This trip starts with my perusal of the book Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson. It's the third (probably the last) in a series that begins with Spin and then Axis.
The premise begins with the day the stars go out. Spin is about how the Earth is suddenly encircled by some kind of force field that allows the planet to experience time at a much slower rate than the rest of the universe (which is the phenomenon they dub "the Spin"). Millions of years pass on the outside, while just a few pass for Earth's humans. The much abbreviated version of the story is that an advanced and ancient alien intelligence called the Hypotheticals has taken it upon itself to cocoon the Earth before we destroy ourselves. At the end, a portal has opened to another Earth-like planet, allowing humanity to plunder it for its resources and continue our passive march towards oblivion.
Axis tells a new story, after the portal has been open for years, with different characters, one of whom is a genetically engineered boy named Isaac born through technology stolen from the Hypotheticals. It allows him to establish some kind of connection with the alien intelligence, and he and a regular old human named Turk end up melding with the Hypotheticals in an unexplained way. It's a differently told book, and not as engrossing as Spin. Worse, Axis doesn't expound on the questions put forth in Spin about who the Hypotheticals are and what they really want.
Vortex is yet another different kind of book set in this same universe, but this time told in the dual time periods of both a few years after the Spin begins and ten thousand years after Turk and Isaac are taken. Turk and Isaac discover more about the nature of the Hypotheticals as they witness the death of the planet Earth. Meanwhile, ten thousand years earlier, their story is written down by a young man who's hearing voices and in trouble with the post-Spin law. You understand how this is possible by the end of the book, but again, it's not as epic as Spin.
Still, the coda of Vortex takes you on another journey as Isaac becomes one with the Hypotheticals and goes even further through time and space than any human might imagine. I became much more interested in that story than the previous ones and was disappointed when it came to an end, seemingly to the end of the series. I wanted to know more about these ancient Hypotheticals and the far future Isaac had been flung into.
Pushing Ice is full of an intriguing circular logic connecting time and space, but told with ease and skill. Reynolds has a talent for describing the awe of something that to us would seem like the eternities.
Pulling all of this together, I need to talk about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Where No One Has Gone Before." I recently re-watched this episode, and it's one that I remember clearly from the first time I saw it.
The Enterprise often travels fast and far, but always within the limits of warp speed set up as part of their universe. In this episode, however, an alien who comes to be known as the Traveler takes the ship across galaxies, somewhere humans never could have reached in millions of years. They assume they are near the Outer Rim of the universe, a place where thoughts begin to become reality. There's some talk about the nature of reality, but the big concern is getting home, which the Traveler is able to accommodate, but not without phasing out of reality himself.
The physics here don't exactly work as explained in the episode. They talk about a "burst of speed" that takes them well beyond light speed. Of course, if that's really how they travel, the effects of relativity would put them back home probably billions of years later. If they would have just called it a worm hole or something, it might make more theoretical sense. But this is just my current response, since I've read a book on physics in the intervening years and am therefore a scholar on astrophysics.
What I remember responding to about this episode, and what I still notice now, is that if they traveled that far, they would be in the future. And it's a most intriguing picture of humanity's tomorrow.
Perhaps more interestingly, though far less coherently, I also reacted to this idea about being in a place--a space--where thoughts create reality. To explain without getting overly religious, because this is definitely The Gospel According to Me, my school of thought (which has some kind of basis in my Mormonism; I promise I'm not just being kooky--unless you just think Mormonism is just that--in which case, I make no such promise to you as I head for the lunatic fringe here) is that spiritual ideas have to have a physical counterpart in some way. For instance, the power of prayer is something I wholeheartedly believe in. For me there's something about faithful, deliberate concentration on a higher power that has to have a link to physical reality. I don't know what that means, other than I know we don't know everything about physics, and as the book Anathem posits, there is a fascinating, physically real consequence to something like prayer. And I trust that our future discoveries and enlightenment will hold answers to these kinds of questions.
I'm sure this makes little sense. Like how these books are at all connected to one idea from a poorly executed TV show. (Watching season one of TNG is hard, but I know it gets better.) In my head, it's clear as Crystal Pepsi. Perhaps in conversation, we can come to some understanding. What do you think?
|It's like a crystal ball in there.|