Sunday, October 28, 2012

Walking on the Moon

So, how many years has it been now since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?  That was Monday July 21, 1969, or roughly 43 years ago.  And now, the great Armstrong has left us.  This isn't news, nor is the fact that we haven't been back to the moon since 1972.  Read that again.  The last manned mission, Apollo 17, was forty years ago.  Sure, the 80s was all about the shuttle program but why didn't we do more while we were up there?  How many different experiments can you really run from the safety of orbit so incredibly close to the Earth?  I've seen the floating pencil, we've discovered what spending time in space can do to a man, and we've run some really neat zero gravity experiments.  Well, here's the thing... so what?

When Newt Gingrich proposed putting a colony or a base on the moon, I've got to admit, the man got my attention.  Like him or hate him (and I'll keep my opinion to myself) the fact is that he had something of a point.  Why aren't we on the moon at the moment?  Did I mention that it's been forty years since the last time we launched a mission to the moon?  So why aren't we going back?  I get that Obama called for a mission to Mars.  Very cool, and I hope that we work towards it eventually, but I think we need to pay Newt's line of thought a little bit more attention.

In a lot of science fiction, we have colonies on the moon.  The Lunara Series puts a colony on the moon to help salvage from Earth's wreckage.  In Olympus Union, I'd been so complacent with our people being on the moon, I've barely mentioned it.  Wouldn't it be easier for humanity to take aim at Mars, however, if we figured out how to live somewhere besides Earth?  Put a man on the moon, oh how exciting.  Put a few objects there for people to shoot off of, excellent.  What about a habitat?  Or, maybe a prison?

Did that one perk your ears up a bit, I hope?  For those who have read my first novel, "Olympus Union: The Past Repeated" you'll recall that I've got a handful of prisons orbiting Earth.  And, yes, I planned a prison break that left some repercussions but let's look at some the more realistic aspects of something so seemingly unrealistic.  Listen, if we're essentially figuring out how to build a tractor beam why not build something tremendously useful (that could put the tractor beam into use, too)?  My "clutches" might not be an awful idea after all.  Consider how much more difficult it would be to escape from a prison orbiting Earth.

Alright, maybe you're not as worried about prison breaks.  How about jobs?  Everyone talks about the economy these days.  How about an international cooperative to built an international prison for the baddest of the bad guys?  We're talking about brand new jobs, brand new technology, and a brand new frontier.  And, just maybe, finding a way to ship the most violent offenders off the Earth would help us learn to ship our best and brightest to a whole new world.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Human Augmentation in the Olympus Union

Recently, I finished reading the final book in the Quadrail series, Judgement at Proteus.  Any fan of mine, especially a reader of my blog, knows by now that I'm quite a fan of Timothy Zahn.  I find him to be one of the modern Masters of Science Fiction, taking interesting angles on some areas that are taken for granted.  In the series, he discusses the Shonkla'raa, a genetically engineered sect of one of his alien races.  In fact, he goes to great lengths to talk about how that species (the filiaelians) is so categorized by widespread genetic manipulation and augmentation.  This isn't the first time Zahn has gotten into that realm of discussion in his writing.  In his Cobra trilogy, the master delves a bit deeper into augmentation of human men to perform as super soldiers.  His interpretation goes beyond the super suit of Iron Man, to internalize augmentation.  My own development of the Ares Elite initially spun from a simple thought: how might I do the "augmented soldier" in my own way?  No disrespect to Mr. Zahn (nor the others to stride down this literary path), but this was my concept of the better way... and, of course, a different angle to explore their flaws.

Today, however, I came across an article from the Huffington Post regarding Extreme Body Augmentation. Now, it could be that I'd been reading about genetically augmented aliens recently.  Perhaps it could be that I've been working on writing my fourth Olympus Union book, which centers on Jeremy Hunter, the augmented, vigilante hero that I'd created a while back.  Could be that I saw my buddy wearing his Kro t-shirt this weekend, or maybe just the fact that I'm currently sick and my head has been off-kilter (hence my writing a blog, to get back on track, instead of butchering the Jeremy Hunter book).  Still, I found this article incredibly intriguing, and wondered if there was anything in it that I might leverage in my writing as well.  I'm certainly considering taking the angle of "designer babies" for why there would be such overcrowding on Earth to force our people out into the rest of the solar system.  After all, if you're truly running out of room on the land, it'd make plenty of sense to push for under-sea, domed cities or lunar based settlements.

I just couldn't help looking for more articles regarding human enhancement, however.  Previously, making permanent changes were the stuff of science fiction, solely; Darth Vader's monstrous augmentations or Luke Skywalker's restored hand.  Lately, of course, real life has been taking a cue from science fiction.  Not just your tablets and smart phones inspired by Star Trek, mind you.  Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, comically nicknamed "Blade Runner" made history by competing in an Olympic event with carbon-fiber legs replacing his amputated extemities.  In an article that I found from about a year ago, a company named Sarif Industries is going that extra mile; they're offering actual cybernetic implants!
Alright, before you get too concerned, Sarif is actually part of a video game (and, yes, I spent a few minutes deciding whether I'd come clean on that little truth, or let you discover it yourself).  Still, the website's main image really spoke to me.  Kro, readers will remember, has had his natural eyes replaced by cybernetic implants.  The implants were colored jet black (for show, of course), but included abilities far beyond that of the native version.  Science fiction's domain, certainly, but how far from the truth could it really be?  In Repo Men, Jude Law comes across all manner of implants and tricked out body part replacements.  While all of that was fabricated, the South African's achievements are most certainly real.  So why couldn't Kro's eyes, or Law's heart, become as real as Pistorius' legs?

Thus far in the Olympus Union series, I haven't delved as deeply into the specifics of the augmentations.  We cover the Ares Elite a bit, and a few mentions about what Jeremy Hunter can do.  In the Ares Elite duology, however, the planned fifth and sixth books of the series will get much deeper.  Just maybe, by the time my super soldiers take their shape, we'll find even more technology implementing the evolution of man.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fiction in Science

Long before I created the Olympus Union series, I was writing science fiction.  Longer before that, I was a science fiction fan.  For my entire school career, however, I loved science.  Call me what you will, but astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, I found all of it fun and interesting.  We were manipulating the building blocks of reality, running experiments, and coming to conclusions based on hard data.  It was science, and that's how things worked.

Then there was science fiction.  Something that, as I said, love enough to read, watch and write.  I understand how ridiculous the concept of a duel between laser swords could be.  The use of The Force was no different than concepts of magic in fantasy novels and movies.  Odd space ships and stations, laser guns and strange planets, aliens of all shapes and sizes... those who shot first and those who didn't... and those who make a big deal over who actually shot first.  Yep, all of that is intriguing to me in an entertaining way.  That's precisely what it is, though, entertainment.  Isaac Asimov made numerous suggestions in his Foundation series that seem a little more far fetched now, but he was still writing fiction.  You can be wildly inaccurate if it's entertaining, because this is entertainment, not reality.

That brings me to something that I find frustrating: fiction in science.  I've had this discussion on and off, recently, with a good friend.  He's also a science fiction fan and writer.  Together, we've talked about how the "theoretical" branch of science seems to be made up of people getting credit for wild guesses.  They are either proven right by someone else's work (see Peter Higgs) or they can't be proven wrong because something might still be out there, and you can't disprove the theory.

Few things better illustrate the last point than an article recently published in the Huffington Post.  The article boasts that there is a Diamond Planet orbiting a star like our sun.  Of course, there is no proof that this planet has a diamond core.  The article, of course, mentions that "temperatures on its surface reaching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit" which, of course, means that you couldn't possibly get down there and start drilling to see what you could find.  We're not even fully certain what is in our own core.  In fact, there is a Billion Dollar mission to reach the mantle - that'd be Earth's mantle.  You know, the one beneath our feet.  So, here we are, making wild suggestions about the insides of other planets, and making "educated guesses" when we don't know what we've got here at home.

"The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite," said Nikku Madhusudhan.  Now, Nikku looks like a nice guy.  He's leading a team of astronomers at Princeton University.  That's a fairly prestigious school, well known for its excellence in education, and apparently Nikku is very smart.  The problem, of course, is that a statement like this, published as his team's "findings" and "discovery" doesn't sound entirely smart if you truly think about what a discovery is.  Find a planet?  Fantastic!  Make some simply and testable suggestions based on atmosphere, speed (this planet's year takes 18 hours, apparently), or anything else directly measurable is perfectly logical.  You're talking about measurable points. 

When you start suggesting that there is a planet made of diamonds, though, it becomes far fetched.  Not to say that this couldn't happen.  The same article suggests that there are many diamond based planets.  Well, no, those haven't been dug into either, but they're out there.  Absolutely out there.  Right?  It actually sounds like the Princeton team is making a supposition about something 40 light years away.  He can't possibly be proven wrong in his lifetime.  Unless Sheldon Cooper is correct, and we'll some day upload our consciousnesses into cyborg forms, Madhusudhan can die content that he was always right, knowing he couldn't be proven wrong.  We can't get to this planet, let alone to its surface to test.  So there are diamond planets out there, everywhere.  It makes for excellent science fiction.  Perhaps someone is already writing about it, or maybe there is a novel out there to fuel my Kindle.  If I ever expand the Olympus Union outside of our solar system, maybe I'll go to a diamond planet as well.  Until you can prove it, however, it's really fiction.  Until the ATMs rise up to lead the charge.