But Is It NOSS?

by John Michael Greer
(Cumberland, MD, USA)

As noted in a comment to Dylan's piece "Still Here!", I've got a hypothetical quasi-NOSS setting in mind for a story set on an inhabited Mars -- to be precise, on the border between BREM and WOM, as there's thin but just-barely-breathable air in the lowlands of Iruwon (the native name for my Mars) but you can't leave the lowlands without breathing gear. It's notionally in our universe. How? There hangs a tale...

When the inhabitants of the third planet, that brilliant blue star in the skies of Iruwon, started launching space probes, the Iru -- the people of the fourth planet -- figured that out right away. The Iru have a history going back some nine million years; they're definitely on the downside of their historical arc, but they've got a lot of archaic technology, some of it much more advanced than ours, and a certain amount of that is in working order. They picked up Terran radio signals not long after Marconi's time, though they couldn't decipher them, and watched warily as the first satellites popped out of the third planet's atmosphere. Close observation led them to realize that the third planet was inhabited by a prolific, energetic, and violent species that might easily see Iruwon as so much available real estate. Sooner or later they might start sending probes toward Iruwon. What to do?

Old, cold, devious minds stayed up late into the Martian night plotting. Pressure waves fluttered through the hair-thin tubes of hydraulic computers. Records dating back to the second of the Eleven Luminous Dynasties at the dawn of Iru history were consulted. A decision was reached by the sayende of the Eighteen Cities -- and the Iru proceeded to hack Earth's space probes.

Ever notice how many probes sent to Mars have crashed, malfunctioned, or just plain never seemed to work right? That's their doing. The ones that did send back data, from the Mariner flybys on, sent back fake data designed to make Mars look much less inhabitable than it is. Probes en route to Mars were jumped by robot spacecraft ranging out from the orbital station we call Deimos -- both the "moons" of Mars, in my fictive universe, are asteroids brought in from the belt by spacecraft in ancient times, Phobos for its minerals and Deimos as an orbital base -- and popped open and gimmicked.

The first few attempts to hack Earthling space probes were a matter of frantic jerry-rigging -- it had never occurred to Iru scientists that anybody might try to use the odd but impractical phenomenon of electricity the way the alien minds of the third planet did. That's why they "crashed" several probes, brought them home to Mars, and put their best minds on the task of cracking the secrets of an almost incomprehensible science. They succeeded -- but the probes just kept on coming.

Finally, of course, a manned spacecraft from the third planet made the trip, and the scientists on board were aghast to discover -- as their magnetometers detected the supposedly nonexistent Martian magnetic field, their spectroscopes picked up much more atmosphere than should have been there, and finally their telescopes spotted the unmistakable traces of roads and cities -- just how thoroughly they'd been bamboozled.

To my mind, it's a fun angle, as it plays with some of the limitations of science as currently practiced, it pokes a little fun at humanity's assumption that nobody can possibly be as clever as we are, and it allows for an inhabited Mars with sword-swinging native critters. But here's my question: is this a NOSS setting, or is it something else? And if so, what?

{Z: You're on to a winner here - what a plot!! As to how to classify it: I would call it OSS for content - as it could have been written decades earlier as far as its basic idea is concerned (there have been quite a few stories about Martians trying to fool us in one way or another) - and "NOSS" only for its date of publication, i.e. NOSS insofar as it could be part of a new literary rebirth of interest in the OSS.

After all, you are not positing any different or alternate dimension here; your plot is that we are being bamboozled in this dimension. That seems to me to be more exciting than the dimensional stuff. More immediate.}

Comments for But Is It NOSS?

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Mar 12, 2017
Martian mind control rays
by: John Michael Greer

Zendexor, you may not be the only one who's been affected by arcane Martian technology. I sat down early this afternoon, intending to type out a rough outline of the story -- working title "A World in Hiding" -- and before I finished for the night, had better than 1600 words of first draft written. I gather the Iru are beaming a "Write The Story" ray in my direction! ;-)

{Z: There's probably a faction fight going on. Expansionists versus Seclusionists battling each other for the soul of the Red Planet. The former party want you to write; the latter will stop at nothing to prevent you from blowing the gaff - so watch out for changes of mood, ignore all negativity, and remember, a paranoiac is someone who has twigged what's happening! Thinking of all this, I find myself imagining the sort of intro Lovecraft would have written for such a tale... rather like the preambles to The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadow Out of Time.}

Mar 11, 2017
Okay, you've convinced me...
by: John Michael Greer

Zendexor and Dylan, thank you for the encouraging remarks! I'm putting together a story outline -- my sense is that the idea deserves a short story all to itself, before becoming a framing device for other stories. After all, the point to having a proper, inhabited OSS Mars is to have adventures there, in which humans and Iru can tangle with the challenges of an ancient and perilous desert world. Still, one story at a time.

It seems to me also, if I may risk a bit of pomposity, that there's a genuine SF point to be made by such a story. The scientific method isn't omnipotent, and one of its limitations -- as we're finding out the hard way in some fields -- is that it's not all that well designed to root out skilled fakery. I've forgotten the source, but I once read an interesting discussion of the difference between the way scientists and spies think. Scientists look at the majority of the available evidence and say, "Okay, that's most likely to be true." Spies look at the majority of the available evidence and say, "Okay, that's the cover story; now what's going on behind it?"

We don't often think of nature as engaging in fakery -- but if there are intelligent species out there in the cosmos, we'd better be prepared for their attempts to bamboozle us!

{Z: A very good point. Worthy of Philip K Dick. I probably would have thought of it myself, if my intellect hadn't been deadened by a fiendish brain-inhibiting ray called the Stupefier, directed at me from Mars.}

Mar 10, 2017
A Unique Proposal
by: Dylan Jeninga

I rather like that solution Mr. Greer, and I don't know that it's ever been done!

I think it is the sort of story mechanic that is not easily emulated. Once a successful story of that type is written, every story after it which is similar will be seen as a pale mimic of the original.

And in the end, Zendexor is right. What matters, really, is that a story is accepted on its own terms.

(He's also right about the loosely drawn worlds of the Daedalus series. I understand that isn't the focus of those novels, but I wanted to know more about Mars, Venus, and Saturn.)

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to join the conversation.