Islands Of Heaven and Hell

> Disengage your mind and allow yourself to drift upward; elevated by a perspex birdcage —

> Dolphins skip on irridescent waves
      >> there are nacreous skies
            >>> clouded by abalone internals
      >> MIDI hymns hum
            >>> the organ intensifies

> In these places:
      >> time is circular

            >>> Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 20.53.48

      >> there are new directions to move in.

> There are strange things:
      >> the songs of whales
            >>> in quartal chords
      >> the smell of tangerines
            >>> and cherry blossom
      >> sunk cathedrals
      >> elephants
      >> xanthous holothurians

surfaces_09_b_clean

Jahnke_gamma_function

> There are islands:
      >> Arizona mesas
      >> low grey hills
      >> static waves
      >> outposts of Second Life

> Made from these materials:
      >> green glass quivering
      >> blackboard chalk
      >> parma violets
      >> Ecstasy
      >> insect voices
      >> old iPhone cases
      >> buff translucent plastic
      >> flesh of jellyfish
      >> polystyrene

> In the hollows of these islands, there are rivers, lakes, and waterfalls containing these fluids:
      >> chicken broth
      >> Smirnoff Ice and Hooch admixed
      >> Quicksilver
      >> bile from the deep guts of monsters

6

7

surfaces_08_a_clean

> Your wristwatch has stopped. You are at the end of the rainbow. Consider that there are spaces like these, which don’t exist and do, all at the same time.

> Each island is self-contained, yet infinite in extent. Some islands repeat their shapes with subtle changes and phase shifts. Some islands are changing shape at all times —you cannot pin down any one fixed form. Some islands are in all the shapes they can be at once, as dictated by their internal logic.

> These islands exist insofar as they can be imagined. They also exist because they must, for if these places that don’t exist didn’t exist, everything that does exist couldn’t exist.

      >> whoa

> You hear the singing of angels. There are angels of diverse species of animal, plant and fungus, and there are also the angels of non-living objects like clouds, oceans and chaises longues. Their language is strange and abtruse. It sounds like this:

      >> c262861a332706aa55b64a7075fb7f4c

      >> b25a82f5748d30b37d121e51ba52e4b3

            >>> You don’t understand a word.

> The lights go off. It’s time to travel back to Earth by means of whichever ride you can catch.

Voyager_Program_-_spacecraft_diagram

surfaces_07_a_clean

 

This piece was created for (in)commensurable, an exhibition in at Gallery40, Brighton, UK, 10-12th December 2015.

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Terraforming Titan

From living in the future issue 3, New Lands

“If our species is to survive the next hundred years, let alone a thousand, it is imperative we voyage out into the blackness of space to colonise new worlds across the cosmos.”
—Professor Stephen Hawking, Live from Space 2014

THE LONELY MOUNTAIN

The rain fell – floated. It was dark, and the drops were fat and round as oranges. Dr. Shelley watched, her mouth agape as they lowered themselves to the surface of the lake, shook like jelly and finally disintegrated into a complex lacework of ripples. She wondered what strange sound the raindrops made as they hit, but all she could hear was her breath and the loud thump of her heart in her suit; few people would live to see such a thing; that one day she’d be one of them amazed her.

Base was downwind of Erebor Mons1, a huge cryovolcano, and so the rain could drift downwards uninterrupted, not whipped around at the crazy speeds customary for the moon. More importantly, the fragile ice roofs of the buildings were not susceptible to nearly as much elemental damage here as they might be elsewhere.

The camp was divided into two main sections: living quarters (underground, carved out from the ice –which provided fine insulation– and sealed by multiple airlocks) and, six miles away, an electrolysis plant which was steadily carrying out its thousand-year labour of converting ice into oxygen, using the hydrogen left over to run the generator. There was one vehicle, and a stretch of boulders had been cleared to provide a crude roadway between the sites.

This was a lonely mission, with no means of return possible. The mission was simply too important for humanity to forgo, and the installation far too complex to be automated. The six engineers would live out the rest of their days on freeze-dried food, occasionally sending back scientific reports to a distant Earth, billions of kilometres across the black gulf of the solar system. Eventually they’d pass away, and the thousands of tiny, self-repairing robots they’d built would indifferently carry on their tireless work.

Her eyes had already adjusted to the soft orange light. They traveled upwards, but the peak of mount Erebor was hidden in the murk. The rain – a thousand yearly phenomenon on Titan– eased off before the eyes of the last person ever to see it.

THE KRAKEN SEA

Impundulu soared above the moon’s curve, observing the sun’s bright reflection as the vast sea of hydrocarbons hove into view. Three glorious years it had sailed through space, joyfully skating around the rims of planets’ gravity wells, calculating, calculating, singing to itself of the wonder of the universe. It appreciated the stunning beauty of the scene, the mathematical bliss of a universe forever slotting into place according to its own inexorable physical laws. Light danced from the hazy throbs of the lowest frequencies to the shimmering gamma rays, vibrating quintillions of times per second.

It began the smooth arc of its descent, quickly down through the now oxygen-rich atmosphere in a perfect curve. Flames formed around its body, rushing back behind it, making it a comet in the sky. Rivers, inlets, estuaries, fjords passed below in fractal perfection. Soon the sea was all it saw, and at exactly three metres above the surface, it detonated its onboard thermonuclear device and the ocean was in flames.

It didn’t see the rest – the flames, burning for centuries, thickening the atmosphere like cream and keeping the heat in, melting the land until it was a new ocean upon which the burning one drifted. The resilient little nanobots latticed themselves into circular rafts, varying in circumference, and switched themselves off forever.

THE FECUND SEA

Thousands had turned out – on the far side of the moon, bare thousands was a huge crowd. Rumour was that a representative of the president of Western Earth was among them, though things being as they were, any official political presence would be extremely dangerous.

Flags stood inert along the sides of a mile long avenue, its perfect perspective converging on the rocket in the distance. Music and cheering filled the viewing cars; outside was deathly silent.

The occasion was the launch of Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers, slight and vulnerable on top of the rocket. The spacecraft carried in its belly thousands of millions of seeds from Earth, carefully selected to form together a coherent and stable ecosystem. It would make its rounds of the upper atmosphere, casting seeds into the wind. They would drift gently down onto the floating islands – the ones which did not fall into the sea, now water – and there they would grow into lush forests, teeming with edible plants, ready to greet the first colonists in a hundred years.

Hands gripped hands and screams fell into silence as the countdown began:

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

Ignition

– and it was gone…

EARTH

Gentle waves of heat, over many years, warmed the earth. Fertile land opened up further and further north. This was quickly capitalized, and as great cities yielded to the sea, yet greater cities were built in more sensible locations. The unlocking permafrost presented further treasures: first, fantastic bog-people, resplendent with iron-age jewels and coloured hair; then deep-frozen mammoth meat, that was made into expensive burgers for fine New Boston hotel restaurants; finally, a long-forgotten strain of smallpox that all earth’s doctors and scientists had no answer to. It was chaos; the human population on earth was swiftly decimated, its remnants scattered and disorganized.

With no supply ships bringing water from the Earth, the few millions on the Moon worked through their remaining rations and farmed their covered farms dry, and even ate each other, and starved within a few years.

OUT IN SPACE

But the first ship to Titan had flown by then. The Grande Hermine had few luxuries – piloted dumbly by computer, it carried the still bodies of Earth, deathly in their suspended animation. The adults and the children were kept in separate areas, due to their different metabolic needs, and when the power failed in the adult’s wing, only the children were left. Three years it flew through space, serene in spite of its huge speed. When it was time, it landed quietly in a forest clearing, unrolled its ramp and opened the vaults of children. After a spell, hungry and crying, they crawled out of the ship and into the new world.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 20.54.33


(1)Titan’s mountains are all named for peaks in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Mount Erebor is whereunder the dragon Smaug lies in The Hobbit (1936).^

Why The Future Can’t Belong To Us

The introduction to issue 1 of living in the future.

We order time by three related concepts: the past, the present, and the future. These form an uneasy triangle: each is dependent on the other two.

The past refers to any point in time before the present and the future. It doesn’t exist in the present, but only in relation to the present, as artefacts and memories. Any physical artefact of the past exists only in its present state; memories are material states of libraries, video cassettes and human nerve cells, and are as such subject to the same rules.

The present (or now) is defined as the space in time between the past and the future. This slice of time is so fine it can hardly be said to be there at all; as soon as it comes into being, it vanishes into the past.

The future is a point in time that exists only in relation to the present and the past, and is the most nebulous of all three concepts – in any given present, we may speculate a range of futures. The past is littered with futures, and by studying these past futures we may better understand our present ones.

So the future’s up for grabs. As soon as it becomes the present, it becomes the past, and new futures bloom. Futures are characterized by their multiplicity – in the model we have now, only one can become ‘fact’ — but the very nature of futurity is defined by potential. There are infinite forks in the road of what might be. Because the past is the graveyard of presents, there exist also an infinite number of dead futures – what might have been, but wasn’t. The futures of today are ghost-haunted by these past futures.

It’s an interesting time on planet earth. Science-fiction has long been a medium for the exploration of our possible futures, and an examination of our present through the innately hypothetical medium of the imaginative future. Now we’ve come to a place where the people who grew up on science-fiction are changing our world, conceptually and physically, and past futures are becoming present realities. The rate of technological acceleration and the mind-fucks that come with it are redefining what it means to exist and to be human at a rate greater than at any time in our past.

Science-fiction then means state-surveillance and flying robot soldiers now; it means a food-substitute (invented by a computer scientist applying the hacker ethic to his own body) being named in tribute to Soylent Green (that movie where it turns out the fascist government is making us eat our own dead). It means a time, maybe, when we can realistically talk about doing away with our own bodies and let our conscious minds inhabit beautiful machine worlds.

An evolutionary paradigm shift for humankind has long been a favourite theme in science-fiction. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the west’s terror du jour came in the form of the mysterious atom – a catalyst for exciting (if poorly-understood) mutations and evolutions – just think of The Amazing Spider-Man.

There were voices of disquiet. The perennial pessimist Philip K. Dick on his Golden Man (1953):

Here I am saying that mutants are dangerous to us ordinaries, a view which John W. Campbell, Jr*. deplored. We were supposed to view them as our leaders. But I always felt uneasy as to how they would view us. I mean, maybe they wouldn’t want to lead us. Maybe from their superevolved lofty level we wouldn’t seem worth leading. Anyhow, even if they agreed to lead us, I felt uneasy as where we would wind up going. It might have something to do with buildings marked SHOWERS but which really weren’t.

Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986-7) takes a Spider-Manesque origin story for the character of Doctor Manhattan and follows it to its logical conclusion: as the Doctor becomes increasingly unified with the cosmos, he consequently more indifferent to the eye-blink that is humanity.

The nuclear future has receded (for now), and so we find ourselves applying our potentialities to a new framework – the computational networks that span our age. Posthumanism and transhumanism have become buzzwords to describe a future in which we have changed unrecognizably. Millions anticipate a technological singularity; supposing processing power continues to exponentiate, a point may come at which there is a Cambrian explosion for machine life, computer intelligences designing their own successors, and so on ad infinitum. If such a thing should come to pass, a universe-dominating intelligence might appear frighteningly quickly, leaving its human progenitors in the shade. A world populated by intelligent computers might be a legacy of human intelligence, but will physical human beings still get to play?

An alternative scenario: ‘We’ may well have to colonize other worlds to avoid ‘our’ destruction by cosmic catastrophe. In that process, ‘We’ may have to alter ‘our’ genetic code to such an extent that ‘We’ are no longer ‘Us’. The thread of what defines humanity wears ever finer, but does it matter? Given that human nature counts murder and genocide among its children, is its loss necessarily a bad thing?

This issue is about coming to grips with what it means to be human now, and what it might mean to be human then. Whichever future wins, it’s going to be a little different, and we probably won’t be around to see it.

*Campbell was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from 1937 to 1971 and was a huge editorial force in the development of science-fiction.