Good morning, or whatever time it happens to be where you live. In fact, it you’re living south of the equator in Australia or New Zealand, I hope tomorrow is treating you well! Anyway, today I thought I’d address a topic that has become very near and dear to my heart. And the reason is because in the near-future, I want to tackle this challenging topic soon.
That topic, to put it plainly, is aliens! But given the significance of this subject, I really should write this using proper scientific terms, and in such a way that conveys its true gravitas…
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences (ETIs)
Since my teen years, I’ve been incredibly fascinated by the idea of humanity meeting a alien species someday. And since I began writing science fiction, the subject of ETI is something that I wanted to write about eventually. But naturally, I’ve been more than a little hesitant about it.
Knowing we are not alone in the Universe would not only resolve the single greatest mystery our species has faced, it would be the greatest historical event of all time. And at the moment, we have absolutely no frame of reference for what, how, where and when it might happen. How could I possibly convey that event in words? How could anyone?
So naturally, this was not something I wanted to get into until I was sure I had matured enough as a writer. For all the aforementioned reasons, ETI is a serious and difficult subject to write about. When it’s done properly, it manages to capture the awe, mystery and horror of confronting the unknown. When it is done improperly, it becomes just another cliched trope, the likes of which we have seen countless times before. I’ll let you guess which one I am aiming for!
It’s only because I began writing for an astronomy publication that I’ve been able to do this. My day job, as it turned out, has effectively been a means of research for my novel writing. And while my first published novels, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto (books 1 and 2 of The Formist Series) did not take advantage of this beyond their particular settings, I do want to get into some far-reaching hard science in the future. The third book, btw, is currently in the works – 52,000 words and counting!
Beyond the The Formist Series, I do hope to write many more novels, several of which would be set in the same universe. These would delve into certain aspects of this universe, and the backstories of certain characters, more closely. I also wanted to do other series’ that focused on different factions. After all, The Formist Series is called that because it focuses on that particular faction.
But my greatest interest, right now, is eventually writing a series that will address the major issue of aliens! And in keeping with the hard sci-fi tone I want to strike, I know that I need to stick to scenarios that are believable. This means no little green men, no humanoids, and no aliens that serve as allegories for human issues or cultures, be they past or present.
In fact, there’s a quote from an old science fiction series called Space: Above and Beyond, yet another franchise which died before its time thanks to the idiots at the Fox Network! In one episode, one of the MCs says something that really stuck with me because I felt it managed to capture the essence of what meeting an alien species would be like:
“There is only one thing you need to know, anything that’s either been learned or discovered in all the centuries of life on Earth means nothing right now. Nobody can tell you what to be prepared for.”
In keeping with that, I knew that once I got around to writing about aliens, I wanted to go for something that was truly… alien in nature! And of course, any ETI capable of traveling between stars (which is a major plot point) would need to be incredibly advanced. And since I want to keep things consistent with hard science, this means no FTL capabilities and no time travel. These aliens have to be able to make their way around the galaxy using established physics and believable technology.
So here’s what I got so far. For one, the alien species we end up meeting would be so radically-advanced that we are unable to tell if they are actually organic life forms, artificial ones, or something in between. They don’t travel using spaceships in the conventional sense, but use a special type of megastructure to transport their entire star system from one place to another.
This idea is based on established physics and actual studies, which I first learned about thanks to Professor Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In addition to being the Frank B. Baird Jr. Chair of Science at Harvard University, he’s also the chair of the Advisory Committee for Breakthrough Starshot (humanity’s first attempt at interstellar travel).
Over the years, we’ve talked many times about his studies, which are always about mind-blowing possibilities! And when not talking about the Fermi Paradox and the possibility that we might have already found evidence of an ETI (he conjectured that ‘Oumuamua might have actually been an artificial object), we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about interstellar travel!
Another major plot point is the idea of Von Neumann probes, a hypothetical species of self-replicating machine that explores space by endlessly reproducing itself using local resources. Not only would this kind of machine be very useful for exploring the cosmos, it might be the means through which a super-advanced species transcends the need for physical bodies and habitats and begins to live among the stars.
Another point I wanted to include was how certain events (no spolers) caused a minor planet to be kicked out of the Kuiper Belt and travel to the inner Solar System. This idea was inspired by the dwarf planet that was recently discovered at the fringe of our Solar System, which scientists have nicknamed “The Goblin”. After this minor planet gets closer to our Sun, the Formists decide to scoop it up and tow it into Venus’ orbit.
While I’m still working out the physics for this, the idea is that bringing this object into orbit around Venus would give it a moon. Basically, having a satellite that orbits the planet in the opposite direction as the planet’s rotation would allow for the formation of a magnetic field, which would help protect Venus’ atmosphere from radiation and being stripped away by solar wind.
I could go on, but then I would be venturing into spoiler territory. And this work is still a few years away yet. Right now, there’s the third book in the Formist Series (The Frost Line Fracture) to finish before I can even begin working on my second series. And there’s also a standalone I’ve got planned that will connect the two. That idea is in the works now and deserves its own post, so more on that later!
In the meantime, tell me what you think. Does this idea sound like it’s worthy, as far as alien concepts go? Or should I stick to writing about human beings running around the Solar System? According to lots of helpful feedback I’ve been given, that at least is something I’m not bad at 🙂