Friday, June 29, 2007

The "collective unconscious" gets conscious

kw: book reviews, fantasy, mentalism

I've grown rather fond of the Archonate series by Matt Hughes. Although fantasy through and through, the strong "problem-solving" element, usually coupled with a mystery (murder, theft, whatever) to solve, makes the books uncommonly me. I first reviewed Black Brillion a year ago, then The Gist Hunter & Other Stories ten days later, and finally his two Fools books another week after that.

The author's newest book, The Commons, traces the career of Guth Bandar from his earliest days as a member of the Institute of Historical Inquiry to the world-threatening events recorded in Black Brillion, from Bandar's point of view. Much of this picaresque tale is rewritten from The Gist Hunter collection, strung together into a story of Guth Bandar becoming an agent, albeit unwillingly, of the noösphere, "the Commons", the collective unconscious that becomes conscious and sets out to rescue humanity.

The Archonate itself, set in a far-future time of the sun's last gasp on the Main Sequence, and the Commons, the unconscious realm of dreams, daydreams...and "lucid dreaming" by inveterate noönauts such as Bandar, offer free scope for as fantastic a plot as one is willing to imagine. The technology of the Archonate is sufficiently advanced to appear magical, and bears a glancing resemblance to both "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", with floating vehicles and a useful array of laser- or phaser-like weapons. The Commons has rules of its own, requires perfect pitch to navigate safely (musical "thrans" are the noönaut's primary tools), and has dangers aplenty.

Actually, I'd expect technology five billion years from now to be a dozen steps beyond unrecognizable: why hold a gun in your hand when it probably resides next to your aiming eye; why ride a floating vehicle when one of your shirt buttons (or some analog thereof) provides propulsive and environmental support?

Actually, I wonder what "people" will be like five billion years from now. A recent ear infection makes me wonder if the eustacian tubes are being eliminated or re-routed by evolution; back troubles remind me that we are a long way from having a hip-to-back-to-neck structure that properly suits upright posture; in ten or a hundred generations only a few throwbacks (like me) will have more than 28 teeth, and nearly nobody will need "wisdom teeth" removed; the alimentary canal will shorten further, reducing the incidence of colon cancer, but making salads harder to digest...but nobody will eat salad anyway!; altruism must increase, unless today's religious wars result in a drastic reduction of population; AIDS could also cut population and result in humans of the year 2200 who are nearly all immune to HIV.

I don't expect we'll ever develop telepathy, not by evolution anyway. We may come close with brain-silicon (or brain-something) interconnection technologies. Hughes's Commons provides a way to have telepathy for specially trained people. He seems almost of two minds about it. On the one hand, its powerful archetypes can swallow up an unwary "traveler" (who is physically asleep, after all), and one must not spend too long there, lest the body be neglected. Yet The Commons ends on a note that some part the Commons is malleable—perhaps it was made so as a thank-you to Bandar's help—and can be make into an environment of one's choosing. Would one wish to return to a finite body in a finite Archonate? Perhaps Hughes has something in mind...

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