Month: June 2017

Stepping outside yourself

One of the harder things to do when writing science fiction, or any genre that is not set in the present is to step outside your own biases, to create characters who are very different from you.
This sounds both obvious and simple but it is neither.

For example, I am an American, I like to think the best of my country, its people and our government. I can’t however allow that to mean that I make American’s in my story angels. Nor can I allow the opposite, for a people I dislike to be nothing but demons, caricatures without depth.

You have to allow groups who you like to sometimes be evil, and to have dishonorable members. Just as you have to allow the opposite. There were good and honorable men even in the Nazi party after all.

In one of my first drafts, it was only the US who had any real presence when the first colonies started to launch off planet. I realized that that made no sense. I might like the idea of the US getting into space and acting with honor but given the huge economic motivations, that would hardly have been realistic.

Even those things that you may think are inherently part of the human condition may not be. Make sure to know the difference between culture and biology.

Loving your children
The sad fact is that if you go back far enough in most societies people routinely abused their children, including leaving them to die by exposure if they were unwanted (ancient Greeks for one example). The idea that parents do or should love their children unconditionally is part of our culture, not part of human biology.

America had laws to protect animals from abuse before we had laws to protect children. A major case against child abuse was won by an animal rights lawyer arguing that children are mammals and at least deserve the same rights that animals have (Mary Ellen Wilson in 1870’s).

Romantic love
Marriage originally was a simple trade. The women agrees to provide her limited ability to have children, the man agrees to use his superior strength and endurance to provide for her. While obviously wives did more then just give birth, that is the only thing they did that only they could do. Everything else they did a man could do. Some of the things he could even do better (hard physical labor).

Love was not a factor. Love became embedding in the culture of the west during the middle ages somewhere around the end of the 11th century. If you look at literature before the 11th century romance as we would define it today is rare to nonexistent.

Even in other modern countries love is not seen the same way it is here. After all, you can hardly have both massive numbers of arranged marriages and a belief that love is what matters most in a relationship.

Tribalism
Tribalism is the feeling of belonging to a larger group, and of the feeling of not belonging to others.

While it might be easy for me to think of everyone being part of a nation that is not the case. It is not unusual for a people to think of themselves first, their family second their village a distant third, and their nation not at all.

In fact, seeing anyone beyond your family and tribe as being “one of you” is a relatively new development in human history.

Making your own way in life
It is a very common theme in both our media and our culture that you should go your own way. Walk the less traveled path. While that is an important part of our culture there are cultures where the opposite is true. There are cultures who are more collectivist then ours, such as most Asian cultures.

Overused tropes: earth is overpopulated

Of all the unused tropes I think that of the world being too full of people comes up the most. I understand the reason for it, if there are starving people there must be a shortage of food right? Same for not having houses for everyone.

The problem is that that is not how economics works, nor does every country operate every farm at the same efficiency.

North America, Central America and the Caribbean, have about 6,050,697,738 acres of land. If we moved everyone to north America we would each have almost an acre, and about double that if you included South America.

We are not starved for land, and that does not count the truly desperate and expensive things like going underground or making islands.

*Before I start please note I am not a professional farmer or doctor or anything, nor do I care to get the math exactly right, I only want to get it close enough to prove my point*

If we used aeroponics (spraying roots with nutrient rich water rather then keeping them in soil) and planted sweet potatoes (very high calorie food), we could feed something like 49,000 people per square kilometer (link, link). We could feed more if you had artificial light and stacked the farms on top of each other.

Without any artificial light you could feed the earth on farming or about a fiftieth of south America. In reality you would want more for variety, but even so I think I have made my point. If we wanted to, we could live and farm in the America’s then use the rest of the world for industry and parks.

Of course we could go even more drastic and farm algae in the ocean, (the most efficient food source we know of). This would mean we would not need to use any land for farming at all.

That is the reality. The world will not starve nor will we run out of space anytime soon. That however does not mean that everyone is well fed and housed. You can of course have a class of people who starve for economic reasons even if the food to feed them exists, or at least the production capacity exists to do so.

Now if you still want to have a world food shortage as part of your plot, then I suggest you think about why food production would be cut by several orders of magnitude and stay cut.

Sunlight would be my go to in this situation. If something is stopping enough light from getting to the surface of the earth that would mean we would have to make up the difference artificially, and that takes a lot of power. If light was that low, we would also need power for many other things, such as heating up ect. Food would become very expensive and I could believe we would only produce enough to get by and no more. The same would apply to heat.

An obvious approach might be to lower the water supply but it does not work as well as you might think. The human body does not expend water, we just hold onto it for a bit then put it back into the environment. While not 100% efficient by far, its not like electricity that is made, used and then gone.

Also water is so important for so many things that we will always give it high priority. A lack of water could change the cost of certain foods but I can’t believe it would push us to starvation. If we ever reached that point we would have much worse problems to deal with.

Honestly, where there are any number of things that could cause a temporary dip in our food production, there are not that many that would decrease it long term. Even if large amounts of soil became non-viable there are ways around that. The only other one that comes to mind is if something stopped us from using machinery, like the sun starting to emit a continuous EMP.

Review: Galaxion (8/10 stars)

Galaxion is a web comic sci-fi story that was a traditional comic series in the 90’s and is now being remade as a web comic (I believe we are past the end of the original comic). The story is about a large yacht that is being used by a exportation agency (TerSA, think NASA with the budget of the US navy). They are the testbed for a new FTL drive system.
They already have a FTL system. Its just not very efficient. Months to the far colonies, entire colonies almost died from starvation because they were unable to get the word out about emergencies soon enough.
The first use of this new drive blew a ship up. The second almost blew the ship up and did set it on fire. The second use however did send them what would normally be three months of travel in less then five minuets. After they went over the data from the second attempt they realized they needed a very large engine room. This is why the Galaxion was chosen, it has a disproportionately large engine room (thanks to it being a former yacht).

The overall story resembles a disaster story in that they are reacting to things beyond their full control, and trying to understand things very fast. It maintains a very good sense of urgency that helps the story move very nicely.

The science is good. While certainly not hard core hard sci-fi the author does have a good grasp on physics and such, as you can see when disasters strike. You also get the idea that he has a lot more built and understood then he puts to paper (always a good sign).

The characterization is good. It will get you in the feels when people are hurt or killed (yes that will happen). The art is more then enough to help this along. The creator is more then capable of telling a story with a few dialog free frames. From the very first page the art is professional, without being sterile or lacking personality.

I will say however that between updating only on Tuesdays and the large cast of characters it can get hard to keep track, which is why I go back and reread it every so often.

Review: For We Are Many

For We Are Many
For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For We Are Many succeeded for the same reasons that We Are Legion did.
Honestly not much to say beyond that, the book does up the threat level past a pissed off Brazilian and does do a good job of thinking through what the implications of life being common would be.
It is obvious that it is the middle book, several plot threats were followed but few were truly resolved.

View all my reviews on Goodreads