Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Eden's Endgame proofs arrive

The proofs for Eden's Endgame arrived last night, so I have about five days to read it one last time. It's been through seven reviews already so I suppose I should relax. It's a tricky time, however, as there is always a temptation to change a few things here and there, but there's a danger of making last minute edits that alter the sense and mood built up over the past two years. So, best to read it with arms folded and that red pen just slightly out of reach.
In any case, as any author would be, I was thrilled to see it looking like a book, although I've not yet got the full cover and back of the book.
One of the aspects I like most is the font used for the front cover, inside page and chapter headings - it's called Neuropol. I first came across this font when it was used on the front cover of books 2 & 3 (Eden's Trial and Eden's Revenge), so it is great to also see it inside the book as well. It has a real scifi feel to it.
The book is in three parts relating to three characters: the alien being Kalaran, and the two human protagonists Blake and Micah, though there is a strong flavour of Louise throughout the book; in fact it begins with her back story and explains the trigger event that started WWIII back on Earth, before the opening of the first book The Eden Paradox.
The reviews have all praised the action and the scifi aspects of the book, and it's relentless pace; here's what science fiction author Mike Formicelli had to say about it, which will end up on the back cover:
From start to finish Kirwan hits hard and doesn’t let up. Eden’s Endgame is the bold conclusion the Eden series deserves! Mike Formicelli, SF author of the Blood Siren series
(Thanks Mike!) 
As usual with this series the plot is multi-layered, following three main arcs: the galactic war led by the alien Kalaran (supported by Pierre and Jen in particular), the defence of mankind's new home Esperia led by Blake and Petra, and the rescue of the hostages from the Alician homeworld led by Micah. Needless to say for those who have read books 1-3, these arcs and the surviving characters intersect toward the end of the book.
Piker Press reviewer Lydia Manx has this to say about the book and its structure:
The different levels of Endgame are like multi-layered chess – just when you’re devouring one side of the board you need to switch focus as heroes are lost and villains challenged. I never wanted this series to end!  Lydia Manx, Piker Press
(Thanks Lydia!)
Ok, gotta go, I have some reading to do...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Eden Paradox's first fan fiction - the Hohash

One of the alien characters fans most talk about is the Hohash. SF author Gary Gibson said he found these hyper-intelligent artifacts one of the most intriguing aspect of the series. The Hohash first appeared in The Eden Paradox. Both their nature and function are initially unclear, except that these autonomous alien artifacts seem to have taken an interest in the plight of humanity. Here is where the Hohash first appears in the book, as encountered by Blake:

The hatch opened, and a pulsing electric blue light washed into the room. Blake gaped as an oval object, half a metre in diameter and about Rashid’s height, drifted into the compartment. Its surface at first reminded Blake of the purple and blue ripples sometimes seen on an oil film stretched across a circular wire frame. Rashid kept his pistol trained on Blake, his arm not quite steady.
To Blake, the intruder resembled a mirror, but with a fluidic surface, fractal images swirling, almost taking shape, but not quite. He was unable to focus properly on it. Around its circumference was what appeared to be a tube of gold-coloured metal, about the same diameter as a handrail. It hung thirty centimetres above the floor, all the time emitting a faint sound of water trickling, like a small fountain. It stopped next to Rashid, and then oriented itself towards Kat. Blake realised this had to be alien in origin: not even IVS had anti-grav technology. 

Throughout the next three books the Hohash act as a portal for some of the key human characters (in particular Kat and Pierre) to understand what is going on. It becomes clearer that the Hohash have a pivotal role to play in the ensuing galactic war, though this is not revealed until the end of the final book, Eden's Endgame.

The following short piece on the Hohash, traveling in a space ship with some humans, was sent to me by Ruth Oliver, and is not linked to the timeline of the books. It has some interesting ideas about the Hohash, and their perspective on humanity, and even how they regenerate...

The Hohash allowed a small part of its vast processing ability to leave the confines of the current task and, as these primitive creatures it was currently serving would say, to ‘wander’. The creatures were called humans. They did not require a huge amount of the Hohash intelligence to be used for their rather chaotic needs. The Hohash zoned out from considering them further. Life could be interesting, especially for a species that had travelled numerous universes and had an indefinite life span.

The Hohash briefly checked the background chatter that it was receiving and storing continuously. All Hohash were connected, all the time. One of their prime functions was to record, and so they did. Wherever they were and whatever was happening, this was relayed to all other Hohash and recorded simultaneously throughout the network. Some Hohash had, over time, found themselves (through no fault of their own) embedded in rock where planets had collapsed, or were with their deceased masters aboard drifting space ships in Transpace. It happened. The Hohash as a unit didn’t sweat the small stuff. They all had interesting things to observe even if their own surroundings were rather dull and unchanging.

There was a sudden peak in the data stream from one particular Hohash, in a universe far removed from the one where they had all been created. The Hohash pondered that it would struggle to describe the designations of any individual Hohash to, for example, these humans. When conversing in subspace harmonics and fluid Transpace things became rather too complex for simple speech.

The Hohash considered what its own designation would be (‘name’ seemed rather out-dated and quaint). The nearest it could find would be “Beige Splash”. It wasn’t entirely sure if the words would carry particular meaning or connotations to the humans around it (and as Hohash had not managed to get any understanding from humans when they attempted to communicate the particular sound and light that encompassed their ‘names’, it did not spend too many nanobytes worrying about this. The peak of activity had come from the Hohash designated Pink Stripe. It seemed Pink Stripe was on a ship being sucked into a black hole. All the crew were in panic but Pink Stripe merely observed. Such was the role of the Hohash. Of course they did other things as well: their ability to connect space in novel ways allowed them to provide a method for species to communicate over vast distances via holographic projections. The Hohash could even remove individuals from the ‘normal’ space-time continuum (whatever that was within the universe at that time) to enable time to be stretched, shortened or just generally distorted in whichever way was required in that instance.

The Hohash allowed its focus to return to the current humans it was serving. These slightly odd, rather primitive organisms were not taxing its abilities. Still, somehow there was something rather endearing about them. Beige Splash noted that they had resilience, and a general high level of stubbornness, refusing to give in to the inevitable conclusion of their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it existence. Take this current human. Flint seemed to be the name he was referred to by the others (again, “he” was a notion that struck the Hohash as rather quaint, given that the majority of advanced organisms soon did away with gender, eventually doing away with procreation as well, as they advanced and their lifespans elongated. The Hohash themselves were untroubled by such issues). The Hohash turned a nanoquint of its processing power over to observing Flint and the current situation.
An argument was progressing, and the images that it had been streaming all this time to Flint and the other humans seemed to be the cause. The images being shown were of a fire spreading rapidly around the equator of a planet some three million light years to starboard of the location of the ship they were all aboard. Quite why the burning, or indeed the planet itself – one of a cluster around a red dwarf that would only be in existence for a further million years – should excite the humans was not clear. But it was certainly keeping them animated.

There were other undercurrents that the Hohash was highly aware of but that the humans seemed oblivious to. Beige Splash had noted, as had other Hohash, that humans seemed rather preoccupied with mating. Large amounts of time and effort were spent in securing a mate, and the mating process itself. This frequently occurred when mating was mis-timed so would not produce offspring, and even occurred when one or both humans involved were taking steps to prevent offspring being produced. This was totally illogical and a waste of time and effort, as far as the Hohash was concerned. Far from optimum. Still, that could be said for many of the practices of humans.

Suddenly one half of Beige Splash’s neural nets flashed to attention. A message was being received from the Hohash home universe. All Hohash continued their usual monitoring and recording and other activities, but in all of them over half their processes now snapped to focus on the incoming data stream. The information portrayed within the burst of light, radiation and harmonics would have caused instant death to a large number of the organic species the Hohash had met through the aeons, overloading their more primitive information-processing capabilities before they would be aware of what was happening.

The Hohash had been associated with the Kalarash for millennia. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement and had led to them generally being considered to be the property of, and created by, the Kalarash. Only the Hohash knew the truth, and they weren’t about to disillusion anyone, least of all the Kalarash, who seemed convinced of their own mastery of them anyway.

Beige Splash considered the information coming from the home universe. This might require more processing power than was currently available. In a picosecond Beige Splash rerouted non-essential activities to provide the required power. Hohash were recorders. Their purpose was not entirely clear to other organisms but many had deduced this aspects of their role in intergalactic (and indeed, inter-universal) relations. But there was more to it than that.

The images being streamed from the planet had lost interest to the humans, and Beige Splash was alone once more. It decided this might be the opportune moment to disappear. The surrounding view of the interior of the spaceship began to fade and take on a silver sheen, quickly vanishing. In its place the Hohash observed stretching black space, the only sign of possible movement or activity a series of spinning lights in the distance in all directions. This process always made the Hohash slightly disoriented, which is why it was a mode of travel only reserved for times of need. The Hohash noted the lights begin to slow their spin, and the black faded slowly to grey and objects became visible again. It was now standing on a vast platform, floating in pink and grey swirling clouds of gas. The Hohash home universe operated on such a different plane to the human one that Beige Splash paused for a second to wonder what the humans would make of this. Not much, it concluded, seeing as the radiation levels would have caused instant death, not that they would have survived the transport here. The Hohash focussed on what had brought it here. The Call had gone out. A Splitting was coming. 

The Hohash had evolved as a machine-based race here on this planetoid. The rules governing space, time and physics were completely different here to those of the other universes they had travelled to, but one thing they had realised early on was that clear logic and optimisation did not always achieve the best solutions. For all their inherent weaknesses, the carbon-based organic creatures of the human universe had managed to survive precisely because they were *not* always purely logical. Many machine races had evolved in the various universes and all had been wholly focused on spreading and conquering. Consideration of the future was not logical and so had been ignored. The Hohash had bucked this trend. They saw that a bit of chaos could actually achieve, at times, what pure logic could not.  This had allowed them to integrate into the societies of many beings, in many universes, and to assimilate the knowledge gained to enable them to grow and develop.

A Splitting was a rare event but was necessitated on occasion when Hohash had been destroyed - they were admittedly quite hard to destroy but it did happen from time to time. Beige Splash surveyed the platform where it had landed. There were 53 Hohash in attendance: the number required was not specified and depended on where each Hohash was located when the Call came. Some of the Elders were there, so old their frames were basic and unadorned, their surfaces pitted and in many cases cracked. Others showed the scars of injuries – missing corners, dented frames, and one had evidently had its face melted by some weapon, judging by the deformed streak down the edge of its face, which resulted in the images it projected being distorted in and around that area. Beige Splash itself was still relatively new and undamaged, having only been in existence for eight million years.

The Hohash arranged themselves so that all were facing centrally to where a pillar of solid black stood. Once they were all aligned they became still and their faces went blank. The black pillar began to rise and elongate out of the surface of the platform until it towered over the Hohash. Tiny lights began to flash in patterns around and over the pillar. The Hohash remained perfectly still and simply observed. With a sudden burst of radiation the pillar imploded and then exploded in all directions. The fragments of the pillar flew straight through the assembled Hohash, smashing their screens and blasting apart their frames. A plume of black spread in all directions from the platform.

As one of the assembled Hohash, Beige Splash did not feel any pain (that wasn’t really a Hohash ‘thing’), but was aware of suddenly being no longer a single entity.  There were huge energy surges in all circuits and the radiation levels were the most intense it had ever experienced.  Those thoughts faded as the parts that had once been Beige Splash began to operate independently. As the black plume dispersed into the clouds swirling around the platform, particles began to rain down from the clouds. The clouds themselves grew thicker and colours flickered through as the rain grew heavier. Where the particles fell, the smashed Hohash absorbed them. Over the space of a few minutes, the ruin of the Hohash was transformed and the rain eased and stopped.

Where previously 53 Hohash had stood, now the platform was covered in new Hohash. All carried with them something of the identity of their previous existences, but were already forming their own identities. One piece that had once been part of Beige Splash recalled the task that it had been performing before the Call. The frame of the hohash expanded and changed, until it resembled Beige Splash almost completely, except for maybe being a little cleaner and shinier than its late progenitor. The Hohash took in the scene around it, and then realised it must continue the mission. The platform faded from view and it shortly found itself on the bridge of a human space ship. Information circuits racing to deliver the required information, the Hohash observed a human (male, apparently) approaching it. 

‘Ah, you’re back’ said Flint ‘been anywhere interesting?’.

Thanks Ruth!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Interstellar & the Goldilocks Conundrum

I watched the movie Interstellar yesterday, and it got me thinking about Earth's survival prospects and the likelihood of finding and reaching a habitable world.

First - the film. I enjoyed it, some fantastic visual sequences rivaling Gravity, a good plot, a director willing to address relativity and its consequences (including - hallelujah - making it clear that relativistic effects only work forwards - you can't go back in time), and realistic characterizations (including the dark side of humanity). It's longer than it needs to be, mainly towards the end, but given everything else I'd rate it pretty high, especially given the lack of good science fiction films lately.

Next, the issue of finding a habitable world, should we need one - and let's face it, we probably will in the next century, because our planetary 'governance' sucks, big time. In the past few years, people have gone from wondering if there are any other planets out there to being told there are thousands, millions, perhaps, because the galaxy is - as author Douglas Adams used to say - really big. Only the other day came the news and images of a star and a planetary system forming (HL Tauri), 450 light years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus.

The question is whether any of these planets are in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, i.e. not too hot or too cold, containing water and oxygen, and being of similar size - and hence gravity - as Earth.

What the film depicts pretty well, is that even if we find planets in that zone, they might still be pretty inhospitable, without many resources or crop-sustaining soil. And here's the conundrum. If we found one that was not only in the zone, but fertile, then it's likely to already have indigenous life forms, perhaps intelligent life. Recall that the beds Goldilocks slept in belonged to someone else. This means that by the time we find a habitable world, we might be very desperate, in which case we might be the invaders trying to steal another world's resources. I always find it kind of funny that we're the ones whose planet is being invaded rather than the other way around; okay, Avatar is a good exception (this idea of us being the 'bad guys' led to me writing a couple of short stories from a darker human future, the Sylvian Gambit and Executive Decision).

The second problem is getting there: even if we spied a pristine world, it would take centuries, if not millennia, to reach it, unless somebody makes an amazing discovery or an alien visitor shows us some neat tricks that change our understanding of the laws of physics. Interstellar uses a wormhole, and in a nice touch the wormhole itself - conventionally pictured as a funnel - is a sphere, which seems to make sense, and in any case makes for fab visuals in the film. But even if a wormhole could exist, would it be stable, and would we survive the trip? There's a nice discussion on this here, in relation to the film.

I only make use of wormholes in the last book in the Eden Paradox series, Eden's Endgame, and even there, no organic matter can survive the trip (whereas machines can). Humans would get fried or ripped apart by gravitational fluctuations, which is what the scientists seem to be saying.

So, where does that leave us? Anchored to Earth for many centuries to come, assuming we don't literally blow it? Destined to die along with Earth if we go too far?

An aspect of the film, also present in the Eden Paradox, is that in the near future, for various reasons, civilization turns away from science, since science ends up causing a lot of our future problems. But as in Interstellar, this is a self-defeating path, since if things go bad, science may be our only way out.

In the movie, there is a Plan A, and a Plan B. Both involve giving up on Earth. Clearly, we need a Plan C.

© Barry Kirwan |
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