Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), 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 #1279. The link is provided below…
Really BIG Projects: Saving planets, moving stars. The panel considers the appeal of Really Big Projects, and dreams up one or two. The sky’s the limit on this one! G. David Nordley, Mr. Alan Stewart, Henry Spencer (M), Dr. Jordin Kare
For me, G. David Nordley needs no introduction – he’s been writing for ANALOG for decades and I’ve read many of his stories. Some of them deal with engineering on this scale. For example: “What if you could warp spacetime in the laboratory, experiment with quantum gravity, and convert mass into energy with unprecedented efficiency? That’s what you could do if you made a micro-black hole. But it won’t come cheaply; you need mass and energy from four star systems, coordinated over light years and decades.”
Mr. Alan Stewart is well-experienced with science fiction fandom.
Henry Spencer has a freakin’ ASTEROID named after him, what else is there to add? (“The asteroid 117329 Spencer is named in his honour.”)
Dr. Jordin Kare – well there’s this about him: “physicist and aerospace engineer laser propulsion…Mockingbird a conceptual design…an extremely small, reusable launch vehicle… and was involved in the Clementine lunar mapping mission…the Sailbeam interstellar propulsion concept…”
Everyone is qualified, then so onward!
Micro black holes play a significant role in my debut SF novel for young people, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth, which is currently out of print (though it was never technically IN print as it was an ebook which sold 33 copies.) In it, a starship from an invading-defensive fleet of aliens who arrive in our Solar System to destroy the alien civilization on Venus is destroyed. It’s micro black hole power system falls through the Solar System – a vastly different affair than what we have today! – wreaking havoc. I love this idea and it’s powerful and plays another role in the story much later.
As well, I have a story that’s been sitting in my file for years that involves REALLY terraforming the Moon and Mars – as well as other airless bodies in the Solar System by increasing the mass of their core using ultradense matter (like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_star) in order to create enough gravity for Humans to live on the surface and the object to maintain an atmosphere. In my story, a shaft is constructed from the surface of the Moon at one of the thin points (http://www.airspacemag.com/ist/?next=/daily-planet/thin-crust-moon-41022529/) then manufactured quark-gluon plasma or other forms of ultra-dense matter, are dropped down the shaft at carefully calculated speeds so that they will come to rest in the core.
However, I’m not interested in the science part of the story, but in the lives of the men and women making the SHAFT to the core. What would their lives be like? If they’re just making a living, then how do they respond to terrorists, nay-sayers, and others who will likely attack them…because the men and women who make the decisions are too well-protected. In this, I can only say that it’s what has always happened when people protest. They don’t target the perpetrators, but each other and the common folk who are just like themselves who are trying to do a job they’ve been assigned, and do it well.
OTOH, the same might be said for German soldiers who carried out orders that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews; or the employees of British Petroleum who were just doing their jobs when billions of gallons of crude oil began to leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Were they responsible? Yes…but…
So that’s the story I want to write about engineering on a giant scale. A number of years ago, while teaching ninth grade physical science, I did a unit on engineering and physics. Looking for graphic illustrations, I discovered a video series called BUILDING BIG. ( https://www.amazon.com/Building-Big-Bridges-Skyscrapers-Tunnels/dp/B0002XVS92) While this is about terrestrial structures, it’s the initial step in learning to build even more massive structures – say like starships (http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/).
Dyson Spheres? Probably not within the foreseeable future, but while many others were daunted, science fiction writer Larry Niven figured a SLICE of a Dyson Sphere might be doable – and he called it Ring World. What else might we scale back a bit then build?
Again, from my novel HOTSS: Emerald of Earth, I postulate that instead of leaping into space either in starships or generation ships, we make a sweep through our own star system, stopping at each planet for a year of intense exploration, mapping, and planning.
I’d have loved to have been at this discussion to see where these people went with their minds! Of course, this is to say nothing of what we would call Geoengineering and what we might do to repair the air, water, and surface of our own planet. It would be a mere trifle compared to terraforming a world, BUT it would certainly be a launching point for the kind of environmental engineering depicted in Herbert’s DUNE!