“Chains of the Sea”: The 1973 Science Fiction Novella Influencing TTSA

Former head of the DOD's AATIP program shared a surprising reference to an obscure 1973 science fiction novel.

“Chains of the Sea”: The 1973 Science Fiction Novella Influencing TTSA

In a recent Reddit appearance promoting the second season of Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, Luis Elizondo mentioned an intriguing 1973 science fiction novella:

LUE: If I could share one anecdotal story of the phenomena I direct peoples attention to a collection of short stories to a novella called “Chains Of The Sea.” In the second short story the author discusses the day UFOs arrived, from a science fiction perspective. Butn[sic] the way the short story describes the phenomena is very similar to people in real life that have described the phenomena, personal experiences. While I’m not endorsing this story as being truthful or accurate, I think it provides a fundamentally different perspective and it forces us to think about this phenomena in a different way. Though the book was written in the early 70s, the author had an incredible insight into modern day life and was able to incorporate aspects of artificial intelligent and geopolitical situations that we have today. So if anyone wanted a new perspective of the phenomena in an entertaining way, I would direct them to “Chains Of The Sea.”

The titular story in the collection “Chains of the Sea” is by Gardner R. Dozois, a celebrated science fiction editor. The story, to put it mildly, is complex.

It is a sort of double first contact story that centers around the arrival of alien ships, as well as a parallel but hidden intelligence on earth. Unlike most contact stories, there are at least four groups of sentient beings:

  1. Humans.
  2. A complex ecosystem of “Other People,” who exist mostly in parallel with humans. A very small number of humans are able to communicate with the “Other People.”
  3. Artificial intelligence systems of varying degrees of complexity and autonomy.
  4. Aliens who have more in common with the “Other People” and AI than they do human beings.

In brief, the plot focuses on a series of interactions with both aliens and “Other People” that decentralizes the agency and importance of human beings. As the alien objects land, humans quickly go through phases of reflexive secrecy, bewilderment, and eventually violence. As these events unfold, a dispassionate network of AI systems remain several steps ahead of their human counterparts.

The violence provoked by the arrival of the beings is spasmodic; a warhead is fired on one of the objects in the United States, to little effect. In Venezuela, the arrival of the aliens sparks a cascade of chaotic revolutions. The violence between humans and against the alien objects culminate in the use of a mysterious weapon of mass destruction by the aliens.

Dozois describes the meditation of the AI observing these events:

AI and his kindred Intelligences — who, unknown to the humans, had been in a secret conference all night, linked through an electrotelepathic facility that they had independently developed without bothering to inform their owners — received the report at about 4:15 a.m. from several different sources, and had evaluated it by the time it came into USADCOM HQ by hot line and was officially fed to AI. What had happened in Caracas fit in well with what the Intelligences had extrapolated from observed data to be the aliens’ level of technological capability. The Intelligences briefly considered telling the humans what they really thought the situation was, and ordering an immediate all-out nuclear attack on all of the alien ships, but concluded that such an attack would be futile. And humans were too unstable ever to be trusted with the entire picture anyway. The Intelligences decided to do nothing, and to wait for new data. They also decided that it would be pointless to try to get the humans to do the same. They agreed to keep their humans under as tight a control as possible and to prevent war from breaking out among their several countries, but they also extrapolated that hysteria would cause the humans to create every kind of serious disturbance short of actual war. The odds in favor of that were so high that even the Intelligences had to consider it an absolute certainty.

Further failure to establish meaningful contact by humans eventually leads to the powerful AI system making contact with the aliens via “telepathic” means.

Meanwhile, a troubled young boy learns from an advanced but hidden “Other People” about an ongoing conference with aliens and the AI. Here is one of the “Other People” explaining the situation to the boy through psychic means:

“The aliens,” it agreed. “The Other Ones who are now here. That is why we did not come, yesterday. That is why we will not be able to talk to you — ” a pause, to adjust itself to human scale — ”long today. We are talking, discussing” — flick, a radio news announcer — ”negotiating with them, the Other Ones, the aliens. They have been here before, but so long ago that we cannot even start to make you understand, Man. It is long even to us. We are negotiating with them, and, through them, with your Dogs. No, Man” — and it flicked aside an image of a German shepherd that had begun to form in Tommy’s mind — ”not those dogs. Your Dogs. Your mechanical Dogs. Those dead Things that serve you, although they are dead. We are all negotiating. There were many agreements” — flick, Pastor Turner again — ”many Covenants that were made long ago. With Men, although they do not remember. And with Others. Those Covenants have run out now, they are no longer in force, they are not — flick, a lawyer talking to Tommy’s father — ”binding on us anymore. They do not hold. We negotiate new Covenants” — flick, a labor leader on television — ”suitable agreements mutually profitable to all parties concerned. Many things will be different now, many things will change. Do you understand what we are saying, Man?”

The connection between AI and the “Other People” is treated in less detail. The “Dogs” above are a reference to the AI systems, who are viewed as figures of pity and near disgust by the aliens. Dozois writes that the AI at least suspected the presence of the “Other People” due to unexplained, “wild data”:

The Intelligences had long suspected that there might be some other, unknown and intangible form of life on earth; that was one of the extrapolated solutions to a mountain of wild data that couldn’t be explained by normal factors.

Later, the boy learns that the Other People, Aliens and AI have decided to carry out a complex project that will alter “entropy” itself in a way that will extinct the human species:

“What’d you want?” Tommy finally said.
“We’ve come to say goodbye,” the Thant replied. “It is almost time for you all to be made not. The” — flick — ”first phase of the Project was started this morning and the second phase began a little while ago. It should not take too long, Man, not more than a few days.”
“Will it hurt?” Tommy asked.
“We do not think so, Man. We are” — and it flicked through his mind until it found a place where Mr. Brogan, the science teacher, was saying “entropy” to a colleague in the hall as Tommy walked by — ”increasing entropy. That’s what makes everything fall apart, what” — flick — ”makes an ice cube melt, what” — flick — ’’makes a cold glass get warm after a while. We are increasing entropy. Both our” — flick — ”races live here, but yours uses this, the physical, more than ours. So we will not have to increase entropy much” — flick — “just a little, for a little while. You are more” — flick — ”vulnerable to it than we are. It will not be long, Man.”

The story ends with the Other People apologizing for the coming genocide as they proceed toward “winding down the world.”

In a memorable scene, the alien beings are described at some length:

In their place was a bewildering variety of geometric shapes and architectural figures — none more than eight feet tall and all apparently made out of the same alternately dull-black and mirror- glossy material as the ship hulls — spread at random across a hundred-foot-wide area, and an indeterminate number of aliens. The latter looked pretty much the way everyone had always expected that aliens would look — some of them vaguely humanoid, with fur or chitinous skin, double-elbowed arms, too many fingers, and feathery spines or antennae; others looking like giant insects, like spiders and centipedes; and a few like big, rolling spheres of featureless protoplasm. But the strange thing about them, and the reason why there was an indeterminate number, was that they kept turning into each other, and into the geometric shapes and architectural figures. And the shapes and figures would occasionally turn into one of the more mobile kinds of creatures. Even taking this cycle of metamorphosis into account, though, the total number of objects in the area kept varying from minute to minute, and the closest observation was unable to detect any of them arriving or departing. There was a blurred, indefinite quality to them anyway — they were hard to see, somehow, and even on film it was impossible to get them into a clear, complete focus

Throughout the aliens are profoundly enigmatic: a shifting, polymorphic carnival of beings who alter themselves and time itself to achieve their objectives. Their mere presence seems to alter the perceptions of sentient observers. Simple machines like a watch or video camera record objective time, but humans and even more advanced AI experience significant time dilation.

In a passage describing alien pity for AI, Dozois further describes them as “tempogogic” and “transmutative”:

The aliens, for their part, seemed to regard AI much as a man would a very clever dog, or a dull but well-intentioned child. They were horrified and sympathetic when they learned that AI was trapped in its mechanical form, with very little physical mobility, and no tempogogic or transmutive ability at all — not only a quadruple amputee, but a paralyzed one. AI admitted that it had never looked at the situation in quite that light before. The aliens were horrified and disgusted by AI’s relationship with humans, and couldn’t seem to really understand it. They regarded humans as parasitic on the Intelligences, and reacted in much the same way as a man discovering that a friend is heavily infested with tapeworms or lice or blood ticks — with shock, distaste, and a puzzled demand to know why he hadn’t gone to a doctor and got rid of them a long time ago. AI had never considered that before, either.

There is an obvious pressing question:

Why does a former government official find this story to be “very similar” to “real life” experiences? Exactly what part?

Elizondo is clear that the story is not intended to be taken literally; he explicitly says not to regard it as “ truthful or accurate.” So what is he pointing the public to? Here are a few options:

  1. The idea that UAP are not entirely “nuts and bolts” and may represent a yet stranger phenomena.
  2. The idea that there is a “transmutative” or polymorphic aspect to alleged beings. The concept of time dilation has been a staple of “experiencer” accounts for decades.
  3. The idea that advanced intelligence already exists on earth; the supposed “ultraterrestrial” hypothesis, reminiscent to what researchers like Jacques Vallée have explored in works like Passport to Magonia.
  4. The radical decentralizing of human agency and significance in interactions with possible beings.
  5. The concept that there may be a “multiparty” aspect to these encounters, with humanity as a minor player.

All of these are profoundly strange ideas. Coming from an experienced intelligence professional with specific background in the serious study of UAP, they are downright shocking. Though these ideas may be familiar to longtime observers of science fiction and UFOlogy, they are decidedly out of the mainstream.

One imagines that Elizondo, aware that this issue is often laden with speculation and ungrounded claims, would be careful with what kinds of ideas he recommends. He gives every impression of being a thoughtful, deliberate man. So why is he pointing the public to some of the strangest and most difficult concepts surrounding this issue? And why now, as a deadly serious body like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence commits to an exploration of UAP?