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Wednesday, 1 January 2020

A place among the stars

"Here is a vision of where we could be [in fifty years' time]: We will have fusion power and open-sea mariculture. We will be able to travel the globe freely through suborbital space in less than an hour. We will have research laboratories, industries, and hotels in orbit. We will have scientific bases, astronomical interferometers, and helium-3 mines on the Moon. We will have city-states on Mars — vibrant, optimistic centers of invention sporting lively and novel cultures, with many casting off the chains of tradition to strike out new paths to show the way to a better future. We will have mining and settlement outfits finding their way into the main asteroid belt, and exploration missions to the outer solar system. We will have grand observatories floating in free space, mapping the planets of millions of stars, and finding other worlds filled with life and intelligence. And we will be making magnificent discoveries in physics and cosmology, learning the nature of the universe and life’s role in it, and preparing our first interstellar spaceships to journey forth and find our place among the stars."
That's Robert Zubrin, astronautical engineer and advocate for manned space exploration, making the case for a Roddenberry-style vision of humanity's future. If you feel like going into the new year with an upbeat attitude, listen to Dr Zubrin talking here to Michael Shermer on the Science Salon podcast. It'll make you forget every dumb, anti-rational, zero-sum argument you encountered in 2019 -- at least for an hour. You might even decide to join the Mars Society.

A while back, Jamie and I wrote a script for a TV show set in a Mars colony later this century. The idea was to de-genre the idea of space travel. To forget about Buck Rogers adventures and space opera plots and instead just explore the human adventure involved in setting up on a new world. The networks didn't bite -- they might have if we'd included aliens -- but here's the opening sequence from the pilot, just in case it entices you to look towards the final frontier...


Whatever world you make your home, happy New Year!


16 comments:

  1. I think the most realistic vision of humanity's future in space is The Expanse - protomolecule stuff aside. People are living on the Moon, terraforming Mars and mining the Asteroid Belt. But they're still people with the same tendency toward bigotry, greed and self-centered short-sightedness that's punctuated by moments of heroism and grace. Unlike Star Trek, the people in The Expanse are still very much recognizable as human beings with human natures.

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    1. I hadn't heard of the protomolecules, but having Googled it I think that would put me right off. Genetics is the new sciencey-woo for lazy writers (used to be quantum mechanics) but there's no reason why an alien lifeform's genetic code (even if DNA-based) would make any sense to a terrestrial organism. They might just as well -- and more credibly -- have just said, "This alien eats people and turns the digested organics into new cells." But after all that's what all carnivores do.

      Oh, and belt miners would not be roustabouts. That's more lazy writer on a par with space pirates who gurn and say "Ooh arr, matey." What would be the point of using human muscle for a job like that, with all the life support that goes with it? A belt miner would actually be a guy with three PhDs and training in how to manage and operate an automated workforce. It feels like modern SF in films and TV just can't break out of 1950s pulp notions of the future. The only difference is they now stick in a lot of waffle about genetics and quantum theory in place of fusion and ion drives.

      Given the cost of shipping people into space, I expect most of the deplorables will stick around on Earth and the average level of bigotry and greed will therefore be a lot less Out There. But we sadly didn't get to write that series.

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    2. Forget about the protomolecule stuff as I think it is not a lazy genetics thing but something quite different and more interesting, closer to Quatermass than ST:TNG. Anyway...

      The proposition of Expanse is that the Solar System is populated with people rather than automata. These are not Ph.Ds gone native. They are refugees fleeing oppression (...and, naturally, finding more of it). If you have a growing, thriving human population in space then you are going to have the full range of human capabilities and weaknesses. This is what the series tries to portray. It sort-of works.

      You could start with a different view: it's a mistake to send people into space. You really just want Ph.Ds and their robot servants but there is no excitement, no human story in that.

      I think the series is well worth watching. It's not your regular Space Opera and there's more depth than you'd expect.

      Beltalowda!

      Steve

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    3. Well... maybe I'll try it when the cost of the DVDs comes down. But really I'm interested in finding a series (either books or TV) that finds a fresh take on science fiction. Fleeing oppression -- I grant you it could be interesting, but it's very familiar ground for American SF, such as Firefly, and it's hard enough to get into a rubber dingy and flee across the Mediterranean, never mind the cost of space travel. Unless of course Elon Musk succeeds in bringing it down to cheaper than a ticket on British Rail!

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    4. If you have an Amazon Prime account the whole series if free with it.

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    5. I'll probably have to put my leg into the steel trap of Amazon Prime before too long. But I'd have to watch at least a show or movie a month to make it worthwhile, and I haven't yet seen evidence that they're making that many good ones.

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    6. I buy enough stuff that the free shipping is worth it alone.

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    7. I get free shipping on orders over £20 as long as I'm willing to wait a few days. Amazon will presumably close that loophole before long to try to drive people like me to Amazon Prime.

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  2. I thought the expanse was terrible - lazy writing is spot on. Vomit zombies? just wtf?

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    1. People never seem to tire of zombies, for some reason I can't fathom. As for "vomit zombies" -- I don't want to know, do I?

      What I'm looking for is a science fiction series that is character-based drama. Every SF movie or series is pulp adventure. Some are a little more credible than others (Passengers compared to Star Wars, say) but other than Black Mirror they're all "comic booky" in style. I want the SF equivalent of Patrick Melrose or The Affair or Chernobyl. There are human stories to be told, but I suppose we won't see those as long as there's an appetite for alien viruses, zombies, pseudo-Bond villains, carousing belt miners, space cowboys, etc.

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    2. I assume you've read Kim Stanley Robinson already?

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    3. I've read one of his (Aurora) but after all there are plenty of SF novels that tell a dramatic story without resorting to pulp cliches. It's the SF movies & television that I'm missing. But Morgan Freeman has spent nearly 20 years trying to get a Rendezvous With Rama movie made, so I'm not too hopeful.

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    4. Ahhh right. Yeah I think I'd agree there, certainly with regards to TV.

      Anyway if you enjoyed Aurora I'd also recommend the Mars trilogy. I particularly loved Aurora because it skewers one of the sacred cows of science fiction (our manifest destiny in the stars) at a particularly important time, environmentally speaking, but was a bit flat character-wise, apart from the wonderful ship. The Mars trilogy on the other hands is a more traditional and really sprawling future history which also has at last three (maybe four or five) great, memorable, well-realised characters. The elusive grail of the science fiction writer...

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    5. I keep thinking I should try his Mars trilogy, but his science is so sloppy in Aurora (the gravitational braking, to take just one example) that I might end up chucking it across the room!

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  3. Vomit Zombies are “Helix”, not The Expanse. Yes, “Helix” is truly dire.

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    1. I'm going to need a list of what SF is worth watching these days. Although I'm beginning to wonder about TV altogether... just saw a set of trailers for The History Channel and every show was either about ghosts, Loch Ness, or UFO conspiracies. And I naively thought it would be programmes about the Roman Empire and Waterloo!

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