Natural Limits In Flowercrash
Flowercrash was the third novel in my “loose trilogy” which began with Memory Seed and Glass. It was intended to follow the stories of the noophytes (the ‘electronic characters’) from Memory Seed and Glass – Tanglanah and Laspetosyne especially – but also some human characters, these latter people being the descendants of the original survivors of Memory Seed. In the many centuries between the first and third volumes, the noophytes had jumped into the Spaceflower, travelled to the planet of the gnosticians, failed there, and returned to Earth.
My intention was to make Zaïdmouth – the environment of the urbs of Flowercrash – a lot more welcoming than that of Memory Seed (the topography of which it exactly copies since it is the same place). However, there are limitations there, and these were an important part of the background to the characters’ stories.
One of the drawbacks that humanity has with its technology is the sense of being able to do anything, any time, anywhere. This attitude breeds a sense of freedom that we do not actually have. Fossil fuels for instance have allowed us to achieve remarkable things, but the greenhouse effect limits us. We are not free, we are constrained, and until we recognise that situation we will continue to destroy irreplaceable parts of our planet. No capitalist, technophilic economic system however has any interest in such constraints, and in fact ignores the unsustainable foundation of its mantra of continuous, unlimited growth by not factoring that foundation into any of its calculations.
The urbs exist under one particular limitation, which I used to constrain and modify the plot. Hidden deep beneath the ground is a vast network of electronic systems, some of them left over from Memory Seed, some new and devised by the noophytes. These networks however have an annual rhythm that follows the progress of the seasons:
“… The electronic networks mustn’t be disturbed during the winter, when Our Sister Crone renews her strength.”
Public networks come online in the spring, like flowers appearing:
People began to notice an increase in the numbers of insects, but as yet they were only odd bees, hoverflies and groups of butterflies acting in concert. And night flowering networks began to attract moths, so that in one district it was difficult to come home from inn or Shrine without some hairy-winged creature flapping into a face.
The next warm spell, expected in days, would catalyse the process of growth, and soon packets of data in their trillions would be navigating the matted networks of Zaïdmouth.
One of the main characters, Nuïy, grasps the link between artificial bees and the networks:
Lit by the afternoon sun he saw fields of shining domes, and above them what seemed at first to be smoke, but which he soon recognised as bees of the autohives that lay north of Aequalaïs. For a few minutes he watched. There were thousands of domes. The bees of this vicinity operated under mysterious laws devised by the deepest flower networks, combining to form a kind of social entity.
This apiaristic system is also dependent upon ecological conditions, which the bees follow.
My intention with all this was to make working with the networks difficult, i.e. limited. Human beings had to accede to the real world and its limiting ecology. They could not and should not impose their own will upon the situation:
Manserphine sat at the nearest flowers and examined their screens. These being winter blooms, the screens were granular, as if she was looking through frosted glass, and the data windows below were somewhat difficult to follow. From an inner pocket she withdrew her insect pen, a device made to mimic the pollen gathering attributes of a species of insect, which allowed for network manipulation without the presence of actual insects. Like most pens, the end was shaped as a generic bee, which lacked the precision of a pen made to mimic a particular insect but which made for ease of use amongst more than one species of flower.
Here Manserphine manages a limited use of the winter networks by utilising a device. But, overall, the networks are ‘down.’ These networks are also ecologically varied by urb; that is, characterised by local variations, like an ecosystem:
If the networks she wanted to explore were in Aequalaïs then there she must go, and if her own life was somehow linked to that urb, then all the more reason.
Here, Manserphine is unable to access Aequalaïs’ networks without being in that dangerous urb – another natural limitation. She is aware of those limitations, albeit rather annoyed by them:
The miniature screens inside the newly opened flowers were insensitive to her insect pen, so she was forced to resort to the old standby of anther tickling… “This is going to be difficult,” she said. “To find out important things I would have to get inside the Shrine. The flower networks around here are just too strange, not to mention quiet because it is winter.”
The urbs of Zaïdmouth however are no hippy-dippy paradise. To the south, masculine values still have some sway:
In connecting drum sensors to the networks, the clerics of the Green Man had devised a method of influencing the traffic of data independent of flower technology. Under suitable trance conditions, usually achieved by means of Deomouvadaïn’s herbs, a talented enough drummer could transfer immense quantities of data, or change procedures, even entire systems. But the concentration required was too much for even the best drummer, and perfect precision was impossible to attain.
The women of Veneris are more receptive to the idea of following the seasons, but the men of Emeralddis still think imposing their will upon nature is a good idea:
Nuïy could not help himself … “If the flower networks crash, everything created by the un-men will collapse. Then we can take over! The un-men will not want the flower crash. Therefore we must have it.”
(Un-men is the male term at the Shrine of the Green Man for women.)
The general theme of this novel is the physical embodiment of the formerly abstract (and not conscious) noophytes, who in Glass realise their mistake. In a lengthy conversation with Manserphine, Zoahnône says:
“The flower networks constitute a local ecology unique on this planet. If the balance of this ecology is upset by careless behaviour, sourced in humans or in gynoids, then the flower networks will die, and with them all the knowledge that presently they hold. The beauty of this knowledge is alone a reason to save it, quite apart from its utility…”
“I still don’t see the link between remaking gynoids and saving culture,” interrupted Manserphine.
“This is the link. As I said, the flower networks comprise an ecology. Part of this ecology is abstract. The metaphors of knowledge contained in the networks can be influenced. If those metaphors become overly cold and intellectual, concerned with simple power or selfish acquisition, then the flower networks will fade. If on the other hand the metaphors become warm, emotional, concerned with moral value and the joy of existence, then the flower networks will survive.”
“Because each network flower is a proto-gynoid,” said Zoahnône. “We enjoy the benefits of an ecological technology… If these proto-gynoids are predisposed to embodied existence, then the metaphors of the networks will over time evolve to account for that, bringing about the result I desire. They will do this because metaphor and physicality act upon one another in a never ending cycle. But if the proto-gynoids are predisposed to the temptations of interchangeable existence, then the intellectual metaphor will over time come to dominate.”
Here Zoahnône points out to the naïve Manserphine that the networks and the people using them exist in a self-reinforcing unity, not unlike the negative feedback/positive feedback mechanisms of Earth’s Gaian system, or Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘strange loops.’ The women of Veneris understand some of this through their Shrine of Our Sister Crone, but the men of the Shrine of the Green Man do not. Their attitude is explicitly narcissistic: they intend to domineer, to impose their will upon the reality of their environment. They can’t even see women as people in their own right – in calling them un-men, they describe them only in terms of themselves.
As I suggested in my The Freedom Delusion blog, the idea that we can do anything we like on our planet is a dangerous, self-destructive delusion. We are not free, and those political and cultural systems which emphasise freedom at the expense of everything else are arrogance personified. The planet limits us through natural ecology; and the time has come to recognise that.