Thursday, September 5, 2019

Research Science to World Build - Terraforming

Unless you’re creating pure fantasy, sci-fi writing requires some attention to detail. I’m not a ‘hard sci-fi’ writer, so I don’t spend months disseminating copious amounts of scientific research, but background knowledge of the subject is a minimum. My forthcoming novel, SENTIENT, is set a hundred years into the future where colonisation of Mars has occurred. A flash point has occurred between the two global powers as they dispute the need to terraform Mars. So to bring greater depth to my scenes, it was important to review what is currently a hot issue, given Elon Musk’s comments about ‘nuking Mars’ to change its climate. 

Mars is not a bad selection, given its many similarities with Earth, including: size; inclination; composition and structure. Importantly, Mars has water, making it potentially a prime candidate for colonisation. But the similarities end there, with many ecological challenges to be faced including: an unbreathable atmosphere; a cold atmosphere just one percent the size of Earth’s and no magnetosphere, meaning high radiation levels. Colonising Mars faces a myriad of daunting challenges.

Many sci-fi writers have written about the process, the most detailed being Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, a wonderful work of imagination backed by extensive research. Sentient does not attempt to recreate that level of detail, but I did pay some attention to the research so far. 

So what are the key issues? There have been many studies in the last forty years. 

A NASA study in 1976 was one of the first serious studies researching if terraforming, suggesting importing ammonia from the outer solar system, or coating the Mars surface (icecaps) with dark materials to increase the amount of sunlight absorption on the planet. Dark dust (from Phobos and Deimos) or extremophile lichens and plants were suggested. 

Technological methods were reviewed in 1997 looking at the use of orbital mirrors to sublimate the poles as well as redirecting asteroids to impact the surface. 

Just recently, a study (2014) researched the use of biodomes to develop colonies of oxygen producing cyanobacteria and algae to terraform domed farms for use by human missions.

So, research has shown potential methods of terraforming are possible, but the challenges of terraforming all of Mars are significant, not least being the loss of its magnetosphere. Quantities of CFCs required to trigger warming are estimated at 39 million metric tons, three times the amount produced on Earth between 1972 and 1992! Even if that could be done, there is a risk CFC introduction could destroy Mar’s ozone, undermining efforts to shield radiation. The other possibility of introducing terrestrial organisms could be effective, it the time frames are very long term, upwards of millions of years!

Logistically, pulling resources from other planets would require large fleets of space haulers with advanced drive systems that currently doesn’t exist. It would also need manufacturing infrastructure on Mars requiring heavy payload rockets that would cost more than all previous space programs combined.

So, is it worth it? It is clear that the Mars space program is a long term goal that will require much more than government support, a spasmodic support at best, given their short term electoral cycles. Luckily, sci-fi writes such as me can remain idealistic as we imagine potential long term futures, free from the pragmatic realities of politics. In Sentient, I imagined government willingly  handed control to AI intelligence, given the climate emergency that was faced in the late 21st century. Resources funneled into the global industrial military complex were diverted to areas that helped addressed the climate emergency as well as exploration. Heavily idealistic I know, but this is one purpose of science fiction writing. Imagining ‘what if?’

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Research Movies to World Build - Blade Runner

How to better world build your SFF novel? Watch some great SFF movies! I’ve started writing #sentient, my new #SFF novel set in the year 2120, a world filled with replicants (I’ve called them biots). So given Blade Runner 1&2 are classics on that genre, they were my first go to’s. All writers should go to great books, films, tv series to ignite that illusive creative spark to keep them motivated during the daunting task of writing a novel. Read more at #offworld

Blade Runner (1982 Director’s Cut) is universally accepted as a classic, future-noir fantasy. Blade Runner (2049) had a lot to live up to, but it proved to be every bit as good, winning new generations with its spectacular cinematography and deep world building. 

It is set thirty years after the first movie where its blade runner, Decker, has retired from retiring replicants, having fallen in love with one instead. The new blade runners are upgraded replicants responsible for hunting older models lost to all digital files as a result of a ten day worldwide blackout. K is the protagonist, tracking down the wayward androids. He’s a veteran blade runner who begins to experience doubts about his role and place in his dystopian world, filled with decaying industrial sites, leftovers from a radioactive wasteland. K is every bit as enigmatic as Deckard, leaving the audience to wonder how it must feel to be an Android. Do they have a soul? Do they dream of electric sheep? 

These movies really helped me ‘world build’ my novel - Sentient Set in 2120, Earth is now ravaged by climate change and world government has willingly been handed to AI. Earth’s population is ten billion, consisting of five billion humans, four billion castes (humans with technological implants) and one billion biots (replicants). In this world, the biots are the peacekeepers, designed to serve their assigned human or caste leaders. Most of the friction occurs between humans and castes as they both see different evolutionary futures. Human’s seek continued natural selection, whereas castes argue for rapid technological advances and unnatural evolution. These evolutionary choices are ignited as both groups fight to gain control of a plentiful supply of Illithium on Mars, a substance rare on Earth. Human’s wish to use the resource to terraform Mars whereas castes seek to develop it for their growing inter solar and inter galactic exploration programs

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Research Books to World Build - Homodeus

Homodeus: This book is packed full of so many ideas. If you’re interested in the future of our planet, buy this book! I  read this while writing my latest novel, Sentient, a science fiction story set in the year 2120. Futurism fascinates me. That’s why I write science fiction. Harare’s book ignites with potential futures we may face, some exhilarating, some terrifying. If you were like me and missed the massive hype that surrounded this book a few years ago, pick it up. It is illuminating, challenging and always interesting.

Yuval Noah Harare’s Homodeus creatively takes on the challenge all futurists face. What will our world be like in the future? Harare clearly states the difficulty of prediction, given the rapid pace that technology is moving, but he bravely tackles the task. A major premise is that human nature will be transformed by Google-like information networks so powerful, human intelligence will be uncoupled from consciousness. Even today, vast data processing networks are beginning to know our feelings better than we know ourselves. This can only accelerate as technology continues to rapidly advance. He suggests evidence that the human capacity to re-shape their environment is all around. War, famine and disease have fallen into retreat, as a result of our ability to effectively communicate in networks. 

As this capability grows exponentially through processes such as machine learning, the fundamental of what it means to be human will be challenged. Harare postulates that homosapiens could be coming to the end of their remarkable evolutionary reign. Modern human belief systems such as liberalism and democracy will give way to a new frontier where lifespans are extended by the power of technology. A new belief will evolve where early adopters willingly marry their personal identity to machines. Harare warns that ultimately, a small priestly caste of seers could gain access to the ultimate source of knowledge, leading to a new belief system -  dataism. 

This brave new world will pose new threats and challenges to the human race. For example, what will humans do in a world where they increasingly become irrelevant? Harare likens it to the same situation that animals have faced in a human dominated world. Will superior, highly intelligent robots treat us with similar violent indifference?

Harare’s work always fascinates and it certainly influenced how I ‘world built’ my novel, Sentient, which is set a hundred years into the future. Here is a brief overview of that world.

Sentient: The Earth in 2120 has undergone rapid transformation as governments grapple with the effects of climate change. The population has peaked at ten billion, but it consists of a mix of humans (40%) and ‘post-humans’ (60% castes/biots genetically engineered humans). 

World governance had been handed to AI two decades earlier (2080) in order to avoid an ecological disaster. Rapid re-optimisation of resources lead to the development of ‘super cities’ around the globe. Where human population declined, the ‘caste’ (humans with major technological implants) population grew rapidly as they, together with biots (genetically engineered humans) become the new elites of a world increasingly uncoupling its human consciousness to machines. 

Super corporations hold power in a world where networks of data became the new currency. States and religion are now artifices of the past, giving way to ‘dataism’. Increasingly, power resides with the new technological elites, whereas humans are assigned to the restoration and revitalisation of the world’s natural environment. Human’s increasingly form ‘splinter groups’, defending the case for returning the Earth to pre-industrial natural levels. Castes oppose them, seeking the acceleration of technological change, unnatural selection to ‘cosmic man’ and the allocation of resources to the rapid advancement of inter-solar and intergalactic exploration and habitation. 

Sentient tells the story of Dane, a young boy raised on Mars, but forced to return to Earth after the suspicious death of his parents. A decade later, Dane must return to Mars to help his sister finish what his parents had started. To develop rare natural resources that can drive technology capable of terraforming Mars. This discovery becomes a flash point in human, post-human relations. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Good Writing Habits: Read, Research, Write, Edit - In One Day!

Let’s face it, writing non stop for a whole day would require a remarkable level of concentration, purpose of mind I do not have! So I try to mix a lot of different skills in one day, starting with the creative part first. I’m a morning person, so I try to write then, be it new pages in my next novel, SENTIENT, or new blogs. I think Hemingway had it right when he said “write drunk, edit sober.” I wear two hats in a day. The creative, colourful hat for the morning work on that first draft, free to explore and imagine.

That session completed I change hats, so that I may soberly go about the process of refining. Editing is a painstaking process, so always look out for common pitfalls, such as getting too close to your work. When that happens, you can easily waste time by not editing your work properly, which invariably leads to having to re-edit the same work! I try to edit smaller sections over short periods of time, usually no more than an hour. Be happy with that, then reward yourself!

Watch a movie, good tv series, read a book, or even better, have a night! I attended a book launch from A C Grayling, where he eloquently communicated difficult concepts in an entertaining way. I left with a new found motivation to write and communicate my own interpretation of the times we live in tomorrow.

All this in one day!