Saturday, 17 January 2015

Scifi to make you think...

I had a recent review of Eden's Endgame on Amazon, entitled 'Scifi to make you think'. I was pretty happy with this one as the entire series has been posing certain questions, amongst them the ones the reviewer posted:

  1. What is “intelligence” and does it guarantee survival?
  2. What sort of beings may have populated our Milky Way galaxy before mankind?
  3. Do we already have “aliens” hiding in our population?
  4. Can humans accept the mutation of their children – an upgrade – into new and “better” creatures?
  5. Could mankind live with a race of superior machines or is a deadly organic/inorganic conflict inevitable?
  6. What sort of life might exist in the dark matter between the stars?
  7. What lies beyond the black holes?
  8. Does humanity matter? Could we be reconstructed?

The whole four-book Eden Paradox series has the first question as an underlying theme, the first three books seeming to answer 'yes', but it is only when the reader reaches the last book that it become less clear that this is the case. The questioner is usually Pierre, himself a scientist, who has spent his entire life believing the answer to be yes, who only starts to doubt at the end. Probably like some scifi readers, I'm also scientifically trained, and grew up
watching Star Trek's Spock and assuming the answer to be yes, but lately I'm also not so sure...

The second question is answered by the twenty or so alien species I've used to populate the 'Eden Universe', from organic to machine-based organisms to those we're really not sure about (e.g. the Hohash). The aliens (see a glossary here) live in an ordered society called the Grid, and each has its place, giving  the books an overall 'culture', one in which humanity finds it difficult to integrate. The trick was to make them really alien, not simply human-shapes with deep forehead ridges (as in many scifi TV soaps).

The third question - well, I don't to give away too many spoilers, and anyway, as readers of the Eden Paradox know, it's not quite that simple...

The fourth one is explored in Eden's Revenge. Scifi author Sophia McDougall reviewed an early draft of this book for me, and asked me to go deeper into the psychosocial impact of genetic upgrading, too often brushed over in SF works or series. So I did, and it continues into the last book, where humanity is once again faced with a 'Genning' dilemma.

The inevitability of conflict between a Machine race and 'organics' has been dealt with many times in science fiction. In Eden's Endgame, where the Machine race the Xera are reanimated and once again threaten the galaxy, I took a slightly different take on it, by having one of the characters merge with the Machines, giving up his humanity entirely. He then becomes schizoid inside the Machine's emergent consciousness, and plays a pivotal role in the ensuing conflict. But is such a conflict inevitable?

In the last three books, Eden'sTrial, Eden's Revenge and Eden's Endgame, I go far beyond 'known' science and speculate about inter-galactic life. If you want to get a taster for this, read the excerpt from Eden's Trial here. This chapter is rather different from the rest of the book, and is in many senses a 'mini-prequel' for books 3 & 4.

What lies beyond black holes? Well, they are called a singularity for a reason. But in the last book, Eden's Endgame, again I speculate as to what really lies beyond them. I also explore and discount wormhole travel as too dangerous and unstable for 'organics' (like us). This last book gets a bit more 'cosmological', because it has to, as the enemy is trying to destroy our galaxy... Hence one reviewer referred to the book as 'Galaxy-busting'.

Does humanity matter? The title of the last book uses the chess metaphor, but as readers will know, humanity is a pawn on this chessboard. However, as one of the characters notes, in chess a pawn can take down a king...

One question not mentioned so far, is how superior aliens would judge us? This is the central theme of the second book, Eden's Trial. We have war in our heads, we commit atrocities against each other and our planet - what would more 'cultured' aliens think of us? Would they believe we are galactic weeds that should be culled, or think there was something about us worth saving?

As in most science fiction, even when an answer is supplied in the books (e.g. when necessary for plot advancement or resolution), the reader can still ponder the questions, and think otherwise, or simply, 'But what if?' This is what science fiction is about, using future landscapes to make us consider who we truly are, and what we might choose to become. Scifi is there to make us think.

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