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This Alien Shore
- Interviews with CSF about This Alien Shore -


This pages contains transcripts of several interviews that fans have conducted with Ms. Friedman regarding This Alien Shore.

There are some serious spoilers in the interview transcripts that I've received permission to post. Please don't continue unless you've read the book, or if you do then please don't complain if anything was spoiled (hey, you were warned).

The interviews I've posted so far are:

  1. A transcript from an email exchange between Ms. Friedman and Bill Egan.

  2. A transcript from an email exchange between Ms. Friedman and Phil Fraering.

  3. A compilation of emails from Ms. Friedman, focusing on what inspired her and some of her sources of background information.

Exchange between CSF and Bill Egan.

This is a transcript from an email exchange between Ms. Friedman and Bill Egan. It was forwarded on to me by her and printed with both parties' permission. It's an excellent example of fan mail done right, and brings to light many otherwise undisclosed but fascinating aspects of TAS. Enjoy.

Bill Egan (BE): When you say that you had trouble explaining what you wanted in English, does that mean that you were inquiring of an Innuit speaking person?

Ms. Friedman (CSF): Well, I read the concept in a book on the Arctic, was enamoured immediately, and sought the Innuit word with several experts. Mostly accademics, but they knew the language well, The trouble is that they knew translations for English words, and apparently the word for lead is quite subtle. Technically it is "an expanse of water surrounded by ice", of which, needless to say, there are twenty versions that are not leads. So to find the proper word I had to isolate the quality of the lead that made it different from all other such bodies of water...which turned out to be that it opened and closed, that isolated it. What a bear! But the lead has all sorts of implications in traditional Innuit life that even modern speakers were not aware of, so I could not use them to communicate what I wanted. I had five people send me dictionaries, but you can't look something up if you don't know the English word for it, and "lead" never was on the list. I am very tempted to write a book someday in which it is discovered that the Anniq are shifting, and one may close. Think about the implications of that!

BE: It's clear how you worked in the concept of leads (it's amazing that such a thing exists *and* can be used in the way that it's described in your book), but I was curious how you came to incorporate the Innuit language as well. I'm asking about your motivation rather than about the technical aspect of the process.

CSF: Well, first, the visual image was purely arctic, so I thought, why not? (Actually some of the words are not Inuit, but come from other arctic languages.) Second of all, Guera was founded by Terrans who were disgusted by the movement to equal out all races and cultures in search of peace, and perceived that the loss of indeginous earth cultures was a tragedy that could never be corrected. (Note the root of the colony name from "war"). They took with them records from many native cultures and attempted to keep them alive, if not as thriving languages, then at least as treasured antiquities. So it was very in character for them to draw upon a language like Innuit in search of the terms they neeeded, rather than make up some high-tech equivalent. You will note there are other languages represented as well in the kaja names, I know there's one Japanese, one Burmese, and a few from...ah...colloquial sources.::grin:: Guerans regarded Earth's multicultural environment as a source of strength rather than strife (or perhaps just accepted the strife as the necessary price of strength.) Of course that was the cultural background that made their aceptance of the Hausman mutations possible; in a less accepting culture those who were so mentally off-center would simply have been corrected and killed. But the colony believed strongly that the greater the variety of human life, the more we stood to gain as a species. So they revised their whole culture to accomodate the mutations.

BE: Also, to my knowledge, this is the first time that someone has used "cracked" space (as opposed to "warped" space) to get around the light speed barrier. Is this really a first? If so, I think you should lay claim. immediately ;-)

CSF: It is a first as far as I know. Ironically, it is actually derived from a real scientific theory that blew me away when I read it. It is a theory called "strings" (not the same as the string theory of the 80's, with which it unfortunately shares a name). The theory is that at the time of the big bang, in the first expansion of the universe, compression waves caused fault lines in the substance of space-time!!! The concept was so clearly fertile ground for writers that the text even said, "it's amazing no science fiction writer has used this concept in a novel yet." I agreed. It was a leap from lines of space-time compression (used to explain the "missing mass" of the universe)to the ainniq of This Alien Shore, but the concept of a universe riddled with fault lines from its creation was so intellectually rich, from a creative standpoint, that I still remember that moment of discovery, just sitting there and putting the book down and thinking, "Holy Shit. I have to do something with this."

BE: An a completely different subject, although still related to TAS, were the descriptions of the hackers personalities based on your personal experiences on the net?

CSF: LOL. I HAVE no experiences on the net. I am about as computer-inept a person as you are going to find with e-mail, having managed that one basic task against almost insurmountable intellectual odds.

Actually I was involved in a role-playing game where I ran a hacker character, and as it happens the guy running the game knew the business, so he walked me through it. We spent about six months of fumbling around for language that would even permit me to comprehend what was going on, but finally got into a rythym in which I would tell him what I wanted to do, he would translate it into computer terms, I would refine it, he would apply it, and we'd go on from there. You might say I learned hacking conceptually rather than technically. When I decided to do the book of course I picked his brain continually, and pretty much I would come to him with an idea of what I wanted to do, he would tell me what was possible, I would go refine it based on what he gave me, he would translate that into computer terms, and I would translate THAT back into plain English....because I wanted this to be a book accessible to non-computer people as well. Much to my pleasure and surprise, I found that I was starting to think in very realistic terms of things that COULD be done, at least in a science fiction setting, so often it was just a question of working out the details and managing to put it into English.

The best example is the chapter in which Masada first runs into Phoenix. That started with the question, "okay, this guy wants to figure out how Lucifer works, what would he do? How would he be discovered?" Which got into a technical discussion of hot zones and cold zones (I'll spare you) and basically, how a hacker might claim research space in a commercial system, and what signs might exist that he was doing so. Soon we crystallized the concept of a closed system that was pulling programs in from the outernet but not letting them exit -- in non-technical terms, a kind of event horizon of code -- which led to the image of Masada getting pulled in, which led back out to the technical question of what that experience was like, which led to the description of menus unfolding before him, one after the other, unbidden...and my consultant read that and cried out "Yes! Yes! That's it!" And so on. Which is part of the reason the book took so long to write. :-)

The hardest part was getting rid of the technical language. You have to use enough that the meaning is clear, but if you use too much, you lose a lot of non-technical readership. I wanted readers to focus on what these people were trying to do, not which bits of code they were using to do it. Very, very hard line to walk. I could not have done it without a host of computer people looking over my shoulder at every line.

No, I'm lying. The hardest part was that it wasn't enough to figure out how computers worked, and how they might work in the xxxxth century, but the fact that I had two different types of programmer - classical and maverick - and needed to understand how they would both approach the same problems. Without making either of them look like idiots.

That's the classic formula, of course. Academics are so closed minded that they can't see the forest for the trees, brave young (unappreciated) hackers save the day. I wanted to show that both Phoenix and Masada had strengths to offer, each was competant within his context.

BE: Thanks for the replies! I hope things are going well and that you are experiencing that warm fuzzy feeling that accompanies another successful novel.

CSF: Nah, that's wiped out by the cold prickly feeling of knowing I have to do another one soon in order to pay the rent. :-)

Exchange between CSF and Phil Fraering.

This is a transcript from an email exchange between Ms. Friedman and Phil Fraering. It was forwarded on to me by her and printed with her permission.

Ms. Friedman's commens are in navy, Phil's in red

Interesting questions. Perhaps I can satisfy you.

> BTW, I *do* have some nits to pick regarding _This Alien Shore_
> which is a pity because it did seem to me to be such a good book
> once you accept the basic starting points (for instance, the
> rate of genetic divergence from the original mutations; it's
> as if Hausman's mutations _don't work_ like ordinary radiation-
> damage-to-gene mutations;

They don't and in fact it is never stated that radiation is the cause. It's not. The effect is meant to remain unexplained and mysterious and I am drawing on theories that as yet have no words for the things I want , but here it is: Are you familiar with the theory of evolution called Punctuated Equilibrium? It states that species go for long periods of time with no major changes, and then suddenly something will trigger...well whatever...and a flurry of species division and evolutioinary mutation will take place. I'm oversimplifying, but that's the basic theory. Read the works of stephen gould. Whatever that trigger it is that tells DNA it is time for such actvity, that's what the Hausman drive trggers. That is why 1) most mutations followed some viable evolutionary pattern of making creatures larger, smaller, giving them more digts on the same limbs, addng hair, extending things such as the vestigal coccyx into a tail, etc. In other words, altering what they had to start with. That is also why 2) most groups stabilized in some form that was adapted to their environment instead of just being weird creatures. That was what was behind my concept, and as you can see it has nothing at all to do with radiation damage or random negative mutation, and in fact is quite consistent with current scientific thinking. :-) Fell free to spread it around.

BTW, the Gueran mutation affected gestational hormone balance during crucial developmental periods of the embryo, affecting brain development but not always in the same way. Thus the mutation is quite consistent in theme while the results vary greatly. (Once more, based on modern research that suggests gestational environmental factors play a large part in brain and possibly even personality development)

> also, the Terran reaction to the
> mutations doesn't quite seem right.

Hm? You'd have to be more specific for me to understand this nit.

Bfore I answer that, I'd say only that the Terrans are far, far from unified in their response to anything!

> Now that I think about it,
> I _understand_ some of the Variants more easily than the Terrans,
> except for the Guerans, who are better than most author's aliens).

Well, the Variants all have their roots in very small colones that underwent the same trauma. One expects more homogeneity and perhaps even more focus than one gets on Eerth, with all its milleia of sociological baggage.

> One thing I thought was a potentially major mistake is that Jamisia
> has dissociative personality disorder,

No she did not. She had multiple personality disorder. The parameters of that condition are not fully understood, but there is some interesting work showing that t can indeed cross the line between mental and physical phenomena. For instance, key in my thinking was a study of histimine reaction in one MPD patient. And it was non consistent between personalities. Think about what that means, exactly: the personalities had different allergies! This was measured by medical equipment to be an actual change in histimine reaction of the body, dependent upon which personality wasin control at that time.

That case was central to my thinking. It is true that schitzofrenia manifests as a physical state -- believe me, I've got PET scans of it pinned up in my office -- and that we believe there is a genetic predisposition involved. It is also true that it appears to be an alteration in how the brain functions, sections reducing their activity or even shutting down entirely. (And BTW , identical twins do not alway match up exactly in how strongly this manifests). Now, if you can have two personalities, and one is allergic to cats and one is not, I find it feasable that a normal person could have a personality that mimicked schitzofrenia (note the word mimicked), by shutting down activity in various sections of the brain, until the symptoms were indistiguishable from the "real thing" Remember, you've got brainware to help with this too. So if sometime in the future we discover that a shortage of XXXX is responsible for Schitzophrenia, that can as easily be blocked by science as it can be added.

Obviously it is quite complicated and there is no easy "cure" or "control", but it is stated that the Guerans specialize in treatment of this disorder and can medicate it, which implies control is possible. If you can turn something off by adjusting a neurotransmitter, why cna't you turn it on? If the body can produce more histimine in one personality than another, why can't it be trained to provide more dopamine. Or less?

Brain science is far, far from cut and dried, and it is in the grey areas that I delight in speculatation, and always will. Agree or not, you will at least see that there is far more thought that goes into this stuff than most readers give me credit for. :-)

BTW, another facet of MPD is that the alternate personalities are often quite messed up psychologically, sometimes with disorders all their own. Many of those disorders cross the line between what we would regard as psychological problems and ones of biological origin. There is no clear border between the two. As someone who spent twelve years in therapy for serious psychological problems, that cleared up in five minutes when someone finally realized the problem was shortage of a specific chemical and all that was needed was to have it supplied, I am VERY aware that the border between mental and physical cuase is quite hazy, and probably will remain so.

> _and_ what appears to be
> paranoid schizophrenia, but that only one of the personalities
> has the schizophrenia, which doesn't seem right because schizophrenia
> is currently believed to be organic in nature.

See above. One can believe she carried the genetic predispositon and they pushed one alter over the edge, or simply that they applied brain science and psychology to miimic that state. Having tasted the outer corona of that paranoia myself, I speak from experience that it does not require full-fledged medical schitzophrenia for some symptoms to manifest. And what I was looking for was that quirk of mental processing that allows a brain to instantly take new data and weave it into an elaborate tapestry of threat and conspiracy. That is a kind of creativity, as well as a sickness, and that is what the outpilots require.

> Now that I think about it, the Guild's treatments for the outpilots
> reflects basically the same paradigm, that the outpilots have an
> organic syndrone (I almost said disorder, but I stopped myself):
> it's supressed with drugs and brainware programming when it's not
> needed. >
> It doesn't make sense to me that one personality would suffer from
> that condition while another one would simply not use the damaged
> part of the brain.

Well it is not simply a "damaged portion of the brain". Look at PET scans of active schitzofrenia and you will discover entire portions being underused. Is the problem in "damaged portions" or in some instruction regarding how sugar is metabolized, neurotransmitters created, or some other brain-wide activity? Some areas shut down completely, but others "cool down" also, and most of the brain is affected in some way. Very complex.

So, let us assume (to make this example simple) that it involves faulty production of some chemical. Well, if one personality can produce more histimines than another, I have no problem with the concept that it could produce more dopamine. The mind is still a mystery to us, and far more complex than we often give it credit for. So I may have speculated a litte, but as you can see, it was not only based upon modern scientfic discoveries. but acutally inspired by them.

> (Other good authors have assumed similar models; one recent example is Tim Powers in _Earthquake Weather_. It was disconcerting there
> too.)

Did you underestimate the author's research there as well? ;:grin::

> Other than that, I liked the book a lot; I did wonder, though, how Gueran
> society did handle variations that caused fluid personalities, such as
> Jamisia's. It all seems so static, with no sense of spontaneous order.

Far, far from static. As a matter of fact, it is simply an introvert's wet dream. Those who go through life with a good sense of cues like body language, tone of voice, etc, cannot fully undersatnd how lost people sometimes feel who don't read those things fluently. Now, what if people wore T-shirts with important social clues on them, like, "I have PMS today, don't bother me." "If you don't stop to chat with me, I will consider you rude" or even "I'm really preoccupied with work problems, please excuse me if I seem a little abrupt today." Wouldn't that help such people an awful lot? That's all the kaja are. I know people who would give any money to have them adopted on earth, and several readers have said that to me. Simple social cues, stripped of all their mysteriousness.

SO the MPDs have the Rusa (by the way, a real Borneo legend),a pattern that says "I change personalities regularly, so there's no way I can tell you exactly what you're going to be facing in me, but because I'm a Gueran I understand that when I meet you I need to give you some clear signal of how I want to be treated. If that seems a little overstated at times, just chalk it up to Hausman and don't take offense okay?"

> I almost wish the book had a glossary,

Half-finished at the time of publication, it lost out simply to lack of time. We will probably add it in some future edition.

> and I wish I had a list of
> things such as the Guildmasters' variations and present-day equivalents
> for those that had them.

Some of them are simply personality types. The Nantana is simply a well-adjusted extrovert alert to really subtle social cues, I forget the Jungian designation for it. I was in fact inspired by some recent work based upon Jung's divisions of personality types, that suggested the way we would make the most of each and every person in our society was to simply recognize that they are different and tailor interaction to their differences. The kaja sometimes are smply the equivalent of wearing a T-shirt that says "INTJ". Or, "Yes, I am a computer geek, deal"

> Thanks for your time!

Sure thing! That help some?

Return to Top

Emails from Ms. Friedman.

This started with a question sent in from Judy Stanton on "Would it be possible to make a list of some recommended reading that Ms. Friedman used while writing this book?" I've also added in emails sent in that expand on what inspired her and some of her sources of background information. It was printed with her permission

This is the first response that was received

Hm, not a big mystery, since I credited all these guys in the book :-)

The short science fiction of Cordwainer Smith is available in a hardcover collection. Worth every cent. Readers will note a few concepts lovingly lifted from what is one of the greatest (and strangest) sci fi talents ever to publish

For nonfiction, check out Oliver Sachs "An Anthropologist on Mars" Aside from being a can't-put-it-down exploration of human psychology at its most bizarre, the book served as direct inspiration for several characters in the novel.

Temple Grandin is a brilliant scientist and adult autistic whose writings make available a world previously shrouded in mystery. Try 'Emergence" and "Thinking in Pictures". to get a glimpse of her internal reality.

A book called "Special People" was inspirational, especially for Gueran society. I can't remember the author. It is a study of autistic savants that raises the disturbing question....if you could cure them of their autism and make them "normal", but the price was for them to lose the talent that made them special...is that necessarily a good goal? Questioning that societal premise (that making a child "normal" is the best thing you can do) is of course the core premise of Gueran society. Like Grandin, the author hints at horizons within the autistic mind that are not available to more "normal" brains, and which may have value in their own right.

Those were the key inspirational works. The book was written to "Incantations" and "Tubular Bells" by Michael Oldfield, also, the soundtracks from "The Piano" and "The Killing Fields." The first selection is my traditional writing music. Oddly enough, though I choose my music for mood, I find that 99.999% of all music recorded interferes with my sentence structure. It must be an unconscious response to the rythym. Hence I have a very small list of CDs that for one reason or another (I don't pretend to understand this) don't do that.

ICB was written primarily to Mussourgsy, with guest appearances by other 19th century Russian composers.

I don't remember the others :-)

When asked if she'd read "Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain", the reply was:

Oh, forgot that.

In the case of Multiple Personality Disorder (which is now called something else), some of my sources were real people who have experienced the condition and made their peace with it. The search for hard research material was long and frustrating, since Jamisia is a rare type in having come to that state without a history of torture and/or sexual abuse, and in developing an internal "community" which ultimately learns to function together, rather than giving way to some form of "integration". Numerous sources focused upon the more common form of the condition while devoting only a passing sentence or so to what I needed, such as, "there is evidence MPS can be induced by hypnosis"...and then giving little information as to who found that out, or where more information can be gotten.

The book "When Rabbit Howls", written for the popular press, is the only lengthy treatment of the "community of minds", and while not a great book in of itself, set me on the path to much of my research.

A final note on hackers. Now and then I get a letter that tells me "I don't know hackers" or "they are not all like that." For the record, I had a number of hacker consultants with whom I sat down with every page of this novel, and who gave me advice down to the fine points of conversation and housekeeping. Some of them were freelance trouble-makers who cheered when viruses made the news. Some wore shirts and ties and did security for national defense. Yes, I'm aware they don't all live on day-old pizza and pride themselves on changing the logo on the CIA website to "Central Stupidity Agency". But some do.

I know little about computers, so this was quite an undertaking. The process generally ran something like this. I would go to my consultant and tell him, in plotline terms, what I wanted to do. He would give me a rundown of how that might translate into mechanical terms, and we'd bat ideas back and forth until soemthing clicked for me. I would then go and try to weave that information into my plot. Then I would come back to him and let him read what I'd written, and he'd provide the technical interpretation, correct anything that wasn't possible or likely, and sometimes provide additional advice if my view of the future intrigued him. Then I'd go home and -- the hardest part -- take all the technical stuff, strip it of jargon, and make it comprehensible to a reader who, like myself, doesn't know anything about the technology. The last part was the hardest, and sometimes it took several rounds. From my point of view the highest praise I can receive on this book is when a reader tells me how much they enjoyed it "even though I know nothing about computers."

So, was my character typical of hackers? Who cares? Phoenix is a *character*. Hopefully realistic, hopefully complex enough for readers to relate to....but he's just a guy, y'know? That's true of any novel. I didn't write about him to make sweeping statement about how *all* hackers act, or of how they'd act in the future, but to provide one snapshot of the larger picture. Readers should be wary of extrapolating too much, or of reading into that character sweeping statements about human society that are not there. For the record, Phoenix is not only a hacker in the modern sense, but a "moddie" specifically -- part of a very small population of joy-riding hackers that get very illegal surgery to put very dangerous things in their heads, any one of which could fry their brain for life. Once that's done they live by necessity on the fringes of society, because they never know when some official program they're making contact with will scan for modifications and report them. I short, though I have been assured by readers that some hackers dress formally, hold down regular jobs, and have clean apartments...Phoenix isn't one of them.

So anyway, that's the research story. Enjoy :-)

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