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A Science Fiction Novel
Published by Ebor Press/UK in 2000
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2001
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There is a type of science fiction I like to read: set not too far in the future, explores creative views of reality, infuses the reader with a useful philosophy, and pulls the reader through to the end of the story. Examples of this genre that I've read recently are Exit to Reality, The Star Cafe, and Girlfriend in a Coma. And right up there with them is Twillinger's Voyage. Jerry Twill, as he is usually called in the book, is a free-fall roughneck working the asteroid belt when he stumbles upon an asteroid with an attitude, a zini attitude. These small folk, resembling pigmies with fur and large eyes, are galactic citizens that have built counterplanets, that is, zini-made space habitats disguised as asteroids. Twill's discovery of the Z4 counterplanet leads to his being invited in and allowed to decide what to do with the rest of his life.
Will Twill spend the rest of his life trying to escape from his condition of captivity or will he work earnestly towards becoming a citizen of Z4, a Zeefourian? It all depends on how he chooses to understand the situation he finds himself in, and we find out which way he chooses only as the story unfolds.
How does one design an artificial satellite so that it has liveable spaces with gravity and protection from the raw energy of the cosmic waves that will else shorten the lives of space travelers? The design of the habitat is ingenious a revolving habitat that has a relatively flat park area that is over six times its diameter. In other words, by wrapping the rotating habitat area inside the protected rock shell of the faux asteroid's surface, a park over six miles long can be created with a habitat that has only a one mile diameter.
Who gets to use the park? Is it a paradise with free food, water, and lodging or is it a prison? Or both? Who gets to use the city? What kind of government rules Z4? Who is in charge? The answers will surprise you as they unfold in the course of the story.
Are the zini civilized or barbarian? When we encounter an alien culture, how do we decide whether they are civilized or not? We must necessarily use our earth-bound meanings to decide what is true about an alien culture, and it may hold other meanings of the words civilized and barbarian than we Earthians do. If one society is driven by "structured expectations" and the other society by "pure survival instinct," which one would you say is the more civilized? Would you expect the more civilized one to learn from the less civilized or vice versa? Good questions to ponder, and the author gives us ample pondering time as the story develops.
The prime mover of the story is a large iceberg in space called an iceteroid, a solid block of ice, a cubic mile of frozen water, that most precious chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen, a mixture of rocket fuel and breathing gas. Astro is a mining company that is chipping off large blocks of ice from the iceteroid and shipping them to Earth's Moon for a profit. Here a question of physics arises for me: can there be a solid block of ice in outer space where the vapor pressure is essentially zero. I recall when I worked at the Atomic Energy Commission Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge that if someone left a plastic-handled screwdriver in an isotope separation unit, when we broke the unit open after 50 hours of high vacuum operation, the yellow handle would have evaporated completely away. If you placed a room temperature glass of water in a vacuum chamber, the water would first turn to the ice and then the ice would sublimate until all the sublimated water was evacuated by the vacuum pumps until all the water was gone. No explanation is given as to how such an iceteroid could be possible. Perhaps some earlier coating allowed the asteroid's water center to turn to ice and go to near absolute zero temperature so that its vapor pressure was near zero at which time the expansion of the ice broke away the coating. Starting with a body ten times the size of the final iceteroid to allow for the sublimation might account for it. This is a point that something should have been said about by Twill or explained by the zini.
My wife and I just finished watching a movie, The Contender, in which every Hollywood message that I can think of was put into the mouth of the heroine, all left-wing, liberal extremist views. Well, there was one that they missed, but this pointed message of the Left was repeated as a litany by different characters in this book. Here's one example in which a widrin, another galactic alien species, asked our hero if war and plunder weren't "popular occupations" on his planet. After Twill nodded assent, the widrin said.
[page 105] "And plunder? It's a fact, isn't it, that most of the money on your planet is controlled by a tiny fraction of the people?"
Was the widrin talking about money controlled by coercive bureaucracies or by large corporations? The lack of specificity on this repeated theme led me to think the latter were being labeled as plunderers simply because of their success in providing products and services to the market place. One more quaint Hollywood message. One cannot go to a Hollywood movie in which the malefactor is other than a large corporation which is doing bad things to somebody. Hard to find a portrayal of large corporation doing anything good in a Hollywood movie script. And yet the large corporations get large by providing products that people want and pay willingly to have. One might not like cigarette companies, but no one forces people to smoke, notwithstanding all claims to the contrary. To use the word "plunder" to refer to the acts of people voluntarily parting with their money for something they desire to have more than their money calls for a serious stretch on one's credibility.
On the other hand to use the word "plunder" to refer to the taking of people's money in taxes and inflation seems very reasonable. My point is that nowhere in this book is the distinction made between the private accumulation of money volitionally and the public accumulation of money by coercive takings via imminent domain, taxes, and inflation. There is a strong thrust towards the providing of services and products, so it seems a bit strange to me that the author does not spell out which of these he is referring to in the above quotation from page 105.
This following page 106 quotation is about some portion of the United States, referred to as Uspa. It is the widrin, Obilunk, talking here, but later on page 176, we find Twill saying that it is "one percent of the population who owns most of the assets" a refrain that sounds like liberal Democrats arguing against President Bush's across the board tax cut and for a re-distribution of wealth in favor of the poorest and least productive members of society.
[page 106] The distribution of money there is more skewed than in any other country, and its prison population is the biggest. Equal rights are a laugh because the quality of justice depends on how much money you have.
One cannot use the phrase "distribution of money" without raising the question of "how money ought to be distributed" and that leads to the question of "who decides how to re-distribute the money." The answer is that the President, the House and the Senate decides, up until now. And how they have chosen to decide in recent years, rightly understood, has created the very problems that Obilunk decries.
The author takes on at various points in the novel the structure of a space habitat, the structure of current Earth society, the structure of reality, the structure of consciousness, and proffers a view of a better structure of society.
About the structure of reality, he says:
[page 141] The illusions of space and time are the result of objectifying a relativistic multiverse around the interactions of an unimaginably vast and constantly changing flux of individual quanta. To imagine time by itself, for example, according to this view, it helps to think of it as a linear illusion caused by interrelationships among the parallel lives of a staggering quantity and variety of individual dimensional knots.
These quanta organized into dimensional knots reminds me of the unified Bose-Einstein condensates of Danah Zohar in her book, The Quantum Self. [See ARJ.] Here's a quote from my review of Zohar's book to compare with the author's words above.
Evidence was found by Herbert Fröhlich in England of the existence of condensed phase states in living tissue similar to those referred to as Bose-Einstein condensed phase states. Previous to his discovery these were thought to exist only in superfluids and superconductors at very low temperatures. These correlated phase states in our cellular structures, Zohar suggests provide the physical basis for the phenomena we know as consciousness. Like a celestial choir of a myriad of voices (each voice a cellular molecule) we have consciousness. Our very thought exists as the chords sung by this multitudinous choral array. Instead of a motley conglomeration of tissue, heart, lungs, kidneys, etc., we, by virtue of this harmonious ensemble, become one, an 'I'.
There is a widespread confusion about art in our society today, and, as the widrin tells us on page 158, "To be confused is first step toward finding an answer." Rightly understood, true art is confusing, because the essence of art is the destruction of the sameness of form that exists currently in society. [See my essay, "Art is the Process of Destruction".]Since no one is comfortable with newness it is a bit like wearing new leather shoes modern art in every age is uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing, and hard to like at first. On the other hand, art forms that society has already become accustomed to may be duplicated by crafts people and robotic machines to turn out what one can only call kitsch the hollow semblance of true art. Here is an example of kitsch masquerading as art. Rightly understood, works of art may only be turned out by an artist, not a robotic laser cutter.
[page 187] The more expensive laser cutters were capable of decorative cutting that turned out works of art you could eat.
I suggest that true artists would have little stomach for this sort of "art." In the next passage, the author writes in a way that echoes of Gerald Edelman's Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS), one of the best available models for how human consciousness evolves from the tabula rasa of the neuronal structure of the human brain. The author says that one hears a word, an entrance is provided by which consciousness can expand into dynamic electric fields in the brain.
[page 221] When it does that, the original pattern of electrical transmissions will be induced among the cells, invoking a re-run of the original experience on your internal mirror sphere in time present. After you've done that a few times, dendrite modifications will occur, and the re-run contracts into automated recognition.
The "re-run" the author discusses is the reentrant signals circulating in neuronal groups, which like species in ecological niches, compete against each other, with the strongest members surviving to shape the consciousness of the individual member of society. When I read about the "qi" that the zini talk about, I hear it referred to as Zohar might refer to a Bose-Einstein Condensate or Edelman a reentrant neuronal group.
[page 283] "The model you want for yourself has to explain how you come up with totally new relationships."
"So, the qi's job is to set up relationships?"
At this juncture, the author has his characters attempting to formulate freedom by invoking purely material quantum and neuronal effects , something both Zohar and Edelman attempt to do. I'm reminded of Rudolf Steiner discussing how the solar system is described to school children. The teacher puts a drop of dark oil on the top of a water bath and rotates a lever which causes the oil to separate into revolving drops like miniature planets revolving around a central sun. "See," the teacher says, "that's how our solar system evolved." A little voice pipes up in the back. It's Joey, who asks, "Teacher, who plays your part in the creation of the solar system?" The teacher is abashed, flushes red, and knows that her materialistic science cannot explain the big questions of life. Rightly understood, freedom is a spiritual activity, just like the revolving of the planets stems from the actions of spiritual beings that were present in the creation of the solar system.
[page 106] Obilunk rolled his eyeballs. "A field for this or a force for that is no different than a god for this or a goddess for that. Theistic? Materialistic? What difference does it make if you can't unify the whole package? Either way, it's polyistic, and even if some of the pieces might be right, the big picture is a myth."
What difference does it make that we have replaced gods and spiritual beings with fields and forces? While understanding the world as fields and forces may be useful for many human endeavors during the time between birth and death, a one-sided view of the world as nothing but fields and forces can make a huge difference when one assesses the effect on one's immortal self during the time between death and a new birth.
These two explanatory methods are orthogonal to each other. A billiard ball's path may be calculated mathematically, once it begins its roll or its path maybe determined by observing the billiards player and the hovering spirits around her. And no explanation in the one frame of reference will be given much credence in the other, up until now. How does one deal with such irreconcilable differences? One might write a poem.
A Farmerly Quaff
We've replaced gods and spirits with fields and forces .
Wait just a minute! Hold your horses!
We've replaced hocus-pocus with a math-like focus.
We look at plowed fields and calculate the forces of the plow
where formerly we looked at the farmerly human
and his angels who directed the plow.
We may fill our glass with fields and forces,
or with gods and spirits simply
But unless we quaff them both,
Our glass is always half-full or half-empty.
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