Saturday, 5 February 2011

Ravelling yarns (3) - Ten thousand worlds

Another snippet in the 'ravelling yarns' series. The first is here, the second here, but there's nothing you need catch up on.

This time round the musical inspiration is a track I've linked to before, Dātura, which I labelled back then "for all the possible presents". Since that time, with all the thinking here on information, the discussion of portals and the attempt at the scope of fiction, I've seen 'present' is a very open idea. With this in mind the song is used now for a possible future.

As before, I do recommend listening before reading, and listening right the way through for the change in mood.

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Ten thousand worlds, ten thousand hollows in all the skies of the solar system. By turns points of light and shadows against the starscape, they roll and spin and run their paths across the aether. From the early deep research stations, the near manufactories and the ever-present mining platforms, gravity free and modular, through all that vast range of types - the cylinders, cones and spheres - to the webs and astropolises flexing and revolving, rivalling the dwarves; the worlds buoyed up in atmospheres, those orbiting the planets and moons or swinging the asteroids, and those lounging at rest in the remote Lagrangians. The fruit of the late blossom that almost never came, one seed turned to many as humanity spread in all directions, and all the variety of rejuvenated imagination.

Never since the city states had such experiments been seen. Each of the toeholds in the cosmos became a crucible, a trial of man, ten thousand Edens anew. The theories of centuries, each discarded or deformed in pursuit of a single destiny, had their time at last, in spaces unforeseen, in the halls of the sky. Diversity took root and flourished in all manner of social and political structures, in all the bounds cast back, the spatial, biological and perceptual. The Polystem. So many worlds that could exist did, and all had a home if they could find it, whether retropia, noöcracy or inforum, or any of the human and transhuman spaces that bubbled in the solar, the high frontier now frontiers all about. We named the age the Expansion and expand we did. If we were ever happy as a species - as all peoples in all realms, on land and in sky - might this have been It?

For we were always weakest in our division. Wisdom of good and ill has ever grown slower than supposed Success, and temptation lay all about. Serpents nestled always in the boughs of hearts and saw only opportunity among the stars; conquest of the darkness without was for nothing when darkness lay still within. And within fragile worlds. Conflict walked with us into the void and wars were bloodier, colder, more vengeful. Life and death was a bank of Devices, a thin wall between fire and ice, a delicate Harmony. These were all broken down with ease, and a quick passion proved deadlier than in the nightmares of our ancestors. The Harm was unexpected, but the Nanohate long foretold and oceans of organic molecules returned to the cradle. Whole worlds starved, drowned, were burnt to ash. Bodies too filled the vacuum as once they filled those mud pits on the surface of our Earth. Names now known at least. In the intolerance of the Clearings, worlds were sealed up and pushed outsystem, out into the cavernous interstellar spaces, doomed to drift on into a vastness that may as well be an eternity. We list them. We list them all now. So many lost. Paradises lost.

Of the ten thousand of the Polystem, those worlds not lost met a variety of fates. Some were replaced, expanded and repaired, becoming again bright points of the solar, that is, for as long as they Grew; others fell into decrepitude, dilapidation, decay. Shielding failed and radiation flooded interiors, with all the baleful consequences: innumerable new clades appeared, and even the varied and resilient of the extraterrans splintered. Envi systems gave up the ghost and the extremes of Old Earth returned, while extremes never before experienced were known for the first time. Worlds fogged up, ran with humidity, blazed with electrical discharges, or were blasted with heat. Fungi, our constant companions, ran out of control, bizarre varieties enslaving whole peoples in realities made hallucinogenic. Orbits failed. Rotations slowed, gravity faded and earth, water and structure all drifted loose, filling spaces with a detritus, a debris of life. But life went on, as best it could, as it must; the struggle no better for all those millions of miles travelled, for all the past generations that travelled them.

Now the system stands fragmented, neither Unified nor United, but not quite Maniform either, not quite anything we had hoped for. The voidships leave in swollen numbers, the trickle of Travellers grows to a stream. The Worlds of the Sprawl are all we have, but no longer do we want them, toeholds troubled by ingrown nails. We know this is not It. Insurrections burst out, conquests and reconquests, conspiracies fester. The Wonders of the past are sought in the haunted interiors, and the Wonders of the future striven for.

One false barrier truly has been broken, and the pieces of the sky scattered never to be rejoined. The next of the barriers remains far ahead of us. For we look outwards. Still.

We Tidy ever after the last breakthrough, wondering if our Tidying will ever be Done.