Three More Stories

I’ve been doing other things, mainly fiddling with this web site, but I’ve also been writing some more stories in the Mage and the Boffin series. Here they are!

Flickering

When Alan is threatened “everything flickers” and he finds himself in a strange new place. He will have to start again from next to nothing. No home, no friends, no money. He needs to find someone who can help him make sense of it all.

The Dichotomy

The Mage and the Boffin go to Hell. They have an interesting talk with the Devil, and they talk about the Great Dichotomy. The Devil is friendly enough until he reveals his true nature.

I am the Apocalypse

A pandemic sweeps the world, and Mack holes up in his apartment. But has he isolated himself in time?

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.

The Coming Apocalypse

Bombed out church
Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

Dry ground
Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

Fidel Castro
Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

The End of (Western) Civilisation

English: Is this really 'the end of civilisati...
English: Is this really ‘the end of civilisation?’ The Worcestershire/Gloucestershire county boundary on the B4280. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In much of the world capitalism holds sway and there is no denying that, as an economic and social system) it has benefited humanity to a great extent. It has built the great global technological empires that give residents in “western” societies all the consumer goods that we enjoy.

It has provided well for its citizens in general with the standard of living in western societies being the envy of other people in other nations, to the extent that they strive to move to western societies even if their homelands are not embroiled in war and tyranny.

Monument to the fallen in the fight against fa...
Monument to the fallen in the fight against fascism and capitalism in the centre of village Skravena, Bulgaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But capitalism has its faults, and to some extent it can be likened to a car without brakes. A car without brakes is still driveable, and it is still steerable and can stay on the road until it hits a downhill stretch. Then the driver cannot control the car as it gets faster and faster down the hill and the inevitable will eventually occur.

Capitalism tends to vest power in the businesses and organisations that benefit from it. It tends to concentrate the capital from which it gets its name, of course, in a few individuals and while it benefits most people, there are small but growing number who slide to the bottom of the heap for one reason or another.

Poor people in Tirana, Albania
Poor people in Tirana, Albania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The people at the bottom of the heap are not totally without the benefits of the capitalist system. They mostly have televisions for example, which would have been considered a luxury a few decades ago.

However, they often have difficulty with food, accommodation, schooling and medicine. Any jobs that they get will be generally low skilled and low paid. They may even have to work two or more jobs just to get by.

English: Health Care Português: Saúde Pública
English: Health Care Português: Saúde Pública (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many western societies houses are becoming more expensive, as measured against family incomes. As houses of their own are out reach for them, they generally rent their accommodation, either from the state or private landlords. Even then they feel the effects of rising house prices in their rent, and often they are forced to rent houses which have serious defects, like damp and mould.

Landlords are of course subject to the capitalism system and are reluctant to spend much money on repairs and so on, as any such expenditure comes out of their pockets. Houses that they let out are often allowed to deteriorate badly.

Poor coastal housing at Hanuabada in Port Moresby2
Poor coastal housing at Hanuabada in Port Moresby2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those at the bottom of the heap, schooling may be an issue. While the state provides schools, not all schools are the same. A school in an upmarket suburb is almost always better resourced and has better teachers than a school in a poorer area. It’s no surprise, then, when the upmarket schools perform better in terms of qualifications achieved by the pupils.

Access to medical care is often a problem for those at the bottom of the heap. If a trip to the doctor costs $50, as it may well do, then that is a big chunk out of the family budget, and any prescribed medicines will at to the burden. As people get older, they may no longer be able to work and yet this is the time in their lives that they may need medical care more often. In contrast, a people higher up the scale will be more able to pay to have hip operations and so on performed privately.

People at the top of the scale often look down on those at the bottom as being lazy benefit bludgers who are unwilling to work. This is in most cases untrue. The barriers to rising from poverty to plenty are many, and are in the main insurmountable for many.

The poor are not stupid in the main, though many may not be the brightest of people, and the chances of making it off the bottom rung of the ladder are off putting to many. There are always stories of people making it against the odds, as the saying goes, but in most ways those who succeed in rising up the scale merely reflect the odds.

999 out of a thousand triers will fail, regardless of drive and ambition. Many will therefore not bother. Even if they did try, they might raise the odds to 2 in a thousand, scarcely any better. It truly is a trap at the very bottom of the heap.

The capitalist system is not able to provide for people in their old age when they are unable to work too. One can put aside a portion of one’s income to help provide for old age but many do not bother, and even they do, the portion that they can put aside depends on their position of the scale of wealth. A poor person, living from hand to mouth, may have no income that he or she can put away for old age.

English: Beggar man and beggar woman conversing
English: Beggar man and beggar woman conversing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditionally, at least in the last century or so, the state has helped out by providing a guaranteed income for old age in the shape of a pension. However this still has to be paid for and taxes are the way that it is usually done, which means that the richer people will pay for the poorer peoples’ pensions.

It has reached the state in many western societies that welfare, that is schooling, medicine and provision for old age is no longer affordable for society. This is a coming crisis that the current capitalist system cannot avert. It is not exaggeration that it may be the end of civilisation as we know it.

If the poor can no longer be sustained by the system, then stratification will definitely occur. The “have nots” who outnumber the “haves” will become jealous of them, and that may lead to actual conflict between the classes.

It is not an issue that can be addressed by merely changing the distribution, by effectively taking from the rich and giving to the poor, as this is unfair to those who are considered rich, and will be ineffective anyway, as it provides no incentive for the poor to provide for themselves.

But if nothing changes, things will get worse and worse until conflict, pestilence, famine and death spread in waves across the Earth. That is, unless we find a better, and fairer societal system.

The original Four Horsemen of Apocalypse. Pane...
The original Four Horsemen of Apocalypse. Panel from X-Factor #24. Art by Walt Simonson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Considering the Universe

Miss Universe
Miss Universe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Once again I wrote this on Sunday, but forgot to post it on Monday)

When we are considering the Universe we are considering something that we are part of, and of which we share the characteristics, such as, for example, existence. We can exist only because the Universe exists and the Universe exists, at least in part, because we exist. It is conceivable that in some way a universe could exist with nothing in it, much like a mathematical empty set but it would be pretty boring.

Or would it? Maybe I’m applying some anthropocentric reasoning to that statement. After all, the concept of a mathematical empty set is very useful in mathematics, and but then again, “useful” is a human concept.

"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), u...
“Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), unnaturally stretched.” Size: 4.9 x 5.5 in² (12.4 x 13.9 cm²) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A universe may be non-empty, but have no life in it. We, from another universe can conceive of such a universe, but there can be no perceiving of that universe if we rule out the possibility of visiting it from our Universe. We can’t even tell if such a universe exists, so some would argue that the question of its existence is meaningless.

That’s a valid argument, but then again, out Universe was not perceived by any entity in the billions of years prior to the evolution of life. Of course the question of the early  existence of our Universe before the coming of life, is not meaningless to us – we know that it must have existed for us to exist.

English: An illustration of the time scales fo...
English: An illustration of the time scales for the history of the universe, the earth, and major events in the evolution of life. The scale on the far left is in billions of years the other scales are numbered in millions of years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, we can conceive of other universes other than our own, but do other universes exist in any real sense, apart from our own. A universe is self contained in the sense that there is no logical reason to conceive of anything outside of it. It is all of physics, all of existence.

One definition of universe is:

a distinct field or province of thought or reality that forms a closed system or self-inclusive and independent organization

This is a pretty good description of what I am writing about I’d say. The key word for me is “closed”. If something is closed it contains whatever it contains and the outside is irrelevant so far the contents are concerned.

Though now I come to think of it, maybe that is not true. If we have a can of beans, we know what is inside it by the label, and we can open the can with a can opener. Maybe the contents of our Universe are visible on the outside, on the label as it were.


Embed from Getty Images

Our Universe has laws, or appears to have laws. The laws appear to be universal – that is, they apply everywhere in our Universe without exception. An atom here behaves the same as a similar atom here would and conceptually swapping them would make zero difference.

We do not know all the laws but we humans believe that we can know all the laws and I believe this to be true, even if it might take longer than the life of the Universe for use to discover and understand them all. By laws, I mean “how stuff works” and even if the ultimate answer is “because that’s the way the Universe works” and there is no deeper meaning than that, I’d still consider them laws.

One bizarre possibility though, is that there is no order and the Universe is totally random, and only appears to have order. When we look at an expansion of the number Π we mostly find what seems to be random digits. Occasionally however we find runs of digits which look like they are non random, such as a lengthy series of the digit “3”, but eventually the random appearance returns.

This feature of the number Π can be used for amusement, such finding one’s own name “encoded” in Π, or any other string. Maybe our Universe is like a very long encoded string in the number Π, which seems to be ordered but actually isn’t. Maybe at some future instant things will revert to the real random state that the Universe is its real state.

Pi Animation Example
Pi Animation Example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some physicists and cosmologists postulate alternate universes to account for some of the weirder facets of Quantum Physics, but in the broader sense we can consider universes which are similar but different and unrelated to ours. Would we want to visit such universes? Could we conceivably do so?

It seems to me to be unlikely that we could visit other universes, as the only methods that we could use are physical ones and our Universe encapsulates its physicality. That is, the physical laws pretty much define it. A frog can leap from a pond, since frog, pond, the air and the surroundings of the pond are physical, but simple leaping cannot take the frog to another universe, no matter how hard he jumps. A human can use physics to travel the Universe, but using physical means it doesn’t appear possible for us to jump out of our pond.


Embed from Getty Images

Would we really want to visit other physics-based universes? The other universes would have to be pretty much the same physically, our physical bodies would suffer – imagine for an example a universe where protons decay in minutes instead of in aeons. We would die in seconds.

Our best prospects for universe-hopping would be those universe which are probability neighbours. That is, they share the same physics as our Universe, but some events happened differently. For example, one can contemplate a universe where slaving never happened or where France’s hegemony dominated the early USA and French language and culture dominate in the North Americas.

Non-Native-American Nation's Control over Nort...
Non-Native-American Nation’s Control over North America circe 1750-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, we are used to a physical Universe, but it is conceivable that other universes may be not physically based. It’s extremely difficult to even talk about such universes, should they (in some sense) exist, and my mind keeps trying to populate such conceptual universes with things, and things are presumably physical entities, and would not be able to exist in a non physical universe. Probably!

Perhaps our physical nature hampers us in understanding the real nature of things. Perhaps we can only conceptualise things based on our nature. After all our thoughts are the end result of physical processes evolving over billions of years and are implicit in the history of our Universe and encoded in a way in the Big Bang.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)