Monday, December 22, 2014

Robert Silverberg on Getting Your Life Back On Course

Eton College has formed and shaped
some of England's greatest leaders. 

What do you do when you realize that you've gotten off-track? Your first inclination is obvious: just get back onto your desired course, right? But what if every effort you make to steer yourself back toward the road leads you down a false path, and you end up back in the wilderness again? How can it be that you've gotten so lost, when the way ahead seemed so clear?

For David Selig, in Robert Silverberg's novel Dying Inside, life seems to have veered wildly off-course. Because he was able to read other peoples' minds, he knew what those around him were feeling and thinking. He could anticipate their reactions, and structure his interactions with them accordingly. Yet he ends up friendless, and earning his living by ghostwriting term papers for students at his old university. You can bet he didn't plan on that happening!

People may not know that he can read minds, but the way he interacts with them usually puts them on edge, at least in the long term. He's had friendships, lovers, and jobs, but none of them lasted. Perhaps it would have been better had he announced to the world that he could read minds: at least then he would have been a celebrity, perhaps a prized talent utilized by the government. But he always feared the other possibility more, that people would revile him for his gift, and that he would end up an experimental lab rat. It's difficult to fault his logic, as his sister Judith, the one person he tells--or at least, the single nontelepath he tells--ends up hating him as a result. So, while he can immerse himself in the lives of everyone around him, he only ends up feeling more alone.

If only he had spent more time developing other abilities, instead of merely exploiting the gift he was born with. 

Dragon Dave

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rainstorms and Rice Krispy Squares

Last week, a storm blew through San Diego, replacing my normal sunny weather with two days of rain. On the second day, when I brought my lunch plate into the kitchen, I noticed the rain had stopped, but it looked as though my back yard sat amid a cloud. The subdued light brought out all the colors in my back yard, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Then I made up my dessert: tapioca pudding mixed with wheat bran and topped with whip cream, apple slices, a Rice Krispy square with candy corn, and a small handful of Cookie Crisp cereal. I'd share them with you, but if you're interested in the Rice Krispy squares, you'd better hurry. They're going quick.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robert Silverberg on the Cost of Telepathy

Gray Dalek says:
I like Robert Silverberg stories,
but please, no more talk of dying.

In his novel Dying Inside, Robert Silverberg suggests that no gift comes without cost. During David Selig's teen years, he finds it difficult to enter into relationships with others. He falls in love with the most beautiful girl at high school, but she dismisses him as a geek. Well, why should be bother to overcome his teenage awkwardness, and work to build a relationship with another, when none of his fellow students can hope to achieve the perfection of the girl he adores? Isn't it easier, perhaps even better, to visit the mind of his perfect goddess, and experience everything she thinks and feels during her intimate interludes with the young men she allows into her life?

As David Selig matures, he uses his mind-reading ability to read attractive women, to anticipate their moods and desires, and he says and does the right thing to gain entrance to their bedrooms. Sometimes these romances amount to no more than a casual fling, while other times they persist past their initial entanglement. Yet none of them last, as neither David nor the women he hooks up with find a foundation capable of securing lasting satisfaction with the other.

While David lives in the hope of meeting the right woman, he channels his love of reading into a university degree in literature, and assists academics and students with their studies. But the happiness and stability that others attain elude him. As he ages and matures, he yearns to build something meaningful and lasting with his life. Worryingly, he cannot read minds as ably as he did in his youth. He has trouble picking up on others thoughts and emotions, and retaining his hold on their minds once he's made contact. This ability to read minds is what makes him special, and the ability he's prized above all, yet it seems to be slipping away from him. What will he do if it goes away entirely? How will he carry on without his strongest personal asset? Can he even survive without this ability? Or like Talia Winters, will he become someone else entirely?

Sometimes we find that the abilities we seek to master, and the goals we strive to achieve, provide less satisfaction than we had imagined. Most of us would imagine that David Selig's ability to read other peoples' minds should have made him a god among men. Instead it diminishes his life, and distances himself from others. So maybe it wouldn't be so great to know what everyone was thinking all the time.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Robert Silverberg on the Pleasure of Vicarious Experiences

Can you guess what this bird is thinking?

In his novel Dying Inside, Robert Silverberg offers us a different vision of how psychic abilities might affect our lives. His protagonist, David Selig, grows up knowing exactly what his parents think of him, and uses this ability to get his own way with them. Well, not quite. Because he seems so quiet and insular, they send him to a psychiatrist, a Freudian who places great import in dreams and fixations. In order to make the man happy, David tells the man what he expects. Yet the psychiatrist surprises him by advising his parents that their son needs more socialization. He should have a sibling.

His parents try for many years, and when biology seems forever fixed against them, they reach out to society and adopt a baby girl. As David has always enjoyed their full attention, he resents her presence, and ignores her as best she can. But unlike their parents, as his sister matures, she begins to suspects the reason he's so adept at reading her moods and anticipating her actions. When she finally accuses him of being able to read her mind, he's so shocked he does the one thing he's never done before: he admits that he can peer into other peoples' minds. She pushes him away, compares what he has done to her with rape, and tells him that she will hate him forever.

As a child and teen, David loved nothing more than to find his own quiet space. He lays down, closes his eyes, and reaches out mentally, and "listens" for new and interesting minds. When he finds one, he latches hold of it, and rides it for a time, thinking the person's thoughts, and feeling his or her emotions. Unlike reading, his second-favorite pastime, this is no vicarious experience. He really is accompanying them in their lives, and gaining an enhanced understanding his world. His ability is not limited to his fellow Humans. He can tap into the mind of an animals, and see or smell the world with the species' enhanced visual or olfactory senses. He can sink into the consciousness of a bird or insect, and feel the sheer exhilaration of flight.

Regardless of whether or not I could read other people's minds, it'd be cool to experience flight from a bird's perspective. Don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

J. Michael Straczynski on Reading People's Minds Part 2

Gray Dalek says:
Give Mr. Garibaldi a chance, Talia.
He likes you.

In J. Michael Straczynski's TV series Babylon 5, we meet a beautiful blonde telepath, Talia Winters, when she reaches the space station. She uses her abilities to oversee business transactions, question criminals, and help others. Her PsiCorps training allows her to selectively shut out all the voices of nearby "normals," nontelepaths who can't help but broadcast their thoughts and emotions. Had she not learned this crucial ability, the constant assault of these radiated thoughts and feelings would have driven her mad. Even with her training, she finds it difficult to enter into any sort of relationship with a nontelepath. Even loving another telepath is problematic and worrying. So she clings to the memory of a psychic she had loved long ago, knowing how the toll of entering into a romantic relationship with another psychic--lowering all her mental defenses, and experiencing all her partner's feelings and emotions--requires a higher than she is willing to pay.

Then an agent from PsiCorps visited Babylon 5, and used his psychic abilities to rip aside all of Talia's defenses. Suddenly Talia Winters hates all the friends she's made on the space station, and despises all nontelepaths. She had always been someone else, it seemed: researchers in PsiCorps had implanted an imaginary consciousness in her mind. The Talia they knew had only been a veneer, an actor playing the role of the ultimate spy, someone who utterly believed her new identity and did not suspect that a darker personality hid behind her, watching and waiting for the right time to cast aside this mental mask and regain mastery of their body.

Superhero movie fans are already looking forward to the release of "Captain America 3: Civil War" in 2016. Comic book fans have often wondered how Tony Stark could side with the government and order all mutants and those with superhuman powers to register with the government. J. Michael Straczynski, who has long written for Marvel Comics, is under no illusions about the dangers of blindly trusting others to right by its citizens. He knows the dangers of blindly trusting others. But then, he constantly had to fight the networks to keep his show on the air. If only he could have read the network executives' minds. Then he would have better known how to appease their desires, and Babylon 5 sequel series and spinoffs might still be on TV.

Oh, and if you've got latent psychic abilities, don't tell me about them. After all, I already know your secrets. 


Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Talia Winters' Plight