There’s a potentially Earth-like planet around the closest star to Earth—that’s the space headline that captured the world’s imagination this summer. But here’s something that was easy to forget in all that furor over Proxima Centauri. Our neighboring star doesn’t look anything like the Sun.
We humans have known only one life-sustaining planet in the universe: a green-and-blue globe called Earth. So perhaps we can be forgiven for thinking the ideal ingredients for creating life must resemble what we se here: a bunch of planets around a medium-sized yellow star.
Mind-expanding missions like the Kepler Space Observatory, however, have scientists questioning whether a solar system like ours really is the perfect place to hunt for new Earths and the possibility of life beyond our planet. Lately, astronomers have been taking a closer look at red dwarfs—stars with low mass, low temperatures, and slow rates of fusion.These stars don’t look much like our life-giving Sun, but they make up almost 70 percent of the observable stars in the sky and could survive for trillions of years—far longer than our star.
If we’re going to find life beyond our solar system, many scientists believe it will be orbiting a red dwarf. Here’s why.
The Alien Worlds of Red Dwarfs
In the past, planet-hunters thought the odds of finding potentially habitable worlds around red dwarfs were quite low. Because of their low mass and temperature, red dwarfs emit just 3 percent as much light as our sun. For an orbiting planet not to freeze into an uninhabitable iceball, it would need to be as close to the star as Mercury is to our Sun. Unfortunately, being so close to a star means the planets probably would be tidally locked, where one side is constantly facing the star and the other side always faces away. Not ideal conditions for creating life.
Red dwarfs are also far less stable compared to larger stars, undergoing sudden rises and drops in the amount of light and heat they emit. This creates big variations in temperature, adding yet another challenge for budding life.
If we’re going to find life beyond our solar system, it will likely be orbiting a red dwarf.
It’s not all bad news, though. Red dwarfs have a considerable advantage over other stars in their incredible lifespans. Our Sun has been around for 4.57 billion years, yet humanity has existed for just 200,000 years. Life takes a long time, and complex life even more so.
Time is one thing red dwarfs have plenty of—they can exist for trillions of years because of their low mass and slow rate of nuclear fusion. Since they’re also so common in our cosmos, the odds of finding planets within that habitable Golidlocks zone is statistically high. For astronomers, the pros are starting to outweigh the cons.
The Case for Going Red
In 2005, astronomers from around the world converged on Mountain View, California, for a workshop sponsored by The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) where scientists argued the case that red dwarf stars could be the best place to look for aliens. In the end, it comes down to sheer probability. Within 33 light years of Earth there were 240 known red dwarfs at the time, compared to just 21 stars like ours.
Although red dwarfs are hard to find because they’re dim, once they’re spotted it’s much easier to see how many chunks of rock are in orbit. The so-called transit method of finding exoplanets, which the Kepler telescope used to great effect, relies on looking for changes in brightness caused by a planet passing in front of its star. It looks something like this:
Because planets orbiting a red dwarf are likely to hug their stars so tightly, the orbital period is often just a few days long, which makes for pretty good odds of seeing such a transit.
New Worlds Emerge
Since that SETI conference more than a decade ago, oodles of new planets orbiting red dwarfs have been discovered. Between 2005 and 2010, astronomers found six exoplanets orbiting Gliese 581, a red dwarf located about 20 light years from Earth. Two of these planets, Gliese 581-c and -d, lie on the inner and outer edge the star’s habitable zone. Another exoplanet, Gliese 581-g, may also have an orbit fit for habitability (though its existence is still contested).
In 2012, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) published the results of a spectrographic survey that examined 102 red dwarf stars in the Milky Way over the course of six years. They found that red dwarf stars were more likely to have an Earth-like planet orbiting them than a gas giant. Two years later, another ESO study concluded that virtually all red dwarfs in the universe have at least one exoplanet orbiting them. At least a quarter of them have a super-Earth (a planet like ours but slightly bigger) orbiting within their habitable zones.
The drumbeat goes on. This past July, researchers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) released a study in which the team calculated the likelihood of Earth-like planets forming within our universe over cosmic timescales, starting with the first stars to form, billions of years ago, and continuing into the distant future. They determined that low-mass red dwarf stars would be more likely than giant stars to maintain a system of planets long enough for life to emerge, and that likelihood only increased with time.
“We considered the likelihood of ‘life as we know it’ to form between the appearance of the first stars and the death of the last stars,” Professor Avi Loeb, a science professor at Harvard University and the lead author on the paper, told PM. ” We found that the likelihood peaks in the distant future around low-mass stars, simply because these stars live much longer than the Sun.”
Other discoveries made in the past five years have also bolstered the case for habitable planets around red dwarf stars with exoplanet candidates around Innes Star, Kepler 42, Gliese 832, Gliese 667, Gliese 3293, and most recently Proxima Centauri. All of these star systems are located relatively close to our own, though still impossibly out of reach with only today’s space-faring technology.
“One of the great discoveries made in the past decade or so is that it seems like there are planets all over the place,” TESS project scientist Stephen Rinehart told PM, “even around these small stars so different from our own.”
Just came across these new trailers for a series that will be premiering on Nov. 14th. The show tackles the increasingly-relevant concept of a crewed Mars mission. Such a series is very timely right now as NASA gears up for its “Journey to Mars”, and quite understandable given the recent popularity of The Martian.
As you can see, the show chronicles the first crewed mission to Mars, which involves a ship based on the
The series is directed by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (director of Apollo 13), and some big names had input into the series. This included SpaceX founder Elon Musk, famed science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Robert Zubrin. For those familiar with proposed Mars missions, these names should be instantly recognizable. Musk is the man pushing for regular missions to Mars in the coming decade (using his Interplanetary Transport System – or ITS), while deGrasse Tyson is the successor to Carl Sagan, communicating the wonders of science through public outreach and the show Cosmos.
Here is the description from the National Geographic Channel:
The year is 2033, and humanity’s first crewed mission to Mars is about to become a reality. A unique blend of scripted drama and modern-day interviews with the field’s best and brightest, Mars tells the story of how we will one day call the red planet home through groundbreaking research and innovation. The global series event premieres Monday, November 14, at 9/8c on the National Geographic Channel.
Don’t know about you, but I will be watching every episode!
You know how this is going to start, don’t you? Yes, with one of these:
In any case, here is an article that I wrote for UT recently. However, due to a surprising lack of response to the subject on social media, it never got published. So I have decided to publish it in full here. Enjoy!
Since it was deployed in March of 2009, the Kepler space telescope has been responsible for the discovery of thousands of potential extrasolar planets (aka. exoplanets). In fact, as of January 2015, Kepler confirmed the existence of 1,013 exoplanets in about 440 stellar systems, along with a further 3,199 unconfirmed planet candidates. This is certainly an impressive feat, especially when you consider the fact that it accounts for almost half of all the exoplanets discovered so far.
But earlier today, NASA hosted a news conference in which they declared that Kepler has effectively doubled the number of exoplanets it has discovered. In what is the largest single batch of discoveries to be announced at one time, NASA claimed that the Kepler mission has validated the existence of 1284 new planets with 99% percent certainty (along with 428 likely false positives).
Not only is this the largest group of discoveries made by NASA (or any space agency) to date, it doubles the number of planets in the Kepler catalog. As of May 9th, 2016, some 1,041 confirmations had been made. But with this latest addition, that number now stands at a robust 2,325. Quite the accomplishment for a mission that was nearly abandoned due to mechanical failure.
Back in 2012, the Kepler mission suffered a setback when one of the spacecraft four reaction wheels – which are used to point the spacecraft – stopped working. This was followed by a second failure in May of 2013, which disabled the collection of science data and threatened to end the mission three years ahead of schedule.
After much consideration, NASA declared on August 15th, 2013 that they had given up on attempting to repair the reaction wheels and had instead chosen to modify the mission. By November, NASA reported that Kepler would henceforth be dedicated to searching for habitable planets around smaller red dwarf stars – a mission which they named K2 “Second Light”. This mission extension was approved shortly thereafter, and Kepler has been carrying on with this mission ever since.
And with this latest batch of discoveries, Kepler is showing that it is still pulling its weight, and then some! Of those planets confirmed in this latest batch, most fell into the class of “mini-Neptunes” – planets that are the lower limits of a gas giant’s size. The next greatest sample consisted of “super-Earths” – terrestrial planets that are larger than Earth, but significantly less than that of a gas giant.
The remainder of those discovered fell between those that were Earth-sized or Neptune-sized gas giants. And as was made clear at the NASA-hosted conference, the discovery of over 2000 more confirmed exoplanets will also be of major importance for the next-generation of space telescopes, all of which will picking up where Kepler leaves off.
And in the meantime, there is still plenty for Kepler to do before its mission is set to expire (in October of 2016). For example, there are more than 3,000 candidate planets in the Kepler database that need to be confirmed or ruled out. And then there are the “Kepler Objects of Interest”, a list of detections that need to assessed to see if they can even be considered as true candidates.
It certainly goes without saying that this latest announcement is also a major step along the road to finding extra-terrestrial life in the Universe. The more planets we find, the greater the odds of finding ET! While it may be naive to assume that they would live under conditions similar to our own, we are looking for the low-hanging fruit first. And finding and studying more exoplanets could also help us to understand what other conditions life might flourish under.
Hello folks! As you may know, I don’t get around to posting much in the way on this blog lately. These days, my time has been pretty much stretched thin with writing for Universe Today and HeroX, and what time I have left over I generally dedicate towards my personal writing. But I felt the need to hop on here today and share something which it pains me to admit.
I do not care for Game of Thrones anymore! And since I have friends who were so excited about Season 6 and raved about how Season 5 ended, I know this will lead to some arguments down the road. But I must be honest here…
When the show began, I was a non-initiate, someone who had never read the books or ever heard of George R.R. Martin. Once the first season was complete, I took it upon myself to read all five books and found myself quickly turned into a ASOIAF geek. Naturally, this lessened the experience of the show as for Season 2, 3, 4, and 5, I knew how the story would go and reacted predictably whenever they changed any details. But that was only because I liked the story so much.
But last season, the writers of GOT went so far off book and left so much stuff out that I became genuinely disinterested with the show. Still, I felt I had to see what they were going to do with Season 6, so when “The Red Woman” premiered, I was sure to tune in. And then I watched the follow-up in “Home” to see where things went from there. Needless to say, the way they handled things reminded me of why I lost interest.
Let me explain why…
When the show writer’s tackled season 5, they had material from two books to work with – A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. And whereas they divided the third book (A Storm of Swords) into two seasons and ended up padding the second half with lots of things they made up, for Season 5 they skimmed over much of it, left a whole bunch of things out, and then reached the point where they had nothing more of Martin’s material to work with.
And it seems obvious to me why they did that now. In the course of making Season 5, they knew they would be flying without Martin’s net by Season 6. And so they began moving to eliminate all the material they didn’t want to work with and began simplifying the plot. Too bad, because so much of what they eliminated was intriguing and made the story interesting.
Also, it seems obvious that the promos they made for Season 6 – “Anybody can be killed” – have been less than honest. In reality, they’ve been killing off only certain kinds of characters, and it seems clear why. Now covering all of what they changed would take some time, so here’s the Cole Notes version of it. This is where the story left off in the books, and where they diverged from it…
Tyrion In Essos: Having killed his father, Tyrion fled King’s Landing with Jaime and Varys help, and travels to the free city of Pentos, where he is in the care of lllyrio Mopatis (the same man who had played host to Daenerys and her brother Varys for years). Tyrion is then sent to Volantis in order to meet with a party led by a man named Griff and his son, young Griff, which will be traveling east to find Daenerys. After spending time with them, Tyrion learns the startling truth.
Young Griff is in fact Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen (and cousin to Daenerys) who was thought to have died in Robert’ Rebellion. Griff, meanwhile, is Jon Connington, the Hand of “The Mad King” Aerys II. For years, Aegon has been raised in secret, for the day that he could return to Westeros and reclaim the throne. With Daenerys having risen to become queen of Mereen and the “Mother of Dragons”, they now intend to find Daenerys’ and convince her to marry Aegon, at which time they will return to Westeros in force and claim the thrones.
Unfortunately, Tyrion is kidnapped by Ser Jorah Mormont, who intends to take him to Daenerys as a gift. But they are taken by slavers who intend to force them to fight in Mereen’s recently reopened fighting pits. During the opening fight, when Daenerys is attacked and flees on the back of Drogon, Tyrion, Mormont, and Penny (another dwarf taken as a slave) flee outside the city.
Beyond the walls of Mereen, the armies of Slaver’s Bay are gathered.Having retaken Yunkai and Astapor from the freed slavers, they are now gathered to lay siege to Mereen. Daenerys managed to broker a truce by reopening the fighting pits and marrying Hizdahr zo Loraq. However, with her gone from the city, the truce is broken. Tyrion and the others manage to join with a sellsword company Second Sons, and hope to switch sides while the camp suffers from a plague that has broken out (the Bloody Flux).
While in the wilderness, Daenerys is found by an old foe – Khal Jhaqo, the man who took command of the khalasar after Khal Drogo died.
Iron Islands: The Ironborne choose a new king after Balon Greyjoy dies in a fatal fall at Pyke. Euron, Balon’s brother, becomes the new king by promising his people victory thanks to a “dragonhorn”, an instrument which can control dragons that he managed to procure. He orders his younger brother Victarion to sail to Essos to bring Daenerys and her dragons back.
Dorne: The Sand Snakes plot to kidnap Princess Myrcella has failed thanks to the intervention of Prince Doran Martell. After freeing the ringleader – his daughter, Arianna Martell – he explains to her that he has a plot to get revenge on the Lannisters, Baratheons and Tyrells and is not the weak man they think he is. This plan involves sending his son Quentyn Martell to Mereen to marry Daenerys and bring her home to Dorne, where their kingdom will pledge support for her and take the Iron Throne for House Martell.
However, this plan went a bit awry when Daenerys fled Mereen, and Quentyn is burned alive when he and his men try to take matters into their own hands and free her dragons. At the same time, the Ironborn are traveling to Mereen in the hopes of striking an alliance with Daenerys and bringing her and her dragons back to Westeros, also with the hope of conquering the Iron Throne for themselves.
In the Riverlands: Brienne of Tarth still searches for Sansa and Arya with the help of Podrick Payne. Along the way, she runs into the Brothers Without Banners, who arrest her and take her before their master – Lady Stoneheart. Brienne learns, to her surprise and horror, that Stoneheart is actually Lady Caitelyn Stark.
After being murdered at the Red Wedding, her body was thrown into the river and washed up on shore. The Brothers found her, and Lord Berric Dondarion (having been resurrected many times by Thoros of Myr) breathes his last life to her. A cold, viscous shadow of her former self, she orders Brienne killed on suspicion that is she working for the Lannisters, but Brienne is released after agreeing to kill Ser Jaime.
She finds Ser Jaime in the Riverlands, where is he busy negotiating an end to the sieges that are still taking place there. When they meet, she tells him that she has found Sansa Stark, but only Jaime can accompany her. The reason, she claims, is that Sandor Clegane (The Hound) is alive and with her, and that he will attack if he Brienne comes alone. In short, we are led to believe she is leading him into a trap.
In The North: Jon Snow allows the Wildlings to pass through the Wall after their defeat at the hands of Stannis. While it is believed that Mance Rayder was burned alive, along with the other Wildlings that would not bend the knee to Stannis’, Jon learns that he’s actually alive. With Melisandre’s help, who cast a spell of illusion on him, he switched places with Rattleshirt and has been carrying on in disguise. Jon asks him to travel south and rescue his sister Arya, who he was told was married to Ramsay Bolton (not knowing that he married Jeyne Poole, who is being forced to impersonate Arya).
Melisandre also warns Jon that she has seen him in her visions, where he is surrounded by daggers in the dark. As he prepares to ride south to fight the Boltons, the vision comes true when Jon is attacked and stabbed severely by Bowen Marsh and other members of the Night’s Watch. The book ends with us not knowing if he survives or not.
Just south of them, Stannis has taken Deepwood Motte and captured Asha Greyjoy (Theon’s sister). However, he is unable to march on Winterfell since the winter snows have made movement impossible and hunger begins to set in. However, the Boltons are doing just as bad at Winterfell, where the Boltons and their allies begin turning on each other. In the confusion, Theon rescues Jeyne Pool (who was posing as Arya) and they escape the castle together. They flee into the wilderness, eventually being picked up by Stannis men and brought back to camp. Theon reunites with his sister for the first time since his capture.
Oldtown: Samwell Tarley, Gilly, and Maester Aemon travel from Castle Black to Oldtown via Bravos. It is there that Sam is to become a Maester, seek out the old prophecies, and learn all he can about the coming of the White Walkers and the prophecy of Azor Ahai reborn. Aemon reveals to him that he once thought that this might be Varys, but now believes it to be Daenerys. Aemon dies before they can reach Oldtown, but when Samwell arrives, he speaks to the masters at the Citadel of what Aemon told him. When they hear this, Archmaester Marwyn leaves to go to Mereen with the intention of becoming Daenerys’ maester.
At King’s Landing: Cersei confesses to having sex with her cousin, Lancel Lannister, and performs the penace walk back to the Red Keep. There, she meets Ser Robert Strong (a resurrected Gregor Clegane) who will she is relieved to know will be fighting for her if she asks for a trial by combat. With Ser Jaime out of the city and her father dead, the task of running things has fallen to her uncle, Kevan Lannister.In addition to trying to clean up the messes Cersei and Joffrey has made, he must also deal with the fact that Aegon Targaryen’s forces appear to be landing in the east and raising a banner of war.
Shortly after Cersei arrives home and they dine together, Ser Kevan is murdered in his quarters by Varys (who has also killed Grand Maester Pycelle). Varys explains to Kevan before he dies that he is part of the conspiracy to bring Aegon Targaryen home and to see him made king.
So that’s the story up until Season 6 (or the end of A Dance of Dragons) in a nutshell. As you can plainly see, so much of the plot had to do with Daenerys at this point, who has been revealed to be intrinsic to the whole prophecy of the coming of winter, the coming of the Others, and the war that will decide the fate of Westeros and the world. Basically, the War of Five Kings is over, and all roads lead back to Westeros by way of Mereen.
Where They’ve Change Things:
In the series, things changed drastically by Season 5. Basically, they were using material at that point from both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, but seemed to be skimming through much of it, leaving a lot of other stuff out, and taking various story threads and tying them together.
For example, rather than showing the full intrigue that was happening in Dorne – which included Arianna Martell’s daughter and the Sand Snakes kidnapping Myrcella and positioning her to become Queen on the Iron Throne, thus making her betrothed (Trystane Martell) king – they instead made a story about Oberyn’s paramour (Ellaria Sand) and the Sand Snakes trying to kill her. Instead of Prince Doran thwarting this and telling Arianna of his plans, we get a big mash-up with Jaime and Bronn trying to save her and the whole thing ending in failure.
Ellaria and the Sand Snakes respond by killing Doran, Myrcella and Trystane all in one shot. Not only did none of this happened in the story, but killing off ALL these people means that their attempts to get Daenerys on their side and come back to Westeros are not going to happen. It eliminates the Dorne thread from the story altogether, and also means Cersei is mourning two dead kids instead of one as she prepares for her trial.
Speaking of murdering people off, they also killed off Stannis in a way that was very sudden. Not only did he not burn his daughter at the stake in the story, his daughter and his wife weren’t even with him as he marched to lay siege to Winterfell, which only made sense. You don’t bring family with you on a war march! Another person he left behind was Melisandre, so none of these people abandoned him or committed suicide on him. He also didn’t then march on Winterfell only to get his butt handed to him by Ramsay and then killed by Brienne. The way this all happened in one episode showed that they were eager to kill off his thread.
Speaking of Brienne, she was supposed to be in the Riverlands. But since they decided, for whatever reason, not to touch the Lady Stoneheart part of the story, this meant the writers had to give her something to do. In the same vein, Sansa had little to do, so they changed it up and made it her who was married to Ramsay Bolton and who got rescued by Theon.
At the same time, Ramsay Bolton spent the second episode of this season hatching a plot to kill his father, his stepmother, and his new brother is some big power play. With Roose gone, this means that Ramsay will now likely try to kill Jon Snow again (something they never bothered with in the books). With no epic battle looming between Stannis and he, there’s not much left for him to except get killed off himself, thus eliminating that thread as well.
Meanwhile, Theon’s father has been killed off and the island has fallen into political divide. Sure, this is close to what happened in Crows, but they’ve done it here makes it seem like this is just another minor thread they intend to tie off.
Getting to Mereen, the show skipped over the siege on the city. While just about everything else has happened according to the books (except that Tyrion and Mormont have not found their way into her court yet), this removes a major aspect of the story which was Martin was gearing up for book 6 – The Winds of Winter. So now, all Daenerys can do now is escape the Khal, return to Mereen and resume being queen(unless they choose to throw the sage in later).
But worst of all was the way they handled Jon Snow’s death/resurrection. After showing him to be dead in “The Red Woman”, it was quite obvious what was going to happen. A disheveled and broken Melisandre would be called upon to resurrect him, she would, and he would resume command of the Night’s Watch. It just felt so… predictable!
Ah, and of course, the entire thread involving Aegon Targaryen was completely left out. That means that in Westeros, there isn’t currently a war looming as Jon Connington lands forces loyal to Aegon, Kevan Lannister isn’t murdered, and we are not treated to the knowledge that Varys was conspiring with them all along. Instead, Varys is in Mereen conspiring to bring Daenerys home, but can’t do that until she comes back.
Why This Is Wrong (IMHO):
Basically, I didn’t like any of this because it eliminated so much of the plot. Sure, Martin can be (and is) criticized for writing stories that are too convoluted and too detailed. And in all fairness, I really began to feel by book four that things were going nowhere and I was determined to quit. But then, the ending of A Feast for Crows brought everything together quite succinctly and let us know exactly why what seemed like diversions and a drawn out tale was important.
And after the fifth book, A Dance of Dragons, things were really coming together and there was a sense of synthesis to the long tale that had been delivered thus far. By eliminating four separate threads from the story, the series writers are depriving the universe of a lot of its best material and altering the story inexorably.
For instance, the Iron Islanders are all but gone from the plot. The Dornish plans for revenge are all but gone too. Stannis’ plot to secure the crown for himself is gone, and in all likelihood, so will the war to secure the North. Aegon Targaryen and his hopes to secure the throne were never included. And Lady Stoneheart and House Stark’s hopes for revenge have also been excluded.
And in this, it seems pretty clear what the writers are doing. By closing down these other threads, they are now left with the Big Three – King’s Landing, The North, and the East. In all fairness, this was how the show started and it seemed like a classic narrative structure. And since then, Martin expanded the story greatly and took things in many different directions, to the point that a lot of people felt exhausted by books 4 and 5. And with him out of the picture, it looks like the show writers want to bring things back to a good old fashioned three-pointed story.
But doing so means that the ending will be a simplified, watered-down, and less detailed. It also means that – unless Martin gave them some indication of how the story is to end – it won’t be in keeping with the creator’s vision. Sure, at this point, they’re writing it out how they see fit and its not like they have much of a choice. But from now on, the story will be so different that it really doesn’t even make sense to call it Game of Thrones.
But of course, I just know I’m going to tune in next and watch episode three. I mean, who knows? Maybe they do have the deets on how things are supposed to proceed from here and are just giving us the scaled-down version. Only one way to find out! 🙂
Hey there, folks! As the title of this entry would suggest, I’ve made some serious progress on my latest book, The Jovian Incident. After a few months of writing, I’ve finished all nine chapters of the first installment – aka. Part I: “Hermians”. These chapters cover the part of the story that takes place on Mercury, where the main character is introduced, some details of his background are revealed, and he is eventually recruited to go do a job.
This part was also a chance to preview the universe I went about building for the story. This included not only using Mercury as the setting for a prison planet, but descriptions about what Earth, Mars, Venus looked like in this day and age. And there was the matter of how people lived in a post-Singularity universe, when a whole range of amazing technologies were at their disposal. Today, I thought I’d focus on one in particular. The subject of…
To be clear, clinical immortality in this context does not refer to cryogenics or frozen heads waiting to be stitched onto bodies once they find a cure for… whatever. In this context, clinical immortality refers to what is possible through advances in biotechnology, robotics and cybernetics, to the point where human beings can artificially prolong their lives for centuries. At the same time, it refers to knowledge of the brain and computing advancing to the point where people can back up their neurology, living on indefinitely as a digital “ghost in the machine”.
In short, those who have access to this kind of technology in my story have a lot of options for staying alive. One of the more popular (but more complicated) ways is to create clones of oneself, which are then be equipped with the host’s memories backed up to the point of their death. These “facsimiles” are able to carry on in the place of the original, creating an unbroken chain of lineage. The reason why this means is complicated is because if two versions of the same person are alive at the same time, it creates some sticky legal issues.
To put it in perspective, here’s a fragment from the story, where the MC (Jeremiah Ward) is reminiscing about a case he once had to deal with aboard an LEO Hab called Ri-La. Basically, LEO Habs are habitats that exist in Low-Earth Orbit. The owner in question was a former magnate named Xian, a man who lived in the early 21st century before “dying”:
“I went there as part of a case back in 23’. The whole place had been built by some old Terran magnate named Xian. Some Jom-gua gentleman, born in the previous century who made his fortune running bio, shipping and software. Before he died, he had a Hab commissioned in orbit for his wife and family, and then invited his extended family to move there so they could have their own orbital estate all to themselves.”
“Died?” said Guernsey, noting the one word that seemed out of place in the story. “This guy, he was an Extro. And he died? Like… for real?”
“No, no…” Ward replied, waving his hand dismissively. “Though he did forego the whole facsimile thing, the old man uploaded himself like anybody else before he got too old, suffered brain death. That way, his children, nieces and nephews had the run of the place and could summon him whenever they wanted.”
“Descendants calling up their great ancestor,” said Burton. “Fucking vain, if you ask me. But makes sense if you’re one of them Core types, all rich and shit.”
“Well and he was the traditional sort, that guy. Not a lot of people back home who were like him anymore. Most people take the idea of post-mortality too literally.”
As he goes on with the story, he explains how he was on the habitat to investigate a murder case. At the heart of the case was an inhabitant who got into a struggle with their facsimile:
“Turns out some of the Xian clan were not as traditional as their forebear. Some of them went about creating facsimiles of themselves, even woke them up before they died. I don’t know, all that time in orbit, they must have feared they’d die out unless they started cloning themselves.”
“It didn’t occur to them to get some new blood in the place? Or even someone’s DNA?”
Ward shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe they couldn’t find anyone they thought worthy. Point is, having more than one version of yourself around can get ugly, especially when there’s inheritance on the line. And in this case, one kid was killed by another version of himself.”
“Wow…” Jordon whispered. “Was it hard to figure out who did it?”
“Not even a little bit,” said Ward, shaking his head. “Forensics took all of five minutes. The trickier part was trying to deduce if the victim was an original or not. As you know, the penalty for a facsimile killing their original is way higher than the reverse.”
A little later, Ward is confronted with the man who comes to Mercury to offer him a job. His task, he learns, is to venture to the Outer Solar System and find a colleague who has gone missing. Given that the man he is tasked with finding is clearly of the Extro (Extropian) faction, he naturally feels the need to ask the obvious:
“This man, there’s a record of his DNA, yes?”
“Of course,” Chandrasekhar replied simply.
“And his neurology is on file as well, I take it?”
“Backed up directly before his departure, yes.”
“So why not just reproduce him and cut your losses?”
“Well, three reasons.” Chandrasekhar raised three fingers and began listing them off. “For one, the man in question was a conservative soul. He would not approve of being resurrected unless it was absolutely necessary. Second, if he were still alive and turned up after we produced his facsimile, there would be some sticky issues of legality to contend with.Lastly, there is the matter of what he learned while conducting our business in the Outer Worlds. We need to make every effort to retrieve the version of him that knows all of these things, if at all possible.”
I wanted to include all this stuff in the story for two reasons. On the one hand, as a way of commenting on some of the issues that are likely to come up if and when such things are possible. And two, to address the fundamental question: if people are capable of uploading themselves, and creating facsimiles of themselves, what will it mean for issues of identity, legality, and even mortality?
If death is no longer an inevitable fact of life, will death cease to have meaning? And by extension, will life cease to be valued? If someone can just recreate themselves, then what harm is there in murdering them? And if the only real loss is memory that hasn’t been backed up, will the information they carry in their minds be more valuable than the person themselves?
But this of course is all background stuff, something that is meant to frame the main story, which I am still working on. But I feel at this point that it’s off and running. So as I get into Part II: “Martians”, I hope to be getting away from some of that stuff, and more into the issues of timelines, plot, and more character development. Stay tuned!
Well this is interesting. It seems that a year ago today, someone I never met cited a quote from Papa Zulu in order to pay homage to veterans everywhere. And were it not for the fact that I entered this quote into my search engine to see if I really did write it myself (Goodreads said I did, but I myself was wondering!), I never would have known!
Thanks Maiden, and keep up the good work of honoring those who have fought so other wouldn’t have to, those who fell in the commission of that service, and those who came home forever changed.
Maria Ramos is back with another interesting look at the world of dystopian sci-fi. This time around, she offers her insight on an issue that is often overlooked in the genre. Whether it is missing from the writing itself, or is overlooked in the course of adaptations and literary criticism, somehow the issue of race – whether it is the race of the characters or how it is dealt with in a fictional setting – seems to fall by the wayside. But I’ll let her explain it, she’s better at it!
Dystopian fiction has been around for decades, with notable examples including 1984 and Animal Farm. It’s not just in old books from English class, either. This is one genre that has never gone away. From The Matrix in the 90s to V For Vendetta in the aughts, every decade has had its stories. New blockbuster hits such as The Hunger Games and Divergent are the latest additions, and this time young adults are leading the dystopian charge. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2slated to carry the series past the 3 billion dollar mark and the books alone selling close to 20 million copies, it looks like this angsty genre has a rosy future.
While the technology that featured in previous variants is still visible, it is overbearing governments that have really become the boogeyman in the closet. It’s not surprising, considering the audience. Just when young adults are beginning to become more independent of their parents, they are also becoming more aware of the restrictions that society and governments place on all citizens. This can be a hard pill to swallow for anyone, but the first cut is the deepest. Governments acting as Big Brother – or like an overly controlling parent – are a pretty terrifying prospect for anyone feeling that first heady rush of freedom. Tellingly, despite the many other issues faced by society today, it is these pesky totalitarian governments that are the backbone of the modern genre.
In fact, totalitarian governments are viewed by many in this demographic as something to truly fear, both in fiction and in real life. This is evidenced by protests against police brutality, the NSA, and even against Wall Street, which are all founded in the same fear of a small elite class being able to suppress the majority of the population. On the other hand, racism and sexism, two other huge issues faced by modern society, are rarely addressed at all.
For example, in The Hunger Games there is no real mention of Katniss’ gender when she goes to fight to the death. Previous victors are shown as both male and female, and an equal number of each compete. There is no mention of the physical disadvantages women might have in a hand-to-hand battle, nor of the specific additional dangers they might face. Tris’ gender in Divergent and Insurgent (both of which are available now through Netflix, DirecTV, and Amazon) is treated the same way, though in both cases a romantic attachment is formed with a fellow warrior, offering some additional measure of protection and responsibility.
Likewise race is glossed over for the most part in The Hunger Games, though certain districts appear to be black and others white based on the tributes they have sent. This segregation is not seen as a problem in the film, nor is it a problem that the central characters are all young, attractive, and white. In both cases, racism and sexism are simply ignored, as if they do not exist. The demon of the movie is a heartless ruling class, and other issues just don’t seem to register.
This genre-wide silence in the face of such major issues is puzzling. Could it be that, rather than being non-topics, they are in fact so controversial that writers and directors are afraid to touch upon them? Or are they seen as relics of the past in a futuristic genre? Despite the huge impact these issues still have on citizens today, part of the battle activists face is even getting people to acknowledge that a problem still exists. Though these issues remain relevant, many today view racism and sexism as shrinking and government overreach as growing, possibly resulting in this void we see in the fiction.
In fact, there is also a combination of idealism and cynicism visible in many of these more recent stories – things became so terrible because people allowed them to, but eventually those same people fight back for change and improvement. It may be that same combination of naiveté and shrewdness that allows both the creators and fans to ignore issues they do not want to face. However, by refusing to address it they actually reflect it, as many of these movies and television series are overwhelming white. The main characters may often be female, but any additional struggle they face due to their gender is largely ignored. As valuable as today’s fiction is in shining a light in dark corners, it seems like right now a brighter flashlight is needed.