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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (whorl) metallic lifeforms, artificial worlds
Date: Thu, 13 May 1999 15:02:00 

Greg Neyman wrote:

>but the basic nutrients will be there, stuff life amino acids and simple
>lipids ... there was this experiment conducted a few years ago ... a student
>created a proto-earth-like environment in a class tube ... methane/ammonia
>rich air ... UV and electrical (lightning) bombardment ... the next morning,
>he had simple organic chemical chains dripping from the electrodes ...
>chemicals that were compatible with earth life.

Yes, but actually, as I understand it, the experiments you describe
produced =both= Left-handed and Right-handed amino acids, in equal amounts.
The odd thing is, all life on Earth is built from Left-handed amino acids.

So what happened to all the Right-handed DNA lifeforms?  Or is D-DNA life
just somehow impossible, and L-DNA the only life in the galaxy/universe?

The situation is rather similar to the question facing astronomy regarding
anti-matter: if anti-matter was created at the Big Bang, then where is it
today?  If it was created in amount equal to that of matter, as it seems it
should have, then mutual annihilation would have taken out both.  Puzzling.
But astronomy at least has stars to look at--xenobiology is still purely

>I don't see
>why terraforming robots necessarily need to be self aware ... anymore so
>than the pathfinder probe that's rusting on mars right now is "self-aware"
>... the path finder probe was limitedly self-aware ... it knew it was the
>thing that was to respond to all instructions from earth ... and that's all
>the terraforming robots need to know ... they're the agents that will be
>enacting all implanted commands ... they maybe very complex commands, ones
>that demand a very sophisticated AI, but that doesn't necessarily demand

Well, using the Pathfinder as a terraforming role model is flawed, since
Pathefinder was relying upon human feedback with a relatively short delay
cycle, whereas terraforming will have a delay cycle of years or decades
(hmmm, still . . . there's an idea!  Since the terraforming process takes
so long anyway, maybe phone home for questions?  Ah, but who will answer
the phone?).  But granted, terraforming robots don't need to be self-aware,
but as I meant to say, it sure would be handy, since it seems that it would
at the very least have to know when it was "hungry" (GOTO refuel
subroutine), "hurt" (GOTO self-repair subroutine), and "horny" (GOTO
singles bar subroutine).  If the robot is not self-replicating, then the
mission is nearly hopeless or so overweighted with an army of robot
one-shots that you might as well send humans--the robots have been priced
out of the market (prohibitively expensive star flight).

And if Von Neumann-style reproducing robots are used, then it looks a lot
like "life"; which is why I brought up that detail about the ethics of
exterminating even a disease on Earth today.  Nevermind if it is self-aware
or not.

Now then--on to something new.

Artificial Worlds.

What happens to lifeforms on a world that is completely artificial?  We are
aware of how various details of a planet work their way into the lifeforms;
even how continents shape the lifeforms into their own signature design.

Niven's Ringworld is a case where, iirc, humanoids have expanded to fill
every ecological niche.  So there are grazer humanoids, and carnivore
humanoids, and ghoul humanoids, and vampire humanoids, etc.  Yes, Stapledon
did a similar thing, but in Niven's case it brings us closer to Gene
Wolfe's beastmen scenarios, from "Tracking Song" (which even has strong
hints of terraforming) through "The Tale of the Boy Called Frog" and so on.

Maybe relating to the worlds of Blue and Green.

Maybe relating to Saint Anne and Saint Croix.  Depends on how we read that
scenario.  If it is the real star I think it is, then the human explorers
would believe it could not harbor habitable planets . . . not =natural=
ones, at least.  But sure, it could easily handle a terraformed world or
two (in fact, it would be =prime real estate= for those capable of doing
such things, because the long life of the star), and the freaky "twin
planet" set-up could help keep both planets rotating, maintaining
habitability for both.

This is highly speculative!  There is no direct hint that the worlds were
built from scratch by some forerunner starfaring race.  And there are the
usual cans of worms involved, etc.  But the Point I'm trying to convey
right now is that: if it =is= a pair of artificial worlds, this might go a
ways toward explaining how very messed up and artificial-seeming all the
humanoids are--that is, they are being shaped by their physical
environment, in the same way that Ringworld shapes humanoids into grazers,
carnivores, ghouls, etc.  And their flaws reflect, mimic, mirror the
hidden-yet-present flaws of the planet.

Wolfe is keenly aware of how environment shapes the lifeforms, a fact his
readers are well aware of.  So this 5HC thought may be fanciful but it is
well within Wolfe's field of interest.


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