Myth is a powerful component of human culture, and presumably this will be true in the science fiction future. Space explorers and interstellar colonists will have new myths to sustain them.

And on a more mundane level, science fiction authors can harvest ancient myths to fortify novels they write.

Space Myths

Futuristic people living in a futuristic future will have a cultural heritage of futuristic mythology. Along with their futuristic food-pills, jet-packs, and flying cars. Science fiction authors need ways of reminding their readers that they are not in Kansas any more.

Examples include:

In this fascinating novel, six thousand years from now humanity lives in genetically engineered living space habitats and spaceships. The surface of planets are considered to be evil, and society is set up along the lines of the peons and aristocrats of DUNE.

The entry into space is considered to have been started by the Trickster Gagarin "First Man in the Deep", a mythological figure who is sort of a combination of the Trickster Coyote and Yuri Gagarin. He represents the principles of uncertainty and surprise, the uncountable and unknowable aspects of life in general and warfare in particular.

In the novel things tend to be divided into four categories, which is reminiscent of the ancient Empedoclean elements division of things into earth, water, air, and fire. More modernly: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. In Empedoclean, there is sometimes a fifth element called aether, spirit, or quintessence ("fifth essence") but we won't get into that.

The Four Resources are Space, Time, Energy, and Matter. Space is what keeps everything from being in the same place, so it is symbolized by air (separation, analysis, cutting apart). Time flows like water. Energy is fire and matter is earth. By the standards of the culture of The Helix and the Sword, our current world has abundant matter, but is starved for energy. Their culture on the other hand has abundant energy (solar power) but is starved for matter (since both gravity and planets are considered evil, you have to stay away from planets and asteroids).

The Four Nucleotides form deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). They are the Forces of Life. They are Adinine, Cystosine, Guanine, and Thymidine. They are mythologically symbolized as four beautiful sisters dancing in a spiral with one another. This creates the Tree of Life. Their dance provides occasional mutations, which are distractions for the Four Horsemen. One of the sisters symbolizes Abundant Space, others symbolize Abundant Time, Abundant Energy, and Abundant Matter.

The Four Horsemen are the Forces of Selection, Pruners of the Tree of Life (i.e., symbols of evolutionary natural selection). "First is Famine, Hunger's Waste; Second War, his thrall; Third is Pestilence, of Earth; And Fourth is Death for all!". Famine symbolizes Lack of Matter, War symbolizes Lack of Space, Pestilence symbolizes Lack of Energy, and Death symbolizes Lack of Time.

Space and time merge to form the Space-time Continuum. It is composed of locations, that is, a location in space at a given time. Matter and energy merge to form Ylem. It is composed of objects. The Space-time Continuum and Ylem merge to form the Universe. It is composed of objects at locations.

The novel also has semi-mythological figures such as the Blessed Gerard O'Neill, Saint Charles Darwin the Deliverer, and the Blessed Arthur Clarke. After six thousand years the biographical details become fuzzy, historical figures are transformed into mythic heroes.
When colonist Benjamin Driscoll arrives on Mars, he passes out because the oxygen is so thin. Inspired by American Mythology, he sets out to become the "Johnny Appleseed" of Mars. The idea is that trees will produce oxygen.
MURPHY'S HALL by Poul Anderson
In the future, astronauts and space explorers who die with their magnetic boots on expect to meet afterwards in the mythic "Murphy's Hall". Or Murphy's Whatever. Anderson also wrote a short commentary about the story.

But Van Rycke was not just a machine of facts and figures, he was also a superb raconteur, a collector of legends who could keep the whole mess spellbound as he spun one of his tales. No one but he could pay such perfect tribute to the small details of the eerie story of the New Hope, the ship which had blasted off with refugees from the Martian rebellion, never to be sighted until a century later — the New Hope wandering forever in free fall, its dead lights glowing evilly red at its nose, its escape ports ominously sealed — the New Hope never boarded, never salvaged because it was only sighted by ships which were themselves in dire trouble, so that "to sight the New Hope" had become a synonym for the worst of luck.

Then there were the "Whisperers", whose siren voices were heard by those men who had been too long in space, and about whom a whole mythology had developed.

Van Rycke could list the human demi-gods of the star lanes, too. Sanford Jones, the first man who had dared Galactic flight, whose lost ship had suddenly flashed out of Hyperspace, over a Sirius world three centuries after it had lifted from Terra, the mummified body of the pilot still at the frozen controls, Sanford Jones who now welcomed on board that misty "Comet" all spacemen who died with their magnetic boots on. Yes, in his way, Van Rycke made his new assistant free of more than one kind of space knowledge.

From SARGASSO OF SPACE by Andre Norton (1955)

(ed note: The crew of the free trader Space Angel gather in the observation bubble to educate the new recruit Kelly)

Bert took it upon himself to expound philosophically. "My boy, out there you see the Universe, with a capital U. Of course, you have always been able to see the universe by looking in any direction. But, out here, you perceive it with a clarity lacking in any environment encumbered by an atmosphere. And let me tell you, it is strange and enigmatic."

"Weird is a better word," said Ham.

"Things happen out here," Finn nodded in agreement, "which I would consider unbelievable if they happened anywhere on Earth — except, perhaps, in Ireland."

"Oh, no," Michelle whispered to Torwald. "Now they're going to bombard the poor kid with spacers' folklore."

There was a brief pause, then a deep voice asked in sepulchral tones, "Son, have you ever heard of the Blue Lights?"

"I think I read about them somewhere, Ham."

"Well, they're little balls of blue flame that infest a ship just before some disaster occurs. I've known spacers who've seen them."

"And then, there are the Ghost Ships," Finn added while mixing his wine with the contents of a small flask he carried in his hip pocket. "Old ships bearing the name of vessels that never reported home, and they appear to men on doomed expeditions. I saw one once."

"I thought you never came out to the observation bubble, Finn."

"I've a confession to make, Kelly. Secretly, I've often come out the Navigation bubble to look at the stars and meditate. Once, during the War, I was serving as a navigator on a cargo transport supporting the Li Po invasion. On the night before H-Hour, I was reclining in just such a bubble as this one. On a Navy ship, it's about the only place a man can find some privacy and be safe from his superiors, since most of them don't even know the bubble exists. Suddenly, before my eyes, the specter of a ship appeared: one of those knobby, old-fashioned affairs, all tubes and spheres. Great rents marred her sides, and you could see the bones of the dead inside. Her bridge was lit by a red light, such as they used on the old ships, and enclosed in glassite. Across her nose I could just read the name Nevsky. I later learned the Nevsky disappeared during a routine run to Titan in 2022, with some of Earth's greatest scientists aboard. The next day — well, everybody knows what happened at Li Po."

Unable to control himself, Bert exclaimed, "Finn, were I not an old spacer, well versed in the strangeness of the spaces between the stars, I would call you a most thoroughgoing Irish liar. As it is, I shall merely reserve my judgment."

"You don't need to believe Finn or Ham, Kelly," Torwald said, "but before you've been out too long, you'll have seen some strange things." The others nodded their heads in agreement. "The first thing you need to cultivate is a mind open to any possibility, because anything is possible out here. You abandoned the word impossible back at the pad when we left."

None disputed this great truth.

From SPACE ANGEL by John Maddox Roberts (1979)
LEVEL 7 by Mordecai Roshwald
After the atomic war, Terra is a dead radioactive wasteland. Except for the survivors in the US underground complex at the seventh level (and their Soviet counterparts). They will have to live there a few generation before the radiation level decays to something halfway safe. The protagonist's girlfriend amuses herself by writing educational children stories for the kindergarten kids. One is about the deadly Saint, who is called St or Strontium-90 (somebody points out the symbol for strontium is Sr, not St). The other is about the funny mushroom that grew bigger and bigger. Until it blew up.

I have just finished reading what is written on it: a story for the children of the future generations. I find it a very interesting story, and here it is, copied word for word:

Gamma, Alpha and Little Ch-777

Once upon a time, many years ago, there lived on Level 7 a little called Ch-777 (Ch for Child). He was a nice little boy and a good pupil, but he had one strange weakness; he was curious to know what went on above him, above our good Level 7.

“Tell me,” he used to say, “please tell me what goes on up there.” And when his parents heard him ask that they were frightened, for they did not want even to speak of the hell up there. But the little boy kept on asking: “Tell me, please tell me what goes on up there.” So one day they told him.

The higher you went up from Level 7, they said, the closer you came to Him whose name must not be mentioned. He could not be seen, and He could not be heard, and He could not be touched, and He could not be smelled, but up there His power was infinite. If anybody went near His kingdom, said the parents, he would be killed at once by His invisible servants.

At this Ch-777 became very frightened, and many days went by without his asking a single silly question. But after a while his curiosity got the better of him again, and this time he asked his teacher: “Tell me what goes on up there.”

The teacher, who knew more about the world outside Level 7 than little Ch-777’s parents did, told him that He who ruled up there was called—and even she was afraid to pronounce His name aloud—St 90. She called Him ‘Saint 90’, for she did not want to say His real name which was (she said in a whisper) Strontium 90.

Saint 90 was the omnipotent master of death and destruction. He was the supreme ruler of the upper world, and to carry out His evil designs He had servants who obeyed His every command—wicked little devils whose touch was deadly too.

Such were the two small devils called Alpha and Gamma. Their job was to wander around in the upper world, trying to find somebody to kill. They got very bored doing this, because the upper world had long before been conquered by St 90 and his servants, and now there was no living creature left to kill.

“Would they kill me too,” asked Ch-777, “if I went to the upper world?”

“Of course they would, you silly boy,” the teacher said. “And probably they would catch you before you even got there.”

After this Ch-777 did not ask any more questions. But he could not forget the story about the upper world. Every night he dreamt about little Alpha and Gamma, who appeared as two lovely sisters of his own age who wanted him to play with them. Before long he really believed that these two devils were just two friendly little girls.

Now he stopped paying attention to what was going on around him on good Level 7. He became bored with all the interesting things that were happening, he became a bad pupil, and one day…he disappeared.

How he managed to get out, nobody knew. But he left a letter saying that he was going up to join the little girls Alpha and Gamma.

Nobody ever saw him again. No doubt he was killed by Alpha or Gamma, or by some other devil, on his way up.

And this, children, is the moral of the story: Do not think of the world above you. Be happy here. If you are curious to know what happens above Level 7, think of poor Ch-777 who paid for his curiosity with his life.

     I think this story is quite good in its way, though it has room for improvement. For instance, why blame Ch-777’s sense of curiosity for his tragic end? It could be suggested that the devils Alpha and Gamma, on the orders of St 90, entered his head and made him mad enough to want to go up where their master would be able to devour him.
     I think this version is more frightening. I shall suggest it to R-747. It could be used to make children obey adults’ commands: if they don’t, they can be warned, Alpha and Gamma will enter their heads and make them go up to be killed by St 90.
     I gave R-747 her story back today and suggested my alternative version. She agreed that mine probably was more frightening and better as a mythological story, but still preferred her original because it kept closer to the facts and so was of greater educational value. P-867, Who was listening (rather quietly, for a change), remarked maliciously: “I think Alpha and Gamma have entered your heads already! The whole idea’s insane.”
     I could not deny that her remark was sharp, but I did not let her see that I had enjoyed it.
     An atomic energy officer, AE-327, had been listening to our conversation too. He asked to see R-747’s manuscript, and after glancing through it made a few technical com- ments. First, he said, she was wrong about the chemical symbol of Strontium, which was Sr and not St. “So there’s nothing saintly about Strontium,” he said. Then he added that, unfortunately for the nice story, Strontium 90’s half-life (the time which elapsed before its radioactivity fell to half of its original value) was only twenty-five years. “So your saint would be a very short-lived one,” he said with a laugh.
     “Why not take Plutonium 239, an isotope with a half-life of 24,100 years? Better still, choose Thorium 232: that has a half-life of 13,900 million years!”
     “That would be splendid,” remarked P-867 mischievously. “With the symbol ‘Th’ it’s really theological.”
     AE-327 smiled and went on to object to R-747’s devils too. “Gamma rays and alpha particles aren’t really as alike as the sisters of the story,” he said. “What’s more, Strontium 90 emits beta particles, not alpha. If you’ve got to have alpha particles, you’ll have to make Plutonium 239 or Thorium 232 the villain of the piece. As for gamma rays—”
     Here I, rather impolitely, interrupted my learned colleague. I could not stand his pedantic objections, which seemed to pour even colder water on the idea of a new mythology than P-867’s cynical remarks. I said that stories for children need not be scientifically accurate. If they were, they would not be stories!
     It was time for us to leave the lounge, but before we parted I promised to give R-747 a story of my own next time we met.

The Story of the Mushroom

Here is a story from the Sacred Tape which can be heard by any child who pushes the ST button.

Once upon a time, many years ago, people did not live on Level 7, but far above, on the crust of the earth. They had no natural roof over their heads, and they used to be made wet by water falling on them, or burned by a huge fiery ball which was suspended over them for about twelve hours each day. This made their life very hard.

For a long time the people were very miserable because of the falling water and the fiery ball, not to mention the violent air currents which blew with the strength of a million electric fans. Little by little, however, they learned to erect roofs over their heads, and even to build small boxes to live in.

They taught these skills to their children, and the children taught them to their children, and so on for many generations. And as time went by the people grew better and better at making their boxes. Before long the little boxes gave place to huge, high ones—some as high as our dining-room is long, and some even higher than that…

But this did not satisfy them. They no longer wanted just to be protected from the wet and the burning ball and the air currents: they wanted to go higher and higher. So they invented gadgets which made them able to walk around in the air, and they thought that the higher they went the better they were. After some time they had gadgets which went up so high in the air that people standing on the earth could no longer see them.

But even this was not enough for them. They had shown that they could build big things and could go high in the air. Now they wanted to take a very small thing and make it change itself into a giant, so that it would grow high into the air all by itself.

So they found a small and fragile thing that grew out of the earth, something called a mushroom. It was so small and weak that a child’s foot was enough to crush it to pieces. But unless they could transform this tiny mushroom into the biggest and strongest thing on earth, the people would not consider themselves happy.

So the most learned ones put their heads together, and thought and worked, and worked and thought, until one day they succeeded. The mushroom began to grow!

There was a big celebration, and the people who had discovered how to make the mushroom grow became very important.

And the mushroom grew and grew and grew. Before long it was higher than the highest boxes. And still it went on growing. Now it reached the flying gadgets. And still it grew.

But something was happening which the people had not intended: as the mushroom grew it emitted a strong smell. Few people noticed it to start with, but as the mushroom got bigger the odour became stronger, and more and more people began to smell it. Some could not endure it and became ill and died. In spite of that the others put up with the bad smell, happy that their mushroom was growing so large.

As time went by, the mushroom grew so big, and its smell grew so strong, that some people began to be afraid of it. So they looked for a place to hide. There was no place they could find on earth where they could not smell the mushroom, so they started to dig down.

Down they dug, down, down, down…until they arrived at Level 7. And when they got to Level 7 they could not smell the mushroom any more.

But the thing they had escaped from was still growing and growing, swelling and covering the whole earth with shadow and stink, until one day—it burst!

In a split second the mushroom exploded into millions of little pieces, and the air carried the particles into the people’s boxes, into their flying gadgets, everywhere. And everyone who was touched by a particle, or who smelled the bad odour, died. And it was not long before there was not a single person left alive on the surface of the earth. Only the few who had dug into the earth survived. And you, children, are their offspring.

And this is the moral…

No, I do not feel like adding a moral. I wonder what R-747 will think of my story.

From LEVEL 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959)

(ed note: in the novel Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and among the few survivors are the people in the space arks Noah and Pegasus. Bamboo is an important resource.)

Lester Rajani spoke also to the children. They must learn to work, plant, harvest, respect and love bamboo as he did, he told them, and he told them stories. I will repeat one here as he told it. The American woman-astronaut, Stacy Thorpe, has typed out the moment—

"Once upon a time, long ago and far away, so far away that no one knew where it really was, there were dragons who lived in Ishmoteer. This was a fabled and a truly marvelous land. Now the dragons here were considered to be magic, because with only the great bamboo forests about them, they did wondrous things. Using only their bamboo, they grew food and they built houses, they made their own furniture and floor mats and even their cooking utensils. They made wheels and wonderful chariots, and little cages for their pet crickets, because dragons have pets, also. They made paper for writing and telling stories and for very fine painting, They made all sorts of marvelous things. They made drums and flutes and fifes and pipes and clarinets and bongos and laughing music with their instruments. They made perfume, and fine jewelry, and even crutches for the dragons who stubbed their big toes. They made vases for their flowers and long tunnels to carry water and ovens and stoves for cooking and baking. They made writing pens and combs and shoes and when they went high into the mountains where there was snow they made sleds and toboggans and even skis. These dragons of Ishmoteer built soaring bridges and wonderful temples, they made candles from bamboo, and on warm summer evenings they sailed their bamboo boats and played music and sang songs"

"Were the dragons really real?" an excited little boy asked.

"And was there really an Ishmoteer?" cried a young girl.

Rajani smiled upon the children who had glided through the bamboo thickets of Noah, growing tall and straight under the ultraviolet suns crafted by man, glistening in the light of charred bamboo in the decorative lamps, looming over the bamboo chairs and benches, holding drinks in bamboo cups and gourds. Rajani brought a bamboo flute to his lips and an airy tune flew forth. He lowered the flute and his eyes shone.

"Of course the dragons are real," he told the children. "And do you know where Ishmoteer is?"

"Tell us! Tell us!"

"Why, look around you. This is Ishmoteer, and we are its dragons."

From EXIT EARTH by Martin Caidin (1987)

Probing difficulties

Mars Spacecraft 1988–1999
Phobos 1Failure
Phobos 2Failure
Mars ObserverFailure
Mars 96Failure
Mars PathfinderSuccess
Mars Global SurveyorSuccess
Mars Climate OrbiterFailure
Mars Polar LanderFailure
Deep Space 2Failure

The challenge, complexity and length of Mars missions have led to many mission failures. The high failure rate of missions launched from Earth attempting to explore Mars is informally called the "Mars Curse" or "Martian Curse". The phrase "Galactic Ghoul" or "Great Galactic Ghoul", referring to a fictitious space monster that subsists on a diet of Mars probes, was coined in 1997 by Time Magazine journalist Donald Neff, and is sometimes facetiously used to "explain" the recurring difficulties.

Two Soviet probes were sent to Mars in 1988 as part of the Phobos program. Phobos 1 operated normally until an expected communications session on 2 September 1988 failed to occur. The problem was traced to a software error, which deactivated attitude thrusters causing the spacecrafts' solar arrays to no longer point at the Sun, depleting Phobos 1 batteries. Phobos 2 operated normally throughout its cruise and Mars orbital insertion phases on January 29, 1989, gathering data on the Sun, interplanetary medium, Mars, and Phobos. Shortly before the final phase of the mission, during which the spacecraft was to approach within 50 m of Phobos' surface and release two landers, one a mobile 'hopper', the other a stationary platform, contact with Phobos 2 was lost. The mission ended when the spacecraft signal failed to be successfully reacquired on March 27, 1989. The cause of the failure was determined to be a malfunction of the on-board computer.

Just a few years later in 1992 Mars Observer, launched by NASA, failed as it approached Mars. Mars 96, an orbiter launched on November 16, 1996 by Russia failed, when the planned second burn of the Block D-2 fourth stage did not occur.

Following the success of Global Surveyor and Pathfinder, another spate of failures occurred in 1998 and 1999, with the Japanese Nozomi orbiter and NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, and Deep Space 2 penetrators all suffering various fatal errors. The Mars Climate Orbiter was noted for mixing up U.S. customary units with metric units, causing the orbiter to burn up while entering Mars' atmosphere.

The European Space Agency has also attempted to land two probes on the Martian surface; Beagle 2, a British-built lander that failed to deploy its solar arrays properly after touchdown in December 2003, and Schiaparelli, part of the ExoMars mission consisting of itself and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Contact with the Schiaparelli EDM lander was lost 50 seconds before touchdown. It was later confirmed that the lander struck the surface at a high velocity, possibly exploding.

From the Wikipedia entry for

Living Mythologically in Modern Times

Joseph Campbell once urged his listeners to “live mythologically.” I was old enough to have watched the Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell during their original airing on PBS (1988), and I remember how this advice was sometimes appreciated but more often misunderstood (seemingly intentionally) by the press at the time. Though Moyers was clearly out of his depth in these interviews, he at least appreciated what Campbell was saying, even if he didn’t understand all of it. 

One might plausibly claim that it is not easy to live mythologically in modern times, that our times, modern times, are decisively removed from the mythological times—the Axial Age, as Karl Jaspers styled it—in which our great traditions were laid down. The origins of human civilization are long past, according to this way of understanding history, and they will not return. We have the civilizations we have because of the origin myths that made us what we are today, but the times in which the origin myths came about (no less than those myth themselves, I might add) are long gone.

This is not my interpretation of history. I regard the past ten thousand years as the infancy of human civilization, and we ourselves as constituting an infancy that is only now on the cusp of coming into the earliest stages of maturity. If we could be said to be located anywhere in history, I would say that we are near the end of the beginning. I have presented this interpretation in Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? or, What it means for us to be living near the beginning of history.

Near the end of the beginning of history, there is still plenty of time to make and to participate in the origin myths of the future civilization that is to come. But what the origin myth from our times will be will depend upon the mature form of our civilization, looking back over history to find inchoate and embryonic forms of itself in the past. If the mature form of human civilization takes nothing from our era, we will be not so much forgotten as effaced from history. For in order to construct a narrative of the convergence of human civilization on a particular mature state, it will be necessary to parse the past and to preserve only those moment that contribute to the narrative.

In our own time, there are several different historical threads that might someday become the basis of the origin myth (also known as a foundation myth or etiological myth) of spacefaring civilization, if that is the mature form that our civilization eventually takes, but we cannot yet speak of the foundation myth of spacefaring civilization because nothing yet is settled. Not only is there not a single origin myth for spacefaring civilization, but if mature civilization turns inward rather than outward, those stages in the progress of spacefaring will count as dead ends in the branching bush of civilization.

However, since I am especially interested in spacefaring civilization as the destiny of humanity, I will focus on this particular mature state of civilization. One could just as easily consider the origin myth possibilities for other forms of mature civilization. The only limitation here is that, if our present stage of civilization is close enough to the beginning of time that we are today participating in the origin myth of civilization, that civilization must be exceptionally long-lived by contemporary standards. The civilization for which we can provide an origin myth would be million-year-old supercivilization.

At the fine-grained extreme of origins myths for spacefaring civilization, we have the ongoing efforts in our time to create a space industry—the origins of rocketry, the Space Race, the contemporary privatization of space industry and technology. This sequence of events may be continued into the future with further triumphs and tragedies until the fulfillment of a spacefaring destiny allows civilization new worlds and new opportunities for human achievement. This is an inspiring mythology of human effort in the face of an indifferent universe, punctuated by great successes and devastating failures, all of which contribute to the poetic possibilities of mythology.

In the middle ground of history and human activity, an origins myth might focus on the development of the political, social, and economic institutions and wherewithal that make a spacefaring industry possible. This would be a more troubling mythology than the straight-forward inspiring vision of relentless human toil as in the fine-grained account. In the middle ground account, there would be villains, and an encounter with malevolence, perhaps a great struggle and a great moment of decision when the turning point in the struggle is realized. Probably we have not yet even approached that moment and the turning point, which has yet to develop out of the tensions of the present. 

In the most expansive vision of a spacefaring future for humanity, we look back to the origins of civilization, the origins of humanity, and indeed the origins of the universe, and we see these successive origins of great new possibilities as ontological novelties are revealed in and through history. David Christian regularly presents big history as an origins myth of contemporary civilization, and we could well see this tradition and method extrapolated into the future, in which our present civilization on the cusp of true spacefaring civilization was a threshold of this emergent complexity that we are struggling to bring into being, perhaps to be followed by no less consequential thresholds as yet unknown. The cosmogonic myth of a spacefaring civilization could reach into cosmology itself as its affirmation of itself as an extension of the processes of the cosmos.

In the very long view of history—perhaps the view of history that a million-year-old supercivilization might possess—in which our ten thousand years of civilization to date is merely the preparation for the true beginning of history, when humanity is a spacefaring and multi-planetary civilization, it may be one of these three scenarios that furnishes the origins myth, or all three of them woven together, or something else yet that I have not considered.

Joseph Campbell not only said to live mythologically, he also said that a ritual is an opportunity to participate in a myth. This implies the theme with which we began: that the mythological age is over, and our only hope to participate in the mythological age is through the ritualized reliving of a myth. But if we are today creating the myth of tomorrow, we can participate in mythology in a much more robust form than a vicarious ritualized rehearsal of a long past mythology. By living mythologically we can create a myth upon which the future will look back for the source of their being. They will seek to replicate our experiences, and in the ritualized celebration of our present as a past myth, they will participate in our world in order to participate in a myth.


1. Two Forms of Spacefaring Mythology

A spacefaring mythology might be the mythologized recollection of the recent past since the beginning of human spacefaring, or it might be the mythology that some future spacefaring civilization evokes in order to orientate itself in relation to the cosmos. These two distinct conceptions of spacefaring mythology are not necessarily mutually exclusive, although either could obtain in the absence of the other. Let us begin by briefly summarizing the two cases yielded by the method of isolation.

In the first of the two senses taken in isolation, the mythologization of the recent spacefaring past could be a myth for contemporary civilization only, if civilization comes to an end in the near future, or if it does not project itself into the cosmos and establish itself as a mature spacefaring civilization (in both of these cases, the early spacefaring era is followed by no consummation, no spacefaring civilization). In the latter scenario, one could even imagine a future human history in which this mythology of the early spacefaring era remains as a touchstone even after any spacefaring capability has lapsed, much as peoples of the early medieval period marveled at the great works of classical antiquity, which were far beyond their means to build. [1]

In the second of the two senses above taken in isolation, the mythology of a spacefaring civilization would be a myth or set of myths that serve several functions within spacefaring civilization, but it would not be a mythology of the early spacefaring era. That is to say, in this scenario, as a contingent matter of fact, the spacefaring civilization in question takes its mythology from some source other than its early spacefaring history. This would be easy to understand if the progenitors of such a civilization reached further back into their past for their sustaining mythology, or if they needed a mythology less directly entangled with the ordinary business of life. Since mythology often involves defamiliarization, having too familiar a mythological context could render a myth less effective in fulfilling the social functions it typically serves.

The two senses distinguished above would come together in the case of a mature spacefaring civilization that takes as at least a part of its mythology its early spacefaring era. If this were to occur in the human future, we would today be living in a mythological age, creating the myths of the early spacefaring era that would go on to inspire and to drive forward an ongoing spacefaring civilization. What does it mean to be living in a mythological age? Are we, today, equal to the challenge of establishing a heroic model that can serve as a model for a civilization much larger and much older and much more advanced than our own? What can the future take from our struggles today to project our civilization beyond Earth?

Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell once urged his listeners to “live mythologically,” and we may need to live mythologically, or, at least, attempt to live mythologically, if we are to inspire future generations. I was old enough to have watched and to have been impressed with the Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell (in which he made this statement about living mythologically) during their original airing on PBS (1988), and I remember how this advice was sometimes appreciated but more often misunderstood (seemingly intentionally) by the press at the time. Though Moyers was clearly out of his depth in these interviews, he at least appreciated what Campbell was saying and was inspired by it, even if he didn’t understand all of it. Moyer’s amiable incomprehension was of great value to me, however, as this served as my introduction to mythology scholarship. [2]

2. Two Ways of Living Mythologically

In regard to living mythologically, again, we have a bifurcation (as with the bifurcation between spacefaring mythologies that could be the mythologized recent past or the mythology of a mature spacefaring civilization), and, again, either of the alternatives of the bifurcation can be entertained in isolation. I will discuss this bifurcation in terms of embodiment and exemplification. Mythological embodiment in isolation is when the individual lives out a mythological role in one’s own life, modeled on past exemplars, but, in living out this role, does not (necessarily) serve as a mythological model for others to follow. [3] Mythological exemplification in isolation is when the individual lives out a mythological role based on no model other than mythological archetypes, and in so doing fashioning a myth for others to embody.

In each case the individual is living mythologically in the sense of living in reference to mythic archetypes, while one is a reenactment of the past and the other is a model to the future. Both of these cases taken in isolation are exceptions; mostly the difference between mythological embodiment and mythological exemplification is a difference of emphasis. Much of the time, the archetypal torch is passed from one age to the next, with each mythic figure both referring to the past and serving as a model to the future. An example of this is the “Golden Chain” of Platonic succession at the Academy—the more than nine hundred years of successors to Plato at the school founded by Plato in Athens.

Embodiment through participation in a myth is by far the most common way of living mythologically, not only because it requires less imagination, but also because this way of living mythologically admits of indefinite iteration, whereas mythological exemplification is much rarer. It is extraordinarily difficult to forge a new myth, or even variations on the theme of an old myth, from raw, archetypal material, but it is not impossible. Most of the time the result is a variation on the theme of a familiar myth, but sometimes this little variation makes all the difference. When an individual has the right instincts and intuitions to tap into archetypes, the likelihood is that such an individual will spontaneously produce a variation on the theme of a familiar myth, as there are only a limited number of narratives that can coherently link together the archetypal material; archetypes leave us very little wiggle room, but they are neither absolute nor absolutely incorrigible.

3. Origin Myths and the Beginning of History

One might plausibly claim that it is not easy to live mythologically in modern times, that our times, modern times, are decisively removed from the mythological times — mythological times proper being the Axial Age, as Karl Jaspers styled it  [4]— in which the great traditions of our civilizations were laid down. The origins of human civilization are long past, according to this way of understanding history, and they will not return. We have the civilizations we have because of the origin myths that made us what we are today, but the times in which the origin myths came about (no less than the mythologized events themselves, I might add) are long gone. This, however, is not my interpretation of history.

I regard the past ten thousand years as the infancy of human civilization, and we ourselves as constituting an infancy that is only now on the cusp of coming into the earliest stages of maturity. If we could be said to be located anywhere in history, I would say that we are near the end of the beginning, still working through the earliest stages of the development of civilization. I have presented this interpretation in Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? or, What it means for us to be living near the beginning of history.

Near the end of the beginning of history, there is still plenty of time to make and to participate in the origin myths of the future civilization that is to come. But what the origin myth from our times will be will depend upon the mature form of future civilization, looking back over history to find inchoate and embryonic forms of itself in the past. If the mature form of human civilization takes nothing from our era, we will be not so much forgotten as effaced from history. For in order to construct a narrative of the convergence of human civilization on a particular mature state, it will be necessary to parse the past and to preserve only those moments that contribute to the narrative.

In our own time, there are several different historical threads that might someday become the basis of the origin myth (also known as a foundation myth or etiological myth) of spacefaring civilization, if that is the mature form that our civilization eventually takes, but we cannot yet speak of the foundation myth of spacefaring civilization because nothing yet is settled. Not only is there not a single origin myth for spacefaring civilization, but if mature human civilization turns inward rather than outward, those stages in the progress of spacefaring will count as dead ends in the branching bush of civilization.

4. Origin Myths of Spacefaring Civilizations: Three Scenarios

Since I am especially interested in spacefaring civilization as the destiny of humanity, I will focus on this particular mature state of civilization. One could just as easily consider the origin myth possibilities for other forms of mature civilization. The only limitation here is that, if our present stage of civilization is close enough to the beginning of time that we are today participating in the origin myth of civilization, that civilization must be exceptionally long-lived by contemporary standards. The civilization for which we, and our activities, can provide an origin myth would be something like a million-year-old supercivilization. This may not be the destiny of human civilization, but it could be, and, if it is, this million-year-old supercivilization will have plenty of history on which to draw for its origin myths.

At the fine-grained extreme of origins myths for spacefaring civilization, we have the ongoing efforts in our time to create a space industry — the origins of rocketry, the Space Race, the contemporary privatization of space industry and technology, and so on. This sequence of events may be continued into the future with further triumphs and tragedies until the fulfillment of a spacefaring destiny allows civilization new worlds and new opportunities for human achievement. Industrialized civilization has presented us with a suite of heroic roles specific to a technological economy—the heroic financier, the heroic businessman, the heroic scientist, the heroic inventor, and the heroic engineer. All of these can be mythic figures woven together into one narrative of striving to raise humanity to its next stage of development. This is an inspiring mythology of human effort in the face of an indifferent universe, punctuated by great successes and devastating failures, all of which contribute to the poetic possibilities of mythology. The dialectic of triumph and tragedy is always great source material for mythology.

In the middle ground of history and human activity, an origins myth for spacefaring civilization might focus on the development of the political, social, and economic institutions and wherewithal that make a spacefaring industry possible. This would be a more troubling mythology than the straight-forward inspiring vision of relentless human toil as in the fine-grained account. There would be Machiavellian plotting both to bring about great enterprises, and no less in the attempt to sabotage great enterprises. In the middle ground account, there would be villains, and an encounter with malevolence, perhaps a great struggle and a great moment of decision when the turning point in the struggle is realized. Probably we have not yet even approached that moment and the turning point, which has yet to develop out of the tensions of the present.

In the most expansive vision of a spacefaring future for humanity, we would look back to the origins of civilization, the origins of humanity, and indeed the origins of the universe, and we would see these successive origins of great new possibilities as ontological novelties that are revealed in and through history. David Christian regularly presents Big History as an origins myth of contemporary civilization [5], and we could well see this tradition and method extrapolated into the future, in which our present civilization, on the cusp of true spacefaring civilization, was a threshold of this emergent complexity that we are struggling to bring into being, perhaps to be followed by no less consequential thresholds of emergent complexity as yet unknown. The cosmogonic myth of a spacefaring civilization could reach into cosmology itself as its affirmation of itself as an extension of the natural processes of the cosmos. This would be a less anthropocentric myth, but also the most comprehensive and holistic myth to which human beings could aspire, being less about the human struggle for attainment than about the universe itself giving birth to a new period of its development. (It is also interesting to note that this would constitute an origins myth for spacefaring civilization that did not explicitly evoke the early spacefaring era, as in the second of the two alternatives considered in isolation, with which we began this exposition in section 1.)

In the very long view of history — perhaps the view of history that a million-year-old supercivilization might possess — in which our ten thousand years of civilization to date is merely the preparation for the true beginning of history, when humanity is a spacefaring and multi-planetary civilization, it may be one of these three scenarios that furnishes the origins myth, or all three of them woven together, or something else yet that I have not considered. In so far as our lives and our struggles can contribute to the development of any of these narratives implicit in the present, or to all of them, we are living mythologically. To be equal to the task of living mythologically is to live up to a heroic role in laying the foundations of a future worth having—in a other words, a future worth living for, and a future worth giving one’s life to create.

5. Our Hour of Need in Civilizational Crisis

Joseph Campbell not only said to live mythologically, he also said that a ritual is an opportunity to participate in a myth. In other words, the mythological age is over (i.e., the view I rejected above in section 3 when I said we are living near the beginning of history), and our only hope to participate in the mythological age is through the ritualized reliving of a myth. [6] But if we are today creating the myth of tomorrow, we can participate in mythology in a much more robust form than a vicarious ritualized rehearsal of a long past mythology. By living mythologically today we can create a myth upon which the future will look back for the source of their being. They will seek to replicate our experiences, and in the ritualized celebration of our present as a past myth, they will participate in our world in order to participate in a myth.

We are, then, both living a myth and creating a myth as we live; we both embody and exemplify mythic archetypes. This is at least part of what it means to live mythologically. But, again, the question with which we began was whether it is possible to both live a myth and to create a myth today, in the 21st century. This, I think, is the wrong way to frame contemporary mythology. Mythology is inevitable and unavoidable because of who and what we are. It is an instinctive response of human nature to orientate itself in the world with reference to familiar myths, as myths are narrative formulations of the archetypal material we carry within ourselves by dint of our evolutionary psychology, and these narratives allow us to manage, and sometimes even to master, the forces that well up from within ourselves. No one chooses to respond to archetypal material; one responds, if one responds at all, spontaneously and instinctively. [7]

We tap into mythological archetypes in living our own lives even if we are also at the same time creating a myth based on the same archetypes. Archetypal images and stories and situations resonate almost universally among human beings; we respond to them instinctively, without any preparation or education in them. Mythological narratives offer us an intuitively accessible guide by which to navigate the storms of life when all else seems to have failed us. In our hour of need, we reach down into the depths of the mind and drawn on the deep sources of our being in order to have the strength to carry on. And the great transitions in the history of civilization are usually times of crisis when we seek for guidance at the deepest levels because ordinary precedent has failed us.

6. A Naturalistic Account of Mythic Archetypes

From a naturalistic point of view, the deep resonance of mythology is due to the fact that archetypal elements evoke central features of human evolutionary psychology. The formative period of human evolutionary psychology is what evolutionary biologists call the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA. [8] The EEA is the period in which we truly became what we are. The speciation of humanity in terms of anatomical modernity took place on the plains of Africa, which was, then, the EEA of our anatomical modernity. I argue that cognitive modernity (in contradistinction to anatomical modernity) occurred later, and that it occurred separately in different geographical regions after anatomically modern human beings had already spread themselves to the four corners of the world. [9] If I am correct, cognitive modernity in each geographical region took place in the context of a slightly different EEA in each case, which then accounts for the slight differences in the characters of the regional civilizations that eventually supervened upon these populations. [10]

Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero of a Thousand Faces to demonstrate the universality of the hero myth and the hero as archetype. This is fundamental to human evolutionary psychology, and represents a cross-cultural manifestation of an archetypal theme. However, there are also archetypal themes that are more restricted (though not completely restricted) to particular geographically regional traditions. For example, metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul, and the archetypes associated with this idea, is much more common in the Indian subcontinent than it is elsewhere. On the other hand, complex symbols can have different significations in different civilizations. Dragons, for example, have a different significance in East Asia than they have in Western Europe. The dragon comes from deep in our evolutionary psychology, being a patchwork of many fear- and awe-inspiring properties, but it is woven into distinct narratives in distinct cultural regions.

Some archetypes, then, are truly universal (the hero), and some are universal but interpreted in importantly different ways (the dragon), while still other archetypes resonate much more in one cultural region than another (metempsychosis). I assume that this variance follows from the differences in evolutionary psychology from cognitive modernity occurring independently in different geographical regions, each of which regions constituted the EEA of the particular occurrence of the cognitive modernity that it shaped. With these considerations in mind, I hold that, from a mythological or psychological standpoint, one might also call the EEA the Archetypal Age. The EEA is when the archetypes of the human collective unconscious were laid down (and they are with us still), and these archetypes vary slightly from region to region. Human beings ultimately have more in common with each other than they have fundamental differences, but the differences remain and they are important.

7. Of Axial Ages and Archetypal Ages

The Axial Age is to be distinguished from the Archetypal Age. While the Archetypal Age was about the formation of human nature (our psycho-social makeup, as selected by evolutionary pressures), the Axial Age was that time in human history when a macro-historical division of human experience reached a mature mythological expression, and this occurred tens of thousands of years after the Archetypal Age. The selective forces that resulted in the Axial Age were primarily social, and have not continued for a period of time sufficient to change human nature. In other words, the Axial Age was not an environment of evolutionary adaptedness for new cognitive archetypes.

The Axial Age identified by Karl Jaspers was the Axial Age of agricultural civilizations. I have speculated that there was an earlier Axial Age when our Paleolithic ancestors produced a distinctive culture that was the mature mythological expression of the Paleolithic human world (cf. Axialization of the Nomadic Paradigm), and that there could be another Axial Age (cf. The Next Axial Age) when the mythological framework of industrialized civilization is brought to its mature expression. Indeed, this axialization of industrialized civilization could coincide with the origin myth of spacefaring civilization, if the mature form that industrialized civilization takes is that of a spacefaring civilization.

The transition from hunter-gatherer nomadism to agricultural civilization involved a loss of the entirety of human prehistory—a history that only relatively recently has been recovered with the advent of scientific historiography, which reconstructed prehistory from archaeological evidence, because no human memory of it remains. Prior to the recovery of human prehistory, everything before agricultural civilization was history effaced—the slate wiped clean and humanity starting over again from scratch, except for the mute and unconscious evolutionary psychology retained from our environment of evolutionary adaptedness. [11]

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Whether or not this is true of nature, it certainly is true of the human mind (hence Viktor Frankl’s conception of the “existential vacuum” as a pathological condition of human consciousness [12]). The void of effaced prehistory was filled with mythologies that peopled the nothingness before civilization with meanings, values, and personalities that provided a surrogate content for an actual past than had been lost. Thus foundational myths are interpolations that fill a collective existential vacuum—the existential vacuum of effaced history.

8. Crises and Effacement in the History of Western Civilization

If we return to the foundational myths of Christian civilization, of which our civilization is the direct descendant, we find a conflicted evaluation of mythic prehistory. Before the Fall of Man, Adam and Eve found themselves in Eden, where they neither had to work nor to die. When expelled from paradise, life in agricultural civilization is made to sound harsh: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” However, after Cain has killed Abel, God says to Cain, “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.”

Thus the already hard lot of agricultural civilization outside Eden can be made even more difficult; Cain is demoted from agricultural labor, earning his bread in the sweat of his face, to being a mere vagabond—a nomad. Cain responded, “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” I see in this a distant echo of our nomadic prehistory, that condition that Hobbes famously described as a war of all against all, in which life is, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” [13] and which contrasts sharply with the paradisiacal prehistory of Eden. The agricultural civilization described in the Old Testament had blotted out all but the faintest traces of the nomadic condition that had preceded agriculture, but which was lost with the advent of agriculture and settled civilization.

The next great transition in human history, the passage from agricultural civilization to industrial civilization, effected less severe absolute historical losses—the intellectual superstructure of agricultural civilization had created a system of record keeping (writing) that preserved a significant portion of the past—but the loss of human experience was almost as extreme. Most alive today would have no idea whatsoever what to do if they found themselves on a farm, or on a sailing ship, so that even if they possess an abstract knowledge of what came before, this knowledge is not internalized (i.e., it is knowledge without lived experience) and the practical link with the experience of our ancestors has been sundered as completely as the practical link between hunter-gatherer nomadism and settled agriculture.

As an industrial civilization today, in possession of a reconstructed past but cut off from the experiences of our ancestors, we may stall and stagnate, remaining a planetary civilization for hundreds or thousands of years. If at some point humanity moves beyond exclusive reliance on Earth, then this story will have further episodes; if not, planetary civilization will eventually be extinguished by the natural processes of our homeworld and our solar system. In other words, the entirety of humanity and our civilization will be wiped away by a planetary scale historical effacement, and the universe will not notice our passing from the scene. (This is the first of the two scenarios noted in the opening of this essay.)

9. Future Crises and Effacement in Civilization

In the scenario in which humanity has (or our descendents have) a cosmological destiny beyond our homeworld, we will build upon industrialized civilization and transform it into a spacefaring civilization, and the story continues, for a time at least. There will be a transition from human beings being a majority terrestrial species, to a time in the distant future when human beings are a minority terrestrial species, i.e., more human beings will reside away from Earth than on Earth, and this demographic transition will mean that the fate of human beings and our successor species will not be determined on Earth, but by hundreds or thousands of human populations maintained elsewhere, on planets, moons, generational starships, or artificial habitats.

For any species to leave its homeworld will involve a radical loss of its direct contact with its own historical antecedents, beyond that loss experienced by refugees and colonists who leave the lands and homes of their forefathers to establish themselves at distant outposts on Earth. These losses we have experienced to date from historical effacement—the destruction of humanity’s historical legacy due to war, neglect, and iconoclasm—will be small in comparison to the losses entailed by spacefaring and world-spanning civilizations, which may lose the records of entire planets.

Our descendents will have the abstract knowledge of the meaning of planetary endemism, and what it meant for our species to be entirely confined to the surface of Earth, with spacefaring a rare and prohibitively expensive undertaking. They will not have the lived experience of planetary endemism; the actual practice of planetary constraints will not define the human condition in their time. And when human beings find themselves on far-flung worlds or vessels throughout the universe, it may happen again that the past is lost, and these beings, human or otherwise, will feel cut off from their roots in the cosmos. With their natural history effaced, and unable to bear an infinitude of nothingness before themselves, they may fill the void with meanings, values, and personalities that help to sustain them in the cosmological circumstances in which they find themselves. Again there will be historical effacement, and, again, the human mind (or the post-human mind) will transform the existential vacuum into an existential plenum with mythology.

The more successful and wide the dispersion of terrestrial life in the cosmos, the more likely that some of these communities ultimately derived from Earth will forget their origins, or those origins will be otherwise effaced, and the void of their prehistory will be filled by an etiological myth that explains that people’s origin and destiny. Indeed, under the conditions of the end of cosmology there will be a greater existential void than ever before that any intelligent agent would feel the need to fill, whether these agents are our distant descendants or those of some other civilization. These mythologies to come of spacefaring civilizations may depart significantly from the mythologies of planetary endemism, but they will likely serve the same soteriological and eschatological functions, albeit under changed circumstances. [14]

10. A New Axial Age of Spacefaring Civilization

It must be emphasized that we do not yet know in what direction contemporary planetary civilization is headed, but a spacefaring civilization is among the possibilities. Industrialized civilizations following the industrial revolution are still very young in historical terms. There are some who argue that there have been two or three or even four distinct industrial revolutions. Certainly we can distinguish finer-grained periods within industrialization, but in the big picture the changes to human society and civilization since the industrial revolution is one continuous movement of change for the past two hundred years, approximately. This is, as I said, a very recent phenomenon. It took thousands of years for settled civilizations all over the planet to displace hunter-gatherer nomadism as the primary pattern of human activity. It will take at least hundreds of years more for the changes begun by the industrial revolution to be consolidated and brought to social maturity. We should not wonder at this; we should expect it.

As noted above (in section 7), the axialization of industrialized civilization could coincide with the origin myth of a mature spacefaring civilization if this is the trajectory of the development of civilization today. This would be another Axial Age and not another Archetypal Age, because we would still be bringing our hunter-gatherer evolutionary psychology with us as we make the transition to a spacefaring civilization (something that I wrote about in Hunter-Gatherers in Outer Space). Transitions from one stage in the development of civilization to another stage are messy rather than neat affairs, and we tend to bring a lot of baggage along with us from the past.

For example, we have preserved Axial Age religions into the early stages of industrialized civilization, but this cannot be satisfying to the soul of man. We see this in the nihilism and anomie (manifestations of the existential vacuum) that characterize the industrialized peoples, who feel cut off from their history and traditions, and have nothing (as yet) to replace them. It is this kind of social tension that is a catalyst for myth-making efforts, in the attempt to fill a void left by the tightly-coupled relationship between mythology and civilization in the now-lapsed paradigm of a social order that no longer exists except in cultural memory.

11. A New Archetypal Age of Trans-humanity or Post-Humanity

All of the foregoing about mythology is concerned with Axial Ages that bring our older Archetypal Age evolutionary psychology into some kind of workable relationship with the social order in which we find ourselves. All of these myths reach down into the same collective unconscious and dredge up the same (or nearly the same) archetypes. However, there could be another Archetypal Age if there were to be another environment of evolutionary adaptedness, i.e., another period during which evolutionary changes were being shaped by the environment in a decisive way, i.e., in a way that shaped a new (or, more likely, altered) human nature based on a new (or altered) evolutionary psychology, with the latter shaped by a new (or, again, altered) EEA.

Archetypal Age evolutionary psychology is incomprehensibly old on a human time scale, but according to the scale of time by which we must measure the evolution of life and mind on Earth, the Archetypal Age (understood as the most recent human EEA) was a recent development. The brain and the central nervous system (CNS) have a deep history in the biosphere as revealed in the fossil record. [15] While it might be too much to attribute consciousness to panarthropoda, at some point in the history of life on Earth, brains and CNSs became sufficiently complex that rudimentary forms of consciousness and cognition emerged. With consciousness and cognition comes the possibility of what I called cognitive speciation. [16] The cognitive speciation that is cognitive modernity also results from a distinctive period in the formation of human minds, our EEA.

Evolution, of course, continues for us following such a distinctive period—an EEA in which an Archetypal Age takes shape—but does not play the same constitutive role as it did during the Archetypal Age. Evolution has not come to an end with human beings or indeed with any species currently in existence. A species only stops evolving when it goes extinct. [17] However, the speciation and stabilizing selection of a species within a given environment constitutes a distinctive period in the evolution of an organism.

By building civilizations and growing them to planetary scale, human beings have in fact created a new environment that is selecting for fitness differently than the way in which nature prior to civilization selected for fitness. If civilization continues for long enough, and human beings live in a civilized state for a period of time during which differential survival and differential reproduction result in speciation, whether anatomical or cognitive, then civilization would be the EEA of a new species of human being or a new kind of human mind. This is already happening very slowly and gradually — but not at a rate rapid enough or consequential enough at this time to result in speciation. This could yet happen, but it is not happening now. At the current rate of human evolution within civilization, any changes to human nature as a result of civilization could still be derailed or redirected by some other force that acted more rapidly or which impacted humanity more dramatically.

If, however, we began to alter ourselves at the genetic level, becoming trans-human or post-human — i.e., becoming something other than what humanity has been to date — the environment in which this took place would then be the EEA of this new trans-human or post-human species. However, for the environment to play the role it has in the past in terms of EEA, this process of human change would have to take place over a considerable period of time so that the environment had an opportunity to act as a selective pressure on differential survival and differential reproduction. The kind of sudden and radical change made possible by technology could result in a disconnect with the environment as it is usually understood, so that the real selection pressure is the technological milieu within which these changes take place. If reproduction were to be dominated by technology (e.g., ectogenesis), differential reproduction would be a function of the technological environment narrowly conceived, and not the environment we equate with a particular ecosystem.

Here, then, is a little recognized risk of transhumanism: that the formation of both mind and body of the transhuman individual, and any group of transhuman individuals taken together, would occur under unprecedented evolutionary conditions, which could result in unprecedented selection pressures upon the human organism undergoing such change. (This is an instance of a technological scenario for future cognitive speciation; a naturalistic scenario for future cognitive speciation will be given below, in section 15.) Can the human organism be changed in this way and still retain its integrity as a living being? We do not yet know the answer to this question, and finding out the answer to this question could be unpleasant.

12. Human Archetypes and Their Successors

However the next change in humanity takes place, whether by nature or my technology, and whether it goes well or badly, this kind of change would be a change in human nature rather than a change in human culture. In other words, it would be an archetypal change and not an axial change, a biological change rather than a social change. The conditions under which an archetypal change came about — the EEA of the archetype — would shape that archetype, and the new successor species would respond to different archetypal symbols, and different narratives would resonate in the psyche of such a being.

In actual practice, it would be a little more complex than this. It is not likely that there would be a sharp break with the human archetype, but rather there would be an overlap between the human archetype and the transhuman or post-human archetype, so that some aspects of human depth psychology would carry over to our successors, some aspects would not carry over, and some aspects would be carried over but substantially modified by the transition. (This is treated in more detail in sections 13 and 14 below.) Almost certainly this is what happened when homo sapiens speciated from human ancestors, but at that time the development of the mind and the capacity of thought on behalf of the genus homo was at a much lower level than it is now, so that a change in conceptual framework would have been less in evidence. Archetypal change after cognitive modernity will be a different matter.

13. The Branching Bush of Cognitive Speciation

Cognitive modernity is a particular instance of what I call cognitive speciation. This is not the only form of cognitive speciation, however. Cognitive speciation can be found throughout the biosphere. In so far as the biological individuality that characterizes the terrestrial biosphere entails individual organisms with individual brains and central nervous systems, and, when these become sufficiently complex, individual minds and consciousness supervene upon these biological structures, to the extent that mind corresponds with these biological structures, the branching bush of species coincides with a branching bush of cognition. [18]

Both our anthropocentric conception of cognition and our human exceptionalism have, in the past, militated against recognizing mind as it has appeared in other species, but there has been a sea change in this area and it is no longer considered unspeakable, much less eccentric, to attribute mind and consciousness to other species. [19] In so far as non-human species have minds, they engage in cognition, and this implies that these other species have concepts that they employ to organize their cognition.

Needless to say, human cognition is much more advanced and abstract than that of other species in the terrestrial biosphere, especially in regard to the human ability to use grammatically structured languages to structure their thoughts and formulate their conceptual frameworks. Language is a networking tool for minds, and by networking their minds through the use of language human beings have exponentially augmented their cognitive abilities.

Even if the concepts employed by other species are impoverished in comparison to the human conceptual framework, non-human conceptual frameworks are the ultimate source and origin of later human cognition. Once we accept this, we can see that different minds would have different conceptual frameworks populated by different sets of concepts. We would expect that the set of concepts employed by human beings is absolutely larger than the set of concepts employed by other species, but we would also expect that these sets of concepts overlap and intersect with the sets of concepts employed by other species.

Where the set of concepts employed by human beings and another species overlap but to not coincide, human beings will employ concepts not employed by the other species, and vice versa. For example, there are parts of the killer whale (Orcinus orca) brain that correspond with areas of the human brain that are responsible for emotions. In the killer whale brain the cingulate gyrus of the limbic lobe has grown in structure and complexity in a way not reflected in the human brain [20], so that it is likely that killer whales experience at least some emotions that human beings do not experience. In this sense, their cognition may be richer than ours in at least one way, which points to a conceptual framework populated by emotional concepts we do not possess.

This and similar arguments would probably encounter less resistance if it were confined to more-or-less immediate human ancestors and near relatives in the human tree. I doubt many would strongly object that Neanderthals had some form of cognition, and that it differed to some degree, but not absolutely, from that of homo sapiens. The same proximity would be operable if we consider human descendants that would differ from us if we were to speciate rather than to go extinct. It would be expected that some future transhumans or post-humans would possess a conceptual framework that overlapped with the human conceptual framework but which did not perfectly coincide.

14. Deep Homology of Cognition

As any human being—or, for that matter, any biological individual with a brain in the terrestrial biosphere—is inseparably both mind and body, with each acting upon the other, cognitive speciation as represented in cognitive modernity cannot be cleanly separated from corporeal speciation, and vice versa. We see this clearly, for example, in sexual selection, when a mate is selected for reproduction on the basis of a judgment made by one or both of the parties involved. Mind can impact the development of our bodily evolution, and the body can impact the development of our minds.

And our minds are not blank slates, but are related to the previous minds that preceded it in those organisms from which we inherit that which we are, both bodily and cognitively. While the blank slate doctrine has come in for considerable criticism and is today widely viewed as untenable, I don’t think that we have fully drawn the conclusions that we need to draw if the human mind is not a blank slate.

It is a contemporary commonplace that the human brain consists of a reptilian hindbrain, a mammalian mid-brain, which includes the limbic system, and the neocortex, which in large mammals like human beings, whales, and elephants has grown exponentially, and it is this development of the neocortex that is primarily responsible for human intelligence, hence human cognition. This is, of course, a bit of an oversimplification, but it gets the point across that the brain evolves, and especially the brain grows by adding on to itself, and by adding to itself and increasing its capacities, it does not rid itself of older brain structures, which continue to be inherited by subsequent descendants. We forget, and we gloss over, past brain structures and past behaviors rooted in these brain structures, but neither the anatomical structures or the behaviors are entirely effaced.

I argue that it is not merely older brain structures that are inherited from our ancestors, but also the cognition associated with these brain structures. This is widely recognized in regard to instinctual behaviors, which we understand can be traced into the deep past of life on Earth, but it is less widely recognized when we place these behaviors in relation to conscious and explicit cognition. If we understand behaviors and cognition to be related (and this relation in itself is the hoary philosophical question of the mind-body problem), then inherited behaviors also mean inherited forms of cognition.

What evolutionary developmental biology (more commonly known as “Evo-Devo”) has taught us, inter alia, is that there is often a deep genetic homology that drives the repetitive appearance of structures in terrestrial life across apparently diverse clades. This deep genetic homology ultimate goes back to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), which contained within it the seeds of all later life on Earth. Might this homology also extend to the cognition that supervenes upon homologous brain and CNS structures? Is there a deep cognitive homology in the terrestrial biosphere? Should there be an evolutionary developmental psychology?

15. A Naturalistic Scenario for Future Cognitive Speciation

With further changes to the human brain and CNS, humanity could experience further changes in cognition. [21] Suppose some mutation in ARHGAP11B (the human-specific gene responsible for neocortex expansion), or in some related gene, led to further neural proliferation and neocortex expansion. It is because the neurons that are responsible for our higher executive functions are in the outer layer of the neocortex that the deep convolutions of the neocortex give more surface area of the brain, hence more neocortex, within the confined space of the human skull. If some mutation allowed for a thicker and larger neocortex, or greater cortical density, or both, the brain that resulted might considerably out-perform the human brain as we know it today.

Given what we know about the inherited structures of the brain and the deep history of mind in the biosphere, we can say with some confidence that any human beings that were to inherit such a mutation, or post-human beings as the case may be, however great their executive functions in comparison to ours, would still be human, all-too-human in the sense that they would still have the drives of the reptilian hindbrain and the emotions of the limbic system. They would not be Apollonian and god-like beings, pure spirits possessing a higher form of consciousness; they would be recognizable human beings, or mostly recognizable human beings.

We could, however, formulate scenarios in which the recognition would not be so obvious or immediate. It would be possible, though not likely, that a future mutation could both expand the neocortex while shrinking or disabling the limbic system, which would result in the kind of mind of science fiction nightmares: a highly-intelligent, relentlessly rational, unemotional mind—“intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic.” There is only so much room inside our skulls, the argument could run, so that more neocortex eventually would mean less hindbrain and less limbic system. Here the cognitive speciation would be more apparent, and the conceptual frameworks of human beings and post-humans would overlap less and contrast more. However, there would still be many concepts in common, if not most concepts in common.

I have here described a naturalistic evolutionary scenario in which human beings could be cognitively surpassed and our descendants would experience cognitive descent with modification, that is to say, cognitive speciation. Further above (in section 11) I mentioned the possibility of technological interventions that could result in a new Archetypal Age. The evolutionary scenario I have described in this section could also result in a new Archetypal Age, so that the cognition of our descendants could involve novel or modified archetypal material, to which they would respond as we respond to the archetypal material within our subconscious. There would no doubt be significant overlap between human and post-human archetypal material, but the two may not perfectly coincide, and could diverge over time, exemplifying what Alfred Russel Wallace called, “The Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.” [22] As future archetypes diverged, relevant mythologies would diverge, and each distinct species would look to separate destinies for themselves. [23]


[1] An early Anglo-Saxon poem, The Ruin, depicts the broken buildings of classical antiquity as the work of giants.

[2] I have since listened to all of Campbell’s available recorded lectures, and I can definitely say that his lectures are superior to his conversations with Moyers, as in his lectures he is free to communicate his ideas on his own terms; however, it was Moyers who made me aware of Campbell. Everyone has to start somewhere.

[3] Campbell in his lectures liked to mention how Jung had asked himself at one point in his life—“What is the myth by which I am living?”—and in asking the question Jung realized that he didn’t know the answer and that, moreover, he needed to know. This is the question of mythological embodiment.

[4] “An axis of world history, if such a thing exists, would have to be discovered empirically, as a fact capable of being accepted as such by all men, Christians included. This axis would be situated at the point in history which gave birth to everything which, since then, man has been able to be, the point most overwhelmingly fruitful in fashioning humanity; its character would have to be, if not empirically cogent and evident, yet so convincing to empirical, insight as to give rise to a common frame of historical self-comprehension for all peoples—for the West, for Asia, and for all men on earth, without regard to particular articles of faith. It would seem that this axis of history is to be found in the period around 500 B.C., in the spiritual process that occurred between 800 and 200 B.C. It is there that we meet with the most deepcut dividing line in history. Man, as we know him today, came into being. For short we may style this the ‘Axial Period’.” Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, Yale University Press, 1968, p. 1.

[5] “Maps of Time attempts to assemble a coherent and accessible account of origins, a modern creation myth.” Christian, David, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, University of California Press, 2004, p. 2.

[6] In the language of Nick Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis, this is an ancestor simulation. For those who are attracted to technocentric reinterpretations of tradition, the project of mythology might be understood as an attempt to provide a simulacrum of an ancestor simulation before this is technically possible. Once it becomes technically possible, the appeal of the simulacrum of an ancestor simulation will disappear. I am not advocating this interpretation, but it is worth mentioning because it structurally resembles the idea that traditional religious belief often (though not in all traditions) offers the individual immortality prior to the technological ability to secure individual immortality. This observation is usually followed by broad hints about traditional religious belief disappearing when technological immortality becomes possible. Such an account of religious belief elides the role of mythological archetypes in religious belief.

[7] If you have been told that something is a myth, but it leaves you cold and stirs no feelings within you, then this myth has no connections to the sources of your being and the archetypes buried in your subconscious. For you, this myth is dead. But you will almost certainly find other aspects of the world, and stories about these aspects of the world, that excite and inspire you. N.B.—I feel the need to add this note because a number of those who read this essay will have a background in the sciences and technology, and they will likely see much of what I am writing here as pure “woo woo,” but this is largely because the institutionalized myths of our time are walking zombies that no longer move us, and we often fail to recognize the contemporary myths that do in fact move us. Campbell often addressed this in his lectures.

[8] I have written about this previously in Survival Beyond the EEA and Existential Threat Narratives.

[9] Cf. Multi-Regional Cognitive Modernity; I do not know of anyone else who holds this view, so the reader should understand that I am putting myself out on a limb by taking this position.

[10] This is not unlike the native ability that all human beings have for language, but many different languages of different structures are to be found in different geographical regions. Analogously, I hold that cognitive modernity was a potential in all human populations, differently realized in different regions.

[11] The loss of prehistory with the advent of agriculture is a particular instance of what I call historical effacement. I previously introduced the idea of historical effacement in History Effaced, and further developed the idea in A Brief History of the Loss of History and The Effacement of Being. This was in part inspired by Krauss and Sherrer’s thesis on the end of cosmology, which I applied to archaeology in The End of Archaeology. Effacement is an ongoing process, the result of the gnawing tooth of time. We cannot perceive historical effacement any more than we can perceive the ongoing processes of erosion or gravitational mass wasting, but it is always there in the background, slowly eroding the distant past, until that past ceases altogether to exist.

[12] “Ever more patients complain of what they call an ‘inner void,’ and that is the reason why I have termed this condition the ‘existential vacuum.’ In contradistinction to the peak-experience so aptly described by Maslow, one could conceive of the existential vacuum in terms of an ‘abyss-experience’.” Viktor Frankl, The Will to Meaning, Penguin, 1988, p. 83. Rather than employing the locution of “abyss experience,” Maslow contrasts peak experiences to nadir experiences—same idea, different terminology. Frankl also devotes a section of his Man’s Search for Meaning to the existential vacuum.

[13] Hobbes, Thomas, Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery.”

[14] This transition in the form of religious experience from planetary endemism to spacefaring civilization is something I previously explored in Religious Experience and the Future of Civilization and Addendum on Religious Experience and the Future of Civilization, but which deserves much more careful and detailed study at some future time.

[15] I have previously discussed the deep history of the brain and the central nervous system (CNS) in How Early a Mind? and A Counterfactual on Central Nervous System Development. These posts were inspired by the discovery of early fossilized CNSs, specifically, by two papers discussing such discoveries, “Fuxianhuiid ventral nerve cord and early nervous system evolution in Panarthropoda” and “Brain and eyes of Kerygmachela reveal protocerebral ancestry of the panarthropod head.”

[16] I previously discussed cognitive speciation, which implies mechanisms of cognitive selection, in The Overview Effect over the longue durée.

[17] This can be shown by the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. The conditions that would have to obtain in order for evolution to cease acting upon gene flow in a given population (i.e., for that population to be in equilibrium, meaning that the distribution of allele frequencies in a given generation are the same as in the previous generation) never in fact obtain in nature.

[18] I have here adopted the metaphor of the “branching bush” to describe evolution, following the use of this metaphor by Stephen Jay Gould, who was at pains to deny that evolution is a ladder of progress. Gould wrote: “…evolution is a copiously branching bush with innumerable present outcomes, not a highway or a ladder with one summit.” (Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, p. 21) I am less concerned about the conflation of evolution and progress (more on that another time), but I like the sense of proliferation in all directions that we get from the branching bush metaphor.

[19] The denial of consciousness and cognition to other species may be understood as a distinctively modern idea, probably largely due to Descartes. Medieval thought did not follow this particular research program in the philosophy of mind. Cf. “Why is the Sheep Afraid of the Wolf? Medieval Debates on Animal Passions,” by Dominik Perler, in Emotion and Cognitive Life in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy, edited by Martin Pickavé and Lisa Shapiro, Oxford University Press, 2012.

[20] Cf. “Neuroanatomy of the killer whale (Orcinus orca) from magnetic resonance images” by Lori Marino, Chet C. Sherwood, Bradley N. Delman, Cheuk Y. Tang, Thomas P. Naidich, and Patrick R. Hof (The Anatomical Record. Part A, Discoveries in Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology, 281, 2, 1256-63.) For an overview of this material cf. “Killer Whales are Non-Human Persons” by Lars Crawford. One of the authors of the paper, Lori Marino, said the following in an interview: “There’s some parts of the limbic system of dolphins and whales that have changed and actually gotten smaller, but there are other parts of it that are adjacent areas that are much larger and more elaborate than in the human brain. That area is called the paralimbic region. So they have like an extra lobe of tissue that sort of sits adjacent to their limbic system and their neocortex… That lobe has something to do with processing emotions, but also something to do with thinking. It’s very highly elaborated in most cetaceans and not at all or not nearly as much in humans or other mammals, so it suggests that there’s something that evolved or adapted in that brain over time that did not occur in other mammals, including humans.” Cf. Inside the mind of a killer whale: A Q+A with the neuroscientist from ‘Blackfish’

[21] A good review of neurophysiology is Evolution of the neocortex: a perspective from developmental biology by Pasko Rakic. There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to neuroscience papers, but I will also mention the article Researchers find DNA mutation that led to change in function of gene in humans that sparked larger neocortex by Bob Yirka, which led me to the paper Human-specific gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and neocortex expansion by Marta Florio, et al., which discusses neural proliferation in primates.

[22] The title of Wallace’s “Ternate Essay” (1858) in which he independently proposed evolution by natural selection was “On The Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”

[23] This coupling of anatomical and cognitive speciation would result in what I have called the “Great Voluntaristic Divergence” in an earlier Centauri Dreams post, Transhumanism and Adaptive Radiation.

From SPACEFARING MYTHOLOGIES by J. N. Nielsen (2019)

After a lecture on cosmology and the structure of the solar system, William James was accosted by a little old lady.

"Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it's wrong. I've got a better theory," said the little old lady.

"And what is that, madam?" Inquired James politely.

"That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle,"

Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.

"If your theory is correct, madam," he asked, "what does this turtle stand on?"

"You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the little old lady, "but I have an answer to it. And it is this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."

"But what does this second turtle stand on?" persisted James patiently.

To this the little old lady crowed triumphantly. "It's no use, Mr. James – it's turtles all the way down."

J. R. Ross, Constraints on Variables in Syntax (1967)

In the northern sky in December is a beautiful cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the “seven sisters”. Look carefully and you will probably count six stars. So why do we say there are seven of them?

Many cultures around the world refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters”, and also tell quite similar stories about them. After studying the motion of the stars very closely, we believe these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation looked quite different.

The sisters and the hunter

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was forced to hold up the sky for eternity, and was therefore unable to protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars. But the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we only see six stars.

A similar story is found among Aboriginal groups across Australia. In many Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Pleiades are a group of young girls, and are often associated with sacred women’s ceremonies and stories. The Pleiades are also important as an element of Aboriginal calendars and astronomy, and for several groups their first rising at dawn marks the start of winter.

Close to the Seven Sisters in the sky is the constellation of Orion, which is often called “the saucepan” in Australia. In Greek mythology Orion is a hunter. This constellation is also often a hunter in Aboriginal cultures, or a group of lusty young men. The writer and anthropologist Daisy Bates reported people in central Australia regarded Orion as a “hunter of women”, and specifically of the women in the Pleiades. Many Aboriginal stories say the boys, or man, in Orion are chasing the seven sisters – and one of the sisters has died, or is hiding, or is too young, or has been abducted, so again only six are visible.

The lost sister

Similar “lost Pleiad” stories are found in European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American and Aboriginal Australian cultures. Many cultures regard the cluster as having seven stars, but acknowledge only six are normally visible, and then have a story to explain why the seventh is invisible.

How come the Australian Aboriginal stories are so similar to the Greek ones? Anthropologists used to think Europeans might have brought the Greek story to Australia, where it was adapted by Aboriginal people for their own purposes. But the Aboriginal stories seem to be much, much older than European contact. And there was little contact between most Australian Aboriginal cultures and the rest of the world for at least 50,000 years. So why do they share the same stories?

Barnaby Norris and I suggest an answer in a paper to be published by Springer early next year in a book titled Advancing Cultural Astronomy, a preprint for which is available here.

All modern humans are descended from people who lived in Africa before they began their long migrations to the far corners of the globe about 100,000 years ago. Could these stories of the seven sisters be so old? Did all humans carry these stories with them as they travelled to Australia, Europe, and Asia?

Moving stars

Careful measurements with the Gaia space telescope and others show the stars of the Pleiades are slowly moving in the sky. One star, Pleione, is now so close to the star Atlas they look like a single star to the naked eye.

But if we take what we know about the movement of the stars and rewind 100,000 years, Pleione was further from Atlas and would have been easily visible to the naked eye. So 100,000 years ago, most people really would have seen seven stars in the cluster.

We believe this movement of the stars can help to explain two puzzles: the similarity of Greek and Aboriginal stories about these stars, and the fact so many cultures call the cluster “seven sisters” even though we only see six stars today.

Is it possible the stories of the Seven Sisters and Orion are so old our ancestors were telling these stories to each other around campfires in Africa, 100,000 years ago? Could this be the oldest story in the world?


We acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional owners and elders, both past and present, of all the Indigenous groups mentioned in this paper. All Indigenous material has been found in the public domain.


Mythical Gremlins

Gremlins are mythical creatures that enjoy causing freak malfunctions in aircraft. They appeared in folklore sometime after the 1920s as one of the new superstitions that came with the dawn of the machine age. During World War 2 there are some psychologists who were of the opinion that military flight crews belief in gremlins boosted morale.

So it is logical to assume that the dawn of the Rocketpunk era and the proliferation of manned spacecraft will create a new mythology of "space gremlins." Especially since one of the theories about World War 2 gremlin sightings was hallucinations due to lack of adequate oxygen in the high-flying aircraft. Anoxia is also common in such rocketpunk settings as a spacesuit low on breathing mix and habitat modules with malfunctioning life support.

Real Gremlins

In Niven and Pournelle's THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE space gremlins are not superstition, they are dangerously real. The Terran Empire makes first contact with an alien race they dub the "Moties". The moties have diverged into several species. The sentient "Engineer" species is assisted by the non-sentient Motie Miniatures or "watchmakers". The watchmakers are about half a meter tall, are gadgeteer geniuses, and breed like rats.

On board the Imperial battlecruiser INSS MacArthur a breeding pair of watchmakers escape. Though several attempts are made to exterminate the watchmaker infestation, the watchmakers easily survive, nay, thrive. Venting the ship to vacuum doesn't work since the watchmakers can cobble together little space suits and airlocks. The enlisted men really enjoy how they can leave their laser pistols under their bunks along with some food, and in the morning discover the pistol's hand grips have been custom altered to perfectly fit their hands.

Then the captain discovers that the miniatures are altering the entire ship. Including the fusion reactor, the hangar bay, defensive Langston field generators, and laser cannon. The captain freaks out because his primary order is to prevent the secret of the FTL drive from falling into motie hands at all costs. He tries to eliminate the watchmakers, and all hell breaks loose. The watchmakers have laser weapons, control over all the airlocks, and control over the self destruct mechanism.

There are heavy casualties as the crew abandons ship and escapes to the battleship Lenin. The battleship has strict quarantine protocols, which is a good thing when they discover some of the "escaping crew" is actually space suits full of watchmakers who use the suit as a life-size puppet.

The battleship then turns all its weapons on the MacArthur, which initially has little effect because the freaking watchmakers have drastically improved the efficiency of the defensive force fields. The only reason the battleship survives is because the miniatures do no know how to aim the MacArthur's weapons. After a prolonged struggle the battleship finally manages to destroy the MacArthur.

The Moties politely ask why the humans are destroying their own battlecruiser and is there anything they can do to help? The battleship tells them, oh no, everything is just fine, no problems, nothing is going on here. But they will have to take their leave because they suddenly remembered they left the stove on back at their home planet. Bye-bye, see you later.

The reason the watchmakers do not wreak havoc on Motie ships is because those watchmakers have been domesticated. The watchmakers who destroyed the MacArthur are feral.

In Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy novel RAISING STEAM, there is a sad little species called goblins. They are humanoids about two feet tall who are considered vermin by the humans, the dwarfs, the trolls, the vampires, and the werewolves. Everybody hates them.

Until it is discovered that the goblins are gadgeteer geniuses with technology. This was unknown since until recently there wasn't any technology. But when the local tech level undergoes their equivalent of the industrial revolution, the goblins are suddenly in great demand. They revolutionize the telegraph industry.

The fun really starts when engineer Dick Simnel invents the rail-road train. Goblins think the train is the coolest thing they've ever seen, and become obsessed. They live in the trains, constantly oiling, tapping the wheels, keeping things tuned, making repairs on the fly. The engineers are very happy, and amazed that the goblins actually ask intelligent questions. Goblins will take machinery apart but can put it together perfectly. Sometimes more than perfectly, often they make improvements in the process.

In the Dragonlance fantasy novels there is a species called gnomes. They are distant cousins of the dwarves, but their main claim to fame is they are the tinkerers. They are famous for inventing things. The trouble is they don't know when to call an invention finished. They keep adding embelishments until the thing collapses under its own weight.

Gnomes personify that old adage: "There comes a time in the history of any project when it becomes necessary to shoot the engineers and begin production"


A gremlin is a fictitious mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft or other machinery.

Origins in aviation

Although their origin is found in myths among airmen, claiming that the gremlins were responsible for sabotaging aircraft, John W. Hazen states that "some people" derive the name from the Old English word gremian, "to vex." While Carol Rose, in her book Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia attributes the name to a combination of the name of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and Fremlin Beer. Since World War II, different fantastical creatures have been referred to as gremlins, bearing varying degrees of resemblance to the originals.

The term "gremlin" denoting a mischievous creature that sabotages aircraft, originates in Royal Air Force (RAF) slang in the 1920s among the British pilots stationed in Malta, the Middle East, and India, with the earliest recorded printed use being in a poem published in the journal Aeroplane in Malta on 10 April 1929. Later sources have sometimes claimed that the concept goes back to World War I, but there is no print evidence of this.

An early reference to the gremlin is in aviator Pauline Gower's 1938 novel The ATA: Women with Wings, where Scotland is described as "gremlin country", a mystical and rugged territory where scissor-wielding gremlins cut the wires of biplanes when unsuspecting pilots were about. An article by Hubert Griffith in the servicemen's fortnightly Royal Air Force Journal dated 18 April 1942, also chronicles the appearance of gremlins, although the article states the stories had been in existence for several years, with later recollections of it having been told by Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots as early as 1940.

This concept of gremlins was popularized during World War II among airmen of the UK's RAF units, in particular the men of the high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU) of RAF Benson, RAF Wick and RAF St Eval. The flight crews blamed gremlins for otherwise inexplicable accidents which sometimes occurred during their flights. Gremlins were also thought at one point to have enemy sympathies, but investigations revealed that enemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems. As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest. In reality, the gremlins were a form of "buck passing" or deflecting blame. This led folklorist John Hazen to note that "the gremlin has been looked on as new phenomenon, a product of the machine age—the age of air". Some experts believe this form of "passing the buck" was important to the morale of pilots. Author and historian Marlin Bressi stated, "Gremlins, while imaginary, played a very important role to the airmen of the Royal Air Force. Gremlin tales helped build morale among pilots, which, in turn, helped them repel the Luftwaffe invasion during the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940. The war may have had a very different outcome if the R.A.F. pilots had lost their morale and allowed Germany's plans for Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of the U.K.) to develop. In a way, it could be argued that gremlins, troublesome as they were, ultimately helped the Allies win the war." Bressi also noted: "Morale among the R.A.F. pilots would have suffered if they pointed the finger of blame at each other. It was far better to make the scapegoat a fantastic and comical creature than another member of your own squadron."

Author Roald Dahl is credited with getting the gremlins known outside the Royal Air Force. He would have been familiar with the myth, having carried out his military service in 80 Squadron of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East. Dahl had his own experience in an accidental crash-landing in the Western Desert. In January 1942, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Air attaché at the British Embassy. It was there that he wrote his first children's novel, The Gremlins, in which "Gremlins" were tiny men who lived on RAF fighters. In the same novel, Dahl called the wives of gremlins "Fifinellas," their male children "Widgets," and their female children "Flibbertigibbets." Dahl showed the finished manuscript to Sidney Bernstein, the head of the British Information Service, who came up with the idea to send it to Walt Disney.

The manuscript arrived in Disney's hands in July 1942, and he considered using it as material for a live action/animated full-length feature film, offering Dahl a contract. The film project was changed to an animated feature and entered pre-production, with characters "roughed out" and storyboards created. Disney managed to have the story published in the December 1942 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. At Dahl's urging, in early 1943, a revised version of the story, again titled The Gremlins, was published as a picture book by Random House. (It was later updated and re-published in 2006 by Dark Horse Comics.)

The 1943 publication of The Gremlins by Random House consisted of 50,000 copies, with Dahl ordering 50 copies for himself as promotional material for himself and the upcoming film, handing them out to everyone he knew, including the British ambassador in Washington Lord Halifax, and the US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who read it to her grandchildren. The book was considered an international success with 30,000 more sold in Australia but initial efforts to reprint the book were precluded by a wartime paper shortage. Reviewed in major publications, Dahl was considered a writer-of-note and his appearances in Hollywood to follow up with the film project were met with notices in Hedda Hopper's columns.

The film project was reduced to an animated "short" and eventually cancelled in August 1943, when copyright and RAF rights could not be resolved. But thanks mainly to Disney, the story had its share of publicity, which helped in introducing the concept to a wider audience. Issues #33-#41 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories published between June 1943 and February 1944 contained a nine-episode series of short silent stories featuring a Gremlin Gus as their star. The first was drawn by Vivie Risto, and the rest of them by Walt Kelly. This served as their introduction to the comic book audience as they are human gremlins who lived in their own village as little flying human people.

While Roald Dahl was famous for making gremlins known worldwide, many returning Air Servicemen swear they saw creatures tinkering with their equipment. One crewman swore he saw one before an engine malfunction that caused his B-25 Mitchell bomber to rapidly lose altitude, forcing the aircraft to return to base. Folklorist Hazen likewise offers his own alleged eyewitness testimony of these creatures, which appeared in an academically praised and peer-reviewed publication, describing an occasion he found "a parted cable which bore obvious tooth marks in spite of the fact that the break occurred in a most inaccessible part of the plane." At this point, Hazen states he heard "a gruff voice" demand, "How many times must you be told to obey orders and not tackle jobs you aren't qualified for? — This is how it should be done." Upon which Hazen heard a "musical twang" and another cable was parted.

Critics of this idea state that the stress of combat and the dizzying heights caused such hallucinations, often believed to be a coping mechanism of the mind to help explain the many problems aircraft faced whilst in combat.

From the Wikipedia entry for GREMLIN

(ed note: this was a promotion for Walt Disney's project to make an animated movie out of Roald Dahl's book The Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story. For various reasons the project was cancelled.)

Lt. Com. Walter Winchell of the U.S. navy is temporarily unable to produce his column, which is being handled by guest columnists.

Pukka Gen* on Gremlins

*(RAF Slang for “the real low-down”)
     Ever seen a real Gremlin? No?—Well, maybe it’s because you haven’t been up in a British Spitfire swapping bullets with a Messerschmitt, or dodging German flak in a bombing raid over Hamburg.
     RAF fighter pilots and members of bomber crews who have seen real action are the only ones eligible to see real Gremlins.
     Of course, lots of others think they’ve seen them, but they’ve only seen the imitations:—Gound Wallopers the pilots call them.

* * *

     Ever since the Gremlins were discovered, the press has been deluged with drawings of grotesque hobgoblins, bearded dwarfs, misshapen elves, pixies, spooks and what-not, all trying to pass themselves off as Gremlins.
     But don’t let them kid you. The real Gremlins, discovered by the RAF are a distinctively individual race; and are by no means ugly. They have their own original characteristics, and bear no resemblance to the outlandish monstrosities and gruesome nightmares cooked up by artists of the past.

* * *

     How are we going to make a picture and write a book about them if we can’t see them?
     That’s where we get a real break. Thanks to the British air ministry, all the RAF pilots who have seen Gremlins have promised to give us first hand information on them.
     They’ve already supplied us with plenty of Gen to get started on, and letters are coming in every day filled with blow-by-blow accounts of the latest contacts with these remarkable little guys. The general consensus is that they’re less than a foot high and built on the chunky side. They wear zippered flying suits and their horns grow right thru their helmets.
     Some affect green bowler hats and all have black suction-boots for walking on wings at 300 miles an hour.
     After all, the RAF feels responsible for its Gremlins and wants them pictured just as they really are. And that puts us on a spot. They warned us that if we fall down on the job or put up any blacks they’d take a dim view of our efforts and probably tear us off a colossal strip, which we assume means pinning our ears back.
     Only last month the British embassy sent one of the foremost Gremlinologists out to the studio; a flight lieutenant who has been on speaking terms with every known type of Gremlin.
     He put us straight on lots of things. We found out, for instance, that Gremlins never operate higher than 30,000 feet. It’s the Spandules who take over above this altitude.
     They hang on to the leading edge of your wing and slowly exhale, forming a nice thick coating of ice. Spandules are flat rug-like individuals covered with fur and have large pockets for storing hailstones, which they chew constantly.

* * *

     From all reports, the Fifinella (that’s the female Gremlin) is a honey. They tell us her face is fizzing’ and she has wizard curves, all in the proper places. Nothing ropey about this little crumpet. We gather from this that she’s really an eyeful. The boys tell us that you’ll never catch a Fifinella drilling holes in your wing, cutting your parachute straps or draining the alcohol from your compass. All a Fifinella has to do is hop aboard a plane for a joyride and the Gremlins will follow her in droves. (Statistics show one Fifinella to every 12 Gremlins.)
     By the time they've chased her back and forth from one wing-tip to the other, wiggling your wing flaps, swinging on your aerial wire and playing see-saw on your elevators, you’ll wish she'd stayed at home to mind the Widgets.

* * *

     Widgets?—They’re the new born Gremlins that appear in nests hidden in the dark corners of your aircraft. In every batch of Widgets you’ll find a Flibberty-gibbet. She’s the one who eventually becomes a Fifinella. Before they’re a day old, Widgets are up to mischief.
     They have very high baby voices and chatter incessantly. Since they're not equipped with suction boots like older Gremlins, they usually concentrate on the instrument board and have a marvellous time putting all the gauges out of whack.

* * *

     The fact that Gremlins have become so real and play such an important role in the thoughts and conversations of the flyers is really a tribute to the courage, morale and sense of humor of the RAF.
     And when the gong sounds ending the final round of the war, the chances are that the Gremlins will be entitled to a large slice of credit for making their appearance during England’s darkest hour and carrying on in their mischievous way until victory was certain.

(ed note: No, I am not related to Walter Winchell. That is my first name but his last name)

From PUKKA GEN ON GREMLINS by Walt Disney (1942)

However, what some people may not realize is that these were actually based upon allegedly real entities which, during the Second World War and even before, plagued pilots and aircraft crew with all manner of mischief as they battled in the skies during one of the bloodiest eras of human history. Here in the bloody skies of WWII, among the seemingly never-ending smoke, bomb blasts, strafing antiaircraft fire, buzzing enemy aircraft, and death, the crews of various aircraft from all sides were faced with a new enemy; bizarre impish beasts that were said to infest aircraft and seemed to want nothing more but to create havoc and bring them down from the clouds.

The origin of the modern term “gremlin” is disputed, but is often said to derive from the Old English word greme, which means to vex or annoy. It refers to a type of mischievous gnome-like imp or demon, typically said to be around a foot tall, which probably has its roots in the old folklore of goblins and fairies. The original early representation of these creatures was that of skilled craftsmen with a superhuman proficiency with machinery of all types, and they were once credited by some with helping mankind along with our technology, such as in the creation of the steam engine and even claims that they helped with Benjamin Franklin’s work with electricity. Yet for all of the benevolent early folklore associated with the impish creatures, it was their penchant for mischief and mayhem that they would become most known for.

The modern version of the gremlin as a malicious, trouble making hell raiser has its origins with British airmen, some of whom believed that there were miniature imps, gnomes, or fairies which seemed to show an intense interest in aviation and caused aircraft or navigational malfunctions. One of the first mentions of the creatures can be traced back to an early reference to them in the early 1900s in a British newspaper called the Spectator, in which it was written:

The old Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and the newly constituted Royal Air Force in 1918 appear to have detected the existence of a horde of mysterious and malicious sprites whose whole purpose in life was…to bring about as many as possible of the inexplicable mishaps which, in those days as now, trouble an airman’s life.

The existence of such weird entities became truly popularized starting in 1923, when a British pilot crashed his plane into the sea and later reported that the accident had been caused by tiny creatures which had followed him aboard his plane and proceeded to create havoc aboard the aircraft, sabotaging the engine, messing around with the flight controls, and ultimately causing it to crash. The story spread, and it wasn’t long before other British pilots also began to complain of being harassed by similar miniature troll-like creatures with a mastery of technology and machinery, which caused engine failures, electrical malfunctions, communications shutdowns, bad landings, freak accidents, and pretty much anything else that could possibly ever go wrong with an aircraft.

Gremlins were said to engage in such a myriad of bad behavior as sucking the gas out of tanks through hoses, jamming radio frequencies, mucking up landing gear, blowing dust or sand into fuel pipes or sensitive electrical equipment, cutting wires, removing bolts or screws, tinkering with dials, knobs or switches, jostling controls, slashing wings or tires, poking or pinching gunners or pilots, banging incessantly on the fuselage, breaking windows, and a wide variety of other prankish acts. There were even pilots who claimed that the creatures had telepathic powers and could create realistic illusions in a victim’s mind, such as the appearance of the ground or a mountain emerging suddenly from the clouds. They were also sometimes reported to be seen sitting out upon the nose of the plane or the wings of aircraft in midflight tampering with the wings or even the engines. On occasion the gremlins were said to shout, giggle, whisper, growl, or otherwise make noise so as to distract aircraft crews, in particular gunners as they were lining up their sights on an enemy and pilots when performing maneuvers for which total concentration was a necessity. Such reports spread quickly through the ranks and by the end of the 1920s it seemed like any pilot who had ever had an aircraft problem of any kind had seen the things, and they were commonly reported throughout the Royal Air Force by pilots stationed in such far flung places as Malta, the Middle East, and India.

One of the most famous alleged gremlin accounts from this period was made by none other than the renowned American aviator, author, inventor, military officer, explorer, and social activist Charles Lindbergh as he was engaged in his historic nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic from New York to Paris in May of 1927. Lindbergh had been flying his single-engine single-seat plane Spirit of St. Louis from the Roosevelt Field in Garden City, NY to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, which was to be an epic 3,600 mile (5,800 km), 33 and a half hour flight and the first ever of its kind. In the 9th hour of being airborne, Lindbergh reported that he had suddenly felt somewhat detached from reality and found himself surrounded by several vaporous, strange looking beings within the cramped confines of his tiny cabin, which spoke to him and demonstrated incredibly complex knowledge of navigation and flight equipment. Interestingly, in this case rather than cause mischief, Lindbergh said that the gremlins actually kept him alert and reassured him that he would remain safe on his journey. Lindbergh kept this bizarre experience to himself for years until the account was finally published in his 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis. Interestingly, this would not be the only report of benevolent gremlin activity, as there were other accounts from time to time that told of the typically mischievous monsters helping pilots avert disasters or alerting them when to turn or change course or altitude, which showed there was more than one facet to whatever the things were.

The actual physical descriptions of gremlins varied rather wildly. In some cases they were described as being little elfish beings similar to humans, wearing bright red or green double-breasted frock coats, old fashioned hats with feathers, and pointed shoes. The skin color could be green, gold, pink, or red. Others gave the entities a more sinister appearance, saying that they looked animalistic, with hairy bodies, large, pointed ears, deep red or even glowing eyes, and horns. Still other reports speak of gremlins as having hairless grey skin, being vaguely reptilian in appearance, and having enormous mouths filled with pointy teeth. There were cases that said they looked like jackrabbits, bull terriers, or some combination of both. In some cases they were merely wispy entities seemingly composed of mist or smoke. Some accounts mention webbed hands and feet, fins, or bat-like wings. Size descriptions also varied considerably, with gremlins said to be anywhere between a mere 6 inches tall all the way up to three feet in height. In some cases, they were said to have large feet with suction cups or even leather shoes with hooks, both of which enabled them to walk about on the outside of aircraft or to hang upside down. One common trait in all reports is that through whatever means, gremlins were known to be able to adhere to the outer fuselage of planes and to withstand incredible temperature extremes, high altitudes, and violent winds.

Gremlins and their bothersome antics were reported throughout the 1920s and 30s, but perhaps the period of the most intense alleged gremlin activity was during the fierce fighting of World War II. Reports of gremlins were especially prolific among the UK’s RAF (Royal Air Force) units, especially the high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU), which flew perilous missions in unarmed, unarmored Spitfires and Mosquitoes at great heights on photographic missions over enemy territory. It was during these harrowing missions, when pilots operated in bitter, biting cold as heat was redirected to the cameras to keep them warm, that the little monster tricksters were regularly seen and blamed for all manner of otherwise inexplicable technical troubles and woes. In some cases, mechanical problems would arise only to mysteriously right themselves again as soon as the planes landed or the gremlins were gone.

The Battle of Britain, an enormous air campaign waged against the United Kingdom by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) during the summer and autumn of 1940 in particular saw many cases of reported gremlin activity, so much so in fact that the British Air Ministry even acknowledged the problem and made serious attempts to investigate the phenomenon. The Ministry even went as far as to have a service manual written up by a “Gremlorist,” Pilot Officer Percy Prune, which was an official document consisting of a list of the creatures’ exploits, how to placate or distract them, and various ways to avoid accidents due to their presence, such as not displaying bravado, arrogance or over confidence, which was thought to attract the creatures. There were also posters that warned of the malicious little monsters, as well as bulletins which often included the following ditty:

This is the tale of the Gremlins
As told by the PRU
At Benson and Wick and St Eval-
And believe me, you slobs, it’s true.

When you’re seven miles up in the heavens,
(That’s a hell of a lonely spot)
And it’s fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn’t exactly hot.

When you’re frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And you’re scared a Mosquito pink.
When you’re thousands of miles from nowhere,
And there’s nothing below but the drink.

It’s then that you’ll see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.

It’s no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learnt on the Link
Won’t help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you jink.

White one’s will wiggle your wing tips,
Male one’s will muddle your maps,
Green one’s will guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.

Pink one’s will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There’s a spherical middle-aged Gremlin,
Who’ll spin on your stick like a top.

They’ll freeze up your camera shutters,
They’ll bite through your aileron wires,
They’ll bend and they’ll break and they’ll batter,
They’ll insert toasting forks into your tyres.

And that is the tale of the Gremlins,
As told by the PRU,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many,
But a fact, none the less, to the few.

At first this seemed to be a phenomenon completely unique to the Royal Air Force and it was often whispered among airmen that the gremlins were in league with the enemy, but it later became apparent that enemy aircraft were also suffering from the creatures’ tomfoolery and that they took no sides, taking equal glee in harassing both British and enemy aircraft alike. When the American Allies came to British shores, they too began to experience the strange phenomenon. American pilots and airmen typically described seeing strange creatures out on the wings of the aircraft, where they would fiddle around with the aileron, which is the hinged flight control surface on the wing that allows it to roll or bank. So persistent were the stories of gremlins fiddling and tampering with the aileron of American aircraft that the Americans often referred to the creatures as Yehudis, after a famous violinist of the time, because they were always fiddling.

Reports of gremlins and their knack for hiding aboard planes to sabotage them persisted throughout WWII, from all sides and nations involved in the conflict, more often than not by experienced pilots and aircraft crew that were sober, level-headed and rational. What could have been at the heart of these accounts? What were all of these people seeing or experiencing? It is often pointed out that the lack of adequate pressurization of aircraft back in those days most likely led to hallucinations, which were then shaped by the stories of little trickster, prankish imps with a tendency to sabotage or damage machinery. There could also have been some element of “passing the buck” so to speak, or deflecting blame for human error by blaming accidents on these fantastical creatures. This could have helped build morale among the men, as it would have been more constructive to blame the gremlins for aircraft mishaps rather than accuse members of their own squadron.


This is from a set of advertisements created by the Esso company in 1943. Each was associated with particular car part or system, and the Esso promised to protect your automobile from the little monsters if you brought it in for regular maintenance. They are sort of the embodiment of various automobile failure modes. A pantheon of malfunctions, so to speak.

Rocketpunk crew will think up their own gremlins that relate to spacecraft systems: e.g., nuclear reactor, propellant tanks, life support, etc.

Crazy Eddie

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote the Hugo and Nebula nominated novel The Mote in God's Eye, which is arguably the best "first contact with aliens" novel ever written.

In the novel, the Motie aliens have a biological problem which has caused their civilization to rise and fall with depressing regularity over a couple of million years. Without fail. Despite every single attempt at a solution being tried. Don't try to propose a solution because it has already been tried, multiple times. Several thousand civilizations have risen and collapsed.

So from bitter experience they have come to the conclusion that Not All Problems Have Solutions. They are the ultimate pessimists.

As a cultural educational tool to teach young Moties, they have a mythological anti-hero/horrible example. To humans they translate the anti-hero's name as "Crazy Eddie." In all the myths whenever Crazy Eddie tries to solve a problem it just makes things worse. Usually because he is sacrificing long-term advantages for short-term rewards. This teaches the young Moties a healthy fatalism. Richard Harter makes a good case that the end result is erratic neurosis.

In the novel on the surface it appears that Crazy Eddie is strictly a phenomenon of the Motie aliens. But ConsistentHobgoblin makes a good case that among the humans in the novels are some Crazy Eddies as well.


(ed note: The human expedition to the Motie star traveled in starships using the Alderson Drive, starting at New Caledonia and materializing at the Motie jump point. The Moties call the propulsion system the "instantaneous drive". Each of the contact humans were assigned a Motie who would try to learn their human's personality.)

      “You might have come from anywhere,” said Renner’s Motie. “Though it seems more likely that you came from a nearby star, such as—well, I can point to it.” Stellar images showed on a screen behind the Motie; screen within screens. She pointed with the upper right arm. The star was New Caledonia. “We know that you have an instantaneous drive, because of where you appeared.”
     Renner’s image sat forward. “Where we appeared?”
     “Yes. You appeared precisely in the…” Renner’s Motie seemed to search for a word. Visibly, she gave up “Renner, I must tell you of a creature of legend.”
     “Say on.” Renner’s image dialed for coffee. Coffee and stories, they went together.
     “We will call him Crazy Eddie, if you like. He is a… he is like me, sometimes, and he is a Brown, an idiot savant tinker, sometimes. Always he does the wrong things for excellent reasons. He does the same things over and over, and they always bring disaster, and he never learns.
     There were small sounds of whispering in MacArthur‘s wardroom. Renner’s image said, “For instance?”
     Renner’s Motie’s image paused to think. It said, “When a city has grown so overlarge and crowded that it is in immediate danger of collapse … when food and clean water flow into the city at a rate just sufficient to feed every mouth, and every hand must work constantly to keep it that way… when all transportation is involved in moving vital supplies, and none is left over to move people out of the city should the need arise … then it is that Crazy Eddie leads the movers of garbage out on strike for better working conditions.”
     There was considerable laughter in the wardroom. Renner’s image grinned and said, “I think I know the gentleman. Go on.”
     “There is the Crazy Eddie Drive. It makes ships vanish.”

     Sally shuddered. “And your Motie said they’d tried it often.” She shuddered again. Then: “But, Mr. Renner—none of the other Moties ever talk about astrogation or anything like that. Mine told me about ‘Crazy Eddie’ as if he were around only in primitive times—a lost legend.”
     “And mine spoke of Crazy Eddie as an engineer always using tomorrow’s capital to fix today’s problems,” Sinclair blurted.
     “Anyone else?” Rod prompted.
     “Well—” Chaplain David Hardy looked embarrassed. His plump face was almost beet-red. “My Motie says Crazy Eddie founds religions. Weird, very logical, and singularly inappropriate religions.”

     (Whitbread's Motie said) “Right. Even if the Emperor had conquered all of Mote Prime and stabilized the population—and think about it, Jonathon, the only way to do that would be for the rulers to pass control on to breeders while never having any children themselves—even if they did, they’d have been attacked by the asteroid civilizations.”
     “But man, it’s a start!” said Whitbread. “There’s got to be a way—”
     “I am not a man, and there doesn’t got to be a way. And that’s another reason I don’t want contact between your species and mine. You’re all Crazy Eddies. You think every problem has a solution.

From THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1974)


     Names of aliens? You get three choices:
  1. The alien's own name, rendered phonetically. Nonsense to you, but you must decide whether it should be pompous and complex, whether it should include gestures or other signals; and remember the alien's mouth structure.

  2. A human-chosen name may derive from the alien's appearance. Snakes, or Blobs, or Wogglebugs: such names may well be insulting. But the two-headed Pierson's puppeteer was named for the brainless heads whose mouths had evolved as hands: like two Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent puppets.

  3. A bright alien — brighter than human, or one assisted by a bright computer-translator — may choose his own name. Puppeteers prefer the names of legendary centaurs: Nessus, Chiron. Jock and Charley were female Motie Mediators contacting a male-oriented society; their sex was not obvious, and they chose to imitate male voices.

     This subject can get arbitrarily complex. Let us consider, in detail, the Crazy Eddie symbol from The Mote in God's Eye.
     Within the Motie culture there is a form of silliness so common that it is represented by a legendary being. A Motie goes "Crazy Eddie" by trying to keep things as they are when they are clearly about to change. He sacrifices long-term for short-term goals.
     When a city is so heavily populated that all available vehicles are engaged in moving food and water in and garbage out, and none are left even to evacuate the inhabitants, then it is that Crazy Eddie leads the movers of garbage out on strike for better working conditions.
     Crazy Eddie fights population pressure by killing off all the nonsentient Doctor forms — except that Masters who hid their own Doctors will afterward find them priceless.

     Obviously the Moties have their own name for him. But when speaking to humans, the Mediators called him Crazy Eddie.
     Robert Heinlein was kind enough to suggest numerous changes in this book. Jerry and I owe him a great debt: we followed most of his suggestions and thereby improved the book immensely. But I instantly rejected this one:
"Since this name must be alien, why not make it something clearly alien. Yddie? Waddie? Kuddie? Something else? Certainly you want to keep the scansion — but any two-syllable word accented on the penult will do as long as it doesn't shout that it is a human name."
     Wrong! I, being without false modesty, saw fit to lecture that great man for a page and a half on this trivial subject. He says I convinced him.
     The trick is to think like an alien.
     The Mediators are frighteningly good at learning languages. They won't teach humans to pronounce Crazy Eddie's true name. It probably can't be done anyway. Instead, they translate.
Is there any point in their making up a clearly alien word pronounceable to humans? I don't see one.     Well, what are they trying to convey?
  1. Crazy Eddie is a form of insanity. Hence, "Crazy." "Foolish" isn't emphatic enough, "insane" is less common and has the wrong rhythm.

  2. Crazy Eddie is ubiquitous. He's always been there, throughout the culture, back to the dawn of time. We choose a common name. (If the battleship Lenin had made the contact, Crazy Eddie might have been Crazy Ivan.)

  3. His intentions are always good. Crazy Eddie is not a monster, and his existence is tolerated. We show that half-amused tolerance with the diminutive of a common name.

  4. The human Empire is male-oriented. We choose a male name.

  5. We keep the scansion. Not "Crazy Maurice" or "Crazy Jack" but "Crazy Eddie."

From THE WORDS IN SCIENCE FICTION by Larry Niven (1976)

Crazy Eddie is one of the more interesting ideas in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's book The Mote in God's Eye. Crazy Eddie is clearly the key to understanding the Moties. The question is, does Crazy Eddie help us understand humanity?

Who's this Crazy Eddie guy? (for the unlettered)

The Mote in God's Eye is about humanity's first encounter with another intelligent species, the Moties. As the book's human characters get to know the Moties, they repeatedly hear about a legendary fellow called "Crazy Eddie." Crazy Eddie seems to be very important to the Moties, since the aliens mention him when they talk about almost all important historical events.

As it turns out, Crazy Eddie is as much a concept as a character. To understand Crazy Eddie, it is necessary to know a little about Motie biology. A Motie must reproduce regularly if it is to continue living. Obviously, this double incentive—genetic offspring plus extended life—is so compelling that very few Moties will ever choose abstinence. Since there aren't sufficient environmental pressures to balance out all the new offspring, the Motie population keeps increasing at an exponential rate.

This population pattern creates a truly vicious cycle. Moties breed and breed, all the while creating cultural solutions to support the burgeoning population. You can't fight mathematics, though, especially when there's an exponent involved. Eventually, the Motie population just gets too big to support. War, famine, and all hell in general breaks loose, most Moties die, and civilization is wiped out. The surviving Moties start to breed and build and innovate again, and the cycle begins anew. The Moties have been around a lot longer than humans, but their population biology puts them in a more primitive state. To make matters worse, the Moties are confined to a single solar system, increasing the pressure.

Sometimes, though, a Motie will try to break out of the cycle. Usually a sterile mediator, this individual will come up with some grandiose plan to change biology or escape the solar system or institute population controls. Invariably, though, the scheme fails, usually making matters worse, and sometimes prompting the collapse of Motie civilization. The individuals who try these schemes are said "to have gone Crazy Eddie." Crazy Eddie is the one who has a well-intentioned but misguided plan to cheat fate, which is a very real thing for Moties.

Crazy Eddie may be the most important character in the novel. The humans discover the Moties because of the "Crazy Eddie probe" sent out from the Motie system. A deadly "Crazy Eddie point" in space is what keeps the Moties bottled up, without hope of interstellar travel. Each section of the book is named after Crazy Eddie. And perhaps most importantly, Crazy Eddie provides almost all the dramatic conflict in the novel, with both humans and Moties constantly arguing over whether to pursue Crazy Eddie schemes or to hold to a grimmer, more pragmatic course of action.

What does Crazy Eddie mean to a human?

On the one hand...

Crazy Eddie is a science fiction kind of guy, and The Mote in God's Eye is a sci-fi novel. A lot of science fiction, including the kind Niven and Pournelle usually write, is pretty optimistic stuff, with adventures in space and marvelous technology and, generally, a bright future for humanity. Despite pessimistic elements (organleggers, war, horrible destruction from the center of the galaxy), Niven and Pournelle are upbeat writers. All the heroism and clever ideas and amazing technology and consequence-free sex and adventure make their future worlds seem like fun places to be.

In other words, Niven and Pournelle make their livings by saying how great Crazy Eddie ideas could be. Even the specific examples the Moties give of Crazy Eddie's schemes—a time machine, a solar sail probe, FTL travel, world government—are sci-fi staples which have appeared in the authors' works as well as many other science fiction pieces. The Mote in God's Eye makes the case that humans could be in the same spot as the Moties, except for the fact that humans' Crazy Eddies have succeeded on occasion. The characters refer to what a disaster Earth itself is repeatedly, but because humans invented FTL travel (Crazy Eddie #1), broke out of the Sol system (Crazy Eddie #2), and established a galactic Empire (Crazy Eddie #3), things turned out okay for H. sapiens.

In this interpretation, then,The Mote in God's Eye says that Crazy Eddie is important because he holds the spirit of human invention that science fiction shows us.

On the other hand...

A closer look at the human characters suggests another interpretation. It is fairly easy to divide the major characters into two groups, hard nosed pragmatists and starry eyed optimists. Again and again, the book pits a character from one group against a character from the other on some question about the Moties (or the Brownies). The most obvious pragmatist is the admiral Kutuzov, whose job is to use as much force as is necessary to keep the Moties from getting FTL technology from the humans. A more reluctant pragmatist is the main protagonist, Rod Blaine, who wants to trust the Moties but will ultimately do what is militarily prudent. On the other side are the optimists, who are willing to take a leap of faith in order to get what the Moties have to offer. Kutozov's mirror image on the optimist side is the scientist Horvath, who is sure that the Moties are a peaceful group who can only bring good to humanity. Blaine's counterpart is the anthropologist Sally Fowler, who knows that the Moties might not be as innocuous as they appear but still believes that the aliens are basically friendly and a source of great opportunity.

The distinction between the two groups is important because the optimists are, in essence, Crazy Eddies. They want to do the wrong thing for the right reason: they trust the Moties because of what the Moties could represent, instead of what the Moties actually are. Even after the humans discover the Moties' secret, the optimists remain as Crazy Eddies. Sally, in particular, is convinced that humans can break the cycle of breeding, war, and collapse. The pragmatists know that the Crazy Eddies are willing to take risks that humanity can't afford.

It's pretty clear that the pragmatists have the authors' sympathies. For one thing, the pragmatists end up being right. Kutozov has to destroy Blaine's ship, the humans have to flee the Motie system, and the Moties turn out to be duplicitous and quite dangerous to humanity. Moreover, the pragmatists are written as intelligent, level headed, worldly, and thoroughly professional characters. In contrast, the optimists are all ivory tower types who make bad decisions because they let their ideology trump the realities of strategy, diplomacy, and war. Reading the book from this perspective, it is obvious that the authors' regard Crazy Eddies the same way Moties do, at least in potentially military matters. This interpretation is bolstered when one considers the politics of the book. The Mote in God's Eye is a pretty conservative book, and the pragmatists are clearly the conservatives of the novel. They are the hawkish men of the world in contrast to academics like Horvath and Fowler who love peace but don't understand war. Jerry Pournelle, at least, was a ardent cold warrior, and The Mote in God's Eye is very easily calqued into a tale of why liberal doves are wrong despite their best intentions***.

In this interpretation, Crazy Eddie is important because he is present when humans foolishly let their hopes and ideals obscure reality. This interpretation is particularly salient if The Mote in God's Eye is read as a novel of the Cold War.

On the gripping hand...

One can take the novel at face value. Crazy Eddie is important to the Moties because he is part and parcel of their genetic heritage. Humans, free to control their population by a number of means, don't have to live with Crazy Eddie. Even though Niven and Pournelle show that humans have wars and collapses and population problems, humanity is clearly free of the Motie's hamster wheel.

But what fun is that? You can't just leave a guy with a name like Crazy Eddie out in the cold. If nothing else, Crazy Eddie would make a great meme. Imagine a politician: "Don't get me wrong, I'm no Crazy Eddie. If we can manage to pass my bill, though..."

*** - If you aren't convinced that The Mote in God's Eye is about attitudes toward war and peace, consider that another Kutuzov is chief of the Russian army in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

From Everything2 CRAZY EDDIE (PERSON) by consistenthobgoblin (2003)

"Aren't you taking all this too seriously?" Horvath asked. "After all, Captain, the Viceroy's orders were given before we knew much about Moties. Now, surely, we can see they aren't dangerous, and they certainly aren't hostile."

"Are you suggesting, Doctor, that we put ourselves in the position of countermanding an Imperial Directive?"

Horvath looked amused. His grin spread slowly across his face. "Oh no," he said. "I don't even imply, it. I only suggest that if and when — when, really, it's inevitable — that policy is changed, all this will seem a trifle silly, Captain Blaine. Childish in fact."

"Be damned to you!" Sinclair exploded. "That's nae way to talk to the Captain, mon!"

"Gently, Sandy," First Lieutenant Cargill interjected. "Dr. Horvath, I take it you've never been involved in military intelligence? No, of course not. But you see, in intelligence work we have to go by capabilities, not by intentions. If a potential enemy can do something to you, you have to prepare for it, without regard to what you think he wants to do."

(ed note: And as the novel turns out, Cargill was right, and Horvath was very seriously wrong.)

From THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1975)

Moldaug Demon Of The Dark

In Gordon R. Dickson's NONE BUT MAN, the Moldaug aliens do not care about "right" and "wrong" the way humans do. Instead they worry about "Respectability" and "not-Respectability". TV Tropes calls this Blue and Orange Morality.

The conflict in the novel is this morality makes the Moldaug culture superficially appear to be identical to human culture, or at least close enough to fool the idiot human diplomats who didn't do their homework. This confusion is forcing the Moldaug into declaring interstellar war on the human colonies by the ill-advised initiatives pushed by the idiot human diplomats. The protagonist Culihan O’Rourke, is forced to travel to a Moldaug planet to try and clean up the mess. He has to make the Moldaug understand the human's position in terms the Moldaug can understand.

The key is the Moldaug myth of the "Demon of the Dark." Much like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Demon heralds the start of catastrophe. But because this is a Moldaug myth not human myth, the catastrophe is one of Respectability, not of Evil. Culihan cleverly uses this to force the Moldaug to understand what is going wrong in the peace talks.


      “I’ll tell you a story,” he (Will) said. “But you tell me first—have you ever had anybody who seemed to want to talk uncomfortably close to you, breathing in your face all the time he talked?”
     “It’s happened to me, yes,” said Cully.
     “Well, keep that in mind now, while I tell you my story,” said Will. “As far as I know—it may go back farther—it dates back to the twentieth century on Earth. As it goes, there was a diplomatic cocktail party somewhere at which the English and Italian Ambassadors were standing face to face, talking to each other; and as they talked they gradually, without realizing it, drifted across the room—the Englishman backing up, the Italian advancing.”
     Will broke off abruptly. He stared at Cully.
     “Have you got any idea why?” he asked.
     “Not an idea,” said Cully.
     “Well, as it happens, the distance that’s considered comfortable between people in conversation varies from culture to culture,” said Will. “What was a comfortable conversational distance for the Italian was about half the distance comfortable for the Englishman. The result was that the Englishman, being vaguely uncomfortable at the Italian’s closeness, was unconsciously continually trying to back away to his own comfort-distance. But any increase in space between them made the Italian uncomfortable, and unconsciously, he would move forward to try to decrease the distance between them. And all this was going on at a low level of awareness without either one realizing just why he was uncomfortable.”
     Cully laughed.
     “I see,” he said. “Yes, I can see that happening.”

     “Good,” said Will. “Now, as it happens with the Moldaug, there’re two conversational distances. The ‘individual,’ at about eight feet; and the ‘personal,’ at about twelve inches. But never mind that now. Tell me,” said Will. “Have you ever read anything by a twentieth-century writer named Edward T. Hall?”
Cully shook his head.     “He wrote a book, among others, called The Silent Language,” said Will. “In that book, Hall tells about a western American town in which most of the local government officials were of Spanish-American cultural descent, but a good many people driving through the town were of Anglo-American cultural descent. The town’s speed limit was fifteen miles an hour, and the Spanish-American policeman infallibly arrested anyone going even one mile per hour over that. This wasn’t so bad, but the Anglo-Americans soon noticed that the Spanish-Americans who were arrested usually had a relative sitting on the bench, and were usually quickly acquitted, while they themselves almost never got off easily. This made the Anglos furious.”
     Cully laughed again.
     “I’d be a bit furious myself, maybe,” he said.
     “Your cultural descent is undoubtedly more Anglo than Spanish,” said Will. “But the truth of the matter was that both the Spanish-cultured and the Anglo-cultured were doing what was right, according to their own cultural patterns. To the Spanish-cultured the law was a formal matter. A law could only be either unbroken or broken. There was nothing in between. So when they were arrested they took it without complaint. It was only after they were arrested that they invoked the informal, by turning to a system of relatives which had grown up in response to a weak government. On the other hand, the Anglos were informal about the actual violation. They felt that the speed limit should be somewhat flexible, according to situation and conditions. But once the machinery of the law was invoked, they tended to get very formal and unyielding. Anything less than strict judicial impartiality was unthinkable. The inter-cultural conflict that developed finally got to the point where the policeman was deliberately hurt in an accident, and to where he got to the point of making his arrests with drawn pistol. There you have it—both cultural groups doing what they thought was right, and both at swords’ points because of it.”

     “All right,” said Cully when Will had finished. “I see your point. The Tri-Worlds Councilmen and the Moldaug Ambassadors could be misunderstanding each other without knowing it—”
     “They have to be misunderstanding each other!” Will interrupted emphatically. “That’s the point. The only way they can avoid misunderstanding is by being completely understanding—and this they aren’t; the Moldaug of we humans, or we humans of the Moldaug. For example, Admiral Ruhn is the chief of the three Ambassadors on Earth right now. Most humans, therefore, take it for granted that the other two are either his assistants or simply diplomatic window dressing. dressing. But what do you suppose is the actual, Moldaug, reason for there being three of them?”
     “No idea,” said Cully. “But you’ll enlighten me, no doubt.”
     Will missed the humor of the answer entirely. He was too deeply immersed now in his own subject.
     “There are three of them,” he said, “because there’s no such thing as an individual, as we know it, in Moldaug terms. The closest thing to it is a tight association of three persons. Theoretically, three brothers or sisters, but actually any combination of three. They’re the basic unit of Moldaug society. They make up their minds as a unit and act as one person; in fact, as a human individual acts and decides for himself. That’s why there have to be three Ambassadors, even though Ruhn is the Elder Brother—the dominant. I’d be very surprised if Braight and his fellow Council Members realize how bound Ruhn is by the opinions of his two Brothers, let alone appreciate the diplomatic implications of dealing with a three-person ‘individual.’”

     “I’d be, myself,” said Cully. “But you’re sure about this? How can you be sure of such things on a basis of myths and legends, where anything can happen? Our fairy stories of elves and ghosts and goblins have little enough to do with actual human ways, it seems to me.”
     “You’re wrong. Very wrong,” said Will energetically. “All our myth figures represent deep cultural elements. And deep variations in attitude from culture to culture even among our own race. Look at the Balkan myth of the vampire who made a fellow vampire out of his victim by drinking the victim’s blood. The cultural element reflected here is the treachery running all through the history of the Balkan region. The cultural message of the vampire legend was that there was no one you could trust, not even the woman who loved you, or your best friend. The bite of the vampire could turn either of them into your most dangerous enemy overnight. Now, in contrast, look at the areas of the British Isles and Northwestern Europe. Look at the myth of the English brownie or hobgoblin, or the Scottish fairy. Do you see something in these, different from the vampire-legend figure?”
     Cully thought for a second.
     “They’re not … deadly,” he said, “not in the sense that the vampire was deadly.”
     “Exactly!” said Will. “The brownie, elf, hobgoblin or fairy was mischievous, but not really harmful—unless you cheated one of them! In short, they had something that was almost the opposite of the vampire trait. A sense of honesty—or fair play.”
     “True,” said Cully thoughtfully. “‘Fair play,’ come to think of it, is pretty much an English phrase.”
     “More than that,” said Will. “The English have been called a nation of shopkeepers—with some reason. And both English and Scots have been celebrated for sticking to their bargains—particularly to the spirit behind the letter of their contracts.”
     “The Irish,” Cully grinned, “haven’t exactly been known as a nation of shopkeepers.”

     “No,” said Will. “But parallel myths and cultural qualities exist there too. The Old Nick of Irish legend is supernatural enough. But a stouthearted Irishman, particularly if he has right on his side, can outwit or outfight Old Nick. Again—the human is able to meet the mythical figure on even terms if he has the courage for it. Grendel, in the Beowulf legend of early Germanic literature, was a monster who fed on human flesh—first cousin to the vampire. No one could withstand Grendel—until the hero Beowulf appeared, and not only outfought the demon but pursued him down under the waters of a marsh and slew him. Now, though, compare a human legend with its closest parallel among the Moldaug. On the human side, you’ve heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?”
     “Yes,” said Cully.
     “Well,” said Will. “There are four figures in that myth. The parallel Moldaug myth has only one—or rather, three-in-one—called the Demon of Dark. I say three-in-one because the Demon of Dark, like all Moldaug individuals, is actually composed of three persons. The Demon himself is the dominant member, or leader, of the tripartite ‘individual,’ which also includes the Scholar and the Madman. In the legend, the Scholar and the Madman combine to free the Demon, who then goes forth as a tripartite ‘individual’ to forecast doom among the Moldaug—”
     “Wait a minute,” interrupted Cully, suddenly very interested. “What kind of doom?”
     “That’s my point,” said Will. “The Four Horsemen of the human legend forecast famine, war, pestilence, death—all the physical forms of destruction for a race. But the Demon of Dark doesn’t directly threaten any kind of physical destruction to the Moldaug, because to the Moldaug such things aren’t so much evils in themselves as symptoms of the one Great Evil—”
     Will broke off on a particular note of emphasis, staring at Cully.
     “Which is what?” Cully prompted him.
     “A Change,” said Will solemnly, “in the Aspect of Respectability.”

     “Aspect of Respectability?” Cully repressed an instinctive urge to chuckle—but his face must have betrayed him.
     “It’s very much something you don’t laugh at if you’re a Moldaug,” said Will reprovingly, “Remember, I told you it was Respectability that was the peg on which the Moldaug culture turns, just as ours turns upon the peg of Righteousness? To be right, instead of wrong, in the way he lives and what he does—no matter what cultural standard of right or wrong he uses—is important to the people of all human cultures. But now, suppose you’re a Moldaug, the dominant member or one of the two subjectives of a tripartite ‘individual.’ Your concern, both as a person and individual, is the supreme importance of being Respectable, as opposed to not-Respectable.”
     “How do I know when I’m Respectable?” Cully asked.
     “You don’t,” said Will. “And there’s one of the great differences from human thinking. A single human’s personal standards or belief in what’s right can’t be taken from him or changed—witness the long line of martyrs down through human history. But your standard of Respectability as a Moldaug can be changed on you without your being able to control it. That’s one aspect of your culture with which you live as a Moldaug—and die; because to lose Respectability in any large measure can be literally a fate to which you’d prefer death.”

     Cully stared at the older man, sitting crosslegged in the shadow of the staircase.
     “Now, why?” he asked softly.
     “You’ll have to stretch your imagination to understand,” said Will. “You see, to be Respectable among the Moldaug is to be in proper accord with the actions taken by the leaders of the race, that ensure and maintain the survival of the race. To be connected in any way with an action that leads to a plague or an unsuccessful war—any symptom of countersurvival developments—is to lose some part of your Respectability. If the developments are serious enough to threaten the existence of the race as a whole, or if they simply multiply beyond the endurance of the majority of the Moldaug, then those responsible lose Respectability to the point where they must be deposed as leaders. In Moldaug terms, as well as they can be expressed in any human tongue, the Aspect of Respectability has ‘Changed’—in short, the quality of Respectability has abandoned the present leaders of the race and settled elsewhere, on other Moldaug, who must be discovered and installed as leaders instead.”
     Cully whistled softly.
     “You see,” said Will, “what that means is that as a Moldaug you can never be sure that the action you have just taken is Respectable or not until it has safely become a part of successful racial history. You can only make the best possible decision and hope that events prove you Respectable.”
     “Respectability’s bigger than the individual, then?” asked Cully, thoughtfully.

     “That’s right,” said Will. “And it’s important to remember that if you’re a Moldaug. It’s not just your own failure you have to worry about. To be connected with failure can destroy your Respectability just as quickly, and the connections are beyond your control. You see, all this is a survival characteristic of Moldaug culture that tries to make sure the best possible people are in charge of the destiny of the race at all times. Guilt by association is not an arguable point among the Moldaug. It’s a foregone conclusion.”
     “You say the connections are beyond an individual’s—I mean, a person’s—control?” asked Cully. “Why?”
     “Because the Moldaug society is hierarchical in organization,” answered Will. “As a single Moldaug, you belong first to the basic, three-person individual, within the family structure. A number of families make up a sept. A number of septs makes up a clan. The clans together make up the race and are headed by the ruling clan, within which is the ruling sept, family, and finally the ruling ‘individual’—a three-person unit. If the race gets into trouble, the social structure loses Respectability from the top downward. The ruling clan is deposed and the other clans fight among themselves to discover who is now Most Respectable—or, in plain language, who is strongest. And when the Most Respectable clan triumphs, the society reorients itself around them, and the clan’s inner hierarchy produce the new set of authorities up to the ruling ‘individual’ himself—or themselves.”

     “And the former ruling clan becomes Unrespectable? Is that it?” said Cully musingly.
     “Well, not the whole clan—just the royal family,” Will hesitated. “‘Unrespectable’ is the ultimate term. If you’re ‘Unrespectable’ you’re effectively canceled out already. It’s like a strong version of our word ‘inhuman.’ If you’re really inhuman, you’re no longer a human being. It’s the same way with the term ‘Unrespectable’ among the Moldaug. A Moldaug would never call you ‘Unrespectable,’ no matter what your crime might be. If he really considered you ‘Unrespectable,’ he would see no point in naming you at all. The most he would accuse you of being would be ‘not-Respectable.’”
     “Then what happens to the rest of the clan?” asked Cully. “Do they get off scot-free?”
     “No, the Aspect of Respectability has abandoned the whole clan,” said Will. “Only, it’s abandoned the social units within the clan in direct ratio to their former power and responsibility. First, the original tripartite ‘Ruler,’ or ‘Rulers,’ lose Respectability to the point where suicide is the only possible course for them. Then their action may be imitated by a good share of their closer relatives within their immediate family, the decision being taken as tripartite ‘individuals,’ not on a personal basis. The other families in the royal sept generally lose Respectability to degrees not requiring suicide, both as families and ‘individuals,’ and the other septs in the clan related to the royal sept also lose it to an even lesser degree … and so forth.”

     “And,” said Cully thoughtfully, “according to the legend, all this is caused by the Demon of Dark?”
     Will shook his head. “The Demon doesn’t cause Respectability to leave one clan and settle on another. He simply signals the Change—in the Aspect of Respectability. Where he appears, disasters of various kinds will follow. Enough of these disasters and the Moldaug begin to conclude that the Aspect of Respectability has abandoned the ruling clan and its inner hierarchy. Once this realization occurs, each clan naturally assumes that it has now acquired the Aspect. This leads each clan to attempt to assume authority over the other clans—and the fight starts to choose a new set of leaders.”
     “So,” said Cully, “that’s it. When the Demon appears, everything goes wrong.”
     “Yes,” said Will. “You see why he’s the ultimate in horror figures among the Moldaug. Now, of course, they’ve outgrown direct superstition since becoming a technical race, just as we have. In spite of that, the cultural elements that the myths and legends pictured in them still exist in them.”

     On conventional drive they crept in toward this, the outer-most of the two alien-inhabited worlds in the system, shielding themselves behind the disk of the lesser of the two moons that circled it. Once in orbit about the world, Cully put all controls on standby and called all crew members into what was left of the ship’s lounge to brief them.
     “All right,” he said to them, “it’s time to let you all in on why we’ve come first to this particular planet. This first expedition isn’t going to be a raid on Moldaug ships or even Moldaug surface installations. We’re here to raise a devil.”
     There was a mutter from the listening men—a mutter halfway between laughter and the sounds of surprise.
     “I mean that, just the way it sounds,” went on Cully. “The idea is to get ourselves a name, a Moldaug demon name. And the name we’ve decided to get is the name of one of the Moldaug mythological characters, known as the ‘Rath i’Lan,’ who rides a ship called the Bei. He’s a devil out of their superstitious past, and his name means ‘The Demon of Dark.’ Like most Moldaug mythological characters, he’s a tripartite demon. That is, while there’s only one actual demon, that one never moves or acts without his two mortal Moldaug ‘Brothers.’ So what we’re going to do is go down to the place where Moldaug legend says the original raising of the Rath i’Lan took place, and re-enact the raising, making sure the local Moldaug know about it. I’ll be the Demon, and Will and Doak will play my ‘Brothers.’ So it’ll be the three of us going down, plus five men to handle the shuttle boat and help us fight our way back, if necessary. Who wants to volunteer?”

     A number of hands went up; but the Navigator, Pete Hyde, spoke up.
     “Mind if I ask a question first, Cully?”
     “Go ahead,” said Cully.
     “Do the Moldaug still believe in demons? First I heard of it,” said Pete.
     “No, Pete, of course they don’t—any more than we do,” answered Cully.
     There was more laughter. Cully paused and ran his eyes over the group.

     “No. The point is,” Cully said good-humoredly, when they were quiet again, “that while you can’t call us really superstitious any more, on the other hand, superstition isn’t dead among us. Will tells me it’s pretty much the same among the Moldaug. They don’t believe in the Demon of Dark nowadays—not with the front of their heads anyway. On the other hand, there’s enough superstition left in the back of their minds so that the fact of this demon’s name being tied to us will trigger off all sorts of basic emotional responses when we start making trouble. Any objections or suggestions?”

     “The legend that the Moldaug tell,” he said, “is that from time immemorial there’d been a demon sleeping in the cliffs over there.” He pointed toward the monolith. “All Moldaug knew the Demon was sleeping there, but none of them were foolish enough to wake him. Now, as some of you already know, where our human basic unit of population is the single individual, among the Moldaug it’s never less than three of them working as a team. For this reason, the Demon would never wake up of his own accord, because he was harmless unless joined by the two other living parts that would make him a normal, full, tripartite ‘individual,’ in Moldaug terms.”
     Will paused, then went on.
     “Let me say that again,” he said. “The tripartite individual is ‘normal’ in Moldaug terms. But there are abnormal Moldaug, just as there are abnormal humans. Among the Moldaug these abnormals take the form of single persons who can’t or won’t fit into the basic, three-person, ‘individual’ unit. One type is the Moldaug whose particular work or study is one that no one else shares—so that he’s forced to live and work alone. This type has the name which can be roughly translated by the human word ‘Scholar.’ Another type is one which is simply temperamentally unsuited to the three-person unit. The Moldaug name for this type translates literally as ‘Solitary.’ But, since the Moldaug can’t imagine anyone but a deranged person being unable to fit into a three-person unit, the label on this latter type actually means something more like ‘Madman.’ Since the role that the Solitary plays in this legend is one that is only possible to a deranged person in Moldaug terms, let’s use the title ‘Madman.’ “

     Will paused and drew a deep breath. He glanced toward Doak. But Doak looked back, innocently and undisturbed.
     “Now—to get back to the legend itself. The legend says that by sheer chance two of these abnormals happened to run into each other at this particular spot. One was a Scholar—and that’s the role I’m going to play. The other was a Solitary, or Madman—that’s Doak’s part. The legend says these two started talking and, since night had fallen while they were still talking, they sat down, built a fire and ate supper. They talked on into the night; and they learned that each of them had a quality that complemented the other—the way that individuals fitted together in a normal Moldaug three-person unit. The Scholar had a knowledge of the semimagical techniques needed to raise the Demon slumbering in the cliffs behind them. The Madman had the courage—I mean he had the will or desire—to do the raising. So, driven by a warped version of the instinctive Moldaug desire to be part of a three-person ‘individual’ unit, the two of them joined forces and woke the Demon.”
     Will hesitated. There was an unusual solemnity in his voice when he went on. “Then things began to happen. A terrific thunderstorm burst about them. The Demon came forth and immediately joined them to complete the three-person ‘individual’ that was the full Demon of Dark. In other words, he became a full, effective Demon by becoming the dominant personality of the individual group also containing the Scholar and the Madman. They set out together then, according to the legend, to roam the lands and cities of the Moldaug, wherever these might be. And wherever they went, a Change in the Aspect of Respectability followed close behind them. And there you have it.”

     Will fell silent. Cully took over.
     “So now you know,” he said to the other men. “Now I’ll tell you how we’re going to work this. The Moldaug have pretty good scent-perceptive instruments. With those, they’ll be able to reconstruct what happened outside our immediate area, here on this island. Here on the island we’re going to burn some sulphur decontamination flares to foul up their instruments. But outside the island, across the stream there, Will and Doak are going to play out their parts in the legend. That, the sulphur flares, some flash markers for lightning, and a loudspeaker broadcast of thunder ought to take care of the stage dressing. So, while Will and Doak are busy across the stream, the rest of us’ll haul the supplies out of the shuttle boat and set up here. Let’s go.”

From NONE BUT MAN by Gordon Dickson (1969)



Junghaus doesn't look old enough to be a veteran. He can't be more than nineteen. Just a pimply-faced, confused kid who looks two sizes too small for his uniform. Yet he has four little red mission stars tattooed on the back of his left hand, over the knuckles at the roots of each finger. "Catch a fistful of stars..." They'll creep along the next rank of knuckles now. A barbarous custom that's scrupulously observed. One of the superstitions…

…I've begun to note quirks. Chief Nicastro gets furious if anyone passes him to the left. Better you ask him to drop what he's doing and let you by. Kriegshauser never removes his lucky underwear.

The Commander himself has a rigid ritual for rising and departing his quarters. Faithfully observed, I suppose, it guarantees the Climber (warship) another day of existence.

From PASSAGE AT ARMS by Glen Cook (1985)

      71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans.

     He didn't believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren't true.
     He believed instead in the things that were true in which no-one else believed.

     There are many such substitions, ranging from 'It'll get better if you don't pick at it' all the way up to 'Sometimes things just happen.'

From JINGO by Terry Pratchett (1997)

      "Quite a lot, " said Miss Beedle, "but far more about goblins, and they believe in the Summoning Dark, just like the dwarfs, after all, they are both creatures of the caves and the Summoning Dark is real. It's not all in your head, commander: no matter what you hear, I sometimes hear it too.

     "Oh dear, you of all people must recognize a substition when you’re possessed by it? It's the opposite of a superstition: it's real even if you don't believe in it."

From SNUFF by Terry Pratchett (2011)

Chariots Of The Gods

In this concept, future space explorers discover that mythological creatures are actually garbled stories of alien visitations made by primitive humans. Much the same idea as the silly Chariots of the Gods?, but done a bit more plausibly.

Examples include:

CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clark
It would be a spoiler to explain. Just read the novel. It is a classic.
TIMEDIVER SERIES by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
This series is about a species who can travel through time and space using nothing but their innate abilities. They spend their lives scavenging high-tech goodies from other planets and time periods, while destroying any species who might pose a threat. In The Fires of Paratime the characters have names like "Odinthor" and "Heimdall." Thing are interesting until they become afraid of the new recruit and try to covertly kill him. Somebody named "Loki." Then the book becomes so exciting you literally cannot put it down.
WHO MOURNS FOR ADONAIS? episode from Classic Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise meet the last surviving Greek God Apollo. They are space-traveling aliens with innate abilities to manipulate energies. The ancient Greeks worshipped them as gods, until the Greeks got too sophisticated. Zeus et al grew weary and weak without worship from humans and discorporated.
HOW SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH episode from Animated Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise meet a technologically advanced alien looking like a wingéd serpent, who turns out to be the Mayan god Kukulkan. He was going to vaporize the Enterprise like a fly in a bug-zapper, but at the last minute helsman Ensign Dawson Walking Bear recognizes Kukulkan and blurts out his name.
THE LORELEI SIGNAL episode from Animated Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise pass too close to the planet of the Space Sirens and are enslaved by the beautiful vampiric women living there (for certain values of "beautiful", predictably for an American show they are all thin, Caucasian, and blond). The men start to rapidly age as the Sirens devour their life force (there is no way to phrase that without it sounding like a double entendre). Luckily the Siren's ability to cloud men's minds only applies to men. Lt. Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and the rest of the female crew arrive to kick butt and take names.
Several thousand years ago on Terra, the inhabitats of the continent of Mu were in constant warfare with the race of Teff-Hellani. These were savage creatures who evolved from primate goats. They had horns, cloven hooves, red skin, loved living under ground near fires, and had a taste for human meat. Yeah, you get the picture. Teff-Hellani = Deff-Hell = Devils.

The conflict started with stone-age technology and persisted up to the age of ray-guns and spaceships. Finally king Tsoo-Ahs ("Zeus") leads a spacefleet to attack the Teff cave entrance. The continent of Mu is sunk in the ensuing battle, the warring fleets are flung through a space warp to a distant star, both fleets crash on separate planets and have to rebuild civilizations from scratch.

In the future when Our Heroes are flung through the same space warp, they find the two sides are still fighting.
THE INFINITE ATOM by John W. Campbell Jr.
In this sequel to The Mightiest Machine author Campbell re-uses the aliens-into-mythological-creature theme. Around 700 BCE centaur-like aliens are marooned when their spaceship crashes in ancient Greece, inspiring Greek myths of centaurs in a meta-like fashion. Most of them are cruel to the local Greeks in their efforts to launch a message torpedo to their homeworld. But Zhi Athron kindly teaches the Greeks, and is remembered in myth as "Chiron". The aliens all die out and become myths. Four thousand years latter the message torpedo brings an invasion of Centaurs hungry for living space, and the interstellar war is on.
SHAMBLEAU by C. L. Moore
Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith meets his match when he finds out the hard way that the old myth of the snake-haired Medusa turning people into stone is no myth. But author Moore adds a touch of existential eldritch horror. The only thing that saves Smith's sorry derrière is the fact his Venusian side-kick Yarol remembers the rest of the myth, and uses a mirror to do an over-the-shoulder trick shot with his heat-ray gun.
YVALA by C. L. Moore
Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith proves that he is incapable of learning from his mistakes by getting captured by another mythological woman. This time her name is Yvala, and she inspired the myth of Circe. Including the ability to turn men into beasts. Since Smith and Yarol were on the Jovian moon specifically to kidnap beautiful native women for the sex-slave trade, it is impossible to find any sympathy for their fate.
They look like two crazy guys trying to kill each other, but they are actually immortal humanoid aliens who inspired the myth of Thor and Loki. They have been on Terra for several thousand years, trying to kill each other for all that time.
THE MIGHTY THOR by Stan Lee, Lerry Leiber, and Jack Kirby
This Marvel comic book gives Norse mythology a decided sci-fi twist. They were latter made into fun movies.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT aka Five Million Years To Earth movie by Nigel Kneale
Five million years ago insectoid Martians genetically engineered human beings to be slaves. Human's mental image of the devil is a distorted memory of the insect Martian face, with antennae for horns.
This story turns the "Chariots of the Gods" concept on its head. Instead of aliens inspiring the myth, the myth inspires the aliens. On the colony world Roland the humans are mostly unaware of the native aliens. They study the humans telepathically, and find deep archtypes in the human psyche of elves and fairies. They use these archtypes as telepathic images when dealing with humans.
In this novel, the land of Fairie is another dimension. The inhabitants are aliens who are vaguely humanoid but look like the typical mythological Fair Folk. What is interesting is that the Fairie dimension adjoins every other planet in the galaxy. So one can still stumble into Fairie even though you are living on a colony world hundreds of light-years away from Terra.

Everything Old Is New Again

On a meta level science fiction authors can use ancient myths to inspire their stories. Which is no news to anybody who has read about the monomyth in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Certainly no news to George Lucas.

From a science fiction writer's standpoint being inspired by myth has three great benefits:

  1. The writer is harnessing the awesome archetypal power and universal appeal of myth
  2. The plot is already written
  3. Myths are way way past the expiration date of their copyright

This is a variant on the old science fiction author trick of using history to plot their novels.

But authors would be wise to avoid grafting a simple-minded science fiction framework over Biblical myths. It has been done to death already. There are hundreds of pulp SF stories where a couple crash-lands on a virgin world, all such stories ending with the punch-line that their names are Adam and Eve. Brian W. Aldiss calls these "Shaggy God Stories."

Examples include:

Based on the monomyth
Also based on the monomyth
Pretty much a science-fiction version of Shakespeare's The Tempest
The novel is a retelling of Norse mythology, especially the story of Ragnarök. The gods are instead mercenary bands, Ragnarök is the federation outlawing and disbanding the mercenaries, Gneaus Storm is Odin complete with two telepathic flying lizards like Huginn and Muninn, Valkyrie-like medical drones roam battlefields to retrieve valiant soldiers fallen in battle to be brought back to life by advanced medical techology and given the opportunity to enlist with Storm's mercenary legion in a sort of high-tech Valhalla.
The novel is a interpretation of Wagner's Ring Cycle set in the future.
STARSONG by Fred Saberhagen
This classic Berserker tale is a retelling of the Orpheus myth.
FOOL'S RUN by Patricia McKillip
This is another retelling of Orpheus.
GOAT SONG by Poul Anderson
Still yet another retelling of Orpheus.
SPACE CHANTEY by R. A. Lafferty
This entire book is a satirical futuristic version of Homer's Odyssey.
DIES IRAE TRILOGY by Brian Stableford
A science fictional version of the Odyssey but in full trilogy form.
Each book in the series is a science fiction version of a myth from the Finnish Kalevala. Each centers around an avatar of one of the Finnish gods reliving their legend in a futuristic world.

So: in the ongoing investigation of space opera, I've looked at cliches, I've tried to come up with a rough definitional general rule ... but I've avoided what's possibly the largest elephant in the room, namely, plot structures.

A key aspect of space opera is that it's about epochal events and larger-than-life characters. Most genres can be written to work in a variety of modes; for example, consider the difference in the level of melodrama in spy thrillers betwee James Bond and Graham Greene's The Human Factor. Similarly, high fantasy can be quietly introspective and pastoral, or focus on the clash of kings and dark lords, and horror can run the scale/focus gamut from The Yellow Wallpaper to The Stand.

But space opera is different: it's almost impossible to conceive of a space opera with a plot that revolves around the eqivalent of a middle-aged English professor's mid-life crisis as he carries on a furtive affair with one of his female students under the nose of his long-suffering wife (the somewhat cruel stereotype of the MFA-approved Great American Novel). I mean, you could do it, but your professor would have had to have invented a new type of FTL drive that threatens to revolutionize interstellar travel, the student is a spy from a cartel of space traders and is trying to get the blueprints out of him before she stabs him in the kidneys (because: lecherous middle-aged prof, ew), and his wife—the professor of political science at Galactic U—is actually a retired assassin (and just wait 'til she finds out about the student). Into the middle of this quiet literary novel of academic infidelity and domestic lies, we then add an evil religious cult of alien space bat worshipers who want to steal the new space drive to equip their battle fleet when they sweep in from the Orion Arm to bring fire, the blaster, and the holy spacebat inquisition to the Federation, and when they kidnap the professor his wife and his grad student have to work out their differences to get him back before he cracks under (well-deserved) torture and gives the fanatics the ultimate weapon ...

(Huh. Actually, that'd make a cracking space opera; just not one of mine. Anyone want to borrow it?)

I stand by my point: you can't write space opera without ramping up the stakes to melodramatic levels. (Well, maybe you could if you were Iain M. Banks, but he was special that way.) The need for romanticist drama is one of the pillars of the sub-genre. And one of the recurring core tropes of the genre, which is so fundamental you can hardly call it a cliche (any more than boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl is a "cliche" in genre romance) is the Campbellian Hero's Journey.

If you are reading this blog you are familiar with the Hero's Journey monomyth because it's ubiquitous in our mythology and entertainment. Campbell derived it from studies of myths in many cultures, publishing his exposition The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949: his theory was that major myths from various world cultures can be traced back thousands of years and share a common cyclic template (with roughly 17 stages). Since then, it's been used repeatedly by entertainers as a construction template; for example, Christopher Vogler more or less codified it as a recipe while working for Disney studios. The plot of the original Star Wars trilogy was an explicit appropriation of the HJ cycle by to George Lucas (to be fair, before Vogler's codification); it's no accident that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father (Vader is Dutch for "Father") or that the fight between Skywalker and Vader in The Empire Strikes back is one that Skywalker loses—but survives to re-fight more successfully later. A key feature of the monomyth is that the hero leaves home on a quest, faces challenges, confronts and is struck down by his father/the darkness, then rises again, atones/achieves enlightenment/excellence, and triumphs in a final struggle that represents maturation.

Campbell's work isn't uncritically or universally accepted, to say the least, and there are variants on it: for example, Valerie Frenkel critiched him for focussing exclusively on the male variant of the Hero's Journey. It turns out that there are plenty of recurring myths where a version of the monomyth applies to women, with similar but distinctively different recurring stages focussing on the heroine's progress from girl to mother. Rather than fighting to defeat/overturn the parent, the heroine's struggle is to become the parent: rather than returning to the original home but as master (the male branch of the monomyth) the female version has her joining a new household as its mistress and new mother or goddess/priestess.

Yes, this is all horribly gender-stereotyped. But I'll take a stab in the dark at diagnosing its origin: the stages in the monomyth echo the mammalian K-selective reproductive cycle—on hitting puberty the young adult leaves the nest/parents, goes looking for a mate, meets and overcomes obstacles (competitors and predators), finds a mate, forms a new mated pair. In the case of humans or other primates there may also be issues about troupe/pack hierarchy to be resolved. Yes, there are problems with this: it doesn't map onto social structures once established settlements and agriculture become the norm and the young adults are expected to stay home and plough the fields. But the monomyth remains deeply appealing because the mythic framework it builds on has very deep roots that go all the way down to primate reproductive biology.

The monomyth doesn't have to be melodramatic: you can, at a pinch, apply it to that stereotypical MFA lit-fic novel of lecherous middle-aged academics without too much trouble. (The journey is one of internal psychological discovery, the threats are the protagonist's inner demons, the allies are the psychiatrist, the crisis/conflict is one of understanding ...) But as often as not, it's a structure for heroism: melodrama acts as a spice, raising the stakes and giving us a reason to pay attention to the protagonists, for their deeds are significant and implicitly may affect us (or the proxy the author has provided for our viewpoint).

So: Space Opera. Take the monomyth as a framework for how the action unfolds, and mix it up with melodrama. Then add space ships, ray guns, and wide-scale travel backdrops. Arguably the monomyth comes first, before the background: although some of the more skilled authors of the sub-genre spin their plots within the constrains of a background world, and sometimes manage to avoid the monomyth completely. (I'd go so far as to say that "Matter" by Iain M. Banks is an almost complete rejection of the form, as is "Look to Windward" ... actually, I suspect IMB had his own different idea of a story structure in mind for the Culture novels: as often as not they're epic tragedies ("Consider Phlebas") or illustrations of the limits of heroism.)

But if you're trying to spin a space opera, and you're reaching for a plot skeleton that works, the monomyth is your friend. Here's an exercise for the involved reader: take my dysfunctional Galactic U professorial marriage from the beginning of this essay and use the monomyth structure to come up with a plot, climax, and ending that delivers a satisfactory sense of closure. You might first want to consider who you are focussing on—the lecherous male prof, his spouse the academic with a dead-and-buried past (she thought) as an assassin, or the grad student with the secret mission. Then you need to consider what stage of the Hero's Journey you are joining them at—for there's no reason to assume the story starts at the beginning, rather than in media res. Next, work out what challenges and allies they might encounter on their way to the climax and resolution, and what role the other characters play in their quest. Finally: what is the prize they're seeking, how do they achieve it, and at what cost? For added points, see if you can find a way to twist the standard Hero's Journey cycle to apply a surprise climax to it—for example, by spinning this steamy menage-a-trois with added murderhate and alien space bats so that it appears at first to be one protagonist's journey but then switches track and turns out to be about one of the others (your classic example of this would be IMB's "Use of Weapons") ...


The Unicorn and the Virgin

In medieval times, it was commonly believed that there existed a fabulous beast called a Unicorn. This was a goat-like or horse-like animal with a single long horn growing out of its head. Legend had it that the easy way to capture such a a beast was to have a young virgin maiden sitting in the forest. When espied by the unicorn, the sight of the virgin would make the creature forgets its ferocity and wildness. It would lay its head in the maiden's lap and go to sleep. Then the hunters kill it.

Actually RocketCat thinks a story about a beast trotting around sporting a long erect phallic symbol while being so irresistibly attracted to virgin maidens that it simply cannot resist putting said phallic symbol into the lady's lap and then falling asleep has a pretty obvious meaning. Patriarchal, especially the falling asleep for a refractory period part. Even more so if you replace "hunters" with "angry father of the former virgin."

Anyway the main take-away of the unicorn story was that only innocent maidens need apply (using a very medieval concept of "innocence"). Non-innocent maidens have no power over a unicorn.

Enkidu and priestess Shamhat

This innocence-fixation is far older than medieval times, though. Blasted thing appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh from around 2100 BCE, arguably the earliest surviving great work of literature.

Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk and was apparently two-thirds demigod and one-third human, just ask him. He turned out to be a bit overwhelming for the citizens of Uruk, forcing them to labor at huge public-works projects, wearing them out in athletic contests, enraging new husbands by insisting upon the right of droit du seigneur with the new wives, that sort of thing.

The citizens pleaded with the goddesses and gods to send a man of equal strength to put a brake on Gilgamesh's excesses. In response the goddess Aruru created Enkidu the warrior.

As requested, Enkidu was equally as strong at Gilgamesh. However he was a "primitive man", far closer to the beasts of the forest than to civilization. He was wild, had long hippie-like hair, and lived with his animal friends. He was a vegetarian, grazing with his buddy gazelles. The animals accepted Enkidu as one of their own, because he was innocent of such nasty ideas as hunting animals for food.

In fact, Enkidu had a very dim view of other humans hunting and killing his animal pals for meat. He quickly made life miserable for a local hunter by filling up the hunter's pitfalls with dirt and breaking the hunter's traps.

The hunter asks his father for advice on how to deal with this wild-man ethical-vegan Hercules. His father has a cunning plan. The father figures that the only reason the animals are Enkidu's friends are because he is "innocent." Get rid of Enkidu's innocence and you get rid of his animals pals as well. The animals will suddenly not recognize him as one of them. Then Enkidu can be brought into Uruk and taught to eat meat like all civilized folk. This will put a stop to his sabotage of the hunter's traps.

How to get rid of Enkidu's innocence? The good ol' fashioned way. The father told his hunter-son to go to the temple and enlist the help of Shamhat, the high priestess of the sacred sexual temple rites. Lead her to the watering hole frequented by Enkidu, let her "take off her clothes and reveal her attractions" when he comes to drink. Nature will take its course.

The hunter and Shamhat go to the watering hole, and soon thirsty Enkidu shows up. The hunter begs Shamhat to "…bare your bosom, open your legs and let him take in your attractions! Spread open your garments, and let him lie upon you. Do for him as women do" (this is what a four-thousand-year-old porno-novel written in ancient Sumerian reads like).

Enkidu doesn't stand a chance.

After six days and seven nights of hot sex, Enkidu is startled when all his animal friends run away as if they don't know him any more. Shamhat smiles, then leads Enkidu back to the city to make some new friends that are human beings. There she teaches him how to become a civilized person: wearing clothes, living in buildings, eating bread, meat, and especially drinking this new stuff called "beer." And no more breaking the hunter's traps.

Oh, and Enkidu does take exception to Gilgamesh's habit of droit du seigneur and they have a prolonged fight that takes the king down a peg or two.

Alta and the Tiger

But remember, Everything Old Is New Again!

It was previously mentioned the plot of the science-fiction movie Forbidden Planet is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. But there is more.

The intrepid crew of the United Planets Cruiser C-57D arrive at Altair IV to investigate what happened to an exploration mission sent twenty years earlier. They find the entire crew had died, except for Dr. Morbius. And his nubile very-pretty nineteen-year-old daughter Alta, born on the planet. Her full name is "Altaira", which shows why one should never have an old scientist as a single parent.

There are a few Earth animals on the planet, all of whom are utterly unafraid of of Alta. Including the full grown Bengal tiger, who acts like a big kitten and never ever threatens Alta.

In a scene deleted from the movie but included in the novelization, Doc Ostrow comments about the Unicorn myth, in which a sexually innocent maiden could soothe the savage unicorn by her purity alone.

Aha. The Unicorn

But that innocence is rapidly eroded by the arrival of a ship full of handsome young men. Some movie reviewers are of the opinion that Dr. Morbius has Alta wearing short skirts so he can pretend his daughter is still only five years old. Those movie reviewers note that in Western girl-child fashions the length of the skirt increases with the age of the child.

Whatever the reason, Alta's dresses have quite the opposite effect on the saltpetre-deprived crew. Infamous Lothario Lt. Jerry Farman introduces Alta to hugging and kissing. Until Captain Adams shows up and angrily sends Farman back to the ship and reads Alta the riot act about the importance of avoiding his sexually frustrated crew.

In the end Alta and Adams fall for each other and share a passionate kiss (and only a kiss since this was a 1956 movie and "R" ratings wouldn't be invented until 1968). But the implication is that it went a little bit further than just a kiss. At any rate, the tiger suddenly doesn't recognize Alta and tries to kill her. The innocent maiden is now insufficiently innocent.

Aha. Enkidu and priestess Shamhat.

And I'll leave you with a thought that since the movie came out in 1956 the unicorn-Enkidu theme is over-due to be rebooted.

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