Monday, 23 July 2012

Post-Maurai Space Travel?

After the Maurai, will there be space travel? (The space travelling Kith who share the title of Poul Anderson's collection Maurai And Kith exist in an alternative future.) Yes, Orion shall rise and yes, there will be Star Masters, although these predictions seem to apply to alternative post-Maurai futures. In one sequel to the Maurai series and in an Author's Note to a second, Anderson adequately accounts for any inconsistencies with the original series.

Several Anderson characters, including some in the Maurai series, express a wish not only to traverse space but even to travel to the stars. Why? Decades ago, I felt embarrassed when an American teacher (a Trekkie?) addressing a World Science Fiction Convention, tried to express optimism about the human condition by proclaiming, "We're going to the stars!" Are we? Not yet. But why should we and what would we do on arrival?

Earth is the only place in the universe where we do not need to be protected from everything outside our own skins. Even here, in most climates, we need clothing, shelter and heating. Of course, we have spread across the globe, changing local environments to suit our needs and also adapting ourselves, even changing skin colour in the Northern Hemisphere. This process will continue and need not be confined to Earth.

On the other hand, a planet on which humanity has not evolved, ie, any planet other than Earth, will not be a new North America or Australia and its inhabitants, if any, are unlikely to be either remotely humanoid or humanly comprehensible. I agree that there are compelling reasons to get some human beings off Earth and out into the Solar System in self-sustaining habitats but that means taking our environment with us, not traversing interstellar distances hoping to find that environment duplicated elsewhere.

We can observe and study the universe from any point within it, from here as well as from there. I agree that we will learn more if we can travel further and that this should be done if possible. What Anderson's characters really mean about going to the stars is that we should accept no physical or mental limits to our activities and I agree with this completely.

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