Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Crow in space - reprise

"Apologies for the late arrival but the last time we dropped by this sector, perhaps a thousand years ago, things seemed to be going along swimmingly with your development and it would appear we put your planet a little further down the list for follow-up than would now appear to have been wise. Oh dear, you have dug quite a lot of holes down there, haven't you, and what's all that smoke and nasty colored stuff in the water? Didn't there used to be quite a lot of trees just over to the left and where are the tops that I'm sure were on those mountains last time?"

This, dear susan, was how the conversation began when I renewed my acquaintance with Bijou Son Dopazine Al'ka Quil (you can call me Dope) on his/her/its most recent visit to Earth. Dope, a freelance pan-galactic cryptozoologist by profession, has returned to Earth to see how you people are getting along and to invite any interested members of the planet's intelligent species to join his/her/its cosmic venture. This invitation isn't being offered to humans, by the way - at least not quite yet. Crows, whales and many more, however,  are busy packing their picnic baskets and breathing great sighs of relief.

I first met him/her/it centuries ago when I was on a grand tour of the the outer spiral arm. Dope doesn't actually come from a planet. His/her/its people gave up planetary living so long ago that none of them even remember  which part of the galaxy was once called home. Instead, they live on giant ships, by that I mean ships that could house the Death Star half a dozen times with room left over for several oceans and many forests. They find living on planets to be far too much of a constraint to their natural curiosity. 

Not to worry, I won't be going on this trip. Once our friends have been comfortably accommodated on the mother ship 'Seen Enough Yet?' (currently orbiting at L1 and safely outside missile range - haha, fireworks!), I'll be returning home. In the meantime Dope offered a suggestion for humanity that he/she/it hopes will be acted upon before their next visit in 500 years or so:

"Be nice to each other and look after this place. After all, even you should be able to see it's the only planet you've got since all the other decent ones are too far away for you to get to. Besides, they all have their own people anyway.

If you do that and don't accidentally kill yourselves we may be able to provide you with some assistance when we return. Most important is to stop digging all those holes!"

I'll be flying in tomorrow evening, my friend. Don't forget to warm up the Remy and chill the fruitcake.

I'm dedicating this post to another good friend I've never met, Iain M. Banks, whose books about the Culture describe life in a star-spanning "empire" organized along socialist/libertarian/anarchist principles, achieved through post-scarcity technology. The seven or eight humanoid species that founded the Culture along with the others which joined later live without want, and without the need to work; practically anything they can ask for, they can receive. This is largely because the organic Culturniks are under the benevolent de-facto dictatorship... ahem, guidance of the A.I. Minds that control the starships and space habitats the entire Culture lives on.

Could the future be like that for us? As Iain Banks once answered "Only if we're lucky". He is far more clever than me and the books are a treat. I'm hoping we get lucky.


The above was posted originally a couple of years ago but Crow and I like the picture, besides which, the message seems as appropriate now as it did then. Iain Banks died of pancreatic cancer a few months later. His books remain among my favorites.


"So, again no, we didn't discover aliens on Europa. This shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone. We told you repeatedly that today's announcement wouldn't be about aliens. But every time we do one of these things with the press, inevitably you guys think it's going to be about aliens. So I'll let you in on a little secret. NASA will literally never hold a press conference announcing we have discovered aliens. Because we are never going to discover aliens. Aliens are going to discover us, and when they do it won't be pretty. You can take that to the bank. There certainly won't be enough time for a press conference about it. You probably won't even have time to blink. Just a hot white flash in the sky and then lights out. As far as the universe is concerned, relatively speaking, we're infants. Lord knows we act like it. I mean you guys see the same garbage we do, right? Would you tolerate any of this? If you were them? I know I sure as shit wouldn't. Not even for a second. We're basically infants and when the adults show up - and they will show up sooner or later - it's game over. Best case scenario, we wipe ourselves off the face of the planet before they get a crack at us. You want an announcement about aliens? Here it is: Be careful what you wish for. If you guys knew even a fraction of the shit we do, you'd never sleep again. I promise you that."

Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA

Paul Hertz is real and this quote may be his but I'm guessing some wag made it up since scientists aren't known to be funny in front of reporters - except for Richard Feynman and, occasionally, my friend Andrew.


Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

Philip K. Dick (1978)



  1. There is a wealth of material here that deserves good comment. That wealth, in turn, opens up so many possibilities, some good and some awful, that my tired mind cannot begin to grapple with them. Yet, against all the odds perhaps, I see that there is room at least for hope; that the memories of the past need not be repeated. Thank you for this, Susan.

    1. It never hurts to remind ourselves the universe is bigger than we can possibly imagine, Tom. As you mentioned recently in a post you wrote 'no cycle repeats itself exactly as before'. Thank you for that, my friend.

  2. This concept, that we are a bit of an 'experiment' by an advanced species or culture that is going to check up on us occasionally is one that has been used to good effect. In '2001' and '2010' the black monolith was, according to Clarke, a device left to communicate to it's makers information about us.

    In a somewhat lesser work, Heinlein in 'Stranger in a Strange Land' has a variation, where he implies the Martians are going to decide 'what to do about us'.

    Were it so, part of me thinks, it might be for the best. Alas, I fear we're on our own, and I don't like the path we're currently trodding along.


    1. Strangely enough, the Culture novels are about conflict at the margins of the larger society because books about true utopias would be incredibly boring to most of us. Iain Banks wrote about our planet just once in a story entitled 'The State of the Art' wherein Contact representatives who visit Earth in the year 1977 determine after a period of careful investigation that the Culture needs to intervene to clean up the mess that human beings are making of our world. Another representative determines there's nothing to be done other than destroy the place to stop the infection spreading.

      As I recall it Banks once said "People in the Culture are just too nice — altering their genetic inheritance to make themselves relatively sane and rational and not the genocidal, murdering bastards that we seem to be half the time."

      Anyway, that story ended with the Contact group deciding to leave the inhabitants of Earth to work out their own problems - a control group.

    2. One time, a long time ago, I sat in a formal library of a house on a major military school, the Superintendent's Quarters of the Naval Academy. I was a boy of 19, perhaps I'd turned 20 at that point. Don't remember. I was sitting with a whiskey sour, in a chair at an angle to the other occupant. A Rear Admiral, with damn near every medal the US had to offer except the MOH, which he'd been nominated for twice. He sipped his Wild Turkey and gazed at me. Much the same grey, steady eyes that had once looked at the beaches of Saipan, Tarawa and Tokyo Bay before entering during WW2.
      We had been talking for maybe a half hour, I'd expressed a desire to marry his daughter, a big bump for me intellectually, socially, and almost any way you can describe.
      He looked a long time at his drink. "What would you change, if you could change anything. Big or small. The largest event or the least. The Crucifixion, Hitler, whatever."
      I gave it less than 5 seconds thought. "Nothing."
      Even then, as a kid, I knew you didn't fuck with things you don't control.

    3. That's quite a remarkable image, Mike, in a time well before so many other major events in your life. Having examined your character and potential to make a difference in the world in general and for his daughter in particular I'm happy to know the Rear Admiral made the wise decision and accepted you as a bonafide member of the family.

      Around that same time I was living, working, and travelling around Europe for several years in what turned out to be the process of growing out and through my version of callow youth. It was a time I also came to understand the difference between the things you can change and those you can't - which is almost everything.

    4. Huh. At around the same time a good friend of mine, now, was doing the same, working at USO's, etc in Germany, married an Italian guy, raised a great family. She was there in 67, near Frankfurt. Ever in that area?

    5. I spent most of the two years I lived there traveling around England, Scotland and Wales but never did get to Ireland or Germany either. The parts of the Continent I did spend some time in were Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. When I left it was with every intention of returning a few months later for a planned overland bus trip to India with a coalition of students from English universities (each group to their own bus). Even after all these years I still kind of regret missing that particular adventure.

  3. Good morning Susan. I love your work. Just wanted to state that first because frankly to me that is "real", whatever that is. This is wonderfully esoteric yet blandly pessimistic, no opinions about us one way or the other. Sort of a "Don't F up" wisdom I gravitate to. :)

    I've been sick but am happy to hear you will join me on the other, much less far-sighted journey in the hinterland of commerce. That's a relief, I think we'll be able to stand it together. Security in numbers and that sort of thing. Xox over + out for now.

    1. I gravitate to it myself, Linda, particularly because I have no answers or solutions either.

      I'm looking forward to joining your venture into the other thing. Life is always full of surprises, sometimes good ones.

  4. Hi Susan
    Like the others before me I would commend you for bringing together all these science fiction references via its messenger - the immutable purveyor of wisdom Crow, regaled against a backdrop of starlight splendor. But Mr Crow, just told me your hunch about scientists turned out to be correct as it applies to Paul.
    Best wishes

    1. We're both glad you enjoyed it, Lindsay. Yes, that quote did seem a little too astute and witty to have actually been told to a reporter. Thanks for checking.

      All the best

  5. "freelance pan-galactic cryptozoologist"... Don't trust them. Freelancers are always just after a new contract and/or free publicity (I should know).

    1. No surprise there, Andrew, I always thought freelancer was just another word for unemployed..