While researching a story I’m currently writing about terraforming, I found The Paul Birch Web Archive. If you’re looking for big, hard science fiction ideas, follow the link now and get your mind expanded. Want to speed up Venus’ rotation to give it a day 24 hours long, at the low low price of $20 trillion? Want to build a bridge across the Pacific Ocean or up to low Earth orbit? Want to sail the solar wind and interstellar medium, and reach Alpha Centauri in 400 years? Want to take a one-way faster-than-light trip into the future?
The link again is The Paul Birch Web Archive. Enjoy!
Happy Halloween, everyone. If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with by the fire on a chilly evening, The ALECS Quartet has been out for a month. Join Darren Lee as he reunites with love, death, memory, and betrayal light-years from Earth, in the inhospitable desert of Elard. Scroll down for an excerpt to whet your appetite.
Quick note: this blog post may look familiar to my mailing list subscribers. It was one of those exclusive bonuses my mailing list subscribers received about The ALECS Quartet before anyone else.
You can get similar bonus content about my next books, as well as a free science fiction story, by subscribing now. Go to the orange box to the upper right, or raymundeich.com/mailing-list, follow the instructions, and you’ll be on your way!
Long article about Elon Musk at Aeon. Musk, along with Peter Thiel, is one of the few modern capitalists who resembles the Heinlein hero D.D.Harriman (or one of Ayn Rand’s late-career male lead characters): an innovator who wants to remake the world of possibilities, expand the pie for everyone, and grab a big slice of it for himself. (Jobs at most wanted to do the first and last; Zuckerberg, the last only).
I’m pleased to let you know that I have a new science fiction short novel coming out on September 25, 2014. It’s got intrigue, a love story, and an homage to Lawrence Durrell’s tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet, all wrapped up in my distinctive flavor of sf speculation. You can preorder the ebook now or buy the trade paperback at better booksellers on the release date.
The ALECS Quartet, by Raymund Eich
He had a month to learn the planet’s secrets – and Juliette’s
His Cover Story
Return to Elard to dismantle his sect’s missionary work to the planet’s natives.
His True Mission
Investigate decades-old mysteries of love and death.
Return to Earth with his discovery – if he can.
Trade paperback edition available for US $10.99 or equivalent from all better booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Audio edition coming soon.
Find out more at the publisher’s website, cv2books.com.
Operation Iago (The Confederated Worlds, Book 2) has been out four weeks now. If you haven’t picked it up yet, its focus is an exciting story about a likable character struggling to grow as both a leader and a man. But one of the joys of reading science fiction is the chance to explore strange new worlds. And Arden certainly is a strange one… Read the rest of this entry
Quick note: this blog post may look familiar to my mailing list subscribers. It was one of those exclusive, pre-release bonuses my mailing list subscribers received almost three weeks ago, and almost a week before Operation Iago became available.
You can get similar bonus content about my next books by subscribing now. Scroll down on the page to “Signed Paperbacks Giveaway” for a chance to win signed copies of both Take the Shilling and Operation Iago. Mailing list signup gives you your best chance to win!
Even though Operation Iago is my fifth science fiction novel, and the second book in the Confederated Worlds series, I still get a thrill when I swipe through the ebook edition or riffle the pages of the trade paperback and see a story of mine in print.
Part of the thrill for me comes from knowing how the story started life. Writers come up with all sorts of metaphors for the process of writing a novel. Running a marathon. Building a house. Giving birth.
One way I look at a novel is as an oak tree. A thick trunk, reaching deep into the earth, extending branches into the sky. Words like leaves, thousands of them working together, creating a shady spot for readers to pause and refresh.
Yet large as it is, and long as it may take to grow, the oak tree starts as a single acorn. So too does a novel. An acorn of an idea, dropped on a fertile spot of the subconscious, and watered by new notions about characters, locales, and events, can grow into a novel.
The acorn from which Operation Iago grew
Since my last post on religion and space settlement, a number of people have asked me which of my books touch on those subjects. Time to gather those responses in one place.
Desmond Park, the protagonist of New California, invents a religious-like movement, the “TranscenDNA Society,” which promises liberation from some of the urges built into our brains by evolution (the “selfish gene”). Unlike most past religious movements making the same promise, which were limited to crude and clumsy psychological techniques (prayer, social pressure, etc.), Desmond fulfils it through brain implants dispensing neuroactive drugs.
The Confederated Worlds were settled by religious communities who used slower-than-light ships to cross interstellar distances to find terraformable planets. (Aside–a background assumption of the series is the chokepoint in the Drake Equation is f_l, fraction of planets on which life emerges). Some of those religious communities are traditional (Presbyterians, Lutherans). Some are fanatic splinters of established religions (the “Transtellar Union for Traditional Progressive Judaism” comes to mind, as does a world not yet described on paper, New Nauvoo). Some are conscious revivals of past religions (pre-Islamic Arab paganism, the Troth of Midgard). And some are not “religions” at all, but visions of ethny, culture, or ideology–among them Garvey’s World, Zion-against-Babylon, and Challenger.
The first two books in the series take place on worlds of the latter sort. The fighting depicted in Take the Shilling occurs on New Liberty. The religious beliefs of the locals are captured well in this passage.
Except for intersecting streets, buildings fronted the square. In the middle of one side, lit by [the local sun’s] rays, a mural covered a six-meter-high wall. It showed a human shape, probably male, dressed in a puffy white vacuum suit with a gold reflective face shield on its helmet. The man stood on a gray, pitted, lifeless plain, under a black sky, next to a rigid sheet on a pole. The sheet looked a little like the Confederated Worlds flag, except the white stars stood on a rectangular, not circular, blue field, in the upper left, not the center, and the red and white bands ran horizontally instead of radiating outward.
The man in the vacuum suit was not alone. The bust of another man floated in ghostly outline in the black sky behind the suited one. The ghostly figure featured narrow eyes and wavy hair in front of a nimbus of light. He gazed with serene confidence on the man in the vacuum suit.
“Is that a saint?” Obermeyer asked.
“He’s a president,” Tomas said. “Don’t you read any briefings about the [locals]?”
“I don’t have to. I’ve got you for that.” Obermeyer laughed.
“Fine. I won’t answer your question.” Tomas took a couple of steps away and stretched his arms overhead. A clock tower a few hundred meters away, in the direction of the college, sounded the local hour.
Obermeyer paced over. “What do you mean, you won’t answer? You said he’s a president. That means he isn’t a saint.”
“Can’t the [locals] think he’s both?”
Obermeyer frowned, then shook his head. “On Challenger we respect the ancient presidents, but we don’t worship them.”
Tomas said nothing. Marchbanks squinted at the mural. “Obermeyer, d’you think we’re on Challenger?”
My forthcoming short novel, The ALECS Quartet, is about missionaries to aliens. (“ALECS” is a backronym for “Apostolic League of Earth Communities of Spirit”). ALECS provides common infrastructure shared by multiple religions/spiritual traditions/ideologies: Christians, atheists, North American neo-Taoists, and good government true believers, among many others. But despite their spiritual dedications, these missionaries are quite capable of sex and violence…
Thursday, 17 July
Raymund Eich, Matthew Alan Thyer, Tony Daniel
Tony Daniel, Raymund Eich, and Matthew Alan Thyer read from their work.
Future of Sports: SF vs Reality
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Raymund Eich, Dave Hogg
There has been a great deal of SF written about futuristic sports. How do existing SF ideas of sport correspond with the direction that things are actually taking?
Friday, 18 July
Patent Law 101
Scientists and engineers, ever wonder about the things your organization’s patent staff asks you to do? If working solo, ever wonder about whether to pursue patents on your ideas in the first place? A registered patent agent will lead you through brief introduction to patent law, followed by an active learning session about writing a patent application and dealing with the US patent office. (Limited Seating)
ROI: Do We Still Go to Space if It Won’t Pay?
SF writers such as Charles Stross and Bruce Sterling have suggested that space colonies will never be able to pay their way. Is there any other reason to establish a space colony? If so, how would these colonies differ from the mining and trading colonies most often seen in SF?
Now that we know religious sentiments will be the only rationale for space settlement, how can we expect space settling to unfold and what will space settlements look like? Here are some initial thoughts.
1. Space settlements will be founded by colossally wealthy individuals
As we discussed previously, the costs of space settlement will be extremely high in the near term. At $400K to put a person on the Moon, and assuming a person requires 10x his mass in initial infrastructure and 1x his mass in replacement infrastructure every year, a lunar colony of 150 people would cost $660 million up front and $60 million every year.
In the farther term, even though the absolute costs might drop thanks to nanotechnology or the like, the relative costs (in a purchasing-power-parity index) will remain very high. So only very wealthy individuals will have the money to pay for these costs.
Given that individuals who amass immense wealth tend to be committed to their work and immune to fanciful, fanatical ideas (e.g. Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Warren Buffett), few of the founders of space settlements will be first-generation billionaires. (Bill Gates is one of the few to walk away from business and devote himself to charitable work). More likely, second- and later-generation billionaires, with inherited wealth, without the pragmatic business-building drive of their ancestor, and a craving for meaning in their lives, will be the primary population of space settlement founders.
1b. …not corporations or governments
Although these entities have the colossal wealth, they lack any religious motivation. Corporations are driven solely to profit. Governments are driven solely to amass the social capital equivalent of profit–support from the powerful, acquiescence from the masses, and deterrence of potential foes. (Government space programs are the equivalent of Mayan stelae, ostentatious displays designed to show foes the power of the government so the foes don’t challenge it).
While both classes of entities are willing to use the religious sentiments of their customers/subjects, they themselves are immune from it. They would still have roles to play in the space settlement process. For example, corporations may profit by providing transport for space settlements, on the principle of “in a gold rush, the only man who gets rich is the shovel salesman.” Governments may provide the impetus for space settlements–consider local governments in Illinois and Missouri supporting vigilantism against the Mormons, or the French government’s alliance with anti-Semites during the Dreyfus Affair as reported by Herzl.
2. Most space settlements will be undertaken by Westerners
There are two reasons why. First, in the near term, most billionaires of the recent past have lived in the US or other Western/Westernized countries, so most of their heirs will too. For the foreseeable future, the world’s new billionaires will come disproportionally from these same regions. Amassing great wealth requires a large number of prosperous customers, which in the near term means Western/Westernized countries. Developing countries may have faster economic growth rates then the US and EU, but the developing countries are starting from a lower base and will have slower growth as low-hanging productivity fruit are picked. Thus, the West will have the lead in large numbers of prosperous consumers for many decades yet.
Second, Western cultures seem more susceptible to intense religious fervor than many others. Perhaps this is a product of the West’s greater individualism and loss of faith in traditional things-greater-than-oneself. The US has long held the lead in inventing new religions (the Great Awakening, the Latter-Day Saints, Scientology, UFO cults, etc.). Europeans spent a century and a half, from the French Revolution until the fall of fascism, devising secular ideologies that filled the same psychological need. The West also has had decades of a high material standard of living, with resulting Affluenza. The developing world hasn’t had enough wealth for enough time to suffer the same ailment. So even if the wealth to build space settlements is amassed in the developing world, the needed fervor is likely to be missing.
2b. …but not necessarily white people
The industrialized West has tens of millions of persons of color, many of whom have imbibed the cultural traits discussed above. African-American history has prominent examples of ethnic solidarity rising to the level of religious belief, culminating in separatist urges. Marcus Garvey, Rastafarianism. (Bradbury wrote sixty years ago about African-Americans escaping prejudice by settling Mars). The growth of evangelical Protestantism and Mormonism in Latin America indicates eruptions of religious fervor could happen among Hispanospheric peoples and cultures, especially those with the most exposure to the US.
3. Space settlements will be established by fanatics
Whatever their skin color and their belief systems, space settlers will have beliefs so intense and/or out of the mainstream and/or confrontational that space settlement–a prodigiously expensive and dangerous undertaking–will seem the best option for them to preserve their way of life. They will be in contrast to average people, folks who go along to get along and adapt their beliefs to life in their home culture on Earth. ‘Fanatic’ seems a good label for the minority who won’t.
4. Space settlements will stay fanatical longer than religious settlements on Earth did
Most of the settlements founded for religious reasons that we discussed last time have evolved over time to have few, if any, beliefs outside of the mainstream. (Today, the descendants of the post-1848 German atheist-socialists who settled central Texas go to church and vote Republican no less than their neighbors). Pressure, and especially economic pressure, from the outside world ground down the sharp edges of strange beliefs and practices. The Latter-Day Saints’ dropping of polygamy just happened to remove the last obstacle to gaining the benefits of US statehood for Utah.
Space settlements built using foreseeable technology, where settlements would be dependent on Earth for imports of specialized goods and spare parts, would be exposed to those same pressures. But under foreseeable technology, space settlements will be uncommon for reasons of cost.
Nanotechnology, or comparable magic wand technology, changes that. If space settlements have nothing to import from Earth, then they can ignore the threat of economic sanction for sticking to their beliefs, as well as the carrot of economic reward for moving to the mainstream. Also, they will have little, if any, exposure to travelers, traders, and other strangers bearing different beliefs. Thus, space settlements can maintain their fanaticism. (Eventually, the fanaticism will erode for internal reasons. I have a character in New California say “The passion of youth turns into the settled habit of middle age.” But the absence of external pressure will slow the process).
5. You would dislike most space settlement cultures
Remember, space settlers will be fanatics who can’t or won’t fit in with the mainstream of their native culture on Earth. If you’re part of your culture’s mainstream, then space settlers will seem like heretics or madmen. And if you’re a fanatic, you’re probably a different sort of fanatic, and think of all other fanatics as your enemies.
This poses a challenge to an sf writer: How do I make likable a character from a fanatic culture?
But note, what we think of as our cultural mainstream is likely to seem primitive and barbaric to the cultural mainstream in the medium to far future, when self-sufficent space settlements may be possible. An sf writer could write a satire in which a culture thinking all the things we’re supposed to think (democracy is the best form of government, church and state should be separated, markets should be generally free but regulated for the common good, every child should go to college and then work a white-collar office job for the next fifty years) is made up of deranged fanatics who self-exile to escape the Earth of 2100.
In the first two installments of this series, we discovered:
- Using foreseeable technology, it would be too expensive to go to space, stay there, find or make valuable things, and send those things to Earth.
- Any technology that would lower those expenses would lower the cost of finding or making those same things on Earth, meaning space settlements couldn’t compete no matter how low it cost.
From that, we conclude that space settlements will never happen for economic reasons.
But that doesn’t mean space settlements can’t happen. Human history is rife with examples of settlements founded for non-economic reasons. What do the original US states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland have in common? Not ringing a bell? Maybe Utah? The Transvaal Republic? The modern state of Israel? Not to mention smaller examples, the Amish, New Harmony, the Amana Colonies, post-1848 German atheist-socialist colonies in central Texas, and post-1960s hippie communes in the US; Hutterites in western Canada; and odd colonies scattered across Latin America. All these places were founded as havens for religious* communities.
(* I use “religious” as a shorthand. The US states listed above had explicitly religious origins, providing havens for Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, and Mormons. But Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, had little if any religious motivation, and instead sought a home for the Jewish people as defined on ethnic and cultural dimensions. Likewise, the Voortrekkers felt their way of life threatened by British customs, language, religious practice, and government policies. So “way-of-life” or “cultural” communities, or “communities dedicated to something greater than the individual” might be better descriptions than “religious.”)
This also explains the mystical overtones that advocates of space settlement tend to use. “We need to get off Earth in case a disaster destroys the planet.” Nevermind that in terms of cost, it would be cheaper to protect 1 billion people on Earth from a massive disaster than to set up 1000 people in a self-sufficient colony on Mars, Luna, or the asteroid belt. The spread of Earth-life across the solar system and beyond is seen as something greater than the individual, and rational discussion stops.
Or take Tsiolkovsky’s famous quote. It sounds motivating and galvanizing: “The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.” The hard-headed, economically-literate sf fan knows the intended conclusion only follows if we let the metaphor cloud our thinking. Why not remain on Earth? We evolved for this cradle. Climbing over the crib walls doesn’t get us into the rest of the house. Instead, it gets us into a frigid, irradiated, airless environment, with no food or toys. But for someone caught up in the religious fervor of Tsiolkovsky’s quote, those economic objections are irrelevant.
Further, to the truly fervent, high costs and low rewards are not a bug, but a feature, of space settlement. Making an investment that will never pay back shows one looks beyond crass economic calculation. If anyone can make a buck in space, then our lunar colonies, asteroid colonies, terraformed planets, etc. will soon be overrun with salesmen and tax collectors.
So if the only motivation for space settlement is religious, along what lines would space settlements develop? We’ll get to that next time.