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Macrolife

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Macrolife
A Mobile Utopia
George Zebrowski

Praise for MACROLIFE

“It's been years since I was so impressed.
Macrolife
manages an extraordinary balance between the personal and cosmic elements. Altogether a worthy successor to Olaf Stapledon's
Star Maker….

“I'm confident that George's book is so good it doesn't need any recommendation from me. You can quote that!

“One of the few books I intend to read again.”

—Arthur C. Clarke

“A work of sweeping imagination, exploring the fascinating implications of humanity's breakout to the era of space colonies. Zebrowski addresses the deepest of questions: what is the human destiny? I read this book with great enjoyment.”

—Gerard K. O'Neill

“The first writer since Stapledon to get the Stapledonian flavor-vistas, perspectives, a kind of distant, serene motion. I think it's a book that will last, if only for its first statement of an emerging, probably inevitable vision. The novel oscillates nicely between long view and close focus, capturing a mood and feeling that few even attempt in this field, and at the conclusion there is a genuine vast perspective evoked. The prose is very good—smooth, evocative, adroit—a solid work that will have a following of the best sort.”

—Gregory Benford


Macrolife
has acquired a cult following.”

—Stephen Baxter,
Vector

“It is a very impressive book, not only because it is so well written but, most especially, because of its imaginative scope. It takes courage, confidence, and real ability to tackle these magnificent Stapledonian expanses of space and time, to confront the Universe in all its ever-changing majesty, and to dream of the infinite variety in which it can challenge man and change him (or make him change himself).

“That, of course, is the challenge of the science fiction field, and at a time when too much SF is trying to reduce the vastness and wonders among which we and our world live to mere backdrops for teenage suspense plots, it is refreshing and encouraging to have someone tackle the greater scheme and do it so splendidly. I hope there will be more books where
Macrolife
came from.”

—Reginald Bretnor


Macrolife
is the sort of novel that is not often seen in science fiction. It is thoughtful and deeply textured, somewhat reminiscent of Le Guin but on a much larger canvas; its scope alone should fascinate many readers, though its underlying philosophy is equally attractive.”

—Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

“With the publication of
Macrolife
, George Zebrowski takes his place next to H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and Arthur C. Clarke as a novelist of ideas on a cosmic scale. It is one of the most intellectually adventurous science fiction novels of all time.

“I am especially moved by Zebrowski's success in striking a balance between the demands of thought and art…a splendidly wrought novel…much more than a book about space colonies, it presents a comprehensive vision of human destiny.
Macrolife
is magnificent.”

—W. Warren Wagar


Macrolife
is a thoughtful and detailed extrapolation of a staggering concept: the survival of our species in extraplanetary habitats. In rich, meticulous prose Zebrowski examines the emotional and philosophical ramifications of this concept, and in the novel's powerful finale—the section entitled ‘The Dream of Time'—he creates a farsighted and poetic coda that is absolutely lovely. An important book.”

—Michael Bishop

“The first writer since Stapledon to get the Stapledonian flavor-vistas, perspectives, a kind of distant, serene motion. I think it's a book that will last, if only for its first statement of an emerging, probably inevitable vision. The novel oscillates nicely between long view and close focus, capturing a mood and feeling that few even attempt in this field, and at the conclusion there is a genuine vast perspective evoked. The prose is very good—smooth, evocative, adroit—a solid work that will have a following of the best sort.”

—Gregory Benford

“What Zebrowski has tried in
Macrolife
is beyond the abilities of most writers in the field. He has shown the sweep of time, and the future evolution of mankind. Indeed, he has shown the future of all living things, from microbes to sun systems. And this on a canvas which stretches from now to Forever.”

—Howard Waldrop

“George Zebrowski's ambitious novel
Macrolife
is constructed on a scale completely different from that of most science fiction being written today, so much of which is too conservative in its outlook.
Macrolife
—with its graphs, charts, illustrations, and interludes of theory—is as striking in form as it is imaginative in content. The book is in the best Utopian tradition of Wells and Stapledon.”

—Curtis C. Smith

“Impressive…
Macrolife
theme beautifully and convincingly developed: all based on credible cosmic technology. A history of eternity, done with grace and optimism. The last section, ‘The Dream of Time,' with its serial universes and macrolives, has melodies and cadences reminiscent of Elizabethan sonnets. For contrapuntal contrast, the destruction of Earth is the best I ever read. It should satisfy even John, writing on Patmos. This, we agree, is the Way of Last Things.”

—Charles L. Harness

“Its sheer sweep, its grandeur of concept, its daring, integrity, and rational intelligence put to shame those science fictioneers who can only fill up the next hundred billion years with space wars and other high jinks orchestrated by heroes who are only giant dwarfs, fantasy projections of our as-yet rather primitive selves.

“Integrity, yes, and honesty. Here is a piece of fiction which may well be more than fiction, which demanded to be written, and to be written in its own terms.
Macrolife
is a work of grandeur and intelligence. With it, George Zebrowski's career as mature prophetic writer really commenced….”

—Ian Watson

“The Utimate Utopia. There's a lot of wonder in this book.'

—Richard E. Geis,
Science Fiction Review

“A truly
sui generis
book…a massive intellectual achievement, a work that will be discussed and debated for years.”

—Thomas N. Scortia

“No higher praise could be offered than to say that
Macrolife
is almost Stapledonian in its approach to the subject of man in the galaxy.”

—Brian W. Aldiss,
Trillion Year Spree

“A very plausible cosmology…Zebrowski has plotted and executed a fascinating story…superlative ‘hard science fiction.'…”

—United Press International

“An intellectual tour de force of great imagination and reverence for mankind's potential.”

—Dean Ing

“Reminiscent of Stapledon's future history in its breathtaking scope, and Blish's
Cities in Flight
tetralogy in its grand theme.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“…the gradual evolution of human society in the artificial worlds develops richly. The novel will probably be remembered rather longer than swifter, more superficial works.”

—
Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review

To
Pam

for the beginning,
for the years after,
for the friendship and love,
      these words

INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW EDITION

Increasingly, and sadly, American science fiction continues to be dominated by what George Zebrowski has referred to as “print television”: by books conceived and written as if they are TV films rather than works that challenge and enhance the emotions and the intellect of the reader, examples of “the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

George Zebrowski's
Macrolife
is the latter kind of book, and that definition of a good book is almost three hundred and fifty years old. It comes from the pen of the poet John Milton, in his long political pamphlet
Areopagitca
, which is also one of the masterpieces of English prose. Subtitled A
Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing
, this pamphlet of the year 1644 attacked state censorship, which was implemented by requiring official approval for the products of a printing press.

Nowadays works of science fiction—a literature of such potential to liberate the imagination and the mind—are censored
commercially
by a virtual conspiracy of publishers, editors, voters for prestigious awards, and, alas, by authors themselves. In many respects the pressures of commercial censorship are far worse than anything against which the author of
Paradise Lost
protested, because today's pressures train readers to think and to respond shallowly, to consume the intellectual equivalent of fast food while convinced that they are feasting on fine cuisine. Which average reader nowadays—the audience for Milton's polemic in his day—would get far beyond the title of that eloquent, finely wrought pamphlet? Even the title seems a bit of a mouthful.

George Zebrowski's
Macrolife
certainly isn't fast food.

“Print television” doesn't simply refer to the flood of zippy, slick adventure fiction on the book racks, clones of previous SF, clones of
Star Wars
, clones of clones. The phenomenon is more insidious than that. For adventure fiction merely represents the low-level consensus of escapist entertainment. There also exists a high-level consensus consisting of literary work that is finely crafted, replete with a care for words and narrative tone and interactive dialogue that is both snappy yet unvulgar, populated with properly rounded characters, equipped with significant themes, laced with emotional concern, and with tasteful daring, and with a banner-waving show of insight and responsibility. Much of this work is also a sham, a confection. Too many budding writers write in order to see a well-wrought book in print with their name upon it, rather than to affect the consciousness of readers and even to change their lives in some minor or even major way (which, to me at least, is a principal reason for writing). Pretty soon those writers who do succeed become authorities on writing SF.

“Show but don't tell,” aspiring authors are advised. Learn how to sugar the pill until the pill is buried deep, lost in a cyst of saccharine. Endless workshops-—which are commercial as much as literary since they are guiding the evolution of new authors toward survival and success in the consensus marketplace—and “How to Do It” articles by professional authors who have adapted to this ecological niche advise the young hopefuls how to cast narrative hooks like an angler fooling the fish and the best way to slip exposition of ideas painlessly into a tale without clunky chunks of facts or ideas interrupting the smooth momentum of the story. A major crime is to let one's grasp on the reader slip for a moment or to hold up the onward rush of events. Thou shalt not discomfort the readers by making them slow down in the reading and actually
think
. They must simply experience the cunning, superficial semblance of deep feeling and intellection. Thus readers are conditioned not to think, so that ultimately they will not be readers of fiction but viewers. Thus writers are trained to think carefully about avoiding the appearance of rigorous thought.

George Zebrowski is an author who will make the reader think; and the ideas, the experience of his work, will not, therefore, slip away afterward like some phantom of thought, some illusion that the “viewing” of some subsequent book will presently eclipse.

This is why Arthur C. Clarke described
Macrolife
as “one of the few books I intend to read again,” adding that “it's been years since I was so impressed.
Macrolife
manages an extraordinary balance between the personal and the cosmic elements. Altogether a worthy successor to Olaf Stapledon's
Star Maker
.”

Spurred on by peer fame in the form of Nebula and Hugo nominations and inclusion in “Best of the Year” anthologies as well as by inflated advances for “long awaited” first novels or sequels to previous, much-loved confections, the concept of the award-worthy piece of fiction—one which possesses the magic ingredients of balance, artistry, characterization, significance, et cetera—exists as a kind of abstract idol that now tends to condition, even if unconsciously, the kind of stories and novels that authors will write and how they will go about writing these. This system trains writers not to attempt other things or even to believe that those other ways could be valid. And editors punish deviancy as being “uncommercial,” which is tragic for authors, for readers, and for science fiction itself insofar as American science fiction commercially dominates world markets. To many people in America, consensus science fiction seems the only conceivable kind.

Thank God, then, for George Zebrowski.

Or should we, perversely, thank that madman Hitler? For Zebrowski, child of displaced Polish slave-workers, only came to America courtesy of the Nazi cataclysm, bringing with him a European tradition of literature, philosophy, and science that distinguishes him from most of his peers. He himself has commented that “Platonic dialogue, the symphonies of Mahler, Utopian fiction and Wellsian prophecy…these are the personal and technical sources of
Macrolife
.” Brian Stableford, reviewing
Macrolife
on its first appearance, was moved to wonder what possible future there could be in the science fiction field for a writer like Zebrowski.
Macrolife
was far more worthy “than a dozen sickly novels of the species that currently dominate the American SF scene,” yet the book seemed to Stableford to be a literary mule, something that just ought not to have been a novel. How deeply the divide has grown between fiction and nonfiction—even though historically this schism is of fairly recent origin and was irrelevant, as Stableford points out, to “the most ambitious works of the seventeenth century.”

Macrolife
is certainly an ambitious book, if any book is, yet though it is rooted in an older tradition of passionate thought, its own ambitions aren't those of the past at all. They are of the future, of the furthest futures conceivable.

If any book is a treasure in Milton's sense, here indeed is one, in a world where so many lcontemporary “masterpieces” are like doughnuts, fresh sugary hot sellers today, stale and discarded by tomorrow. The first edition of
Macrolife
nonplussed several reviewers, but favorable opinion has prevailed, for instance, in most major critical reference works and in
Library Journal's
must-read list.
Macrolife
is one of Easton Press's Masterpieces of Science Fiction.

In Stableford's view there is simply no way that a vision such as Zebrowski's can be presented using the narrative techniques of the novel, since—to take a couple of examples—these compel Zebrowski to have his characters lecture one another or require the protagonist to read a book of commentary “in order that we can read it over his shoulder.” For the novel has become preoccupied with character and narrative whereas Zebrowski is concerned with future sociology.

Isn't it curious that one of the great classics of the twentieth century was George Orwell's
Nineteen Eighty-Four
in which O'Brien lectures Winston Smith at length and in which Smith reads page after page of
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism
, quotations from which occupy almost exactly
one-tenth
of the whole novel?

Yet Stableford's criticism is correct, if reformulated to express precisely what is wrong with much American SF, namely, its betrayal of its own content in favor of novelistic tricks. Time and again, philosophical problems—of sociology, cosmology, the nature of existence, all of which are of the essence of science fiction—are presented but then hastily sublimated into mere story. One opens so many SF novels with such high hopes only to find that the science—in the broadest sense, of
knowledge
—is the merest pretext for a fictional adventure.

Zebrowski, for his part, has diagnosed a fundamental anti-intellectualism in American SF. In his view too many of its authors believe that they are sages, full of wise opinions, whereas the truth is that they have never thought rigorously enough as part of their basic existence.

On the contrary, they have schooled themselves to conjure up a mirage, an illusion of intellectual rigor. Zebrowski himself studied philosophy at the State University of New York and might have become an academic philosopher. The best teacher in that college (in his opinion), one Robert Neidorf, was a philosopher of science, but also a science fiction reader. The two strands
could
combine. “There should be more people,” Zebrowski has stated, “who are moved by the ideals and examples of science, and who understand its sociology and history, its importance to human aspirations and survival. Most workaday scientists rarely think about these things either.”

Its importance to survival
. To a life beyond life, to quote Milton again. Survival, the triumph over powerlessness, and life beyond life are indeed the themes of
Macrolife
. Just as the writings of its character Richard Bulero are harked back to by subsequent characters, as rational visions of the future of life in the cosmos, so, too, may this novel of Zebrowski's be harked back to aboard some space habitation out among the stars in the year 3000 as one of the founding texts, when other SF authors of today are as much remembered as medieval French court poets. If the future does follow a certain path, away from planetary surfaces into free space—as Zebrowski argues with a fierce conviction that it must—then he may well be regarded as a true literary seer. Few other writers are in the running for this sort of reputation.

Macrolife
is a major vision of social intelligence transforming the cosmos. It is in three sections. The first focuses upon events in the year 2021 when the disintegration of the “miracle” all-purpose building material Bulerite destroys civilization on Earth. The events that are set in motion propel the first kernel of macrolife free of the solar system. The second and longest section deals with more mature macrolife of the year 3000. The star-faring habitat visits a degraded dirtworld to obtain raw materials with which to reproduce itself, then it returns with its new twin to Earthspace, where the first contact with alien macrolife occurs. The human race is accepted into the cosmic circle because people have learned how to link with artificial intelligence, thus overcoming—or at least taming—the instinctive passions inherited from dirtworld evolution. The final section begins a hundred billion years later when macrolife has filled the universe but the universe is beginning to wind down back toward the point of final collapse.

The Bulerite calamity renders the Earth dramatically uninhabitable. Earth's very crust is cracked, recriminations trigger an all-out nuclear war, and to trump the doom the Earth and Moon are engulfed in a bizarre, other-dimensional bubble. At first glance this may seem a rather histrionic and arbitrary plot device to compel macrolife to set out on its journey of growth; almost a deus ex machina at the very outset of the novel. If it requires such a far-out set of circumstances to launch macrolife, then macrolife cannot be such an inevitable future, can it? Could it be, also, that Zebrowski deliberately lays on the apocalyptic action with a trowel so as to refresh the reader after some rather lengthy and serious philosophical conversations in Platonic dialogue mode?

A problem of substance? And a problem of style?

Zebrowski's concern with rebirth from out of cataclysm reflects his own background as a member of a mutilated nation. “I feel the force of memory that pushes out from my parents,” he has written; “it's always there, a shadow cast by a world gone insane.” His past was “brutal, cruel, and stupid…created by people…who didn't want me to be born.” Dirtworlds are also brutal, cruel, and stupid as environments; and the escape to a space habitat, which is free from the shocks to which planetary flesh is heir, may be emotionally patterned upon Zebrowski's own escape as a child from war-torn Europe to America. This, plus a subsequent pattern, which segued with his discovery of science fiction. For though he was an adoptive New Yorker, a temporary move to Florida from the gang-haunted, refugee-packed, decaying South Bronx presented him with warmth, cleanliness, light, and a white marble public library, “a place out of Clarke's
Against the Fall of Night
” (or something in the meadows of a macroworld) where he discovered endless shelves of early hardback volumes from Fantasy Press, Gnome Press, Shasta, and Doubleday.

Thus there is an emotional pattern in Zebrowski, of salvation from apocalypse—not for everyone but only for the fortunate ones. There is an intellectual argument, too. The Bulerite disaster is appropriate because it is an example (this particular one mixing natural calamity with human folly) of a whole range of disasters that can very easily overtake natural planetary life when all the eggs are in one basket. The very escape route from ravaged Earth—aboard the hollowed asteroid, Asterome—is a reminder of another possible disaster that was narrowly averted. Until diverted and moored at a libration point in the Earth-Moon system, this same asteroid had once been on a collision course with Earth. Nothing in our present day prevents a similar asteroid or comet from impacting with our planet at any time, as has happened repeatedly during geological history. Such an impact, releasing the equivalent power of thousands of hydrogen bombs, would destroy civilization and probably cause a mass extinction of species, our own included. A planet-bound culture is also threatened by any instability in its sun, by the climate flipping into a new ice age, and it is challenged by its own success in the form of chemical and thermal pollution, as witnessed by the ozone holes and global warming.

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