Space travel for billionaires
The sub-orbital joyride is becoming a reality. The next goals are Moon and Mars colonies. And while this is still some way off, it did get me thinking. Extrapolating on these recent events... what would an interplanetary space colony be like socially and culturally? Who would have thought that billionaire entrepreneurs would be competing with, and potentially overtaking, NASA?
While there’s been a fair amount of snickering about these wealthy heads of industry, and their comic resemblance to megalomaniac James Bond villains, the technical achievements of their organisations remains impressive, especially regarding SpaceX. Space X’s owner, Elon Musk, has spoken about a Mars colony as well as the need to find a ‘backup planet’ in case Earth is ravaged by a meteor strike.
Jeff Bezos believes that humanity should colonise the solar system. He’s talked about planetary mining and the opportunity to move Earth’s heavy industries off-plant to preserve its valuable eco-system:
If we’re out in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilisation.
What kind of world would billionaires in space or the CCP end up building? In the conceptual artwork, these colonies resemble a kind of suburbia in space. Without the tradition of a government or civic organisations, what would the society and law enforcement resemble? Would it be a kind of Wild West in space?
I’m thinking here of the film Outland and the novel Thin Air. If the CCP ran a colony it might resemble 1984-on-Mars. And, if Earth is ravaged by a meteor storm, who gets to choose the lucky few who are handed one-way tickets to a ‘backup planet’?
It’s going to be a while before space travel becomes a reality for the rest of us. It might never even happen. Meanwhile, most of us will be staying right here on Earth. I’m happy to be an ‘Earther’ (to use the lingo of The Expanse). That’s fine with me. And, while we’re here, maybe we should be taking more care of our own planet?
What will cities of the future look like?
As eco-driven climate change fears increase, speculative fiction offers an insight into the city of the future. Will the future cities be gleaming high-tech worlds, or dystopian hells?
In reality, cities don’t change as much as some science fiction writers might hope. Cities in the West are generally less industrial and less polluted than they once were, but they remain dependent on complex transport networks, and the resulting pollution caused by delivery trucks and commuter traffic. In artwork and models, the architecture of eco-cities usually looks like International Modernism with trees. What will these spaces be like in twenty years time? How easy will they be to maintain?
More radical visions of the eco-city of the future resemble Hobbit-like dwellings based around a village micro-communities. These settlements can sometimes look like Native American Indian encampments. The small settlement (in balance with the surrounding landscape) is a recurring trope in science fiction and fantasy fiction. But it’s hard to see this kind of thing successfully scaled up to city proportions. What if everything we needed was 15 minutes walk away?
The 15 minute city is an idea that’s been proposed to reduce pollution. It’s a reimagining of the community village concept. Could it reduce pollution by getting rid of commuting and the need to travel? Superficially, it sounds great. But I wonder if people want to live within a restricted area? People enjoy the freedom of moving around. Delivering change is always difficult. There are huge social frictions to change, cultural factors, human behaviours, national and local politics.
- The future needs a firmware upgrade – I decided to buy some ‘smart’ lightbulbs in the sales. As soon as I screwed them in, alerts began appearing on my phone. My new lightbulbs required a software update. It took me a while to download the right apps, install the latest firmware, and then delete the apps. Who wants crapware on their phone that’s basically there to sell you more lightbulbs? The thing about technology is that it’s supposed to make our lives simpler and easier. It’s there to solve problems. It’s supposed to take away exertion and the need to think about things — but it always brings new problems. I never thought I’d have to spend time ‘managing’ lightbulbs. Lightbulbs, like doorhandles, and light switches are simple and don’t require attention. With ‘smart’ lightbulbs, something that never previously required attention, now needs maintaining. The limited benefit of switching a ‘smart’ light on remotely comes at a price. It brings additional complexity, which kind of defeats the purpose of the technology in the first place.
- The Silo trilogy by Hugh Howey, Wool, Dust, and Shift has been getting a lot more attention since Apple TV+ picked it up. There’s a lot of good stuff in the books but they suffer from being fix-up novels constructed from serialised novellas. The individual novellas are character-based, slow burners. When combined it plays havoc with the overall pace. The plot, or backstory, is similar to the Wayward Pines trilogy. The trilogy has the confined group dynamics of J G Ballard’s High Rise with the day-to-day detail and pace of Annihilation. They are classic mystery stories, which pose a number of unanswered questions. What happened to the old world? Why were the silos made and who built them? As is usual with science fiction trilogies, the questions posed in one novel are answered in the next. The problem is that we kind of know the gist of what’s happened from the opening chapter of Wool, so it’s only the specific details that later emerge.
- Squid Game is bonkers. It’s been really over-hyped in the media, which made me wary of watching it. What’s it like? It’s addictive viewing. It feels comic-book-like with tones of The Hunger Games, Battle Royale (2000) and The Game (1997). Lee Jung-jae does a great job playing the character Seong Gi-hun. The story is fast-moving and tongue-in-cheek. There is a lot of graphic violence (which might put off some people) but it’s handled in a stylised way.