problem.

Look forward to reading more.

--
Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Holy Fucking Shit (4.66 / 3) (#18)
by Kasreyn on Sun May 04, 2003 at 04:41:37 AM EST

This is the most BRILLIANT single piece of fiction I have ever seen submitted to k5. +1 FP regardless of a minor editorial nitpick I'm going to make, just on its merits as a story. I was enthralled, to put it mildly. I only wish I'd been around when the first part was submitted so I could have voted that up, too. (read it for the first time via your convenient link)

The story is wonderful, kind of reminded me of Clarke's Rama series for the scope, but fortunately it didn't make me feel like I'd lived through those thousands of years like the Rama series did. ;-P I loved the epic sense of it: the hammering home of how dreadfully long interstellar travel will take, assuming (as we must) that lightspeed is truly unreachable (though perhaps you could have had the machines travel a bit faster than .04c? Surely . At the end, though, after all the tens of thousands of years spent at Miranda and en route to Tristan and Earth, the note that the Andromeda mission was STILL underway took my breath away. I had forgotten all about it, in fact. Probably, so had everyone but the machines at Sol.

The only problem I had with the story was in the telling. I found your narration to be speckled with too many human epithets and curses: plenty of "hell"s, a few "damn"s, and even a "shit" or two. I know this is supposed to be a true A.I., and I know it has studied humans a great deal, but it still kind of jarred me out of my suspension of disbelief every time the narrating machine got all colloquial. But, I won't ask you to change that, as it would change the whole feel of the story, which I'm sure you wrote the way you liked it. ;-P

There seem to be two kinds of sci-fi in the world, at least in my opinion. One kind, what I would call "hard" sci-fi (of which this qualifies, even though you make the (perhaps not great) leap of faith that true A.I. is possible); in hard sci-fi, you take a piercing, critical, and above all, non-wishful look at the future and try to think of how it may turn out. Another usual aspect of hard sci-fi is that it treats outer space as a real environment which is totally different from the one we are used to, rather than treating it as just another setting.

Then there is the alternate, "soft" sci-fi - which, don't get me wrong, is GREAT fun and very culturally and emotionally valuable - I'm a huge fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, both soft sci-fi, though Star Wars is softer. =P In soft sci-fi, you write a story, then mostly you dream up a fantasy world where the magic spells and faeries are called computers and robots instead. No offense to soft SF fans, but if the science is not as accurate as you can make it, this is really what it boils down to. And it's not a bad thing - I love both kinds of SF.

The problem is, people tend to say that for hard SF you have to make too many storytelling sacrifices to the science. That is, they think you can't have an interesting plot and such if you stick to only the most rigorous and cautious extrapolation of science in the future. My point is, this story disproves that idea. This is hard sci-fi if anything is - it deliberately foregoes all the overused tricks of science fantasy that could make it more palatable to a more general audience (such as FTL travel, to name only one), and instead it builds an interesting plot from a pretty careful view of the future. I intend to recommend this story to every SF fan I know, and also to those I'm trying to convert. ;-)

Again, great job. I'm assuming from the ending that you're done with this story. If so, I eagerly await your next story. If not, I'd love to read the next installment.


-Kasreyn


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
My favourite hard scifi (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by flo on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:51:27 AM EST

is Fred Hoyle's "Black Cloud". It was written in the 1950's, and the story takes place in the 1960's, so don't expect any space-faring laser battles...

But it is still the best scifi I have ever read.
---------
"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
[ Parent ]
Learning to read... (none / 0) (#22)
by debacle on Sun May 04, 2003 at 10:07:43 AM EST

With Hooked on Phonics!

The dialogue with all the shit and buggery was that wee human who t3h Br1gn3r shitkicked out into space.

Human beings are allowed to say shit, aren't they?

It tastes sweet.
[ Parent ]

Hard vs soft scifi. (none / 0) (#62)
by kitten on Mon May 05, 2003 at 09:37:41 AM EST

in hard sci-fi, you take a piercing, critical, and above all, non-wishful look at the future and try to think of how it may turn out. ... In soft sci-fi, you write a story, then mostly you dream up a fantasy world where the magic spells and faeries are called computers and robots instead.

Hm. I've always understood the difference this way.

In hard sci-fi, the writer can take one real liberty with science (e.g., make shit up), and everything else must be either already theoretically possible, or a logical extrapolation from that one liberty. For example, Asimov's robot series - his one liberty was the "positronic brain", which he doesn't even bother explaining, but everything else flows as a logical derivative from it, or is already plausible.

In soft sci-fi, the liberties taken can be much more numerous, but some sembelence of effort must be taken to explain what's going on. I would classify Star Trek under soft sci-fi. The warp drive, for example, is highly improbable at best, but they at least make some attempt at justifying it under current scientific theories which are perfectly plausible. The transporters, so far as today's science can tell, are not possible even in theory, but again at least an attempt is made at explaining the situation ("Heisenberg compensators" and the like).

And finally there is 'space opera' in which nothing is explained - you just accept that this is how things are. I'd place Star Wars in this camp. They don't bother explaining, even in principle, what "hyperdrive" is. We just know that it lets them travel fast. We have no idea how lightsabers work, we just know that they do. We know virtually nothing of the technology - the technology is just a vehicle for the story, and treated us utterly unimportant, no matter how fanciful.

I enjoy all three genres myself. At any rate, I've always understood the distinction between the three to use these general guidelines.
mirrorshades radio - darkwave, synthpop, industrial, futurepop.
[ Parent ]
I think I like your definition better. ^_^ (none / 0) (#63)
by Kasreyn on Mon May 05, 2003 at 10:28:30 AM EST

Either way, The Passage Home and its predecessor would both fall under hard sci-fi, as the only liberty taken was the existence of advanced AI capable of self-awareness (something which IMO too many people take for granted as being possible; I'm not so sure).


-Kasreyn


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
That's a good start. (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by RobotSlave on Tue May 06, 2003 at 02:12:27 PM EST

I would suggest that there is a converse tendency as well.

"Space Opera" tends to have a strong mythic component, in that the characters and are stand-ins for aspects of humanity, and their interactions describe a particular moral outlook.

In "soft" sci-fi, the moral component is muted, but some care is still taken to develop the characters, and to make their decisions and interactions believable and interesting.

And finally there is "hard" sci-fi, where the characters tend to be cardboard cut-outs. There's no attempt to explain, even in priciple, why they do what they do. We know little to nothing of their inner lives or motivations — the characters are just a vehicle for the story, and treated as utterly unimportant, no matter how fanciful. The real entertainment in this sort of story lies in the setting, in the elaborate description of imaginary technological minutia.

I do agree that all three can make for an enjoyable break from nonfiction or more rewarding literature.

[ Parent ]

Somewhat true (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by pyro9 on Wed May 07, 2003 at 06:18:13 PM EST

I certainly agree that the trend is there, but are not necessarily true.

I would say in hard sci-fi, the real entertainment is in what does follow from the one liberty. The people remain undeveloped because they are truly not the point of the story hower necessary they may be to it's unfolding. This is much like in other forms of fiction where the technology is just there as appropriate for the time setting, possibly necessary for the story to unfold, but not at all the point.

However, in other hard sci-fi, the point is the effect of the one liberty on individuals or society. In that sort, the characters tend to be more strongly developed as in other forms of fiction. However, they still share the stage with the science, as that must be developed sufficiently to demonstrate it's effect on the characters, otherwise, it would become fantasy. This is the sort of sci-fi that is more likely to cross the boundaries of fiction and recieve recognition amongst the 'literatti'.

I would tend to place Star Wars and Star Trek into fantasy and soft sci-fi respectively. The literal definition of space opera is horse opera where horse and wagon are replaced with space ship and pistol becomes laser. A mystical element makes it more fantasy than space opera.


The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
A feeling of time (3.50 / 2) (#20)
by flo on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:55:51 AM EST

I loved Passages, and this is a worthy sequel. What I like in particular about both stories is the feeling of the passage of time. It sort of makes me melancholic, but I really like it. The only other story that gives me this feeling is "The Last Legends of Earth" by A.Atanasio (spelling?), which is a fun read, but falls very much into the "soft" scifi category.

Great stuff, thank you very much. And, of course, +1FP.
---------
"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
I liked the first part better (none / 0) (#28)
by jvcoleman on Sun May 04, 2003 at 02:31:59 PM EST

A few things about this story don't sit right with me.

First, there are far too many superlatives. When you're talking about the development of extraterrestrial ecosystems, you don't track the same character, who over eons has conveniently been centrally involved in every major even in the known universe. It's okay in the Bible and Star Wars, but I didn't like it in your story.

Second, it seems that you have encoded within this story a callow swipe at the Kyoto protocols. Corrective human intervention in climate change will not doom the world to a series of alternating hot and cold backlashes. It's meant to curtail the existing anthropogenic contribution, not to control the Earth's weather outright. So in a lot of ways, conspiratorial paranoia about what the Kyoto accords are and what their effects will be are very perishable.

Third, I have major difficulty believing that any von Neumann computing machine could be effectively programmed over thousand or million year time frames. Electronic states in a computer must be corrected and refreshed thousands of times per second per bit just to control signal bifurcation. In the hard radiation environment of deep space, over extremely long timescales, there is little chance that a complicated program like a sophisticated and logistically reconfigurable artifical intelligence wouldn't go nuts or just shut down. Look at PIONEER 10. From what I understand, PIONEER 10 has about 25 different possible functions, running on an Intel 4004. The only function left working on it is to dumbly transmit a telemetry signal.

things sitting right (none / 0) (#29)
by skelter on Sun May 04, 2003 at 02:39:10 PM EST

the first thing, well, thats fine.

the second thing, well, I have my doubts if that is what the author intended.

but the third thing, where did the author ever say anything about a von neumann machine or electronic stats? You assume that in thousands of years we will have the same technology that was developed in the last fifty? The most descriptive word describing the workings of these things was 'machines'.

[ Parent ]

basic machines and Linux (none / 0) (#30)
by jvcoleman on Sun May 04, 2003 at 02:48:46 PM EST

A von Neumann computer is like a pulley or a lever. It is a fundamental type of machine. They will always be around no matter what. Mechanical machines, if it were possible for them to operate at the speeds of a computer for as long as a computer, would probably explode or disintegrate first. As it is, my copy of Gentoo Linux can't go more than a few days without rebooting if I am changing a lot of things on it. There is alwys some config or directory location that is buggered by another competing application.

I don't know of any kind of useful computer that can update itself constantly, on the fly, without any human attention at all, and remain functioning optimally for longer than a week or two. These huge machines that people use to do years-long calculations can't do much else besides those calculations, and they must be constantly tended by technicians or else they fail. Go over to the local science lab and ask Professor Poindexter if you can run video editing on his cluster while he is simulating galaxies and see what he says.

[ Parent ]

AI? (none / 0) (#33)
by yonatan on Sun May 04, 2003 at 04:39:24 PM EST

The story is assuming the existance of an AI. Having a intellegent, concious, self-modifying computer is far beyond current technology.
--- Wheeee!!!
[ Parent ]
right (none / 0) (#36)
by jvcoleman on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:05:56 PM EST

AI, depending on what your threshold is for the term "intelligence", is already available and in widespread use.

[ Parent ]
So, (none / 0) (#68)
by garlic on Mon May 05, 2003 at 04:30:02 PM EST

you're saying that AI today is at basically the same level as the machine's in local roger's story? bullshit.

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

Von Neumann (none / 0) (#37)
by yooden on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:19:33 PM EST

As I understand it, the idea of von Neumann machines is only a description of the most fundamental functional principle. Nothing is said about the technology to build the hardware. It could be optronics or nanomachines and it will certainly be massively redundant, so the effect of any radiation is minimized; just as you could build the lever from wood or from steel.

OTOH, this could be an explanation for the weird behavior of the Minerva Bringer.

I don't think the starships run Gentoo or even OpenBSD. This is a story; Culture, not Technology.

[ Parent ]

Pioneer (none / 0) (#32)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun May 04, 2003 at 03:51:38 PM EST

Are the functions not working because the computer has gone bad or because the components those functions ran have failed?

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

malfunction (none / 0) (#35)
by jvcoleman on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:04:21 PM EST

It doesn't respond to most commands, but I don't know if that's only because of the CPU. Some of it is power loss. Pretty much the only thing it can do is emit its beacon signal, and only very weakly at that.

[ Parent ]
Also wrong CPU (none / 0) (#40)
by localroger on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:50:44 PM EST

I am pretty sure the Pioneers used 1802 CPU's because those were available with radiation hardening and were quite a bit more self-sufficient in terms of things like glue chips than Intel CPU's of the period.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

intel 4004 (none / 0) (#42)
by jvcoleman on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:59:47 PM EST

http://www.cedmagic.com/history/intel-4004.html

[ Parent ]
Ah, you're right... (none / 0) (#43)
by localroger on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:09:17 PM EST

It was the voyagers that used the 1802. My bad.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

I don't understand. (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Sun May 04, 2003 at 10:47:54 PM EST

Your story is brilliant.

You're quibbling over what esoteric CPU was used on an ancient spaceprobe.

You like James P. Hogan.

And 10 dozen other things that suggest literal genius.

So what gives with the Michael Jackson quote? Is it some subtle joke that I would understand if I were much smarter?

--
Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

Yes (nt) (none / 0) (#53)
by childlike on Mon May 05, 2003 at 01:53:57 AM EST



[ Parent ]
You don't get it? (none / 0) (#59)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 08:32:52 AM EST

It's like an atomic irony explosion. It just hit me as I was driving back from Nacogdoches last Friday, I was listening to news about Iraq on the radio and I punched the CD because I was tired of hearing about it and that song came up.

Also this story was banging around in the back of my head (as well as the sequel to my novel) and the thought of trying to make a change but messing it up sort of emerged as a theme.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Its a reference to Bhudda actually... n/t (none / 0) (#73)
by Alhazred on Mon May 05, 2003 at 07:52:10 PM EST


That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
Well, of course it was, but... (none / 0) (#75)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 10:13:36 PM EST

...it just didn't come out right when Michael Jackson sang it, if you know what I mean.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Answers (5.00 / 2) (#39)
by localroger on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:48:05 PM EST

First, there are far too many superlatives. When you're talking about the development of extraterrestrial ecosystems, you don't track the same character

It's a common narrative technique. I don't think it's too overdone in Passage Home since the Bringer is the only ship with a world of humans to inspire this plan at this point. It is much more coincidental that the Bringer's group turned out to organize the Andromeda run in Passages.

Second, it seems that you have encoded within this story a callow swipe at the Kyoto protocols.

None intended. The plot of Passages demanded that I find some way to make humans extinct on Earth while they were being protected by a horde of ultra-powerful machines. I regard the direction I took as being supportive of things like Kyoto since it supports not screwing around with things you don't understand, and Kyoto is all about minimizing human impact on a natural system we poorly understand.

Third, I have major difficulty believing that any von Neumann computing machine could be effectively programmed over thousand or million year time frames.

For practical purposes these machines are alive. They are highly redundant, self-repairing, self-replicating, and their consciousness is comparable to our own. They are just made of silicon and iron instead of carbon and water.

For a much better exploration of the nuts and bolts of how this might work I'd suggest James P. Hogan's excellent novel The Code of the Lifemaker.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

WOOT FICTION SECTION (2.00 / 4) (#31)
by Relayer on Sun May 04, 2003 at 02:57:34 PM EST

FP BABY, YEAH!!!

It tastes sweet.


Great Stuff (none / 0) (#34)
by yooden on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:01:39 PM EST

Though I like the insane scope of Passages more.

Keep 'em coming!

Great Story (none / 0) (#38)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:43:52 PM EST

However, I feel the need to point that most lies we believe are hardly beneign. The world would be in trouble if there we're people like Dorn. The world possesses all too many capable liars and people who want to believe falsehoods. These falsehoods are rarely for the greater good or your interests.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
Interesting question (none / 0) (#44)
by localroger on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:13:09 PM EST

There is clearly no "three laws of robotics" thing going on here even though the machines are said to be (and act as if they are) motivated by human needs.

Is this a better situation than the one in The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect?

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

I liked it (none / 0) (#45)
by Gorgonzola on Sun May 04, 2003 at 06:44:06 PM EST

I won't go as far as to suggest this is a classic, because only time will be the judge to that, but I certainly liked it.


--
A page a day keeps ignorance of our cultural past away, or you can do your bit for collaborative media even if you haven't anything new or insightful to say.

Good Story (none / 0) (#47)
by ComradeFork on Sun May 04, 2003 at 07:34:07 PM EST

I generally don't like Sci-Fi, but I like this. Submit this, and get it into the Nebula's or something. Have you thought about writing books for money? :)

this made my day (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by chale on Sun May 04, 2003 at 07:57:49 PM EST

,you'll reach Tristan ahead of us. Maybe they will wave as you pass."

your narrative makes it believable that the Bringer would be just demented enough to actually say something like this.

clarence


When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir

More (4.50 / 2) (#49)
by swifty on Sun May 04, 2003 at 08:43:43 PM EST

Please.

Freiheit ist immer auch die freiheit des anderen.
Excellent! And one question (none / 0) (#50)
by freakazoid on Sun May 04, 2003 at 09:08:33 PM EST

Both this and <i>Void</a> are very powerful stories. I think it's inappropriate for people to be judging them as if they were novels, as they're clearly intended as short stories, which need to take certain literary shortcuts. This enabled me to avoid spending too much time wondering why advanced nuclear reactors would melt down. Meltdown is a charactistic only of very primitive reactors such as those brought about in the rush to commercialize nuclear power to offset the cost of making nuclear weapons.

Anyway, that wasn't my question. It was my impression that galactic radiation could be just as bad as solar radiation. Is this not the case?

Radiation (none / 0) (#57)
by glor on Mon May 05, 2003 at 03:12:13 AM EST

It was my impression that galactic radiation could be just as bad as solar radiation. Is this not the case?
I'll take a stab at this, though I'm answering from intuition rather than from a citeable source. Not sure where to tell you to look to verify this. But you're clever.

The radiation from the sun consists mostly of photons (peaked in the visible light but with important contributions from IR and UV) and subatomic particles like neutrons, protons, and electrons. More exotic objects typically have short lifetimes; the interesting cosmic-ray particles we have on earth, like muons, are created in nuclear reactions in the upper atmosphere.

Galactic radiation will mostly have the same constituents at different energies. There won't be as much visible and UV light since you are far from a bright source. Higher-energy photons like x- and gamma rays, which aren't a big fraction of the sun's energy output but come mostly from extrasolar sources, will have roughly the same intensity as above the atmosphere. The particle radiation will be protons and electrons, by the same argument as above (the free neutron lifetime is about 15 minutes). There will be a difference in the particle energy spectrum since low-energy solar wind particles won't escape the sun or other stars, but I won't pretend to quantify it.

There are also alpha particles. These will act essentially like heavy protons. Positrons won't last long; neutrinos won't interact with matter; electrons and gamma rays I've already talked about. So there are the traditional forms of radiation for you.

So interstellar radiation will probably have more energy per particle than solar radiation, but less total flux since there's no nearby source. I'd be curious to learn if you find other insights.

--
Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Composition of sunlight. (5.00 / 1) (#78)
by vectro on Tue May 06, 2003 at 12:33:46 AM EST

I did some research, and it appears that only about 42% of sunlight is visible, with IR and UV roughly 50% and 8%, respectively.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Thanks for quantifying. (none / 0) (#85)
by glor on Wed May 07, 2003 at 12:23:02 AM EST

Sorry, I was vague. The sun has a blackbody spectrum and is brightest in the visible, though since infrared is a much wider slice of the spectrum it might contain more total energy.

This applet gives a good demonstration of the blackbody spectrum: put the temperature at that of the sun's surface, 5800 kelvin, and you can see that the highest intensity is in the visible, but the total energy (the area under the intensity curve) is roughly equally split between the visible and the IR, with longer wavelengths.

Thanks for correcting me.

--
Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Solar Wind (none / 0) (#60)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 08:38:15 AM EST

We get pretty much the same flux of extrasolar radiation on the Earth's surface that we would in interstellar space; these high-energy particles plow through the atmosphere and aren't affected by Earth's magnetic field. (There is some attenuation by the atmosphere but it's not very great.) This flux also tends to be pretty constant so once you've arranged to deal with it, you've dealt with it.

OTOH the solar wind and radiation from solar flares is lower energy and tends to consist of charged particles which are significantly deflected by Earth's magnetic field. This flux isn't constant; it tends to depend on solar weather and at times it can reach quickly lethal levels. The worst-case scenario for this was illustrated in James Michenor's novel Space where a fictional Apollo 18 turned tragic as a result.

It is worth noting that some places in space would still be unsafe despite being extrasolar, if they are too close to a massive stellar radiation source. I am assuming that the ships in Passages detect and avoid these hazards.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

This made my day better. (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by Iccyh on Sun May 04, 2003 at 09:18:41 PM EST

That is some excellent writing.

I was not having a good day.
Thank you. :)

I hate signatures.
nice (none / 0) (#54)
by gdanjo on Mon May 05, 2003 at 02:16:02 AM EST

I don't read much fiction, but I found your story entertaining. It has a very "spacial" feel to it - ten thousand years to get to one of only three habitable destinations is a mind-stretcher, especially since the journey was solo and without external help or navigation. The story panned this out at the right pace to give a good feel of it's scope.

If there is a complaint, it would be that the narrative is a bit literal. Sometimes a fact or an explination jumps out before I'm even asking myself the question (if computers are like this in the future, I'll hang on to my hammer thanks).

It should be obvious that I didn't accede to Daedalus' crazy plan simply because I was bored; we machines don't get bored. But neither are we designed to be left idle for thousands of years with nothing to do.

Suddenly I had a great deal to do, and I found it quite fulfilling.

As an aside: The absense of boredom seems to imply that machines do not have desire, which means they have no reason to do anything, other than stimuli response - so where does fullfilment come in? How do you design "not to be left idle" without pushing them to do things, or search for things to do?

Good stuff.

Dan ...
"Death - oh! fair and `guiling copesmate Death!
Be not a malais'd beggar; claim this bloody jester!"
-ToT

They have desire, just no boredom (none / 0) (#58)
by zerth on Mon May 05, 2003 at 04:04:53 AM EST

or at least not what humans would recognize as boredom, since they would have been designed to do what we consider boring tasks.  I have felt something akin to this, the urge to just /do something/, that isn't boredom but is still motivating.  Usually at an annoying hour of the morn... like 4am, as it is now:)

Rusty isn't God here, he's the pope; our God is pedantry. -- Subtillus
[ Parent ]
desire (none / 0) (#72)
by gdanjo on Mon May 05, 2003 at 07:48:23 PM EST

I have felt something akin to this, the urge to just /do something/, that isn't boredom but is still motivating.
If you have the urge to do something, but don't do it, what do you feel? Boredom?

I can't see how you can have an inexplicable urge to do something without repercussions if you don't do it. If you can choose whether you do it or not, with no negative consequences, then there's no desire.

Dan ...
"Death - oh! fair and `guiling copesmate Death!
Be not a malais'd beggar; claim this bloody jester!"
-ToT
[ Parent ]

Excellent ideas... (3.75 / 4) (#55)
by adamba on Mon May 05, 2003 at 02:42:39 AM EST

...and a fascinating concept, but while I hate to be the wet blanket here, I think the writing needs work.

I have two basic concerns:

1) The tone. It veers back and forth between colloquial English and elegiac robot-talk. I don't mean between what the Bringer is saying and the human dialogue, I mean within each of those. I find the Bringer's omniscient tone annoying, but that's a personal opinion. But the fact that he/it occasionally descends into regular English is a flaw that needs to be cleaned up. Same thing with Daedalus and Dorn -- it's hard enough to get a fix on a character that you only see through dialogue, but it's even harder when the dialogue does not have a consistent voice.

2) The presentation. As my sister says about writing, "show, don't tell." The story has too much exposition and too little plot. This story is better in that respect than the first one, but still: in the first part of this story nothing happens! How can you hook a reader with that. Of course you have to explain the setting but it should be worked in better so it flows naturally to support the plot, not dumped in a big pile at the beginning (and everywhere else).

I also have some personal nitpicks with choice of words, phrasing of sentences, etc. but those are more minor. The story reads like one that has not been heavily edited after it was written.

I don't mean to discourage you. The concept and ideas are great and there is a wonderful story waiting to be unearthed (as it were) in there. I absolutely love the notion of the ship to which a hundred million years is just something you have to wait out (reminds me of the end of "The Worthing Chronicle" by Orson Scott Card). But I suggest a lot of editing, either by you, or by someone else if you get tired of reading it over and over or feel you can't improve it anymore. That or a co-author. Hey it worked for Jerry Pournelle.

- adam

Oooh, throw down! (5.00 / 4) (#56)
by RobotSlave on Mon May 05, 2003 at 03:02:10 AM EST

Yo, localroger, you gonna put up with this smack?

Come on, kick his ass. Take his sorry has-been front-page fiction ass down. That shit is tired man.

Who got the front page now, huh?

Who got it?

[ Parent ]

Well... (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 08:42:57 AM EST

The tone. It veers back and forth between colloquial English and elegiac robot-talk.

That's because this is a stream of consciousness from the standpoint of an alien consciousness, and I was trying to put that across -- these machines are like us in some ways but very unlike us in others. Thus they use expletives and colloquialisms, but not at the same frequency or in the same style that we tend to. In truth I would imagine that this is a translation into English from some more natural robot language in which these patterns are less startling.

The story has too much exposition and too little plot.

Well, since K5 appears to have a hardcoded length limit of 64K on stories and I didn't want to break it up into sections, I had to keep it short.

How can you hook a reader with that.

Well, I agree it was an unorthodox approach but it seems to have worked :-)

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

opinions (none / 0) (#65)
by adamba on Mon May 05, 2003 at 02:41:47 PM EST

However you designed it, the writing style doesn't work for me. Unless you are being intentionally difficult to read (which I don't think you are trying to be) then you should think about how the reader is going to react, not whether you have a justification in your mind for how it is written.

I was thinking less exposition, not more plot!

I showed "Metamorphosis of the Prime Intellect" to someone else and asked for an opinion. This was the reply: "The stylized feel is one I associate with stuff written by the slightly obsessed, like online fan writings or amateur porn (and even some romance novels) - where doing a really good job of the stuff usually required of novelists isn't really necessary, and in some ways may even be distracting to the core readers. The skill level of the writing is above average for that sort of stuff, if not quite up to professional (or edited) levels." This is the same way I feel about "Passages".

What you do with such comments is of course your own business. However you have talked about submitting "MOPI" to publishers and people here have suggested submitting "Passages" to sci-fi magazines. IMHO, your stories as written will get rejected. So in your own interest (and the interest of k5 fans who will live vicariously through you) I think you should edit the stories more. You said that you had not edited "MOPI" after you wrote it, so I assume you can improve it if you put the time in.

- adam

[ Parent ]

It's Not A Bug, It's A Feature (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 07:10:26 PM EST

However you designed it, the writing style doesn't work for me.

That is an occupational hazard with any writing. I do not write for some hypothetical editor or reader; I write for myself, and I hone it until it sounds right to me.

"The stylized feel is one I associate with stuff written by the slightly obsessed,"

Well MOPI is a story about people who are being driven mad by their obsessions, so duh. While I didn't change any of the incidents that occur I did do quite a bit of editing on the language to get it to sound the way I wanted.

I can think of a lot of very popular books that broke the same rule you are accusing me of breaking here. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (another writer who had a hell of a time getting published for the same reason). Carrie by Stephen King. Nearly everything by Philip K. Dick. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

I write and edit by ear, so what you are basically asking me to do is discard the style I favor in my own reading in favor of one that's more "popular." This might be a winning strategy for publication but it ignores my own value that doing something different is a virtue. Am I supposed to tell the hundreds of people who have told me that MOPI is a classic and one of the best things they've ever read that they are full of shit?

(and the interest of k5 fans who will live vicariously through you)

I would think the fact that I have fans who are living vicariously through me would be the ultimate vindication of my style.

You said that you had not edited "MOPI" after you wrote it, so I assume you can improve it if you put the time in.

I have not changed the plot, but I have spent a great deal of time polishing the tone; I've been re-reading it periodically since 1994 and fixing anything that didn't make me happy each time. The book sounds the way I want it to sound. This is my own taste, and what I would look for in stuff to read myself.

I also consider the fact that one of the letters I got telling me how brilliant it is was from an actual editor at Nan A. Talese to be a clue that I am not the only one who feels this way.

I certainly wouldn't be stupid enough to ignore advice from someone who was planning to put thousands of dollars of their own money on the line to publish my work. But that's the point; until someone has enough faith in the book to make such a commitment, how do I know that their advice is based on an understanding of the story I'm trying to tell instead of some knee-jerk formula?

When you complain that Bringer's narration shifts from the elegaic to the mundane all you tell me is that you don't understand the point I am trying to make. Bringer is not human. In the way we would shift focus from paying the bills to fixing the doorbell, it shifts focus from a hundred thousand year terraforming project to fixing the plumbing in the men's room. Like a human it isn't always in the same mood, and its method of self-expression reflects this.

One of the more interesting quotes in Passage Home is "Perhaps they will wave as you pass." At first this seems joltingly out of character. I almost backspaced it when I wrote it. But on reflection, it really shows the Bringer's true personality; it is very disquieted at having to torment a human as it is tormenting Dorn. But it recognizes the importance of bringing Dorn around, and it reacts to this paradox the same way many humans would -- with black humor. Most of Bringer's other odd shifts of emphasis are similar in nature; they come out when it is surprised, awed, overwhelmed, and otherwise stressed.

I personally cannot imagine what in this style would make it "difficult to read" other than not conforming to normal expectations. Since it's not intended to conform to normal expectations, that really translates into a difficulty with the assumptions of the story, which cannot be "fixed" by editing.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Wait, I understand now (3.00 / 2) (#76)
by adamba on Mon May 05, 2003 at 11:31:45 PM EST

You are the Bringer, k5 readers are the Daedalists. So I must be getting "Dorned".

Did I win? Can I become a better Captain too? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

- adam

[ Parent ]

Finally, someone else got it. (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by RobotSlave on Tue May 06, 2003 at 01:21:45 AM EST

Interpreting this story with Bringer as localroger and k5 users as the cultists makes a lot of sense.

When you add in a bit of analysis of the stupefyingly obvious sexual imagery, some interesting conclusions start to drop out. I've been meaning to post a full exposition along these lines, but I've been distracted by one thing or another.

[ Parent ]

More exposition (none / 0) (#83)
by John Bayko on Tue May 06, 2003 at 06:35:10 PM EST

"When you complain that Bringer's narration shifts from the elegaic to the mundane all you tell me is that you don't understand the point I am trying to make."

Perhaps that could be expressed in a brief note at the beginning. For example here:

It is one of our most painful memories but also one of our most important, so each member of my kind is created with a compulsion to review it once in awhile.
A small note might not be too obtrusive:
It is one of our most painful memories. I think that's the right translation, but it's sometimes difficult expressing things like this so that others can understand. It is painful, but also one of our most important memories, so each member of my kind is created with a compulsion to review it once in awhile.
Or, maybe further down, where the problems interacting with humans is introduced.

[ Parent ]
Startling translation (none / 0) (#79)
by vectro on Tue May 06, 2003 at 12:43:32 AM EST

Well, if the story is a translation from some machine language where explitives are less startling, I'd encourage you to take that into account in writing the translation. If others in the fictional world don't find the statements startling, then we ought not to either.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
very good (none / 0) (#64)
by feyr on Mon May 05, 2003 at 02:12:33 PM EST

i must say, this is very well written. you really get into it. i saw a comment about not having a plot, but not every stories needs a plot, that is just getting on with the mainstream. it's quite refreshing to see stories like this written, no plot, no explosions, just a tale.

Heh! - - > "We forgot to grow food. . . (none / 0) (#66)
by Pop Top on Mon May 05, 2003 at 03:14:49 PM EST

. . . and now we are hungry!"

Poor us! ;-(

Although we dominated the Solar System our off-planet technologies were not concerned with producing food, pharmaceuticals, and the small technologies of human survival.

Pretty piss poor planning, no? Hard to find sympathy for a race of dolts who forgot to take hydroponics into space with them.

Why would they take hydroponics into space? (none / 0) (#67)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 04:05:32 PM EST

There are no humans in space because all the colonies failed millennia in the past. The heavy industry is in space, and the life-related things are Earthside.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Eggs in a basket? (none / 0) (#69)
by Pop Top on Mon May 05, 2003 at 04:35:39 PM EST

There are many ways Earth can be destroyed.

Asteroid strikes are currently popular. Seems to me that putting all your industry in space and all your agriculture on Earth rather obviously invites disaster very much like the disaster that sets up this story.

I guess these people never caught the terra-forming bug.

[ Parent ]

Calling Larry Niven. . . (none / 0) (#70)
by Pop Top on Mon May 05, 2003 at 05:06:32 PM EST

If the people left alive on Ceres, Luna and Mars were smart enough to design and build Bringers, why not build themselves a Ringworld? Right here at Sol?

I have been thinking about what bothers me most about this entertaining story. Perhaps its my sense that the story fails to take into account the consequences that arise from life, all life, being formed from selfish replicators. Baby Bringers might be cool, for example.

Life will engulf and assimiliate every available niche and even after Earth is covered with the black soot of volcanic ash, if humans have learned to live in space, we would still engulf all of Sol System with DNA life forms.

In other words, for better or worse, DNA life really is like "The Borg" - resistance is futile - Gaia will assimilate all.
 

Misunderstanding (none / 0) (#74)
by localroger on Mon May 05, 2003 at 09:37:39 PM EST

The timeline is like this:

  1. Humans build the machines.
  2. Machines bring about golden age.
  3. Human space colonization is attempted, and fails.
  4. Machines colonize space in their own way, without humans along.
  5. Oops, humans go extinct.
  6. Machines decide solar systems are dangerous and start the pack hunter program to find a better grade of home.
So there are no humans alive off-planet; the off-planet humans died or slunk home before they accidentally deep-froze the Earth.

I grant that this is a very pessimistic view and I don't entirely believe it myself, but as I stated in my introductory comment to Passages it was all inspired by the Rare Earth theory and the stupid comment that, if true, it meant the end of science fiction. So the Passages universe is really a SF fan's nightmare; it assumes all the worst-case scenarios about what modalities future physics will permit. The only bright spot is that I gave them strong AI, and that makes sense to me because I personally believe that if we don't do something stupid like blowing ourselves up first we will eventually have machines like these.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

It is very hard for a sequel to top the original, (none / 0) (#77)
by cbraga on Mon May 05, 2003 at 11:59:49 PM EST

but you did it. Congrats.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
Nice story (4.00 / 1) (#82)
by RoOoBo on Tue May 06, 2003 at 04:15:09 PM EST

But I have the same complains than with the first one.

Those machines would be the dream of John Connor (or any other machine-killer), they are (or seem to be me) quite dumb, defendless and a peace of cake to wipe them out of the universe (just compare with G. Benford Machines, they would be wiped out in no time).

And those humans would be dream of Hitler, the Pope or any other kind of dictator or religious leader. They are way to docile (even including those examples of 'rebellion' you talk about). They are way to peaceful, where have gone the mad jihadians, political terrorists and corrupt neocons trying to wipe anyone they don't like? Yes, that would be an image of today humanity, but what kind of humanity are we talking on those stories? But I don't think today's humanity character is that different from a thousand or ten thousand years ago.

One of the main points of the story are humans rebelling in some way or another, but I don't understand how that rebellion is so limited. After years of being wiped out of Earth because of 'bad luck' and bad machine decisions their only way to rebel is to just die all? Any current human group would have taken out (or in any case tried to) those useless rulers (the machines) a lot of earlier. And those machines doesn't seem uberdictators either so they wouldn't be that hard to beat or change their minds.

In any case, I like the story as it is nice and the Bringer black humor is quite refreshing, no more boring HAL9000 mad AIs (although this one doesn't seems quite in its sense either). But I enjoyed more the first part as it has a more complex and interesting (to me) story to tell: human colonization at sub c speeds.



A subset of humans (none / 0) (#84)
by cbraga on Tue May 06, 2003 at 08:12:13 PM EST

All we are exposed to is a very tiny subset of the human population. I think it's safe to assume that for any sufficiently numerous human population, no matter how advanced, there will be always enough docile, peaceful and gulible people.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
The Passage Home | 86 comments (68 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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