Author: Troy Williams

Troy Williams is a technology and science fiction nerd. The Fundamentals, was his first work of science fiction and there are many more stories in The Fundamental’s Universe. At his day job, he is a web and application developer experienced at coding and managing projects as small as an individual’s website to large enterprise integrations.
Heart Breath Mind Cover

Heart Breath Mind, Fail

The promise is simple enough. A data driven approach to the benefits of meditation. The execution is a lot more complicated than the promise and will cost you hundreds of dollars in equipment. Equipment you will use a few minutes a day to calculate a nebulous score. The introduction to Lea Lagos’s Heart Breath Mind Train your Heart to Conquer Stress and Achieve Success makes a big promise:

The breathing exercises and peak performance strategies described in Heart Breath Mind will take you on a journey from merely surviving stress to thriving despite it. A critical part of our work together will be developing your somatic awareness—a heightened consciousness of how your body is feeling—so that you will recognize when you are stressed and can take action to shift yourself out of a state of stress and into what is called parasympathetic dominance.

At the core of Heart Breath Mind is a scientific process to systematically gain control over your heart, rewiring your stress response and unlocking your highest potential for performance and positive health.

Heart Breath Mind: Train Your Heart to Conquer Stress and Achieve Success

I discovered Lea Lagos’s Heart Breath Mind from the Star Talk Radio podcast. I used to listen to Star Talk Radio weekly, but when they maximized ad-revenue by pushing recycled content multiple times a week, I stopped listening. I dipped back in during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. I was happy to hear fresh content. But in my first new episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson downplayed the serious of SARS-Covi-2 and actually encouraged New Yorkers to go out and enjoy themselves. I was listening to This Week in Virology for a month at this point and was sorely discouraged by Neil and Chuck’s sarcastic approach to the pandemic. I had little else to do, so I continued to dip into the podcast to see if Neil corrected himself, or if he had become a mask conspiracy nut job. Eventually he said that he was “following the science,” and downplayed the earlier episode.

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Physics Class

Physics is off the rails.

I spend more time walking circles in the Standing Palms postures than in other martial art practice. I strive for that magical sixty-four circles in both directions for each of the ten palms that make up my daily practice. I rarely get there in a single session. On one especially hot day I sat sweating and panting on the floor with my arms tingling from the fixed postures and read this article: Why some scientists say physics has gone off the rails (nbcnews.com)

The article makes the argument that physics is so in love with the math of their theories; they have not made testable predictions in half a century. I was just thinking the same thing.

In defense of physicists, they have been busy begging for money to test the predictions made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The ones made by Einstein, Planck, Schrodinger, and Heisenberg. If science got the money squandered on athletic departments, those proofs would have come sooner, and humanity would be on our way to another star. Sadly, we are stuck with austerity politics, sexually deviant athletic departments making millions a year, and flat earthers making headlines while scientist are targets for conspiracy theories.

I agree with the article but not for the reasons given in the article. In The Fundamentals Michael Planck says:

“You can clearly see the difference in our approach to science from before the Arabian Impact and after. Before, there were many fanciful ideas about physics and religion that held us back. But after a small rock from space wiped out a billion people, things changed. Concrete resolve replaced fanciful ideas.”

The Fundamentals by Troy Williams

This was my first fictional dig at the popular theories of the day: creationism, alternate dimensions, and multiple universes.

Most physicists would not call themselves a creationist. To which I say bullshit. The big bang theory is creationism. It is a convenience that allows the physicists to sit quietly when a creationist defends their faith in god by pointing to the big bang as the work of god. It is a silent acknowledgement that the money you need to support your department is in the hands of a man who did not read your grant application because he coached his church’s softball team on Sunday.

The big bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model. It explains a lot of things that we can measure in the Universe. The abundance of light elements like hydrogen and helium, the cosmic microwave background, and Hubble’s law (the doppler shift) of galaxies moving away from us.

The big bang theory is not the first time a cosmological model supported the observable through its equations. Platonic solids were the basis for prevailing cosmological models before the big bang theory. As the article notes, Kepler’s elegant equations supported the platonic solids model, but it was wrong.

I spent some time studying cosmologies before I wrote Earth Dragon Canon. The cosmology section of that book was much longer in the first draft. I cut it to focus on the cosmologies important to the study of Baguazhang. As the product of a school system with a creationist lean to science education, the models I discovered surprised me. The Ptolemaic model, which put Earth at the center of the Universe, and the Copernican, which put the Sun at the center of the Universe, were the most familiar. But there were other models just as wrong and right as those two.

For Ptolemy, the Earth was the center of the Universe. He had no tools to see beyond the sky that rotated around him. For Copernicus, the Sun was the thing holding planets in orbit, but all those other points of light hung in the Aether, fixed to their positions. Kepler married these models to mathematics and physics.

What happens to cosmologies when the observable is expanded? They change. New cosmologies explain new observations. I understand the big bang theory, I know there is a mountain of observable data to support it, but I think it is wrong. I think the Universe is eternal. It has always been here. It did not form from something dense and hot or materialize out of nothing. A black hole in another Universe did not create our Universe, and black holes in our Universe do not create alternate universes.

There is the Universe, and that is all. It is, in its own way, a Ptolemaic solution. I stand on a small rock and with the observations of others see a dark expanse filled with trillions of galaxies and trillions of trillions of suns and another trillion to the power of trillion worlds. I see all that and cannot accept that it came from nothing.

I think those observable conclusions to the big bang theory are just as wrong as Ptolemy and Copernicus. I think they are a byproduct of the Universe constantly renewing itself, breaking heavy elements into light ones, and then forming the heavy elements again. An elemental cycle of creation and destruction, not a universal one.

The problem with our understanding is that we cannot see big and far enough to understand this cycle on the cosmic scale. When we can see on that scale, a new cosmology will emerge.

The big bang’s mathematical models require a four or more dimensions. Carl Sagan made the explanation of these extra dimensions popular in the original Cosmos television series. There is a two-dimensional world, flatland, which is visited by a three-dimensional creature. But the two-dimensional beings cannot see the three-dimensional creature, they can only experience a slice of the creature, and—over time— that slice changes so the observations of the creature passing through their world changes.

I think this description fits our changing cosmological viewpoints better than it explains the passage of time or gravity.

Our accumulated knowledge, our accumulated observations, allow us to draw ever more accurate explanations of the Universe. In our brief history, we have not witnessed enough of the Universe to explain it with any certainty.

Physicists are eager to create an elegant equation explaining everything in the Universe. To do this, they have invented alternate planes and alternate universes. Ideas born in our creationist past. Alternate planes are just like Asgard, Heaven, Brahma, or the Pure Lands. Other universes, where the laws of physics do not act like they do here, are the same. These extra dimensions and universes dumped into mathematical formula does not differ from Pluto blaming gods for Troy’s destruction. Yank out the extra dimensions, eliminate the multiple universes, and physics has nothing, not even the beginnings of an equation.

We struggle to explain that which we cannot observe. It is an old Buddhist notion. Our need to influence, or even understand, the world is the beginning of sorrow. We race to create new things, new ideas, new discoveries, without accepting the Universe as it is. Theory consumes us while we ignore the observation. One finger pointing at the Moon.

Keep Calm and Spend Money

Have you done it? Are you so addicted to your smartphone that you downloaded an application to help you meditate? I have, and I didn’t know there was real money in this nonsense until I did. Turns out, Silicon Valley tech investors have found a way to monetize you sitting on your ass and breathing. Monetizing mindfulness is not new. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer have made millions out of the practice. But where the new age gurus of my youth had to produce hundreds of books, spend hundreds of hours recording audio programs, and countless hours in seminars and traveling the world, Silicon Valley did it with an application.

My introduction to this unashamed grab for your hard-earned cash came in the form of Dr. Leah Lagos’s appearance on the Star Talk Radio podcast. Dr. Lagos’s description of heart rate variability (HRV) intrigued me enough to give her program a try. I bought the book and grabbed the recommended application for my Android device. Two days later I was getting emails from the application developer to buy additional features and equipment from their website. I unsubscribed and deleted the application. The $30 pulse oximeter I had bought at the start of pandemic was a better aid for pacing my breathing than for the application.

The application had piqued my interest, however, and I started looking for other breath pacing applications. I remembered when I started practicing sitting meditation how difficult it was to keep my mind on the breath. As soon as I felt the breath, I would worry over upcoming bills, or how I could find more time to practice Tai Chi. If you think a breath pacing application will eliminate your mind effort, you are wrong. While they keep you breathing at a steady pace, they do nothing for your active mind.

Calm, the billion-dollar application that inspired this post, claims to solve that problem with guided meditations. Before the smartphone application, everyone into mindfulness bought a guided meditation tape or DVD. We used most of them once or thrice, then forgot them. Having someone whisper affirmations at you were as helpful as having someone interrupt you every two minutes. Calm is the ultimate collection of those guided meditations, and they want you to shell out $15 a month to have a movie or music superstar interrupt your mindfulness session.

I bought a Fitbit for HRV exploration. I got the cheapest one on sale since it came with a year of Fitbit Premium. Premium includes mindfulness sessions guided by Deepak Chopra and other gurus from my youth. When my free trial expires, Fitbit intends to charge me $10 a month for these two- and ten-minute sessions They will reward me digital badges and congratulatory emails. Too cheap and automated to send me a sticker with a personal note.

As I will relate in my post on Dr Lagos’s Heart, Breath, Mind, Buddhist mantras have a few hundred years’ experience over the smartphone application for taming the mind, but a FitBit can be a powerful confirmation to your practice. I have removed the breath pacers from my phone. Counting in my head still works, and it doesn’t harvest my email address or ask me to purchase new equipment to improve my practice.

The Ettercap are drones cloned by the engaro to become spider like beasts

Spider Beast

Arita swallowed. She sucked in arotea until her stomach ached. She needed the strength. When she surfaced, her fluids sank.

The arotea chamber was not full. A lifetime of eating should have filled it with the life source of the orhatea. She treaded the amber colored liquid to stay afloat. She was as comfortable in it as she was in space.

From this chamber, she could run to the space dock, steal a ship, and escape to Tojisoon. The first step to a successful escape was reconnaissance. She needed to know more of Karey’s plans, so she entered the mental landscape. No point in hiding. Karey knew where she was.

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The Walking Dead Featured Posture

Lockdown and The Walking Dead

“White trash wet dream,” I said to a friend after I started the first season of The Walking Dead. He didn’t get it. Most don’t because themes of post-apocalyptic science fiction are deeper than you assume. Science fiction, though strictly made up, has true things to say about the world. The situation of The Walking Dead is fictional, but it had plenty to say about 2020 America.

A white trash wet dream is a post-apocalyptic world where self-reliance and a trunk full of firearms means survival. A white trash wet dream means no government forcing you to buy a hunting license or drive on the right side of the road. A white trash wet dream has no social order asking you to respect your neighbor’s viewpoint, pay for merchandise, or judge your crimes. In a white trash wet dream, might make right, and right means not being dead.

White trash was a slur for poor white people. Now it is a term for people living on the fringes of social order. For those who are unpredictable, and lack respect for political, legal, and moral authority. Some self-identify as white trash to celebrate the stereotyping and social marginalization of lower-class whiteness.

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Cleaning the Capitol Building after the January 6, 2021 Insurrection

Mellowed links and The Vote

With the impeachment of Donald J. Trump behind us, it is time for reflection on the events of the last month. On any day, I collect more links than I can read in a week. Most of us are like this. Bombarded with information, it’s hard to choose the quality from the click-bait. If I wait a few days, the stuff I thought important in the moment, was just chaff in the wind. That is why I let my reading list mellow. When I return to it, I find most of it is junk.

I am guilty of using multiple systems to keep my links. One Note from Microsoft is an old favorite. It has a browser extension that lets you keep a bookmarked link to the article, or just the text of the article for later reading. I prefer the text only option because I find it difficult to read comfortably with a dozen banner and interstitial ads interrupting my thoughts. We abandon most content on the internet because of those interruptions.

I use an ad blocker to stop the distractions but feel guilty for denying hard working creatives the meager income all that noise provides. Many years ago, Firefox added a reading mode feature that dispensed with the noise and let you return to the ad laden page when you finished reading. I used it religiously.

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Endurance and The Coronavirus

This story, especially in 2020, is important. First, just as an adventure story, like in my science fiction, someone is going to pay the price for the adventure. There is usually a character who will sacrifice their life for the better good. Sometimes, a character will charge into battle to give everyone else a chance to escape.

But in this story, that didn’t happen. With the crew of the Endurance, no one gave their life. No one sacrificed themselves. They all survived.

Now think of 2020. Think of COVID-19, and of the coronavirus, and how we, especially as Americans, have reacted to this pandemic. We didn’t jump into it all together and proclaim that everyone is going to survive. No, that didn’t happen. We didn’t even say, “hey one of you go out there and die for the rest of us.”

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Smoking and January 6, 2021

Leo Tolstoy wrote the definitive judgment on Christianity in his book The Kingdom of God is Within You. You should read it. If you can remain conscious, and mindfully absorb the arguments Tolstoy makes about non-violence, it will forever change your view of humanity. Mahatma Gandhi read it and freed India from the British empire. Martin Luther King, Jr. used it as a mirror to show how hateful and violent white Christian America really is.

America was born with the twin infections of greed and slavery, but its founders embraced intellectualism and science. The new infection of anti-intellectualism—a fundamentalist refusal to acknowledge the world as something other than a fairytale—was the spirit of January 6, 2021.

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Interior of the tansoon generational ship Daisen

The Daisen

The green linen sheet flew off Nic of Tar. He shot off his bed, naked, but ready for a fight. A thought reconfigured his reflexes for optimal reaction times, another thought improved his field of vision to three-hundred degrees. No one was in the room.

He looked out the open window to check branches below and above his bedroom. His stomach turned from vertigo created by the fisheye effect of his augmentation. He canceled the enhancement and marveled at how his perception of the world collapsed around him. Someone slapped him on the shoulder.

With unnatural speed, he spun with his left palm out and open while he tightened his right into an arrow-hand. His left hand caught an arm, but when he struck for his attacker’s throat, he hit what felt like an armpit.

“Ow!”

A window in his vision indicated that a voice analysis had begun.

The attacker tried to pull free of Nic’s grip. He followed the force with a simple toe-in step that should put his back to the attacker. He tested the theory by thrusting up with his right palm. He struck the attacker on the elbow. He toed-out and in, turning to throw his attacker over his shoulder.

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Inheritance

The chill Nic felt was not from the cold wind drying his soaked clothes. His personal augmentations were regulating his body temperature against that chill. He was upset at himself for using the implant in Wad’s brain to restrain his friend. They had not spoken of it on the walk back to the camping wagon, but the sudden glow of the wagon’s lights made Nic feel exposed to his betrayal. He wanted to apologize again. Wad had more important thoughts.

“I should have brought some fishes,” he said as they stepped into the warmth of the wagon’s exterior lights.

“We have food Wad,” Nic said. He had lost his appetite for fish.

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A New Glossary

Sometimes the tool comes to you. WordPress is a robust platform, but it has a few quirks that get under the skin of experienced coders. Everything is a post is a fine model, but after seventeen years you should be able to display those posts in dynamic ways. Sure there are plugins, but WordPress is the platform, and a platform that doesn’t you give the tools for the most basic element of its existence is weak.

With a little PHP code, the REST hooks, and some JavaScript I could extend a theme and build a fancy sort for my posts. That I have to do this is just maddening, and I don’t want to do that much work on my site when I could be writing instead.

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Towers in The Raka city of Mada

Mada

Raksha protected his people at the Bay of Mada. Over millennia the valley had become a city, and the bay a port for sailing ships. In an earlier time, when ice covered the plains of Umaavadan, the rakshoon took refuge at Mada. The mountains surrounding the valley trapped warm moist air rising from NamaUd and made the Kishkha a time to forget old rivalries, study old texts, and share stories of Raksha’s cleverness. Wartooth had been here before, at the Kishkha of Betrayal.

This fortress, this very room, was Baga’s home. Baga was the first raka to gather quarreling families and clans under a common banner. That fight was against the tianshen and their perverse occupation of Raksha. In that great age of the first empire Baga carved his home in the side of the Mada Mountains and, on a morning like this, he stood in this window and commanded his troops in the defense of his home world.

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A science fiction hiberation pod

Putting an End to Hibernation in Sci-Fi

Galaxy crossing science fiction space operas are pure fantasy. Sure, we call them science fiction because they have spaceships and plasma rifles, but there is little science in even the most hard sci-fi stories. The term “hard science fiction” is rather new. When Arthur C. Clarke was writing his novels and fashioning one of the most influential movies of all time, science fiction was still just science fiction. In fact, Sir Arthur’s definition of fantasy and science fiction had nothing to do with dragons or spaceships, but human desires and fears.

Science fiction is something that COULD happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that COULDN’T happen – though often you only wish that it could.

Arthur C. Clarke

When I see a new book or book series promoted as hard science fiction, my gut reaction is that it must be boring. My gut is usually right. Endless exposition on the construction of generational ships, or faster-than-light travel speculation is text ignoring the characters I came to engage. I complained about this dull speculative writing in my review of the Arthur C. Clarke’s work. His masterpieces are his short stories, where limited space forced him to focus on the story’s beat and character development. Anything longer, (Rendezvous with Rama, anyone?) and things became sleepy.

The problem with science fiction is that you can’t have a planet hopping adventure unless you can transport your mortal characters across immortal distances. As a writer of “hard science fiction,” you have three choices: hibernation, warp drive, or a generational ship.

The third option, a generational ship, is the most likely option for human beings to travel the stars. But who wants to read about a hundred years of travel before you get to the center of the story’s action.

For a good story, the second option is the best and does not have to be a warp-drive. Worm holes, space folds, hyperspace, and gap drives are all good options. Hard science fiction ruins it, however, by exploring the time paradox of your hero crossing the galaxy in a few hours, while a loved one and human civilization perishes from old age.

The last is the compromise option. Put your characters in to a deep cryogenic sleep, a generational-type ship crosses the expanse, and your characters wake up to carry-on. Seems a safe bet, but I argue it is the worst option. In my review of Children of Time, I shared how it can go wrong.

This article from universal-sci.com discusses human hibernation and how a deep torpor might be useful for crossing the distance from Earth to Mars. It does not draw any conclusions, but one fact is obvious. No matter how deep you sleep, you age. Which means hibernation is the worst option for a hard science fiction story. Not only did you put your heroes to sleep (boring), they died on the trip to save the world.

Stop with the hibernation chambers already. Sleepy people don’t read books.

There is some good hard science fiction available. All of it ignores the galaxy for our local planetary system. Ben Bova’s twenty-five book The Grand Tour is worth your time, and a study in how to do it. If you can get past the fact that the key to Mark Watney’s rescue, Mars’s thin atmosphere, makes the storm that stranded him impossible, The Martian is excellent.

Fishing Bird

Nic of Tar inhaled the rich, earthy aromas of the mountain’s páramo. The breeze had changed direction, earlier it carried the crisp smell of saltwater. Augmentations in his nasal cavity analyzed the air sample for pollen counts and trace chemicals. A window with the results opened at the corner of his vision. The dramatic fall in pollen from yesterday indicated the freeze was early today.

This planet, Tojisoon, had a single ice-covered continent and a vast ocean. Temperate zones at the edge of the continent supported an abundant and hardy array of life. The tianshen, however, lived on an island near the equator. Tar Mountain, the dormant volcano that formed the island, reached high into the atmosphere, and drove the climate for the island. As the tianshen’s primary source for crops and fresh water, maintaining its climate for maximum yield was essential.

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two covid vials on pink surface

The Single Best What is a Virus Video

After finishing my first episode of TWiV, I realized that I needed a refresher course on viruses. I want to know the basics, without taking biology again.

YouTube is both a cesspool, a library, and my first stop when researching a subject. I have learned to look for older videos YouTube Creators have not repurposed into sponsor driven streams filled with fluff, filler, and sponsors. This video is direct, easy to understand and has helpful animations.

After listening to a month of TWiV episodes, however, I do have one nit to pick, and I think my Hillsboro High School science teacher would agree. Viruses do not self-replicate—they need cells to do that—and they do not infect, they simply exist. In the video the viruses are moving around infecting cells. Viruses do not move. A cell must come to a virus to be infected. That’s why washing your hands, not touching your face, and physical distancing are so important.

Brave New World Cover

Theme in a Brave New World of Coronavirus

I try not to think about theme when I am writing. Falling in that pit is the quickest way to lose a story. In a literature class you were told that theme is what the author is trying to convey, a central idea or meaning to the story. In rare exceptions, that might be true. In truth, authors have no idea what themes will manifest when they start a work. A few will pretend they had a grand design to start, but I never believed it.

I view my writing as an argument I am having with myself. I am not writing to satisfy a theme, but to find one. When I am satisfied with the argument, I know I have finished and I start editing and re-writing to strengthen the salient points.

The coronavirus pandemic makes writing without a theme difficult. Every word you write screams “you have missed the point. What about…” And that list is long, but familiar. The use of technology to control society, consumerism, the dangers of big government, individualism, and daily challenges our worldview are in every headline.

If you run a business in the service or entertainment industry, the facts on how coronavirus spreads are nightmarish. You must ignore them. And you must convince your guests to ignore them if you are going to remain open.

If your income depends on someone spending money on your disposable, but unnecessary, item the pending economic collapse is more than you can bear.

If the idea of a government tracing your movements is antithetical to your political ideals, then tracking you so we trace an outbreak is a violation.

Regardless of where you fall on any of these themes, Happiness and Truth have never been more at odds in your lifetime. These are all themes explored in the great science fiction of the past. 1984? No wrong century. Animal Farm? No, way too political. Brave New World. Hell yea! My guidepost for a coherent, tightly written work that carefully weaves its themes into the lives of its characters is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. And no single chapter in the history of science fiction does it better than chapter three.

Chapter three of Brave New World is an example of world building at its finest. The first time I read the book my fascination with this chapter prevented me from reading the rest of the novel. Chapter Three introduces us to his fordship, Mustapha Mond, who relates the arc of history to a group of students. Interspersed with Mond’s exposition are the activities of some children in the park, Bernard Marx, Henry Foster, and Lenina Crowne. Mond’s broad strokes about the morality of community, identity, and stability play out as routine activities for our characters. Each character is confronted with situations that develop as themes in the story. The flow between Mond’s exposition and the character interaction is seamless. One paragraph is his fordship retelling the fourth world war, the next is Henry Foster bragging about Lenina Crowne’s sexual appetite. “She is very pneumatic,” Henry says after Mond has promised the students an emotionally easy life. Lenina informs Fanny she is spending another night with Bernard. Fanny is shocked. The students write in their notebooks, and Mond continues with a history on the short-sightedness of his ancestors.

“I once had to wait nearly four weeks before a girl I wanted would let me have her.”

“And you felt a strong emotion in consequence?”

“Horrible!”

“Horrible; precisely,” said the Controller. “Our ancestors were so stupid and short-sighted that when the first reformers came along and offered to deliver them from those horrible emotions, they woudn’t have anything to do with them.”

“Talking about her as though she were a bit of meat.” Bernard ground his teeth. “Have her here, have her there.” Like mutton. Degrading her to so much mutton. She said she’d think it over, she said she’d give me an answer this week. Oh, Ford, Ford, Ford.” He would have liked to go up to them and hit them in the face-hard, again and again.

“Yes, I really do advise you to try her,” Henry Foster was saying.

“Take Ectogenesis. Pfitzner and Kawaguchi had got the whole technique worked out. But would the Governments look at it? No. There was something called Christianity. Women were forced to go on being viviparous.”

“He’s so ugly!” said Fanny.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

As you can see, it is not a chapter you take in casually while drifting off to sleep, or quietly pondering the day’s events. No, this work requires some concentration if you are to keep the pace. This is a tightly written novel that expertly weaves broad themes into the lives of its characters.

To this point in the novel we had not met the key characters of the story. In chapter one and two we followed the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning touring a student group through the human embryo production process. Modeled after Henry Ford’s moving assembly line, embryo production is a pivotal aspect of the story.

In this brave new world the Hindu caste system is perfected before birth. Embryos are denied or given vitamins at key markers in their production cycle. Need more Epsilon sanitation workers? Deny a thousand or so embryos some element at a certain meter along the assembly line, and in two or three years you will have all the sanitation workers society requires. Need more Alpha’s to consume production. Add a vitamin here, some extra care there, and you will have thousands of consumers.

“For in nature it takes thirty years for two hundred eggs to reach maturity. But our business is to stabilize the population at this moment, here and now. Dribbling out twins over a quarter of a century-what would be the use of that?”

Obviously, no use at all. But Podsnap’s Technique had immensely accelerated the process of ripening. They could make sure of at least a hundred and fifty mature eggs within two years. Fertilize and bokanovskify-in other words, multiply by seventy-two-and you get an average of nearly eleven thousand brothers and sisters in a hundred and fifty batches of identical twins, all within two years of the same age.

“And in exceptional cases we can make one ovary yield us over fifteen thousand adult individuals.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Henry Ford’s Model T moving assembly line started rolling on October 7, 1913. It produced a new car every ninety-three minutes, faster than the paint could dry on the vehicles. Published in 1932, twenty years into the manufacturing revolution and three years into the great depression, Brave New Word was a satirical stab at H.G. Wells’s utopian novels of the time. As a negative utopia his satire manages to capture a fast-paced future where commercial cheeriness and sexual promiscuity consume personal identity. To prevent anyone from causing trouble sleep conditioning, Hypnopaedia, is applied to each caste so they don’t question their purpose or resent another’s position.

“Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfuly glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Throw away the embryonic production process and concentrate on the lives of our characters and you are hard pressed to find a distinction between AF 632 (2540 CE) and today. Consumerism is the foundation for stability. For consumerism to survive you need some things to be true. You need production, you need consumption, and you need disposal goods and consumers.

“Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches; the more stitches.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Soma is the final ingredient. For the Alpha’s, who can think and create, soma is “Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant.” Oxycontin without the side-effect (not really) soma allows our Alphas to endure their limited place in society. At the top of the caste system, they are all miserable in their own way. Before the end of the novel, even his fordship confesses a desire for a more savage life.

“A gramme is better than a damn,” said Lenina mechanically from behind her hands. “I wish I had my soma!”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The story turns on its central themes after Lenina and Bernard take a holiday on the Savage Reservation in New Mexico. On the Savage Reservation people are natural-born. Sex for reproduction is a profanity in his fordship’s world. On the reservation Lenina and Bernard meet John and Linda who do not have last names. In the World State of two-billion people there are precisely ten-thousand last names given to individuals without family ties, but on the Savage Reservation, where people are natural-born, family names are absent. One point for what is to come.

Lenina and Bernard learn that John is the son of the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning. When Linda requests she return with them to London, they cannot refuse.

“Well, here,” the other went on, “nobody’s supposed to belong to more than one person. And if you have people in the ordinary way, the others think you’re wicked and anti-social. They hate and despise you. Once a lot of women came and made a scene because their men came to see me. Well, why not? And then they rushed at me. No, it was too awful. I can’t tell you about it.” Linda covered her face with her hands and shuddered. “They’re so hateful, the women here. Mad, mad and cruel. …”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Lenina and Bernard’s experiences at the Savage Reservation is one side of the theme coin, the other side is when they return to London, at Linda’s death. Death is nothing in the brave new world. Part of a child’s conditioning is to become unconditioned to death. When John learns that his mother is dying, he rushes to her side where such a conditioning is happening. The group of identical twins’s inability to feel or recognize the importance of the moment is too much for him and he strikes one before berating a nurse. The nurse ushers the children out of the room and orders a dose of soma for them. After Linda passes, John decides to free this brave new world of its soma induced haze and destroys the doses before the khaki dressed twins can consume them. Bernard and Henry attempt to stop John, but not before the incident incites a riot that requires police intervention.

Taken to his fordship for judgment and punishment—no trials in a stable society—the great Mustapha Mond relates, in no uncertain terms, the themes of this novel. Chapter Sixteen if you would rather skip ahead. In the process, Mond reveals his private desires, and how he has subsumed them to serve stability. Everyone belongs to everyone else, and stability is paramount for society. Of course, there are islands and reservations where the rules of this civilization do not apply. Without them, there would be no place to send the reprobate. How awful it must be in those places.

Certain the punishment will fit the crime, Mond executes his sentence, and here Huxley’s genius is at play again. One of our characters accepts his fate, even requests the most dank and dreary place to serve his sentence. Another begs for forgiveness, and, after throwing the others under the bus, Mond gives a reprieve. John begs to return to the Savage Reservation, but Mond denies him because the worst possible place for him is here, in this brave new world. As an ascetic, a prophet, a tragedy.

“O brave new world,” he repeated. “O brave new world that has such people in it. Let’s start at once.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Bedtime stories in the age of COVID: An Introduction to TWIV

This Week in Virology. The podcast about viruses. The kind that make you sick. A refrain I hear more than once a week since I started listening to this excellent podcast all about the coronavirus. No. That’s not right. This podcast is all about viruses; the kind that make you sick.

In late March, I realized my regular sources were not enough to keep me informed about the growing pandemic. At that time, the World Health Organization had not declared a pandemic, but I was calling coronavirus endemic (community transmissions—transmissions that could not be traced to a source of the virus—were common). The legal definitions did not matter to me, I knew we were stuck with coronavirus and the resulting infection: COVID-19, until we get a vaccine. I needed a better source of information.

Podcasts are the best thing since the Internet and—like the coronavirus—they are endemic, but if you want to catch a good one you must look for it. Planet Money was my podcast of choice for the 2008 financial crisis. The daily episodes were brief, but each one detailed an aspect of the crisis that ad-driven, time constrained, media would not cover. I found myself correcting headlines, and that was a good thing.

Some of the best podcasts from that era have become ad-driven profit centers for their creators, others scrape by on the support of their fanbase. TWiV is the later, and that is why you should listen to it.

TWiV started in 2008 to cover West Nile Virus. In case you forgot that one is transmitted by mosquitos. Around episode 580 TWiV started covering coronavirus. My experience with Vincent Racaniello and his regular crew started with TWiV Special: Conversation with a COVID-19 patient, Ian Lipkin which I found with a search of my Spotify podcast feed. Ian Lipkin was a science consultant to the film Contagion. That he had coronavirus and could talk about it intrigued me. New to the subject, I had to pause a few times to search for some terms. Sixty-minutes later, TWiV had me hooked.

Virology is a deep subject, much deeper than your regular sources of information can handle, but there has never been a time like this; when you can hear directly from the experts engaged in the history being made. Every day, for the next two or three years, is going to be a day you could catch coronavirus and possibly develop COVID-19. I know. You want to ignore it; you want it to go away; you want it to be over. I know I do.

I worry more about those around me. Especially those tuned into the death rhetoric of the right. I think it was a week after I started listening to TWiV that Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, suggested that grandma and grandpa would be willing to die to get this pandemic over and let their children and grandchildren get back to work. How sick is that? Have you thought about it? Have you thought about your parent, in an ICU with three or ten other patients, a tube down their throat, unable to speak, unable to move, sedated, or on quantities of morphine that blanks them from reality, dying. Alone. What type of future is that? What would that future conversation with your child look like?

“Well son. When I was your age, my father died of COVID-19. I couldn’t be there to say goodbye because I was working fifty-hours a week. It didn’t matter that I had to be on the job. I couldn’t go to the hospital because they had a thousand patients and wouldn’t let anyone inside that was not positive for the antibodies. So, I collected my paycheck, and thanked my father every night for making that sacrifice. You see son, because of men like your grandfather were willing to die in 2020 the coronavirus is not a big deal today.”

Enough of the cult-of-death. You should listen to TWiV and here is a gentle guide to getting started. A way to catch-up on the important fact as they happened. Of course, you could just jump in at the latest episode. This team is great at what they are doing.

I would start where I did with TWiV Special: Conversation with a COVID-19 patient, Ian Lipkin. The situation has not changed much since this was recorded and listening to these two experts discuss Ian’s health is a treat.

Next listen to the very next episode TWiV 595: Coronavirus update – Daniel Griffin MD in the parking lot. This is your introduction to a doctor working on the front-line in New York. It’s scary, but insightful.

Now that you are familiar with the regular crew you can skip ahead to episode TWiV 610: Coronavirus FAQ many of the answers I had to dig for over the past few weeks were answered in this episode. This one is a lot like going to a town hall where the smartest people in the room answer your questions.

If you want to dig deeper, here are some other suggestions:

Episode 600, a huge milestone for a podcast, but not for the TWiV crew. They get straight to work with another update from Daniel Griffin. Of note, aviation grade oxygen is better than medical grade oxygen. This is important, because hospitals were running out of oxygen, and aviation oxygen was suggested as a replacement. Keep that one in your trivia bucket. You may need it in October or November.

If you are feeling geeky, TWiV 604: Oral poliovaccine to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection is a deep dive into using oral polio vaccine as a stop-gap preventive. Your body making antibodies for polio could have the benefit of preventing a COVID-19 infection. I think I worded that correctly. Maybe not. Either way, who knew?

Mayday’s TWiV 608: Daniel Griffin’s COVID-19 clinical report is an excellent resource. Here are the details of those pulmonary embolisms and some commentary on Remdesivir. So many of the headlines in May have been wrong and if you listened to this podcast on May 1, you would have known it. Of note, Daniel Griffin has avoided the virus. Proof that it is possible to be safe if you have the equipment and take precautions.

Listen to this podcast. I check for a new episode before bed. If there is a new one, I send it to my bedroom Echo. Bedtime stories in the age of COVID.

A close image of Arotea the food of The Fundamentals

A Turn of Harvest

Arita’s fluids quickened as she approached the Amah’s chamber. Orhatea were good at hiding, Tomo were masters of it. The beat her temperature increased, her obsidian shell compensated, covering her temperature spike, masking her presence to the motion sensors hidden in the floor and ceiling.

A narrowing of light along the walls indicated recording devices. Most would not have noticed it, but Arita had trained for infiltration and assassination; spotting and avoiding recording devices was her nature. Avoiding these would get her killed.

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The White Gold Wielder Cover

Dreams and the White Gold Wielder

As children all we have dreams. As infants we lack income, property, and choice and we are fragile and slow to grow compared to the rest of the natural world. As soon as we achieve enough independence to think and wander on our own, society dictates we get an education, attend church or temple, or at least recognize a higher power. Unable to chart our own course, dreams are all that remain.

When I was a child, daydreaming was a sin. A protestant farming community expects the children to contribute. I suppose it is better than the alternative, running and hiding from predators. Never mind that the daydreamers created the civilization and society that now shunned them.

I was a rebel. I daydreamed at every opportunity. A simple garden stake became a great overland vehicle that brought technology and hope to a post-apocalyptic world. A broken frisbee became an orbital platform where the wise retreated from a barbaric horde. A left-over sheet of parchment paper became a map to a world where men transformed themselves into dragons and forbid you to love.

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This Day All Gods Die

This Day All Gods Die

What life is valuable? More precisely, whose life is valuable? Is your life more valuable than mine? Does your position, title, salary, or family relationship make your contribution to this small planet more valuable than mine?

This is not a small question. We ask it in fiction yet ignore it in reality. On this globe, everyday decisions have determined that some lives are more valuable than others.

Last month the powerful cyclone Idai took aim at Mozambique. It promised to be one of the deadliest storms in history, yet I heard nothing about it. Trump being a spoiled brat had plenty of news. The 2020 Presidential field saw nightly coverage. A self-centered egoist faking his attack in downtown Chicago got wall-to-wall coverage.

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Keith Hobson’s -126th Birthday

I do not celebrate birthdays. Despite the convention, you have only one. All days after that are living days. The particular orbit of our planet around the sun has nothing to do with age. Age is biological. If our planet orbited at the distance of Uranus, most of us would never celebrate a birthday. Worse than the birthday celebration for the living is the need to celebrate a birthday for someone dead. As an orbital celebration shouldn’t it be their deathday we celebrate?

Social custom is social custom. For this April Fool’s day, I decided to play along and celebrate the -126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. You read that right, the minus 126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. To be born on April 1, 2145 Keith will witness humanities devastation and play an important role in its revival.

(The  events in The Fundamentals happen 125 years after the Arabian impact. Symmetry dictates that I wait till next year, but screw symmetry.) 

Keith Hobson meets Erin Smart–Keith’s View was not cut from The Fundamentals, but it is missing. This is Keith’s and Erin’s first meeting told from Keith’s point of view. When editing the final version of The Fundamentals I found that I had a few chapters told from minor character viewpoints. That was important for me to understand the story; I had to get inside their heads, but it was not important to telling the story. So, the linked scene was altered to Erin’s viewpoint.

If you have not read The Fundamentals, there are a few spoilers here, but nothing plot shattering. That we have a stranded alien trying to save his human daughter is the tagline of the novel. That Keith Hobson is a telepath who can control electronic equipment with a thought is a spoiler.

Fuck, now I have spoiled the spoiler.

Regardless, this is an interesting look into story development. Reading it two years after it was written, I am surprised how well the scene survived my final edits.

Read Keith Hobson meets Erin Smart – Keith’s View in the Shorts Section.

Keith Hobson Meets Erin Smart – Keith’s View

A Fundamentals Short Story

Keith Hobson sat in the dark and watched the raw video feeds that became the news. Earth Channel One captured the video for storage in London’s DNA data center. The raw footage—kept for historical purposes—was the real news. The EC approved streams that ran over Earth Channel One’s many networks was the news humanity needed to hear.

Earth Channel One was his idea, his and Charles Clark’s. Charles wanted a genuine propaganda wing for Explorer Corporation. He wanted every story—every disaster, every storm, every murder, every fire, every lost child—every detail of local, national, and global life connected with his vision.

When EC One had conquered the news, they manipulated other forms of media. They altered songs, plays, movies, shows, and books to reflect Charles Clark’s view of the future. Public apathy meant they didn’t have to alter older works, they offered new criticism instead; a revolutionary understanding of the past. EC One influenced every bit of media humanity consumed. A greater accomplishment than the Explorer Bridge. Space folding merely transported humanity, EC One had transformed it.

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The Living Fire, Orahi in space

Evacuate!

A Short Story in The Fundamentals Universe

“Evac Protocol.”

The female voice announced through ship-wide speakers and personal receivers. The volume of the announcement cut through equipment noise and ear protection like a woman’s scream, but the voice was calm and certain. The piercing-calm intonations made Robert Lanigan jump, but he didn’t move, he didn’t have the time for this nonsense.

As the Santa Maria’s Cost Engineer for the Economic Comptroller his responsibility was to tag and track every component in the Santa Maria’s blockchain. Evacuation meant damage, if he didn’t complete this accounting, then this equipment would be non-existent. Comptroller Central did not accept non-existence or unaccounted value.

Every centimeter of this spaceship was logged into the largest blockchain in human history. The Santa Maria’s twenty-six years of service, (or eighty-four, depending on how you accounted for the space station orbital platform version of her existence) ensured that she was well documented. This new equipment—loaded for the First Expedition Crossing—contributed to her value. Comp Cent required an accounting.

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Stephen R. Donaldson's The One Tree

Despair and The Long Shadow of The One Tree

Have you been locked in despair for weeks while ignoring events around you? Have you looked up to find that it is a fresh spring day, the birds are chirping, and the air is crisp against your skin, then wonder how you missed it? That is what reading The One Tree is like. It is a deep dive into the character of Linden Avery, a character who never sees the spring day, or understands the events around her because the bitterness of her past consumes her.

The One Tree—more so than the books that went before it—shows the flaw in Stephen R. Donaldson’s writing. Here, at last, I can agree with those that say there is never anything good about Donaldson’s characters. Seen primarily through the eyes of Linden Avery, her miserable past, her inability to experience joy, weighs down this epic tale.

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