Better Angels

Notes from an earlier release, below, but also note:  Better Angels is due to be re-released, revised and with a new Afterword, by Borgo Press in 2012.

 

Better Angels is an archeology of the future, specifically the substratum and prehistory of the world described in Lightpaths and Standing Wave.

Professor Lydia Fabro discovers an anachronistic and oddly shaped (but apparently human) shoulder blade in Rancho La Brea Tar Pit 129, in Los Angeles. When Fabro learns that the peculiar artifact is not bone alone but also exhibits mechanical structure down to the Angstrom size range, she brings the brilliant but disturbed Jiro Yamaguchi in on the analysis of the La Brea discovery.
 
As rumors of the discovery spread, the questions about the "find" multiply. Is the artifact only an elaborate hoax? A spectacular piece of "organometallic" sculpture? Is it the shoulder blade of an angel, as the tabloid media claim? All seem legitimate possibilities. None of these scenarios, however, can explain why the artifact radio-dates to thousands of years in the past.
 
The situation is not made any easier by the fact that research at the tar pits has been shut down for nearly a decade and the place has been thoroughly trashed. At the time the novel opens, the former United States of America has, until quite recently, been controlled by the "New Commonweal," the theocrats of the Christian States of America. Ongoing civil war, however, has at last resulted in the freeing of much of America from the theocratic tyranny. The United States has been re-established, albeit in truncated form. Banned "anti-Biblical" research, such as that once conducted at the tar pits, has started up again.
 
Within this framework of recent civil disturbance, very tentative peace, and struggling science, Better Angels plunges into the causes and effects of Jiro Yamaguchi's divine madness and apparent death. Against a media-circus backdrop, competing artistic, scientific, and religious groups (and their many associated characters) vye for control of the artifact. In the shadows, military and intelligence entities also strive to possess it, among them the big-science Tetragrammaton program and the theocrats' Operation E 5-24. Professor Fabro, seduced by offers from such groups, unwittingly becomes the antagonist and "villain" of the book.
 
Better Angels reveals the heretofore undisclosed role of the "angel's shoulder blade" and its alien technology in precipitating that not-so-accidental apocalypse known variously as the War Mite Plague and the Nanogeddon (alluded to in Lightpaths and Standing Wave though never examined in detail). Yamaguchi's guilt and grief over his indirect role in the Nanogeddon finally drives him over the edgeless edge of madness.
 
Even in madness, however, Jiro seeks to use the technologies uncovered through the artifact to salvage some good from his involvement with it. Through the artifact's tech and his own technoshamanic capabilities, Jiro learns of the creation and growth of the basic infosphere intelligence later known as Deep Background. He becomes the first human being to fully realize that what's developing in the infosphere is not the tidy Neon New Jerusalem of cyberspace but rather the infojungle, the brainforest, the electronic ecology of Mind thinking.
 
Jiro comes to suspect as well the presence of a much vaster intelligence in deep space – one peculiarly ambivalent in its attitude toward making contact with humanity. All of this seems like madness to Jiro's brother Seiji, his parents, and few friends. He is forced to set out on his own into the Trashlands beyond the edges of the Bay Area Los Angeles Aztlan Metroplex (Balaam), there to confirm the reality of his delusions.
 
Jiro's paranoid-but-aware understanding of the forces implicated in the existence and discovery of the angel's shoulder blade finally enables him to escape madness through the death of his "meat body" and through his attainment of a "body electric" – thus making possible the already chronicled personal transcendance seen in Lightpaths and the universal transcendance described in Standing Wave. In this way, the Tetragrammaton books come to an end by returning to where they began – a snake of time that eats its tale sometime in the future, yet still manages to shed its skin.