Saturday, December 26, 2015
Gregory Benford: two short stories from the Galactic Center Universe
The Galactic Center series consists of six novels, ranging in time from the late 1990s to 30,000+ years in the future, and from Earth to the center of our galaxy. To be brief, it is the story of the war between the Mech civilization, ruled by almost godlike AIs, and all organic life forms, especially the sentient species, including humanity. In the 30,000+ years, humanity has managed, in spite of the conflict, to spread throughout the galaxy, including locations close to the black hole at the galaxy's center.
Gregory Benford to this point actually has written three short stories set in the Galactic Center universe. One, "Hunger for the Infinite," published in Far Horizons, edited by Robert Silverberg, explores the Mantis' obsession with the inexplicable human propensity for art. I have posted a very brief commentary which can be found at this address: http://tinyurl.com/p4a7gkj
The other two stories, "Aspects" and "At the Double Solstice," are set on Snowglade, the setting for the third novel in the series, Great Sky River. While the stories do not have dates, internal evidence in the stories indicate that "Aspects" takes place a decade or more after the end of events in Great Sky River, while "At the Double Solstice" is set many decades later.
The third novel in the series, Great Sky River, is the story of the Bishop clan's struggle to survive after the destruction of their civilization on the planet Snowglade. (For more detailed information, see my post at http://tinyurl.com/gu7gd2h.) The two stories are set after the conclusion to the novel Great Sky River and follows those members of the Bishop clan who did not follow Killeen Bishop.
Both stories open with a battle with several mechs, in which one or more humans are killed. Eventually the mech (possibly a lancer or a marauder or worse, a mantis type) is also destroyed. However, the cost to the humans is far greater in that they have now lost irreplaceable knowledge and experience, while the mech factories can simply turn out one or two or more marauders. This battle is followed by the discovery of a mech production facility which the Bishops attack. They grab what nutrients and equipment that can be easily carried and leave before more mechs arrive.
While the pattern here is similar, the third element demonstrates that a change has taken place in the thinking of the Bishop clan. In both stories, the humans come across a human artifact, a large structure whose purpose has long since been forgotten. In "Aspects," the humans are happy to find such a place: "We built it," a younger said. "We made something...beautiful." They rest there and discover that it's a cache, a storehouse of information from the past which will help them survive in their struggle with the mechs. Some of them were old enough to have lived in their great cities and consider it a Golden Age. They would go back, instantly, if they had the opportunity.
In "At the double solstice," decades? later, however, the reaction to the structure is quite different. The Bishops have difficulty in believing humans could ever have built such a mechlike thing. Only the mechs created things that were rigid, with corners and straight lines. Natural things were very different, far superior, and their way was the best way.
"If humanity had been mechlike in the far past, even to the point of making things of stone that trapped feeling. . .Agaden curled his lip. If that was true, then he felt no reverence for those benighted ancestors. He was suddenly glad to live in a holier and wiser time. Humanity today knew the true division between the sweet passing beauties of things human, and the cruel hard mech ways."
What began as a necessity for survival has now been transformed into the best way for humanity. The Bishops have adopted the nomadic way, not as a bitter choice for survival, but now as the best way, the holiest course for humans. They now have the disdain that all true nomads have for fixed, artificial structures and a settled way of life.
Truth in whateveritis: I have received free digital copies of both short stories.