Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Harvest NBtM

Almost a century after Keres Triplets asteroid impact and subsequent nuclear exchange almost ended all human life on Earth, a strange artifact is discovered on one of the moons of Saturn. Who should be sent to the outer reaches of the solar system to initiate the first contact with an alien culture? Dr. Varsaad Volhard, an evolutionary-socio-historian, is chosen to help the world understand the alien civilization that left an artifact some thirty thousand years ago, before humans even learned to farm, at the time when other human species still walked the earth. While Vars prepares for the mission, her father, Dr. Matteo Volhard, discovers nanobots among the microplastics he studies. The bots are everywhere and seem to have been created to bond with human cyber implants. Why? Matteo is made to keep his discovery a well as his and his daughter's true origins. Both were donated to a Human DNA Vault as babies. Matteo was raised as a Seed before leaving with his young daughter to study ecology around the world. Who knows what? Who is in control? How does one communicate with non-human intelligence? People seem to die in gruesome ways as their cyberhumatics go haywire on Earth and on Luna and Mars colonies. Is Earth under attack or is it all just a cosmic misunderstanding? Vars needs to use all she knows to solve the mystery of the ancient civilization on Mimas, as her dad battles the alien nanobots at home.

“Sentient life’s colonization of the Earth is fractal. Even within a single ecosystem, there are many species that possess intelligence and self-awareness. But only one species becomes dominant.”

Professor Volhard took a theatrical pause here. Everyone in the audience knew where she was going with this, but it never hurt to add drama to a presentation.

“Obviously I am talking about humans. We are not the only intelligent, self-aware species on our planet–but we got lucky. We were blessed with favorable initial conditions, and our dominance was almost guaranteed. Lack of luck tends to permanently retard progress. Dinosaurs’ loss is our win.”

There were a few chuckles from the audience, but no big laughs. Varsaad Volhard sighed inwardly and moved on. She never knew how the lay audience would react, but this was all part of doing the book-selling lecture circuit.

Vars was tall and skinny with short, unruly, dark red hair and glasses to match. She looked a bit like a stick insect in her black pants and black sweater. For the tour, she was trying to dress more interestingly than normal–per instructions from her publisher–and so had added the bright orange scarf that her publisher sent in the mail. The instructions that came with the scarf told her to wear matching orange shoes, but Vars didn’t own any orange shoes, so matching black was as good as it got.

She hadn’t failed to notice that the cover of her book–Luck & Lock on Life & Love: The Human History of Conquest of Resources on Earth, Luna, and Beyond–had the same color orange titles as the scarf. Her agent or someone in the office was obviously trying. Vars made a mental note to figure out who that was and thank them.

“Harvest” is what one would classify as “hard science fiction.” “Hard” doesn’t mean it is hard to read or understand, just that it has a lot of fun (and accurate) science in addition to a great story. The story starts with the discovery on a very old alien artifact buried in ice on one of the moons of Saturn. Scientists and the military have to quickly make an assessment: what do these aliens want? Are they dangerous? If so, how could humans protect themselves? But how can we tell when something wants us harm? Some of the biggest cultural mistakes on Earth came about from simple failure to communicate, to understand the alien other. When the other side is overwhelming in power and knowledge, making a diplomatic mistake can end human civilization. It’s a fun premise and a good story.

But many years before the alien artifact was found, the earth was hit by three asteroid shards: the Keres Triplets. The impacts and the following nuclear exchange devastated the planet. Africa and most of the Middle East were no longer habitable. The humanity came to the brink of extinction. To salvage diversity and genetic heritage, Human Seed Vaults were set up by the Human Genome Heritage Project. Individuals with particularly interesting genetic makeup were taken from their parents as infants and deposited into the Vaults, deep underground. There were several such genetic banks. And over time, there developed a mythology about the people who lived there—Seeds.

Earth was in ashes for decades. The nuclear winter swept ice and darkness from sea to shinning sea… But humans are nothing if not resilient creatures. It didn’t take long for Earth to recover, although what was lost was lost forever.

Matteo was brought into the Seed Bank in the far north of Norway as an infant. He met his seed sister, Phoebe, there. And while Phoebe, a brilliant biologist, was happy to spend her life below ground. Matteo wanted to see the world. One day, when he was patrolling the upper layers of the Vault, a child was dropped off. It was a strange drop. The child was a little girl. She was too old to be accepted into the Vault as a Fresh Seed. To save her, Matteo left the only life he knew (and the only woman he loved).

That story, a prequel to “Harvest,” is called “Fresh Seed.”

The story of “Harvest” picks up almost thirty years after Dr. Matteo Volhard adopted Varsaad (“fresh seed” in Afrikaans) and raised her as his daughter.

The world rebounded by then. People landed and built colonies on Luna and Mars and even on some of the moons of Jupiter. It was an amazingly fast recovery given the severity of the devastation. Miraculous, even.

Vars became a scientist like her father. Her field of study was evolutionary biology and anthropology. She studied human civilizations.

Then people started to die unexpectedly…
Their digital tattoos were melting and dissolving into their bodies, causing grievous harm. What was it? Why?

Vars was recruited to travel to one of the moons of Saturn to find out…
While her dad worked hard to save humanity back on Earth…

“Harvest” is a fully illustrated novel, sometimes dark, sometimes disturbing.

“Harvest” is written for people who are interested in human origins and the births of civilizations. I wanted to answer the question of “why”—why did some peoples succeed and some didn’t? Why did some civilizations flourish for many centuries while others burned out in but a short flash in history? What is it that makes the difference? Does it simply comes down to luck?

I’m a scientist. I’m very interested in the development of life, consciousness, and civilization. Over the past several decades, we’ve learned a lot about human biology not only on the molecular level (DNA) but also the chemistry and physics of biology. We can see the range of possibilities for behavior and emotion programmed into us by our evolutionary development. We’ve also learned about other human species that didn’t survive to the present day but whose echoes we carry in our very genes—Heanderthals, Homo floresiensis, Homo denisovans, and the newly discovered Homo luzonesis. There are many more, of course, but it takes time and luck to find evidence.

Only the Homo sapiens are alive on our world today. And only a small percentage of those developed the capacity or desire to take over the world and impose their culture on the rest of the peoples. Why? Why did some Hominids made it and some didn’t? Why did some civilizations flourished and others fell? We can answer some of these questions with psychology, sociology, paleontology, anthropology, biology...

Luck seems to have played a huge role in human evolution and survival on our planet. Those who were lucky enough to live in fertile environments with species of plants and animals that were easy to domesticate won the life lottery, so to speak. The unlucky ones didn’t make it to the present day or ended up colonized…

We have some ideas about what it takes to survive and thrive on Earth. But what does it take to survive in the galaxy? Can we use the same principles and apply them on a larger scale? “Harvest” is a book that focuses on galaxy-wide civilizations and what it takes to become one.

“Harvest” book trailer:

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Don’t forget to visit the other stops on the tour.

Author Bio and Links:
Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master's degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, "Suddenly Paris," which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, "The FATOFF Conspiracy," was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories -- homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals -- the social underdogs of our world. Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of "Alien Dimensions Magazine," "600 second saga," "Graveyard Girls," "Kyanite Press' Fables and Fairy Tales," "The Carmen Online Theater Group's Chronicles of Terror," with many more stories freely available on her blog,

Selected Book Links on Amazon:
“The FATOFF Conspiracy”:
“Lizard Girl & Ghost: The Chronicles of DaDA Immortals”: