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Dansplaining the Ancestor Trilogy

 
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"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending”

 ― C.S Lewis.

All we know about the great Egyptian Empire we have learned from archaeological digs and remnants of burial sites more than 5,000 years old. Fortunately for historians, the Egyptians were a literate civilisation and recorded much. Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, philologists had great difficulty translating the hieroglyphs the Egyptians used to document so much of their history.

So too can be said of the ancient Mayan civilisation that dates to approximately 1500 BCE. The Mayans were great engineers and built great structures, elevated roads and aqueducts. They devised a system of mathematics that included the concept of zero and used place values for large numbers. The Mayan calendar used keen astronomical observations to measure the length of a year more accurately than the Gregorian calendar we use today. Again, most of what we know of the Mayan civilisation we learn from archaeological exploration and the Maya script. Until today there is no agreed-upon answer to what caused the collapse of Mayan civilisation. Many hypotheses have been put forward, including foreign invasion, epidemic disease, and ecological collapse, but the demise of the Mayans remains one of history’s greatest mysteries.

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I give insights to individual novels at other places on this site, but I speak now about what drove me to a two-plus year project of creating a trilogy. Well, one of the primary inspirations that motivated me to pen the Ancestor Trilogy evolved from my lifelong passion for the history of civilisation and my fascination with where humanity has come from and where it is heading. Anthropologists, historians, philosophers, sociologists, and teams of academics have amassed a sizable body of knowledge about our ancestors, but our understandings must rely on indirect methodologies. The novelist in me makes me ask what might happen if we

Keeping with my technothriller tradition, I have ‘who-done-it’ mysteries running through each story challenging the reader to help local police and federal agents solve each case before any great harm can be done. The foremost aim of all my novels is to entertain as well as arouse my readers' intellectual curiosity concerning the fate of humankind.

So there you have it - a first hand 'Dansplaining' of why I wrote three novels all trying to reflect on the human condition. I'd love to hear what your reaction to my Ancestor Trilogy. 

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Fremantle Hub

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(Secret location)

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could somehow come face-to-face with our long-gone predecessors, develop personal relationships with them, and learn about them first hand. Just imagine the wealth of knowledge we could gather that would shed light on the customs, strengths and weaknesses of our forebearers’ civilisation.

This is the foundation upon which EIGHT, SOLASTALGIA and KAIROS are based, allowing the reader to explore just this scenario. EIGHT takes place in 2044, and I introduce a small group of Mars explorers funded by one of the world’s first trillionaires, Jacob Jacobi. While on a routine investigation of a newly found lava tube, the astronaut explorers make a chance discovery of ancient artifacts of long-long human-like lifeforms in a Martian cave. The researchers quickly confirm that these remains were of individuals who had been displaced from their home, Gothos, and travelled to Mars to escape their dying planet. Their burial rituals included uploading the brains and personas of their deceased brothers and sisters into digital storage. By the end of EIGHT, it is confirmed that the DNA of the discovered Gothosians were human ancestors, and researchers agree to name our predecessor species Homo parentibus.

SOLASTALGIA begins two years after many of these artifacts are returned to Earth. The Jacobi Foundation funds a project to restore a random sample of the stored personas into synthetic bodies. SOLASTALGIA opens the door to the culture and history of these people, though it is now confirmed that Homo parentibus is now extinct. Global fear of “aliens” and “mad scientists” cause security problems for the Ancestor Restoration Team (the ARP) with their Fremantle research hub ransacked. After the team is hidden in a secluded estate in the Australian bush, the project goes on until terrorists attempt to end the project.

 

KAIROS begins where SOLASTALGIA ends, and the Ancestor Restoration Project continues. The interactions between humans and our ancestors are heartfelt and emotional, revealing an all-too-familiar history of the path that our Homo parentibus predecessors. It becomes apparent that the more we learn about our ancestors, the more we learn about ourselves.

 

Dansplaining KAIROSBook 3 of The Ancestor Trilogy
Released 19 August 2022

"Time as Occasion (Kairos)," 1543–1545, by Francesco de' Rossi. Palazzo Vecchio Museum, Florence. (Public Domain)

The photograph to the right is de’ Rossi’s painting of the Greek god of opportunity, Kairos, that hangs in the Vecchio Museum in Florence, Italy. . The wings on his legs and back symbolize how fleeting a favourable moment in time may be and reminds us that opportunity not sized can swiftly fly away. De’ Rossi’s depiction of Kairos being bald in the back of his head and having thick hair in the front is another reminder of just easily opportunity may be lost as time goes by.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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There's a bit of a story behind KAIROS – behind the entire Churachian Trilogy, for that matter. It starts with a song written by a Canadian artist, Leonard Cohen, in the early 1960s. I never met the guy, but he’s been a part of my life for nearly 60 years. That song – “Suzanne” – was first recorded in 1966 by another Canadian, Judy Collins.  It’s amazing how the words to that song have stuck in my head for over half a century and still come back to me at unexpected times and places. Well, I’m Dansplaining my writing here, so let me credit my unmet friend, Leonard Cohen, with pieces of four of my novels.

Leonard Cohen, James Webb and Carl Jung

This first shows up in DREAMS when one of the lead characters, Dr Leah Ferguson, learns of her grandpa’s death. Leah was not a religious person but was rocked by the overwhelming emotional experience of her grandfather’s passing. In one scene late in the story, she sat in the hospital chapel with her colleague and friend, Akiko Nakamura. With tears down her streaming face, Leah verbalises a stanza of Cohen’s poem,  “Suzanne”:

 

From "SUZANNE" by Leonard Cohen

And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water

And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him

He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them

But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open

Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind

And then you think maybe you'll trust him

For he's touched your perfect body with his mind

*    *    *

 

My Dansplaining piece here concerns the final book in my trilogy, KAIROS. How does “Suzanne” have anything to do with getting to know the restored personas of deceased ancestors?

 

I’ve been a star-watcher my whole life. My dad instilled that love of astronomy in me quite early. He taught me most of the well-known constellations before I was ten years old. Dad would bring out a little reflector telescope on clear nights, and we’d look at star clusters, planets and whatever else Dad had read about. Between childhood star gazing and the American-Soviet space race, I discovered that the night sky could rock me emotionally, too.

 

That feeling of awe has only grown in me over the years. Today, it seems the deeper into the universe we can see (thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope), the more significant the emotional impact I experience. As I write this Dansplaining piece, the James Webb Telescope is now sending back images that will only open the universe, and the first images have multiplied my wonder accordingly. The cover of KAIROS uses one of the first Webb images as its background.

So how’s this love of astronomy and Cohen’s song “Suzanne” come together as an inspiration for me? In SOLASTALGIA and again in KAIROS, my character Professor Lochie Greenbank refers to the metaphorical ‘mirror’ that other people hold, allowing us to see a reflection of ourselves. This reflection of self is not a static, unmovable view but a dynamic, spiritual self-exploration that enables us to see what we project to the outside world. Here is the verse of “Suzanne” in which he mentions holding the mirror:

 

From "SUZANNE" by Leonard Cohen

 

Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river

She's wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor

And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers

There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever

While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind

And then you know that you can trust her

For she's touched your perfect body with her mind

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  • Intelligent life: The new James Webb Telescope can see some 13.6 billion light years away from Earth. Considering that we are in the middle of this field of view, the “known universe” must be over 27 billion light years in diameter. Considering the BILLIONS of galaxies, each with hundreds of millions of stars, it is INCONCEIVABLE that Homo sapiens are the only intelligent life in the universe.

*    *    *

 

Of course, Cohen’s imagery here advances a belief that individuals find their humanity in others. Could it be any different than that? I find the idea of ONE human being isolated from all others as an impossibility, save for a means of torture. We NEED other people to become truly human.

 

Carl Jung – often referred to as the ‘father of analytical psychology' – spoke about how we see ourselves reflected in others. This reflection does not only allow us to see ourselves but also allows us to become better people. I’m a true convert to this line of reasoning and know that I would not exist without all the “others” with whom I have shared my life experience. I’ve always believed that the critical ingredient to better self-understanding is one’s interpersonal relationships with family, friends, colleagues and even adversaries.

 

Now, when I put this idea of needing others to be human together with my love and wonder with astronomy and the cosmos, I will “Dansplain” to you the connections that led to the Churachian Trilogy. If I (we) believe seeing self-reflected in the mirror of our relationships is required to be truly human, can the same idea apply to cultures… to species? If Homo sapiens have difficulty seeing exactly why we have so much trouble living together peacefully, possibly we could learn so much more by entering into a relationship with another civilisation or intelligent species.

 

The incredible size of the universes implies two things that remain unproven but certainly, make for reasonable conjecture:

 

  • Limits of time and space: The sheer size of this universe makes it nearly impossible to bump into another intelligent species somehow. It is not very likely we will ever even communicate with another life form simply because radio signals take millions and billions of years to transverse such great distances.

I don’t know if either of the above conjectures is true, but if they are, Homo sapiens may never have that “other” species to hold the mirror in which we can see our reflection. Even more, millions of intelligent species could be scattered around the universe and yet separated by distance and time in such a way that almost none would ever communicate with any others. One scenario that allows two intelligent species to come into face-to-face contact with each other would be in the circumstance that one solar system was home to two planets on which life evolved to that point. Enter the EIGHT-SOLASTALGIA-KAIROS Trilogy, and Homo sapiens meet Homo parentibus.

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Leonard Cohen and Judy Collins sang “Suzanne” in Newport in 1976. Amazingly enough, Karn and I lived in Massachusetts at the time and could have been in Newport that day. Have a listen to this version with Leonard Cohen and Judy Collins, Newport Folk Festival singing "Suzanne" in 1976:
 "SUZANNE"

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Leonard Cohen

 

Dansplaining SOLASTALGIA: Book 2 of The Ancestor Trilogy

Released 1 October 2021

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SOLASTALGIA is the sequel to EIGHT and begins two years after the international astronaut team on Mars discovered alien artifacts. Trillionaire Jacob Jacobi, who financed the initial Mars mission, now establishes the Ancestor Restoration Project – the ARP – to awaken the digitally preserved brains of deceased aliens. Avoiding the political rivalries of China, America and the European Union, Jacobi chooses Australia as the home of the ARP.

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Solastalgia, noun (so-lês-tæl-ji-ê)

  • Definition: A form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home, but the environment is changed.

  • Etymology: Coined by Australian philosopher and researcher Glenn Albrecht of the roots Latin sōlācium (comfort) and Ancient Greek algia (pain).

(Credit Wordnick)

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Returned Martian astronauts, Lochlan “Lochie” Greenbank, Parisa Henning and Arya Abass, join Australian ecopsychologist Kylie Childs and her Chinese colleague, Fiona Wu, as part of the research team at the Jacobi Research Hub in Fremantle. Now confirmed as an ancestor to Homo sapien, the alien species is officially named Homo parentibus reflecting that relationship. The aim of the project – to revive the preserved alien personas, get to know our ancestors on a personal level and potentially learn why our ancestors became extinct.

The ARP story already attracts worldwide interest and promises untold insights into alien science and technology. The project’s goal of knowing our extraterrestrial ancestors on a personal level promises human interest stories unlike anything covered by the media before. As journalists rush to Western Australia from all over the world, GNN again assigns reporters Sunlyn Singh and Owen Yates to cover yet another ‘biggest story ever.’

But all the global attention isn’t supportive. Many fundamentalist groups see any thought of an alien life form as threatening to Earthly religions. A worldwide protest movement spreads in opposition to the alien artifacts, the returned astronauts and the entire Ancestor Restoration Project. Chants of “Jesus didn’t die for any aliens” ring out from Washington to London to Perth. Increasing masses of peaceful demonstrators take a violent turn when one of the twelve returned astronauts, Steve Borkowski, is assassinated in a Washington, DC, restaurant. DC Police detectives Harry Grimms and Maggie Patton are again on the scene chasing down the assassins.

SOLASTALGIA explores a series of ‘what ifs’ humans have faced since the beginning of history. What if we could speak with ancient ancestors? What if we could develop a personal relationship with humans who had died a million years ago? What if these returned relatives had a message for us to save humanity? What if there is something more to the story of the universe than just Homo sapien? SOLASTALGIA opens an unexpected door into our past. Maybe we can go home again.

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Dansplaining EIGHT: Book 1 of The Ancestor Trilogy

Released 23 January 2020

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In my writing chronology, I wrote EIGHT before FEVER during the second half of 2018, but due to the marvellous twists and turns of multiple publishers, EIGHT waited a full year until published in late January 2020. I am fairly certain that it will be released within the next few months. Hallelujah!

Oh boy… where do I start with EIGHT? For starters, EIGHT takes place in the mid-2040s and includes a cross-section of characters from America, Australia, China and Europe. Probably a third of the novel takes place in Perth and Sydney, Australia, a third in Shanghai, China, and a third in Washington, DC.

A part of EIGHT is a throwback to the first novel I ever wrote a few decades ago, Journey to Mars, when we still lived in Hilo, Hawaii. The novel never made it to a publisher, but it did pique my interests in the Red Planet. It’s funny because, in those days, I really thought we’d have Mars colonies with thousands of people living there by now, but obviously, that didn’t happen. For that matter, I doubt that will ever happen, though I am convinced that a small group of people will wind up there eventually and probably sooner than we think. But I doubt it’ll be a government thing, rather a rich person or two wanting to have the ‘Mars Accomplishment’ as bragging rights. [I bet you can think of two or three of those kind of people right now!] In EIGHT, I include a small group of a few dozen folks who were funded by just that sort of super-rich bloke to travel to Mars and set up a research base there similar to that of scientists in an Antarctic base today.

So, why did I write this story? Remember, I’m Dansplaining here, so check The Novels page for a synopsis. I think the two primary issues that inspired me to write EIGHT are the environmental challenges we face as a species and the impact of technology and social media on our socialisation processes. Both of these matters play into the tale of EIGHT.

I tried approaching the ecological aspect of the novel from the perspective of what a planet other than Earth is like. The obvious contrasts are both Mars and Venus since planetologists tell us all three may have had quite similar beginnings in planetary development. Fast forward several billion years. Mars is oxygen and water deficient with freezing temperatures most likely inhospitable to life. Venus is a planetary hell that underwent a disastrous runaway greenhouse effect so severe that its oceans boiled. The resulting Venusian environment today has extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures to the point it is lethal to any life forms we can imagine. I don’t want to go much beyond this point for fear of giving away the plot, but I would think it should keep you guessing right up until the end of the book as long as you don’t look ahead and cheat!

I imagine that I am not the only one worried about the impact of technology, especially on kids. After a lifetime as a teacher and lecturer, watching developments from PCs and the Internet to smartphones and social media has had a big impact on my thinking here. Could kids become so distracted that they actually begin to lose touch with others because of, quite paradoxically, an overload of social media? I tried to extrapolate the current use of smartphones to the point where no one will want to actually ‘carry’ their connection to the internet. That said, I created the ‘SAM’ chip, that is, a Subdermal Angel Microchip implanted under the webbed skin between the thumb and forefinger, technically called the purlicue. Why angel?

If you have a pet dog or cat in most of the western world, chances are that you have had them micro-chipped under the skin so it can be read in the event of the pet being lost. These ID chips are a passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) encapsulated, rice-sized piece of electronics easily inserted painlessly under the skin. A more sophisticated version of this type of chip is being trialled at companies in America and Sweden where the RFID becomes an employee's pass card that you can never forget or have stolen. Implanted personnel can use them open doors, log onto computers and otherwise function in a high-tech workplace. Some companies have offered sweeteners such as pay bonuses to extra annual leave days to employees willing to trial the embeds microchips. A small fraction of the population has somehow found a 666 reference to RFID chips as being the “Mark of the Beast.” The tag was applied to the use of the RFID chips, and they have been referred to as 666 chips.

I took the RFID a step beyond, thinking that in the future, these embedded chips will not remain passive. When we consider the incredible acceleration of miniaturisation, I reckon a full-scale computer will be scaled down to the size of a grain of rice and then implanted in most humans. Of course, if many are fearful of a passive RFID implant, how would you ever sell a full-on computer chip.

This is what an subdermal Angel Chip might look like someday and where it would be implanted in your hand. Imagine that  - you would never forget taking your mobile phone or computer with you again since it would ALWAYS be with you... I'm  not sure if that's exciting or terrifying!  

I’m glad you asked… I reckon an astute company might want to brand their chip more pleasantly and that’s why I call them the “Angle Chip”. The marketing idea is selling the notion that your implanted computer device is your guardian angel. That leads to a global company not unlike our major mobile manufacturers today marketing these SAM chip, that is, a Subdermal Angel Microchip, to everyone from teens to the elderly. What could possibly go wrong? RIGHT!

In similar fashion to what I did in FEVER, I tried to follow a blend of scientists, law enforcement people and journos trying to dig to the bottom of some serious questions. Two Washington, DC, police, Agent Maggie Patton and Detective Harry Grimms, pursue a couple of teenagers who shoot up the apartment of two local journalists. One of them, Sunlyn Singh, teams up with GNN colleague Owen Yates and try to solve the problem on a broader scale, looking at a global outbreak of zombie-like kids, becoming increasingly withdrawn, regressive and suicidal. They journos meet two psychologists, Australian Professor Kylie Childs and Chinese Professor Fiona Wu who introduce them to the term solastalgia and chase the issue across the planet to China and Australia.

The term solastalgia has been around been around since early in this century, and the term was coined right here in Australia. It combines the idea of ‘solace’ or a feeling of peace and comfort along with ‘nostalgia’, that longing for something now gone forever. Professor Glenn Albrecht coined the term in the work he did in New South Wales at the University of Newcastle a couple decades back. He postulated a previously unrecognised form of psychological stress experienced by people in the Hunter Valley Region, whose home environment was changed dramatically by both natural and man-made impacts. Solastalgia applies to people in the Hunter Valley specifically because the coal mine expansions and bush fires there left so many residents with no home to go back to. I use Albrecht’s words when he says that solastalgia is the "feeling of homesickness while still being at home”. He also speaks of the distress an individual or an entire community experiences about their “loss of endemic sense of place”. As an aside here, I never met Glenn Albrecht, but we both finished our university careers contemporaneously at Murdoch University… small world, yes?

I very much enjoyed writing EIGHT. Firstly, there’s a lot of real, hardcore science in the tale, and I just really enjoy exploring scientific ideas in novel ways. Secondly, I also enjoyed tying in a global setting which approximately has a quarter the novel set in the USA (Washington and Hawaii), a quarter in Australia (Perth, Margaret River and Sydney), a quarter in Shanghai, China and a quarter on Mars. It’s great fun for me to take the reader on a journey that chases a story around our planet and – in this case – across our solar system.   

I hope you enjoy reading EIGHT as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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