In my previous review of Berserker Man, also by Fred Saberhagen, I mentioned how my friend, Francis Walsh, the astronomer, loaned me some science fiction books. I usually do not read fiction, but I am reading them because science fiction helps inform futurists of potential futures. I have been creating Murals to depict the chapters of these books, because, in the age of COVID-19, Mural is the new PowerPoint. It offers the visuals of PowerPoint but also real-time interactivity. Multiple users can edit Murals simultaneously. Mural is a great collaboration tool to accompany Zoom meetings.
Berserker's Planet is the follow up to Berserker Man. The setting of the second book is 500 years after the first. The central conflict is that berserkers believe that biological life is a virus that needs to be expunged from the universe. Biological life is irrational and guided by emotions. Machines lack this limitation. So here are some quotes from the chapters of the book that inspired the corresponding sections of the Mural.
"Variable stars, pulsars, spinars, and quasars within the galaxy and out of it had each their effects upon the subfoundation of space through which the starship moved. Black holes of various sizes committed their wrenching gravitational enormities upon the fabric of the Universe. The explosions of supernovae far and near sent semi-eternal shock waves lapping at the hull. The interstellar ship that effectively outpaces light does not, cannot, carry aboard itself all the power needed to make it move as it does move. Only tapping the gravitational-inertial resources of the Universe can provide such power, as the winds were tapped to drive the sailing ships of old." [Pages 9-10]
Sixty-four warriors gathered on Hunters' planet to fight to the death as part of Thorun's Tournament. The winner would join Thorun as a demi-god on Godsmountain. Though all on the planet appeared to worship Thorun, an unknown person had posted a small scroll on a tree that read: [Page 22]
Gods andmen, place your bets. Who of the 64 will be proven the greatest fighter? That one will be, there is no doubt. Will he then envy those he has slain, and curse Godsmountain and its lying priests? While your money is out, try to lay a bet on this also: Are the rulers of this mountain fit to rule our world?
"The radius, mass, and gravity of Hunters' planet were Earthlike, as well as the composition of the atmosphere. Hunters' would surely have been colonized from pole to pole had it not been for its extreme axis tilt — more than eighty degrees to the plane of its revolutiuon around Hunters' sun. Spring was now a standard year in the Hunterian northern hemisphere, which region was therefore emerging from a night that had been virtually total for another Earthly year or so." [Pages 29-30]
"In the northern springtime, beasts of all description emerged from caves and nests and frozen burrows with the melting of the ice. Among them came predators, more terrible, burning with more hunger and ferocity, than any creatures that had ever lived on the old wildlands of Earth. On Hunters' planet now, as every fifteen standard years, the hunting season by which the planet had acquired its name was in full swing." [Page 31]
"The plan of the Tournament, handed down to Leros by the High Priest Andres and his Inner Circle of councilitors, required that each successive round of fighting take place closer to the top of the mountain than the one before." [Pages 53-54]
"Thorun was a thing, a tool, part of a necessary deception practiced on the masses, a deception that Andreas had left behind him in the Temple." [Page 77]
"Against the wall opposite the single doorway stood a low wooden table bearing a half-dozen boxes of bright metal. Each box was of a different shape, and each rested in a depression or socket carved to its shape in the dark panels of the tabletop. The outer surfaces of the boxes were precisely machined and shaped, products of a finer technology than any sword-making smithy. Tubes and cables of smooth gray and black ran among the boxes in a maze of interconnections." [Page 77]
"...Suomi began to unsling the rifle from his back. As he did so, the incredible giant took two steps toward him with its sword upraised, then halted as if satisfied with its position." [Page 101]
"By this time the second Hunterian warrior, young and tough-looking, was completely up on the cliff-top and proceeding with drawn sword toward the open hatchway of the ship. Th ethird, also of normal size, was right behind him... The ship's hatch stood open and — except for Suomi — unprotected. And Barbara was in there." [Page 101]
"Suomi ran to the foot of the climbing path and looked up. In view at the top was the head of one of the Hunterian men who had scaled the cliff. Suomi took an ascending step; at once, the man's hands came into view, holding a short, thick bow with arrow nocked and ready." [Pages 105-106]
"Before he had gotten fifty meters into the trees, a line of uniformed men holding bows and spears at the ready appeared before him, deployed at right angles to his path, cutting him off. A white-robed priest stood with them." [Page 106]
"He was not anxious to die and when he saw violent death approaching he knew that, as in the past, he would be afraid. But it would be worth it, worth it, worth it. For the timeless share of intense life to be experienced to the end. For the moments of full perfect being when the coin marked Life and Death spun before the altar of the god of chance, moments more valuable than so many years of the dreariness that made up most of what men called civilization." [Pages 112-113]
"With a flash of insight, Schoenberg realized that the contestants in a Tournament like this one must stand closer to the gods than even a priest of Leros' rank." [Page 114]
"'Sixty-four brave fighting men, all full of life and blood and valiant deeds, met on the plan below. And now there are just eight of us with breath still in us. [Soon to be four.] Then [before the start of the Tournament], when we still might have turned around and gone home, we were greated and praised as heroes. Now? No one beholds our deeds or will ever sing of them. And are the dead-fifty-six in truth now at their feasting up above?' He looked toward the mountaintop concealed amid its groves. 'I hear no sounds of laughter down the wind.'" [Page 131]
"...it has been taken for granted that Karlsen's [(captain from 500 years ago)] victory here destroyed all the berserkers on Hunters' or drove them away. But perhaps one survived, or at least its unliving brain survived when the rest of its machinery was crippled or destroyed. Perhaps the berserker is still here." [Pages 155-156]
"'Perhaps I can [terrify] you by saying to you only one word.' Andreas clasped his hands together playfully... 'Well then. Utter this terrible name.' Schoenberg lifted his eyebrows in almost jaunty inquiry. Andreas whsipered three syllables. It took Schoenberg a little while to grasp it. At first he was merely puzzled. 'Berserker,' he repeated, leaning back in his chair, his face a blank." [Page 166]
"'Today or tomorrow, oh Death, we will bring you the starship,' said Andreas. 'As soon as we are sure that Lachaise can fly it safely, we will lower it into the pit. Tomorrow we will also bring you fresh human sacrafice." [Page 185]
"The spear had been leveled for some time, and now Farley saw the litle movemnet at Thomas' shoulder that meant a thrust was coming. Farley drew his own weapon even as he leaped back from the spear thrust. Farley fought. There was no choice. When he struck with his sword, his arm felt as strong as ever..." [Page 189]
"But meanwhile Giles had got in close, swinging like a piledriver, and landed his maul full force in the back of Thorun's beck." [Page 204]
"Now Thomas' blunted spearpoint smashed into his [Thorun] right eye, which went out like a candle, with a tiny crunch that came through the spear like breaking glass." [Page 205]
"'And say, is that Tournament everything I've heard it is? Going on right now, ain't it? Isn't this the place?'." [Page 233]
The book was an enjoyable read as the parallel stories of the crew of The Orion on a hunting trip alternates chapters with the story of a fight-to-the-death tournament on Hunters' Planet. As expected, the stories come together in the final chapters.
Fred Saberhagen wrote Berserker's Planet in 1975. He was skeptical of artificial intelligence's ability to equal human intelligence.
"The berserker did not understand emotion, and only when compelled by circumstances would it try to work with what it did not understand. The stimulus-response patterns called fear and lust, for example, seemed at first to be readily computable in humans as well as in less dangerously intelligent animals. But in more than five hundred years of attempting to master human psychology well enough to use these patterns to manipulate human organisms, the berserker had time and again run into depths and complexities of behavior that it could not understand." [Page 182]
I disagree with this. In 2013, since emotions are defined by humans as recipients of information, I authored two blog posts about why robots will appear to have emotions.
So if machines could mimic human emotions in 2013, can they interpret them in 2020? The answer is yes.
A Towards Data Science article from November 2019 predicts that since artificial intelligence is capable of learning on its own without being reprogrammed, it will eventually understand human behavior. The article acknowledges that humans are irrational in that their biases, prejudices, misconceptions, and fallacies determine their actions. For example, economists have trouble predicting the future of the economy because they can't take into account the impact human emotions have on human's buying activity. Today, researchers find that "by modeling human behavior, we can potentially estimate its impact on the real world. This will make it easier to identify financial bubbles and potential vulnerabilities in the economy, as well as to make better predictions."
Predicting buying impulses in the first step to predicting the range of human emotions from acceptance, affection, aggression, ambivalence, apathy, anxiety, boredom, compassion, confusion, contempt, depression, doubt, ecstasy, empathy, envy, embarrassment, euphoria, forgiveness, frustration, gratitude, grief, guilt, hatred, hope, horror, hostility, homesickness, hunger, hysteria, interest, loneliness, love, paranoia, pity, pleasure, pride, rage, regret, remorse, shame, suffering, and sympathy. A Daily Sabah article also from 2019 notes how artificial intelligence calculates emotions from speech and facial expressions.
These two articles are fact, not fiction. So whereas computers of the future imagined by Fred Saberhagen in 1975 could not handle human emotion, computers designed and made in 2020 can.
Considering the future with science fiction as a catalyst is alive in the lab.