Category Archives: Fiction

The Baby-Eating Aliens (1/8)

(Part 1 of 8 in "Three Worlds Collide")

This is a story of an impossible outcome, where AI never worked, molecular nanotechnology never worked, biotechnology only sort-of worked; and yet somehow humanity not only survived, but discovered a way to travel Faster-Than-Light:  The past's Future.

Ships travel through the Alderson starlines, wormholes that appear near stars.  The starline network is dense and unpredictable: more than a billion starlines lead away from Sol, but every world explored is so far away as to be outside the range of Earth's telescopes.  Most colony worlds are located only a single jump away from Earth, which remains the center of the human universe.

From the colony system Huygens, the crew of the Giant Science Vessel Impossible Possible World have set out to investigate a starline that flared up with an unprecedented flux of Alderson force before subsiding.  Arriving, the Impossible discovers the sparkling debris of a recent nova – and –

"ALIENS!"

Every head swung toward the Sensory console.  But after that one cryptic outburst, the Lady Sensory didn't even look up from her console: her fingers were frantically twitching commands.

There was a strange moment of silence in the Command Conference while every listener thought the same two thoughts in rapid succession:

Is she nuts?  You can't just say "Aliens!", leave it at that, and expect everyone to believe you.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence –

And then,

They came to look at the nova too!

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Three Worlds Collide (0/8)

"The kind of classic fifties-era first-contact story that Jonathan Swift might have written, if Jonathan Swift had had a background in game theory."
        — (Hugo nominee) Peter Watts, "In Praise of Baby-Eating"

Three Worlds Collide is a story I wrote to illustrate some points on naturalistic metaethics and diverse other issues of rational conduct.  It grew, as such things do, into a small novella.  On publication, it proved widely popular and widely criticized.  Be warned that the story, as it wrote itself, ended up containing some profanity and PG-13 content.

  1. The Baby-Eating Aliens
  2. War and/or Peace
  3. The Super Happy People
  4. Interlude with the Confessor
  5. Three Worlds Decide
  6. Normal Ending
  7. True Ending
  8. Atonement

PDF version here.

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Failed Utopia #4-2

Followup toInterpersonal Entanglement

    Shock after shock after shock –
    First, the awakening adrenaline jolt, the thought that he was falling.  His body tried to sit up in automatic adjustment, and his hands hit the floor to steady himself.  It launched him into the air, and he fell back to the floor too slowly.
    Second shock.  His body had changed.  Fat had melted away in places, old scars had faded; the tip of his left ring finger, long ago lost to a knife accident, had now suddenly returned.
    And the third shock –
    "I had nothing to do with it!" she cried desperately, the woman huddled in on herself in one corner of the windowless stone cell.  Tears streaked her delicate face, fell like slow raindrops into the décolletage of her dress.  "Nothing!  Oh, you must believe me!"
    With perceptual instantaneity – the speed of surprise – his mind had already labeled her as the most beautiful woman he'd ever met, including his wife.

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The Ritual

Followup toThe Failures of Eld Science, Crisis of Faith

The room in which Jeffreyssai received his non-beisutsukai visitors was quietly formal, impeccably appointed in only the most conservative tastes.  Sunlight and outside air streamed through a grillwork of polished silver, a few sharp edges making it clear that this wall was not to be opened.  The floor and walls were glass, thick enough to distort, to a depth sufficient that it didn’t matter what might be underneath.  Upon the surfaces of the glass were subtly scratched patterns of no particular meaning, scribed as if by the hand of an artistically inclined child (and this was in fact the case).

Elsewhere in Jeffreyssai’s home there were rooms of other style; but this, he had found, was what most outsiders expected of a Bayesian Master, and he chose not to enlighten them otherwise.  That quiet amusement was one of life’s little joys, after all.

The guest sat across from him, knees on the pillow and heels behind.  She was here solely upon the business of her Conspiracy, and her attire showed it:  A form-fitting jumpsuit of pink leather with even her hands gloved – all the way to the hood covering her head and hair, though her face lay plain and unconcealed beneath.

And so Jeffreyssai had chosen to receive her in this room.

Jeffreyssai let out a long breath, exhaling.  "Are you sure?"

"Oh," she said, "and do I have to be absolutely certain before my advice can shift your opinions?  Does it not suffice that I am a domain expert, and you are not?"

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Class Project

Followup toThe Failures of Eld Science, Einstein's Superpowers

"Do as well as Einstein?" Jeffreyssai said, incredulously.  "Just as well as Einstein?  Albert Einstein was a great scientist of his era, but that was his era, not this one!  Einstein did not comprehend the Bayesian methods; he lived before the cognitive biases were discovered; he had no scientific grasp of his own thought processes.  Einstein spoke nonsense of an impersonal God – which tells you how well he understood the rhythm of reason, to discard it outside his own field! He was too caught up in the drama of rejecting his era's quantum mechanics to actually fix it.  And while I grant that Einstein reasoned cleanly in the matter of General Relativity – barring that matter of the cosmological constant – he took ten years to do it.  Too slow!"

"Too slow?" repeated Taji incredulously.

"Too slow!  If Einstein were in this classroom now, rather than Earth of the negative first century, I would rap his knuckles!  You will not try to do as well as Einstein!  You will aspire to do BETTER than Einstein or you may as well not bother!"

Jeffreyssai shook his head.  "Well, I've given you enough hints.  It is time to test your skills.  Now, I know that the other beisutsukai don't think much of my class projects…"  Jeffreyssai paused significantly.

Brennan inwardly sighed.  He'd heard this line many times before, in the Bardic Conspiracy, the Competitive Conspiracy:  The other teachers think my assignments are too easy, you should be grateful, followed by some ridiculously difficult task – 

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That Alien Message

Followup toEinstein's Speed

Imagine a world much like this one, in which, thanks to gene-selection technologies, the average IQ is 140 (on our scale).  Potential Einsteins are one-in-a-thousand, not one-in-a-million; and they grow up in a school system suited, if not to them personally, then at least to bright kids.  Calculus is routinely taught in sixth grade.  Albert Einstein, himself, still lived and still made approximately the same discoveries, but his work no longer seems exceptional.  Several modern top-flight physicists have made equivalent breakthroughs, and are still around to talk.

(No, this is not the world Brennan lives in.)

One day, the stars in the night sky begin to change.

Some grow brighter.  Some grow dimmer.  Most remain the same.  Astronomical telescopes capture it all, moment by moment.  The stars that change, change their luminosity one at a time, distinctly so; the luminosity change occurs over the course of a microsecond, but a whole second separates each change.

It is clear, from the first instant anyone realizes that more than one star is changing, that the process seems to center around Earth particularly. The arrival of the light from the events, at many stars scattered around the galaxy, has been precisely timed to Earth in its orbit.  Soon, confirmation comes in from high-orbiting telescopes (they have those) that the astronomical miracles do not seem as synchronized from outside Earth.  Only Earth's telescopes see one star changing every second (1005 milliseconds, actually).

Almost the entire combined brainpower of Earth turns to analysis.

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The Failures of Eld Science

Followup toInitiation Ceremony, If Many-Worlds Had Come First

This time there were no robes, no hoods, no masks.  Students were expected to become friends, and allies.  And everyone knew why you were in the classroom.  It would have been pointless to pretend you weren't in the Conspiracy.

Their sensei was Jeffreyssai, who might have been the best of his era, in his era.  His students were either the most promising learners, or those whom the beisutsukai saw political advantage in molding.

Brennan fell into the latter category, and knew it.  Nor had he hesitated to use his Mistress's name to open doors.  You used every avenue available to you, in seeking knowledge; that was respected here.

"- for over thirty years," Jeffreyssai said.  "Not one of them saw it; not Einstein, not Schrödinger, not even von Neumann."  He turned away from his sketcher, and toward the classroom.  "I pose to you to the question:  How did they fail?"

The students exchanged quick glances, a calculus of mutual risk between the wary and the merely baffled.  Jeffreyssai was known to play games.

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Zombies: The Movie

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FADE IN around a serious-looking group of uniformed military officers.  At the head of the table, a senior, heavy-set man, GENERAL FRED, speaks.

GENERAL FRED:  The reports are confirmed.  New York has been overrun… by zombies.

COLONEL TODD:  Again?  But we just had a zombie invasion 28 days ago!

GENERAL FRED:  These zombies… are different.  They’re… philosophical zombies.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  Are they filled with rage, causing them to bite people?

COLONEL TODD:  Do they lose all capacity for reason?

GENERAL FRED:  No.  They behave… exactly like we do… except that they’re not conscious.

(Silence grips the table.)

COLONEL TODD:  Dear God.

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Initiation Ceremony

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    The torches that lit the narrow stairwell burned intensely and in the wrong color, flame like melting gold or shattered suns.
    192… 193…
    Brennan’s sandals clicked softly on the stone steps, snicking in sequence, like dominos very slowly falling.
    227… 228…
    Half a circle ahead of him, a trailing fringe of dark cloth whispered down the stairs, the robed figure itself staying just out of sight.
    239… 240…
    Not much longer, Brennan predicted to himself, and his guess was accurate:
    Sixteen times sixteen steps was the number, and they stood before the portal of glass.
    The great curved gate had been wrought with cunning, humor, and close attention to indices of refraction: it warped light, bent it, folded it, and generally abused it, so that there were hints of what was on the other side (stronger light sources, dark walls) but no possible way of seeing through – unless, of course, you had the key: the counter-door, thick for thin and thin for thick, in which case the two would cancel out.
    From the robed figure beside Brennan, two hands emerged, gloved in reflective cloth to conceal skin’s color.  Fingers like slim mirrors grasped the handles of the warped gate – handles that Brennan had not guessed; in all that distortion, shapes could only be anticipated, not seen.
    “Do you want to know?” whispered the guide; a whisper nearly as loud as an ordinary voice, but not revealing the slightest hint of gender.
    Brennan paused.  The answer to the question seemed suspiciously, indeed extraordinarily obvious, even for ritual.

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The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy

People who grow up believing certain things,
even if they later stop believing them,
may not quite realize how the beliefs sound to outsiders…

(SCENE:  A small cottage in Nazareth.)

Joseph:  Mary, my dearest fiancée, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about.

(Mary's shoulders slump.  Slowly, as if under a heavy burden, she turns around to face Joseph.)

Joseph:  You seem to be getting fat around the waistline, and throwing up in the morning, and, er, not getting any periods.  Which is odd, because it's sort of like –

Mary:  Yes!  I'm pregnant!  All right?  I'm PREGNANT!

Joseph:  How is that possible?

(Mary's shoulders slump further.)  Mary:  How do you think?

Joseph:  I don't know, that's why I'm asking you.  I mean, you're still a virgin, right?

(Mary looks up cautiously, and sees Joseph's face looking blankly puzzled.)

Joseph:  Well?

Mary:  God did it.

Joseph:  You had sex with –

Mary:  No!  Haha.  Of course not.  I mean, God just snapped his fingers and did one of those miracle things and made me pregnant.

Joseph:  God made you pregnant.

Mary:  (Starts to sweat.)  Yes.

Joseph:  Mary, that is just so… completely…

(Mary's eyes squeeze shut.)

Joseph:  …COOL!

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