Great science fiction literature at its best. This is the only thing I can think of to describe the novels of Alastair Reynolds.
I got my introduction into Alastair’s world through the anthology science fiction novel “Robot Uprisings” by Daniel H. Wilson. His short story was an immediate hit with me and I searched for his other work online and that’s when I hit his “Revelation Space” series.
It’s absolutely astonishing how a person can be immersed completely into a 500-600 page novel without noticing the passing of time. Yes, at times it gets a bit slow and it seems like certain locations, thoughts, rooms, clothes, and people are excessively explained and described to the tiniest minute details, but you’re only feeling that way because it’s getting in the way of knowing what is going to happen next and how certain crises are going to unravel.
He doesn’t shy away from murdering his heroes in the most painful and most inventive ways ever, but I didn’t feel especially bad about that. It’s life in all its colors happening in a setting that is hundreds and thousands of years in the future.
There are no spoilers in this blog post, you’ll just have to read it for yourself and if you’re a sci-fi fan, trust me, you’re in for a treat.
What I want to explore with this article is how humanity might engineer its own evolution in the future. That’s what great science fiction helps you achieve, a good foundation for your own imagination to take flight, and see beyond what is and what can be done with today’s technology.
In the Revelation Space world, there’s a big role for nanotechnology in the human experience.
I can see the promise of having programmable machines in a person’s bloodstream doing all sorts of maintenance work in the body, repairing injuries, easing pain, enhancing and augmenting mental functions, offering external HW interfaces with other compatible technology, and even creating interactive live tattoos on human skin.
It’s like the zenith of medical evolution if human beings can use an automatic system of immunity that can fight diseases, repair cell damage, fights aging, and assist in organ transplantation.
Perhaps it would allow the ultimate control over certain chemical reactions that we’re currently treating with twenty-first century medicine. Maybe it will also be more efficient and accompanied by fewer side effects than the current day and age pharmaceuticals.
I imagine people can decide which muscles to grow stronger and how to shape a person’s body simply by controlling how nutrients get directed in the human body and which get flushed. People can never be obese or too skinny regardless of the quality of their diets.
It’s quite possible that every single person could become an olympic-level athlete with properly tone physique. It would aid in rehabilitation after serious injuries or it could prove useful further than we can imagine.
I can see advances in nanotechnology ending all chemical and addictive dependencies.
I can also see it being the end of pharmaceutical-based therapy. It could evolve into an active whole-body health monitoring system that raises the right flags at the right time and maintain the proper levels of nutrients, minerals, and hormones.
Perhaps even suggesting the right type of food or the necessary type of supplements. It’s like every single one of us having a resident personal trainer, physician, nutrition expert, and lab technician running analysis on your blood 24/7.
Nanotechnology could usher in the end of Cancer, with a system of nano-robots move around a person’s blood proactively hunting for carcinogens and at the same time monitoring for the emergence of cancerous cells, swiftly removing them from the body.
Perhaps even the end of heart and cardiovascular diseases could be at the hands of atomic-sized army of nano robotic soldiers that monitor the health of every single blood vessel in the body.
It’s a window of hope to the millions who are waiting for a cure for aging, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, etc.
But let’s take it further, would advancements in nanotechnology hold the answer to countering the effects of Zero-gravity on the human body leading to humanity being finally a star-faring civilization?
The dream of mankind living in space stations in orbit around Earth and other heavenly bodies, as well as interstellar travel, has been alive for many decades now.
We still haven’t cracked the challenges of space travel because Space is inhospitable to the human species.
I’ve recently read The Time’s piece “A Year in Space” about American Astronaut Scott Kelly. It gives a scary account of the dangers of space to the human body. Man’s body is expecting to work in 1-G of gravity all the time, and all bodily functions depend on it.
The heart seems to beat differently in zero-gravity, muscles atrophy, eyes weaken, bones lose density, eating, drinking and digestion become challenging.
Not to mention, catching a cold and getting sick in the closed environment of a space station with circulated air is the worst thing that could happen in space.
So the search been ongoing for years to find a technology that could be effective in keeping the body functions working as if it was in the presence of Earth’s gravity. Could that be done with nanotechnology?
Just imagine if nono-bots actually can help the body simulate gravity with the assistance of other technology in the spacecraft and counteract the effects of cosmic radiation in space.
Alastair Reynolds also goes to great depths about how nanotechnology could give rise to an amazing super-advanced human civilization where humanity has total control over not only their biology but matter itself.
Nanotechnology could change manufacturing, terraforming, building, and architecture, excavating, art, music, transportation, weapons, and communication.
Could there be a future where all you’re interacting with is actually “Smart Matter” made up of nanomachines? “Dumb Matter” would be so old fashioned that it’s only used where there’s no need for transformation and upgrades.
But Nanotechnology isn’t the only miraculous technology that holds promise in humanity’s evolution. There are also medical brain implants.
It brings to mind the efforts of Elon Musk’s Neuralink company to create a brain-computer interface.
In Alastair’s world, humanity took the next leap and created Star Trek’s “The Borg” with their hive mentality and assimilation of other humans into their collective minds.
In these versions of the future, people also managed to scan their brains and back themselves up to be revived in case of accidents in a newly grown genetically identical human body.
You can use imagination to mix both technologies in a human being and find out that mankind will have stopped being human and will have willingly evolved into another species altogether.
There has been lots of worries about what is called the singularity where AI or artificial intelligence suddenly evolving beyond our ability to control it or even understand it.
The argument is that artificial general intelligence, if developed, will take vast leaps in consciousness and intelligence in an extremely short time span and become its own entity, a form of electronic lifeform that shares our existence.
Everyone is scared of what that might mean to humanity since basically we are the dominant “intelligent” lifeform on planet earth and we collectively don’t give a damn about the life of less intelligent forms of life.
A person wouldn’t feel a tinge of remorse when he squashes an anthill by mistake and kills little insects.
Will the next dominant Apex Predator species on Earth be an AI entity that would see human beings in the same light and act indifferently to us in the same manner? Now THAT’s scary!
I personally ascribe to another theory altogether.
I think that by the time General AI has been developed, humanity would have ceased to be the same old species we’re knowso well.
Be it through nanotechnology, neural implants, genetic engineering, all three, or something all together unforeseen, sooner rather than later, humanity is going to fuse with a host of technologies and cesses to be Homosapiens.
It’s already happening!
The internet is our Hive Mind, and we can choose whichever echo chambers to belong to and collect the sycophants we’re inclined to call friends and create our own bubble of like-minded mentalities (much like the Borg in Star Trek or the Conjoiners in Revelation Space).
Our Smartphones are our AI interfaces where humans and machines become one entity.
We’ve already relinquished memory to our search engines and murdered our long-term attention span for the sake of shirt burst of dopamine resulting from people hitting the ‘Like’ button.
So, my guess is the next steps in evolution are going to happen organically, and it won’t be something like the doomsday scenarios in Sci-Fi horror movies.
Basically, the way I see it is that we do not really comprehend what the world will look in our eyes in 50 year and we cannot possibly fathom the change of perspective our children will have.
Who knows, maybe we’ll evolve into inorganic AI entities only saved onto massive servers traveling in the vastness of intergalactic space in autonomous starships travelling at near light speeds looking for another home planet onto which our advanced organic replicators can 3D print a new body to which we can download our consciousness at the destination. And THAT will be the solution for the question of how human beings can withstand long interstellar space travel.
What we can actually see through the crystal ball is genetical engineering, artificial or synthetic human organs, growing body parts and organs, permanently eliminating physical disabilities and congenital conditions, and anti-aging therapy allowing our children to become immortal genetically and artificially enhanced disease-free superhumans.
Some people label these ideas as “Transhumanism.” I don’t think it is beneficial to put a label on technological advancement and turn it into a political or religious debate. Whether we are pro or con any specific technology doesn’t mean it’s not going to find its own way to development.
I can only hope that through these eventful leaps of technological advancement and evolution we manage to find a way to save our planet and use our technological superiority to allow it to heal.
Earth’s nature is extremely adaptable, and if we can manage to stop consuming its resources and actively poisoning and killing it, I have no doubt that it can heal itself in due course.
One can’t escape the thought that if humanity finally defeats sickness and death, we’ll overpopulate the planet faster than our current rates and we’ll deplete its resources even faster still.
Humanity will not stay on planet Earth forever.
If we did not manage to destroy ourselves with our own recklessness and if we survive without a catastrophic natural event destroying the planet, I don’t see a future that doesn’t involve massive colonization of space.
Hopefully, when that happens it will not be a dystopic future like what we see in sci-fi disaster movies and literature.
The crux of the matter is that all Science Fiction art sees humanity through the lens of our basic animalistic instincts.
It doesn’t take into account that someday we might stop following our basic reptilian brain survival instincts and we might actually able to rewrite our own programming, literally changing our psychology and our tendencies.
If we imagine a future where humanity only advances technologically without also being able to create and write the code of its own evolution, then yes, we should be expecting space exploration and colonization to be something like it was during human history.
People would just move and claim a certain planet or solar system and start trade with other solar systems, and then trade disputes instigate galactic wars over scarce resources which might lead to mass genocide and war atrocities.
What if we imagine as valuable resources are going to have different/lesser values to other colonies who have managed to adapt to the local environment and build a totally different value system.
Such a scenario can easily happen to a species that can write its own genetic code and program its own adaptation to the specific planet it’s inhabiting.
For instance, we’re all assuming that when mankind colonizes Mars, those who go there are going to retain the same biology as Earth-based people.
What if they can somehow adapt to the weather conditions? What if they could adapt to gravity? What if they don’t need to generate Oxygen for breathing?!!!
The future is limitless. Technology changes the way we see the world. It’s like a torch in the darkness and you can’t really say what the road is going to be like further than your light can reach.
It’s really somewhat like when people who set a lofty goal and managed to shape their lives and habits to achieve it can tell you. Your perspective at the beginning of the journey is completely different from your perspective at the end.
You can only assume your future actions when you have your future knowledge. Or like the Russians say, don’t sell the bear’s fur until after you’ve caught it.
If you want to spark your imagination with complex philosophical and scientific topics then look no further than the Revelation Space series and the incredibly detailed universe of Alastair Reynolds.
Reynold’s world is crammed full with space exploration, interstellar travel challenges, cryogenic sleep, nanotechnology, neural implants, wars, lost civilizations, alternate realities, omnipotent artificial intelligence, homicidal alien machinery, killer robots, genetic engineering, religious zealots, war criminals, and uncommon heroes.
I am hooked to all the work of Alastair Reynolds. Thankfully it’s massive and I am sure I am going to enjoy it immensely.
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