Notes On Recent Science-Fiction I Have Read

The following is a short analysis and some of my ideas on the science-fiction novels I have read in the past few weeks. I’ve edited it and removed a few parts that were dealing with future chapters in my stories.

Infosphere/Interstellar Datasphere

One of the great things in Peter F. Hamilton’s book is his appropriate use of computer based technology. His concepts of arrays in the Commonwealth Saga, Prime in Fallen Dragon and Sensevise, Affinity and Datapool in The Night’s Dawn Trilogy are very appropriate for a modern day space-opera, something that some writers seem to put aside. The issues of information access and manipulation can not be swept aside in an age where we rely more and more on the Internet for all sorts of things. The Semantic Web is only the beginning.

But our integration and use of the internet and its successors will be prevalent in our modern day society. It isn’t inconceivable that we will be able to interface with machines in the near future.

Contrary to some writers, I do believe that our starships will be technological in nature and will only become organic in the far future, much like in Babylon 5 with the Vorlon and the Minbari races.

I am confronted with problems; having FTL possible or ruling it out to stay in hard science fiction. I do believe that a network of artificial wormholes will be possible at some point in the future, but Galactic Rim is to near of this technology to exist. In essence, Galactic Rim is a fusion of post-cyberpunk and post-humanistic society.

I’ve been working on some ideas based on astrophysics to alleviate some of the problems in creating a coherent science-fiction universe.

I find that one of the best portrayals of future technology, in the far future, is in Alastair ReynoldsPushing Ice. He is also one of the few writers who seems to be able to portray aliens in a believable manner, i.e. completely different from humanity, on a molecular, technological and societal level. I really enjoyed how he explained the reason of the megastructure and its purpose. Its purpose was to bring alien civilizations together. Since it takes so long for sentient life to appear in the stars, an elder race created technological artifacts. These artifacts would leave the civilizations they observed, and then most of the time, the cultures would send ships to follow them. The ships would get caught in the wake of the artifact and take a voyage through time, far into the future, because they would be traveling close to the speed of light for a very long time. To the crews, time passed very slowly. Outside, relative time passed quickly. This enabled cultures separated by millions of years of evolution and hundreds of thousands of light-years to interact for the very first time, in a megastructure created by the elder race, which was sure to survive a few billion years.

The same goes with supraliminal communications. I find the concept of a virtual world as rich as the real world is tempting (such as in Tad WilliamsOtherland novels), but we are always limited by the speed of light. Thus, interstellar communications will be limited by this speed in hard science fiction, unless pushed into the vast future, like Post Mortem.

This Balkanizes the society of the future and makes the possibility of a galactic empire impossible; there is no cohesion between different sections of the galaxy. This is one reason why I have opted for the posts traveling through the Milky Way on their giant generational starships instead of dwelling on planets.

I really enjoyed how some people, like the head of the Burnelli Grand Family, Gore Burnelli, kept all of the memories of his lives integrated into his current personality. He needed to expand his personality subroutines into his immediate environment, because they were too large and expansive to be housed in his own brain. Nigel Sheldon used something similar; Sheldon is the head of the Sheldon Intersolar Dynasty, which invented the artificial wormhole technology that enabled FTL travel.

But most people chose to deposit their unnecessary memories into secure SI data vaults, SI standing for Sentient Intelligence, the Artificial Intelligences spawned in the beginning of the 21st century and who removed themselves from direct human affairs. They still have influence in the human world, through their agents like Mellanie Rescorai, but do not play the part of a shadow consortium, as I have in Galactic Rim.

Sheldon and Ozzie Fernandez Isaacs created new Restriced Intellligences, which could never attain sentience to aid in administrating large amounts of data and information. I find that the necessity of using an artificial wormhole network important to establish a galactic empire, but not necessary for Galactic Rim. Humanity is on the cusp of trans-enlightenment and there is no ordered galaxy, except for the Fleet, a common military pool of post society. Most of post-human society travels between the stars in giant generational ships, on which they spend most of their lives. They do have colonies and they do have contact with baseline humans, but keep to themselves most of the time. This actually fosters a faster development of technology, because we all know that new technologies will easily appear from conflict and interstellar conflicts.

Lastly, I do see the need of using ‘borgs of all types, from combat cyborgs, to androids and robots. Cybernetic replacements of body parts is an age old thing in science-fiction and was one of the main reasons why I got so involved in Cyberpunk 2020 and other cyberpunk genres.

I find the concept of Prime very interesting as well. Prime was used in Fallen Dragon by Peter F. Hamilton and is a sort of quasi-sentient software, almost sentient in its utility. I believe that it must be close to a Restricted Intelligence in its way of functioning. It is a program that can generate other programs, manipulate them, erase them and replace them. It can learn, thus making it almost sentient. Originally, it comes from Thallspring, where the resistance forms in Arnoon. They use a form of Prime as well, modified or solely created by the star dragon. My guess is that Prime is just a general classification of intelligent or quasi intelligent software, which can be programmed and modified to do a large number of things.

Society

Another one of the great ideas that I have seen in Peter F. Hamilton’s work is his concept of families, of Intersolar Dynasties and Grand Families, a modern day analogue to the Houses of Dune by Frank Herbert, such as House Atreides, House Harkonnen, House Corrino and the Minor Houses which formed the nobility in a galactic empire. He used it to great effect in his Commonwealth Saga, where the biological technologies of rejuvenation and clone replacements worked so that people would have a continued form of existence for all of their biological lives. If they suffered bodyloss, a quantum foam data storage implant called memorycell, which stored and recorded all of their current experiences, would be used to generate the memories of a clone. These memories could be trawled.

It is also important to portray the mosaic of interstellar society adequately. I find that Peter F. Hamilton did this admirably well in the Confederation Saga. I am glad that he plans to continue writing in this universe with his new trilogy. It was very rich and diversified. However, as mentioned before, the cast of characters is way too large. I do not mind long books, in fact I really enjoy 1000 page books, but having 4 pages of characters in the dramatis personae at the beginning of each book in a trilogy is a bit long.

Nevertheless, the society was nicely portrayed. It had its faults and his advantages. It was a beautiful concept.

If this wasn’t possible, i.e. the body was completely lost or unfound; the clone would be infused with the memories of the latest update, thus ensuring a small gap in continuity. This gap for victims of murder was serious and had serious psychological consequences. It is said that it takes one life to recover from the loss of a previous life.

I have used something different in for Fleet Major Bobby Birondeau; I have used the concept of an internal clade, an internal cohort of artificial personalities, generated from the posts ancestors. This would provide support in any case, and since the artificial personalities are sentient but restricted, they would always help the post in the best way, not like the internal cohort of the Atreides pre-born.

Unlike Aena from Endymion and Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons and Aura from Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, I do not want or desire to involve a messianic character. I find that Frank Herbert did it the best in Dune with Paul Atreides, Leto Atreides II and the Atreides pre-born, and do not want to try and emulate him.

In General

One thing that I really have to be careful is to not get overly influenced by my research and the authors that I am reading. It’s good to get inspired, but at no point should the influences be easily detected.

It is hard to stay in the realm of hard science-fiction and not drop into the soft science-fiction, though the presence or hint of a past presence of elder races will make this easier, with femtotechnology and stellar engineering, most of the things that appear in soft science-fiction will be duplicated in hard science-fiction at some point. I do not plan on using aliens as a plot device. Just like Revelations Space, I plan on using hints of past races in post-humanity, nothing more.

Some of the more recent novels I have read have some faults. The aliens in the Commonwealth Saga aren’t that interesting. The way that the paths of the Silfen were revealed to Ozzie wasn’t that great either, and I am a bit doubtful about the feasibility of sentient wormholes, even with very advanced stellar engineering.

The cast of characters is too large and their portrayal is too perfect; they do not have enough faults to make them seem human, only perfection in their being and the execution of their tasks.

Though I did enjoy the Kiint in the Confederation universe, in which the Night’s Dawn saga took place. The Kiint have established a civilization that has endured for a long time, being close to what Minbaris where to humans in Babylong 5.

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1 Response to “Notes On Recent Science-Fiction I Have Read”



  1. 1 Computronium « memoirs on a rainy day Trackback on June 3, 2009 at 11:24
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