A Dream, or, the Unfinished Novella

For those of you who are students of abnormal psychology curious about what professional obscure midlist science fiction writers dream about:

Last night I dreamt I saw a silver ship soar down from upper space, and skim along the very upper reaches of an endless bank of fog. It was passing between the columns and towers of immense skyscrapers whose upper reaches were crowed with constellations; and I realized this was not a fogbank, but a system of storm clouds. Between the gaps in the swirled cloud, I saw, like stars, the lights and rain-washed buildings, rank upon rank descending into bottomless gloom, and I realized that the skyscrapers to either side of the moving ship were not skyscrapers, but the upper reaches of superskyscrapers. This was the planet Trantor, and a city that covered the globe from pole to pole was beneath the clouds.

I remember that the skyscrapers were ancient, weathered, cracked like yellow marble, and the monuments of winged triumph upon the cornices were green and gray with patinas of age. There was something very eerie about thousand-year-old towers half a mile high. The lights were all out: the towers of Trantor were dark and silent, because the Empire was dwindling.

On what seemed to be a balcony or upper deck of the ship (and how a starship capable of atmospheric flight has an open balcony, I leave to interpreters of dream to say) I saw a tall and thin Earthman from Africa, an old man in a wheelchair, and a rather feminine-featured round-faced man in a parka. The Earthman was Genly Ai, the man in the wheelchair was Hari Seldon, the androgyne was a man of Gethen, the planet called Winter, and the man’s name was Estraven. They were speaking on an ansible. In the Hainish novels of Ursula K. LeGuin, the ansible is described as something like a typewriter: in my dream, it was something like a mirror reflecting a web-page, and shining with different colors of blocks of text.

In the way of dreams, I knew that Hari Seldon thought that Earth was the origin of man, because he had deduced it with his calculations from the growth patterns as man spread through the arms of the galaxy; but Estraven knew that Man was born in Hain. The Hainishmen had seeded the Earth with primates not truly native to the world in order to show Earthmen as we developed that we were not the sole product of any special one creation, and this was meant to make us fit to accept the idea that other men would exist on other worlds, and tell us that the cosmos was a cosmos of continual change—worlds shared with no ape nor primates never learned to believe in evolution in any sense of the word, and were always static, rigid, and chained to tradition.

The three men were discussing whether the Imperial Ekumen should sent a First Contact officer to a newly discovered world called Sanct. This new world had been seeded in eons past by the Hainishmen, the same ancient race that genetically engineering the Gethen to switch between male and female during their oestrus cycle. In this case the Hainish had performed another experiment with the human genome, and created biological, living men, but who had to obey the Asimovian Three Laws of Robotics.

Hari Seldon was haunted, even frightened, by this knowledge, since the Sanctishmen, a race of human beings who could never harm each other, and always had to serve and follow each other, would act and react over the centuries in ways his calculations could not ever predict.  The only hope the human race had to avoid a endless Dark Ages were his calculations: in the dream they appeared above his palm-device, a holograph like a tree of twinkling dark numbers, with branches upon branches exploring every possibility of future time, and little pinpoints of silver showed the crucial points, each crises upon which history would turn.

Estraven wanted to send a Hainish ambassador to Sanct, a gene-wizard from that most ancient of worlds, someone with the knowledge of how to free them from the genetic programming that forced the Sanctishmen to be eternally obedient and unable to defend themselves. Genly Ai, whose world was a Swiss Cheese of still-radioactive craters, objected: sending a cure would be like sending a snake to the Garden of Eden, and teach them the ways of war. In the fashion of dreams, I could see behind him the skeletons of burnt cities, the skeletal figures of mutants begging, and the deathly blue glow of radiation reflecting off the undersides of clouds after sunset, above the craters were famous cities once stood: and all the forests were leafless, the trees like burnt matches, crooked and still standing.

In the dream, Genly Ai was not crying, but I knew in the way one knows in dreams that grief and anger were like a snake make of fire in his throat and belly, because he realized that the Sanctishmen, who could not disobey any orders given by any human being, would be slaves, they and their children for all time, if the world were ever visited by men. I remember how large and dark his eyes were, and how they glittered with unshed tears.

The next thing that happened was that there was a sound of trumpets from the starry skies above, and one star, brighter than the others, became a comet, and began streaming west to east, against the turning of the sky. The three men were aghast, and looked up in fear, wondering what was happening.

Another man appeared, very tall and robed with red silk, and he had plumes from a quail woven into the braids of his hair. He was a Hainishman, one of the makers of the various races of mankind throughout the stars. He said: “You fools! While you thought you were judging how the Empire should deal with the Sanct, they were judging how they should deal with you. Have you forgotten their rules? The men of that star may not through inaction allow you to come to harm. Therefore they are acting; therefore the great star comes here!”

In the dream I realized I was reading a collaboration written by Ursula K. LeGuin and Isaac Asimov, but when I turned the page to find out what happened next, I could not find my place, and then I woke.

I want you to imagine how disappointed I am to find that here in the waking world there is no collaboration written by Ursula K. LeGuin and Isaac Asimov. The novel was slender, and had an orb that looked something like the Death Star on the cover, and it was called NOT THROUGH INACTION, and it does not exist.

I am not in a position to write an ending to this tale, since I do not own the background or a characters, so we will never discover what happened.

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