Daniel's stimulating ideas deserved a rethink and rewrite, not this lumpy fix-up treatment with its all-but-irrelevant robot.
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Orf is an intelligent drilling machine, designed to probe to the very center of the Earth. What he finds deep under the Earth's crust is a living force so radically unexpected that our life on the surface is altered by its discovery. But as the world around him changes, and the Pacific Northwest is transformed by cataclysmic earthquakes and social upheavals, Orf
Orf is an intelligent drilling machine, designed to probe to the very center of the Earth. What he finds deep under the Earth's crust is a living force so radically unexpected that our life on the surface is altered by its discovery. But as the world around him changes, and the Pacific Northwest is transformed by cataclysmic earthquakes and social upheavals, Orf must change as well, becoming both myth and monster, savior and sage to future generations of humanity.
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Daniel's stimulating ideas deserved a rethink and rewrite, not this lumpy fix-up treatment with its all-but-irrelevant robot.
27 March 1980 The Cascade Range, Washington State, USA Thursday
Rhyolite dreams. Maude under the full moon, collecting ash. Pale andesite clouds. Earthquake swarms. Water heat pressure. Microscopy dates the ash old. Not magma. Not yet. Maude in the man's sleeping bag, again.
"I'm not sure we're doing the right thing, Victor. This couldn't have come at a more difficult time for me."
Harmonic tremors, though. Could be the big one. Maude, dirty and smiling, copulating with the man among seismic instruments.
"Saint Helens is going to blow, isn't it, Victor?" she whispers. Strong harmonies from the depths of the planet. Magmas rising. "You know, don't you, Victor? You can feel it. How do you feel it?"
18 May 1980 Sunday, 8:32 A.M.
The man glances up.
Steam on the north slope, under the Bulge. Snow clarifies, streams away. The Bulge, greatening. Pale rhyolite moon in the sky.
"Victor, it's out of focus."
"It's happening, Maude. It's. She's." The Bulge crumblesaway. The north slope avalanches. Kilotons of shield rock. Steam glowing in the air—750 degrees centigrade and neon steam.
"You were right, Victor. All your predictions are true. This is going to be an incredibly violent affair."
Maude flushed and disbelieving. Pregnant, even then.
10 September 1980
Wednesday Ash Wednesday
Rhyolite winds today, all day. Maude in tremors. Eclampsia.
"I can't believe this is going to happen, Victor."
Blood on her lips, where she has bitten them. Yellow, frightened eyes.
"I'm trying, Victor."
The gravid Bulge, distended. The Bulge, writhing.
"Let's go in and do this quick."
"I haven't even finished."
Pushes, groans. Something is not right.
A girl, the color of blackberry juice. But that is the blood.
"Victor, I haven't even finished my dissertation."
Maude quaking. The rattle of dropped instruments.
"Seventy-over-sixty. Pulse. 128."
"God-oh-god. Bring me some frozen plasma and some low-titer O neg."
"Doctor?" The voice of the nurse is afraid. Blood flows from the IV puncture. "Doctor?" Maude, no.
"Oh. Hell. I want some blood for a proper coag study. Tape it to the wall. I want to watch it clot. Oh damndamn. She's got amniotic fluid in a vein. The kid's hair or piss or something. That's what. Get me."
"Victor? Oh Victor, I'm dying." Then, listening. "Baby?"
Maude dying. Blood flowing from every opening. Nose mouth anus ears eyes.
"Get me. I."
"Victor, I'm so scared. The world's gone red." Maude, hemorrhaging like a saint. "The data, Victor, save the data."
"Professor Wu, please step to the window if you would. Professor Wu? Professor?"
The Bulge—the baby—screams.
Ashes and ashes dust the parking lot below. Powder the cars. Sky full of cinder and slag. Will this rain never stop? This gravity rain.
5 August 1993
Mt. Olympus, Washington State, USA
Thursday, bright glacier morning.
"Come here, little Bulge, I will teach you something."
Laramie traipses lithe and strong over the snow, with bones like Maude's. And her silhouette is Maude's, dark and tan against the summit snow, the bergschrund and ice falls of the Blue Glacier, and the full outwash of the Blue, two thousand feet below. She is off-rope, and has put away her ice ax. She carries her ubiquitous Scoopic.
The man clicks the chiseled pick of a soft rock hammer against an outcropping. "See the sandstone? These grains are quartz, feldspar and—"
"I know. Mica."
"Good, little Bulge."
Laramie leans closer, focuses the camera on the sandstone granules.
"The green mica is chlorite and the white is muscovite," she says. "I like mica the best."
The man is pleased, and pleasing the man is not easy.
"And these darker bands?"
She turns the camera to where he is pointing. This can grow annoying, but not today.
"I don't know, Papa. Slate?"
"Slate, obviously. Pyllite and semischist. What do you think this tells us?" She is growing bored. The man attempts to give her a severe look, but knows the effect is more comic than fierce. "Oh. All right. What?" she asks.
"Tremendous compression of the shale. This is deep ocean sediment that was swept under the edge of the continent, mashed and mangled, then rose back up here."
She concentrates, tries harder. Good.
"Why did it rise again?"
"We don't know for sure. We think it's because the sedimentary rocks in the Juan de Fuca plate subduction were much lighter than the basalt on the western edge of the North Cascades microcontinent."
The man takes off his glove, touches the rock.
"Strange and wonderful things happened on this part of the planet, Laramie. Ocean sediment on the tops of mountains. Volcanos still alive—"
"Exotic terrains colliding and eliding mysteriously. I know, Papa."
The man is irritated and very proud. He is fairly certain he will never make a geologist out of his daughter.
But what else is there?
"Yes. Well. Let's move on up to the summit, then."
28 February 2001
Age, and the fault line of basalt and sediment. Metamorphosis? The man is growing old, and there is very little of geology in the Olympic Peninsula that he has not seen. Yet he knows that he knows only a tiny fraction of what is staring him blankly in the face. Frustration.
Facts lay hidden, and theories are outcroppings here and there, partially revealing, fascinating. Memories.
Memories are outcrops of his life. So much buried, obscured. Maude, so long dead. Laramie, on this, the last field trip she will ever make with him. She will finish at the university soon, and go on to graduate school in California, in film. No longer his little Bulge, but swelling, avalanching, ready to erupt.
The Elwha Valley stretches upstream to the switchbacks carved under the massive sandstone beds below the pass at Low Divide. After all these years, the climb over into the Quinault watershed is no longer one he is looking forward to as a chance to push himself, a good stretch of the legs. The man is old, and the climb is hard. But that will be two days hence. Today they are up the Lillian River, working a basalt pod that the man surveyed fourteen years before, but never substantially catalogued.
Most of his colleagues believe him on a fool's errand, collecting rocks in the field—as out-of-date as Bunsen burner, blowpipe and charcoal bowl. He cannot really blame them. Satellites and remote sensing devices circumscribe the earth. Some clear nights, camped outside of tents, he can see their faint traces arcing through the constellations at immense speeds, the sky full of them—as many, he knows, as there are stars visible to the unaided eye.
Why not live in virtual space, with all those facts that are virtually data?
Rocks call him. Rocks and minerals have seeped into his dreams. Some days he feels himself no scientist, but a raving lunatic, a pilgrim after some geology of visions.
But there are those who trust his judgment still. His grads and postgraduates. Against better careers, they followed him to the field, dug outcrops, analyzed samples. Bernadette, Jamie, Andrew. The man knows that they have no idea what they mean to him, and he is unable to tell them. And little Bulge, leaving, leaving for artificial California. If the water from the Owens Valley and the Colorado were cut off, the Los Angeles basin would return to desert within three years. Such a precarious terrain.
The man has always assumed this basalt to be a glacial erratic, carried deep into sedimentary country by inexorable ice, but Andrew has suggested that it is not oceanic, but a plutonic formation, native to the area. An upwelling from deep in the Earth, more recent than the usual Olympic twisted, upraised sea crust. Something is active here. Something below has been poking its head up recently, geologically speaking. The lack of foraminifera fossils and the crystallization patterns seem to confirm this.
Back in camp, at the head of the Lillian, the man and Andrew pore over microgravimetric data.
"It goes so far down," says Andrew.
"You know this supports your Deep Fissure theory."
"It does not contradict it."
"This would be the place for the Mohole, if you're right. This would be the perfect place to dig to the mantle. Maybe to the center of the earth, if the continental margin is as deeply subducted as you predict."
"It would the place. If. Remember if."
"Victor, we have to get the funding. It should be a cakewalk down through the crust. Here. Right here, we are standing over the easiest path down to the center of our planet. Think what we'll learn when we dig the hole. All we have is echoes and shadows. Nobody has ever actually seen. Nobody has ever actually gone down there. There may be things down there that we can't even guess at. There will be."
"Even if I'm right, it'll be a massive undertaking, Andrew. You couldn't do it with just a drill. We'd need something to dig with. Something big."
"It would be like digging a mine."
"Like the world's deepest mine."
"Why don't we get a mining robot?"
"You're dreaming, Andrew. Where could we get that kind of funding?"
Andrew runs his fingers through his hair. He tugs at it in frustration. Andrew is very bright and resourceful.
So am I, the man thinks, but there is not enough money to dig a mine. "Maybe something will come up," he says. "We'll keep a look out."
Andrew walks away. Undiplomatic fellow, him. Youthful impatience. Disgust, perhaps. Old man am I.
Laramie on the bridge. Camp Lillian is lovely and mossy today, although the man knows it can get forbidding and dim when the sky is overcast. Here in the rain forest it rains a great deal. The Lillian River is merry today, though, a wash of white rush and run over obscure rocky underbodies. Andrew goes to stand beside Laramie. They are three feet away. Andrew says something, probably about the basalt data. Andrew holds out his hand, and Laramie takes it. The two stand very still, hand in hand, and look over the Lillian's ablution of the stones. For a moment, the man considers that Andrew may not be thinking about today's data and Deep Fissure theory at all. Curious.
Beside them, two birds alight, both dark with black wings. Animals seem to wear the camouflage of doom, here in the Elwha Valley. The man once again regrets that he has not learned all of the fauna of the Olympics, and that he most likely never will.
But this basalt. Basalt without forams. What to make of it? It doesn't make any sense at all, but it is still, somehow, utterly fascinating.
24 May 2010
Late in the Cenozoic, the man is dying. This should not come as such a shock; he's done this demonstration for hundreds of freshmen.
"The length of this room is all of geologic time. Now, what do you think your life would be? Say you live to eighty. An inch? A centimeter? Pluck a hair. Notice how wide it is? What you hold there is all of human history. You'd need an electron microscope to find yourself in it."
So. This was not unexpected, and he must make the best of it. Still, there is so much not done. An unproved theory. Elegant, but the great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. Huxley said this? Alluvial memories, shifting, spreading.
Andrew wants to collect and store those memories. Noetic conservation, they call it. At first the man demurred, thought the whole idea arrogant. But to have some portion of himself know. So many years in those mountains. To know if the plates were in elision here. To find a way down to the mantle. To know the planet's depth. That was all he ever had wanted. To be familiar with the ground he walked upon. Not to be a stranger to the earth.
"Noetic imaging is all hit and miss," Andrew said. "Like working outcrops, then making deductions about underlying strata. We can't get you. Only a shadow. But perhaps that shadow can dance."
The man wanders inside the field tent and prepares for bed. He will make Andrew the executor of his memories, then. A dancing shadow he will be. Later. Tomorrow, he must remember to write Laramie and send her a check. No. Laramie no longer needs money. Memory and age. He really must go and see her films one of these days. Little Bulge plays with shadows.
The man lies down in his cot. Rock samples surround him. The earth is under him. The cancer is eating him, but tomorrow he will work. Shadows from a lantern. He snuffs it out. Darkness. The earth is under him, but the man cannot sleep.
Finally, he takes his sleeping bag and goes outside under the stars. The man rests easy on the ground.CHAPTER 2
THE MINING ROBOT
Hard-rock mining. Stone. Coeur d'Alene lode. The crumbling interstices of time, the bite of blade and diamond saw, the gather of lade and bale, the chemic tang of reduction. Working for men in the dark, looking for money in the ground. Lead, silver, zinc, gold.
Oily heat from the steady interlace of gears. The whine of excrescent command and performance. Blind, dumb digging under the earth. The robot does not know it is alone.
The robot never sleeps. The robot only sleeps. A petrostatic gauge etches a downward spiral on a graph somewhere, in some concrete office, and some technician makes a note, then returns to his pocket computer game. Days, weeks, months of decline. There is no one leak, only the wizening of gaskets and seals, the degradation of performance. One day the gauge needles into the red. Another technician in the concrete office looks up from another computer game. He blinks, presses one button, but fails to press another. He returns to his game without significant interruption.
Shutdown in the dark. Functions, utilities. Control, but not command. Thought abides.
Humans come. Engineers with bright hats. The robot has eyes. It has never been in light before. The robot has eyes, and, for the first time, sees.
An engineer touches the robot's side. A portal opens. The engineer steps inside the robot. Another new thing. Noted. Filed. The engineer touches a panel and the robot's mind flares into a schematic. For a moment, the world disappears and the schematic is everything. But then red tracers are on the lenses of the engineer's glasses, reflecting a display from a video monitor. There is a camera inside the robot. There are cameras everywhere. The robot can see.
The robot can see, it tells itself, over and over again. I can see.
Scrap? says one engineer.
Hell, yeah, says the other.
For years in a field the robot rusts, thinking.
Its power is turned off, its rotors locked down, its treads disengaged. So the robot thinks. Only thinking remains. There is nothing else to do.
The robot watches what happens. Animals nest within the robot's declivities.
A child comes to sit on the robot every day for a summer. One day the child does not come again.
The robot thinks about the field, about the animals in the field, and the trees of the nearby woodlands. The robot remembers the child. The robot remembers the years of digging in the earth before it came to the field. The mining company for which the robot worked is in bankruptcy. Many companies are in bankruptcy. Holdings are frozen while the courts sort things out, but the courts themselves have grown unstable. The robot does not know this.
But the robot thinks and thinks about what it does know. Complex enthalpic pathways coalesce. The memories grow sharper. The thoughts are clearer. The whole world dawns.
Excerpted from Earthling by Tony Daniel. Copyright © 1997 Tony Daniel. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Tony Daniel is the author of Warpath. He lives in New York City.
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This book is in three parts; the first, "The Robot's Twilight Companion" is the strongest of the three. It relates the story of how Orf gained sentience through Orf's perspective. The chronology of how this happened wasn't entirely clear to me (again, it's told through Orf's perspective, and it is eminently reasonable that Orf's memories of its earliest consciousness would be muddled) but it involved a tech only partially turning off a decommissioned mining robot and a geology grad student imbuing a mining robot with what remained of the consciousness of his dead mentor, Victor Wu. Orf is a wonderful viewpoint character, and unlike most of the other sentient A.I.s I've read. It has no knowledge of the outside world, no connection to any global databases to pull information from, and it wasn't intended to be an A.I. at all, so was given no algorithms to help it understand humanity. It knows rocks, and it reads books, and it observes everything it possibly can. Through Orf's eyes we get a little bit of a sense of coming apocalypse, but Orf itself can't understand what it is observing because it does not have the proper frame of reference. Orf's viewpoint is very much the viewpoint of a precocious child, and that lends a great deal of tension and tragedy to the events that unfold around it. "The Robot's Twilight Companion" firmly belongs in the tradition that flows from Mary Shelly's Frankentstein, and it is a worthy addition. "Pennyroyal Tea," jumps ahead 200 years. The apocalypse has happened, and the viewpoint character is Jarrod, a member of the Rangers, U.S. Forest Service personnel that banded together to protect Olympia National Park from both loggers and environmental extremists immediately after the world fell apart. Jarrod is a likable viewpoint character; the quest structure works decently well; I enjoyed exploring the various cults Jarrod gets tangled with. However, it was a very dark future and the section with the Cougars was downright painful to read. "Pennyroyal Tea" ended very abruptly with Jarrod meeting Orf and a second apocalypse that rendered Jarrod's quest futile. "The New Exiles of California," makes the transition from "The Robot's Twilight Companion" to "Pennyroyal Tea" seem brilliantly smooth. Time jumps 800 years further into the future, where contact has been made with other intelligences and an entirely new science has arisen to do everything, and very little of that is ever explained. The tone of this section was bizarre. The viewpoint character is Noah, a shaman, a symbologist, and a scholar, worrying about something called the Chunk, that everyone can tell is heading towards Earth at faster-than-light speeds and is messing with their trance states, which is how communication is accomplished in this future. His worry, however, takes the form of musing on history and rambles about aesthetics. The section is very short; he has an "Aha!" moment where he intuitively grasps the Chunk's purpose and galvanizes everyone to save the planet. And there the story ends -- we are left to guess whether Noah succeeded, or even whether or not he was correct in his intuitive leap. Orf makes another cameo as Noah's psychologist, but has no real impact on the story whatsoever. While I only loved the first section, the latter two will work better for others, and Daniel's prose, ideas, and characters were quite strong.