Read Macrolife Online

Authors: George; Zebrowski

Macrolife (3 page)

Arthur Clarke has variously observed that religion is a form of psychopathology—a neurological disorder—that within a few centuries from now all the old religions will accordingly have been discredited, and that civilization and religion are incompatible. In this sense a disciple of Clarke, Zebrowski destroys the last redoubt of Catholicism in spectacular fashion in
Cave of Stars
, although not before the last pope has committed an ultimate atrocity.

Cave of Stars
contains a neat definition of what macrolife is: “a mobile…organism comprised of human and human-derived intelligences. It's an organism because it reproduces, with its human and other elements, moves and reacts on the scale of the Galaxy.” It is larger inside “than the surface of a planet. And larger still within its minds.”

itself, the feature-length pilot novel (naughtily to adopt a TV category), already spans the whole of time from the present to the end of the universe and beyond. Its sheer sweep, its grandeur of concept, its daring, integrity, and rational intelligence put to shame those science fictioneers who can only fill up the next hundred billion years with space wars and other high jinks orchestrated by heroes who are only giant dwarfs, fantasy projections of our as-yet rather primitive selves.

Integrity, yes, and honesty. Here is a piece of fiction that may well be more than fiction, which demanded to be written, and to be written in its own terms.
is a work of grandeur and intelligence. With it, George Zebrowski's career as a mature prophetic writer really commenced, just as the real career of the human race may be only now commencing, just as we are still in the early youth of the universe itself. In times that sometimes seem trashy, yet are pregnant with glory, a book like
keeps our vision bright.

—Ian Watson


This concept of a new life form which I call Macro Life and Isaac Asimov calls “multiorganismic life” serves as a convenient shorthand whereby the whole collection of social, political, and biological problems facing the future space colonist may be represented with two-word symbols. It also communicates quickly an appreciation for the similar problems which are rapidly descending on the whole human race. Macro Life can be defined as “life squared per cell.” Taking man as representative of multicelled life we can say that man is the mean proportional between Macro Life and the cell, or Macro Life is to man as man is to the cell. Macro Life is a new life form of gigantic size which has for its cells, individual human beings, plants, animals, and machines.

…society can be said to be pregnant with a mutant creature which will be at the same time an extraterrestrial colony of human beings and a new large scale life form.

“The Ultimate Human Society,” 1961

One day there will arise an experimental community that works much more efficiently than the polyglot, rubbery, hand-patched society we are living in. A viable alternative will then be before us.

The Cosmic Connection
, 1973

Among the first forms of macro life were earth's latticework tier cities of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They were preceded by the historical city-state, and followed by small organized communities on the moon, Mars, the various space bases, and by Asterome, the hollowed-out asteroid that became the core of the first macroworld….

The tier cities were made possible by the application of advanced structural materials. The building of these cities led to the radical reorganization of urban earth society, the stabilization of population at 12 billion, and a decrease in the frequency of disorderly political change (this last change was helped by the influx of psychosocially trained designers and engineers into politics and planning). The planet was partially macroformed, and the grosser industrial processes, among them solar and fusion power systems, were moved into space….

The start of the century saw the sustained widening of the world's industrial base through the exploitation of the solar system's huge reserves of energy (the sun), raw materials (the asteroids, moon, and planets), and off-planet manufacturing conditions (where pollution could never be a problem); earth's isolation was over, the finitude of its resources no longer a liability. The new economic-industrial base not only created nearly full employment; it gave earth its first chance at creating a Type II civilization.

The History of Macrolife
, vol. 1,
Sigma Draconis Star System
, 2041

From the vantage point of several decades in the future, I believe that our children will judge the most important benefits of space colonization to have been not physical or economic, but the opening of new human options, the possibility of a new degree of freedom, not only for the human body, but much more important, for the human spirit and sense of aspiration.

The High Frontier, 1976

We are in the teen-age period of explosive growth and acquisition of knowledge. We are achieving control over our environment and our destinies, and even the power and responsibility for determining the time of our own deaths. We have secured weapons with which we can kill ourselves if we choose, and we have now achieved the first sign of biological maturity—we can reproduce. We can send out colonies to other parts of the universe which can take root, grow, and establish themselves as new civilizations….

The next step in evolution is from man—as the most highly organized example of multicellular life—to Macrolife.

…we should not be surprised if the race on earth ceases to proliferate its “cells,” achieves maturity, reproduces, continues its growth in other “individuals” (space colonies), and the “individual” remaining behind on Earth, ages through hundreds of thousands of years and finally dies.

Beyond Tomorrow
, 1965

Each of our cells contains dozens of tiny factories called mitochondria that combine our food with molecular oxygen to extract energy in convenient form. Recent evidence suggests that billions of years ago, the mitochondria were free-living organisms that have slowly evolved into a mutually dependent relationship with the cell. When many-celled organisms arose, the arrangement was retained. In a very real sense, then, we are not a single organism but an array of about ten trillion beings and not all of the same kind.


1. Lives

The earth pulled him down, tugging at him like a burdensome friend. Richard Bulero felt trapped as he looked up at the stars, cut off from the openness of space. Earth's turbulent ocean of air was the cloudy lens of a giant eye, sun-blinded by day, astigmatic by night. Even here in the desert, the stars lacked the brilliance he had come to know on the moon.

The planet was nervously alive around him, enveloping his body in an aura of sounds, smells, and dust, pushing against his skin, trying to make him fit in again. The physical adjustments of coming home were a nuisance; his adaptation to Luna's gentle pull conflicted with his muscle-memory of earth's stronger attraction, even though he had kept in shape through exercise.

He missed the moon's stillness. A year at Plato University had made him a stranger on the home world, and at home.

He had not come back to New Mexico just to attend this evening's party for his father and Bulero Enterprises. Margot had been first in his plans, and he was anxious to get away from the celebration as soon as possible. He had not seen her for over six months, ever since she had completed her field work on the moon and had returned to Princeton to continue her studies in biology.

He was looking forward to personal talks with his uncle Sam and with Orton Blackfriar; they would at least notice his progress. Sam's courses in philosophy had been the brightest part of his first two years at Princeton, opening his mind to problems beyond those of family and self-concern. Sam and Orton would be in New York during the next two weeks, and he had a dinner date with them. He would stay with Margot until then, and return to the moon by the first of May.

He was impatient for the party to be over. Richard turned away from the terrace railing and hesitated. There was no point in going back inside; his parents were monopolizing Sam and Orton, and he had lost his taste for starting pointless conversations with strangers. He was tired of playing the promising son of a man who had not spoken to him for most of the evening and whose presence seemed to destroy the possibility of genuine conversation.

Richard took a deep breath of the night air. He stretched, feeling a pleasant ache as his muscles adjusted to the earth's pull. It was like coming back to life. Nevertheless, the dry, starry silence of the walled lunar plain at Plato made possible a clarity of thought which was missing here. There he could look out into the vast cave of stars with a measured emotion, with a sense of the future, while here on earth his thoughts longed for sunlight and warm water, and lovemaking. There the lunar shadows were sharp, eliciting clear distinctions in his mind, cutting away the jungle growth of his emotions; here his feelings grew in a jumble, obscuring his goals, weakening him.

He missed the spirit of consensus among Plato's scientists and teachers, as well as the cooperativeness of the lunar colonists; it was the same, he had been told, among the L-5 colonists of Asterome, and on Mars and Ganymede. The colonies were a new branch of humanity, joined to their environment through a problem-solving struggle which demanded of them the resolve to work through disagreements to the best possible conclusion, whatever that might turn out to be; the openness of free space was matched by the openness of inquiring minds. Failure in maintaining this attitude could result in costly disasters and loss of life.

Those who lived permanently on the moon, Mars, or Ganymede, could never return to the high gravity of earth without powered external support harnesses or wheelchairs; much of this growing population had no desire ever to visit earth. Asterome maintained an earthlike gravity, but even so the colonists had more in common with sunspace humanity than with earth. He wondered if he and Margot could cut themselves off from earth, begin a new life elsewhere in the solar system's growing family of environments; he wondered if he could ever cut himself off from the fact of his family name.

How will I ever introduce Margot
? he asked himself as he started toward the terrace door. He stopped again, startled by the thought that he did not know what his parents were like within themselves. He knew their faces, the gaze of their eyes, their manner of speech and dress; but he did not know them as he knew Margot. He had never known anyone as he knew Margot. He knew Sam; Orton was easy to understand.

Margot was lucky not to have her parents; her past was gone, leaving her free to grow in her own way, without having to measure herself by it constantly. The past was not conspiring to enlist her in its service; his was waiting to swallow him with its complexities of money and responsibility. He knew that he might never be able to accomplish anything to match the wealth of his family or its corporate power. His intellectual and scientific achievements would be respected only if they resulted in practical consequences; a treatise, or a theory, would not be enough. Even his mother, who missed him genuinely, took little notice of his work in philosophy and science.

There had been a time, only a few years ago, when he and Sam could still get above their lives in discussion; they could stand off, independent and all knowing, from the family's affairs, and talk about the dangers to personal happiness and achievement posed by the past. Sam Bulero had taken the most painful path, selling his shares in the company after setting up an annuity. His brother, Jack, made constant fun of him for this, even though the annuity provided Sam with less than what Princeton paid him. Sam's work, however, was real, and a source of enduring fame. Jack Bulero was an elaborate fake, but known as such only to family and close associates.
My father
, Richard thought.
Not an evil man, just someone who's not what he claims to be.

How long before 1 put my hand in to take a share
? In time Richard Bulero would become a device for the servicing and preservation of Bulero Enterprises; his needs and desires would be met in return. He would be able to help Margot, show her the world, and much more; he would like that, he admitted, hating himself. If his work in physics and the philosophy of science came to nothing, he would have no choice but to try and accomplish something within the company; and if he failed at that, he thought bitterly, the cushion would be there to catch him again, for the last time.

What else could there be for him? He envied the space colonists; they had real work to do. On Asterome they were looking forward to a society that would be free of planets. Somewhere there had to be something for him to give himself to—an enterprise that would combine his love of knowing with flesh-and-blood concerns, with issues and human needs that would put as much love and caring into his life as he felt toward Margot.

His family was pulling him down more strongly than the earth, and he wondered if he could ever break free for long.
I've got to get moving. I'm twenty years old and just beginning to wake up. I've got to escape, permanently, into my own kind of world.
He looked up at the Bulero Orbital Factory as it passed overhead. Three hundred miles out, with a period of two hours, it was the brightest object in the sky. As he watched its familiar, lazy passage, the sudden feeling came over him that he was too late, that all the forces necessary to crush his hopes were already in motion, advancing toward him out of a distant past, and that he had somehow missed the moment that would have resolved his problems.

He took another deep breath, set his face into a mask, and went inside.


Smoke, billowing, churning gray and black; protean shapes fleeing through the thickening flux; russet masses constrained within a contorted internal space; swelling densities struggling to escape through narrowing fissures in the earth. It was cold in the dream. She struggled to open her eyes….

A glow spread through the cumulus, revealing for a moment the titanic shoulders and limbs of something fighting to be born.

She saw dashes of light—measured electrical activity in the deepest layers of her brain—dreams seen from outside….

She opened her eyes. The sun burned in an abyss, waiting for her to fall in….

A misshapen finger of lightning pierced the ground. The sky darkened and a giant moon cast its indifferent white light through a cancerous opening in the clouds, only to be covered by a black shape gliding toward the dawn, where the sun crouched below the storm, a beast ready to lash out at the world with a scorching tongue.

The rain whispered and fell in a rush of crystalline droplets which still held starlight in their structures. The fissures drank the flood, and dead things floated to the surface. The flapping sound of a large bird came up behind her; sharp talons entered her neck and a ragged beak dipped to drink her blood….

The universe collapsed into a throbbing point inside her head.

A hammer blow struck stone. She cried out….

Pieces of the dream echoed within her as she stood on the stone terrace. The sky was strewn with searingly bright stars, the ones she had come to love as a girl. Here in New Mexico, she had escaped the cotton fog of cities; the clouds had broken to reveal these stars—a universe coming into being, a new immensity for her thoughts; in twenty-five years, she had not tired of its sanctuary.

She reached out across the cathedral of space-time to those hopelessly distant candle-furnaces, where all the material elements had been forged again and again inside the generation of suns, where alien sun-spaces were certain to contain other humanities, however different, and she wondered if someone there might be her friend.

The cold air made her shiver, as if in reply, and she turned to go back into the house. The door slid open and she stepped inside.

I'm alone
, Janet Bulero thought. She stepped forward and grasped the bulerite railing that circled the pit of the sunken living room, where the aftermath of the party was still alive.

Her only child was a man now. Richard was sitting alone on the sofa in the center of the room. She had watched him grow, become graceful and serious, a quieter version of his father. Sometimes she had worried that his loyalty would go to Jack, but Richard had always been too independent for that to happen; Jack had not tried to win him over, and Richard had not seemed to care.

Behind the huge felt sofa, a slightly drunk Jack Bulero stood with a drink in his left hand. His brother Sam nodded lazily as Jack waved his free hand. Janet recognized the old arguments and self-justifications, wishing that Sam would learn not to be baited into a discussion.

There was still a considerable pride in Jack's six-foot frame, more than he needed or deserved. His tan and his loose-fitting blue suit were hiding overweight and bad posture. His eyes looked up at the ceiling as he spoke, as if he were struggling to look up into his head; his lips tightened and relaxed as he stooped to hear his brother. Janet felt a moment of superiority.

Samuel Bulero's tan reflected a genuine vitality, she told herself, examining him as if he were a stranger. Why had she encouraged this stocky and muscular man, she wondered as she looked at his streaked brown hair and bushy eyebrows.
Was it just another way to hang on to Jack

At her left, halfway around the raised level, Orton Blackfriar sat puffing on a Cuban cigar as he listened to the Beethoven quartet floating out of the high-backed chair's hidden speakers. As she observed his large, familiar shape, the entire mood of coming in from the clear, quiet night was shattered. She looked at Jack. Their formal marriage contract had expired five years before, bringing the informal option into effect; that last link would expire today. As her one-time lawyer, Orton knew the significance of the evening, but had made no comment yet.

For a wild instant this morning, she had dreamed that Jack would send her a confidential record of his declaration as a surprise. She turned from the rail and walked toward Orton.

“I'm thinking of all the work on my desk,” he said, shifting as she came near.
He's trying to avoid the subject
. She sat down on the cushion at his right and listened to the music.

Orton was too good to be governor, she thought. He had not assumed the job from any of the usual motives, but he did it well. He had taken all the wretched cases during his law practice, finding it difficult to blame anyone but the powerful for social problems; as governor he tried to use the public trust of wealth and power to make a difference in individual lives. There were limits to that, he had found.

“You didn't have to do this,” Orton said.

She looked up at him. “I'm not really disappointed.”

“He did come, after all.”

“To reinforce his own view of himself,” she said. “To have it reported that he was present at the anniversary celebration of Carlos Bulero's gift to the world.”

She had once toyed with the idea of writing down the truth about Jack, especially after she had learned how little could be proved about the Buleros. The documentary broadcast viewed by the guests earlier tonight had been at least one-third fiction. She had found it difficult to remind herself of the truth after the telecast.
That's because I'm part of the lie

It was Carlos Bulero, son of a country doctor from a small village in Ecuador, who had made the family rich through his discovery of bulerite—
the family element
, she thought,
common to us all
. Carlos had been a major physicist; his son, Jack, had only dabbled in physics, a businessman taking credit for the work of his employed scientists. It was not known outside the family that Jack had altered his father's records to give himself a large share in the discovery of bulerite and all the credit for the structural applications of the building material. Since all the records were in computer storage, even that much could not be proved, unless Jack produced the written records, but he denied their existence; only Sam had claimed, privately, to know what was in them. Carlos had not cared much for publishing his results.

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