Prior to the end of World War 2 science fiction was mostly pulp, mostly about manly two-fisted men with a quick hand on the ray gun, and had absolutely nothing to do with any girly things like art.

After World War 2 science fiction authors figured that nobody was going to tell them what they could write. Artwork, the struggle of the artist, the creative impulse: all of it was grist for the author's mill. For starters, the impact of new technology on art was a fresh field for science fiction authors to explore. There was the untapped theme of encountering historical artist via time travel. Not to mention the reactions of aliens to human art, and vice versa.

And science fiction authors had lots of fun inventing new art forms. Recording dreams, creating new animals by genetic engineering, even instruments that allow performance artists to "play" images instead of music.


New Athens was not a natural and spontaneous growth like the city whose name it bore. Everything about the colony was deliberately planned, as the result of many years of study by a group of very remarkable men. It had begun as an open conspiracy against the Overlords, an implicit challenge to their policy if not to their power. At first the colony's sponsors had been more than half certain that Karellen would neatly frustrate them, but the Supervisor had done nothing—absolutely nothing. This was not quite as reassuring as might have been expected. Karellen had plenty of time; he might be preparing a delayed counterstroke. Or he might be so certain of the project's failure that he felt no need to take any action against it.

That the colony would fail had been the prediction of most people. Yet even in the past, long before any real knowledge of social dynamics had existed, there had been many communities devoted to special religious or philosophical ends. It was true that their mortality rate had been high, but some had survived. And the foundations of New Athens were as secure as modern science could make them.

There were many reasons for choosing an island site. Not the least important were psychological. In an age of universal air transport, the ocean meant nothing as a physical barrier, but it still gave a sense of isolation. Moreover, a limited land area made it impossible for too many people to live in the colony. The maximum population was fixed at a hundred thousand; more than that, and the advantages inherent in a small, compact community would be lost. One of the aims of the founders was that any member of New Athens should know all the other citizens who shared his interests—and as many as one or two per cent of the remainder as well.

The decline had barely started, yet the first symptoms of decay were not hard to discover. Salomon was no artist, but he had an acute appreciation of art and knew that his age could not match the achievements of previous centuries in any single field. Perhaps matters would right themselves in due course, when the shock of encountering the Overlord civilization had worn off. But it might not, and a prudent man would consider taking out an insurance policy.

New Athens was that policy. Its establishment had taken twenty years and some billions of Pounds Decimal—a relatively trivial fraction, therefore, of the world's total wealth. Nothing had happened for the first fifteen years; everything had happened in the last five.

Salomon's task would have been impossible had he not been able to convince a handful of the world's most famous artists that his plan was sound. They had sympathized because it appealed to their egos, not because it was important for the race. But, once convinced, the world had listened to them and given both moral and material support. Behind this spectacular façade of temperamental talent the real architects of the colony had laid their plans.

Even so, the founders of New Athens could only provide the soil and the climate in which the plant they wished to cherish might—or might not—come to flower. As Salomon himself had remarked; "We can be sure of talent; we can only pray for genius." But it was a reasonable hope that in such a concentrated solution some interesting reactions would take place. Few artists thrive in solitude, and nothing is more stimulating than the conflict of minds with similar interests.

So far, the conflict had produced worthwhile results in sculpture, music, literary criticism and film-making. It was still too early to see if the group working on historical research would fulfill the hopes of its instigators, who were frankly aiming at restoring mankind's pride in its own achievements. Painting still languished, which supported the view of those who considered that static, two-dimensional forms of art had no further possibilities.

It was noticeable—though a satisfactory explanation for this had not yet been produced—that time played an essential part in the colony's most successful artistic achievements. Even its sculpture was seldom immobile. Andrew Carson's intriguing volumes and curves changed slowly as one watched, according to complex patterns that the mind could appreciate, even if it could not fully comprehend them. Indeed, Carson claimed, with some truth, to have taken the "mobiles" of a century before to their ultimate conclusion, and thus to have wedded sculpture and ballet.

Much of the colony's musical experimenting was, quite consciously, concerned with what might be called "time span". What was the briefest note that the mind could grasp—or the longest that it could tolerate without boredom? Could the result be varied by conditioning or by the use of appropriate orchestration? Such problems were discussed endlessly, and the arguments were not purely academic. They had resulted in some extremely interesting compositions.

But it was in the art of the cartoon film, with its limitless possibilities, that New Athens had made its most successful experiments. The hundred years since the time of Disney had still left much undone in this most flexible of all mediums. On the purely realistic side, results could be produced indistinguishable from actual photography—much to the contempt of those who were developing the cartoon along abstract lines.

The group of artists and scientists that had so far done least was the one that had attracted the greatest interest—and the greatest alarm. This was the team working on "total identification". The history of the cinema gave the clue to their actions. First, sound, then colour, then stereoscopy, then Cinerama, had made the old "moving pictures" more and more like reality itself. Where was the end of the story? Surely, the final stage would be reached when the audience forgot it was an audience, and became part of the action. To achieve this would involve stimulation of all the senses, and perhaps hypnosis as well, but many believed it to be practical. When goal was attained, there would be an enormous enrichment of human experience. A man could become—for a while, at least—any other person, and could take part in any conceivable adventure, real or imaginary. He could even be plant or animal, if it proved possible to capture and record the sense impressions of other living creatures. And when the "programme" was over, he would have acquired a memory as vivid as any experience in his actual life—indeed, indistinguishable from reality itself.

The prospect was dazzling. Many also found it terrifying, and hoped that the enterprise would fail. But they knew in their hearts that once science had declared a thing possible, there was no escape from its eventual realization…

This, then, was New Athens and some of its dreams. It hoped to become what the old Athens might have been had it possessed machines instead of slaves, science instead of superstition. But it was much too early yet to tell if the experiment would succeed.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

Conventional Art


(ed note: Berserkers are robotic self-replicating machines that strive to destroy all life.)

      This ship had been only a few hours out from Earth on C-plus drive when the berserker machine had run it down and captured it; and Piers Herron, the only passenger, had not yet had time to learn his way around.
     It was more than a galley, he saw when he reached it—it was meant to be a place where arty colonial ladies could sit and twitter over tea when they grew weary of staring at pictures. The Franz Hals had been built as a traveling museum; then the war of life against berserker machine had grown hot around Sol, and BuCulture had ineptly decided that Earth's art treasures would be safer if shipped away to Tau Epsilon. The Franz was ideally suited for such a mission, and for almost nothing else.

     When the berserker's prize crew had forced their way in through an airlock, Herron had been setting up his easel in what was to have been The shock of events and the promise of imminent death had stirred up some kind of life in Piers Herron.
     He looked with interest at the alien captor, the inhuman cold of deep space frosting over its metal here in the warm cabin. Then he turned away from it and began to paint the berserker, trying to catch not the outward shape he had never seen, but what he felt of its inwardness. He felt the emotionless deadlines of its watching lenses boring into his back. The sensation was faintly pleasurable, like cold spring sunshine.

     Looking further forward from the entrance to the galley, Herron could see that the door to the crew compartment had been battered down, but he did not go to look inside. Not that it would bother him to look, he told himself; he was as indifferent to horror as he was to almost all other human things. The Franz's crew of two were in there, or what was left of them after they had tried to fight off the berserker's boarding machines. Doubtless they had preferred death to capture.

     "What is good?" the machine asked Herron, standing over bim in the galley white he tried to eat.
     He snorted. "You tell me."
     It took him literally. "To serve the cause of what men call death is good. To destroy life is good."
     Herron pushed his nearly full plate into a disposal slot and stood up. "You're almost right—but even if you were entirely right, why so enthusiastic? What is there praise-worthy about death?" Now his thoughts surprised him as his lack of appetite had.
     "I am entirely right," said the machine.
     For long seconds Herron stood still, as if thinking, though his mind was almost entirely blank. "No," he said finally, and waited for a bolt to strike him.
     "In what do you think am wrong?" it asked.

     "I'll show you." He led it out of the galley, his hands sweating and his mouth dry. Why wouldn't the damned thing kill him and have done?
     The paintings were racked row on row and tier on tier; there was no room in the ship for more than a few to be displayed in a conventional way. Herron found the drawer he wanted and pulled it open so the portrait inside swung into full view, lights springing on around it to bring out the rich colors beneath the twentieth century statglass coating.
     "This is where you're wrong," Herron said.
     The man-shaped thing's scanner studied the portrait for perhaps fifteen seconds. "Explain what you are showing me," it said.
     "I bow to you!" Herron did so. "You admit ignorance! You even ask an intelligible question, if one that is somewhat too broad. Explain, you say. First, tell me what you see here."
     "I see the image of a life-unit, its third spatial dimension of negligible size as compared to the other two. The image is sealed inside a protective jacket transparent to the wavelengths used by the human eye. The life-unit imaged is, or was, an adult male apparently in good functional condition, garmented in a manner I have not seen before. What I take to be one garment is held before him—"
     "You see a man with a glove," Herron cut in, wearying of his bitter game. "That is the title, Man With A Glove. Now what do you say it means?"
     There was a pause of twenty seconds. "Is it an attempt to praise life, to say that life is good?"
     Looking now at Titian's eight hundred year old more-than-masterpiece, Herron for the moment hardly heard what the machine was saying; he was thinking helplessly and hopelessly of his own most recent work.

     "Now you will tell me what it means," said the machine without emphasis.
     Herron walked away without answering, leaving the drawer open. The berserker's mouthpiece walked at his side. "Tell me what it means or you will be punished."
     "If you can pause to think, so can I." But Herron's stomach had knotted up at the threat of punishment, seeming to feel that pain mattered eyen more than death. Herron had great contempt for his stomach.

     His feet took him back to his easel. Looking at the discordant and brutal line that a few minutes ago had pleased him, he now found it as disgusting as everything else he ltad tried to do in the past year.
     The berserker asked: "What have you made here?"
     Herron picked up a brush he had forgotten to clean, and wiped at it irritably.
     "It is my attempt to get at your essence; to capture you with paint and canvas as you have seen those humans captured." He waved at the storage racks. "My attempt has failed, as most do."
     There was another pause, which Herron did not try to time.
     "An attempt to praise me?"
     Herron broke the spoiled brush and threw it down. "Call it what you like."
     This time the pause was short, and at its end the machine did not speak. but turned away and walked in the direction of the airlock. Some of its fellows clanked past to join it. From the direction of the airlock there began to come sounds like those of heavy metal being worked and hammered. The interrogation seemed to be over for the time being.

     He hadn't time to do much before the man-shaped machine came walking back to him; the uproar of metalworking had ceased. Wiping his brush carefully, Herron put it down, and nodded at his berserker-portrait. "When you destroy all the rest, save this painting. Carry it back to those who built you, they deserve it."
     The machine-voice squeaked back at him: "Why do you think I will destroy paintings? Even if they are attempts to praise life, they are dead things in themselves, and so in themselves they are good."
     Herron was suddenly too frightened and weary to speak. Looking dully into the machine's lenses, he saw there tiny flickerings, keeping time with his own pulse and breathing, like the indications of a lie-detector.
     "Your mind is divided," said the machine. "But with its much greater part you have praised me. I have repaired your ship, and set its course. I now release you, so other life-units can learn from you to praise what is good."
     Herron could only stand there staring straight ahead of him, while a trampling of metal feet went past, and there was a final scraping on the hull.

     After some time he realized he was alive and free.
     At first he shrank from the dead men, but after once touching them he soon got them into a freezer.

     There he had to stop, facing the direction in which he supposed the berserker now was.
     "Damn you, I can change!" he shouted at the stern bulkhead. His voice broke. "I can paint again. I'll show you … I can change. I am alive."

From PATRON OF THE ARTS by Fred Saberhagen (1965)

Jamieson was a very different character, and presumably it was the contrast in their personalities which drew these two men together. He was older than Wheeler by a couple of years. and was regarded as a sobering influence on his younger companion. Sadler doubted this; as far as he could judge, Jamieson's presence had never made any difference in his friend's behavior He had mentioned this to Wagnall, who had thought for a while and said, "Yes, but think how much worse Con would be if Sid wasn't there to keep an eye on him."

Certainly Jamieson was far more stable and much harder to get to know. He was not as brilliant as Wheeler and wouh probably never make any shattering discoveries, but he would be one of those reliable, sound men who do the essential tidying up after the geniuses have broken through into new territory.

Scientifically reliable—yes. Politically reliable—that was another matter. Sadler had tried to sound him, without making it too obvious, but so far with little success. Jamieson seemed more interested in his work and his hobby—the painting of lunar landscapes—than in politics. During his term at the observatory he had built up a small art gallery, and whenever had the chance he would go out in a spacesuit carrying easel and special paints made from low-vapor-pressure oils (so that the oil does not boil away in the lunar vacuum). It had taken him a good deal of experimenting to find pigments that could be used in a vacuum, and Sadler frankly doubted that the results were worth the trouble. He thought he knew enough about art to decide that Jamieson had more enthusiasm than talent, and Wheeler shared this point of view. "They say that Sid's pictures grow on you after a while," he had confided to Sadler. "Personally, I can think of no more horrible fate."

From EARTHLIGHT by Arthur C. Clarke (1955)

      Three of the walls were ordinary enough. DuQuesne scarcely glanced at them because of the fourth, which was a single canvas eight feet high and over thirty feet long. One painting. What a painting! A painting of life itself; a painting that seemed actually to writhe and to crawl and to vibrate with the very essence of life itself!

     One-celled life, striving fiercely upward in the primordial sea toward the light. Fiercely striving young fishes, walking determinedly ashore on their fins. Young about-to-become-mammals suceeding in their various climbings of evolution's tremendous ladder. Striving young mammals developing tails and climbing up into trees — losing tails, with the development of true thumbs, and coming down to earth again out of the trees — the ever-enlarging brain resulting in the appearance of true man. And finally, the development and the progress and the history of man himself.
     And every being, from unicell to man, was striving with all its might upward; toward THE LIGHT. Upward! Upward!! UPWARD!!!
     At almost the end of that heart-stopping painting there was a portrait of Sennlloy herself in the arms of a man; a yellow-haired, smooth-shaven Hercules so fantastically well-drawn, so incredibly alive-seeming, that DuQuesne stared in awe.
     Beyond those two climactic figures the painting became a pure abstract of form and of line and color; an abstract, however, that was crammed full of invisible but very apparent question marks. It asked — more, it demanded and it yelled — "What is coming next?"

     DuQuesne, who had been holding his breath, let it out and breathed deeply. "And you painted that yourself," he marveled. "Milady Sennlloy, if you never do anything else as long as you live, you will have achieved immortality."

From SKYLARK DUQUESNE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1966)

"Yes," Harkaman pounced on that last. "I know of at least forty instances, on a dozen and a half planets, in the last eight centuries, of anti-technological movements. They had them on Terra, back as far as the Second Century Pre-Atomic. And after Venus seceded from the First Federation, before the Second Federation was organized."

"You're interested in history?" Rathmore asked.

"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My guns-and-missiles officer, Van Larch, is a painter. Most of his work was lost with the Corisande on Durendal, but he kept us from starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets has happened on Terra before the first spaceship."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1963)

Futuristic Art


      “Pedro’s had a difficult time this past year,” Georg said; half-confiding, half in an attempt to forestall the wrath of the little stranger who made him very uncomfortable to watch. “His wife died. She was an artist in psychic ambiances, a very fine one, known all across the galaxy.”
     “Really?” said Niko Daun. “I’ve worked in PAs myself. Who was she? The wife.”
     His tone wasn’t precisely dismissive, but there was a challenge in it. Daun didn’t regard himself as a top PA artist, but he didn’t expect to find a better one on this wretched planet.
     Hathaway drew drinks. Larrinaga looked up and said, “My wife was Suzette. That was her working name. She was a saint. And there’ll never be an artist like her. Never in all time!”
     “Suzette was from here?” Daun blurted. “Blood and martyrs!”
     Margulies raised an eyebrow in the direction of the sensor tech.
     Daun turned his palms up. “She’s—” he said. “Well there’s taste. But the best PA artist in the galaxy, yeah, you can make a case for it. I’m amazed…Well, I didn’t think she’d have come from a place so …” (they are currently on the planet Cantilucca, which is mostly a slum full of thugs)
     He looked at Larrinaga, who was staring morosely into his beer mug. “Suzette’s work is so tranquil, you see,” Daun said. “It’s not what I’d expect coming from Cantilucca. From Potosi, anyhow.”

     “Pedro?” Hathaway said. “Can I show them the draft? It’s not the same, but they’ll get the idea.”
     “Do what you please,” Larrinaga called as he left the alcove.
     “He leaves it here,” the innkeeper explained as he opened a cabinet beneath the serving counter. “He doesn’t have a place of his own anymore.”
     The innkeeper was setting up a table-model hologram projector. Niko moved to help him. The unit had a lot of flash and glitter, but it looked clumsy compared to the trim projectors in use on Nieuw Friesland.
     “Pedro had been taking a lot of gage (an amphetamine-like drug), mostly gage, because he’d loved Suzette so much. He wouldn’t have sold at all if he hadn’t been, well, if he’d been in better condition. Because Suzette’s greatest masterpiece is a part of the home where they’d lived, you see.”
     “And then he lost the money,” Evie added harshly. “He was drugged silly, and he gambled, and he lost every peso of the price.”
     “The price had been a good one, though,” her husband said quickly. “Master Suterbilt didn’t cheat him, not really, since the art can’t be moved and its value’s only what it’s worth on Cantilucca.”
     “Suterbilt didn’t cheat him in the notary’s office, you mean,” Evie said. “He left that job for his friends at the roulette table.”
     Her fingers clicked the (knitting) needles with mechanical precision. Moden thought of the old women watching the guillotine; and realized for the first time how much, and how rightly, they had hated the aristocrats being beheaded.
     “Why can’t the PA be moved?” Daun asked in surprise.
     “What?” said Georg. “Because it’s built into the fabric of the room, sir. You’d destroy the whole thing to try to move it.
     The technician frowned. He didn’t argue, but it was obvious that he couldn’t understand the problem.

     “There,” said Hathaway. “Watch this. It’s the holographic draft Suzette did before she created the ambiance itself.”
     He dimmed the alcove lights. The policemen were watching from their table. Larrinaga reappeared from the rest room. He stood in the archway instead of reentering the saloon.
     A psychic ambiance was just that, a recorded vision—a waking dream—capable of being transferred to recipients in the focal area. It couldn’t be copied, because it depended on inputs too subtle to survive the duplication process. (which sounds suspiciously like the author waving his hands: if it can be created, it can be recorded) Though the PA was immaterial, the artist normally started with a visual or auditory sketch, just as medieval fresco artists drew cartoons on the wall before applying a coat of fresh plaster on which to fix the paint.
     Suzette worked visually. The holographic sketch was of a verdant paradise, a mythic place in which fountains played and the geologic features seemed themselves alive though immobile.
     No animals could be glimpsed, though the movement of plants hinted their presence. Above all, the shifting holographic image was suffused by light and a warmth for which the objects described could not themselves account.
     The sketch began to repeat itself. The second time through, individual facets merged into a whole greater and quite different from its parts.
     Daun frowned. He could almost grasp the unity to which the intersections of light beams were building in this holographic shorthand.

     “Well, yes, but …” Suterbilt said. “Ah—the ambiance is at the end of the hall. It was the master bedroom.”
     “I assumed that,” Vierziger sneered. “I’m glad you had sense enough to lock your guard slugs away from it. Otherwise there wouldn’t be anything left for Astra to threaten, would there?”
     Niko sniffed. “Not much of a lock,” he said. It was an add-on, cemented to the panel and jamb. “I guess it’s good enough, though.”
     The guards were restive and concerned. One of them had drunk enough to be obviously angry, but a pair of his fellows gripped his wrists. The group was armed with the assortment of shoulder weapons, pistols, and knives that had been typical street wear for the gangsters before Madame Yarnell arrived.
     “I’ll open it for you,” Suterbilt said, stepping forward with an electronic key. Vierziger’s sneering superiority had reduced the factor to nervous acquiescence with every demand, spoken or not.

     The room illuminated itself softly when the door opened. The fixtures in the portion of the house which the guards occupied had been dimmed over the months by a grimy miasma. Here the light, though subdued, had the purity of evening over a meadow.
     “Nice installation work,” Niko said as he surveyed the bare room. “Some artists, they think the hardware is beneath them. Not her.”
     “What?” Suterbilt said. “Are you joking? I had the furniture removed. Quite a nice bed. I’m using it myself.”
     “No, no,” the sensor tech said. “The ambiance, of course. Look at these heads.”
     Daun walked into the center of the room. His focus on the psychic ambiance burned through the layers of good humor which made him easy to get along with. Niko Daun liked to be alone when he was working … and people who’d been around him while he was in work mode didn’t care to repeat the experience.
     “There,” he said, pointing to a glint in the ceiling, a rubidium-plated bead the size of a man’s thumbnail. “There, there, there, there”—the sidewalls—“and the main board here”—he pointed to the shimmering fifteen-centimeter disk in the center of the floor— “where the bed would keep people from walking on it. Though I doubt that would have hurt the resolution, the way she’s got the projectors bedded. Just look at the way she faired them into the matrix!”
     “Yes, it can’t be removed without destroying the whole thing,” Suterbilt said. “And probably the house as well.”
     Daun turned on him with the casual prickliness of a cat. “Don’t talk nonsense!” the technician snapped.

     “Specialist Daun,” Vierziger said smoothly, “we’re here to—”
     “Look,” Daun said, the first time anybody who knew Johann Vierziger had interrupted him in a long while. “Since we’re here, I’m going to try the ambiance. This is probably the only time I’ll be around a genuine Suzette.”
     Nothing in the sensor tech’s tone suggested he was willing to discuss the matter further. As he spoke, he took a flat, palm-sized device from his smaller toolkit and opened its keyboard.
     Vierziger laid the tips of his left index and middle fingers on Daun’s wrist. “Master Suterbilt will switch on the ambiance for us, I’m sure,” Vierziger said.
     “Yes, yes, but I’m in a hurry,” the factor grumbled. He took another key from his wallet. He flicked the on switch in the air without result. “Let’s see …”
     “Stand over here,” Daun said, gesturing Suterbilt to a point near where the head of the bed would have been.
     Suterbilt frowned but obeyed.

     “I could have turned it on easier,” Daun grumbled under his breath to the other Frisian.
     “You could remove the work so that it could be reconstructed?” Vierziger murmured back.
     “Huh?” said Daun. “Course I could. Don’t be an idiot. The adhesive’ll powder at twenty-eight point nine kilohertz. Take about three seconds each. And realigning them afterward, that’s no sw—”

     The room shimmered out of the present and into a golden timelessness. Suterbilt had finally managed to trigger the ambiance with his low-powered key.
     Vierziger was in an individual paradise. Foliage waved slowly in breezes the viewer could not feel, and the air was perfumed with life itself.
     Movement was thought-swift and effortless. The trees mounted like towers holding the sky, far taller than was possible for normal vegetation which fed its branches by osmosis against the drag of gravity. The viewers’ minds could ascend the roughness of the bark, feel the single-celled microflora which gave texture and color to the trunks, or exist as the entire world—plant, animal, and the supporting soil beneath.
     The ambiance was more real than the sidereal universe to those within its pattern of impinging stimuli. Through it all, informing it all, was the single warm presence of its creator.
     “ …what remains of my wife is here …” Larrinaga had said. He was right, and he was perhaps right as well that Suzette was a saint.
     That wasn’t a subject on which Vierziger felt competent to judge.

     The glow dimmed, vanished. Physical reality reasserted itself and memory of the ambiance sucked itself down a wormhole into the unconscious of the men who had experienced it.
     Suterbilt shook himself. “I ought to come here more often,” he said. “It relaxes me.”
     Niko Daun looked at the projection heads, shaking his head in delight. “Amazing,” he said. “Absolutely amazing. I wish I could meet her.”
     “I think,” said Vierziger, “that you just did.”
     The effect was no more than a mental hologram; not life, not even something alive. But Vierziger could understand why Larrinaga believed his wife was still present in the ambiance. He supposed that was all you really had of any artist, and perhaps of any human being: the things they had done.

From THE SHARP END by David Drake (1993)

      ‘What’s happening over there?’
     Doreen Chang was a persistent lady, but she knew when to give up.
     ‘Oh, that’s Mirissa’s favourite gas-sculpture. Surely you had them on Earth.’
     ‘Of course. And since we’re still off the record, I don’t think it’s art. But it’s amusing.’

     The main lights had been switched off in one section of the patio, and about a dozen guests had gathered around what appeared to be a very large soap bubble, almost a metre in diameter. As Chang and Kaldor walked towards it, they could see the first swirls of colour forming inside, like the birth of a spiral nebula.
     ‘It’s called “Life”,’ Doreen said, ‘and it’s been in Mirissa’s family for two hundred years. But the gas is beginning to leak; I can remember when it was much brighter.’

     Even so, it was impressive. The battery of electron guns and lasers in the base had been programmed by some patient, long-dead artist to generate a series of geometrical shapes that slowly evolved into organic structures. From the centre of the sphere, ever more complex forms appeared, expanded out of sight, and were replaced by others. In one witty sequence, single-celled creatures were shown climbing a spiral staircase, recognizable at once as a representation of the DNA molecule. With each step, something new was added; within a few minutes, the display had encompassed the four-billion-year odyssey from amoeba to Man.
     Then the artist tried to go beyond, and Kaldor lost him. The contortions of the fluorescent gas became too complex and too abstract. Perhaps if one saw the display a few more times, a pattern would emerge —

     ‘What happened to the sound?’ Doreen asked when the bubble’s maelstrom of seething colours abruptly winked out. ‘There used to be some very good music, especially at the end.’
     ‘I was afraid someone would ask that question,’ Mirissa said with an apologetic smile. ‘We’re not certain whether the trouble is in the playback mechanism or the program itself.’
     ‘Surely you have a backup!’
     ‘Oh, yes, of course. But the spare module is somewhere in Kumar’s room, probably buried under bits of his canoe. Until you’ve seen his den, you won’t understand what entropy really means.’

From THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH by Arthur C. Clarke (1986)

Orlon fell in beside Seaton and the party turned toward the observatory. As they walked along the Earth-people stared, held by the unearthly beauty of the grounds. The hedge of shrubbery, from ten to twenty feet high, and which shut out all sight of everything outside it, was one mass of vivid green and flaring crimson leaves; each leaf and twig groomed meticulously into its precise place in a fantastic geometrical scheme. Just inside this boundary there stood a ring of statues of heroic size. Some of them were single figures of men and women; some were busts; some were groups in natural or allegorical poses—all were done with consummate skill and feeling. Between the statues there were fountains, magnificent bronze and glass groups of the strange aquatic denizens of this strange planet, bathed in geometrically shaped sprays, screens, and columns of water.

Winding around between the statues and the fountains there was a moving, scintillating wall, and upon the waters and upon the wall there played torrents of color, cataracts of harmoniously blended light. Reds, blues, yellows, greens—every color of their peculiar green spectrum and every conceivable combination of those colors writhed and flamed in ineffable splendor upon those deep and living screens of falling water and upon that shimmering wall.

As they entered the lane, Seaton saw with amazement that what he had supposed a wall, now close at hand, was not a wall at all. It was composed of myriads of individual sparkling jewels, of every known color, for the most part self-luminous; and each gem, apparently entirely unsupported, was dashing in and out and along among its fellows, weaving and darting here and there, flying at headlong speed along an extremely tortuous, but evidently carefully calculated course.

"What can that be, anyway, Dick?" whispered Dorothy, and Seaton turned to his guide.

"Pardon my curiosity, Orlon, but would you mind explaining the why of that moving wall? We don't get it."

"Not at all. This garden has been the private retreat of the family of Orlon for many thousands of years, and women of our house have been beautifying it since its inception. You may have observed that the statuary is very old. No such work has been done for ages. Modern art has developed along the lines of color and motion, hence the lighting effects and the tapestry wall. Each gem is held upon the end of a minute pencil of force, and all the pencils are controlled by a machine which has a key for every jewel in the wall."

Crane, the methodical, stared at the innumerable flashing jewels and asked, "It must have taken a prodigious amount of time to complete such an undertaking?"

"It is far from complete; in fact, it is scarcely begun. It was started only about four hundred years ago."

"Four hundred years!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Do you live that long? How long will it take to finish it, and what will it be like when it is done?"

"No, none of us live longer than about one hundred and sixty years—at about that age most of us decide to pass. When this tapestry wall is finished, it will not be simply form and color, as it is now. It will be a portrayal of the history of Norlamin from the first cooling of the planet. It will, in all probability, require thousands of years for its completion. You see, time is of little importance to us, and workmanship is everything. My companion will continue working upon it until we decide to pass; my son's companion may continue it. In any event, many generations of the women of the Orlon will work upon it until it is complete. When it is done, it will be a thing of beauty as long as Norlamin shall endure."

"But suppose that your son's wife isn't that kind of an artist? Suppose she should want to do music or painting or something else?" asked Dorothy, curiously.

"That is quite possible; for, fortunately, our art is not yet entirely intellectual, as is our music. There are many unfinished artistic projects in the house of Orlon, and if the companion of my son should not find one to her liking, she will be at liberty to continue anything else she may have begun, or to start an entirely new project of her own."

From SKYLARK THREE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1930)

Painting still languished, which supported the view of those who considered that static, two-dimensional forms of art had no further possibilities.

It was noticeable—though a satisfactory explanation for this had not yet been produced—that time played an essential part in the colony's most successful artistic achievements. Even its sculpture was seldom immobile. Andrew Carson's intriguing volumes and curves changed slowly as one watched, according to complex patterns that the mind could appreciate, even if it could not fully comprehend them. Indeed, Carson claimed, with some truth, to have taken the "mobiles" of a century before to their ultimate conclusion, and thus to have wedded sculpture and ballet.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them—my father and this man in the portrait—both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. "Princess-daughter,"my father said, "I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman." My father was 71 at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was but 14, yet I remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.

EGO-LIKENESS: portraiture reproduced through a shigawire projector that is capable of reproducing subtle movements said to convey the ego essence.

From DUNE by Frank Herbert (1965)

THE Room was dark save for one glowing wall, upon which the tides of color ebbed and flowed as Alvin wrestled with his dreams. Part of the pattern satisfied him; he had fallen in love with the soaring lines of the mountains as they leaped out of the sea. There was a power and pride about those ascending curves; he had studied them for a long time, and then fed them into the memory unit of the visualizes, where they would be preserved while he experimented with the rest of the picture.

Yet something was eluding him, though what it was he did not know. Again and again he had tried to fill in the blank spaces, while the instrument read the shifting patterns in his mind and materialized them upon the wall. It was no good. The lines were blurred and uncertain, the colors muddy and dull. If the artist did not know his goal, even the most miraculous of tools could not find it for him.

Alvin canceled his unsatisfactory scribblings and stared morosely at the three-quarters-empty rectangle he had been trying to fill with beauty. On a sudden impulse, he doubled the size of the existing design and shifted it to the center of the frame. No—that was a lazy way out, and the balance was all wrong. Worse still, the change of scale had revealed the defects in his construction, the lack of certainty in those at-first-sight confident lines. He would have to start all over again.

“Total erasure,” he ordered the machine. The blue of the sea faded; the mountains dissolved like mist, until only the blank wall remained. They were as if they had never been—as if they were lost in the limbo that had taken all Earth’s seas and mountains ages before Alvin was born.

The light came flooding back into the room and the luminous rectangle upon which Alvin had projected his dreams merged into its surroundings, to become one with the other walls.

From THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke (1956)

John Morwin played God.

He manipulated the controls and prepared the birth of a world. Carefully … The rosy road from the rock to the star goes there. Yes. Hold. Not yet.

The youth stirred on the couch at his side but did not awaken. Morwin gave him another whiff of the gas and concentrated on the work at hand. He ran his forefinger beneath the front edge of the basket which covered his head, to remove perspiration and the latest attack of a recurring itch in the vicinity of his right temple. He stroked his red beard and meditated.

It was not yet perfect, not yet the thing the boy had described. Closing his eyes, he looked farther into the dreaming mind beside him. It was drifting in what he took to be the proper direction, but the feeling he sought was not there.

Waiting, he opened his eyes and turned his head, studying the fragile, sleeping form—the expensive garments, the thin, almost feminine face—that wore the mate of his basket, connected to his own by a maze of electrical leads, the narcotic-bearing airjet fluttering the jacket’s lacy collar. He pursed his lips and frowned, not so much with disapproval as with envy. One of his great regrets in life was that he had not grown up in the midst of wealth, been indulged, spoiled, turned into a fop. He had always wanted to be a fop, and now that he could afford it, he discovered that he lacked the proper upbringing to carry the thing successfully.

He turned to stare at the empty crystal globe before him—a meter in diameter, nozzles penetrating it at various points.

Push the proper button and it will be filled with swirling motes. Transfer the proper sequence and it will be frozen there forever …

He reentered the boy’s dreaming mind. It was wandering once again. The time had come to introduce stronger stimuli than the suggestions he had employed.

He threw a switch. Softly, then, the boy heard his own recorded voice, as he had spoken earlier in describing the dream. Then the images shifted and from within the dreaming mind he felt the click of déjà vu, the sensation of the appropriate, the feeling of desire achieved.

He depressed the button and the nozzles hissed. At the same moment, he threw the switch which severed the connection between his mind and that of his client’s son.

Then, with his powerful visual memory and the telekinetic ability which only he among those few creatures possessing it could employ in this fashion, he laid his mind upon the swarming particles within the crystal. There he hurled the key instant of the dream he had snatched from the mind of its dreamer, its form and its color—the dream of a sleeper still informed with something of a child’s exuberance and wonder—and there, within the crystal, with the mashing of another button, he froze it forever. Another, and the nozzles were withdrawn. Another, and the crystal was sealed—never to be broached again without destroying the dream. A switch, and the recorded voice was stilled. As always, he found then that he was shaking.

He had done it again.

He activated the air cushion and withdrew the supports, so that the crystal floated before them. He lowered the black velvet backdrop and turned on concealed lights, adjusting them so that they struck the thing perfectly.

It was a somewhat frightening tableau: something part man was twisted snakelike about orange rocks which were also a part of itself, and it looked back upon itself to where it was joined with the ground; above it, the sky was partly contained in the arc of an upflung arm; a rosy road led from a rock to a star; there was a moistness like tears upon the arm; blue forms were in flight below.

John Morwin studied it. He had seen it by means of assisted telepathy, sculpted it telekinetically, preserved it mechanically. Whatever adolescent fantasy it might have represented, he did not know. Nor did he care. It was there. That was enough. The psychic drain that he felt, the feeling of elation that he felt, the pleasure that he felt in contemplating his creation—these were sufficient to tell him that it was good.

Occasionally, he was troubled by doubts as to whether what he did was really art, in the mere representation of another man’s fantasies. True, he possessed the unique combination of talent and equipment to capture a dream, as well as a large fee for his troubles. But he liked to think of himself as an artist. If he could not be a fop, then this was his second choice. An artist, he had decided, possessed as much ego and eccentricity, but because of the added dimension of empathy could not behave toward his fellows with the same insouciance. But if he were not even a true artist …

He shook his head to clear it and removed the basket. He scratched at his right temple.

He had done sexual fantasies, dreamscapes of peace, nightmares for mad kings, psychoses for analysts. No one ever had anything but praise for his work. He hoped that the fact that these were externalizations of their own feelings was not the only … No, he decided. Portraiture was valid art. But he wondered what would happen if one day he could do his own dream.

Rising, he shut down and removed the equipment from the boy Abse. Then, from his workstand, he picked up the pipe with the old insignia carved into the side of the bowl, ran his thumb over it, packed it, lit it.

He seated himself behind the boy, after activating the servomechanisms which slowly moved the sleeper’s couch into a semi-recline position. The stage was set. He smiled through his smoke and listened to the sounds of breathing.

Showmanship. He had become the businessman once more, the salesman displaying his wares. The first thing that Abse would see upon awakening would be the dramatically situated object. His own voice, from behind, would then break the spell with some trifling comment; and the magic—broken—would partly retreat into the depths and so be sealed in the viewer’s mind. Hopefully, the object’s attractiveness would be enhanced by this.

The stirring of a hand. A slight cough. A gesture suddenly frozen, never to be completed …

He drew it out for perhaps six seconds, then said, “Like it?”

The boy did not reply immediately, but when he did, it was with the words of a younger child, rather than those with which he had entered the studio. Gone was the faintly hidden contempt, the feigned weariness, the ostentatious sense of duty to a parent who had decided upon that as the ideal birthday present for a son who had little else to desire.

“That’s it …” he said. “That’s it!”

“I take it, then, that you are pleased?”

“Lords!” The boy rose and moved toward it. He put his hand out slowly, but did not touch the crystal. “Pleased …? It’s great.” Then he shuddered and stood silent for a time. When he turned, he was smiling. Morwin smiled back, with the left comer of his mouth. The boy was gone again.

“It is quite pleasant,” and he made a casual gesture toward it with his left hand, not looking back. “Have it delivered and bill my father.”

“Very good.”

Morwin rose as Abse moved toward the door that led to the front office and out. He opened it and held it for the boy. Abse halted before passing through and looked into his eyes for a moment. Only then, after a moment, did he return his glance to the globe.

From TO DIE IN ITALBAR by Roger Zelazny (1973)

      “It’s my Janus jewel. It bores me.”
     The smaller man looked disgusted. “How can any-one rich enough to own a Janus jewel be bored?”
     “Oh, but I am, Nolly-dear, I am.”
     Nanger made a half-smirk. “What’s the trouble, Challis? Your imagination failing you?” He laughed, short, stentorian barks.
     Challis grinned back at him. “Hardly that, Nanger, but it seems that I have not the right type of mind to produce the kind of fine, detailed resolution the jewel is capable of. I need help for that. So I’ve been at work these past months looking for a suitable mental adept, trying to find a surrogate mind of the proper type to aid in operating the jewel. I’ve paid a lot of money for the right information,” he finished, nodding at a tall Osirian he knew. “So you see why I need that boy.”
     Nolly was irritated now. “Why not just hire him? See if he’ll participate willingly?”
     Challis looked doubtful. “No, I don’t think that would work out, Nolly-dear. You’re familiar with some of my fantasies and likes?” His voice had turned inhumanly calm and empty. “Would you participate voluntarily?”
     Nolly looked away from suddenly frightening pupils. In spite of his background, he shuddered. “No,” he barely whispered, “no, I don’t guess that I would…”

     (Flinx said) “Then why was I brought here? I heard something about a jewel. I know a little about good stones, but I’m certainly no expert.”
     “A jewel, yes.” Challis declined further oral explanation; instead, he manipulated several switches concealed by the far overhang of the table between them. The lights dimmed and Challis’ pair of ominous attendants disappeared, though Flinx could sense their alert presence nearby. They were between him and the only clearly defined door.

     Flinx’s attention was quickly diverted by a soft humming. As the top of the table slid to one side, he could see the construction involved. The table was a thick safe. Something rose from the central hollow, a sculpture of glowing components encircled by a spiderweb of thin wiring. At the sculpture’s center was a transparent globe of glassalloy. It contained something that looked like a clear natural crystal about the size of a man’s head. It glowed with a strange inner light. At first glance it resembled quartz, but longer inspection showed that here was a most unique silicate.
     The center of the crystal was hollow and irregular in outline. It was filled with maroon and green particles which drifted with dreamy slowness in a clear viscous fluid. The particles were fine as dust motes. In places they nearly reached to the edges of the crystal walls, though they tended to remain compacted near its middle. Occasionally the velvety motes would jerk and dart about sharply, as if prodded by some unseen force. Flinx stared into its shifting depths as if mesmerized…
     Flinx blinked, awakening from the Janus jewel’s tantalizing loveliness. It continued to pulse with its steady, natural yellow luminescence.

     “Did yon ever see one before?” Challis inquired.
     “No. I’ve heard of them, though. I know enough to recognize one.”
     Challis must have touched another concealed switch because a low-intensity light sprang to life at the table’s edge. Fumbling with a drawer built into the table, the merchant then produced a small boxy affair which resembled an abstract carving of a bird in flight, its wings on the downbeat. It was designed to fit on a human head. A few exposed wires and modules broke the device’s otherwise smooth lines.
     “Do you know what this is?” the merchant asked,
     Flinx confessed he did not.
     “It’s the operator’s headset,” Challis explained slowly, placing it over his stringy hair. “The headset and the machinery encapsulated in that table transcribe the thoughts of the human mind and convey them to the jewel. The jewel has a certain property.”
     Challis intoned “property” with the sort of spiritual reverence most men would reserve for describing their gods or mistresses.
     The merchant ceased fumbling with unseen controls and with the headset. He folded his hands before his squeezed out paunch and stared at the crystal. “I’m concentrating on something now,” he told his absorbed listener softly. “It takes a little training, though some can do without it.”

     As Flinx watched raptly, the particles in the jewel’s center began to rearrange themselves. Their motion was no longer random, and it was clear that Challis’ thoughts were directing the realigmnent. Here was something about which rumor abounded, but which few except the very rich and privileged had actually seen.
     “The larger the crystal,” Challis continued, obviously straining to produce some as yet unknown result, “the more colors present in the colloid and the more valuable the stone. A single color is the general rule. This stone contains two and is one of the largest and finest in existence, though even small stones are rare.
     “There are stones with impurities present which create three-and four-color displays, and one stone of five-color content is known. You would not believe who owns it, or what is done with it.”
     Flinx watched as the colors within the crystal’s center began to assume semisolid shape and form at Challis’ direction. “No one,” the merchant continued, “has been able to synthesize the oleaginous liquid in which the colored particulate matter drifts suspended. Once a crystal is broken, it is impossible to repair. Nor can the colloid be transferred in whole or in part to a new container. A break in the intricate crystal-liquid formation destroys the stone’s individual piezoelectric potential. Fortunately the crystal is as hard as corundum, though nowhere near as strong as artificials like duralloy.”

     Though the outlines shifted and trembled constantly, never quite firmly fixed, they took on the recognizable shapes of several persons. One appeared to be an exaggeratedly Junoesque woman. Of the others, one was a humanoid male and the third something wholly alien. A two-sided chamber rose around them and was filled with strange objects that never held their form for more than a few seconds. Although their consistency fluctuated, the impression they conveyed did not Flinx saw quite enough to turn his stomach before everything within the crystal dissolved once again to a cloud of glowing dust.

     Looking up and across from the crystal he observed that the merchant had removed the headpiece and was wiping the perspiration from his high forehead with a perfumed cloth. Illuminated by the subdued light concealed in the table edge below, his face became that of an unscrupulous imp.
     “Easy to begin,” he murmured with exhaustion, “but a devilishly difficult reaction to sustain. When your attention moves from one figure, the others begin to collapse. And when the play involves complex actions performed by several such creations, it is nigh impossible, especially when one tends to become so — involved with the action.”

From ORPHAN STAR by Alan Dean Foster (1977)

The Vital Art


In fact, as the race gained biological insight, it developed a very remarkable new art, which we may call “plastic vital art.” This was to become the chief vehicle of expression of the new culture. It was practised universally, and with religious fervour; for it was very closely connected With the belief in a life-god. The canons of this art, and the precepts of this religion, fluctuated from age to age, but in general certain basic principles Were accepted. Or rather, though there was almost always universal agreement that the practice of vital art was the supreme goal, and should not be treated in a utilitarian spirit, there were two conflicting sets of principles which were favoured by opposed sets. One mode of vital art sought to evoke the full potentiality of each natural type as a harmonious and perfected nature, or to produce new types equally harmonious. The other prided itself on producing monsters. Sometimes a single capacity was developed at the expense of the harmony and welfare of the organism as a whole. Thus a bird was produced which could fly faster than any other bird; but it could neither reproduce nor even feed, and therefore had to be maintained artificially. Sometimes, on the other hand, certain characters incompatible in nature were forced upon a single organism, and maintained in precarious and torturing equilibrium. To give examples, one much-talked-of feat was the production of a carnivorous mammal in which the fore limbs had assumed the structure of a bird’s wings, complete with feathers. This creature could not fly, since its body was wrongly proportioned. Its only mode of locomotion was a staggering run with outstretched wings. Other examples of monstrosity were an eagle with twin heads, and a deer in which, with incredible ingenuity, the artists had induced the tail to develop as a head, with brain, sense organs, and jaws. In this monstrous art, interest in living things was infected with sadism through the preoccupation with fate, especially internal fate, as the divinity that shapes our ends. In its more vulgar forms, of course, it was a crude expression of egotistical lust in power.

This motif of the monstrous and the self-discrepant was less prominent than the other, the motif of harmonious perfection; but at all times it was apt to exercise at least a subconscious influence. The supreme aim of the dominant, perfection-seeking movement was to embellish the planet with a very diverse fauna and flora, with the human race as at once the crown and the instrument of terrestrial life. Each species, and each variety, was to have its place and fulfil its part in the great cycle of living types. Each was to be internally perfected to its function. It must have no harmful relics of a past manner of life; and its capacities must be in true accord with one another. But, to repeat, the supreme aim was not concerned merely with individual types, but with the whole vital economy of the planet. Thus, though there were to be types of every order from the most humble bacterium up to man, it was contrary to the canon of orthodox sacred art that any type should thrive by the destruction of a type higher than itself. In the sadistic mode of the art, however, a peculiarly exquisite tragic beauty was said to inhere in situations in which a lowly type exterminated a higher. There were occasions in the history of the race when the two sects indulged in bloody conflict because the sadists kept devising parasites to undermine the noble products of the orthodox.

Of those who practised vital art, and all did so to some extent, a few, though they deliberately rejected the orthodox principles, gained notoriety and even fame by their grotesques; while others, less fortunate, were ready to accept ostracism and even martyrdom, declaring that what they had produced was a significant symbol of the universal tragedy of vital nature. The great majority, however, accepted the sacred canon. They had therefore to choose one or other of certain recognized modes of expression. For instance, they might seek to enhance some extant type of organism, both by perfecting its capacities and by eliminating from it all that was harmful or useless. Or else, a more original and precarious work, they might set about creating a new type to fill a niche in the world, which had not yet been occupied. For this end they would select a suitable organism, and seek to remake it upon a new plan, striving to produce a creature of perfectly harmonious nature precisely adapted to the new way of life. In this kind of work sundry strict aesthetic principles must be observed. Thus it was considered bad art to reduce a higher type to a lower, or in any manner to waste the capacities of a type. And further, since the true end of art was not the production of individual types, but the production of a world-wide and perfectly systematic fauna and flora, it was inadmissible to harm even accidentally any type higher than that which it was intended to produce.

Little was achieved, of course, until the applied biological sciences had advanced far beyond the high-water mark attained long ago during the career of the Second Men. Much more was needed than the rule-of- thumb principles of earlier breeders. It took this brightest of all the races of the third species many thousands of years of research to discover the more delicate principles of heredity, and to devise a technique by which the actual hereditary factors in the germ could be manipulated. It was this increasing penetration of biology itself that opened up the deeper regions of chemistry and physics. And owing to this historical sequence the latter sciences were conceived in a biological manner, with the electron as the basic organism, and the cosmos as an organic whole.

Imagine, then, a planet organized almost as a vast system of botanical and zoological gardens, or wild parks, interspersed with agriculture and industry. In every great centre of communications occurred annual and monthly shows. The latest creations were put through their paces, judged by the high priests of vital art, awarded distinctions, and consecrated with religious ceremony. At these shows some of the exhibits would be utilitarian, others purely aesthetic. There might be improved grains, vegetables, cattle, some exceptionally intelligent or sturdy variety of herdsman’s dog, or a new microorganism with some special function in agriculture or in human digestion. But also there would be the latest achievements in pure vital art. Great sleek-limbed, hornless, racing deer, birds or mammals adapted to some hitherto unfulfilled role, bears intended to outclass all existing varieties in the struggle for existence, ants with specialized organs and instincts, improvements in the relations of parasite and host, so as to make a true symbiosis in which the host profited by the parasite. And so on. And everywhere there would be the little unclad ruddy faun-like beings who had created these marvels. Shy forest-dwelling folk of Gurkha physique would stand beside their antelopes, vultures, or new great cat-like prowlers. A grave young woman might cause a stir by entering the grounds followed by several gigantic bears. Crowds would perhaps press round to examine the creatures’ teeth or limbs, and she might scold the meddlers away from her patient flock. For the normal relation between man and beast at this time was one of perfect amity, rising, sometimes, in the case of domesticated animals, to an exquisite, almost painful, mutual adoration. Even the wild beasts never troubled to avoid man, still less to attack him, save in the special circumstances of the hunt and the sacred gladiatorial show.

These last need special notice. The powers of combat in beasts were admired no less than other powers. Men and women alike experienced a savage joy, almost an ecstasy, in the spectacle of mortal combat. Consequently there were formal occasions when different kinds of beasts were enraged against one another and allowed to fight to the death. Not only so, but also there were sacred contests between beast and man, between man and man, between woman and woman, and, most surprising to the readers of this book, between woman and man. For in this species, woman in her prime was not physically weaker than her partner.

From LAST AND FIRST MEN by Olaf Stapledon (1930)

Playing Images

In the performance arts, musicians played their instruments to create music. Some science fiction authors postulated instruments that could play images.


     Biron looked it over slowly. “And you build gadgets here? What kind of gadgets?”
     “Well, special sounding devices to spy out the Tyrannian spy beams in a brand-new way. Nothing they can detect. That’s how I found out about you, when the first word came through from Aratap. And I have other amusing trinkets. My visi-sonor, for instance. Do you like music?”
     “Some kinds.”
     “Good. I invented an instrument, only I don’t know if you can properly call it music.” A shelf of book films slid out and aside at a touch. “This is not really much of a hiding place, but nobody takes me seriously, so they don’t look. Amusing, don’t you think? But I forget, you’re the unamused one.”
     It was a clumsy, boxlike affair, with that singular lack of gloss and polish that marks the homemade object. One side of it was studded with little gleaming knobs. He put it down with that side upward.
     “It isn’t pretty,” Gillbret said, “but who in Time cares? Put the lights out. No, no! No switches or contacts. Just wish the lights were out. Wish hard! Decide you want them out.”
     And the lights dimmed, with the exception of the faint pearly luster of the ceiling that made them two ghostly faces in the dark. Gillbret laughed lightly at Biron’s exclamation.
     “Just one of the tricks of my visi-sonor. It’s keyed to the mind like personal capsules are (message capsules that can only be opened by their intended recipient). Do you know what I mean?”
     “No, I don’t, if you want a plain answer.”
     “Well,” he said, “look at it this way. The electric field of your brain cells sets up an induced one in the instrument. Mathematically, it’s fairly simple, but as far as I know, no one has ever jammed all the necessary circuits into a box this size before. Usually, it takes a five-story generating plant to do it. It works the other way too. I can close circuits here and impress them directly upon your brain, so that you’ll see and hear without any intervention of eyes and ears. Watch!”
     There was nothing to watch, at first. And then something fuzzy scratched faintly at the corner of Biron’s eyes. It became a faint blue-violet ball hovering in mid-air. It followed him as he turned away, remained unchanged when he closed his eyes. And a clear, musical tone accompanied it, was part of it, was it.
     It was growing and expanding and Biron became disturbingly aware that it existed inside his skull. It wasn’t really a color, but rather a colored sound, though without noise. It was tactile, yet without feeling.
     It spun and took on an iridescence while the musical tone rose in pitch till it hovered above him like falling silk. Then it exploded so that gouts of color splattered at him in touches that burned momentarily and left no pain.
     Bubbles of rain-drenched green rose again with a quiet, soft moaning. Biron thrust at them in confusion and became aware that he could not see his hands nor feel them move. There was nothing, only the little bubbles filling his mind to the exclusion of all else.
     He cried out soundlessly and the fantasy ceased. Gillbret was standing before him once again in a lighted room, laughing. Biron felt an acute dizziness and wiped shakily at a chilled, moist forehead. He sat down abruptly.
     “What happened?” he demanded, in as stiff a tone as he could manage.
     Gillbret said, “I don’t know. I stayed out of it. You don’t understand? It was something your brain had lacked previous experience with. Your brain was sensing directly and it had no method of interpretation for such a phenomenon. So as long as you concentrated on the sensation, your brain could only attempt, futilely, to force the effect into the old, familiar pathways. It attempts separately and simultaneously to interpret it as sight and sound and touch. Were you conscious of an odor, by the way? Sometimes it seemed to me that I smelled the stuff. With dogs I imagine the sensation would be forced almost entirely into odor. I’d like to try it on animals someday.
     “On the other hand, if you ignore it, make no attack upon it, it fades away. It’s what I do, when I want to observe its effects on others, and it isn’t difficult.”
     He placed a little veined hand upon the instrument, fingering the knobs aimlessly. “Sometimes I think that if one could really study this thing, one could compose symphonies in a new medium; do things one could never do with simple sound or sight. I lack the capacity for it, I’m afraid.”

     But Gillbret said, “Let him take his cloak, men.”
     Biron, startled, looked quickly toward the little man and retracted that same surrender. He knew he had no cloak.
     The guard whose weapon was out clicked his heels as a gesture of respect. He motioned his whip at Biron. “You heard milord. Get your cloak and snap it up!”
     Biron stepped back as slowly as he dared. He retreated to the bookcase and squatted, groping behind the chair for his nonexistent cloak. And as his fingers clawed at the empty space behind the chair, he waited tensely for Gillbret.
     The visi-sonor was just a queer knobbed object to the guards. It would mean nothing to them that Gillbret fingered and stroked the knobs gently. Biron watched the muzzle of the whip intensely and allowed it to fill his mind. Certainly nothing else he saw or heard (thought he saw or heard) must enter. But how much longer?
     The armed guard said, “Is your cloak behind that chair? Stand up!” He took an impatient step forward, and then stopped. His eyes narrowed in deep amazement and he looked sharply to his left.
     That was it! Biron straightened and threw himself forward and down. He clasped the guard’s knees and jerked. The guard was down with a jarring thud, and Biron’s large fist closed over the other’s hand, grasping for the neuronic whip it contained.
     The other guard had his weapon out, but for the moment it was useless. With his free hand, he was brushing wildly at the space before his eyes.
     Gillbret’s high-pitched laugh sounded. “Anything bothering you, Farrill?”
     “Don’t see a thing,” he grunted, and then, “except this whip I’ve got now.”
     “All right, then leave. They can’t do anything to stop you. Their minds are full of sights and sounds that don’t exist.” Gillbret skipped out of the way of the writhing tangle of bodies.
     Biron wrenched his arms free and heaved upward. He brought his arm down solidly just below the other’s ribs. The guard’s face twisted in agony and his body doubled convulsively. Biron rose, whip in hand.
     “Careful,” cried Gillbret.
     But Biron did not turn quickly enough. The second guard was upon him, bearing him down again. It was a blind attack. What it was that the guard thought he was grasping, it was impossible to tell. That he knew nothing of Biron at the moment was certain. His breath rasped in Biron’s ear and there was a continuous incoherent gurgle bubbling in his throat.
     Biron twisted in an attempt to bring his captured weapon into play and was frighteningly aware of the blank and empty eyes that must be aware of some horror invisible to anyone else.

     Yet, though Biron did not know it, the guard’s grip had relaxed, and minutes later, when the young man could force his eyes open and blink away the tears, he found the guard backed against the wall, pushing feebly at nothing with both hands and giggling to himself. The first guard was still on his back, arms and legs spread-eagled now. He was conscious, but silent. His eyes were following something in an erratic path, and his body quivered a little. There was froth on his lips.

From THE STARS, LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov (1951)

     Mis shrugged, and turned again to Magnifico. He unwrapped the package, “Know what this is, boy?”
     Magnifico fairly hurled himself out of his seat and caught the multikeyed instrument. He fingered the myriad knobby contacts and threw a sudden back somersault of joy, to the imminent destruction of the nearby furniture.
     He croaked, “A Visi-Sonor — and of a make to distill joy out of a dead man’s heart.” His long fingers caressed softly and slowly, pressing lightly on contacts with a rippling motion, resting momentarily on one key then another — and in the air before them there was a soft glowing rosiness, just inside the range of vision.
     Ebling Mis said, “All right, boy, you said you could pound on one of those gadgets, and there’s your chance. You’d better tune it, though. It’s out of a museum.” Then, in an aside to Bayta, “Near as I can make it, no one on the Foundation can make it talk right.”
     He leaned closer and said quickly, “The clown won’t talk without you. Will you help?”
     She nodded.
     “Good!” he said. “His state of fear is almost fixed, and I doubt that his mental strength would possibly stand a psychic probe. If I’m to get anything out of him otherwise, he’s got to feel absolutely at ease. You understand?”
     She nodded again.
     “This Visi-Sonor is the first step in the process. He says he can play it; and his reaction now makes it pretty certain that it’s one of the great joys of his life. So whether the playing is good or bad, be interested and appreciative. Then exhibit friendliness and confidence in me. Above all, follow my lead in everything.” There was a swift glance at Magnifico, huddled in a comer of the sofa, making rapid adjustments in the interior of the instrument. He was completely absorbed.
     Mis said in a conversational tone to Bayta, “Ever hear a Visi-Sonor?”
     “Once,” said Bayta, equally casually, “at a concert of rare instruments. I wasn’t impressed.”
     “Well, I doubt that you came across good playing. There are very few really good players. It’s not so much that it requires physical coordination — a multi-bank piano requires more, for instance — as a certain type of free-wheeling mentality.” In a lower voice, “That’s why our living skeleton there might be better than we think. More often than not, good players are idiots otherwise. It’s one of those queer setups that makes psychology interesting.”
     He added, in a patent effort to manufacture light conversation, “You know how the beblistered thing works? I looked it up for this purpose, and all I’ve made out so far is that its radiations stimulate the optic center of the brain directly, without ever touching the optic nerve. It’s actually the utilization of a sense never met with in ordinary nature. Remarkable, when you come to think of it. What you hear is all right. That’s ordinary. Eardrum, cochlea, all that. But — Shh! He’s ready. Will you kick that switch. It works better in the dark.”
     In the darkness, Magnifico was a mere blob, Ebling Mis a heavy-breathing mass. Bayta found herself straining her eyes anxiously, and at first with no effect. There was a thin, reedy quaver in the air, that wavered raggedly up the scale. It hovered, dropped and caught itself, gained in body, and swooped into a booming crash that had the effect of a thunderous split in a veiling curtain.
     A little globe of pulsing color grew in rhythmic spurts and burst in midair into formless gouts that swirled high and came down as curving streamers in interfacing patterns. They coalesced into little spheres, no two alike in color — and Bayta began discovering things.
     She noticed that closing her eyes made the color pattern all the clearer; that each little movement of color had its own little pattern of sound; that she could not identify the colors; and, lastly, that the globes were not globes but little figures.
     Little figures; little shifting flames, that danced and flickered in their myriads; that dropped out of sight and returned from nowhere; that whipped about one another and coalesced then into a new color.
     Incongruously, Bayta thought of the little blobs of color that come at night when you close your eyelids till they hurt, and stare patiently. There was the old familiar effect of the marching polka dots of shifting color, of the contracting concentric circles, of the shapeless masses that quiver momentarily. All that, larger, multivaried — and each little dot of color a tiny figure.
     They darted at her in pairs, and she lifted her hands with a sudden gasp, but they tumbled and for an instant she was the center of a brilliant snowstorm, while cold light slipped off her shoulders and down her arm in a luminous ski-slide, shooting off her stiff fingers and meeting slowly in a shining midair focus. Beneath it all, the sound of a hundred instruments flowed in liquid streams until she could not tell it from the light.
     She wondered if Ebling Mis were seeing the same thing, and if not, what he did see, The wonder passed, and then—
     She was watching again. The little figures — were they little figures? — little tiny women with burning hair that turned and bent too quickly for the mind to focus? — seized one another in star-shaped groups that turned — and the music was faint laughter — girls’ laughter that began inside the ear.
     The stars drew together, sparked towards one another, grew slowly into structure — and from below, a palace shot upward in rapid evolution. Each brick a tiny color, each color a tiny spark, each spark a stabbing light that shifted patterns and led the eye skyward to twenty jeweled minarets.
     A glittering carpet shot out and about, whirling, spinning an insubstantial web that engulfed all space, and from it luminous shoots stabbed upward and branched into trees that sang with a music all their own.
     Bayta sat inclosed in it. The music welled about her in rapid, lyrical flights. She reached out to touch a fragile tree and blossoming spicules floated downwards and faded, each with its clear, tiny tinkle.
     The music crashed in twenty cymbals, and before her an area flamed up in a spout and cascaded down invisible steps into Bayta’s lap, where it spilled over and flowed in rapid current, raising the fiery sparkle to her waist, while across her lap was a rainbow bridge and upon it the little figures — A palace, and a garden, and tiny men and women on a bridge, stretching out as far as she could see, swimming through the stately swells of stringed music converging in upon her—
     And then — there seemed a frightened pause, a hesitant, indrawn motion, a swift collapse. The colors fled, spun into a globe that shrank, and rose, and disappeared.
     And it was merely dark again.
     A heavy foot scratched for the pedal, reached it, and the light flooded in; the flat light of a prosy sun. Bayta blinked until the tears came, as though for the longing of what was gone. Ebling Mis was a podgy inertness with his eyes still round and his mouth still open.
     Only Magnifico himself was alive, and he fondled his Visi-Sonor in a crooning ecstasy.
     “My lady,” he gasped, “it is indeed of an effect the most magical. It is of balance and response almost beyond hope in its delicacy and stability. On this, it would seem I could work wonders. How liked you my composition, my lady?”

     She opened her eyes, and (her husband) Toran’s, which were upon her, showed open relief. He said, fiercely, “This banditry will be answered by the emperor. Release us.”
     It dawned upon Bayta that her wrists and ankles were fastened to wall and floor by a tight attraction field.
     Thick Voice approached Toran. He was paunchy, his lower eyelids puffed darkly, and his hair was thinning out. There was a gay feather in his peaked hat, and the edging of his doublet was embroidered with silvery metal-foam.
     He sneered with a heavy amusement. “The emperor? The poor, mad emperor?”
     “I have his pass. No subject may hinder our freedom.”
     “But I am no subject, space-garbage. I am the regent and crown prince and am to be addressed as such. As for my poor silly father, it amuses him to see visitors occasionally. And we humor him. It tickles his mock-Imperial fancy. But, of course, it has no other meaning.”
     And then he was before Bayta, and she looked up at him contemptuously. He leaned close and his breath was overpoweringly minted.
     He said, “Her eyes suit well, Commason—she is even prettier with them open. I think she’ll do. It will be an exotic dish for a jaded taste, eh?”
     There was a futile surge upwards on Toran’s part, which the crown prince ignored and Bayta felt the iciness travel outward to the skin. Ebling Mis was still out, head lolling weakly upon his chest, but, with a sensation of surprise, Bayta noted that Magnifico’s eyes were open, sharply open, as though awake for many minutes. Those large brown eyes swiveled toward Bayta and stared at her out of a doughy face.
     He whimpered, and nodded with his head towards the crown prince, “That one has my Visi-Sonor.”
     The crown prince turned sharply toward the new voice, “This is yours, monster?” He swung the instrument from his shoulder where it had hung, suspended by its green strap, unnoticed by Bayta.
     He fingered it clumsily, tried to sound a chord and got nothing for his pains, “Can you play it, monster?”
     Magnifico nodded once.
     Toran said suddenly, “You’ve rifled a ship of the Foundation. If the emperor will not avenge, the Foundation will.”
     It was the other, Commason, who answered slowly, “What Foundation? Or is the Mule no longer the Mule?”
     There was no answer to that. The prince’s grin showed large uneven teeth. The clown’s binding field was broken and he was nudged ungently to his feet. The Visi-Sonor was thrust into his hand.
     “Play for us, monster,” said the prince. “Play us a serenade of love and beauty for our foreign lady here. Tell her that my father’s country prison is no palace, but that I can take her to one where she can swim in rose water—and know what a prince’s love is. Sing of a prince’s love, monster.”
     He placed one thick thigh upon a marble table and swung a leg idly, while his fatuous smiling stare swept Bayta into a silent rage. Toran’s sinews strained against the field, in painful, perspiring effort. Ebling Mis stirred and moaned.
     Magnifico gasped, “My fingers are of useless stiffness—”
     “Play, monster!” roared the prince. The lights dimmed at a gesture to Commason and in the dimness he crossed his arms and waited.
     Magnifico drew his fingers in rapid, rhythmic jumps from end to end of the multikeyed instrument—and a sharp, gliding rainbow of light jumped across the room. A low, soft tone sounded—throbbing, tearful. It lifted in sad laughter, and underneath it there sounded a dull tolling.
     The darkness seemed to intensify and grow thick. Music reached Bayta through the muffled folds of invisible blankets. Gleaming light reached her from the depths as though a single candle glowed at the bottom of a pit.
     Automatically, her eyes strained. The light brightened, but remained blurred. It moved fuzzily, in confused color, and the music was suddenly brassy, evil—flourishing in high crescendo. The light flickered quickly, in swift motion to the wicked rhythm. Something writhed within the light. Something with poisonous metallic scales writhed and yawned. And the music writhed and yawned with it.
     Bayta struggled with a strange emotion and then caught herself in a mental gasp. Almost, it reminded her of the time in the Time Vault, of those last days on Haven. It was that horrible, cloying, clinging spiderweb of honor and despair. She shrunk beneath it oppressed.
     The music dinned upon her, laughing horribly, and the writhing terror at the wrong end of the telescope in the small circle of light was lost as she turned feverishly away. Her forehead was wet and cold.
     The music died. It must have lasted fifteen minutes, and a vast pleasure at its absence flooded Bayta. Light glared, and Magnifico’s face was close to hers, sweaty, wild-eyed, lugubrious.
     “My lady,” he gasped, “how fare you?”
     “Well enough,” she whispered, “but why did you play like that?”
     She became aware of the others in the room. Toran and Mis were limp and helpless against the wall, but her eyes skimmed over them. There was the prince, lying strangely still at the foot of the table. There was Commason, moaning wildly through an open, drooling mouth.
     Commason flinched, and yelled mindlessly, as Magnifico took a step toward him.
     Magnifico turned, and with a leap, turned the others loose.
     Toran lunged upwards and with eager, taut fists seized the landowner by the neck, “You come with us. We’ll want you—to make sure we get to our ship.”

     Two hours later, in the ship’s kitchen, Bayta served a walloping homemade pie, and Magnifico celebrated the return to space by attacking it with a magnificent disregard of table manners.
     “Good, Magnifico?”
     “Yes, my lady?”
     “What was it you played back there?”
     The clown writhed, “I … I’d rather not say. I learned it once, and the Visi-Sonor is of an effect upon the nervous system most profound. Surely, it was an evil thing, and not for your sweet innocence, my lady.”
     “Oh, now, come, Magnifico. I’m not as innocent as that. Don’t flatter so. Did I see anything like what they saw?”
     “I hope not. I played it for them only. If you saw, it was but the rim of it—from afar.”
     “And that was enough. Do you know you knocked the prince out?”
     Magnifico spoke grimly through a large, muffling piece of pie. “I killed him, my lady.”
     “What?” She swallowed, painfully.
“He was dead when I stopped, or I would have continued. I cared not for Commason. His greatest threat was death or torture. But, my lady, this prince looked upon you wickedly, and—” he choked in a mixture of indignation and embarrassment.      Bayta felt strange thoughts come and repressed them sternly. “Magnifico, you’ve got a gallant soul.”
     “Oh, my lady.” He bent a red nose into his pie, but somehow did not eat.

From FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov (1952)

     On his lap in crumpled leather, It might have been a harp, it might have been a computer. With inductance surfaces like a theremin, with frets like a guitar, down one side were short drones as on a sitar. On the other were the extended bass drones of a guitarina. Parts were carved from rosewood. Parts were cast from stainless steel. It had insets of black plastic, and was cushioned with plush...
     ...Leo did something with the controls. There was a clear ringing; the air shivered; and cutting out the olid odor of wet rope and tar was the scent of ... orchids? A long time ago, perhaps at five or six, the Mouse had smelled them wild in the fields edging a road...
     ...Leo's hand moved; shivering became shimmering. Brightness fell from the air, coalesced in blue light whose source was somewhere between them. The odor moistened to roses.
     "It works!" rasped the Mouse.
     Leo nodded. "Better than the one I used to have. The Illyrion battery almost brand-new is. Those things I on the boat used to play, can still play, I wonder." His face furrowed. "Not too good going to be is. Out of practice am." Embarrassment rearranged Leo's features into an expression the Mouse had never seen. Leo's hand closed to the tuning haft.
     Where light had filled the air, illumination shaped to her, till she turned and stared at them over her shoulder.
     The Mouse blinked.
     She was translucent; yet so much realer by the concentration he needed to define her chin, her shoulder, her foot, her face, till she spun, laughing, and tossed surprising flowers at him. Under the petals the Mouse ducked and closed his eyes...
     ...He opened his eyes.
     Oil, the yellow water of the Horn, sludge; but the air was empty of blossoms. Leo, his single boot on the bottom rung of the rail, was fiddling with a knob.
     She was gone.
     "But ..." The Mouse took a step, stopped, balancing on his toes, his throat working. "How ...?"
     Leo looked up. "Rusty, I am! I once pretty good was. But it a long time is. Long time. Once, once, this thing I truly could play."...
     "Can you show me how to play it?'...
     ...Now the Mouse came to work later and later. He stayed on the boat as long as possible. The harbor lights winked down the mile-long docks, and Asia flickered through the fog while Leo showed him where each projectable odor, color, shape, texture, and movement hid in the polished syrynx. The Mouse's eyes and hands began to open....
     Two years later, when Leo announced that he had sold his boat and was thinking of going to the other side of Draco, perhaps to New Mars to fish for dust skates, the Mouse could already surpass the tawdry illusion that Leo had first shown him.

     ...Somebody was jostling forward. Still playing, the Mouse looked up.
     Blind Dan lurched out, stopped, then staggered in the syrynx's fire.
     "Hey, come on, get out of there -- "
     "Come on, old man, move -- "
     "We can't see what the kid's making -- "
     In the middle of the Mouse's creation, Dan swayed, head wagging.
     The Mouse laughed; then his brown hand closed over the projection haft, and light and sounds and smells deflated around a single, gorgeous demon who stood before Dan, bleating, grimacing, flapping scaled wings that shifted color with each beat. It yowled like a trumpet, twisted its face to resemble Dan's own, but with a third eye spinning.
     The people began to laugh.
     The spectre leaped and squatted to the Mouse's fingers. Malevolently the g*psy grinned.
     Dan staggered forward, one arm flailing through.
     Shrieking, the demon turned its back, bent. There was a sound like a flutter valve and the spectators howled at the stink.
     Katin, who was leaning on the rail next to the Mouse, felt embarrassment heat his neck.
     The demon cavorted.
     Then Katin reached down and put his palm over the visual inductance field and the image blurred.
     The Mouse looked up sharply. "Hey -- "
     "You don't have to do that," Katin said, his big hand burying the Mouse's shoulder...

     ..."Take your syrynx, Mouse." Lorq walked to the sculptured rock on the yellow tiles. "If I told you to make a nova, Mouse, what would you do?" He sat on a stone outcrop.
     "I don't know. What do you mean?" The Mouse lifted his instrument from its sack. His thumb ran the finger board. His fingers walked the inductance plate; the pinky staggered on its stilted nail.
     "I'm telling you now. Make a nova."
     The Mouse paused. Then, "All right," and his hand jumped.
     Sound rumbled after the flash. Colors behind the afterimage blotted vision, swirled in a diminishing sphere, were gone.
     "Down!" Sebastian was saying. "Down now ...
     Lorq laughed. "Not bad. Come here. No, bring your hell-harp." He shifted on the rock to make room. "Show me how it works."
     "Show you how to play the syrynx?"
     "That's right."
     There are expressions that happen on the outside of the face; there are expressions that happen on the inside, with only quivers on the lips and eyelids. "I don't usually let people fool with my ax." Lips and eyelids quivered.
     "Show me."
     The Mouse's mouth thinned. He said: "Give me your hand." As he positioned the captain's fingers across the saddle of the image-resonance board, blue light glowed before them. "Now look down here." The Mouse pointed to the front of the syrynx. "These three pin-lenses have hologramic grids behind them. They focus where the blue light is and give you a three-dimensional image. Brightness and intensity you control here. Move your hand forward."
     The light increased -- "Now back."
     -- and dimmed. "How do you make an image?"
     "Took me a year to learn, Captain. Now, these strings control the sound. Each one isn't a different note; they're different sound textures. The pitch is changed by moving your fingers closer or further away. Like this." He drew a chord of brass and human voices that glissandoed into uncomfortable subsonics. "You want to smell up the place? Back here. This knob controls the intensity of the image. You can make the whole thing highly directional by -- "
     "Suppose, Mouse, there was a girl's face that I wanted to re-create; the sound of her voice saying my name; the smell of her too. Now, I have your syrynx in my hands." He lifted the instrument from the Mouse's lap. "What should I do?"
     "Practice. Captain, look, I really don't like other people fooling with my ax -- "...

     ...Prince stood. "Now, I'm going to kill you." He stepped over Sebastian's feet as the stud's heels gouged the carpet. "Does that answer your question?"
     It came up from somewhere deep below Lorq's gut, moored among yesterdays. Bliss made his awareness of its shape and outline precise and luminous. Something inside him shook. From the hammock of his pelvis it clawed into his belly, vaulted his chest and wove wildly, erupted from his face; Lorq bellowed. In the sharp peripheral awareness of the drug, he saw the Mouse's syrynx where it had been left on the stage. He snatched it up --
     "No, Captain!"
     -- as Prince lunged. Lorq ducked with the instrument against his chest. He twisted the intensity knob.
     The edge of Prince's hand shattered the doorjamb (where a moment before the Mouse had leaned). Splinters split four and five feet up the shaft.
     "Captain, that's my ...!"
     The Mouse leaped, and Lorq struck him with his flat hand. The Mouse staggered backward and fell in the sand-pool.
     Lorq dodged sideways and whirled to face the door as Prince, still smiling, stepped away.
     Then Lorq struck the tuning haft.
     A flash.
     It was reflection from Prince's vest; the beam was tight. Prince flung his hand up to his eyes. Then he shook his head, blinking.
     Lorq struck the syrynx again.
     Prince clutched his eyes, stepped back, and screeched.
     Lorq's fingers tore at the sound-projection strings. Though the beam was directional, the echo roared about the room, drowning the scream. Lorq's head jarred under the sound. But he beat the sounding board again. And again. With each sweep of his hand, Prince reeled back. He tripped on Sebastian's feet, but did not fall. And again. Lorq's own head ached. That part of his mind still aloof from the rage thought: his middle ear must have ruptured. ... Then the rage climbed higher in his brain. There was no part of him separate from it.
     And again.
     Prince's arms flailed about his head. His ungloved hand struck one of the suspended shelves. The statuette fell.
     Furious, Lorq smashed at the olfactory plate.
     An acrid stench burned his own nostrils, seared the roof of his nasal cavity so that his eyes teared.
     Prince screamed, staggered; his gloved fist hit the plate glass. It cracked from floor to ceiling.

     ..."Oh, come on, Mouse. See, I've stopped babbling. Don't be glum. What are you so down about?"
     "My syrynx ...
"      "So you got a scratch on it. But you've been over it a dozen times and you said it won't hurt the way it plays."
     "Not the instrument." The Mouse's forehead wrinkled. "What the captain did with ..." He shook his head at the memory.
     "And not even that." The Mouse sat up.
     "What then?"
     Again the Mouse shook his head. "When I ran out through the cracked glass to get it ..."
     Katin nodded.
     "The heat was incredible out there. Three steps and I didn't think I was going to make it. Then I saw where Captain had dropped it, halfway down the slope. So I squinched my eyes and kept going. I thought my foot would burn off, and I must have got halfway there hopping. Anyway, when I got it, I picked it up, and ... I saw them."
     "Prince and Ruby?"
     "She was trying to drag him back up the rocks. She stopped when she saw me. And I was scared." He looked up from his hands. His fingers were clenched; nails cut the dark palms. "I turned the syrynx on her, light, sound, and smell all at once, hard. Captain doesn't know how to make a syrynx do what he wants. I do. She was blind, Katin. And I probably busted both her eardrums. The laser was on such a tight beam her hair caught fire, then her dress -- "
     "Oh, Mouse ..."
     "I was scared, Katin!

From NOVA by Samuel R. Delany (1968)

Cora pointed them out to Rachael, who responded by picking indiiferently at the strings of her neurophon.

“Stop that.” Cora frowned at her. “You know better than that.”

Rachael wrinkled her brow. “Oh, Mother … I’ve got the projection matrix turned oil and the power way down. I can’t possibly bother the shuttle.”

But Cora had experienced a telltale if faint tingle along her spine. “Your axonics are lit. I felt it. You might disturb the other passengers.”

“I haven’t heard any complaints,” Rachael said softly. But she touched several contact points on the chordal dendritics, cut final power. She plucked petulantly at one string. It produced a normal musical tone that drifted through the cabin. Several passengers turned back to look at her.

Cora’s nerves did not respond. Satisfied, she returned her gaze to the port.

Rachael was sharp enough to find nonverbal ways to show her unhappiness. Cora told herself that her daughter knew damn well that playing a neurophon in an unsealed room on board any craft was against all flight rules. It would have been bad enough on board the liner-transport they had just left. In a shuttle, where the descent was a matter of delicate, critical adjustments by pilot and machine, it could have placed them in deep trouble. Rachael was fooling with her damnable toy only to irritate her mother, Cora knew. It would be so much better for her if she would simply disown the instrument. It occupied far too much of her study. time. Cora had tried to persuade her to abandon the device. She had tried only once. It had become an obsession with her daughter, and more than that, a surrogate larynx. Rachael knew she couldn’t battle her mother with words, so she would sometimes counter an argument by sulking and speaking only with the nerve music. Her daughter was turning into a tonal ventriloquist.

“That’s a neurophon, isn’t it? I thought I felt something picking at me a little while ago.” He smiled explosively, changing suddenly from nondescript to swarthily good-looking. “It’s a Chalcopyritic finish, Twelve Plank model, isn’t it? Made on Amropolus? With the Yhu Hive tuner?”

“That’s right.” Rachael brightened, turned in her seat. “Do you play?”

“No.” The man sounded apologetic. “Wish I did. I’m afraid my musical abilities are pretty nonexistent. But I know enough to be able to appreciate a skilled performer when I hear one. However briefly.” Again the lustrous grin.

“Tell me,” he said, shifting in his seat as they skipped a light bump in the atmosphere, “on directional projections, can you change keys and limbs simultaneously?”

“Sometimes,” She sounded enthusiastic. Cora stared resolutely out the port. “It’s hard, though, when you’re concentrating on the music and trying to produce the matching neurologic responses in your audience. It’s so difficult just to execute those properly, without trying to worry about physiological orientation, too. There’s so damn much to concentrate on.”

“I know.”

“Would you like me to play something for you now, maybe?” She swung the lyre-shaped instrument into playing position, her left hand caressing the strings, the right poised over the power controls and projector sensors. “In spite of what my mother says, I don’t think the pilot would mind.”

“It’s not a question of the pilot’s minding,” he said. thoughtfully. “I know you can keep the level down. But it wouldn’t be courteous to our fellow passengers. They might not all be music lovers. Besides,” and he smiled slightly again, “you might accidentally put out the lights, or drop the temperature thirty degrees.”

“All right. But when we get down, if you don’t disappear on me too fast, I promise I’ll play something for you. Tell me,” she went on excitedly, leaning farther into the aisle, “do you know anything about the new cerebral excluder? That’s the one that’s supposed to allow you to add another forty watts’ neuronic power.”

“I’ve heard of it,” he admitted pleasantly. “They say that it can …”

They rambled on enthusiastically, the discussion shifting from matters musical to the latest developments in instrumental electronics.

It was all somewhat beyond Cora. A top-flight neurophon player had to be musician, physicist, and physcist.

She stole another glance at Merced. He was listening quietly while Rachael expounded on the virtues of Amropolous-made neurophons as opposed to those manufactured on Willow-Wane. He had the look of a fisherman returning home, or perhaps a financial expert shipped out by an investment firm to explore the earnings of one or two of its floating farms. His skin was properly dark, but his facial features and small bone structure did not jibe with those of the dominant Polynesian-descended settlers of the water world. He was an ofi-worlder for sure.

They were preparing to leave the pier when she felt a gentle tingle in her lower legs. The tingle traveled up her thighs, ran like an acrobatic arachnid up her spine. Simultaneously a plaintive melody sounded in her ears, counterpointing the delicate rippling active inside her.

Apparently the subdued beauty was inspiring Rachael. Her daughter’s hands caressed the neurophon. One strummed the dual sets of circular strings that lay in the center of the instrument, the other fluttered over the contact controls set in the instrument’s handle and base. The coupling of aural music with the subsonic vibrations aflecting her skin and nerves produced a relaxing sensation throughout Cora’s body, as if she had just spent an hour beneath a fine-spray shower.

Merced appeared similarly affected, but Mataroreva’s reaction was quite difierent. The smile vanished from his face and he turned so abruptly he almost knocked Cora down.

“What’s the matter?” She tried to make the wide grin return. “I’m no music lover myself, but …”

“It’s not that.” He was looking nervously beyond her. “It has nothing to do with the music. I like the music and the neuronics. It’s just that … I think she’d better stop.” He was standing on the edge of the pier, across from the shuttle, staring down into the muted crystalline water. Elongated bands of light, reflections of the sun on water ripples, flashed up at him.

Rachael paused when he made a quieting gesture in her direction. “But you said you liked it,” she protested. “I can play something else if you want.”

“Just turn off the dendritic resonators.”

“Not again.” She petulantly ran her hand across a long series of contacts. Cora felt something combing her nerves. “I keep trying to explain it’s all of one piece, the aural and the neuronics. If I can’t conjoin them properly, I might as well give it up and take up the violin.”

“Just for now,” Mataroreva said.

Merced was also staring over the side of the pier. “I do believe there is something under the sand.”

Rachael ignored them both, her hands flicking angrily over the neurophon’s controls, generating a last discordant dual projection before shutting the instrument off.

Cora’s nerves jumped a little under the sharp stimulation. Then she discovered herself bewilderedly stumbling backward. Seawater geysered in front of her. Draped by the water like a maiden in a blue-green suit was a four-meter-high orange body, flattened like a flounder’s and encrusted with rough protrusions like a chunk of pumice. Several thick pink pseudopods waved at the air. Cora did not see any eyes but received the distinct impression that the creature perceived her clearly.

Mataroreva fell flat. From his cluttered equipment belt he withdrew a very compact beamer. The underwater weapon functioned well on dry land; a beam of bright blue struck the apparition in its midsection, or what Cora assumed to be its midsection. She could see it a bit more clearly now. Only seconds had passed. It looked like a cross between an obese squid and a starfish with delusions of grandeur. The blue fire struck between a pair of tentacles, pierced clean through the orange flesh. One thick, bristly appendage slapped wetly on the pier, only centimeters from Cora’s ankles. The blue beam struck the creature again and it slid back into the water. It had not made a sound.

The big Polynesian gestured toward Rachael. The woman who had joined them nodded understandingly. “She was playing that?”

“I—I’m sorry.” Rachael stared at them, dumbly. “I didn’t know. I mean, I know that a neurophon’s vibrations can affect certain animals. It’s just … the water here is so shallow, and we’re in a protected lagoon near human habitation and I—I didn’t see …”

From CACHALOT by Alan Dean Foster (1980)

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is SPIN POLARIZATION FOR FUSION PROPULSION

This week's featured addition is INsTAR

This week's featured addition is NTR ALTERNATIVES TO LIQUID HYDROGEN

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon