Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gregory Benford: more from Anomalies

Here are several more stories from Greg Benford's latest short story collection:  Anomalies

"Twenty-Two Centimeters"

This story plays with one of the present theories of the universe-- the membrane theory.  I'll quote from the story itself, as one of the characters expresses her problem with the theory, which is the same as mine.

"She did not really follow the theory; she was an astronaut.  It was hard enough to comprehend the mathematical guys  when they spoke English.  For them, the whole universe was a sheet of space-time, called 'brane' for membrane.  And there were other branes, spaced out along an unseen dimension.  Only gravity penetrated between those sheets.  All other fields, which meant all mass and light, was stuck to the branes."

The "physics guys" discovered another brane just twenty-two centimeters away from our universe, in another dimension, and signals emanating from it.  They developed a portal into the other universe and Julie and Al,  being astronauts, and not having to understand the theory or the mathematics, were chosen to pop through the portal and take a look.  And discover the source of those signals.  This is a first contact tale, rather unique I thought.  It also has a vivid description of the Counter-Earth and its inhabitants. 

"Applied Mathematical Theology"

Benford here plays with an important astronomical discovery that plays an important role in the present theory regarding the formation of the universe.  It is not a story with characters, but a journal article or something similar that gives an account of "(t)he discovery that the Cosmic Microwave Background has a pattern buried within it (which) unsettled the entire world."

     The temperature of this 2.7 K. emission left over from the Big Bang varies across the sky.  Temperature ripples can be broken into angular- co-ordinate Fourier components, and this is where radio astronomers found a curious pattern--a message, or at least, a pattern.  Spread across the microwave sky there was room in the detectable fluctuations for about 10,000 bits, or roughly a thousand words."

Naturally considerable controversy raged about the message, its creator(s) (if one), and implications to be drawn from this.  At first, the most disputed issue was its nature:was it a real message or just a random collection of fluctuations?

"One insight did come from this, however.  Benford's Law (not the author, and a real law), which states that the logarithms of artificial numbers are uniformly distributed, did apply to the tiny fluctuations. This proved that the primordial microwaves were not random, and so had been artificially encoded, perhaps by some even earlier process.  So there was a massage, of sorts."

It's a short article, almost three pages long and possesses a rather tongue-in-cheek resolution, which leaves everybody happy. 

"The Man Who Wasn't There"

This is a high-tech action story set a few decades in the future.  Islamic extremists are trying to reconquer Europe through the use of terrorist tactics and the courts.  Fully aware of the West's ability to intercept electronic communications, they have gone to a low-tech solution--human memory.  All plans and strategies are now committed to memory and communicated by certain Masters.  And, these masters are fully prepared to commit suicide rather than be captured.

The anti-terrorist squad has learned that one of these masters is now living in a compound in one of the suburbs of Paris.  They are preparing to attack the compound and have a few surprises in store for the terrorists.  One is an invisibility suit, comprised of optical fibers which transferred light waves around the suit.  However, it was still dangerous because it affected light only, not an actual object, such as a bullet. They also had one other surprise for the terrorist.

To get in and get the information, they have to be fast and efficient.

"The Final Now"

With a stretch, one might see this tale as a sequel to the earlier story,"Applied Mathematical Theology,"  a story about a message that seemed to be encoded within the Cosmic Microwave Background."  The message's existence had been thoroughly documented, but three questions still remained: who left the message, why was the message left, and what was the message.

The story begins:

He suddenly thought that they had not seen anyone for quite a while.  Amid the vast voyages, adventures, striking vistas--and yes, while basking in symphonies of sensation--they had not needed company.
        Even as twilight closed in.  But now--
        "Do you recall--?"  He asked, turning to Her, and could not recall an ancient name.  Names were unimportant, mere symbols, yes. . .but He did remember that names had existed to distinguish between multitudes.  When?  First task: to name the beasts.  When had He and She said that?

.  .  .
They were, of course, the two who gave tension to this finite, bounded existence.  This universeDuality was fundamental, as was helicity itself, which necessarily had to be included in this exponentially expanding space-time.

Creativity seems to require two--male and female.  They had also brought forth the Others, short-lived and limited creatures, but who yet had consciousness and intelligence.  These, however, were not completely separate beings for the Others were, in a sense, part of the He and the She.  They were brought forth to "To summon up insights that lie within the two of us, but that we cannot express overtly. To be vast meant having parts of yourself that you could not readily find.

He and She now realize that the universe is running downThey call forth one of the Others and tell him that the end time is near.  Upon hearing this, the Other said strongly, "I do not accept this."  At last, the point.  She said with love and deep feeling, "Then strive to alter."

 Perhaps this story provides the answers to the earlier story in the collection as "The Final Now" was published four years after "Applied Mathematical Theology."

Perhaps not.   

 Your thoughts?


  1. Interesting reading of these stories, which writ at different times, yet seem to connect. I wrote several such stories of metaphysical import over several years (the shorter ones for the journal Nature) and don't have a Grand Synthesis of what they all mean-=-=except that it's fun to consider what our religions become when they collide with our science.

  2. Gregory,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Are there enough of the metaphysical import stories to warrant a separate collection? It would be interesting to see them together.

  3. I find publishers want to corral my works into different bite-sized marketable units, now. Tempting, sorta. I had Subterranean do my BEST OF this year and some novellas and novelettes are due out... but a collection on science/religion? Ummm...must think...pray...think...

  4. Gregory,

    Let me know if you decide on doing one. That, I think, would be a marketable unit--definitely a niche collection, which I think publishers like.