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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (whorl) "Post-Colonial" Colonization
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 13:03:54 

Greg Neyman,

>I think I take it for granted, but I'm glad that when I wake up at two in
>the morning to do that paper that I've been putting off, my computer doesn't
>return the error message "what the @#$% are you doing up at 2 in the
>morning, and more importantly, why are you bothering me!!!"  the thing is,
>my computer was created to be my unquestioning servant ... if robots are
>created, whose sole purpose is to make a planet habitable for human
>detachment, then they won't care that they're thrown out like rubbish as
>soon a the terrans arrive ...

Well sure, that's the usual rationale, especially pre-Asimov, who really
went far in exploring "robot rights" (which itself is either a cheap and
easy rip-off of the serious civil rights movement, or a visionary
meditation on rights for intelligent beings).

If the artifact is "just a tool," then it is like a flint arrowhead.  But
if the artifact has the artificial intelligence at the level of a mouse or
a dog (which would sure be useful in a terraforming robot, if not an
absolute requirement), and the self-awareness of say an iguana, and the
"Van Neumann-machine" ability to reproduce (another very handy trait for
this type of project), then the artifact is very close to a lifeform.  Even
in the 20th century there was debate about whether certain =diseases=
should be rendered extinct.

So if your home computer had some robots and built your house and tailored
the environment of the house lot from the DNA-level up . . . never mind.

Within the Whorl, Gene Wolfe has approached robots in an interesting way,
showing how they are built, how they pay off the debt of their building,
how they can engage in reproduction.  They are lifeforms.

Robert Patterson,

>Another point is that if humans are ever going to inhabit other planets,
>with >or without current biospheres, those planets will almost certainly
>require some >level of terraforming. While I find the probability-based
>arguments for the >existence of biospheres on other planets to be fairly
>plausible, I see no >reason to expect that their life-chemistry will be in
>any way compatible with >ours. I just re-read Vernor Vinge's
>_A_Fire_Upon_the_Deep_, and while it is a >great book, he seems rather
>naive in assuming that everyone can eat everyone >else and not die.

Right.  Even the "minor" difference between left-handed DNA and
right-handed DNA is a vast barrier!  To be fair, though, a lot depends upon
the story to be told. In this case you probably would have been satisfied
with a simple sentence or two alluding to whatever miracle would make this
possible (forerunners, whatever).  Those little details, which don't have
to be built up into the central point of the Story, are often a source of
vexation or delight: for example, Le Guin's Hainish universe has an escape
hatch in the form of the forerunner race, the Hain.  So some of the more
outrageous biological whoppers, like the hermaphrodites of LEFT HAND OF
DARKNESS and maybe some stuff in PLANET OF EXILE, can be blamed upon
bio-tinkering by Hain in the distant past (LHOD is explicit in implicating
the Hain; which is expecially neat since it gives the otherwise angelic
Hain something of the taint of Nazi medical experimenteers).

(If =only= those winged cat mounts of ROCCANON'S WORLD could be blamed on
the Hain!)

While David J. Lake covers this DNA angle in THE RIGHT HAND OF DEXTRA, he
commits some whoppers of his own. Kingsbury's COURTSHIP RITE did a great
job of showing humans on a "habitable world" where they couldn't eat the

And yes, the terraforming!  Even humans moving onto a habitable planet will
engage in something disturbingly like "slash and burn"--bring your own
birds, bees, worms, ants, grain, etc.  Carve out your little ecozone.
Animals that stray outside the perimeter will die of starvation.  And the
ecologies will be at war: I look out my window and I can see the victorious
camps of Australians over on the hill, where they've been for generations
now--eucalyptus; likewise, Australia has the cane toad, etc.  It would be
like that--even if/when the humans stop burning the place, the Terran
plantforms would be the vanguard, expanding where they could, preparing the
way for other Terran lifeforms to follow.  Classic Darwinian "root and
thorn" stuff--battle of the lifeforms.


>It's interesting that at the moment, SF seems to be questioning some of
>the core assumptions which have held good for decades - like, if we
>had the ability to settle other worlds (in this solar system or elsewhere)
>we automatically would do so. Remember in Sterling's Schismatrix, how
>the entire solar system has been "taken over" by humans, but hardly
>anyone actually bothers with settling planets or moons. Similarly in
>Egan's recent Diaspora, the posthuman explorers (actually just software
>running on tiny spacecraft!) are deeply reluctant to introduce any sort
>of contaminant into the planet they are exploring. Rather than sending
>submarine probes into the planet's ocean, they toy with the idea of
>waiting a few hundred years until a tsunami dumps some sea-life onto
>dry-land, where they can study it from orbit.

In SCHISMATRIX, wasn't it the case that some fantatics (post-human
pioneers) were altering themselves into "angels" so they could live in the
alien environment of a gas world?  Here is a case of "Nature worship" so
strong (i.e., don't change the planet, change the people) as to be blind to
the ethical dilemmas of such radical self-modification.  Such "post
humanism" might be only a mask for the serious generational questions faced
by humans every day: should I emmigrate; should I wed; should I reproduce;
etc.  But "should I become a mermaid, and all my offspring become
mermaids?" is obviously of a different magnitude!  And yet, people
willingly suicide in cults and on their own, so yes, people are capable of
all sorts of things.

But yes, and this revision of sf's core assumptions has been going on for
some time now, especially post-Apollo.  And it goes hand in hand with
starflight becoming more and more distant, more and more impossible--a
"sour grapes" sort of reaction.  Or we are only adopting the "galactic zoo"
credo which we used to think was the reason why the superior lifeforms
aren't contacting us!


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