December 6, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Using The Solar System As A Human Expansion Resource

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3084. The link is provided below...

2015: The Year of the Dwarf Planets     In 2015, spacecraft visited the dwarf Planets Ceres and Pluto for the first time. I will discuss what a “dwarf planet is,” and then take a look at Ceres and Pluto, and how they may help the settlement of the Solar System. Both bodies look to be reservoirs of large amounts of relatively accessible ice and, in Pluto’s case, other elements, such as nitrogen, needed to sustain colonies in space.

G. David Nordley.

I’ve been reading G. David Nordley’s science fiction for over twenty years and have enjoyed every minute of it. Often the thing I enjoy most is the “reality” of his fiction. From his own website: “As a writer, his main interest is the future of human exploration and settlement of space, and his stories typically focus on the dramatic aspects of individual lives within the broad sweep of a plausible human future. Trying to keep up with just what is plausible is a challenge, but he recycles his research for occasional nonfiction articles. He continues to write a few pieces of short fiction each year, but is currently concentrating on novels, with three complete books looking for publishers and two more in serious production efforts.”

While I’m probably wrong, I don’t RECALL any of this stories including Faster Than Light spaceships, interstellar empires, or aliens, though his recent collection AMONG THE STARS has eight that take place beyond Earth – though without aliens in the classic sense.

Most of the time, he wrote about people interacting with realistic technology in the near future close to home. He’s an astrophysicist by training and an astronautical engineer by military experience and advanced education, so his grounding in reality is solid. While I like aliens, I also enjoy thinking about the real future my grandchildren might experience among the planets and stars.

Tangent to this discussion, I’ve begun to read the MARS books of Kim Stanley Robinson, and I’m almost done with RED MARS. In it, there’s much discussion of smashing asteroids and comets into the surface to help create an atmosphere; and there’s an important scene where the first ice asteroid skims the air envelope of Mars and vaporizes, adding water and elemental oxygen and hydrogen to an atmosphere that is primarily carbon dioxide.

Nordley’s seminar on the use of Pluto and Ceres – so-called dwarf planets – to create Solar colonies must have been fascinating, but after reading RED MARS, I wondered if any of the moral issues raised in Robinson’s book made it into the discussion. Much of RED MARS is about technological advances playing out on the surface of the red planet; everything from humidifiers, “pollution gas generators”, moholes, genetically engineered algae, and super trees, all the way to the modification of the Human genome to extend life. The book is thick with technological ideas.

But I think that the reason it was so popular was that it delved into the moral and religious issues of Human “manifest destiny”. Certain characters repeatedly question the rightness of terraforming Mars to Human specifications. Some want Mars to remain pristine and untouched; others want the technology to be restrained; others want to slam asteroids into the surface and change everything right away.

I have no idea if the argument ever arose here. Given G. David Nordley’s body of work, if the issue was raised, it wasn’t a major plot point; if it wasn’t, maybe it’s something we, as a writing and reading community need to “insist” on at gatherings like this. Maybe it’s something we as writers need to make sure we include, because Human manifest destiny is an idea I’m not sure Humans, as a species, have managed to shake. Take the poisonous air of New Delhi ( and invisible sunrises in Beijing ( as two pieces of evidence backing up my statement.

I hope we talk about it a lot.

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