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Lost Voices 22: Gryphon by Crawford Kilian


By Crawford Kilian 

9 May, 2000

Lost Voices


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Crawford Kilian

Del Rey [1989]

260 pages

Synopsis: Three hundred years ago, humans contacted aliens. Although interstellar travel is impractical, many species belong to an interstellar communications network, giving them access to a vast database of ancient information. Humans were able to decipher and understand a millionth millionth of the data and with it, raise a few millions of us to great heights of luxury while wiping out the rest. By the twenty fourth century, only twenty or so million humans are left, mostly isolationist immortals. As well, the side-effects of a few million spoiled godlets making their own individual gardens of Eden have destroyed most of the native ecosystems of Earth.

Alex Macintosh is one of the very few young people, only 25 years old as the book opens. During the party marking his entry into adulthood, a new Earth-sized planet suddenly appears in the sky. Isolated from tidal and gravitational effects by alien high-tech, the planet is occupied by a species nicknamed gryphons’, a race which was kicked off the net for hitting other species with logic bombs’. Alex is not entirely unfamiliar with them: he has coincidentally been given a locally grown gryphon named Victor as a birthday gift.

The Gryphons are motivated by something akin to religion: they have a great faith in something they call the Pattern and think all of the universe should be brought into it. The Gryphons have already conquered another race, the trolls, from a near-by system and have good reason to thing that they can duplicate their success here. Among their many weapons are molecular machines, or molmacs’, the basic tool of high technology in this universe. The microscopic devices are well able to rewrite the basic beliefs of those exposed to them. If the molmacs fail, they also have weapons of mass destruction: after all, they can always make new humans if needed, much as Victor was cloned from the data-base file on a Gryphon genius.

Many humans decide to resist. Alex’s father is killed in short order, following an ineffective attempt by him to use force to repel the invaders. Alex himself and California, a fellow youth who attended his party, are shot down. On the surface, they contact a young community of wild molmacs, the product of some research by a now dead human. Agreeing to ally with the molmacs, the youths head to the home of McCool, a follower of the Violence religion. There they get war wired’, molmac improved to be able to fight better. They make contact with the Gryphons, hoping to fool them long enough to get off planet. Despite attempted countermeasures, they are immediately subverted to the alien cause. Victor manages, after they leave to subvert Venus, to free them and they keep heading to Venus, hoping to build a unified resistance there.

Many many people die either violently or due to allergic reactions to Gryphon molmacs. The Gryphons do not particularly value the comfort or existence or other races, although they are not especially opposed to their continued existence as long as that existence does not inconvenience them. Humans are not the only entities inconvenienced: the side effects of the war on Earth are worse than any conceivable modern nuclear war.

Alex and company mange to persuade people to open their libraries to each other. This means that for the first time in centuries, humans are engaging in cooperative research. That combined with the greater than human intelligence of the young wild molmac colony and skillful diving into the alien archives, give them useful technical tricks to extend the war, although in the long run the Gryphons will probably win due to greater numbers. The resistance is betrayed from within: Victor appears to have gone over to the Gryphon’s cause, taking his progenitor’s name.

Eventually, this turns out to be a ruse: by surrendering to the Gryphons, he was able introduce molmacs which subverted the basic instincts of the Gryphons. Compelling and contagious, the molmacs convert the leaders first, and process of general conversion seems unstoppable due to the Gryphons’ top-down command structure. The book ends with the survivors of humanity [less than 50% by my count] having rediscovered cooperative behavior and also, in the wild molmac community, perhaps having created an intelligence vaster by far than humanity.

I am not sure if this was the first books published to use ideas from Drexler’s Engines of Creation . If not, it’s one of the earliest. I think it holds up pretty well after 11 years and is probably my favourite of his SF novels.

There’s a terrible handwave at one point: I could buy that few beings bother with interstellar travel before the FTL drive shows up but after that I could buy that the Chaiar could have independently discovered FTL but not that it was in the archives and not exploited at all.

I’d have been quite interested to see stories set after contact but before the Chaiar invasion or perhaps in a milieu like it but without the huge genocides in the Gryphon backstory.

As it happens, for a long time I thought the first Kilian work I encountered was The Empire of Time but it turns out he did the script for a CBC adaptation of A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder back in the 1970s. As I remember it, it was a pretty goodadaptation of James DeMille’s [?] story and if I thought folks had the slightest chance of being able to find a copy on tape or CD, I’d recommend it. The Canadian Broadcorpsing Castration only paid for the rights to broadcast it once so I expect even if they have copies they can’t legally release them. At least this was the case with their radio version of Frankenstein about the same time. Ah well.

I have not seen any new fiction from Mr. Kilian in years and I asked him about this. I quote with permission:

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I’m not publishing fiction (SF, fantasy or otherwise) because I can’t interest any publishers in my stuff. Del Rey passed on my last submission to them (an alternate-history story), and a non-SF crime thriller didn’t even get past my agent (as he was then). You’re right – my last novel on paper was Redmagic , in 95.

The books at iUniverse aren’t making a fortune, but at least they’re out there and reaching a few readers… even getting some nice reviews.

Meanwhile a number of nonfiction projects have worked out – a workplace-writing textbook, the two Self-Counsel books on writing SF & F and for the Web, and now maybe a commission to do a big institutional history. I still kick around fiction ideas, including the thriller and the alternate history, but with no publisher expressing interest, it’s tough to gamble the time.

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Crawford Kilian’s webpage is

www.capcollege.bc.ca/magic/cmn… there’s a typo in there. Links to a number of his novels in free e‑format may be found there.

[Note from 2020: that link is dead. Try this one instead, although I didn’t see any ebooks.]