Sunday, August 11, 2013

Extra Innings on Tau Ceti

I have an idea for a story.  I'm going to share it with you.  
It's a baseball story.  Not surprising in a way, that.  I'm a big baseball fan, as you might tell if you read last week's blog.  My teams are doing well.  The real life Dodgers are 6 1/2 games ahead of the Diamondbacks, having gone from 12 games under .500 in June, to 16 over .500 today.  My computer team is 15-0 in Season play and 20-2 in Rival play (although I've been moved into a much, much tougher Rival group this week, so my record may go down, we'll see).  
I've read other science fiction sports stories and I think I want to try one of my own.  This morning I came up with one.  
What if human explorers went to another planet and discovered a race that was clearly intelligent, but which they had no basis of communication except one: This alien race played baseball.  
I don't think this is as farfetched as it might sound.  First off, I've already used baseball as a sort of Rosetta stone to understand another culture I wanted to learn more about.  In 2007, when I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan, I took in a baseball game between the Yokohama Bay Stars and the Tokyo Giants.  It was a fascinating experience which highlighted a number of differences between how the game is played and watched here in the United States and there in Japan.  Some of them include: 
They reverse the order of balls and strikes (a full count in Japan is 2-3, not 3-2).
They post the players' position number on the score board, not their uniform number. 
The fans are segregated; home team fans sit along the First Base line, visiting team fans along the Third Base line.  
Fans only cheer when their team is up, and the chants are organized.  When the opposing team is up, they sit patiently and quietly, nothing more than polite applause, like a golf audience, when their team makes a good defensive play.  
They have cheerleaders. 
They have no 7th inning stretch.  
And, in addition to the vendors hawking beer and food (no hot dogs, noodles instead), they have what I call the "Trash Girl," a young lady that comes every third inning to collect the empty cups and food containers from food and drink consumed.  At the end of the game, the stadium was as clean as when we entered.  
These differences highlight differences between our two cultures, but the game is the same.  I didn't need to be able to read the scoreboard to follow it.  Bases loaded, with two outs and a full count, whether that count is 2-3 or 3-2, has the same level of tension in Yokohama as it does in "the Ravine." 

But I also think that the way baseball works represents how nature works to a degree.  
First off, there's the diamond.  My recent return as a baseball fan was sparked by comparisons between baseball and properties of physics a few years back.  
The first was the discovery that, according to the original rules of baseball, the foul lines running through first and third base extend forever.  There is no termination.  A "home run" was literally a ball hit so far away from the bases that the hitter had the time to run from home plate, tag all the bases in order and return before the thrown from the outfield reached the catcher.  And the modifications of the rules to fit the current playing field construction, with a fence behind which fans can sit, is to treat a ball hit over the fence "as if" it were a home run.  
This makes a baseball diamond similar to a Minkowski Diagram (using only the positive Y axis plus both the positive and negative X axes), which is used to represent space-time in the universe born of Einstein's special relativity.  All action takes place within the light-cone and are "time-like."  "Space-like action," outside the foul lines as it were, are "undefined" and not allowed.  Something "intercepts" them, like a catcher grabbing a pop-up, to prevent them from influencing the game.  
Time in baseball is an emergent property.  The game progresses not by some artificial imposing of time divisions.  It stems from the activity of the game.  Three outs ends a side.  Two such side-outs ends an inning.  
Neither is the length of the game preset.  It can end at six innings, or extend as long as 25 innings (the longest game in MLB history, the White Sox over the Brewers, 7-6, on 5/8/1984).  The outcome of the game is never foregone, either.  You can be down by a dozen runs, bottom of the 9th, with two outs, no one on, with two strikes against you and the mechanics of the game will STILL allow you to win.  You may have to be perfect in execution and lucky to a degree you haven't been thus far, but it CAN happen.  There is no taking a knee to run out the clock in baseball.  
The last two qualities are what most directly make baseball seem like life on the human scale.  We don't know how long we have to play.  But whether the game is cut off by rain, or runs longer than any other game in history, what matters most is that we're taking our turn at bat, and keeping our eye on the ball.  
My Idea Thus Far
OK...  Here's what I got.  
What came to me first was the game itself.  The alien playing field restores the original rules of the game.  There is no fence to hit the wall over.  Left, right and center fields extend for acres and acres.  
The aliens themselves are huge, hulking creatures.  They have hardened appendages, which grow like horns or antlers, from their bodies.  These are what they use for bats.  The balls are hardened pellets of their excrement or dung.  
Though they are very, very slow, moving like snails along the base paths, they are overwhelmingly powerful.  Their fastballs come at the plate at a hundred and twenty miles per hour.  When they make contact, the ball files for over a thousand yards.  
So, the game would pit the not so strong, but much faster humans against the ponderously slow, but enormously powerful aliens.  The humans would have trouble making contact, but if they did, even a short blooper past the shortstop would result in a human run given the speed advantage.  The aliens would drive our best pitches deep each and every time, but the humans would have the time (as long as they could keep their endurance) to run to the ball and throw it in in a series of relays to keep them from scoring.  
Then another idea came to me.  What if the aliens played in the past as well?  
I mentioned that the baseball diamond looks like a Minkowski diagram, using only the positive Y axis, representing time going forward from zero into the future.  But a complete Minkowski diagram has a negative Y access as well, representing the past.  It came to me that the baseball diamonds of these aliens might have the negative Y axis included.  Imagine a home plate in the center of two attached fields, each with its own first, second and third base paths.  One, the more recognizable one to our perspective, would go forward from first through second to third and home again  The other would go backwards from our perspective, from home, back through third, second and first, to home again.  
I imagined the human manager, ahead by two runs in the ninth, seeing the aliens traverse a path on "the other field."  Suddenly the score board shows that the aliens scored two more runs in the third inning, and the game is actually tied.  The exhausted humans, running marathons in the outfield to catch and throw these alien line drives, have to play extra innings AND figure out what this other field represents.  
The story would have to be about communication, I'm thinking.  Trying to find something that these strange, intelligent beings look at in the same way.  They need to find out because the aliens have something they need to return to Earth, and playing the game the way the do is the key toward that vital goal.  
In other words, and here the baseball theme comes back, the humans want to go home.  And how can you not love a game where the goal is to find a way home.  


Post a Comment

<< Home