THE MAKING OF A NEW ODYSSEY
‘‘Our TV visions about the universe don't even scratch the surface of what might be out there.’’
Many years ago, I was a child sitting in a large movie theatre in Buenos Aires while reading fearfully and feverishly a brochure that tried to explain an already historical movie. We were among the first to share the awe, mystical incomprehension, and sheer scale of 2001: Space Odyssey.
I don’t know how much I got from that first viewing, but it remains one of the fundamental experiences that drove me to science and, eventually, science fiction.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of a civilization so advanced we can’t comprehend how they think and what they do. As Arthur C. Clarke famously stated in his third law, these aliens would create tools that would seem like magic to us.
Shows like Star Trek have ascribed such powers to the future of humanity: tele-transportation, faster than light travel, interstellar societies, and almost-human artificial intelligences like Data. And the occasional messy but fun time travel. The beings who handle those technologies are, in general, driven by familiar conflicts thwarting their goals of progress and cooperation. They are usually quite like us, humanoids with different facial features—not to cause disgust in the viewing public—and intelligence in our human range. Post-biological (i.e., non-biological) beings seem weird to us, and it’s not casual that we made the “good” robots funny and awkward, like the one in the original Lost in Space series and those two famous buddies from Star Wars.
But our TV visions about the universe don’t even scratch the surface of what might be out there.
In 1968, the movie 2001: Space Odyssey did go where no one had gone before, driven by the cocky assuredness of its makers, Clarke and Kubrick. In that colossal story, we saw alien beings so advanced that they’d controlled key steps in our evolution and now monitor our progress to space. We learned to fear artificial intelligences becoming human and thus possibly evil. Close to the movie’s end, a trip to their home world(s) returns us a next-stage human who can take us further in our evolution. You can spend hours appraising in which ways that movie, while released before we made it to the moon, extends a shadow over generations of sci-fi stories.
My new book, Fences of The Light, attempts to take these concepts to new places. But to keep the aliens “relatable” to our feeble minds, I insert one in the story that’s (more or less) closer to us: a quasi-immortal young woman, Sylvia, who belongs to a group of humanized aliens that inspired our legends about vampires. A lot of the book is Sylvia’s story, told by Lucien Strand as he shares some extraordinary times with her. There’s something of The Great Gatsby in how that telling shapes how we see the main characters.
What about Sylvia’s people? They are half a million years more advanced than us, way past the technologies of Star Trek’s aliens. They are what we would think of as gods. And as you know from Greek mythology, gods begot other gods.
What can go wrong with a civilization with that kind of power? As you also know from Greek mythology, gods can make enormous (divine?) mistakes that can very well screw up the entire universe.
Without telling you more, Fences of The Light has some cosmic-level blunders, and the beginnings of a galactic odyssey without leaving our Earth. It manages to update and extend the myths of 2001: Space Odyssey to some unexpected places.
But my novel also begins in 1992 and leads to a cold trail of mysteries in Argentina. So, go figure.
This is one of the origin stories of Fences of The Light. I will slowly unearth other underground places the book doesn’t talk about.
 (1962) “Profiles of the Future: An enquiry into the limits of the possible.” In Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination.