The Aether Is Thin Today

Kage Baker never did entirely trust the Internet – or any other highly complicated and “advanced” system. She figured, the more bells and whistles a program had, the more it was designed to do, the wider its range of effectiveness out in the real world, the more likely it was to be intrinsically screwed up.

Biologists sometimes describe the various portions of the human brain by identifying them as the “reptile brain”, the “rat brain”, and such. It means that that portion of the brain was new and cutting edge when most of the owners were actual fish, lizards, shrews, etc.  Innovations to brain structure just kept piling one on another, and the success of the higher functions of the human brain are all literally riding on the brains that evolved when knowing how to regulate your own body temperature was a slick new trick.

Kage took this analogy one step further, and maintained that she did a lot of her thinking with frontal lobes developed in prior centuries.  She thought with a Paleolithic brain, a Bronze Age brain, a Renaissance brain – and insisted she had not yet acquired an Information Age brain. Her intellect, she felt, was constructed along lines that were popular when rational thought was emerging from one of its periods of eclipse – right on the edge of the Renaissance, peering suspiciously into the bright informational future from within the comforting shadows of instinct and lore. She was comfortable at a point where the Industrial Revolution was still a glint in Father Time’s eye, mathematics  had reached its peak with Eratosthenes, and science ranked astrology at the top of its pantheon.

This was mostly a pose. I’m pretty sure it was …  although I did have to argue quite a lot with her about the advantages of nanotech over clockwork in her Operatives. And I have always suspected that Kage believed a lot more in the magic of her Anvil universe (where she made sorcery into a very orderly science) than she did in pineal tribantine 3. She always did feel that Clarke’s Law more or less freed her from the obligation of choosing between magic and technology, or even identifying which one one was which.

Which leads me to today’s labours and woes. On Saturday, I tend to visit my favourite aggregator sites and look over the new offerings in scientific discoveries, historical mysteries, insane labour-saving devices, and so on. These sites are an unending source of ideas, snapshots of what might be the near future.

For instance, sex toys and masturbatory aids have reached new pinnacles of technical excellence and consumer availability: I now get descriptions of 1 or 2 in every upscale catalog in my email. Aides d’amour are on the other side of a recent paradigm, and are now light years from mere blow-up dolls and rocket shaped vibrators. They now look like aquarium lights and art objects.

The newest antimicrobial drugs are being developed out of weird programs from the former Soviet Union. Substances produced during the rule of Lysenko are being sifted for functional drugs, and actually yielding compounds that work. It’s a great endeavour, where Western money is reviving moribund Soviet sciences; if only they can track down all the secret records, and labs, and scary little glass vials …

Kakapo parrots are having a population boom, on their newly rat-free islands. Galapagos tortoises are breeding successfully for the first time in 150 years, and actual babies have been seen on their newly rat-free islands. Ditto a number of songbirds, insects and rare flowering plants. The trick seems to be controlling the rats – not something at which we have ever excelled, but it’s obviously time to really try now.

3-D printing has gained a steady population of active DIY-ers. They are making all sorts of things, but especially customized limb prostheses. Who could have imagined that artificial limbs would become a cottage industry?

As you can see, Dear Readers, even this brief list is simply chock-full of wonderful story possibilities. However, the medium has been blinking on and off all day. The winds here in LA are not high, nor are the temperatures extreme, but my access to the aether keeps  thinning out and vanishing. Every time I try to travel from one site to another, for instance, I’m informed that the server has reset and I must try again. The home network seems to be fissioning into several independencies – it’s the Deutscher Bund around here, and no one is working with anyone else.

It’s just the sort of thing that happens sometimes. It makes me want to scream and smash things, but it’s become a regular feature of modern life. Our invisible connections to the aether reach all over the world, but they can fail. Then we’re left confined to the single glowing box on our desks or in our hands, pounding on the glass walls that have suddenly gone infuriatingly opaque …

For all I know, I’ll set this thing loose and only later discover that half of this entry has been lost. Or translated into the Tupí-Guaraní dialect of the Ache hunter-gatherers. Or that the comments files are full of alien messages. It’s been that kind of day …

But Kage wouldn’t be surprised at all. She’d nod with that vaguely satisfied air people get when their worst expectations are fulfilled, and remind me that at least I got something done. I’ve been leaping from rock to rock in the Sea of Information, but some interesting ideas have resulted just from my frantic jumps and clutchings.

And that’s not a bad thing.