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Giordano Bruno Died for Your Sins

So, I've made it almost all the way through the first twenty-four hours of December without cramming an animatronic reindeer fashioned from plastic holly and strings of electric lights up anyone's ass, and I think I deserve a medal for that. I've been trying not to get snarky about Xmas, at least not until Xmas actually gets here, but people have been shoving it at me since a few days before Halloween. I can't hold out for frelling ever.

There's not much to say about today, I was too exhausted last night to get to "Tears Seven Times Salt," so we did that this morning. I wrote that story all the way back in 1995, and this morning was the first time I'd read it in many years. It used to be my favourite of all my stories (now, I think my favourite is probably "La Peau Verte"). Anyway, I sat there, reading this story aloud to Spooky, reading me as I wrote nine long years ago, and I was amazed at how much my style, my voice, my technique has evolved. A lot. I still like that earlier voice, but it is very distinct from what I'm doing now, I think. I'm very pleased that this particular story was chosen for Cemetery Dance's The Century's Best Horror, to represent 1996. Also, reading it today, I realised that Esme Chattox, the Fish Auger in Murder of Angels, is somehow actually Jenny Haniver, which was cool.

Mostly, though, I've been quietly seething about the fate of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-Century philosopher who was burned at the stake for proposing that the universe was filled with life, that, indeed, most or all of the stars in the night sky harboured planets populated by living things. In short, that man and Earth and our little yellow star are really nothing terribly special, just one more grain of sand in a sparkling cosmic sea. Mostly, that's what I've been thinking about. Giordano Bruno burning alive for heresy. And, last night, I scribbled in the day planner that I keep on my desk, "You are not special..."

Sometimes, it seems to me that so many of the ills of humanity could be dispensed with if only, finally, it could be pounded through the collective thick, myopic skull of Homo sapiens that it's just another species, one out of the many tens of billions that have evolved here on Earth in the last three point whatever billion years. Just one. Sure, you've done some neat shit, but so have whales and beavers and fire ants. We learned to walk, and talk, and turn redwoods into toothpicks, and kill each other by splitting atoms, and one day, one day soon by geological standards, we shall become extinct, which is what happens to all species. No god will intercede on our behalf. The average life span of a species on Earth is somewhere between one and five million years, whether we're talking trilobites, dinosaurs, or homonids (and I'd think that having recently developed the ability to wipe out most of our species in a single day means we're nearing the latter days of our run). A million years from now, which is a very short span in the life of a planet, there will likely be only a few, scant fossilized remains of humanity.

One species, one planet, on a limited, one-time-only engagement, and in our galaxy alone there are something like four-hundred billion other suns, most of which have planets of their own, and, as Giordano Bruno pointed out, quite a few of those almost certainly must sport biospheres. Life is not some freak occurance, but simply an inevitable chemical reaction, given the right conditions and enough time. In our galaxy alone, billions of civilizations have risen and crumbled and left behind no trace. Consider, then, that the universe may contain as many as 50,000 billion billion stars, and here's humanity, arrogantly struggling to keep itself at the dead center of things, killing people to salvage tattered illusions of specialness, of immortality, of god-ordained superiority. Here you are, killing each other just for colouring outside the narrow lines drawn by frightened, cowering men, men whose bodies evolution might have been brought down from the boughs of dark Paleocene forests, but whose minds are still huddled in terror of anything larger and grander than themselves. Here you are, in an almost unfathomably vast and indifferent universe. Here you are alone, a flicker in the night, and the most you can do, the least you can do, the one triumph against the void is to live with compassion and dignity and courage and some attempt at understanding.

The rest is shit. All your wars and hatreds, all your prejudices and conceits and horrors. All the beliefs for which you are willing to murder or die. All of it, a whisper in the night.

I don't like myself when I get like this.

But I can't stop thinking about all the Giordano Brunos who have died and are dying and will yet die for the preservation of one ignorance or another, all the Giordano Brunos on this planet and all those billions of billions of other planets.

Okay. That's enough. I'm shutting this brain off for a while...

Comments

oneirophrenia
Dec. 2nd, 2004 06:32 am (UTC)
I *just* started reading Justina Robson's new novel, _Natural History_ today, and surprisingly enough it fits *right* in with some of the points you were making concerning ignorance and its perpetuation. The premise of the novel is very intriguing, especially to a vicious transhumanist such as myself: in about a thousand years, humanity has split into two basic factions, the Unevolved (oldskool stick-up-their-ass moron "humans") and the Forged (highly--and I do mean HIGHLY--bioengineered/nanoengineered semi-artificial intelligences)...which uneasily coexist and are just beginning to venture out into the Cosmos At Large. Well, one of the first interstellar explorers (a Forged being) runs head-on into an old--and incredibly advanced--piece of alien hardware on the way to Barnard's Star...and that sets the tone for the novel, in which ALL humans, both the useless Unevolved *and* the insanely-progressive Forged have to confront the fact that We Are Not The First. And The First may not only be still around, but may be Watching Us....

It's pretty damn fascinating, and amazingly well-written...but you almost need a degree in theoretical physics to wrap your brain around some of the concepts. Nonetheless, the characters are all incredibly well-drawn and everyone of them, no matter how smug they are in their knowledge that the universe spins around them, has to confront the reality that, once again, humans are Nothing Special. Amazing, and sobering, reading.