Back in Part One of this series I described how the germ of the idea for Flight Of The Vajra came from a while slew of disparate project ideas that never came to fruition. The core of the idea, though, came from a completely different direction.
I'm not in principle against remakes. It's just that most of them are lazy and uninterested in actually revisiting the underlying material. To that end I wasn't terribly interested when I heard an announcement back in 2010 or so that a remake of the SF classic Forbidden Planet was on the rails. What caught my attention was a discussion about the project that amounted to speculation about what human life would be like one million years in the future. Would anything recognizably human remain? If so, in what form? All that had the flavor of the best of old-school SF about it -- e.g., Clifford Simak's City or Cosmic Engineers. And maybe there would be some opportunity to revisit the real source material, Shakespeare's The Tempest, and give some thought about how the ideas in there could be re-examined in a modern light.
And then, nothing happened. Generally, if a movie project is announced and then nothing happens in the space of about a year, it's best to assume the project is defunct. Likewise, the Forbidden Planet remake seemed to have evaporated into the ether after that announcement, and I assumed the whole thing had been shelved or killed. But the ideas brought up in the announcements lingered. If someone wasn't going to do anything with them, I thought, I might as well. And I knew I was going to examine them in a different way than they would!
One million years, though, seemed like overkill. Think about how drastically things have changed just in the past hundred. A few key technologies can become gargantuan force multipliers for change. Not always positive change, though; not always socially constructive change or liberating change. So maybe just a few things that change life enormously over the course of not even a couple of centuries, if even that.
The first that came to mind was that old SF chestnut, faster-than-light travel. I called it the "entanglement engine", where you exploit the properties of particle entanglement to allow you to jump to any point in the universe from where you've received light or other radiation. The bad news is that it only gets you most of the way there; you may get to within spitting distance of a solar system, but you still have to go the rest of the way the slow way. Or maybe that's the good part, because the last thing you want is to end up materializing inside a star. Let's ignore the paradoxes created by FTL, or the feasibility of the tech; we're writing a story here. The idea I came up with was more about having fun with the idea and seeing where it could go. Give people the means by which they could have a diaspora, and also make it difficult to fight a space war with it (because as people who try to do this quickly find out, the sheer distances involved make warfare deeply impractical).
But that wasn't the really interesting invention that came to mind; that was just my way of gap-filling FTL into the story in what I thought was a novel way. The real innovation was an idea I'd been mulling about for a long time -- "programmable matter". The idea that materials science would advance to the point where we could have substances that behaved more like software than physical objects. I called it protomics.
The idea shook out like so. Imagine five incarnations of this tech -- five different kinds of programmable substances, each with different properties. The simplest behaves like cloth or soft plastic; the next behaves like softer metals; next up, like metal or glass. Two more, non-renewable, round things out: one that behaves like a gel or a void filler, and one more that has one-time energy release properties.
I created a reference chart to lay them out side-by-side. Each one has its own color code and icon:
Obviously these aren't intended to replace absolutely everything we build or weave with. But they can complement much of what we use to build our world, and augment them in ways that couldn't be augmented before.
Give the human race either of these things, and immense change is possible. Give them both of them, and look out, baby.
But there was one other thing I wanted to complement to all of this, and it was an idea that had been kicking around since the very beginning of all the projects related to this one: what kind of spiritual component would exist in a universe like this.
What came to mind, and refused to leave, was the idea of a spiritual framework that came about and persisted in defiance of, and in resistance to, all the massive changes that had taken place. People who deliberately carved out space in their lives for the old ways and honored that, and who had peers to support them in that endeavor, would come to number in the billions over time. "The Old Way" stuck as the name for this belief system: those who eschewed things like life meta-extension tech (basically, old minds in new bodies) or cortical linking ("CL"). It helped, they believed, to live with as few of those things as possible, lest one forget.
But such a thing only lasts inasmuch as the society and ritual around it is maintained. And that's only possible when one doesn't become disillusioned -- when one sees one's children dying suddenly and having no recourse for that, or being shut out of the way the rest of the galaxy lives its life because you didn't have a CL put in. And so on. The Old Way, in time, proves itself to be little more than a holding action, one that can't perpetuate itself forever unless it changes from within. The comforts of philosophy and belief pale in time in the face of the actual work of science. (Or so the thinking goes.)
Even in the abstract, with no actual story attached to it, I found all this exciting material to work with. This was easily the largest and most ambitious setting I'd yet created for a story, and I couldn't wait to dive in and start swimming.
In the next installment, I'll talk about the other influences apart from the Forbidden Planet remake that went into this project. Those influences, and what each specifically contributed, may be as surprising to you as they were to me.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind