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Encomia

Alexandria, Egypt, U.N.A. (Union of North Africa), August 2260

Qamar, a young Egyptian student is at the Library of Alexandria doing research for a paper on immortality through the ages. A 100 year-old Rolling Stone article suddenly appears in his display, coincidently titled "Immortality Through the Ages (And Aging Gracefully)". The article was the subject of a talk given in the United States in 2150 at the Gilberto Foundation in Las Vegas on boundaries, thresholds and rites of passage in immortality, by transhumanist celebrities Ramona A. Stone and Ai Grace (Neone), who were immortals but died before they were 200.


ROLLING STONE

Immortality Through the Ages
(And Aging Gracefully)
By: Cornell Budd
August 12, 2179

The old saw "Hope I die before I get old" never gets old. But some never got old, yet still died.

Dr. Ramona Stone, Transhumanist and heiress to the Gilberto lithium empire lived to be 154. Her protege Neone, a rock star from the mid-21st century lived to 140. But all it takes is a simple twist of fate: Dr. Stone perished in the fated 2162 Mars mission. Neone died in an exojet crash a year later. It was unfortunate that they died at such a "young" age. They were both immortal 20-somethings.

Neone was an ardent promoter of mortality even though she ultimately made the choice to become immortal. She was one of the first genius babies in the 21st century, when only the wealthy could afford gene selection and anti-aging treatments. Her strong sense of family was the force behind her life decisions, even though she spent her 140 years living the fantasy of mortality. Her hero was the artist/sculptor/musician Anthony Townes, most famous for his monument constructed in the Cydonia region of Mars. Her idolization of Townes was driven largely from a sense of responsibility for brain injuries he sustained in a self-driving taxi hit-and-run in 2046, in which Neone was involved a passenger. She was found not to be responsible early on in the investigation. The investigation continued for almost ten years with Dr. William Stone as the primary suspect, although he was ultimately exonerated.

The virtues of a mortal life continue to be romanticized in American culture, albeit extremely counterintuitive, given the benefits and availability of bionics and genetics. To some degree Neone was the poster-girl for defiance of that technology, even though she was born and raised in the very early days of genetic engineering. 

The fact that they both perished in random accidents is extremely ironic, and speaks volumes about immortality narratives. It begs the question of whether artists, or creative beings in general, necessarily need immortality when artifacts (both physical and digital), can reside in memory matrices for millennia. Neone's brain upload is in the Musical Consciousness Orchestra, and we can access her music telepathically on demand. We can access all of Townes' oevre, as well as the Cydonia monument, the symbol of our collective memory of the colonization of Mars. Ramona Stone's work is a cornerstone of a post-singularity society, not to mention the work of her husband and father. She was a major force in Mars colonization, particularly from an anthropological and architectural perspective. For all their great work and contributions to society, they are now truly immortal by virtue of their creative contributions to society.

In 2150 Stone, Neone and a Swedish photographer gave a talk at the Gilberto Foundation on boundaries, thresholds and rites of passage. Here is the entire transcript of the lecture:

January 19, 2150
The Gilberto Foundation Headquarters
Las Vegas, West America

Transhumanist Dr. Ramona Stone is giving a talk on Boundary Conditions at the Gilberto Foundation Headquarters. Dr. Stone is a science fiction writer and former art gallerist. Many of the predictions made in her novels have come true, particularly those that relate to the colonization of Mars. She was on the Mars mission in 2033 and has deep insight into the evolution of the pursuit of Mars as the "suburban" planet of Earth.

Also on the panel are musician Grace Ai and Earth/Mars landscape photographer Einar Patriksson.

Dr. Ramona A. Stone:

Thank you all for coming. I want to give special thanks to the Gilberto Foundation, started almost 150 years ago by my father, that is so instrumental in providing the financial and social capital to make the habitation of Mars a reality.

When you write science fiction, you are confronted with a barrage of possible scenarios that the future could hold, as well as the wisdom gained from past predictions, in that most of them either never happened, or happened differently than you thought. But there are certain universal truths that culminate into science fact, and for purposes of this discussion, it is the ubiquity of the boundary. When you mix fact with fiction, fiction seems more plausible—and in fact, can become fact more easily.

On the Mars mission in 2033 one of the first discussions was how to map out the colony. Any time a map is drawn, you grapple with the tensions that come with setting boundaries, both tangible and intangible, visible and invisible. If there is indeed intelligent life on some other planet, you’d probably find walls, fences and other boundaries, demarcating territories. The tabula rasa that you think you have quickly fractures. The natural fault lines sometimes fall into a carefully organized, gridlike pattern of north, south, east and west and with all the euphemistic associations that come with those labels.

In 2002, archaeologists discovered a sophisticated network of large villages in the upper Xingu region of the southern Amazon in central Brazil. In a sense these were the cities, suburbs and exurbs of the "urban" Amazon. And now we have huge networks of infrastructure similar in many respects to the Xingu region in may parts of the globe, and just as elegant and sophisticated.

Take for example the circular plazas at the center of each settlement, with roads radiating out into fully developed areas like ring suburbs or parks. It was a typology that obviously existed long ago, and is something we now follow in development of our Mars colonies. It is a kind of panspermia effect of earthly elements infecting the Martian landscape, not of interstellar microorganisms but of social memes and an archaeology of culture.

City centers are of supreme importance given that they aren't taken over by kitschy monuments. The Anthony Townes sculpture constructed 100 years ago in the Cydonia region is the prime example of the polar opposite of kitsch, yet has a oblique connection with the Mars "Face", which as we all know now, is a trick of the eye. We like to perpetuate the illusion that it is a monument of an ancient culture, which in turn perpetuates the notion that all the things we make ultimately have some larger spiritual function or purpose when they are discovered thousands of years later. If the Face was in fact a monument, we hold the belief that somehow it was about a stratified society controlled by what H.G. Wells called an "intelligent minority", alien or otherwise.

In Cydonia, the silhouette of the Townes monument fades beautifully against the blue sunset. Like many monuments and sculptures, it has become reappropriated. Alas it has since become the beacon for our "cargo cults" of scientists awaiting supply shipments from earth every 18 months. Again human history on earth ports over directly! (Laughs) In the 2000s it was the continuous column of cargo ships from China to the United States, and is now is the supply chain between planets!

Michael Heizer's "Double Negative" constructed in the 1960s in the Nevada desert, or the Nazca lines in Peru point to opposite ends of land formations, yet occupy the same degree of ambiguity over time. If Double Negative was not attributed to the work of a sculptor, both would be seen as the work done as a society as a whole. Plate tectonics sometimes can also create natural boundaries, yet sometimes seem as if they were intentionally created.

The Mars settlements have taken on this same quality. The new civilization there lives as we did on Earth according to the same organizing principles. It was the most logical model for a new society on a new planet, that also had boundaries and perimeters carved by the Martian landscape, but in no way imposed constraints on society to the extent that it compelled them to battle for resources. The Xingu region had a dozen tribes, perhaps with invisible factions and sects, but the geographical boundaries were their default divisions. Knowing how ancient tribes planned village networks became the template of how Mars colonies would develop, although we are decidedly not tribal! Or are we? (Laughs) All we are missing on our Martian suburb is a Frederick Law Olmsted!

In a way civilizations can never die completely, and only leave the indelible traces that become the labyrinth that we continue to follow. Nothing can escape the erosive forces of time and entropy, at least in the physical world. The traces left in memory seem to be immune from it.

Societies evolve with circularity, not linearly, and mid-22nd Century the world has spiraled on, not necessarily up or down but rather inward and outward or towards and away. They embraced everything about planet earth, in what it was deep in history and what it has become. It is a post-technological society that is essentially "Neo-Neolithic": people used technology--It didn't use them. The new grid is no grid at all, except the one each individual adheres to.

We all continue to walk the labyrinth of technological progress but not the same path, yet we arrive at the same experience and place, in perfect alignment with the spiral. We give thanks and praise that it finally ended this way, with deference and praise to our ancestors, who unbeknownst to them, became a force for life on other planets they never knew existed.

***

Ai Grace (Neone):

My name is Ai Grace, formerly known as Neone in the 2040s. I am here to talk about rites of passage. I was born in 2023, so I am almost 128 years old. My date of immortality was May 1, 2046 so I am also a spry 104, yet still 23. Specifically it is my boundary-crossing experience from mortal to immortal that I am here to talk about today. Also as some of you may know, Anthony Townes was a very close friend of mine, to which I am eternally grateful for helping me come to terms with boundaries in a psychological sense.

"Tony" as I knew him, is still my term of endearment. Tony died that awful day in December 2046, and Anthony was born, crossing a threshold to a new identity, like a David Jones to Ziggy Stardust, Peter Johns to Nate Tions.

In the 6-month period both before and after my immortality date, I struggled with coming to terms with what I loved about being mortal. I struggled with my attachment to Tony the metal musician, who I absolutely adored and wanted to emulate; and all the tribulations during the accident investigation. Anthony's personality changes following the accident were both disconcerting and miraculous at the same time. There were two people there: the old Tony, and the new "Anthony" with manic tendencies, yet with highly industrious and creative powers. Tony was also a boxer, and there was always the suspicion that there may have been cumulative brain injuries over a long period of time that were more of a factor than the accident. In any case December 15, 2046 was his rite of passage.

Music was a huge factor in my transition from mortal to immortal. At the time, I was with the band called Nth and we were recording our second album, Strategic Erasure. I intentionally orchestrated it to be a chronicle of my transformation, with the first part about my mortal life and the second part about the rebirth. We recorded the song "Computational Resurrection" at midnight on May 1, 2046, and over the past 100 years, the piece has literally resurrected itself repeatedly into the lives of four subsequent generations, and woven itself into our consensus memory. It continues to resonate because most of us find ourselves at junctures, crossroads, precipes and thresholds at many times in our lives.

Sculptures and monuments also have a mnemonic quality that brings memory to the surface for processing. This is precisely why the Townes monument is so "monumental" as a grand statement for both Mars and Earth. My music became my own "mnemonic monument" that marked the entry point of my new immortality, at the same time that it encoded the events of 2046.

I have defended the persistence of memories and have not had them removed or altered. Even if I had removed them, my music would have revived them.

I continue to be nostalgic for mortality, but the ability to have deep experience of past and future, and to talk about centuries worth of memories is endlessly enriching, but sadly at the sacrifice of free will.

Had I not crossed the threshold, my daughter might not have had to see herself aging while I stayed young. She lived to 99, while I was still 21, essentially her great-granddaughter. I wish we could have traded places.

Einar Patriksson:

My name is Einar Patriksson. I am an aerial surveyor and photographer for IASA, capturing images on all planetary and moon missions. I have focused primarily as a surveyor or location scout for potential colony sites. I was involved in the initial survey of the Townes memorial site in Cydonia on the 2078 Mars mission.

The aerial shots taken at Cydonia reveal an interesting geological patternicity not seen on earth. The dust storms that frequently engulf the planet are an interesting modulator of aesthetics as it veils all the shots with a pinkish-beige haze.

The Cydonia mesas are located in a curious part of Mars, that is suspected of being the location at the shore of an ancient Martian ocean, clearly demarcated by what appears to be a water line boundary.

And here is the Townes Monument to the northwest of the Face complex, that in aerial view is now a non-descript Ziggurat, but will begin to show its skeletal structure over the millennia. Radiating out from the monument are the provisional access roads, or trails that have since become the actual colony streets.

Ramona: Grace and I will be here to see it", Ramona quips. (Laughs)

You may think this is actually a settlement when in fact it is strictly a geological formation. Again it is an unintentional patternicity.

This is one of the colonies seen through haze, or what looks like a colony. Again it is a trick of the eye.

Aerial images of any planet or moon always have some pattern carved in by the forces of nature. As intelligent beings we tend to follow the patterns, or the labyrinth as Dr. Stone described. We love boundaries and will always fall into the their patterns. They are not just tricks of the eye.

Qamar is inspired by the article, and is perhaps a bit spooked by it. Neone's talk resonates with his own inner conflicts with transhumanism, especially in the sense that all the immortality narratives through millennia have been fraught with doubt, and people have always attempted to escape them. For those that did not, the randomness of the universe have rendered immortality useless. Even though Immortality is embedded in ancient Egyptian history and even though he is not a native Egyptian, the tropes still resonate across the centuries. Entropy and mortality are firmly woven into the fabric of our interplanetary lives, regardless of our attempts to overcome them.

 

 

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Insula by Lee Barry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.leebarry.net/writing_insula_story.html