Saturday, 10 August 2013


In Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History, characters sometimes wish that hyper-spatial pulses could be modulated to send messages further than a light year. In Anderson's For Love And Glory (New York, 2003), longer distance hyperbeaming is possible but:

"Not for the first time, Lissa wished quantum encryption had been made to work for transluminal communication." (p. 63)

So people are always aware of limits to their technology.

Lissa negotiates with a Susaian -

long, red body;
four short legs;
long curving tail;
two three-fingered hands;
long, swaying neck;
individuals alternating between male and female;
sometimes disparaged as "'...lizards...'" by human beings (p. 183).

In the planetary system of the star Sunniva, the third planet, Asborg, is Earth-like whereas the second, Freydis, is hot and cloudy with a surface of swamps and deserts, as Venus was sometimes imagined. Human beings have colonized Asborg and own land on Freydis where they sell the large island of New Halla to the Susaian Old Truthers, a persecuted group wanting a new start.

On Freydis, only the worldwide forest maintains liquid-water temperatures. If the Susaian population, expanding from its island, reduces the forest, then there will be runaway greenhouse effect:

increased atmospheric carbon dioxide will trap more solar energy;
rising temperatures will evaporate water;
water vapour will also trap more solar energy;
there will be drought, fires and spreading deserts;
species will die;
oxygen and nitrogen, no longer renewed by life, will become locked in minerals;
oceans will boil;
ultraviolet will split rising water molecules with hydrogen escaping into space and oxygen being imprisoned in rocks;
result, "..a searing hell..." (p. 205).

Meanwhile, however, economics clashes with ecology:

the expanding Susaian population will be a growing market for Asborgians who had previously failed to make Freydis profitable;
serious ecological trouble is not extrapolated for another five centuries;
the planet's albedo will be increased, thus mass extinctions prevented, by orbiting a cloud of reflective particles, by reducing sunlight with a giant reflective mirror at the L2 point or by other expensive space-based technology;
however, the planet will then be covered with cities, machines and gene-engineered plantations;
also, with regular rejuvenations, Asborgians expect to be alive five centuries hence so this is not a problem to be consigned to a remote future.

Meanwhile, a human-owned company, Venusberg Enterprises, accelerates environmental destruction by mining, pumping, refining, synthesizing and lumbering with robotics and nanotech in order to sell locally produced housing, tools, vehicles, robots, factories and chemical plants to the Susaians. The alternative, requiring much research, would be gene-modification, leading to:

mineral-extracting and -refining microbes;
soil-grown buildings;
food, fiber and chemicals from the forests, not from farms or factories.

Having so far read only as far as p. 216, of 300, I do not know the outcome. Nor do I yet know how the issues of the Foreunners or of the black hole collision will be tied together. But I do pause at this point to appreciate the enormity of the ecological/economic conflict that Anderson imagined for the planets Asborg and Freydis, whose names recall Asgard and Freya. I have had to reread several chapters carefully in order to extract the relevant details. Maybe someone better versed in the appropriate sciences would be able to scan through the text once and summarize its content but others, while appreciating Anderson's ability to create fiction from science, need to work at the text in order to get the full benefit from words that are deceptively full of and charged with significance.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

While, of course, we don't know what changes in technology and scientific research will bring, such as (I hope) a FTL drive, I am rather skeptical that a FTL version of radio and TV will ever be found. Which means I lean more to what we see in the Technic Civilization series: that modulations of a hyperdrive to transmit messages will be practical up to a light year's distance, but then damps out to uselessness. Which is why we see couriers and ordinary mail services being used.

The would be usurper, Edwin Cairncross, did speculate in A STONE IN HEAVEN that it might be possible to discover or make a cheap system of "hyper relays" transferring messages at, say, slightly less than a lightyear's distance from each other. The chief drawbacks being the sheer numbers and thus costs of such a relay system. Hmmm, such a relay system might still be worth thinking about, despite the costs.