I have been primed for an interest in somewhat believable sci fi about space travel. Martian was a good tight read and the movie was also very good. More extravagant in projecting beyond known science and especially technology was the marvelous read SevenEves by Neale Stephenson.

Closer to the tidiness and familiarity of Martian, but also like SevenEves in imagining into trajectories of possibility that journey off the scales of the known, is "Saturn Run" by John Sanford and Ctein.

I am very familiar with John Sanford's moderate yet cogent and literate crime stories set mainly in Minnesota. This is a surprising divergence of topic and it seems likely that he is getting needed support for the science and science fiction from Ctein.

I haven't finished reading this book (I am about 2/3 through it), and if I were to wait to the finish to bring it all together in a rather comprehensive review, I might never get to it. So in minimal sketched out form, the story goes something like this. An American space station from the year 2060 something is in orbit above the earth. (Ahh, I've already forgotten some of the factual details, but I finesse the truth here anyway.) China is doing preparing a Mars expedition and possible colonization. The US won't be able to compete well for speed of arrival.

Meanwhile at a high tech and science firm on earth, someone registers some strange movement in the sky that relates to Saturn. It appears that there may be some extra-terrestrial activity near the Saturn rings.

The US decides that this level of potentially existing technology would be a huge boon to the country and in stealth begins to convert the existing American space presence into a ship that can travel to Saturn. They don't want to alert the Chinese as to this discovery so that said Chinese don't reformulate and retool their Mars expedition on which they have a head-start into a Saturn expedition.

The details of this story depict the secret mission's development, the inevitable discovery by China, and the facets of the competitive race that ensues. The story has its excitements, its character developments, and its fluid rendering of science, society, and psychology.

Getting to the nut - sorry for the spoiler here - the US does arrive at the alien satellites that for various reasons orbit Saturn. There are no aliens there (so far) but their is an artificial intelligence that is designed to welcome other space civilizations, and inform and share some of it's technology. The human travelers will be able to take back some important advancements. This of course is quite lovely for the US that wants to advance its competitive edge and assure its power status in the world.

China's ship is having difficulties arriving into orbit, and I don't yet know the plot unfoldment, though one can feel the tension and the potential for fighting and damage and catastrophe. All this so far seems quite well written and is within an arc of entertaining believability.

I insert now some transcribed quotes that speak to the alien knowledge and strange strategy that this satellite presents. I haven't read so many sci fi stories of this sort to know how creatively unique these circumstances are, but they seem quite fresh to me. The door and locks open up to the new guests and they enter into a large space:

"The only item in the room was a stand-alone console toward the back of the room. A meter and a half high, it would have been impossible to miss even if the room had been as cluttered as a secondhand junk store: it glowed with flickering bands of rainbow colors and looked disturbingly similar to an antique jukebox.
Words appeared in the air above the console that read: 'You can remove your helmets. The air is sterile and breathable to earth standards and is maintained at 21 degrees Celsius.' In a few seconds the words changed to Chinese ideograms, followed by Arabic and Rusiian, then a half-dozen other languages, before it cycled back to English."
...

"As they all stuck to the floor, or deck, or whatever it was, new words appeared over the polychrome console. 'Please say something to me.' ...
'Hello. We are from Earth. Uh, the third planet in this system.'
Colors shifted across the sides of the alien console making it look even more like a jukebox, and then it spoke: 'American English. I can speak in American English. Now what questions do you have.'
Barnes asked, 'Who are you?'
The jukebox said,'I am not a "who" but a "what." I am a low grade artificial intelligence tasked with answering questions. I am programmed to understand thirteen human languages, five of them based on the probability of being the first-contact languages...I am not a fully intelligent AI. I chain rhetorical logic via a statistical grammar. Though it may sound as though I'm being conversational, in fact I am always responding directly or indirectly to questions. My data storage has the answers to 71,236,340 explicit or implicit questions. I can synthesize new answers from those I am preprogrammed with, but at times you will ask questions for which I have no answer, to which I'll reply, "I don't know."'
Barnes asked, 'Can we set up camera equipment to record this conversation?'
'Yes, I will wait.'"
...

" Barnes said, 'Our jukebox raised another concern. New question: Why do we have to worry about harming ourselves or the depot?'
The jukebox said,"This depot has technologies and artifacts from many different species. No visitor could be familiar with them all. Some of these devices are dangerous if misused, the same way a milling laser is dangerous if misused.'
Clover nodded: strange technology, strange tools.
The jukebox: 'Also there are containment modules that should not be accessed without proper instruction, as they currently hold a total of eight hundred forty-nine tones of antimatter.'
...
'Let's go back to the jukebox.' They turned back to the answer-bot. 'Excuse us, we need to discuss the information you imparted.'
'My programming informs me that it is very common with first arrivals and I am not programmed to take offense in any way. Do you have any other questions at this time?'
Hannegan cleared his throat: 'Uh, you said this depot stored over eight hundred tones of antimatter, Where? And how?'
The jukebox said, 'The constellation of smaller moo lets you see associated with this depot are containment modules for the antimatter. The material is in the form of iron-58, which is electromagnetically isolated from the walls of the modules.'
...
Hannegan glanced at Barnes, then asked, 'Can you provide engineering designs and instruction manuals for the antimatter production and containment facilities?'
This time there was no hesitation in the response. 'That information is exportable to all species.'
Barnes said, 'I think that's enough for this session. We should return to our ship now. Are we allowed to return at any time?'
'Yes, at any time.'
We will bring engineers to discuss a high-bandwidth I/O pathway. May they come at any time?'
'Yes, at any time.'

...

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Great - thanks for this review, Ambo.  This is the first sci-fi book I've read in decades (I just finished it a month ago) and I really enjoyed it, particularly the balance of humor, suspense, and compelling near-future sciency stuff...  I wanted something more truly novel and mind-bending in the alien encounter at the end, but barring that, I appreciated the pace of the story and the surprises still in store all the way to the end (human surprises, not alien).  I liked it enough to send the book off immediately to my dad, who loved The Martian (and also the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson that I recommended to him).

Hey, I'm glad you liked it too, and cool to me that you sent it to your dad because you share an interest.

Interesting that you wanted more novel and alien imagining and developing of the story. Sure - more provoking and maybe exciting and so on.

Interesting that I appreciated a lot that the authors didn't go to the alien 'fleshing out', but left it as a huge question mark - e.g. what sort of star-traveler beings might be inferred by this Saturn installation, resource collection and utilization, communication arrangement, minimal indirect content about the creators provided by 'Whurly' (the AI computer complex) with generic open-ended social politics suggested by the rules and manner of business [this is probably why the AI-human dialogue constituted most of my quoting in the prior post.] The inner speculations stimulated by the revealed tip-of-the-iceberg visibility, or illusory deceptions by the aliens, of morality and ethics and character, I found enticing. There certainly wasn't much information about what they would look like, of what material they would be constituted, of what energy systems they would be animated. And more that was absent.

As I spontaneously and mildly inner riffed on how our each's preferences express something about our personalities and maybe more basic biomental characteristics, I got to reflect on some things in myself that are related to fear, caution, graduality of exposure to novelty and its integrations. These I ever so slightly imagined into contrast with yourself. Of course, this IMP zone 1 can feel complex in a hurry, as zone 2 can look complex as well, because these fears, nihilistic expressions, approach-avoidances, and courages, these inner and outer attractors of different sorts can be very context related. And contexts also are complex in their foldings of the multiple aspects of 'reality' within me, and us, and our surrounds, and then are their complex integration in response. (what'd I say, huh? :).)

I liked how John Sanford and Ctein in the after-notes described their process in regard to science, to have more tight-with-contemporary-convention science and 'knowledge', less fantasy.

"Dear reader:

DON'T read this until you have read the novel, because you'll get a whole bunch of spoilers. Some people are fine with that. We know people who read the ends of mysteries first so they can find out whodunit and then enjoy the run-up. We're warning you.

The science fiction author Greg Benford talks about 'wantum mechanics.' It's totally made-up non-science that saves the crew in the last dozen minutes of a bad Star Trek episode. 'Captain, if we invert the polarity of the phasers and couple them with the warp drive, we can produce a beam of the never-before-heard-of unbelievablon particles and render the enemies fleet helpless.' [Crack me up!]

That's one kind of thrill ride, and it's fun. But we wanted to write the kind of high-tech, hard-science thriller where you can't just make up stuff to solve your problem - where you have to deal with the real lemons that life hands you, to make your lemonade.

Such a problem is right where we started. One of us (John) had this idea for a novel. To give the story the right pacing, it needed spaceship technology that wouldn't take decades to build and could get to Saturn in under six months. Even setting the story five decades from now, he didn't know how to do that without just making stuff up - wantum mechanics. So he reached out to the other of us and said, 'Ctein, can you figure out how to make this work, because if you can, we might just have ourselves a novel.'

Cut to the finale. He did, and we did, and you just read it."

They then go on for about nine pages explicating the details.

They did make one concession to "wantum mechanics." So little is known about anti-matter and there is so little current capability to begin to create it, that they massaged a tiny bolus of mental dough into an extra-large fantasy pizza.

End of the authors' notes:

"But the rest of it? Real science and real technology, extrapolated as realistically as we could.

(Oh, all right, we made up the aliens, too. But we didn't give them a magic star drive, okay?)

One last thing: Why did we call it [the American space craft] the Nixon? Because we thought it was funny."

John Sandford and Ctein



Balder said:

Great - thanks for this review, Ambo.  This is the first sci-fi book I've read in decades (I just finished it a month ago) and I really enjoyed it, particularly the balance of humor, suspense, and compelling near-future sciency stuff...  I wanted something more truly novel and mind-bending in the alien encounter at the end, but barring that, I appreciated the pace of the story and the surprises still in store all the way to the end (human surprises, not alien).  I liked it enough to send the book off immediately to my dad, who loved The Martian (and also the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson that I recommended to him).

Bruce, on a side note about passing along reading to parents: I meet about every two weeks with a friend to 'talk integral' and to unpack and share some of our personal stuff of life. He grew up in Germany and Italy and he went to the 'Brockwood Park' Krishanamurti school in England, along with his brother.

I mentioned to him about my enthusiasm and awe for SevenEves and Neale Stephenson's story writing overall. When his mom and dad visited from Germany a couple of months ago for several weeks, he gave her a copy of 7eves. She's around my age and her health and fitness status don't allow her to move around much. She devoured the 900 page book in a few days, and though she didn't try to understand all of the science and tech, she enjoyed it considerably.

Balder said:

Great - thanks for this review, Ambo.  This is the first sci-fi book I've read in decades (I just finished it a month ago) and I really enjoyed it, particularly the balance of humor, suspense, and compelling near-future sciency stuff...  I wanted something more truly novel and mind-bending in the alien encounter at the end, but barring that, I appreciated the pace of the story and the surprises still in store all the way to the end (human surprises, not alien).  I liked it enough to send the book off immediately to my dad, who loved The Martian (and also the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson that I recommended to him).

Yes, there is something both satisfying and enticing about giving us just a few tantalizing hints of the civilization that left behind -- and periodically maintains -- this trans-galactic artifact.  A suggestive portrait often is more convincing than a naked, concrete description of the "alien" or "divine" -- which can often disappoint even if fairly creatively imagined.  On my side, I've long wanted to write an "alien encounter" novel, so some of what I would like to do was projected onto this book.  Since I was young, I have enjoyed trying to imagine my way into the Other, to confront my imagination with the edges of its own possibility, with THAT which can undo its deep moorings.  Maybe one day I'll explore this perverse urge through that long-fantasized alien-contact novel..

Oh, excellent - thank you.  Seveneves has been on my list as well, as you may know.  This gives an extra push to pick it up...  (And cool about your friend and his Brockwood Park history.  I've visited there and used to correspond with them about becoming a teacher there ... )

Yes, I saw Krishnamurti speak on a camp-out weekend at Brockwood.

That was on an epic trip from SoCal by Amtrak to my sisters in the northwest, transCanadian railway to Maine for 2 weeks of sensory awareness with Charlotte Selver and Charles Brooks on Monhegan Island, a stop in England for K, before a stay at Adyar Theosophical Society while training at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Madras with Desikachar, then a weird body-spirit-mind sickness, and a return to the US for whatever, sagging tail between the legs.

Hah. Epic times. Sorta.

Balder said:

Oh, excellent - thank you.  Seveneves has been on my list as well, as you may know.  This gives an extra push to pick it up...  (And cool about your friend and his Brockwood Park history.  I've visited there and used to correspond with them about becoming a teacher there ... )

Hi B -

I want to say that I am getting your ongoing interest in imagining into, fleshing out in word-thought, and placing into an encounter story, alien, with homo sapien. As a child and adult, what a fertile imagination.

Maybe you will write something more about that in the future. Essay, short story, novel, trilogy :)

If you were, now, to begin to articulate a description of an alien, where would you even begin? Where would I begin? Hmm.

I suppose, me beginning now, there could be many potential forms. Hence, in part, the many descriptions in sci-fi and especially sci-fantasy. [Though I am sooo over Star Wars iterations, I may never forget seeing for the first time that totally bizarre first bar scene in Star Wars I. Crazy species variation. Coexisting momentarily in a rambunctious space. What a cinematographic coup.]

I would think that the constituency of alienness and its related appearance and behavior depends and is co-created by the planetary environment's constituency, related to the even larger cosmic environment, obvious and more subtle - logical, no? OK, and an implicit nature of causal - hmm?

Thinking the many things through about the possible environments that might give rise to life, mostly believably, without itemizing at this time the many features like gravity, available materials, and energetic conditions, one could begin to construct a being. Evolution could be used as a template for arranging a history and timeline. If not evolution, what else, without it sounding too mythic and fantastic to sound like "science" fiction?

Maybe I'll stop here. Any thoughts, elaborations, redirections? Anyone?

Balder said:

Yes, there is something both satisfying and enticing about giving us just a few tantalizing hints of the civilization that left behind -- and periodically maintains -- this trans-galactic artifact.  A suggestive portrait often is more convincing than a naked, concrete description of the "alien" or "divine" -- which can often disappoint even if fairly creatively imagined.  On my side, I've long wanted to write an "alien encounter" novel, so some of what I would like to do was projected onto this book.  Since I was young, I have enjoyed trying to imagine my way into the Other, to confront my imagination with the edges of its own possibility, with THAT which can undo its deep moorings.  Maybe one day I'll explore this perverse urge through that long-fantasized alien-contact novel..



Balder said:

Yes, there is something both satisfying and enticing about giving us just a few tantalizing hints of the civilization that left behind -- and periodically maintains -- this trans-galactic artifact.  A suggestive portrait often is more convincing than a naked, concrete description of the "alien" or "divine" -- which can often disappoint even if fairly creatively imagined.  On my side, I've long wanted to write an "alien encounter" novel, so some of what I would like to do was projected onto this book.  Since I was young, I have enjoyed trying to imagine my way into the Other, to confront my imagination with the edges of its own possibility, with THAT which can undo its deep moorings.  Maybe one day I'll explore this perverse urge through that long-fantasized alien-contact novel..

And here is the source of this imagination :)

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/idaho-shooting-suspect%E2%80%99...

Ambo Suno said:

Hi B -

I want to say that I am getting your ongoing interest in imagining into, fleshing out in word-thought, and placing into an encounter story, alien, with homo sapien. As a child and adult, what a fertile imagination.

Maybe you will write something more about that in the future. Essay, short story, novel, trilogy :)

If you were, now, to begin to articulate a description of an alien, where would you even begin? Where would I begin? Hmm.

I suppose, me beginning now, there could be many potential forms. Hence, in part, the many descriptions in sci-fi and especially sci-fantasy. [Though I am sooo over Star Wars iterations, I may never forget seeing for the first time that totally bizarre first bar scene in Star Wars I. Crazy species variation. Coexisting momentarily in a rambunctious space. What a cinematographic coup.]

I would think that the constituency of alienness and its related appearance and behavior depends and is co-created by the planetary environment's constituency, related to the even larger cosmic environment, obvious and more subtle - logical, no? OK, and an implicit nature of causal - hmm?

Thinking the many things through about the possible environments that might give rise to life, mostly believably, without itemizing at this time the many features like gravity, available materials, and energetic conditions, one could begin to construct a being. Evolution could be used as a template for arranging a history and timeline. If not evolution, what else, without it sounding too mythic and fantastic to sound like "science" fiction?

Maybe I'll stop here. Any thoughts, elaborations, redirections? Anyone?

Balder said:

Yes, there is something both satisfying and enticing about giving us just a few tantalizing hints of the civilization that left behind -- and periodically maintains -- this trans-galactic artifact.  A suggestive portrait often is more convincing than a naked, concrete description of the "alien" or "divine" -- which can often disappoint even if fairly creatively imagined.  On my side, I've long wanted to write an "alien encounter" novel, so some of what I would like to do was projected onto this book.  Since I was young, I have enjoyed trying to imagine my way into the Other, to confront my imagination with the edges of its own possibility, with THAT which can undo its deep moorings.  Maybe one day I'll explore this perverse urge through that long-fantasized alien-contact novel..

:-)  Very fun, Ambo.  I suddenly got very busy at work this week so haven't been able to respond yet but I will do so this weekend!

Good, Bruce - in case at a glance you thought I drew the alien sketch - I did not. (At least I won't admit to it :)) the artist is identified in the post following the pic, at the link provided. But you may know that already.
I have been thinking a little more about this imagining and maybe I'll have more to speculate in the future.
Maybe it is 'legitimate' to begin with imagery alone and not wonder whether it is science fiction or science fantasy or something else. I find that a case for tighter science as a basis might be made on this website where, for example, it has been asked and discussed, what is real reason and what is false reason. How embodied can one feel the rendering to be, how much has it rested on mainly abstraction.
Again, maybe a case can be made for the value that could come from imagining in more fantasy ways, silly ways, convenient but provocative ways - perhaps legitimized somewhat by the very fact that human readers are drawn to it. Hmm?




Balder said:

:-)  Very fun, Ambo.  I suddenly got very busy at work this week so haven't been able to respond yet but I will do so this weekend!

Back in a day, I read a lot of science fiction and there are almost no authors who I remember well. However, I can recollect some strange and imaginally surprising thematic turns by Ursula La Guin (sp?)

I think she maybe explored gender and maybe sexuality and there was an intuitive or imaginal believability to them.

Though I have been asserting a predisposition for 'science' fiction as supposedly distinct from fantasy or make believe, I can get that there may be believable or real-seeming projections, extrapolations, and relatively free-floating, apparently non-grounded possibilities of how aliens might appear.

Entertainingly freeing visions must have some merit though they probably couldn't happen that way in the worlds we know of material, energy, and 'fields.'

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, a good study of and fidelity to material physics and biological structure within environments of so many parameters and constraints on development would and does seem to lend a veracity to science fictional imaginings of aliens or even humans under unusual conditions.

Notice the recent news piece on the astronaut who returned from one year in zero gravity space. His anatomy and physiology did change in small but significant ways, like increased height.

As I have cruised through this ideational theme, Bruce, based on your substantial interest and my currently flickering one, I have thought of two areas of imagining aliens other than the obvious physical that could be fun to imagine into. One would be the mental where there may be more degrees of freedom possible with small or large changes in the sustaining and nurturing surround of the alien. I'm no Trekkie but I think that the Star Trek series played quite a lot with that, as I am guessing did others. I would still want there to be visible logical connections to material and energetic reality as we know it, or make a good case for divergence.

Another space that I got turning around in within my mind-body is sexuality. It surprised me how potent was my imagining in what I could feel in myself. This could be a fun area of exploratory and embodied imagining. I'll spare y'all one possibility that I imagined that was quite beautiful to feel within :)

For now, 'Out.'



Balder said:

Yes, there is something both satisfying and enticing about giving us just a few tantalizing hints of the civilization that left behind -- and periodically maintains -- this trans-galactic artifact.  A suggestive portrait often is more convincing than a naked, concrete description of the "alien" or "divine" -- which can often disappoint even if fairly creatively imagined.  On my side, I've long wanted to write an "alien encounter" novel, so some of what I would like to do was projected onto this book.  Since I was young, I have enjoyed trying to imagine my way into the Other, to confront my imagination with the edges of its own possibility, with THAT which can undo its deep moorings.  Maybe one day I'll explore this perverse urge through that long-fantasized alien-contact novel..

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