When Biology Bifurcates

I am taking the train to Rhode Island… the windows show me winter-burnt fields, rivers, and the stripped pillars where a bridge once stood. On top of those pillars that supported the planks of the bridge, bushes and trees grow. Life must be reborn even in the structures we leave behind.

I spoke to the Sci Fi Council yesterday about Ursula’s book, and I was filled with enlightenment and new understanding. Saul, the resident space anthropologist, pointed out the nuances of Ursula’s voyage through winter- the way she juxtaposed enlightenment from the Ekumen, mostly based in technology, and that of biology, based in the sexless Winter race. Though the envoy Genly arrives with the idea that Winter has a lot to learn from the Ekumen, he leaves with the new understanding that we have a lot to learn from the way of life on Winter.

Ursula’s thought experiment about sexless planets teaches us that ambiguity may bring discomfort but also new understanding, which comes sometimes through persistence and immersion into a culture.

The Sci Fi spent time talking about transgender issues and the signifiers that reassure us of our binary world.

“Why wear a ring on your right ear? Does that mean you’re gay,” people often ask me.

I always think, Does a ring tell all. Have I been shipped back in time or do we still place such importance on jewelry placement.

Or how about this statement: “The first time I met you, I thought you were gay.”

When I ask people what made them think that, they always shrug their shoulders and give some vague answer: “I don’t know. Something about the way you talked…”

For being written in 1969, the year of hippies and Civil Rights, Ursula was surely ahead of her time. To imagine a world without the stringent rules of ours deserves respect and honor. It is hard to describe how much the book still resonates in our America, where we yearn to be post-race, post-sex, and post-orientation yet are still trapped in the biology that bifurcates our ways of thinking. Male, female; Gay, straight; white, black.

Sci Fi Book Club: Embassytown

The Sci Fi Council gathered at the multiverse way station between universes, where thousands of ships have come to watch themselves in other lives, no more significant or insignificant as their own. We have chosen a new book to read after having a lengthy conversation about Ursula. We have chosen China Miéville’s Embassytown. I will keep you posted on what we see at that multiverse weigh station.

…And I’m sorry for being MIA these past couple of weeks. I just finished a manuscript for a novel about religions in the future. I am entering my revisions and hope to have a finalized version by the spring. Perhaps if I see that another Ale in one of the universes is a celebrated poet in ancient Greece, I shall post some snippets from the new novel.

Echopraxia Review: Part 2

I’m honored at Ale’s kind invitation to share a couple of Echopraxia-related thoughts about alien intelligence that bloomed like mushrooms in an email from me to him and fellow-reader Saul. Now, here, harvested, dry-sautéed, and doused with saké, an excerpt therefrom. Spoilers, sweetie! The below.

It’s the idea of super-intelligent alien AI in a Vice article from Saul (http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-dominant-life-form-in-the-cosmos-is-probably-superintelligent-robots) and, by virtue of distinction, the relevance of this to the supra-intelligence of the Portia-thing in Echopraxia that interest me the most, here. Because these inspire the question: at what point does the distinction between created/engineered and emergent/epiphenomenal life cease to exist? Is that point, if there is one, a matter of: elemental composition, allotropic configuration, spatial scale, temporal sequencing, dimensional manifestation, or cognitive efficiency? Imo, nah. Because everything is relative. Star Trek has taught us that.

So one possible alternative–I would like to suggest: the distinction between biological and artificial life/not-life is attention: that which manifests as engaged with a system is alive, that which does not is not. If thus given, the idea of an alien AI that is interplanetary or transtemporal or hyperdimensional or etc. yet vastly indifferent to other galactically contextualized life forms could not, by definition, exist. Even mold attends to its hosts. No, if there is alien intelligence extensive past the bounds of any given–say–planet or temporal mode or set of dimensions or whatever–I’m willing to bet it is very, very interested in us. Although interest does not imply aptitude.

But if emergent attention is believed–by some–to be the motivic form of life, then the significance of its findings must also be emergent. And within Watts’s evolutionary framework for the definition of life, that which is meaningful is only that which is collectively re-cognised, even or especially in the punctuated-evolutionary moment of the figure of the parasite-prophet at the end, Portia/Brüks (/King Lear). So Ale, Saul, and I have debated whether Portia or the novel fails. I think–how can the end (if not ends) of emergent evolution–of collectivity at its furthest extreme, its full fullness: the infinite–enact itself, accord itself attention if it already includes all possible configurations of cognition and yet negates the individuality required for the alterity of attention itself in order to do so?

For me, the key to Echopraxia is Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172062), which is alluded to in the section of the novel titled “Prophet”: “The fact that their actions all seemed to serve the purposes of something else, some vast distributed network slouching toward Bethlehem–sheer coincidence, perhaps. Perhaps we really do act for the reasons we believe.”

Maybe the tension, highlighted by this quotation and evoked by the allusion in it, between the collectivity in history versus personal belief is resolved when the barrier between attention and intention is revealed, by virtue of desire, to be permeable. What, then, climbs into human history?

As with all systems, we look for the terms that interlink them and for those outside them. Watts calls these outside terms miracles in an Echopraxia-related Q&A (http://www.reddit.com/r/SF_Book_Club/comments/2hzpmt/echopraxia_qa_questions_fended_off_by_peter_watts/) from Saul–but I think we could call these terms and ab-terms many things. Some might think of zeros and ones plus infinity; some of signifiers and signifieds plus referents; or of kinship; ecology; evil and good (plus redemption); fear and love (and maybe perfection).

Like the aliens themselves, these are all forms of taking an interest.


Sci Fi Book Club Update: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Sci Fi Council has spoken and our next big read is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Once I am done with it, I will post a full review.

Interestingly enough, or perhaps just conveniently, one of the Sci Fi Council members sent us a link to a speech Le Guin recently gave  at the National Book Award  where she was recognized for her work and gave a profound speech about the current state of affairs in publishing. She laments about the way publishing is increasingly putting pressure on artists to create art that sells and not art for art’s sake.

Though I have no publishing experience, all the books I read about the publishing industry indicate that the pressures on the artist have only increased over the years. To think that it can be a sordid world even for celebrated authors like Le Guin reminds me that it will be an uphill battle but a worthwhile one if I remember freedom. She says we need poetry and visionaries, and I could not agree more!

Freedom in an interconnected world… what a fascinating idea. In our realized cyber-punk world, one would think that freedom in art would be a given, but, apparently, it is not. Instead, our interconnected globe has only  added another layer of complexity as the market and competition has expanded, so that the impoverished artist that follows his vision and not the market’s has trouble ever being heard.

Sci Fi Book Club

My friends and I have a sci fi book club. We just finished reading Echopraxia by Peter Watts and was hoping to get ideas about how to incorporate our discussion, which I have found extremely insightful, into the blog. I was thinking that my friends could be contributors to my blog and share some of their thoughts with us.

Any and all ideas are welcome. Post it on the comments section. Thanks!