Friday, 22 November 2013

How would humanity fare in a galactic trial?

When I grew up my first moral influence was actually Tarzan - he was a good guy living in a jungle full of animals who were okay - if dangerous - and humans, who were often bad, deserving their murky death in quicksand. Then along came Star Trek, where humans were mainly the cause for good in the galaxy, and aliens usually weren't. Then I'd read the newspapers, watch the news on TV, and wonder which of these visions of humanity was most accurate.

In Star Trek Next Generation (ST-NG), humanity is put on trial several times during this epic series, right at the very beginning, a couple of times during various seasons, and right at the end, by the advanced alien 'Q', played by the irrepressible John De Lancie. Less patronising than its predecessor, ST-NG never lets humanity off the hook - the trial is never actually over.

It was no coincidence therefore that I addressed this in my science fiction series. In the first book, The Eden Paradox, we encounter a vicious alien race, the Q'Roth, and come off pretty badly. Injustice, you might think. But when the matter is brought before a galactic court in book 2, Eden's Trial, the other races don't necessarily see it that way; they have different value structures. They are alien...

I suppose I was influenced by Greg Bear's Hammer of God / Anvil of Stars duology, wherein Earth is attacked, and in the second book mankind heads out to find out who exactly attacked us, why, and of course to exact revenge. Bear's concept was also brilliantly depicted by Stargate Universe: in the second (last) season, they encounter attack drones who relentlessly seek out and destroy sentient life (the image at the top of this blog).

But even if aliens did have a similar sense of justice to ours, how would we look to them? As a race, we kill each other a lot of the time, and we have staggering gradient between rich and poor, for example, and there is always a war going on somewhere, not to mention corruption, a whole spectrum of injustices, etc. etc. Why should an alien race care about us or our planet when we don't seem to?

In the trial in my second book, one of the characters is interrogated by an alien inquisitor; not by asking questions, but by going inside his mind. That's what you'd do, right, if you could, because then you avoid all the lies, even the ones we tell ourselves. Midway during the interrogation, the character realizes his mind maybe doesn't present the best case for humanity...

Micah had no body. His mind floated like a two dimensional sheet of plazfilm, flapping on the winds of a featureless emerald space. He heard sounds: his own voice, as a child, as an adult. He perceived other sheets drifting, slip-sliding in the windless space like a dropped sheaf of paper, each one containing a scene, a memory, voices, people he knew, things he’d seen, things he’d said, more than a few he wished he hadn’t. As they tumbled, he knew the Tla Beth had complete access to his mind and memory. There was no question of lying or even trying to hide anything. He heard his mother crying, his father raging at him when he was a kid. He saw again the aerial nuclear detonations over LA, his younger self sprinting for the shelter to beat the vaporising blast wave; huddling there with his mother when he couldn’t stop shaking; his father calling him a coward; Louise about to kill him; Antonia; Sandy… He wrenched himself back from it all. It was too easy to drown in his own life. His Optron training helped him. He took the astrosurfer’s viewpoint, and witnessed thousands of sheets peppering the green sky: a man’s life dissected – his life.
He discerned a common thread in the Tla Beth search strategy: Micah had always been a misfit as a kid, had hated his father, and had been a bit of a geek during adolescence. In the defence case for humanity, his head wasn’t the best brochure available.
            Abruptly he was back in his body, in a white space. He was standing on something but couldn’t discriminate between floor and space and wall: everything was solid white. A figure emerged and walked toward him.
            “Oh no, not you,” he heard himself say, as an image of his father approached, in his grey military uniform. At least he didn’t have that disappointed look plastered across his face.
            The image of his father spoke. “We see in humanity destruction, greed, conflict, injustice, and other disharmonious emotions associated with Level Three and below races. Such comportment is dangerous for the Grid Society. The Grid Council, chaired by the Tla Beth, sanctioned the Q’Roth request.”
            Micah knew he had to remain as dispassionate as possible; anger would be a fast-track to humanity’s final demise. “Look at our technological achievements, our advances, they –”
            “Are dangerous without mental and emotional discipline. Why is humanity worth saving? You don’t seem to believe in it yourself, Micah.”

It's like in one of my favorite scifi films, Contact: if aliens came a-knocking, they might not talk to Presidents and the like, they might just pick one person, like you or me, and then make up their mind about us all. So, if they picked you or me, what would they decide about humanity? 
So, how does humanity come off in Eden's Trial? Well, let's just say it's not the end of the series, and perhaps like Q's judgement in ST-NG, they're never quite let off the hook.            

The Complete Series:
The Eden Paradox
Eden's Trial
Eden's Revenge
Eden's Endgame


  1. Why are there never any comments in these blogs? I assume there must be quite a large readership judging by the regularity of Barry's posts. To get the obvious out of the way, the books are fucking fantastic. Cheers mate.

    1. A very good question... And thanks for the compliment :-)


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