March 18, 2018

Slice of PIE: Exploring Solar System Oceans Is Like Saying, “Let’s Share Our Philosophy Of Peace With Aliens!”

Using the Programme Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 (to which I will be 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 Programme Guide. The link is provided below…

Under Pressure: Exploring Oceans Beyond Earth – We're finding liquid water everywhere in the solar system. What will it take for humanity to explore and/or colonize those vast new oceans?

William Ledbetter: 2016 Nebula Award, edits for Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, runs the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award contest (Baen Books, the National Space Society)
Pat MacEwen: anthropologist/author, several short stories in F&SF
Laurel Anne Hill: authored The Engine Woman’s Light, one other novel

Too bad James L. Cambias wasn’t part of this panel. His novel, A DARKLING SEA, takes place under the ice surfaced ocean of the alien world, Illmatar. It’s more complex than that, but his aliens and their entirely fire-less biotech society and culture are fascinating.

Jupiter’s moon, Europa figures in several science fiction stories (, more than one dealing with life in the waters under the ice.

Certainly we will explore those places when time and technology are right, but I think this session was looking beyond that. We’ve established that there’s water elsewhere than on the home world. So? Who cares? We need water on Earth – but even though the surface is 71% water, we can only “use” a fraction of that. Roughly three percent of that water is “usably freshwater” and of that, most of it is frozen or underground.

Vast swaths of the surface are completely uninhabited by Humans. We laud and magnify ourselves for having “conquered Earth” as well as chide ourselves for “destroying the oceans”…

But we can easily walk on only 29% of the surface, and of that, 57% is uninhabitable…so, Humans live on just sixteen percent of the Earth’s surface. Seems that “conquered” is a somewhat relative term. Here the discussion looked at “what it will take for humanity to explore and/or colonize those vast new oceans”. Yet we haven’t even colonized our own oceans. We avoid them typically. There are Humans who have never had any encounter with an ocean at all, and the ones who say that they have might have gone swimming in one or flown over one. Even those who live “on” the ocean might have little to do with the water itself. As I live in the land-locked center of North America, I have no idea how many people in Los Angeles actually “use” or have “conquered” the Pacific.

Certainly people HAVE done things with the ocean, interacting with it intimately – my daughter spent time on New Zealand as an exchange student learning about Maori art; most everyone reading this has seen the kid’s movie, “Moana”. Many of us have “been to Hawaii”.

But can we say in any real sense that Humans have “conquered the oceans”? Do we really live there, or do we just USE the oceans? We certainly like to dump stuff there:, in particular, insoluble plastic.

Some people claim that living on the oceans is “impossible” or “unlikely”, but the fact is that we have created artificial islands:, we just haven’t made them very large, the largest owned near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Japan has created the most artificial islands, and Holland has been doing it for two thousand years. The ancient Egyptians also made islands.

But our ability to push back oceans and to really, truly inhabit them is entirely unrealized on this planet. There are no undersea cities – a peculiar dream of mine – but there are some who think they might be possible: Science fiction (sort of in some of the cases noted) has had a stab at it:

None of the sources mentioned SEAQUEST DSV, and while there were no cities under the surface of the ocean, there were colonies and (at least in its first season), a serious attempt at writing the stories. In this future, the bottom of the ocean is the only place left where there are exploitable natural resources and Humans need to be there to utilize them.

The upshot of this is that while I wish I could have been there, I think we’d best make some advances in “conquering” our own oceans before we try and make a go at conquering other oceans…

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