How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

The following is an article that I recently published with Universe Today. And since it concerns my recently-published novels, I felt absolutely obliged to share it here. Enjoy!

Hello all. I hope our readers don’t mind that I’m taking a bit of a diversion here today to engage in a little shameless self-promotion. Basically, I wanted to talk about my recently-published novel – The Jovian Manifesto. This book is the sequel to The Cronian Incident, which was published last year (and was a little  shamelessly promoted at the time).

However, I also wanted to take this opportunity to talk about hard science fiction and how writing for a science publication helped me grow as a writer. By definition, hard sci-fi refers to stories where scientific accuracy is emphasized. This essentially means that the technology in the story conforms to established science and/or what is believed to be feasible in the future.

So when I set out to write The Cronian Incident, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, both in terms of technology and setting. Many of the ideas I came up with, and much of the material I drew from, was inspired from my work here at Universe Today. Since I joined the team in 2010 and became a regular member in 2014, I’ve had the chance to write about space-related news, as well as exciting research and scientific breakthroughs.

MESSENGER image of Mercury from its third flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

From the beginning, I felt that what I was writing about was inspiring me in my other major pursuit, which was to become a sci-fi author (something I had been pursuing for years). In fact, it was an article that I had just finished writing for our Guide to Space (The Planet Mercury) that inspired the entire series. After writing it, I began talking to a friend about how humans could make a go of life on Mercury, provided they had the right technology and followed proper precautions.

Basically, I said, Mercury is very metal-rich and close to the Sun, which would make it an abundant source of minerals and energy for our future selves. The only problem is that miners would have to remain on the dark side of the planet to avoid being incinerated. But since Mercury has a spin-orbit resonance of 3:2 – where it completes three rotations on its axis for every two orbits around the Sun – a single solar day works out to about 176 Earth days.

That means that as long as they stayed well-ahead of the terminator (the line between the day-side and the night-side) miners would have lots of time to pull ore out of Mercury without being cooked in their space suits! Meanwhile, I argued, permanent bases could be built in Mercury’s cratered polar regions, which are permanently shaded and have abundant supplies of water ice in them.

View of Mercury’s north pole. based on MESSENGER probe data, showing polar deposits of water ice. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.

Inside some of the larger craters – such as Prokofiev, Kandinsky, Tolkien and Trggvadottir – bases could be built where miners would stay between work shifts. Water and building materials could be harvested in-situ, and solar arrays placed around the edges of the craters could gather all the electricity they needed. With the right technology, some of this could even be beamed off-planet to Venus, Earth and Mars.

My friend then indicated that it would be very hard to get people to want to live and work on Mercury, to which I suggested that perhaps only convict laborers would ever be sent there. That set off the light in my head, and before long, a much larger idea began to take shape. I didn’t just want to talk about Mercury and miners, but how we might go about colonizing the Moon, Mars, Venus, and beyond.

I also wanted to do a story that explored the reasons for why humanity became a multi-planetary species. This is an increasingly relevant issue, thanks in no small part to many high-profile individuals who want to see a permanent human presence established on the Moon and/or Mars in this century. These include Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Zubrin, James Lovelock, and the late and great Stephen Hawking.

Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson

Here too, I have had the privilege of reporting on what these plans are and how they have taken shape over the past years. I’ve also learned a great deal about the history of proposals to colonize the Moon, Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System. While various works of fiction helped me learn how authors have addressed these proposals in the past (such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, et al.) there was also the theoretical work of scientists like Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, Freeman Dyson, Geoffrey A. Landis and others to draw upon.

Looking at this from a contemporary angle, I went with the idea that the main drivers behind off-world settlement will Climate Change and the accelerating pace of change brought about by the Technological Singularity (both of which are expected to culminate around the middle of this century). I also wanted to explore the long-term idea of terraforming, which was inspired by the Complete Guide to Terraforming series I was writing at the time.

This is where the hard part of hard science fiction came into play. In writing about colonies on Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (the Jovians and Cronians), I did my best to describe the settings based on what is actually known about these bodies. As for how people would live on them, that too needed to be dictated by what we know about their environments and surface conditions.

Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha. Credit: SpaceX

It was a fortunate coincidence that my day job happens to include writing about these very things. That way, when it came time to describe what it was like walking around on the surface of Mercury or Titan, or describing how Martian settlers lived on the planet over time, I had something solid to draw upon.

In short, The Cronian Incident owes its existence to my work here. It also owes its existence to Castrum Press, who published the book after the 18 months it took for me to write it (in the summer of 2017). It’s sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, was published a few months ago, and I plan to finish the series off with a third installment titled The Frost Line Fracture (which should be completed sometime in 2019).

So far, the reviews for the first two books have been quite encouraging. Of The Cronian Incident, Professor Abraham Loeb himself – the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science and the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University – said that it was “An exciting science fiction adventure into the technological future. An exhilarating read for scientists and fiction lovers alike.”

Artist’s impression of a possible lunar base. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Various reviewers who posted on Amazon have also had encouraging things to say:

“This was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time. Its universe is vast in scope, its plot full of intrigue, its characters delightfully well rounded with just the right mix of flaws and strengths.

“This story was a good read that sucked me in and kept me wondering. I particularly enjoyed the world building aspects, and the overarching storyline which is clearly going to continue in the next book.”

“I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further installments of the story.”

“Mr. Williams delivers an exciting tale in this story. It was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.”

The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy.”

The sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, has also been well-reviewed:

“I don’t think I’ve been so involved in a science fiction series since I read the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I snapped up a copy of The Jovian Manifesto as soon as possible, having immensely enjoyed The Cronian Incident when it first came out.”

It’s much faster paced than its predecessor and features some pretty awesome action scenes interspersed into a story involving a conspiracy and a plot to counter the conspiracy. There were also some great twists along the way, which I won’t give away here, and I really enjoyed the characters, who were diverse and well-developed.”

The Cronian Incident by Matt Williams. Credit: Castrum Press

So far, the settings have included a penal colony on Mercury, the floating cities of Venus, domed cities on Mars, a Martian space elevator, circular enclosures on Callisto, honeycombed settlements on Ganymede, settlements within the ice of Europa, and spartan domes on Titan. But before the series is complete, I hope to include descriptions of what life is like on Earth, the Moon, and in the Asteroid Belt in the future.

Beyond that, I also want to get into writing about interstellar travel, since that will give me a chance to explore the concepts and ideas we covered in our article, “How Long Would it Take to Get to the Nearest Star?” And, if all goes well, I would like to write about the greatest science fiction draw of all. You know what I’m talking about – Aliens! No spoilers, but that story arc could involve an idea introduced to me by Professor Abraham Loeb himself – hypervelocity stars that can carry their planets along for the ride!

But that’s all stuff for another day and another discussion. In the meantime, I hope people here will check out this series and enjoy what I wrote. If not, well that’s fine too. In addition to keeping up with the latest in space exploration and scientific research,  honest feedback is the only way I will continue to grow as a writer.

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been completely derelict when it comes to this challenge. But I hope to amend that by finishing it things up and acknowledging all the books that have inspired me in the past.

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for this latest entry, I would like to select the Singularity-themed sci-fi classic Accelerando, by Charles Stross.

Have you ever read a book that felt it came along at exactly the right time? Or one that spoke to you and your particular interests at the time? Well, this was one such book for me. Rather than being a single story, this book is actually a collection of shorts that Stross wrote during the early 2000s, but which were all connected by a common theme. Essentially, the six shorts tell the story of three generations of the Macx family, and take place before, during and after the Technological Singularity.

What I loved about this book is how it takes a look at the near-future and how the accelerated pace of technological innovation will make life very interesting (and complicated). It also speaks about several key innovations that are expected, ranging from AI, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), nanotechnology, neural uploads, and commercial space travel.

Looking at the more distant future, it shows how these trends will lead to a breakneck pace of change that will leave most of humanity struggling to remain human. It also throws is some truly interesting and entertaining bits about extra-terrestrial intelligence, a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, and humanity’s long-term destiny among the stars.

Basically, this book covered all the bases that I was voraciously trying to learn about at the time for the sake of my own writing. It made predictions, both realistic and fantastical, that just spoke to me. And what especially impressed was the way that Stross, writing these stories at a least decade prior to me reading them, predicted so many trends that were slowly coming true. As such, I consider this book to be both inspirational and quintessential to my more recent education as a science fiction writer.

Next up, I nominate Joachim Boaz and his blog, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations!

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

Hello again, all. First, please forgive my tardiness in posting this. It’s been a busy weekend and an even busier year! I shall try to catch up over the next few days, though I can’t imagine life is going to get any less busy in the near future. Even so, I got plenty more books to talk about that have had a profound effect on me and influenced my decision to become a writer.

But first, here are the rules of this challenge again!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Again, I would like to thank RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for day two of the challenge, I would like to select the book that taught people to take science fiction seriously – Dune!

dune

Much like Lord of the Rings, this timeless classic was one I learned about growing up, but didn’t get around to reading until my 20s. And just like with LOTR, once I did read it, I could see why its influence has been so pervasive. While Frank Herbert wrote many science fiction novels during his lifetime, none have had the same impact as the first installment in his six-book Dune series. And while I myself read all six twice, the first book is arguably the best.

For starters, the story involved one of the richest, most-inspired and most-detailed universes ever created in the history science fiction. Based on the concept of a galactic empire where politics, the economy and all social norms are essentially combination of the futuristic and medieval, the setting of Dune would go on to inspire Lucas’ Star Wars universe, not to mention countless other franchises that combine sci-fi with fantasy. What’s more, many of the planets in the novel have been formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as place names for features on the Moon and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But it was the complex interweaving of real history, religion, environmentalism, resource dependency, and cultural and social commentary that blew me away and has ensured that this book is likely to be included in any top ten lists of science fiction books that you can find – not to mention one of the top ten books people pretend to have read. And to round it all out, it has a very deep plot that examines the enduring mystery of prophets and messiahs in human history, and the paradox of prescience. As Frank Herbert himself wrote, “to know the future is to become trapped by it.”

I could go on and on, but I’ve already reviewed this book more than once and don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t, get on it!

And now it’s time for me to nominate someone new. And so I call upon Lady Muse herself, Khaalidah Mohammed Ali!

Almost Done!

Almost Done!

Hey all! I have more in the way of novel-writing news. For starters, The Cronian Incident is now just a few chapters short of completion. After over a year of writing, editing, and back and forth with my prospective-publisher, the novel is just about finished. All told, it is now 31 chapters long and just over 85,000 words in length. I anticipate it will be about 100,000 by the time its finished, though I have been known to exceed estimates in the past!

And as per my agreement with my publisher, I have begun working on its sequel. Apparently, publishers like to know the people they sign have more books in them. And they prefer to release sequels within a few months of the first book, to ensure that any buzz they generate with the first release can be capitalized on. Lucky for me I had plans for a second and third novel before my publisher and I started talking, not to mention some spin offs.

So here’s the commercial description for the proposed sequel (i.e. what you’d read on the back of the dust jacket), as well as a rundown on some other ideas I’m working on:

The Jovian Manifesto:

The Solar System is in the midst of a crisis. In the Jovian and Cronian systems, the populations are up in arms, thanks to an inflammatory document that has appeared on the local nets. Known as “The Jovian Manifesto”, this document details how a powerful faction in the Inner Solar System conspired to seize control over the moons of Callisto and Titan and forcibly alter them. Behind the leak is a mysterious personality known only as Clio, who is threatening to release all the details unless the guilty parties come forward.

Back on Venus, a former analyst named Valéria Gallego is called before the Solar Assembly to investigate the Manifesto and its author. In this, she is assisted by Kadera, an infiltration specialist who can get in and out of any location in the Solar System. If they can determine its authenticity, perhaps they can prevent open conflict. But if not, the Inner Worlds may have no choice but to send armed forces to the Outer Worlds to ensure peace and stability.

Meanwhile, a string of violent acts has threatened to bring things ever closer to the brink. For Gallego and all those who are seeking the truth, time is running out…

Luna Invictus:

Now this is a book that doesn’t come with a commercial description, just a general one. But it is set in the same universe as The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. Here’s what I am thinking. Basically, I wanted to do a story set on the Moon, ca. the 22nd century, when the Moon is now effectively colonized,,,

Between the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the Russians (Roscosmos), India (the ISRO), and China (CNSA), the lunar surface now has multiple permanent settlements. Whereas the ESA and NASA have established themselves at the southern polar region – in a domed settlement in the Shackleton Crater – and the Chinese have established a colony in the northern polar region, the Russians and Indians have claimed the mid-latitudes, where stable lava tubes have allowed for the creation of underground cities.

And on the “Dark Side” of the Moon – that is to say, the side looking away from Earth – are a series of installations known as the Unrestricted Zones. It is here that all kinds of weird research, development and experiments take place. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, and man-machine interface – anything goes in these places! Ever since the explosion in learning that took place during the previous century, places all over Earth and the Moon have become dedicated to pursuing technological progress and integration without restriction.

And it is here that a young man named Frankling Houte is seeking to go. Years ago, his sister – named Constant Houte – chose to undergo a procedure where her organic brain would be augmented by merging it with quantum components. But after all contact ceased, he is determined to find her and return her home. But whereas Franklin fancies himself a brave rescuer, it is his sister who will come to save him.

Transverse:

This story will take place entirely in a generation ship that is making its way towards the nearby star system. Within the confines of this self-contained world, thousands of humans have committed to waiting and working for generations as their massive ship – the Traverse Velocity, which in astronomical terms refers to the speed at which a star moves perpendicular to our line of sight – transports them to an Earth-like world outside of our Solar System.

The location of that world is up for grabs at the moment, mainly because new discoveries are being made all the time. Did you hear about the latest exoplanet discovery, located about 39 light years away and already said to be the “best place to look for signs of life beyond the Solar System”? Between that and new findings that claims how previous discoveries are not likely to be habitable after all, I’ve decided to leave the destination blank until I actually start writing it!

But of course, no story would be complete without some intrigue and big ol’ inciting event! And the way I see it, things begin to go awry when the Captain and crew get notification that one of the passengers has awakened from cryosleep prematurely and disappeared into the ship. Shortly thereafter, one of the crew is found dead in what appears to be a sabotage attempt gone wrong. A ship-wide search begins to find the culprit while the atmosphere quickly devolves into one of paranoia and suspicion.

To make matter worse, the crew becomes aware of another ship that is threatening to catch up and overtake them. It seems that another faction from the Solar System, which was also intent on settling (insert exoplanet here) is now trying to get their ahead of them. What began as a journey to a new world, characterized by hopes and dreams, has become a race to lay claim to a planet. And it appears that the planet may have inhabitants of its own, ones which are not interested in welcoming the intruders.

Updates, Complications, and the Ongoing Struggle to get S#%* Done!

Updates, Complications, and the Ongoing Struggle to get S#%* Done!

Hey everybody. I know that these days, I have a tendency to post only occasional updates on my blog these days. Hopefully that is something that will change in the near future. But one of the upsides of this is that I always have plenty of news to share when I DO post.

Speaking of which, a LOT has happened in the past few months. For one, I’ve been sick January, which means that I’ve been sick for about seven weeks straight now. This has to be the longest bout of flu that I’ve ever suffered from. And I tell ya, it really sucks! An upside to this is the fact that I’ve severely curtailed my alcohol and sugar consumption. This has been great for my health, though I’ve also missed a lot of exercise because I’ve been too tired and stuffy to train or hit the gym. Life always seems to make you compromise, huh?

Next, on January 21st, I had some really good news. After months of back and forth with my prospective publisher (Tickety Boo Press), I finally got a chance to have a face-to-face with the acquiring editor. Well, it was on Skype, but that counts these days! After talking about edits, he said that the company would like to sign me for a three book deal and a short story! However, about a week later, the same man sent out a mass email saying he quit the press over creative differences. This meant that guys like me (who had not signed a contract yet) needed to scramble to make sure we still had a deal.

Luckily, I managed to talk to the senior editor over at Tickety Boo and learned that I still had a spot in their 2017 catalog. Unfortunately, I still had to forward this man the latest copy of the five chapter treatment of my manuscript and wait for his thoughts on it. After weeks of waiting, he informed me the other day that they had a new acquiring editor for their SF division, so I now had someone who I could contact and who would be able to promptly get back to me.

On that same front, I am almost finished the manuscript for The Cronian Incident. After a lot of revising, merging, snipping and editing, I now have a 30+ chapter story that should be about 90,000 words once its all done. Just a few chapters to go, and I can begin making final edits and revisions before sending the whole thing off to the publisher. That is a huge relief, I tell you! After working this idea in my head for over a year, it feels good to finally be getting it all down on paper.

Let’s see… other news. Oh yeah, in the past few months, I also got do so something really cool for my job. This consisted of my participating in NASA call-in briefing, which I did on two occasions. The first occasion took place early in January, when NASA was announcing their latest Discovery missions. One is known as the Lucy mission, which will examine Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids to learn more about the formation of the early Solar System. The other, known as Psyche, will be exploring an asteroid in the Main Belt that is made entirely of metal. It is believed that this is actually the core remnant of a Mars-sized planet that lost its mantle after colliding with other massive objects.

Psyche proposal.jpg

The fun part happened during the phone-in portion, where we got to ask the Principal Investigators of each mission questions. Since I had written about the Psyche mission in the past, I decided to nut-up and ask a question. It took me some time to come up with something I thought was half-way intelligent, but finally called in. It came to me when she said that the mission could help shed light on how metallic cores  generated planetary magnetic fields (which is the current scientific consensus).

Addressing Psyche’s PI, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, I asked if studying this core’s magnetic environment could help teach us why Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago. Since this caused it to lose its atmosphere, thus becoming a cold, desiccated world which no longer could support rivers, lakes and oceans, learning more about how cores generate magnetic fields could help us to locate habitable worlds in the future.

She acknowledged that it was a good question, and that she really wasn’t sure. But she said they hoped that their study of Psyche could help shed light on questions like this in the future and they would have to see what they found. Suffice it to say, I was very pleased with myself! Rather than laughing at me or answering in such a way that told me that my question was brain-dead, she seemed genuinely impressed with the question and hoped that they could answer it some day.

5_lineup_pia21422-png

The second call-in happened towards the end of February. My boss told me NASA had some huge news to announced of an exoplanet-hunting nature and gave me the job of calling in. So I did, and got to hear firsthand about the discovery of seven exoplanets around the same star – TRAPPIST-1 – and how three of them are not only comparable in size to Earth, but orbit within the star’s habitable zone.

Naturally, this was very exciting news! This time, rather than stick around for question period, I hung up almost immediately after the announcement was finished and began writing about it furiously. It was both fun and a real privilege to be the one to break this story for our publication. And the hits were pretty mad!

That’s about it, I think. It’s been a busy post-holiday wrap up. And now that we are getting into Spring, I am happily looking forward to a few things. And I hope to be able to convey some of them as they happen, rather than months after the fact! Thanks for reading 🙂

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Hello, everyone. As usual, I feel obliged to share some good news of the milestone-hitting variety. As the title makes abundantly clear, I’ve completed the third part in my upcoming novel, The Cronian Incident. Yes, thanks to my somewhat less than tireless efforts over the course of the past few months, this story is now three-fourths complete, and officially stands at thirty chapters and 60,000 words in length. And it’s been quite the ride so far.

Since I stopped daydreaming about (and bothering people with) this idea and began putting words to paper, I have managed to bang out the better part of a story that involves our Solar System in the late 23rd century, colonization, terraforming, and the future of humanity. And in the course of this, I’ve had to create and detail settings for Mercury, Mars, and the Jovian moon Callisto, and fill in bits of pieces on culture, history and other assorted aspects of background to boot.

Much of this has to do with setting the tone of the late 23rd century. The way I see it, humanity has passed through two major cataclysms at this point, both of which took place in the 21st century. The first was the Climate Crisis, where all over the world, economies began to collapse as drought, crop failure, and warfare led to the displacement of millions of people.

Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL
Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL

The second occurred shortly thereafter, when all around the world, the technological progress that has been building up since the Paleolithic exploded in a quantum leap of learning and accelerated change. Within decades, the Climate Crises began to abate, and a new world characterized by runaway change began to take over. And at about the same time, a renewed Space Age set in as humans began to migrate to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond.

And after about a century and a half of all that, the human race has now colonized the majority of the Solar System. Between Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s moons, and of course, Earth and its millions of orbital habitats, the human race now stands at a hefty 15 billion. And across this vast interplanetary dominion, a massive economy has taken root that is beyond scarcity and want.

But there are no shortages of intrigue thanks to the forces that have shaped this new age. While the inner Solar System is populated by people who have embraced the Singularity, transhumanism, posthumanism, and runaway progress, the outer Solar System has become a new home for people looking to escape this pace of life and maintain a simpler existence. And in time, the disappearance of one person will force everyone – be they in the inner or outer worlds – to sit up and take notice.

jupiter_moons
Jupiter’s larger (Galilean) moons, Callisot, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA

I tell you, it’s been tiring process, getting this far. And at one point, I did declare that I had OD’d on writing about setting and world building. I mean, how can you dedicate 20,000 words to detailing a place, making it as vivid as possible for the reader, and then just switch to another? Screw plot necessity, it’s like abandoning an idea half-way! And I still have the all important one – the Cronian moon Titan – to cover.

But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t also been fun and that it wouldn’t be so tiring if I weren’t’ completely emotionally invested in it. And (spoiler alert!) that is where things should be the most interesting. As is usually the case, Part I through III of this four-part story have been all about establishing character, background, a sense of space and place, and introducing the various elements that drive the plot.

But in Part IV, I will not only get to write about a particularly intriguing place – Titan; capital city Huygens; dense nitrogen-methane atmosphere; principle industries, methane and ammonia harvesting; principle activities, sailing on methane lakes and gliding in low-g, cruising for action in its Yellow Light District and political dissent – but I’ll also be getting into the real heart of the plot, the mystery of the disappearing Dr. Lee!

Callisto_base
A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

In the coming months, I hope to have part IV, fully edited, and in a position to be published. While it remains unclear just what form that will take – the old submission to a publishing house route, or via an independent publisher – I know that some really amazing friends and colleagues will be there to cheer it on. Hell, some of them actually read this blog, for some reason. So if you’re reading this now, then I thank you for sticking with me thus far! 🙂

The Cronian Incident – Factions in the Future

 

future_city
Future City [3] by josueperez79 at deviantart.com
Hi again folks! I’m back with some thoughts from my most recent story project – The Jovian Incident. I know, what else is new, right? Writing can be a self-indulgent process. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that sharing helps when it comes to developing a story. It helps you articulate your thinking and ideas, especially if respected peers tell you what they think (hint, hint!)

As I also learned a long time ago, any science fiction piece that deals with the distant future has to take into account how human beings in the future go about organizing themselves. In this future world, what are the political blocs, the alliances, the rivalries – the ways in which people are united and divided? Well, I gave that a lot of thought before sitting down to pen the book (which is into chapter 11 now). And this is the basic breakdown I came up with.

Extro Factions:
For starters, people in the future I am envisioning are tentatively divided into those that live in the inner and outer Solar Systems. But that geographic divide is merely representative of a much bigger issue that divides humanity. Whereas the people living on Earth, Mars and Venus largely fall into the category of “Extro” (i.e. Extropian, people who embrace the transhuman ethic) people in the outer Solar System live simpler, less augmented and enhanced lives (“Retro”).

But within this crude division between people who believe in going beyond their biological limitations and those who believe in respecting them, there are plenty of different social, political and ideological groups to be found. Here’s a rundown on them, starting with the Extro factions…

The Formists:
Founded by Piter Chandrasekhar, one of the first colonists of Mars, the Formists are a faction dedicated to the full-scale terraforming of the Red Planet. The purpose of this, obviously, is to allow for full-scale colonization, which is something that remains impossible at this point in the story. All inhabitants on Mars lived in sealed domes, all transit takes place in pressurized tubes or on flyers, and anyone venturing out onto the surface is forced to wear a pressure suit with life-support systems.

Mars_terraforming
Mars Terraformed by Daein Ballard

Currently, the Formist faction is run by Emile Chandrasekhar, Piter’s grandson. And for the past few decades, they have been busy procuring resources from the outer Solar System to aid in the terraforming process. This includes supplies of methane, ammonia, ices, and lots and lots of comets.

However, they are also busy trying to ensure that the process will have a minimal impact on the settlements and those living within them. Altering the planet’s atmosphere will definitely have a significant impact on the landscape in the short-term, such as sublimating all the water ice in the Martian soil and in the polar caps. Once that water begins to flow, much of the surface will find itself being swallowed up by newly-created oceans. So naturally, the Formists must proceed slowly, and make sure all settlements on Mars agree to their plans.

While the Formist faction is largely centered on Mars, they have counterparts on Venus as well – known as The Graces (after the children of Aphrodite). Here, the process is significantly different, and involves converting the existing atmosphere rather than increasing its density. But the goal is the same: to one day make Venus a living, breathing world human beings can set foot on.

The Dysonists:
Among the Extros, there are also those who believe humanity’s future lies not in the stars or in the terraforming the Solar System’s planets, but in the space that surrounds our Sun. They are known as the Dysonists, a faction that is intent on building a massive swarm of structures in the inner Solar System. For some, this calls for a series of rings which house the inhabitants on their inner surface and provide gravity through endless rotation.

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This artist’s concept of a Dyson sphere is via SentientDevelopments.com

For other, more ambitious Dysonists, the plan involves massive swarms of computronium that will contain a sea of uploaded personalities living in simulated environments. Both the swarms and the powerful bandwidth that connects them will draw energy from the Sun’s rays. These individuals consider themselves to be the more puritan of Dysonists, and believe those who advocate buildings rings structures are more properly known as Nivenists.

The process of converting all the “dumb matter” in the Solar System into smart matter has already begun, but in limited form. Within a few generations, it is believed that the Sun will be surrounded by a “Torus” of uploaded minds that will live on while countless generations come and go. Dysonists and their enclaves can be found on Near-Earth Asteroids, in the Main Asteroid Belt, and with committed supporters living on Venus, Mars, Earth, the Moon, and Ceres.

The Habitationists:
Inspired by Gerard K. O’Neill, the inventor of the O’Neill Cylinder, the Habitationists began as an architects dream that quickly expanded to fill all of known space. In the 21st century, Earthers looking to escape the growing population crisis began migrating to space. But rather than looking to live on distant worlds or the Moon, where the environment was harsh and the gravity limited, they decided to set up shop in orbit. Here, supplies could be shipped regularly, thanks to the advent of commercial aerospace, and gravity could be simulated at a full g thanks to rotating toruses.

By the mid 22nd century, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Habs had become all the rage and the skies became somewhat saturated. The existence of Earth’s space elevator (The Spindle) only made deploying and supplying these Habs easier, and a steady drop in the costs of manufacturing and deploying them only made them more popular. As such, Terran architect Hassan Sarawak, who had designed many of the original habitats in space, began to busy himself designing a new series of Habs that would allow human beings to live in space anywhere in the Solar System.

Lightfarm Studios
Artistic impression of the inside of an O’Neil Cylinder. Lightfarm Studios

By the end of the 22nd century, when the story takes place, large cylinders exist in several key places in the Solar System. Most are named in honor of either their founders, those who articulated the concept of space habitats, or those who believed in the dream of colonizing space itself (and not just other planets and moons).  These places are thusly named O’Neil’s Reach, Clarkestown, Sawarakand, and New Standford.

The Seedlings:
As the name would suggest, the Seedlings are those intrepid Extropians who believe humanity should “seed” the galaxy with humanity, spreading to all solar systems that have confirmed exoplanets and building settlements there. But in a slight twist, they believe that this process should be done using the latest in nanotechnology and space penetrators, not slow interstellar ships ferrying human colonist and terraformers.

To the Seedlings, who can be found throughout the inner Solar System, and on some of its most distant moons, the idea is simple. Load up a tiny projectile-ship with billions of nanobots designed to slowly convert a planet’s climate, then fire it on a trajectory that will take it to an exoplanet many generations from now. Then, prepare a ship with colonists, send it on its merry way into space, and by the time they reach the distant world, it will be fully prepared for their arrival.

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At this point in the story, the Seedlings first few missions are still in the planning stages. They’ve got the technology, they’ve got the know-how, and they know where the right candidate planets are located. All they need to do know is test out their machines and make sure the process works, so that they won’t be sending their colonists into a deathtrap.

Sidenote: this idea is actually one I explored in a short story I am trying to get published. If all goes well, I am the short story and this full-length idea can be connected as part of a singular narrative.

Retro Factions:
And now we come to the people who live predominantly in the outer Solar System, the folks who found life on Earth and the inner worlds unlivable thanks to its breakneck pace and the fact that life was becoming far too complicated. These are the people whom – for religious, personal, or moral reasons – chose to live on the frontier worlds in order to ensure something other than humanity’s survival as a species. For these people, it was about preserving humanity’s soul.

Organics:
In the mid to late 21st century, as biotech and cybernetics became an increasingly prevalent part of society, a divide began to emerge between people who enhanced their biology and neurology and those who did not. While the former were in the minority for the first few decades, by the latter half of the 21st century, more and more people began to become, in essence, “transhuman” – (i.e. more than human).

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Cyber Girl by Fausto De Martini

At the same time, fears and concerns began to emerge that humanity was forsaking the very things that made it human. With lives becoming artificially prolonged, human parts being swapped for bionic or biomimetic implants, and brains becoming enhanced with neural implants and “looms”, humanity seemed on course to becoming post-human (i.e. not human at all).

And while the concerns were justified, few who could afford such enhancements seemed to be willing to forsake the convenience and necessity they represented. In a world where they conferred advantage over the unenhanced, choosing not to augment one’s body and mind seemed foolish. But between those who could not afford to, those who were forbidden to, and those who chose not to, eventually a new underclass emerged – known as “Organics”.

Today’s organics, who live predominantly in the outer Solar System or isolated pockets in the inner worlds, are the descendants of these people. They live a simpler life, eschewing most of the current technology in favor for a more holistic existence, depending on various levels of technology to maintain a certain balance.

Fundies:
Naturally, human beings in the late 22nd century still have their faiths and creeds.  Despite what some said in previous centuries, mankind did not outgrow the need for religion as it began to explore space and colonizing new worlds. And when the Singularity took place in the mid 21st century, and life became increasingly complex, enhanced, and technologically-dominated, the world’s religiously-devout began to feel paradoxical. On the one hand, religion seemed to be getting more unpopular and obsolete; but at the same time, more rare and precious.

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To be fair, there was a time when it seemed as though the prediction of a religion-less humanity might come true. In the early to mid 21st century, organized religion was in a noticeable state of decline. Religious institutions found it harder and harder to adapt to the times, and the world’s devout appeared to be getting increasingly radicalized. However, in and around all of these observable trends, there were countless people who clung to their faith and their humanity because they feared where the future was taking them.

In the current era, the outer Solar System has become a haven for many sects and religious organizations that felt the Inner Worlds were too intolerant of their beliefs. While there will always be people who embrace one sort of faith or another on all worlds – for instance, billions of Extros identify as Gnosi or Monist – the majority of devout Kristos, Sindhus, Mahavadans, Mahomets, and Judahs now call the worlds of Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, Tethys, Titania, Oberon, Ariel and Umbriel home.

The vast majority of these people want to live in peace. But for some, the encroachment of the Inner Worlds into the life and economies of their moons is something that must be stopped. They believe, as many do, that sooner or later, the Extro factions will try to overtake these worlds as well, and that they will either be forced to move farther out, colonizing the moons of Neptune and the Kuiper Belt, or find homes in new star systems entirely. As such, some are joining causes that are dedicated to pushing back against this intrusion…

Chauvians (Independents):
Many in the past also thought that nationalism, that sense of pride that is as divisive as it is unifying, would also have disappeared by this point in time. And while humanity did begin to celebrate a newfound sense of unity by the late 21st century, the colonizing of new worlds had the effect of creating new identities that were bound to a specific space and place. And given the divisive political climate that exists in the late 22nd century, it was only natural that many people in the Outer Worlds began preaching a form of independent nationalism in the hopes of rallying their people.

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Collectively, such people are known as “Chauvians“, a slight bastardization of the word “Jovian” (which applies to inhabitants of any of the outer Solar System’s moons). But to others, they are known simply as Independents, people striving to ensure their worlds remain free of external control. And to those belonging to these factions, their worlds and their people are endangered and something must be done to stop the intrusion of Extros into the outer Solar System. For the most part, their methods are passive, informative, and strictly political. But for others, extra-legal means, even violent means, are seen as necessary.

Examples include the Children of Jove and the Aquilan Front, which are native to the Galilean moons of Jupiter. On the Cronian moons, the Centimanes are the main front agitating for action against the Extros. And on the Uranian moons, the organizations known as The Furies and the Sky Children are the forces to be reckoned with. Whereas the more-moderate of these factions are suspected of being behind numerous protests, riots, and organized strikes, the radicals are believed to be behind the disappearance of several Extro citizens who went missing in the Outer Worlds. In time, it is believed that a confrontation will occur between these groups and the local authorities, with everyone else being caught in the middle.


And those are the relevant players in this story I’m working out. Hope you like them, because a few come into play in the first story and the rest I think could become central to the plots of any future works in the same universe. Let me know what you think! 🙂