Curiosity the Space Rover

Curiosity, the Mars rover, had been transmitting images and data steadily now for several months. The analysts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena had started to dive in to the treasure trove, excited by all the new things they were learning from it.

To some (not the scientists), it had been somewhat disappointing that at first when the rover had started to transmit imagery from its landing zone in the Gale Crater, Mission Control had received the very same bleak images of a red desert world the humankind had become familiar with ever since the Viking missions.

Where the Viking landers had been stationary, the mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity – that had come before had been able to move around. The most optimistic commentators had even argued that if you shot a probe to Earth and landed it smack in the middle of Sahara or the Gobi desert, you’d see almost exactly what the Vikings had seen. To shoot a roving probe to the Red Planet might finally help us to have a good look around. Maybe there was something more where the desert ended?

Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity had uncovered just more of the red. Curiosity, however, was a great deal more powerful than its predecessors. So far, though, no little green men, no Marsoom Warrior Princesses, not even any sight of microbial life. But the mission had only just started.

A few months into the mission, it was clear that there were no quick winnings in sight. Curiosity had been roving around but most of the imagery and data just kept on adding to the bleak image of the red desert.

Of course, there were some at least anecdotally interesting pieces the rover had found, especially for what Jeff called “the UFO loons.” Such as the Pyramid. Jeff’s team was pretty sure it was just a natural rock formation. They knew nature could erode rocks into the most extraordinary shapes, such as the hexagonal rocks at the Giant’s Footsteps in Ireland. So one pyramid-shaped rock wasn’t that big of a deal.

But of course as the image had been published – something some NASA comms managers deeply regretted afterwards – the UFO loons had gone all kinds of crazy in rejoicing that the ancient aliens the Egyptians and the Aztecs had worshipped had made it to Mars first. (Or maybe it was the lizard people or the little gray men.) No amount of common sense, such as the fact that the damn thing was only about a foot tall, would of course throw the dedicated crazies off their crusade.

But internally too, there was some debate as to the nature of the Pyramid. After all, it was a little too perfectly shaped to be accidental, even if accident and natural erosion could essentially explain it adequately. To put a stop to the speculations for once and for all, Mission Control decided finally to send the rover back to it to investigate.

What better way is there to resolve a mystery than to throw some good science at it?

Sie the Mystery Girl

“Hey Brenton,” Sie shouted as she walked into the hangar. Brenton was standing on a scaffolding and using a complex looking tool to fix something inside a small compartment he’d opened on the outer hull of his skeetship. The ship was a dirty, brownish gold disc that could fit maybe four, five people. In front, it had a shielded screen through which Sie could barely make out a very small cockpit for two pilots.
Brenton turned around, his face and hands sooty from all the tinkering, his black and greasy hair grown a little too long.
“Sie. Long time no see.”
“Long time indeed. What you up to, old dog?”
“Fixing the boat. I got into a nasty fieldstorm flying in. It fried a lot of comms circuits. Mostly fixed now, but I still get some damn static on long distance comms. I think this relay here is the one that’s bust.”
“That boat still fly?”
“What do you think? This beauty will stay in the air or the space or the phase space for at least another two thousand years.”
Sie whistled.
“Two thousand? Well it’s been around.”
“Yeah. Done my fair share of subluminal legs with it too back in the day. You know how it is with phase jumping without starjocks.”
“Yep. But your math’s still good?”
“As good as the next guy’s. You want to go somewhere long-distance, I can crack the figures a-ok. May just take a while. Sometimes a longer while.”
“Good. Good. Look, Brenton, it ain’t a courtesy call.”
“Didn’t think so. When would my sorry old ass be interesting enough for the wonderful Sie to just come say hi to?”
“Seriously. I need a favor.”
“Ok. Not big on favors, but shoot.”
“I need to get to Pan Caravel.”
“Pan Cara-what?” Brenton said and broke down laughing. “Pan Caravel? You lost your marbles?”
“No. I need to get there.”
“Pan Caravel? A junction city? You want some fairy dust and a pair of fire breathing dragons with that while you’re at it?”
“Brenton, I’m serious. I need to get to Pan Caravel. Discreetly.”
“Come on, Sie. It’s fiction. Pan Caravel is a fairy tale some dewy eyed optimists tell their kids to put them to sleep when the neighbours dog’s gone through a nanite meltdown. Through all the millennia of navigating the phase space, nobody’s come out anywhere else but this side of things. Everybody phases back. You know it.”
“It’s not fiction,” Sie said. “I know where it is.”
“Really? Oh really?” Brenton said and walked down the ladder from the scaffolding. “Look, Sie, if it was anybody else but you, I’d just laugh it off. But seriously, you think you know where Pan Caravel is? You think it’s real?”
“I think so, yeah,” Sie said.
“Well wouldn’t that be something,” Brenton said then. “Ok. Show me.”
Brenton accessed his ship on his AR layer and a small doorway opened on the side, extending a brownish gold ladder that whirred until it touched the floor. “Come on,” Brenton said, wiping hid hands on a grey towel. He climbed the ladder into the skeetship. Sie followed.

Pan Caravel the No-Place

Pan Caravel was located in the outermost corner of the Laniakea cluster, on an intergalactic backwater piece of rock. If a starjock happened to chance by the exact coordinates, she would simply see a bunch of rocks. But if you knew where to look, Pan Caravel was one of the most powerful places in the universe, smack in the middle of cosmic faultlines that could allegedly lead to an adjacent bubble universe.

For most people of Intergalactica, the asteroid city was a legend. And why wouldn’t it be? While phase jumping was pretty much everyday in Intergalactica, junctions – connections between bubble universes in the cosmic multiversal froth – were thought of as purely fictitious. Everybody phases back. All higher dimensions connected eventually back to the three macroscopic dimensions of the known universe.

Brenton landed the skeetship. He stayed behind while Sie got out to get the lay of the land. She’d sent the message to the people The Librarian had introduced to her to meet her. They’d just told her to find the local bar. Given how small the little habitat was, she suspected that wouldn’t be much of a problem. The whole thing could have only a handful of inhabitants, a few thousand at most.

Sie stopped a heavily augmented person to ask the way. He or she, as it was hard to tell which, raised their drawn bioluminsescent pink eyebrows and pointed the way. Sie nodded a curt thanks and followed the directions. She came by a dirty saloon not unlike those on the lower levels of the Souk she’d seen pirates and smugglers frequent when they were off duty. She’d been to the Souk only once, but somehow this place reminded her of it. It smelled the same.

Lyra the Cosmic Space Pirate Queen

The silver pirate flagship rushed through space to intercept the hapless prey that had sailed through the stars for ten thousand years. A cloud of ice blew away, like ocean foam, in front of the massive pirate spaceship as it cut through spacetime.

The pirate flagship’s silver hull rippled and foamed and coursed like a living thing or perhaps like a living ocean made of quicksilver, constantly adjusting to the variables in local spacetime geometry, blocking off debris and other collision threats, quickly heating back to the ambient outer space temperature of 2.7K after being cooled down to almost absolute zero to perform the phase space jumps that had got it here.

The prey was an ancient ramjet launched from a Lost World ten thousand years ago. It was massive, spanning two miles from bow to aft. Yet the pirate flagship Night Wing dwarfed it, making the ramjet look tiny compared to the flagship’s majestic thirty miles of quicksilver hull.

On the command deck of Night Wing stood its captain, the commander in chief of a vast pirate crew, one of the most feared pirates in the galaxies, the terror of known space and beyond. The pirate captain stood on the bridge, legs wide, arms folded, watching at the massive display screen as the little ship, marked by a red dotted circle on her Augmented Reality layer, grew larger on the display as the flagship approached it.

She wore a crimson knee length flowing jacket that moved in the still air of the command deck like it was blowing in the wind. Attached to her shoulders was a long, smooth, gold-embroidered red cape that also flowed, probably powered by some microscopic robots, if not even nanites. Her large eyes glittered in otherworldly hues of gold and the deepest of blue due to the visual augmentations she had had installed over the millennia.

In her eyes there was a twinkle of pure joy. The joy of expectation, of the hunt. A wide grin grew on her face as the pirates approached their hapless prey, now almost within boarding distance.

By now the target ship was aware of the presence of the hulking pirate vessel, the ancient ramjet’s crew engaged in speculation of whether the newcomer was friend or foe. In forty five minutes all speculation would have come to a conclusion. In three hours, the last remnants of an entire civilization that had lasted for more than ten thousand years would be eradicated.

For now, however, the pirates had work to do.

“Good job, boys,” Lyra, the Cosmic Space Pirate Queen, said to her crew, smiling widely. “Let’s go get ’em.”

The Stars and Beyond: New Album About Space Pirates, Starfights and Parallel Universes Out Now

Oh boy, this is pretty exciting.

The new Songsworth album, The Stars and Beyond, was published last Friday. It’s now available on Spotify and iTunes and will soon be available on various other webstores and streaming services.

I’ve worked on the album for the last two years, on and off, and it’s taken quite a lot of thought to shape it up into its final form. This is the first Songsworth album out since 2013.

Music and stories work well together. Previous Songsworth albums have linked with science fiction stories – books, movies, TV shows – that I’ve found inspiring through the years.

This one, though is based on something else.

I’ve always dreamed about writing a novel one day – who wouldn’t? In 2017 as I travelled a lot around the world for work, I lugged this delightful device called Freewrite around with me. I’d take it out when sitting down on an airplane and write stories whenever the plane got off the ground.

I ended up with manuscript drafts for two novels. One of them is a kind of a quantum physics mystery. The other is the story about this post-human space pirate queen called Lyra, who terrorizes this Asimov’s Foundation -style galactic society through millennia, kept alive by a sort of nanotech, until she starts finding hints about her past that will change everything she thinks about herself. And then just as she’s about to realize something kind of weird, she gets thrown into a parallel universe through this weird “junction city” called Pan Caravel.

The story, called The Stars and Beyond, runs some 350 pages. It has a beginning, a middle and an end – but it’s not finished yet. The reason being that while I did work ten years as a professional musician and have published seven non-fiction books, I don’t yet have the skills to finalize a work of fiction. Both of the manuscripts I mentioned still need more editing and a deeper understanding of literary nuances I don’t yet possess. As time goes by, I’m working on developing the competences that I’d need to actually publish some of this stuff. Who knows, maybe one day.

Writing these stories feels like peeking through a portal to another universe. And while the text is not yet good enough, it worked as a source of inspiration for this music. On this album, every song somehow links to one of the novel’s characters, except the one about Pan Caravel, which is a place and Curiosity, which is the cutest little space rover if there ever was one.

The music is now out there. I’d really appreciate if you gave it a spin.

It’s instrumental 1980’s inspired synthesizer pop, so maybe not for everybody. But if you like artists like Jean-Michel Jarre or Vangelis, or listening to movie soundtracks, you might enjoy these tracks too.

I certainly had the time of my life writing them.

You can listen to the album here:

 

New Album on the Way: The Stars and Beyond

Album cover art by the wonderful Paavo Järvilehto

I have been working on new Songsworth tracks since 2017. The tracks are now finished and mastered, and the new album is on the way, due to be released later in 2019 on major streaming services.

I’m really excited to have completed this music – it’s the first Songsworth album in six years. It has taken a lot of new design challenges, handcrafting new types of sounds (especially going back to my FM roots with some really fun stuff using Native Instruments’ FM8 and playing with some stuff I made on my Yamaha SY99 all the way back in the 1990s) and learning new ways of working, most interestingly drafting tracks using NI’s Maschine Mk3, which has quickly grown to be a big part of my workflow.

Also I’ve been really excited about working in a strange kind of a crossroads in music technology. On one hand, I recreated much of what I used to run as a hardware studio in early 2000s through using services like Roland Cloud and their amazing System 8 workstation which makes analog sound design feel like a dream, as well as Arturia’s wonderful V-Collection. On the other hand, starting to work with 21st century digital-first staples, like the wonderful Fabfilter plugins, it has finally started to dawn on me how to mix with a mouse. Feels a lot like the future now.

One more thing is, there is a tremendous amount of backstory that goes into these tracks. I don’t think I’ve ever written music that has this much of (hidden) context to it, I hope some of it shines through on the recordings themselves too.

Here’s the first soundbite from the album, called Jeff the Star Traveler.

 

The Farcaster Network is Failing

The reason we could not find the AI’s was that the AI’s were not somewhere. They were everywhere.

Like River Tethys, the Grand Concourse flowed between military sized farcaster portals two hundred meters high. With wraparound, the effect was of an infinite main street, a hundred-kilometer torus of material delights. One could stand, as I did that morning, under the brilliant sun of Tau Ceti and look down the Concourse to the nighttime midway of Deneb Drei, alive with neon and holos, and catch a glimpse of the hundred-tiered Main Mall of Lusus, while knowing that beyond it lay the shadow-dappled boutiques of God’s Grove with its brick concourse and elevators to Treetops, the most expensive eatery in the Web. (Dan Simmons 1990.)

Songsworth: Tau Ceti Center