In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.
In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.
It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?
Watching the sun rise this morning, I was observing the crepuscular light shedding angular dusty beams on the Eastern horizon. One beam of light was shining vertically through the clouds like some massive laser. Which made me think about alien invasion movies like ‘Independence Day’ where the invaders come zooming into Earth’s atmosphere with massive energy weapons, blowing up everything in sight. Thinking about it, why bother with Star Warsy / Trekkie type energy weapons? All very sparkly, all very pretty, but mostly all heat and fury with very little knockdown power. Comparatively speaking.
Now if it were me, I’d drop half a dozen or so hundred metre asteroids on the planet well before sending in ground troops. Any detonations, even within a kilometre or five of the surface would do enough damage to a major cities infrastructure to paralyse everything. Then leave for a year before hitting with another quick barrage of about ten Tunguska sized masses. Wait another solar year while all the humans run around shooting each other and running out of supplies before sending in my very expensive, and hard to fix number of terminator ‘droids. Minimal damage to the biosphere and game over for all those pesky humans. And some very nice living space on a des res planet once the meteoric dust has settled and things have warmed up again. Just send in the scrap scavengers.
Fortunately it’s all fiction. Because if any other species is smart enough and capable of crossing interstellar space en masse with hostile intent; basically, humanity is screwed.
Update: as opposed to airbursts, what if the asteroids were dropped in the seas near major coastal conurbations? A big enough water explosion a hundred and fifty klicks away would mess up LA, San Francisco and San Diego with Tsunamis. South and East of New York to push a wall of water up the Chesapeake. One in the Northern Caribbean would paralyse Florida and all of coastal Texas, as well as sending a massive tidal bore up the Mississippi. Polish off with a hit in Lake Michigan. Europe could be paralysed with three hits. One in the Northern English Channel, Eastern Baltic and central Mediterranean. Western Indian Ocean about equidistant between the Persian Gulf and Mumbai. The last reserved for somewhere in the Philippines. Residual tidal surges would at least severely damage every sea port everywhere in the world. Two years of solid rainfall from all the atmospheric water vapour would do the rest. Result: one freshly laundered planet ready for colonisation. Scary.
Have elected to post a few story samples under the ‘Story Samples’ tab. Mostly unfinished or rough draft samples, just to see if there’s any feedback. First up is ‘Bug’ from the Association worlds timeline. Others to follow over the next few days.
Have decided to put the first couple of thousand words of ‘Darkness’ on an excerpts page. Just to give a flavour of the style and tone. New story thread to add to the mix, with six particular characters.
Got one of those occasional ‘question’ emails from the planetary society, and it rather brought me up short. In the Stars Trilogy I write about space technologies and how they might change the future of humanity, but where did I get started? What made me want to write about it? So I’ve decided to send the planetary society this as my answer.
What sparked my passion for Space and space travel? The first thing that springs to mind is timing. I was born in 1957 at the very beginning of the ‘Space Age’. The year the Soviet Union put Sputnik into orbit and lifted the eyes of the world up into the great nowhere, above mere terrestrial squabbles. Since then, man has taken his first faltering steps off the planet. Sent satellites into orbit, sent men and women outside the thin layers of our biosphere into the unforgiving near vacuum beyond. Created global communications relays. Landed craft on Mars (Mariner, Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity) and Venus (Venera, Pioneer). Dropped a probe into Jupiters maelstrom of an atmosphere. Skimmed the tails of comets. Men and women have gone into orbit (Soyuz, Mercury, Gemini, Shuttle) and even landed on the moon (Apollo). The Hubble and Kepler orbital observatories, to mention but two, have helped expand our knowledge of the Universe almost all the way back to its very genesis.
The second thing for me was Science Fiction. The worlds created by Anderson, Asimov, Bester, Harrison, Heinlein, Niven, Van Vogt, to name but a few. Their visions sparked off my own desire. If I was never going to be an Astronaut or pilot (Eyesight issues), I at least wanted to write about it.
Space exploration has formed a palpable background to my life, and continuously fired my curiosity about more than mere terrestrial matters. Its constant round of discovery formed the background noise of my childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The dream of space travel has never ceased to fill me with wonder. I say this as a self confessed, dyed in the wool cynic of over fifty five years of age who has never worked in Aerospace.
The sheer scale of the awesome and continual endeavour that is space exploration, driven as it is by little more than mans indomitable curiosity, is nothing short of inspiring. In order to find our place in the universe we needs must reach out to find where we have not come from, in order to compare our origins with other places which failed to bring forth the miracle of life. Or may yet be discovered to harbour life.
We are fragile beings on a small, and possibly unremarkable world in the greater cosmic scheme of things. However, we need to find out if this is true by looking outwards, because unless we look, we will not know. That is what sparks my passion for space exploration. Whatever answers we find.
New discoveries about the universe around us flood in every single day. So much so, it is often very hard simply to keep up. While this might discourage some and overwhelm others, it simply makes me want to know more. To see more. To feel more. To read more. To comprehend more and not rely on the blind insistence of others. To be more alive. Space exploration is the triumph of inquisitiveness over ignorance, the bringer of light from outer darkness. To me, it is the very personification of hope.
Recently one of my acquaintances, who incidentally has never read any of my work, said this to me when I was showing off the cover artwork of ‘Falling through the stars’; “Science fiction, huh? Full of aliens come to eat our brains, yeah?” “No.” I replied, a little nettled. “All about how UFO’s built the pyramids?” “No.” Up until then I’d considered him quite level headed. Now I wasn’t so sure. “You say you got an interstellar war in this book?” “Yes, one earth based regime against another.” I replied. “So the aliens stop the war and make people live together in peace?” “Look.” I said, mildly annoyed. “There are quite a few non-human life forms described in my work, but there are no alien space ships and no super intelligent aliens who visit Earth. Read it for yourself.” As if I’d resort to some cheap Deus ex machina narrative device. “No thanks.” He replied. “I don’t like science fiction.”
At this point I made an excuse and left the coffee shop. I think he was just trying to rile me for fun. Needless to say, he’s currently off my greetings card list. At least until he actually bothers to read my work and apologise.
Okay, I’m going to nail my colours to the mast; I am a writer of science fiction who does not believe that hyper intelligent alien species visit our little home planet for the following reasons;
1. The odds are against it. While ‘life’ throughout the universe may not be as rare as we have previously thought; there being millions of worlds out in our galaxy alone that probably contain the basics needed to support life. The path of evolution required to produce intelligent, tool using life forms is overlong and fraught with pitfalls. See this Wiki page on the Fermi Paradox.
2. The ‘evidence’ for aliens is wafer thin. Blurry photographs, laughably inauthentic video / film footage. Reams of unverifiable ‘sightings’ found to be misidentification of planets, stars, satellites aircraft or cloud formations. (See items 5 & 6)
3. Lack of conspiracy. Governments are rubbish at covering up anything, never mind UFO’s. Remember that Government is made up of people. People are fallible, they make mistakes, they gossip and tell friends and family things they aren’t supposed to. They take short cuts when pressured. They get flustered when out of their comfort zone. Secretive or unusual behaviour is painfully obvious. In short; Governments leak like the proverbial rusty sieve. It’s why the Cold War went on as long as it did. If the Atomic secrets hadn’t been leaked, the USA, British and French would have been the only nuclear powers in the world and history would have been very different.
4. ‘Aliens’ have not made themselves known. Truly. All a real alien would have to do is land their starship on one of the many spaces perfectly designed for that purpose, like an airport. Besides, why cross hundreds or thousands of light years or more simply to hide in the bushes? Especially from a species supposedly fifty times less intelligent and technologically inferior.
5. We would have seen and recorded them. The skies are watched. Avidly so. Satellites, meteors and comets are tracked not only by multiple government agencies in multiple countries, but also by an army of amateur astronomers. People who can tell the difference between a planet and a star, a satellite and a meteor. For every sighting of a ‘UFO’ there are multiple sightings of the same phenomena from a different angle which identify said UFO as something terribly mundane and indisputably natural or human made. There are millions of people who can actually tell the difference between aircraft contrails lit by the setting sun and atmospheric tracks left by ‘giant meteors’. Or even UFO’s and pigeons.
6. I’ve seen so-called UFO’s. Then had a damned good laugh at myself for being foolish. My first sighting was at six years old. I was on holiday with my family in Devon, England, at the time. One evening we heard a report of a UFO on the car radio. We’d pulled over for a pub supper, and I was sitting outside in the pub gardens when we saw it; a dark red globe high up in the sky with something dangling below. “Is that a balloon?” I said, staring up at it. “It’s a balloon!” A few other people confirmed. After we’d eaten we heard on the radio that yes, the ‘UFO’ was a Weather recording balloon. During the 1960’s, and until the technology was superseded, such sightings were quite common. Since then I’ve seen lenticular clouds, light reflected off high altitude aircraft, and foil party balloons filled with helium high up amongst the clouds. No alien spacecraft though.
7. There have been no ‘Alien abductions’. Every single one can be more easily explained by sleep disorders, isolation, hallucination, and chemical imbalance. For example; look up ‘Sleep paralysis’ which is a condition known to produce hallucinations of ‘abduction’. That’s even without graphic hallucinations related to extreme celibacy (Incubi and Succubi)
8. Timescale; While there is a possibility that super intelligent species may evolve on other worlds, who is to say, considering that there are star systems many times older than our little home in the Orion spur of the Milky Way, that any alien or artefact has to exist within our time frame. We have only been doing powered flight for just over a century, and only fifty five years since the first satellites went into orbit. That’s a very tiny time frame, and it’s worth mentioning that the Universe operates on a timescale so vast that even Earth based geological time may be considered the barest blink of an eye. So any putative alien civilisation might well be separated from us by millions, even billions of years as well as light years.
9. Yeah, but area 51, right? All the UFO’s land there. No. Sorry. Groom lake, Nevada, USA or the ‘Box’ as it is sometimes known, is a secret experimental testing facility, and ‘sightings’ have been made, but; and this is a big ‘but’; what part of ‘secret and experimental’ don’t these ‘Alien’ conspiracy theorists get? Of course they will see unidentifiable objects as new military airframes are trotted out for testing. Some of these have been disk shaped, and what’s more have actually flown. Prototype disk shaped aircraft go back to the 1910’s (McCormick-Romme ‘Umbrella’ plane and others). Other sightings might have been down to dirigible prototypes. Northrop-Grumman and Boeing have a couple of interesting designs. Perhaps a ‘sighting’ might even be one of the big circular radar arrays seen on Sentry AWACs.
10. These ‘invisible aliens’ are also remarkably silent.SETI, active since 1951 with access to radio telescopes and a huge network of volunteer observers, has yet to turn up any proof of super intelligent alien life. Not an electronic peep. Which is strange, because everything that moves off a reaction. To adopt a Newtonian metaphor, even events at the quantum level alter the behaviour of more familiar phenomena. Everything creates a knock on reaction. Electron charges are altered, electron flows initiated, molecules moved, heat, sound or movement generated. Nothing happens in isolation and everything has an equal and opposite reaction. So if super intelligent aliens have visited we should have heard something by now. Inverse square law or not.
The only logical conclusion to draw from the above is that there never have been any alien visitors, benign or otherwise. No little grey skinned bipeds with big eyes or similar. No distant or even close encounters of whatever kind.
This being the case, for the moment I will be restricting myself to human house guests, not ‘My favourite Martian’.
Just picked up a couple of news items about a campaign to build the Starship Enterprise. I like the idea. While I’m not so sure about sticking to Roddenberry’s original concept, the thought of actually building a starship, starting now, certainly engages my interest and arouses my inner geek.
The technical challenges for such a project are immense, but then so were the ones that took men to the moon in less than ten years. From John F Kennedy’s speech to Armstrong and Aldrin setting foot where no human had gone before. Less than ten years. This is particularly significant for me, as I’ve recently been helping my wife with press releases for the forthcoming To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA exhibition at Nanaimo District Museum about the May 1969 Apollo 10 mission which took place a mere two months before the Eagle Lunar Excursion Module landed in the Sea of Tranquility.
From this speech
To this event.
In less than ten years.
Humanity should attempt this kind of project again. Soon.
The only reusable shuttle currently in use is the X-37B, but that is unmanned. Like when the Apollo program ended, for some reason I can’t sidestep a certain wistfulness and feel that an opportunity is being missed.