bond of union

Today I’d like to take you to about trillions year in the future and see it the way one of my most favourite science-fiction writers saw. Read this short story and you’ll see why I chose M.C. Escher‘s work ‘Bond Of Union’ to illustrate Isaak Asimov‘s vision of our future. I should warn you though – it was commissioned by Playboy magazine as a story to be based on a photograph of a clay head without ears. However, Asimov’s story was rejected, while the magazine accepted the stories by two other writers. Fortunately it was published later in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1965.

Eyes Do More Than See

by Isaac Asimov

After hundreds of billions of years, he suddenly thought of himself as Ames. Not the wavelength combination which, though all the universe was now the equivalent of Ames — but the sound itself. A faint memory came back of the sound waves he no longer heard and no longer could hear.

The new project was sharpening his memory for so many more of the old, old, eons-old things. He flattened the energy vortex that made up the total of his individuality and its lines of force stretched beyond the stars.

Brock’s answering signal came.

Surely, Ames thought, he could tell Brock. Surely he could tell somebody.

Brock’s shifting energy pattern communed. “Aren’t you coming, Ames?”

“Of course.”

“Will you take part in the contest?”

“Yes!” Ames’ lines of force pulsed erratically. “Most certainly. I have thought of a whole new art-form. Something really unusual.”

“What a waste of effort! How can you think a new variation can be thought of after two hundred billion years. There can be nothing new.”

For a moment Brock shifted out of phase and out of communion, so that Ames had to hurry to adjust his lines of force. He caught the drift of other-thoughts as he did so, the view of the powdered galaxies against the velvet of nothingness, and the lines of force pulsing in endless multitudes of energy-life, lying between the galaxies.

Ames said, “Please absorb my thoughts, Brock. Don’t close out. I’ve thought of manipulating Matter. Imagine! A symphony of Matter. Why bother with Energy. Of course, there’s nothing new in Energy; how can there be? Doesn’t that show we must deal with Matter?”

“Matter!”

Ames interpreted Brock’s energy-vibrations as those of disgust.

He said, “Why not? We were once Matter ourselves back — back — Oh, trillion years ago anyway! Why not build objects in a Matter medium, or abstract forms or — listen, Brock — why not build up an imitation of ourselves in Matter, ourselves as we used to be?”

Brock said, “I don’t remember how that was. No one does.”

“I do,” said Ames with energy, “I’ve been thinking of nothing else and I am beginning to remember. Brock, let me show you. Tell me if I’m right. Tell me.”

“No. This is silly. It’s — repulsive.”

“Let me try, Brock. We’ve been friends; we’ve pulsed energy together from the beginning — from the moment we became what we are. Brock, please!”

“Then, quickly.”

Ames had not felt such a tremor along his own lines of force in — well, in how long? If he tried it now for Brock and it worked he could dare manipulate Matter before the assembled Energy-beings who had so drearily waited over the eons for something new.

The Matter was thin out there between the galaxies, but Ames gathered it, scraping it together over the cubic light-years, choosing the atoms, achieving a clayey consistency and forcing matter into an ovoid form that spread out below.

“Don’t you remember, Brock?” he asked softly. “Wasn’t it something like this?”

Brock’s vortex trembled in phase. “Don’t make me remember. I don’t remember.”

“That was the head. They called it the head. I remember it so clearly, I want to say it. I mean with sound.” He waited, then said “Look, do you remember that?”

On the upper front of the ovoid appeared HEAD.

“What is that?” asked Brock.

“That’s the word for head. The symbols that meant the word in sound. Tell me you remember, Brock!”

“There was something,” said Brock hesitantly, “something in the middle.” A vertical bulge formed.

Ames said, “Yes! Nose, that’s it!” And NOSE appeared upon it. “And those are eyes on either side,” LEFT EYE — RIGHT EYE.

Ames regarded what he had formed, his lines of force pulsing slowly. Was he sure he liked this?

“Mouth,” he said, in small quiverings, “and chin and Adam’s apple, and the collar-bones. How the words come back to me.” They appeared on the form.

Brock said, “I haven’t thought of them for hundreds of billions of years. Why have you reminded me? Why?”

Ames was momentarily lost in his thoughts, “Something else. Organs to hear with; something for the sound waves. Ears! Where do they go? I don’t remember where to put them!”

Brock cried out, “Leave it alone! Ears and all else! Don’t remember!”

Ames said, uncertainly, “What is wrong with remembering?”

“Because the outside wasn’t rough and cold like that but smooth and warm. Because the eyes were tender and alive and the lips of the mouth trembled and were soft on mine.” Brock’s lines of forces beat and wavered, beat and wavered.

Ames said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“You’re reminding me that once I was a woman and knew love; that eyes do more than see and I have none to do it for me.”

With violence, she added matter to the rough-hewn head and said, “Then let them do it” and turned and fled.

And Ames saw and remembered, too, that once he had been a man. The force of his vortex split the head in two and he fled back across the galaxies on the energy-track of Brock — back to the endless doom of life.

And the eyes of the shattered head of Matter still glistened with the moisture that Brock had placed there to represent tears. The head of Matter did that which the energy-beings could do no longer and it wept for all humanity, and for the fragile beauty of the bodies they had once given up, a trillion years ago.

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9 Insightful Bits in response to “A Bit Of Literature – Eyes Do More Than See”

  1. That picture is really fitting to the story, Vivien. I like Escher’s work and I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before!

    Maybe I totally missed it, but I don’t think that story would fit in Playboy at all! It’s too… emotional? This doesn’t strike me as a story that guys would like.

    Interesting how Asimov came up with this story based on a clay head without ears. It reminds me of how de Bono’s “games” work in How to Think Creatively. You have to take random words and apply them to a problem that needs to be solved. It really expands your thinking beyond your normal capacity!

  2. Vivien

    That’s why Playboy rejected this story – I guess it was too pure and surreal for them.

    As soon as I started looking for an image to go along with this story, Bond Of Union came immediately to my mind. That site I linked to M.C. Escher has all his illustrations, I think. Did you know that Escher was very bad with Math, but his work is often referred to in different math books and displayed on various Math conferences.

    That de Bono’s game sounds very mind-empowering. I should give it a try one day.

  3. Really? I didn’t know that Escher was bad a math. His stuff seems very mathematical to me!

    I’m planning on writing a little review of How to Think Creatively (per a request from David Airey!) over on my blog in a bit, possibly next week. I’m going to give an example of one of the games and my solution to it. It should be fun to see what other people come up with!

  4. Vivien

    I was as surprised as you’re, Lauren, when I found out that Escher was bad at math. When I first saw his works I thought they’re done by a Mathematician-turned-Artist.

    Oh, I’m so glad that you’ll be posting on How To Think Creatively. I was about to ask you that myself. Perhaps you can even do it in a form of a group project?

  5. Whoops, I got the title slightly wrong. It’s How to Have Creative Ideas by Edward de Bono (not How to Think Creatively, though imho that would’ve been a better title because that’s more what the book is about).

    Mathematician-turned-artist. Yup, me too! I shared Richard Sweeny‘s work and Jen Stark‘s portfolio with David awhile ago. Truly math + art.

  6. Wow. I thought I’d read all of Asimov’s works, but I must have missed that one somehow. It’s amazing how such a talented writer could ever be turned down for anything, but I guess it shows how those making the judgements aren’t always right. ;)

  7. Vivien

    Lauren, thanks for those math+art links. It’s truly amazing to see what human mind can produce, and how artists can express themselves in every possible way.

    he-he, Paul, that’s one of the goals of this bit of literature – trying to feature not so well-known but brilliant stories by celebrated writers.

    To be honest, I was actually surprised to find out that Asimov would even consider writing for Playboy. But then I guess Playboy in 1965 was quite different from what it became now (not that I read it, but mainly suspect :-) )

  8. Playboy has always been a ‘gentleman’s journal’ – but the definition of that has changed seemlessly over the decades to reflect whatever the current generation of ‘gentlemen’ are looking for! ;)

    If you’re curious:
    http://www.trivia-library.com/.....part-1.htm
    http://www.trivia-library.com/.....part-2.htm
    http://www.trivia-library.com/.....part-3.htm

  9. Vivien

    of course, I’m curious. Thanks for those links.
    Wow, turns out that at the beginning Hugh Hefner’s goal was to establish Playboy as a serious magazine. “Playboy contributors have included John Steinbeck, P.G. Wodehouse, W. Somerset Maugham, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, and John Updike.”

    … now I’m curious why did the magazine reject Asimov’s story?

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on