Posts Tagged ‘‘Man and the Planets’’

Astronauts Could Live in Moon Caves

May 22, 2019

Bit of science news now. Monday’s I, for 20th May 2019, carried an article by Francis Blagburn, with the same title as this article, on page 22, reporting that an American lunar scientist, Daniel Moriarty III, has suggested that astronauts to the Moon could live in its caves. The article ran

Astronauts could make use of the Moon’s nature cave structures to live inside small, natural shelters, according to Nasa.

The novel approach could see astronauts making camp in tunnel-like chambers on the surface of the Moon left by molten activity.

Dr Daniel Moriarty III, a post-doctoral lunar scientist, was speaking as part of an “ask me anything” session on social networking website Reddit when he discussed the concept.

“I think it makes sense to work within some of the structures and resources that are already there,” he wrote.

“It could be interesting to set up shop within a pre-existing lava tube, which could provide shielding from temperature variations and incoming solar radiation.”

Nasa’s next bout of lunar exploration is the Artemis mission, due to be launched in 2024. President Donald Trump has backed the plans and embraced space travel as a theme. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6bn so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!,” he tweeted last week.

It’s a good idea, but not as new as the paper believes. Scientists have argued for some time that future explorers of the Moon and Mars would have to build their bases underground in order to shelter from the ambient cosmic radiation. It’s why the lunar base in Kubrick’s class 2001 is underground, and the Martian city in Paul Verhoeven’s ’80s’ version of Total Recall is built into the sides of a canyon. As are many of the Martian cities in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic trilogy charting the colonisation of the Red Planet, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. And the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, suggested that future colonists of the Moon would live in the caves there in his book, Man and the Planets, published in the early 1980s. He drew on science fiction for some of the ideas discussed in the book, and the SF work he used for that suggestion had the colonists walking about in conditions of near nudity in lunar caverns. Well, I suppose the engineers would keep it at a constant, regulated temperature, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting cold, except perhaps in an emergency when these systems failed. But that idea now seems very dated now in contemporary, post-AIDS culture. The idea clearly reflects the changing attitude towards nudity and sexual morality of the late ’60s and ’70s rather than a realistic prediction of future lunar fashions.

I am very solidly behind these proposals for humanity’s return to the Moon, whether done by NASA with the Artemis project or their private competitors, Jeff Bezos and co. Hopefully it won’t be too long at all before we see people living in lunar and Martian caverns for real. Though more suitably dressed for television reports back to Earth.


Yay! David R. Bunch’s ‘Moderan’ Now Back in Print

May 7, 2019

Bit of good news for fans of classic SF. Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s last week, I found that David R. Bunch’s Moderan was now in print. This was published in 1971, and is really a series of vignettes originally published in small magazines, as well as the big SF mags Amazing and Fantastic. These are set in a future in which organic humanity has decided that its reached the end of its natural evolution, and to evolve further it must transform itself into machines. This process is described as it affects the hero, Stronghold 10. The style is superficially sympathetic to heighten what the reality of what this new, cyborg humanity has become: immortal, but paranoid with each stronghold at war with their neighbours.

Brian Aldiss gives as sample paragraph of Bunch’s prose style, which explains the background to the novel, in his and David Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree:

Now, to turn tedious for a time, this is what happened. Flesh-man had developed to that place on his random Earth-ball home where it was to be the quick slide down to oblivion. All the signs were up, the flags were out for change for man and GO was DOWN. To ENDING. Flesh-man was at the top, far as he could climb as flesh-man, and from there he was certain to tumble. But he had the luck to have these brave good white-maned men in the white smocks, the lab giants, the shoulders, and great-bulged thighs of our progress (what matter if they were weazened, probe-eyed, choleric scheming, little men sometimes – more often than not, REALLY?) authors of so much of man’s development and climb to that place where he was just due to die, expire, destroy himself and his home at this grand stage of development to make new-metal man and set him in the Strongholds upon the plasto-coated Earth that had been man’s random and inefficient home. New-metal replaced flesh (down to the few flesh-strips and those, we hope, may soon be gone) the bones were taken out and new metal rods, hinges and sheets put in (it was easy!) and the organs all became engines and marvellous tanks for scientifically controlled functional efficiency forever. YAY! Don’t you see?! Our Scientists made of life-man (the VERY-STRANGE-accident man) essentially a dead-elements man, one who could now cope with eternity, but he certainly was not a dead man. AH! Heavens no! He was alive! with all the wonderful scienc3e of the Earth ages, and just as functional as anyone could wish. YAY! science, take your plaudits now! You’ve shown what was meant from the beginning for the VERY-STRANGE-accident man. (p.324).

Aldiss states that it’s a technophobic piece in the SF tradition of questioning technological progress that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Moderan was out of print for a long time, so I’m looking forward to reading it some time. Bunch also wrote poetry in an avant-garde style very much like his prose, though in verse. A collection of his pieces, of which only one or two were SF, The Heartacher and the Warehouseman, was published in the 1990s. The title poem is set in the Moderan world, and is about one of these cyborgs coming to a warehouse carrying his pump in his heart. He complains that he – and all the other cyborgs – have no heart. The cyborg warehouseman, suspicious, retreats behind his armoury of weapons, informing him of all the cyborg bits and pieces they have, like hearts and mechanical fingers. But he fails to understand the man’s real complaint – that their civilisation has no heart in the metaphorical sense. The warehouseman drives the Heartacher away, but wonders what will happen to him as he retreats back into his cubby-hole.

It’s one of those pieces that was acutely relevant in the 1990s, when there was much talk among the chattering classes of transhumanism and cyborgisation. It was the decade when Radio 3 broadcast the series Grave New Worlds examining these possibilities through interviews with writers, artists and scientists, including Paul J. McAuley, J.G. Ballard and the Australian performance artist, Stelarc, who really has tried to turn himself into a cyborg in performances in which he wired himself up to the net, so that images found online would work his body automatically through galvanic stimulators some Borg organic puppet, and by giving himself a third, cybernetic arm. It’s still relevant as prosthetic limbs continue to improve. While these are an immense benefit to those, who have lost their real limbs through accident or disease, it does raise the question of how far this process can go and humans become the cyborgs of SF. This was the central question David Whittaker was pondering when he created Dr. Who’s cybermen. Bunch’s novel also seems to have influenced one of the writers of Dr. Who Magazine way back in the ’70s. One of the comic strips, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman, was about a cyberman, who had some how retained his emotions and compassion. The story was set on the planet ‘Moderan’. And in the 1980s the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, expressed concerns that people, who were heavily reliant on medical machines suffered a loss of creativity when he explored the possibility of similar mergers between humans and machines in his class Man and the Planets.

I’m glad that this lost classic is back in print. But still more than a little annoyed that it, and other SF works like it, are overlooked by the literary crowd in favour of those by ‘literary’ authors like Ian McEwan. Sorry to ride this old hobby-horse again, but a few weeks ago there was an interview with McEwan in the I. The newspaper mentioned to him that Science Fiction fans were upset about him denying that his book was part of the genre. McEwan repeated his sentiment, saying it wasn’t SF, but was based on him considering real world issues. Well, so is much Science Fiction, all the way back to Frankenstein. Aldiss has praised it as the first real work of Science Fiction as it was based on science as it was known at the time. This was Galvani’s experiments making the severed legs of frogs twitch and move through electricity. McEwan’s attitude shows the basic contempt of many literary authors and critics for the genre. They’re keen to borrow its tropes, but sneer at it as essentially trivial fantasy, unlike the serious stuff they’re writing. Much SF is, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. But there is a very large amount which isn’t, and which deserves to be taken as seriously as so-called ‘serious’ literary works like McEwan’s.


Alex Jones Cries and Rants about British Mutant Gill Babies

July 26, 2017

More sheer, howling madness from Alex Jones of Infowars, the man for whom the term ‘fake news’ could have been coined. As I’ve mentioned before, Jones is a notorious conspiracy theorist, who hosts his own internet TV show where he claims that the people of America and the world are under attack from their own governments, determined to impoverish and enslave them. Those responsible for this nefarious project are the ‘globalists’, by which he means the elite 1 per cent, the major industrialists, politicians and world leaders. According to him, they are determined to create something very much like the one-world Satanic superstate of Christian Fundamentalist end-times demonology. The leaders of this conspiracy are involved in every kind of depravity imaginable, including child sacrifice and paedophilia. He appeared on Jon Ronson’s Channel 4 documentary Them: Adventures with Extremists, where he and Ronson sneaked into the annual meeting of America’s political and business elites at Bohemian Grove in California. Witnessing a bizarre playlet in which the participants burn an effigy of ‘Dull Care’, Jones and his followers immediately decided that the figure was a child being ritually sacrificed to Satan.

Jone’s has said a number of times that he doesn’t know if the ultimate forces behind the conspiracy to enslave humanity are demons or malign, extradimensional aliens. But he believes they really exist, whatever they are. Thus he accused Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton of being demonically possessed, and that Clinton was a participant in Satanic rituals involving eating human blood and other body fluids. He also had to make an apology and a very public retraction on air after he claimed that there was a paedophile ring supplying children to Democratic party politicos operating out of a pizza parlour in Boston. Of course there wasn’t. But that didn’t stop someone with a gun going into the place looking for the underground basement where they kept the kids prisoner. Fortunately, the owners were able to show him that no such dungeon existed, and no-one was shot. But it could very easily have gone the other way.

He also had to retract similar allegations made against the Turkish owner of a yoghurt factory. This company had a policy of hiring immigrants, including those from the Middle East. So Jones alleged that the firm’s boss was another paedophile, and that workers from his company were responsible for a spate of rapes in the area. No, the boss wasn’t, and his workers weren’t either. And after the factory boss consulted m’learned friends, as Private Eye calls them, Jones had to appear on air to state that, once again, he’d made a mistake.

As a member of the American Right, he’s firmly against gun control. He’s also against fluoride in the water, and seems to believe that there is some kind of UN plan to have their doctors castrate the male population. Quite apart from putting chemicals in the water to turn the frogs gay.

As well as enslaving us in refugee camps for the victims of natural disasters, Jones also believes, or claims to believe, that the globalists are trying to deprive us of our basic humanity. He denounced the gay rights movement as a ‘transhumanist space cult’ intending to create a genderless human being. Which really isn’t how the vast majority of gays and their supporters in their movement for equality see it at all. Away from sexual politics, Jones has frequently ranted about how the globalists plan to turn everyone into some kind of genetically engineered cyborg.

In this short clip, under a minute, Jones cries about how, when he was in Britain, he saw tanks full of babies and small children, who’ve been genetically engineered into fish people. They all had gills, and were swimming around, breathing under water.

I’ve put this up partly because it involves my home country, obviously. Jones has been to England. He appeared briefly on the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil, where he started yelling about the evils of gun control and how we would never crush good Americans and take their guns away. Or something like that. It ended with the camera pulling away from Jones to focus instead on Neil making the circular ‘nutter’ gesture by the side of his head.

I don’t know whether Jones has been to Blighty again or not. I’m absolutely sure, however, that he has not seen gilled, gene-engineered sprogs in tanks. I think there was a project to develop artificial gills in the 1907s – Duncan Lunan mentions it in his book, Man and the Planets – but that seems to have died the death of all scientific dead-ends. And a few years ago the BBC science documentary programme, Horizon, did cover experiments where animals were shown breathing in liquid. It wasn’t water, however. It was a special, oxygenated liquid, and the creatures didn’t have gills.

It also seems to me that he’s watched too much X-Files on DVD. The show’s central story arc was that there was a secret project to create human-alien hybrids in preparation for a final, alien invasion in which the normal human majority would be completely exterminated. The aliens and the hybrids were, of course, green blooded. As well as being extremely difficult to kill, the human-alien hybrids could also breathe under water. There’s a scene in one episode where Mulder and Scully look around a secret lab in an old warehouse, full of humans sleeping underwater in their tanks.

It’s a good question whether Jones actually believes any of the stuff he spouts. A few months ago his ex-wife sued for custody of their children. They were then living with Jones, who also his studio in his home. His former wife claimed that Jones was insane, and that watching their father rant about these bizarre and terrifying conspiracies, which existed only in his head, was damaging to their children’s mental health. Jones’ lawyer responded that he didn’t believe any of this nonsense, and that it was an act, or performance art. Which is sort of a confession that he’s a fraud.

My guess is that a fair number of Jones’ viewers don’t believe any of the stuff he comes out with, and watch Infowars in the same way people used to read the Weekly World News and its daft stories. Such as, ”Dad Was Bigfoot’, Says Beastie Man’, and a headline news story about a Grey alien giving his vote to Bill Clinton. Jones also probably realizes this, and doesn’t care. If you look on YouTube, there are number of videos explicitly labelled ‘Alex Jones Rants’, which seem to come from Jones or Infowars themselves.

And at least one British tabloid has run bogus stories on the same theme of secret genetic experimentation. Two decades ago, a couple of British newspapers also tried to go for the same market as the Weekly World News in the states. There was the Sunday Sport, now The Sport, and its story about a B-52 bomber being found on the Moon. The Daily Star also tried to plumb those depths. At the time, the Science Fiction chiller, Chimaera, was running on British television. This was a series about a journalist and female genetics engineer, who had uncovered a terrible secret plot to breed a human-chimpanzee hybrid to act as a new slave class. Although SF, the series is not as incredible as it seems. At one point Stalin was interested in creating such a ‘Humanzee’ hybrid to serve as soldiers in the Soviet Union.

While the series was running, the Star, if I remember correctly, carried a story, which claimed that similar genetic experiments were being carried out by the British government, and that their journalists had found laboratories containing elephants the size of rabbits. Well, they clearly hadn’t, although there certainly had been genetic experiments of a sort. This was the time of Dolly, the cloned sheep, and attempts to create a sheep-goat hybrid, experiments which made Chimaera and its plot all too plausible. However, the Star’s attempts to become even more stupid and bonkers than the Sport failed, according to Private Eye, and the wretched rag lost rapidly lost readers. They then had to make a complete volte-face, and go back to something resembling normal journalism. Jones’ tale of secret human experiments in British labs also hark back, consciously or not, to Chimaera and the daft story in the Star which it inspired.

While some people do see Jones as a joke, there is a very serious aspect to him and Infowars. Many people do take it seriously, as was shown by the incident at the Boston pizza parlour. And Jones was one of those backing Trump’s campaign for the presidency. He had the orange buffoon on his show several times, lauding him as the man, who would finally lead the revolt against the globalists. Which is quite ironic, if we’re talking about human-animal hybrids. Trump got very annoyed last year when the American comedian, Bill Maher, declared on his show that Trump was so orange, he must be half orangutan. Trump took the joke so seriously, he began waving his birth certificate around to show that both his parents were human, and threatened to sue for libel. Of course, in practice Trump has shown himself every bit as globalist as all the other politicians and businessmen, moving factories and parts of his business empire abroad to where he can exploit the cheap labour of workers in the Developing World.

As with the Star’s bogus stories about genetically engineered dwarf animals, I doubt anyone has been taken in by Jones’ nonsense about genetically engineered fish babies. But that doesn’t mean people don’t believe some of his nonsense, and he is having a destabilizing effect on American democracy through his promotion of the extreme right. However risible his stories are, Jones and his power to influence part of the American electorate have gone far beyond a joke.

A Fitting SF Book For Trump’s Attitude to Mexicans?

January 22, 2017


Fritz Leiber

Looking around one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I picked up a copy of the novel A Spectre Is Haunting Texas (London: Granada 1971) by the great Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror novelist, Fritz Leiber. Leiber’s probably best known for his series of Fantasy novels featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. David Pringle, the former editor of the British SF/Fantasy magazine, Interzone, named Leiber’s You’re All Alone as one of the 100 greatest fantasy novels in his book of the same title way back in the 1990s. That novel is about a man, who gets caught up in parallel society of people, who live outside ordinary humans’ perceptions, very much like the denizens of London Below in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and TV series, Neverwhere.


I’ve wanted to get hold of a copy for some time, ever since the Scottish space scientist and science writer, Duncan Lunan, briefly mentioned it in his book on the colonisation of the Solar System, Man and the Planets. It was that night, after I’d gone to bed, that I realised how weirdly fitting the book is now that Donald Trump is president of the USA. Here’s the blurb:

El Esqueleto!

Christopher Corckett la Cruz (or ‘Scully’) is an actor, an extrovert and a ladies’ man. To most of the inhabitants of post-World War III he looks outlandish, even sinister. To their women he looks very comely. Earth looks equally odd to Scully. Hormone treatment has turned Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into unhappy dwarfs.

To the Mexes, Scully is a Sign, a Talisman, a Leader. To Scully the Mexes are a Cause. The time is ripe for revolution…

It wouldn’t surprise me if some Hispanic Americans didn’t find the book’s politics offensive or condescending. In fairness, the book was published in 1969, when attitudes to race were extremely different, and its heart is in the right place.

And the future the book describes could, terrifyingly, become all too real. The Washington military and intelligence establishment seems all too keen to start some kind of altercation with Russia, egged on by the Democrats, desperate to deflect attention away from the sleazy contents of the material published by WikiLeaks on the shady business dealings and corporate funding of their leaders. Trump wants to end immigration from Mexico by building the wall. He also wants to repatriate 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he’s not the most extreme of the Repugs. One of the most bizarre and reactionary suggestions for stopping immigration from Latin America I’ve come across from the party of Ronald Reagan and George ‘Dubya’ Bush was that illegal immigrants from Mexico should be forced into state servitude for a period of seven years. You know, like slavery.

There’s a nasty movement amongst the Republican extreme right, led by the Von Mises Institute and other corporate think tanks, to try to rewrite the American Civil War. Apparently, the issue wasn’t about slavery. It was about tariff reform. I’m not an expert on American history, but I very much doubt it. And so, I think, would just about every respectable history of the War between the States. Lincoln only reluctantly freed the slaves. There’s a quote from him, in which he said that if he could maintain the unity of the US by keeping slavery, he would. I think by that he meant that if keeping slavery would prevent the break up of the US, then he’d make that decision. And when you consider the horrific carnage that the war brought about, you can easily understand why. Nevertheless, he couldn’t avoid civil war, and freed America’s enslaved. And thus he rightly became one of America’s greatest politicians.

Now right-wing extremists in the Republicans are trying to reverse Lincoln’s achievements, and obscure the causes of the Civil War in an attempt to make a suitably inspiring, sanitised history for those raised on Reagan, von Hayek, and the Fascist enablers of the Chicago school, like Milton Friedman.

Leiber’s title seems to me to be taken from the Communist Manifesto. This opens with the line ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, before going to claim that it’s the spectre of revolution or Communism. It was rushed out in 1848, the year of revolutions, when all over Europe working people and occupied nations rose up against their class and imperial overlords.

We don’t need violent revolution, and the horror and mass death that comes with it. But we do need strong, left-wing movements to defend and protect ordinary people from increasingly predatory and exploitative political and industrial elites.

And perhaps the whole world now need an El Esqueleto to protect them from Trump.

Terraforming the Moon by Comet

December 31, 2016

In my last blog post, I discussed the passed in David A. Hardy’s book, Atlas of the Solar System, in which he described the possible methods which might be used in the future to transform Mercury, Venus, the Moon and Mars into worlds, where humans and other creatures could live in the open, instead of the enclosed environments they need now to protect them from the harsh conditions of space. In the case of Venus, comets would be used to increase the planet’s rotation from its current 224 Earth days to a terrestrial day, and give the planet water. Looking through YouTube, I found this video by Fraser Cain, in which he talks about using the same method to terraform the Moon, as suggested by the space scientist and SF writer, Gregory Benford. This is part of a series of videos on space and space colonisation. At the beginning of the video, he mentions a previous one about the terraforming of Venus.

The explanatory section on the YouTube page provides this transcript of his talk.

In our episode about terraforming Venus, we talked about cooling the planet with a giant sunshade, and then hand-wavingly bind up all that carbon dioxide.

We did the same with Mars, filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses to warm it up, and releasing the planet’s vast stores of C02 to thicken the atmosphere. Then just crash in a few comets worth of water and upgrade them to to a 3 star resort.

We’re pitching this as a new series on the Discovery Network, called “Flip My Planet – Canada”.

Now let’s turn our imagination towards another rockball that is really more of a fixer-upper: The Moon. I know, you never even thought of the Moon as a place that we could possibly terra-renovate. Go ahead and imagine with me all the possibilities of a verdant green and blue little world hanging in the night sky. Doesn’t that sound great?

So, what does it take? Do we tear it down and just use the orbital lot space? Should we raise it up and lay a new foundation? Or could we get away with a few coats of paint and adding an atrium on the backside?

Fortunately for me, scientist and sci-fi author Gregory “Planetary Makeover” Benford has already done the math.

Let’s take a look at what we’d need to get the Moon habitable. For starters, the fact that the Moon is so close to Earth is a huge advantage. This is like living on the same block as a Home Depot, and we won’t have to travel far to get supplies and equipment to and from our project.

We’re going to need an atmosphere thick enough to breathe and trap in the Sun’s heat. This takes wild comet capture and harvest, tear them apart and smash them into the Moon.

Benford notes that you probably want be careful not to let an entire comet collide with the Moon because it might spray your primary investment home with debris and do a little damage to the resale value, or potentially annoy your tenants.

This could get bad enough that we’d have to terraform Earth to get it livable again, and you’d need to bring in Mike Holmes to publicly shame us and put our primary residence back in order.

After you’d splattered a few comets on the Moon, it would have an atmosphere almost immediately. The transfer of momentum from the comet chunks would get the Moon rotating more rapidly.

If you invest a little more in your planning stage, you could get the Moon spinning once every 24 hours, and even tilt its axis to get seasons. Benford estimates that we’d need 100 Halley’s mass comets to get the job done. This might sound like a pretty tall order, but it’s tiny compared to number of comets we’d need for your Mars or Venus real estate scheme.

The maintenance and upkeep isn’t going to be without its challenges. Low gravity on the Moon means that it can’t hold onto its atmosphere for longer than a few thousand years.

Once you got the process going, you’d need to be constantly replenishing our your orbital cottage with fresh atmosphere. Fortunately, we’ve got a whole Solar System’s worth of ice to exploit.

The benefits of a terraformed summer home on the Moon are numerous. For example, if the Moon had an atmosphere as thick as the Earth’s, you could strap on a pair of wings and fly around in the 1/6th gravity.

The enormous gravity of the Earth would pull the Moon’s oceans around the planet with 20 meter tides. You could surf the tide for kilometers as it washes across the surface in a miniature version of the shallow water scene in Interstellar.

This might be the greatest sponsorship opportunity for GoPro of all time. Look out Kiteboarding, you’re about to get more extreme.

Everyone always wants to talk about terraforming Venus or Mars. Let them be, that’s too much work. The next time someone brings it up at D&D night, you can blow their minds with your well crafted argument on why we want to start with the Moon.

I can remember David A. Hardy illustrating a few articles on future human habitats on the Moon, showing people enjoying themselves flying around and swimming at just such a lunar resort. One of these was for an article in the sadly short-lived space and astronomy magazine, New Voyager. The resort was in an enclosed dome, rather than on the terraformed surface. The Scots space scientist, Duncan Lunan, in his book, Man and the Planets, also suggested that to prevent the Moon’s atmosphere from being lost to space, the whole planet should be contained with a kind of giant inflatable bubble. This is waaaay beyond modern technological capability, but not, perhaps, that of the future. So perhaps at some point in the far future, the Moon may also join Earth as a living, habitable world.