Pixel Scroll 11/22 The Lurking Fear Supports Me In Email

(1) David G. Hartwell posted his photo with the comment, “Signs of the cultural times: NYC subway cars entirely decorated in PKD.”

PKD in the subway, NYC

(2) “Red, Reich and Blue: Building the World of ‘The Man in the High Castle’”, a New York Times article:

Early production art for the Times Square sequence included billboards for beer and sausages, but Mr. Spotnitz had them changed to signs promoting the value of work and duty. A scene in the home of a Nazi Party boss emblematically named Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) was shot as if it were a vintage family sitcom, the son complaining over the breakfast table about a self-promoting Hitler Youth chum at school. His father patiently explains that his son will be a greater credit to his country, because selfishness is what ruined America before the war.

“If you squint and ignore the fact that the guy has a swastika on his arm,” Mr. Spotnitz said, “it looks a lot like ‘Father Knows Best.’”

(3) John King Tarpinian shot this photo at an exhibit of Michael C. Gross’ work a few days before the artist died.

 

(4) WIRED’s Geek’s Guide To The Galaxy” podcast  is talking about the new anthology of best American science fiction and fantasy with commentary by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams. Also brief comments by Jess Row, Seanan McGuire, and Carmen Maria Machado.

The prestigious anthology series The Best American Short Stories tends to eschew science fiction and fantasy, except at the behest of unusually sympathetic guest editors like Michael Chabon or Stephen King.

But things are changing fast. The genre took a major step toward respectability this year with the release of the first-ever Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams. Adams feels the book is long overdue.

“The instruments of science fiction and fantasy—the tools in that genre toolbox—have been out there in the literary world and being explored for at least a decade now, in work by people like Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, and Cormac McCarthy,” [John Joseph Adams] says. “Science fiction and fantasy is part of the literary mainstream, and has been for a while now.”

Adams hopes The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy will prove that readers don’t have to choose between wild concepts and literary quality. Good sci-fi and fantasy deliver both, which is what makes them so hard to write.

“You have to create the compelling characters and have the beautiful prose and everything, but a science fiction story has to do all that and also build an entire world for you, or come up with some mind-blowing idea on top of all that,” he says.

(5) David Gerrold on Facebook:

I was reading an article about “the battle for the soul of science fiction” and I had to laugh.

Science fiction has no soul. We sold it a long time ago. About the time we started worrying about shelf space in the bookstores, share-cropping in other people’s universes, writing for franchises because they were guaranteed NY-times bestsellers, and campaigning for awards like a high-school popularity contest. Not to mention all those who talked about breaking out of the “ghetto” so they could have mainstream credibility.

If science fiction still has anything resembling a soul — it’s not going to be found in arguments about the soul of science fiction.

As I have said elsewhere, there is no single definition for science fiction. Every author who sits down at the keyboard defines it for himself or herself. Every author is his/her own definition of SF — and the genre continues to reinvent itself with every new author who arrives on the scene.

The idea that there is a specific definition for SF … well, we’ve been having that argument since Jules Verne and H.G. Wells got into a bitch fight at the 1902 Philcon. Okay, I exaggerate. Neither one of them were there. But they did hate each other because Verne’s view of science was optimistic and Wells’ view was dystopic — he didn’t think the human species was ready for high tech. He might have been right, but we’re here anyway….

(6) Winter is coming – on Titan

(7) Steve Davidson of Amazing Stories calls it “Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mistake”.

Kim Stanley Robinson published a major buzzkill on BoingBoing this week, essentially declaring that all of us science fiction nerds ought to give up on our dreams of visiting other stars (colonizing the galaxy…galactic empire…space marines…space pirates…discoveries of long dead highly advanced alien civilizations…discoveries of technological alien civilizations that want to be our friends…or eat us…incomprehensible artifacts…intriguingly bizarre ecosystems…) and instead focus our attentions on Earth and solar system centric futures.

There’s been a fair amount of pushback on this (we do love our space pirates after all), with the primary arguments being that –

KSR is being too pessimistic

KSR is making the cliched mistake of assuming that future technological growth won’t include unforseen breakthrus

KSR is not projecting far enough into the future

Those may all be true, but I have one other “mistake” to add to his thoughtful but bitter article:

KSR is making the mistake of trying to predict what will NOT happen in the future, as opposed to trying to predict what WILL happen in the future.

(8) Billy Dee Williams tells Parade that his Star Wars role keeps him in the spotlight – but it’s not always easy!

Fans have always wanted to talk about who Lando is and why he did what he did. Back when my daughter was in elementary school, I would go pick her up—this was right after The Empire Strikes Back came out—and I’d find myself in the middle of the schoolyard justifying Lando’s actions to a bunch of little kids. They’re all yelling at me saying I betrayed Han Solo. (By the way, I never auditioned for the Han Solo part and I’ve never not gotten along with Harrison Ford, who is a dear friend. Those rumors are completely false.)

Over the years, I’d be on airplanes and a flight attendant would accuse me of betraying Han Solo. I would just say, “Look, I—er, Lando—was just trying to prevent everyone’s complete demise and had to come up with a plan. Lando ended up losing and he had a lot to lose.”  Then I’d say, “Well, nobody died.”  That’s how I’d finalize it.

(9) Well, my eyes sure weren’t dry after watching this ad…

(10) Diana Pavlac Glyer is now in the author database at Worlds Without End, as is her forthcoming book about the Inklings, Bandersnatch, which you should unhesitatingly rush out and order.

(11) “Gal Gadot is adding to her fans’ building anticipation for the 2017 release of Warner Bros.’ superhero movie Wonder Woman,says The Hollywood Reporter.

(12) Peter Finocchiaro, in an article about the Lovecraft controversy for Salon, volunteers an answer for the question “of what to do with rejected or discarded ‘Howard’ trophies:”

Send them to Providence, Rhode Island. Providence – founded in 1636; 2010 population: 178,038 – was Lovecraft’s hometown, and it’s where I’m currently teaching a semester-long class on the author at the Rhode Island School of Design. And no object better embodies the complexity of his legacy than these now-outdated trophies. They are the perfect teaching tool.

After all, Providence plays a major role in the Lovecraft story. It’s where he spent all but a couple years of his life. It’s a playground for the slithering, malevolent creatures he imagined. (See “The Shunned House” and “The Haunter of the Dark.”) And it’s a place that he loved with such fervency that he once declared in a letter “I Am Providence” – a quote now etched on his tombstone, in the city’s Swan Point Cemetery.

Lovecraft’s racial views are not irrelevant to his civic pride. In one letter, he wrote “New England is by far the best place for a white man to live.” In another, he added, “America has lost New York to the mongrels, but the sun shines just as brightly over Providence.”

For decades after his death, Lovecraft’s hometown love was mostly unrequited. But recent years have brought a long-delayed love-fest. Drive through Providence today and you’ll see “H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square,” two plaques in his honor, and a Lovecraft bust in the city’s famed Athenaeum library. The city has Lovecraft-themed read-a-thons, walking tours, research fellowships, apps, writing contests, and bars that serve Lovecraft-inspired drinks like the “Bittersweet Tears of Cthulhu” and “Lovecraft’s Lament.”

(13) We have met the aliens, and they is us. Certainly some of the time.

There are a few known cosmic objects capable of producing bursts of radio waves. For instance, dense remnant stars called pulsars produce them, just not with such regularity or with as much power as observed in FRBs. Still, perhaps there are some undiscovered superdense stars that operate according to an underlying physics we don’t yet understand, which are spitting these radio waves across the cosmos. That’s one possible natural explanation, though mere conjecture at this point.

Some other scientists have theorized that FRBs could come from what is known as a “contact” binary star system, two stars orbiting each other at an extremely close distance.

It’s also possible that the signals are coming from something human. Perhaps an unmapped spy satellite is hovering about, appearing to send signals from deep space.

Human sources can be difficult to rule out. For instance, back in 2010 the Parkes Observatory picked up 16 pulses with similar characteristics to FRBs that turned out to be signals generated from microwave ovens operated at the Parkes facility. Though these signals were clearly of terrestrial origin, unlike FRBs, it goes to show that there may well be a simpler, human explanation for FRBs that has yet to be identified.

(14) “Reason enough to buy a Harley,” John King Tarpinian says about these Star Wars –themed motorcycle helmets described by BoldRide’s Jonathon Klein.

First-Order

Currently, a host of DOT-approved and other motorcycle helmets are being sold on eBay for all your cosplaying and motorcycling needs. You have everything from an almost perfect Darth Vader helmet to the all-new First Order Storm Trooper.

(15) Robert Altbauer, Fantasy Cartographer, has a series called “The Crusades and Lovecraft’s Monsters”.

This is a series of illustrations that imitates the style of old medieval paintings and adds a macabre flavour by incorporating some of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous monsters. The text is mostly medieval Middle High German.

robert-altbauer-furchtbar-drachengezucht COMP

(16) Phil Nichols of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies noted on Facebook:

R Is For Rocket (Doubleday hardcover, 1962) was a compilation of previously-collected Bradbury short stories put together for a young adult audience.

The cover art by Joe Mugnaini relates to the story “Icarus Montgolfier Wright.” If you look at the body of the spaceship, you will see the Montgolfier’s balloon, the Wright brothers’ plane, and a winged Icarus.

Curiously, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” isn’t included in the book!

(17) Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.

(18) Uh-oh! [SPOILER WARNING!] This is the week they bumped her off!

Why Does Clara Face The Raven?

Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat talk about that big moment in the latest episode.

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Josh Jasper. ]

147 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/22 The Lurking Fear Supports Me In Email

  1. I think the history of the Apollo program ought to chasten space-colonization enthusiasts.

    When I was but a lad, reading Golden Age Science Fiction like Grandpa used to write, because it was what was in the middle-school libraries back in the early 70s, I was struck by how late the dates for a first moon-landing were in stories from the 40s and 50s. I think the earliest date I encountered was maybe 1978, and some of them placed it in the 1990s. And I thought, “Hah! We already got there!”

    But the mistake those Campbell-era authors made was assuming we’d do it right. That first we’d build a real space station, and develop a sustainable outer-space infrastructure, and then when we went to the Moon, go for keeps.

    Instead we raced to get there with a few cans full o’ humans, hit some golf balls, planted a flag, and – bagged the whole business. By 1978, that earliest date for a moonshot I’d encountered in fiction, it was like we’d never been there at all. And there is not now anything remotely approaching a plan for anyone to get back there. Heck, once the Russians realized they couldn’t be first, they never bothered to even go.

    If you think some material segment of humanity is going to sustain the decades-long effort it would take to build out and support real human habitation in space*, it’s incumbent on you to persuade anyone why the Apollo program, which stands in relation to a real space program as a Comedysportz skit does to the First Folio, isn’t the leader in the Bayesian clubhouse for human space initiatives.

    And if you’re putting your faith in Elon Musk, I’ll suggest you use your favorite search engine to find the articles where the private Mars foundation gang admits that their strategic plan way underestimates the likely cost.

    —————-
    Let’s define “real human habitation in space” as some people are born there, and some people die there of old age. It doesn’t even have to be the same people.

  2. One of the assumptions many keep making in our little prognostication tango here is that today’s capitalism is going to be tomorrow’s economic system and that profit-only motivations are and will remain the primary impetus for accomplishments of human society.

    I don’t know what system could replace captialism, but, as Ursala K. Le Guin said, “No one could imagine the end of the devine right of kings either.”*

    There may be a revolution in social engineering and human psychology in our future that, along with an economic system that more equitably creates and distributes resources, allows for longer term planning. So it might be decided that humans must make the collective effort to get off this rock to reduce the very real danger of eventual extinction. (Or that it would be better to mine the asteroid belt for rare elements rather than to further damage our oceans.)

    Or there could be some crazy new religion that converts huge numbers of people, decides the same thing, and plays on known human weaknesses to accomplish it. 😀

    We’re supposed to be the wild speculators and dreamers here, people!

    * slight paraphrase as I don’t recall the precise wording.

  3. My solution to the Fermi Paradox is quite simple – colonization of a solar system (note, not even attempts at getting outside it) necessarily require tools for the manipulation and application of larger and larger amounts of energy in the hands/tentacles/glopthorns of smaller and smaller groups necessarily outside the mainstream of the culture.

    Another word for “a tool for the manipulation and application of energy” is “weapon”.

  4. I hope our gracious host will allow me a small, serious, commercial interruption.

    You may remember me mentioning that I volunteer at a food pantry. The Elmhurst Yorkfield Food Pantry is currently building a new, purpose-built food pantry to replace the terrible, tiny, not-very-accessible but better-than-nothing old cottage basement we used to operate out of. The new building is mostly built (hurray for getting rid of the Terrifying Stairs that shattered a volunteer’s leg!), but can still use money for fittings, operating costs, and being able to buy food for pennies on the dollar from the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

    If you have any available money in your charity budget, on-line contributions given at http:/eyfp.org/how-to-donate/ on #Giving Tuesday, December 1, will provide individuals a one-day opportunity to receive a match of $1 for each $2 of donation. The match is made possible by Thing 1-2-3 Foundation which is sponsoring EYFP’s #Giving Tuesday campaign.

    Thank you.

    (Note: the pictures on their website are of the old, cramped, cottage basement. We’re all really looking forward to moving into the new building, which will even have a little waiting room so clients can wait to “shop” out of the rain and snow!)

  5. @junego:

    One of the assumptions many keep making in our little prognostication tango here is that today’s capitalism is going to be tomorrow’s economic system and that profit-only motivations are and will remain the primary impetus for accomplishments of human society.

    I haven’t seen anybody make that argument in this thread either explicitly or implicitly. I have seen some people argue that capitalism will take us to the planets or the stars either for the supposed profit to be had in interplanetary resource exploitation or as a lark by a few zillionaires.

    There may be a revolution in social engineering and human psychology in our future that, along with an economic system that more equitably creates and distributes resources, allows for longer term planning.

    I hope it happens! But if it does, there will still be many, many options for objects of this long term planning, and no reason to assume a priori that interplanetary or interstellar colonization will be toward the top of the list.

    So it might be decided that humans must make the collective effort to get off this rock to reduce the very real danger of eventual extinction.

    And here are a couple of much better options for reducing the threat of long-term extinction, either of which require, IMHO, a more equitable distribution of resources in an economic system that allows for long-term planning:

    1. Real asteroid defense, because it’s necessary to stave off the biggest exogenous threat to human survival, and can actually prevent billions of deaths – something cislunar or Martian colonies can’t do.

    2. Extensive underground habitation, because, seriously, where do you think we’re going to put those cities on the Moon and Mars? Underground. Because of the dangers of radiation and – asteroids! We can build underground cities on Earth much more quickly and cheaply than we can build them on another planet. And when I say “cheaply,” I mean in terms of real resources. I’m not making any assumptions about monetary system or profit motive.

    If you’re talking about the eventual death of the Sun, that’s something there is literally no rush to deal with. Humanity should be so lucky as to live long enough to have to worry about it.

    Or there could be some crazy new religion that converts huge numbers of people, decides the same thing, and plays on known human weaknesses to accomplish it.

    Or to foreclose the possibility.

    We’re supposed to be the wild speculators and dreamers here, people!

    Dreams are fun! Just this morning I dreamed my friend, the blogger James Joyner, was winning a Hamilton-themed episode of Jeopardy. I quite enjoyed that dream. But it’s not a reliable predictor of James going on Jeopardy, Jeopardy having an entire episode devoted to Hamilton-related questions, or both those things happening at the same time.

    Despite an increasing conviction that human settlement of space is not in the offing, I can still enjoy several types of stories about it. But it does matter to me that some writers and fans who pat themselves on the back for the superiority of their rigorous, “hard science fiction” are putting on airs about the virtue of mathematically rigorous pipe dreams.

  6. Tell us more about what humanity can’t achieve in the future. I know that’s what originally attracted me to science fiction.

  7. Tell us more about what humanity can’t achieve in the future. I know that’s what attracted me to science fiction.

    Humanity can’t sustain lengthy discussion of ideas without hurting somebody’s feelings.

  8. Stevie: That’s the world-famous Grumpy Cat in the Vader helmet! She’s actually full-grown, but a dwarf kitty and a bit… dim. I liked Super Cat myself.

    Am also continuing to be bitter about Donna unless it’s fixed on TV. None of your fanfic or book or audio or websiode. ON PROPER TELLY.

    The Fantasy Movie Finals are quite close between Princess Bride and LOTR, with a strong showing for “David Bowie’s Trousers in Labyrinth” for third.

  9. TechGrrl1972 on November 23, 2015 at 4:43 pm said:

    Amazon, UPS, FedEx, the USPS pay a lot of high IQ types to run the computer models that tell them where to put the distribution centers and what to stock them with. This is where most of the ‘big data’ brains spend their time.

    Incidentally, in my Day Jobbe, I’m one of the people who has been known to work on models (not for any of those named companies) to determine where to locate distribution centers. Although FWIW if you are a US-wide business with a normal distribution, there are also rules of thumb that tend to work pretty well for any N number of warehouses. That’s why so many companies have distribution centers in Sparks, Nevada, near where I live — it’s a rule-of-thumb location for N=2.

  10. StephenfromOttawa: Aurora gets my vote for best novel of 2015 at this point.
    Quite apart from its merits as a novel, I think there’s way too much “this planet may be going to hell, but in the not too distant future the Star Trek world will be here and we’ll have lots of alternatives” thinking in the world today.

    Meh. I’m with Russell Letson. If SF were limited to only what we know is likely, or what we know is not impossible, it’d be pretty damn boring. I like big, epic stories, with well-developed characters and worldbuilding, and I’m perfectly willing to give a mulligan to authors who can give me that, but use something like FTL to do it.

    I also think that limiting SF in that way would tend to limit human beings. A lot of what we have now was once thought impossible, but people insisted on trying to do it / make it anyway. I’m perfectly happy for people to eschew the SF that breaches their willing suspension of disbelief — but I’ll be damned if I’ll support limiting other peoples’ dreams by limiting the possibilities in the SF they have available to read.

  11. Feeling melancholy about being locked out of so much good stuff my friends are enjoying of late, I decided to take a gamble on the first episode of Man in the High Castle. Wow.

    First off, I like the way they handled torture. It’s there. So is the cremation in a local hospital of undesirables. But the actual violence is off-screen, and they don’t go in for long lingering shots of the aftermath. It was all framed in ways I could handle readily.

    Second, the whole thing felt really, really Dickian. There’s the sense of small people who are distinguished only by their willingness to know the truth. The world is run down, because there’s always something that matters more to those with power than the quality of life for small people. “They make no mention of the beauty of decay”, as Tears for Fears put it in “Break It Down Again”.

    Third, I’ve come to feel that on the whole it’s smart for alternate history stories not to dwell on details between divergence and story’s present, just as on the whole it’s smart for superhero stories not to get too bogged down in origin details. What matters is what these characters are living in now. What do they fear? What do they let themselves hope for? Are either of those justified by the world they live in? What can they do, what must they do?

    I’m going to be really curious to see how the use of film instead of prose as a guide to a truer world works out. There’s certainly all kind of interesting ways this could go.

    It is, in short, very much what I was hoping for.

  12. Cally: If you have any available money in your charity budget, on-line contributions given at http:/eyfp.org/how-to-donate/ on #Giving Tuesday, December 1, will provide individuals a one-day opportunity to receive a match of $1 for each $2 of donation.

    So we should wait until December 1, then? Will you please post a reminder in the current Pixel Scroll at 12:01am on 1 December for incredibly senile people like me? 😀

  13. Oh, one more thing about Man in the High Castle. Several characters converge in Canon City, Colorado. A name like that would just about certainly have originally been Cañon City, pronounced “Canyon City”. I really have to wonder whether the rendering into Canon City is one more entry in the “just how real is this joint, anyway?” Phil Dick sweepstakes.

  14. Science Fiction isn’t 100% guaranteed to come true – film at 11! Sorry, too tired to do much more than snark. I’m not sure if /when we’ll “make it to the stars” or do some of the other crazy science fiction stuff, but IMHO that doesn’t make science fiction any less science fiction, nor any less enjoyable.

    But it’s interesting to read the comments about this, the Fermi so-called paradox, what people think is possible, etc. 🙂 So thanks for that.

    ObBooks: I decided to start We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory, partially so I can read Harrison Squared (reading in pub order, though H^2 is first chronologically). I’m only a few pages in, but hopefully I’ll get further in tonight.

  15. JJ: I’ll try to remember to remind people [wry]. Note that the food pantry, and thus (I presume) the matching grant, is on Central US time. For the record, it’s about 1:50 am here as I post this (why yes, I’m up too late, why do you ask?) for time calibration purposes.

    I’m sure they’d be happy to accept donations at any time, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck on Tuesday the 1st.

  16. Jim Henley commented:

    @junego said:
    One of the assumptions many keep making in our little prognostication tango here is that today’s capitalism is going to be tomorrow’s economic system and that profit-only motivations are and will remain the primary impetus for accomplishments of human society.

    Jim said:

    I haven’t seen anybody make that argument in this thread either explicitly or implicitly. I have seen some people argue that capitalism will take us to the planets or the stars either for the supposed profit to be had in interplanetary resource exploitation or as a lark by a few zillionaires.

    junego replies:
    You implied it yourself when you said “As for interplanetary resource extraction, color me skeptical. 1) The technology of terrestrial resource extraction is not standing still either (up to and including distillation from sea-water); 2) As Stross (I think) has pointed out, you get into some serious boom-bust issues in thebest case scenario. Like, most asteroids are actually just powder but here’s one that collapses the entire market for X; … I’ll be interested to see your business plan and your safety regime.” Those points assume a market/profit driven economic system. I didn’t see anyone saying “Maybe we need to use a different economic model.”

    junego said:
    There may be a revolution in social engineering and human psychology in our future that, along with an economic system that more equitably creates and distributes resources, allows for longer term planning.

    Jim said:

    I hope it happens! But if it does, there will still be many, many options for objects of this long term planning, and no reason to assume a priori that interplanetary or interstellar colonization will be toward the top of the list.

    junego replied:
    It wouldn’t necessarily have to be near the top of the list, we could juggle several balls at once and at least get it in queue. After more immediate problems were under control the issue could work its way up the priority list. If our species matures to the point of seriously and collectively tackling these issues (including environmental damage), I don’t think it would be improbable for us to tackle that one, too.

    junego said:
    So it might be decided that humans must make the collective effort to get off this rock to reduce the very real danger of eventual extinction.

    Jim said:

    And here are a couple of much better options for reducing the threat of long-term extinction, either of which require, IMHO, a more equitable distribution of resources in an economic system that allows for long-term planning:

    1. Real asteroid defense, because it’s necessary to stave off the biggest exogenous threat to human survival, and can actually prevent billions of deaths – something cislunar or Martian colonies can’t do.

    2. Extensive underground habitation, because, seriously, where do you think we’re going to put those cities on the Moon and Mars? Underground. Because of the dangers of radiation and – asteroids! We can build underground cities on Earth much more quickly and cheaply than we can build them on another planet. And when I say “cheaply,” I mean in terms of real resources. I’m not making any assumptions about monetary system or profit motive.

    junego replied:
    Yes to both of these options (although building cities far enough underground to avoid a Siberian Traps sized disaster might be as difficult as doing so on the Moon or Mars or asteroids because of the Earth’s internal heat). And doing either or both of the above may give us the technological practice to tackle space habitation/exploration. I’d vote for a third long term plan to at least try to get our eggs out of just this one basket. IF it was determined that such a thing is an important goal, the costs wouldn’t be a project-killing issue and there might be counterbalancing benefits like access to large quantities of rare materials like iridium, gold, platinum, etc.

    Seriously, I think our kind of life is probably vanishingly rare. Because of that, I think preserving something of us (warts and all) is a worthwhile goal. If it takes a thousand years or more to get started, so be it.

    Jim said:

    If you’re talking about the eventual death of the Sun, that’s something there is literally no rush to deal with. Humanity should be so lucky as to live long enough to have to worry about it.

    junego replied:
    Agree 100% that surviving for the next billion years (which is approximately when the sun will get too hot for us to survive on the Earth’s surface) to deal with the sun’s changes would be a high class problem! :-9 We almost certainly would no longer be homo sapiens by then, even if we don’t mess with our own genome. That’s part of my point, though. If we (or our descendents) do manage to get even 1/4 of that far, it will be because we’ve developed some very sophisticated technology, including biological manipulation and/or cyborg development and/or full uploading of ourselves – whoever that might be by then – into a computer/network/machine. We’d also almost certainly have dealt with some of the most egregious human mental quirks such as confirmation bias default thinking, etc. So biological fragility and/or longevity might be much smaller roadblocks to heading out into the dark. If it takes that long to get motivated to try for interstellar space, I’d still consider that a victory for my ‘side’.

  17. “One of the assumptions many keep making in our little prognostication tango here is that today’s capitalism is going to be tomorrow’s economic system and that profit-only motivations are and will remain the primary impetus for accomplishments of human society.”

    I haven’t seen anybody make that argument in this thread either explicitly or implicitly. I have seen some people argue that capitalism will take us to the planets or the stars either for the supposed profit to be had in interplanetary resource exploitation or as a lark by a few zillionaires.

    Capitalism combined with the current geopolitical constraints on Earth’s resources combined with the way a few starry-eyed billionaires want to do something capitalism typically doesn’t do well could get us mining near-Earth asteroids, which you can’t argue would not be a foundation in order to go farther and do more. Some combination of nationalist pride, compelling research agenda, still more billionaires thinking past their next shareholders’ meeting, possibly some extreme reality TV, and plain old human desire to reach the next frontier, will get us to Mars, where we’ll learn if and how a space colony might actually work.

    If Elon Musk wanting to leverage his billions so he can die on Mars is a lark, would you rather he stay home and be buried with it?

  18. @junego:

    You implied it yourself when you said “As for interplanetary resource extraction, color me skeptical. 1) The technology of terrestrial resource extraction is not standing still either (up to and including distillation from sea-water); 2) As Stross (I think) has pointed out, you get into some serious boom-bust issues in thebest case scenario. Like, most asteroids are actually just powder but here’s one that collapses the entire market for X; … I’ll be interested to see your business plan and your safety regime.” Those points assume a market/profit driven economic system. I didn’t see anyone saying “Maybe we need to use a different economic model.”

    Fair point on the asteroid-mining bit. I think I was responding specifically to the suggestion that there was an obvious profit motive to doing it, and had my head full of Niven-ish libertarian-Belter-society clichés.

    But even under full communism, comrade, the hand of whatever visibility still has to allocate resources on some basis to fewer ends than the set of all possible ends. And it will still be humans doing this, with all their agency and eccentricity and tendency to respond to incentives. And someone still has to decide getting out of Earth’s gravity well, finding the rare asteroid that’s actually valuable, getting it or its products back here and then down Earth’s gravity well without either self-destructing or becoming a rogue celestial object is worth the resources required. There’s no reason to think doing all this is even less ecologically destructive than sieving sea-water for heavy metals.

    And there’s no reason to think it involves human settlement of space. Again, there my bar is straightforward: people are born there; people die there of old age.

    And while all of this I’ve been pitching in terms of What WILL OR WON’T Probably Happen, there are even SFnal implications here. Because if it’s going to take a much different society to make interplanetary civilization work, then we should think twice before doing another story about plucky, ancap Belters. If interstellar trade makes no sense – hint: it doesn’t – then we should think harder about what our star-spanning civilizations look like when we sit down to write about them.

    In some ways, this is a reason why I admire Banks. He thought about all the kinds of handwavium required to make ships viable for interstellar travel and then realized that, if you’ve got all that going for you, planets cease to be very interesting to your society.

  19. @Jim:

    The Belter/miner concept works best if you take Earth completely out of the equation except as a market/bank. Why go through the headache of bringing raw materials down the well as big lumps when you could put the manufacturing in orbit?

    Granted, that has its own chicken/egg problems, but those have traditionally been addressed by assuming a gradual progression from dirt to LEO to high orbit and then to different dirt clods. Get enough people in orbit, and there’s a reason to start some production there. Do that, put more people up there to do those jobs, and manufacturing can become viable. Once you get that capability, making stuff out of nickel-iron rocks gets a lot more feasible.

    If you want to get from your yard to the roof of your house, jumping is the wrong approach. What you need is a ladder, not a jet pack.

    As for finding those more lucrative rocks, I wonder how feasible it would be to pair a tight-focus laser with a spectrometer. See rock, zap rock, analyze dust at a distance…

  20. @Rev Bob:

    Granted, that has its own chicken/egg problems, but those have traditionally been addressed by assuming a gradual progression from dirt to LEO to high orbit and then to different dirt clods.

    Sure. But the key word there is “assuming.” If you’re not ultimately getting either the raw materials or their product back down to Earth’s surface, then by definition you’re doing all that purely for the sake of provisioning an ongoing outer-space civilization. But then you’re back to the question of whether you bother to do that in the first place. If you are ultimately getting the raw materials or their product back down to Earth, you get into all the economic (in terms of real resource allocation) and safety issues (preserving both the goods themselves and the folks underneath them). That stuff’s going to weigh.

  21. In some ways, this is a reason why I admire Banks. He thought about all the kinds of handwavium required to make ships viable for interstellar travel and then realized that, if you’ve got all that going for you, planets cease to be very interesting to your society.

    I seem to recall the end of Baxter’s RING makes the same sort of leap.

  22. @JJ . If SF were limited to only what we know is likely, or what we know is not impossible, it’d be pretty damn boring.

    I don’t advocate limiting sf in any way. I enjoy lots of space operas, stories involving interstellar travel and other unlikely technologies. However i think it’s healthy for sf and good for us all to take a more critical look at some of the issues that are usually handwaved away. Robinson has done so in the context of an excellent novel.

    The point I was making about there being too much uncritical acceptance of rosy simplistic fantasies about the future was meant to apply to the world generally. I think that the more realistic people are about the political/social/environmental situation of the human race, the more likely we are to deal with it intelligently. Maybe this is just dourness on my part and I’m confusing entertainment choices with what people really think.

    i haven’t read all his classic work yet but at this point I think Robinson’s stuff is about as good as sf gets, just as a matter of taste I guess. Clearly our tastes differ somewhat. I note that you liked “Dark Orbit”, which I just “bounced off” yesterday.

  23. Extensive underground habitation, because, seriously, where do you think we’re going to put those cities on the Moon and Mars? Underground. Because of the dangers of radiation and – asteroids! We can build underground cities on Earth much more quickly and cheaply than we can build them on another planet.

    One advantage underground cities on Moon and Mars would have over ones on Earth? Much less earthquakey. In seconds, an underground city can become an underground tomb. (Though personally, I don’t expect underground cities anywhere to happen. I expect that as our cheap sources of energy are used up (significantly changing the climate in the progress) we will gradually (or not so gradually) fall out of our high-tech age back into a more sustainable, much lower population agrarian lifestyle for the remainder of our specie’s existence.)

  24. @ Jim @ Rev Bob

    I don’t see even a possibility of the technical (including possible bio tech) expertise for space colonization for a century or more, but manned space exploration is a vital part of gaining that expertise, imho. I don’t think the technical issues are insurmountable.

    One example is the how to get materials transfered in and out of a gravity well. A space elevator might eventually solve the problem with a lot more tech advances (some of which may involve manufacturing processes requiring micro gravity conditions, which could be another impetus to get people into space). Another is identifying asteroids that contain concentrations of the materials we need. An answer could be robots that do the initial exploring/testing.

    The question becomes, as Jim keeps bringing up – rightfully, does our species have the will to dedicate resources to the project? (Well, Jim seems to be more in the “No, we shouldn’t” camp) And, no Jim, I don’t think straight up communism is the answer. I have only a very fuzzy (and almost completely uneducated 😉 ) idea of an economic structure that would be feasible. Given, though, a social and economic structure that did allow/encourage us to think ahead and think big, I would personally be rallying to expend a portion of our resources in spreading out into the solar system as a minimum step to eventually spreading further. My motivation, shared by some others, is to try to preserve some part of humanity (whatever that may eventually become) against both random accidents of the cosmos and the known eventual destruction of our sun. Did I mention thinking ahead? :-9

    I think there would have to be a lot of changes to humans and to our society before all that could happen, though.

    In the here-and-now with our current systems, I think we can justify spending a small pittance of the world’s economy on some incremental advances in space exploration by using crazy billionaires, national pride, competitive advantage of advancing technology, etc. to get a social buy-in.

    In the meantime, SF can imagine any future it wants. If an author, like Banks, wants to try to model those social and biological changes, go for it. If they want an unchanged politico/economic environment transfered above the atmosphere, like The Expanse, more power to ’em. If they want the Roman Empire, AIs, and tea in the far future, ala Breq & Co, I’ll read that!

  25. A space elevator might eventually solve the problem with a lot more tech advances

    Nope. more hope that science will invent magic.

  26. My real worry when it comes to thinking about glorious futures in space is that I’m really unconvinced high-tech civilization will make it through the next 2-3 centuries. Discussion about climate change often focuses on what’ll happen by the end of this century. But when the clocks tick over, those changes will still all be there, and things will continue to worsen for some time. It’s not that it’s intrinsically impossible for us to collectively get our act together and manage meaningful response so that we don’t crash down into pre-computer, maybe pre-industrial conditions with no hope of managing the trip up again thanks to depletion of resources then available only with means of extraction our ancestors won’t have access to.

    It’s just that we won’t, so nearly as I can tell. Too many of the positions involved with a good response have been and are occupied by people who prefer some form of looting. Massive horror is already inescapable, in the decades to come, and then the continued worsening I mentioned above. The question is the conditions under which people will live as the gigadeaths tick on. I don’t find a lot of good answers. It seems like the chances to forestall the worst passed by decades ago, and we are in the position of someone who’s fallen off the Empire State Building, saying “So far, so good” as we pass the 25th floor.

    But I could be entirely wrong about the significant points – not the now-unavoidable horrors, but about whether they really close off long-term prospects for the kind of civilization it’d take to get into space. I try not to dwell on this stuff, partly because if I am wrong, it’ll because a lot of people do a lot of good things that add up, and I do my part to promote the good where I see it, support those doing it, and like that. It’s necessary for my own well-being, physical and mental, to presume I’m wrong and wait to see how, while doing what’s at hand to do.

  27. 1. Real asteroid defense, because it’s necessary to stave off the biggest exogenous threat to human survival, and can actually prevent billions of deaths – something cislunar or Martian colonies can’t do.

    A functioning asteroid defense defense likely to be prett unsexy by SF standards: a thorough audit of NEOS would give us long warning times. HAZARDS DUE TO COMETS AND ASTEROIDS suggested about a century. On those time scales, you don’t need Bruce Willis. A robot with a bucket of paint might be enough.

  28. @ Darren Garrison

    And yet a year after that iO9 article, this material was discovered.
    Diamond nantubules

    Does this discovery prove an elevator is possible? No. It just indicates that we haven’t figured everything out yet – wrt all of what is possible or all of what is impossible.

  29. The argument seems to be
    We should build lots of stuff in earth orbit because that will make it possible to build stuff further out, and yes, building stuff further out is expensive and difficult – but it won’t be so expensive and difficult if we’ve built lots of stuff in earth orbit!

  30. For that matter, in this era of the solar system the interval between large impacts is very long. We could ignore the problem entirely, as has been our practice, and have good odds of getting wiped out by something else long before another dinosaur killer comes along.

    the history of the Apollo program ought to chasten space-colonization enthusiasts.

    Not to mention the history of space colony boosterism, which was generally one part dubious economics, one part hand-waving, one part self-delusion and one part blatant lies.

  31. In the space within our solar system there is energy and there are resources. Consequently an economy can exist, in principle, in that space. However, safely getting up there and/or safely bringing things down from there is expensive and the environment is very hostile for humans.

    I have very mixed views of Dan Simmons’s books Illium & Oylmpus but I really did like his Moravec robots (named after Hans Moravec). Getting smaller things into space that can build bigger things and which in terms of energy and resource could be thought of as ‘self funding’ resolves many issues but requires leaps in robotics. The advantage is that improvements in in our ability to make autonomous machines have many non-space applications.

    When the space relatively close to us already has safe places to visit and a functioning system of exchange of energy and resources, then people will want to go there.

    Therefore:
    1. build more robots
    2. don’t point out that point 1 is what I want to happen anyway because robots are cool

  32. Hydrogen isn’t cheap (the last time I checked it was something like $4/kg) and in liquid form is a pain in the ass to work with. Now, add a little carbon and you get a nice fuel that is liquid at room temperature….

  33. Diamond nanothread looks cool for its own sake. Let’s treat “making it 22K-miles long as a mere engineering problem. That still leaves four objections on i09’s table.

  34. Bruce Baugh: The real Cañon City, Colorado, was spelled without the tilde until it started creeping back. It didn’t have the tilde in the 60’s, although it’s always been pronounced “Canyon”. So spelling it “Canon” is in fact correct for that time in our world too. Losing the “y” sound would then come naturally after the whole divided US trauma thingy. Which probably wasn’t too good for the Mexicans, either, them being neither Aryan nor Asian.

  35. Lurkertype: Thanks! That’ll teach me to not check.

    I still like “canon city” as a bit of metatextual fun, though, sob. 🙂

  36. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 11/24 The Choler out of Space | File 770

  37. Hydrogen isn’t cheap (the last time I checked it was something like $4/kg) and in liquid form is a pain in the ass to work with. Now, add a little carbon and you get a nice fuel that is liquid at room temperature….

    It’s on track to go under a dollar with wind/solar/geothermal/nuclear, and will eventually go much lower (and be produced on site). We’re already bioengineering algae to produce it more efficiently, so that should come long before the diamond space elevator.

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