Re: Ventus quote and ECHOES OF EARTH quote

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Mon Feb 11 2002 - 19:41:58 MST

At 01:13 PM 2/11/02 -0800, Hal wrote:

>I'm about halfway through reading Ventus, the first novel by Canadian
>writer Karl Schroeder, out in paperback. It seems to be well written and
>makes a good try at depicting a future in which ordinary human beings,
>enhanced demigods, and super-human AIs all live together.

Sounds fascinating. I'd like to mention another recent sf novel, ECHOES OF
EARTH (Ace pb, Jan 2002), by Aussies Sean Williams and Shane Dix. There'll
be a review soon by Paul Di Filippo (who gives it an A-), viewable at

It's a post-Spike novel (and I was delighted to find that they've used this
term, although their grisly version of the Singularity isn't one I'd care
to have stuck to my coinage for the rest of time). Inter alia, there's a
rather interesting throw-away cosmogonic speculation near the start; I
don't really think it makes sense since they blend the Many Worlds QT model
with state reduction; still, I find it intriguing...


Adrasteia was small, dense and rugged, bombarded by rubble left over
from its evolution and at the mercy of severe plate tectonics. Its
atmosphere was substantial enough to give rise to dramatic pressure
differentials: at the bottom of the canyon Alander inhabited, the air
was far too dense to be comfortable, while at the top of the nearest
peak it might as well have been a vacuum. The average temperature was
below the freezing point of water, and what little oxygen existed was
mostly generated by cyanobacteria sharing the air with the clouds
above -- clouds trapped in warmer atmospheric layers and never
yielding rain. Apart from the clouds the planet's main water reserves
lay underground. It probably wouldn't be that way forever -- or even
for long, if the terraformers got their way -- but for now, the only
remotely habitable planet around Upsilon Aquarius was proving to be a
pain in the ass. Certainly nothing as wonderful as his original self
must have imagined it would be.

But there was life, of a kind. Apart from faint hints in the deep
equatorial basins some of his fellow surveyors were exploring, the
cyanobacteria in the clouds proved once and for all that such could
evolve independently on another world. There was no way they could
have come from Earth, as did, some skeptics still believed, those
found on Mars and Io. And the fact they were little different to the
ones back home added credence to the original Peter Alander's theories
concerning the origins of life in the universe, not to mention why
there were no aliens waiting to greet the survey teams when they

His original would have been pleased, that was for sure. The
Adrasteian cyanobacteria had never evolved into anything terribly
sophisticated. There seemed to be no reason why they shouldn't have,
though; conditions here were not fundamentally dissimilar to those
that existed on Earth, Mars or Europa. Adrasteian life-forms hadn't
evolved any further, his original would have argued, because the odds
were stacked so far against such a thing happening that it shouldn't
happen even once in the lifetime of the universe. In fact, life
should not have evolved at all -- even to the level of bacteria.

The fact that it had evolved suggested otherwise, unless one viewed
the early universe as a massive quantum computer, a near-infinite
number of parallel universes engaged in incomprehensible
"computations" from the moment of its creation -- smashing elements
together, creating new compounds and smashing those together in
turn -- until something appeared that could be called "alive". This
unicellular life wasn't conscious, but it appeared and flourished
everywhere, on numerous worlds, multiplying and evolving in the
strange, uncollapsed place that was the unobserved universe.

The moment consciousness occurred, though, down one of those possible
reality-paths, the collapse occurred. The universe, observed, could
no longer nurture the conditions required to "parallel-process"
bacteria to consciousness. Once just one being saw, it robbed all
other life-forms the chance to evolve. Rapid evolution stopped in its
tracks, confined as the universe now was just to one track at a time.
Even with a near-infinite number of stars in the universe, the odds
shrank to almost zero that other conscious life-forms would emerge
from primitive organisms, since it was too unlikely to happen in a
single universe -- and thus the majority of worlds humans surveyed
would be inhabited by nothing more exciting than bacterial sludge that
had evolved, in the past.

The lack of complex alien life on Adrasteia seemed to support his
original's argument: that humans were the universe's present
observers, and that they would find no other intelligent life-forms
anywhere, just many different types of dead-end bacteria. There would
be nothing more, in fact, until humanity died out and the universe
could resume its quantum computations.


Curiously, my own novel THE JUDAS MANDALA (belatedly published in the
States in 1982) offers almost the exact opposite conjecture: a transhuman
species of humans, under the auspices of a posthuman superior group
uploaded into machine substrate (rather inappropriately called cyborgs),
teach their doctrine to a somewhat more recognizable human; this section is
from a chunk published in 1976 in the American magazine GALILEO, under the
title `Growing Up'):


`It is impossible to argue against the cyborg *Weltanschauung*. To do so
would be absurd. The patterns they can manipulate so far surpass those we
can command that we must take what they tell us on faith. And what they
reveal is that life is a temporary necessary aberration in the unfolding of
a deterministic cosmos.'

`Gigo,' she says wearily. `The hoariest fallacy known to science: Garbage
In, Garbage Out.'

For a moment the beautiful ageless man shows anger. Sriyanie has ventured
close to blasphemy. He goes on, after a pause: `I've experienced its truth,
Sriyanie. At the universal dawn, in the great White Hole, the metrodynamic
was clear and linear and untarnished by Uncertainty. The cosmos told its
time by a perfect clockwork, a sublime Newtonian machine. Cause and effect
were simple and total. The intrusive blight of quantum probabilities had
not yet arisen.'

Dumbly, she shakes her head. His words are so close to the truth, as all
effective deceit must be, but he has everything turned about.

`Inevitably, the planets coalesced about their suns, organic acids came
together at their ice caps, amino acids formed as the enriched ice thawed,
peptides, proteins, nucleotides--life. And the first disharmony intruded.
Life multiplied, complexified, transformed the worlds where it was born,
and introduced everywhere its own randomizing horrors.'

`No,' Sriyanie says, aghast, `you're wrong.'

`But observing mind came from life,' Livani insists, more loudly. `The
underlying order of the metric frame was discovered anew, and the
possibility revived that it might regain its Laplacean grandeur. The
cyborgs are that hope embodied: mind free of the organic pestilence which
structured all five-space non-null-entropy systems into the ugliness of


`Of *course* life structures the metric frame,' she cries. `Of *course* it
imposes constrains on the primordial condition. But that Ur-State is
synchronistic. From the White Hole until the protozoa, the cosmic
parameters interacted only by affinity! How else do you suppose that life
arose? There simply wasn't *time* for the process to occur in your
Laplacean fantasy.... If the Newtonian laws have some general validity,
it's precisely because intention and value-ridden perception have *made*
them work. It's only by profound inner silence, a stilling of the beta
activity in your head, a retreat from will to wish, that the primal reality
can reassert itself. You hivers stuff yourselves to overflowing with a
clamor of contingent facts, and relinquish magic.'

`The goal of consciousness,' Livani says stubbornly, `is the hypostasy of

`The goal of consciousness,' Sriyanie retorts, `is a harmonious
equilibration of confluence and cause. Your culture strives to enforce
predictability and you achieve nothing but a totalitarian extinction of all
that's beautiful and loving in the universe.' [etc]


I don't agree with either of them, of course. :)

Damien Broderick

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