science fiction zenoli

Why 'zenoli'?

Because zenoli warriors kick Mentat butt.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels are standard fodder for top-10 lists of SF. Old Isaac posits a science of psychohistory that allows the prediction of the behavior of humans en masse over the course of millenia. Set against the sweeping fall of a galactic empire and the prospect of tens of thousands of years of chaotic, violent interregnum, one man sees a possible course that can shorten the time until the rise of a new empire. It’s a grand conception, marred a bit by mathematical handwaving and wooden characterization. It always felt a bit hollow to me, and psychohistory never really meshed into my ideational umwelt.

Until I found Psychohistorical Crisis, by Donald Kingsbury. Crisis is an unauthorized riff off of Asimov’s themes, played firmly in Kingsbury’s own key. Mathematics, which for the original novels was typecast into the role of an axiomatic MacGuffin, is elevated to a center stage. The nature of psychohistory itself is key to the plot, and while the math may still be window dressing, it is at least extremely well-considered and thought-provoking window-dressing. I was able to believe that psychohistory was true, or at least suspension-of-disbelief-possible.

Crisis‘s other main departure from Foundation‘s universe is the fam. From ‘familiar’, the fams in Crisis are symbiotic computers, given to their an owner of age three or so. They act as an extended brain, growing and learning with their owner, augmenting cognition and mnemonic ability. At some point in Galactic history, zenoli was developed, a martial art that exploits the capabilities of the brain-fam link. “At the moment of combat, the zenoli soldier is poised, inertialess, ready to act in any direction–like a marble at the top of a smooth, multidimensional hill.”

At we will consider our meat-brains, our silicon symbiotes, and our own small corner of the galaxy.

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