Sunday, October 18, 2020

News From Venus


 

 Not being a fan of Russia or anything else associated with those assholes, I cynically laughed a few weeks back when the chief of the Russian space program staked a claim on the planet Venus. It's just another in a long list of nationalistic posturings by Russia wanting to bolster its confidence and global street cred. For example a few years back guys in a deep diving Russian submersible planted a tiny version of their national flag on the seafloor directly under the North Pole ice sheet. The Russian press release went on about that accomplishment being equal setting foot on the moon.

“We think that Venus is a Russian planet, so we shouldn't lag behind.” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space corporation, Rocosmos said about an upcoming mission to the hellhole planet. Why the love of a planet encased in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide where it rains sulfuric acid and the surface temperature can melt lead?

Well giving the devil its due, Russia is the only country that landed a working probe on the surface and was able to take pictures. Now the downside is also true in that Russia is batting next to zero getting any of their other probes to Mars, a much more interesting and “habitable” place. And while they did get some impressive firsts in the early days of manned space flight, their plans to get to the moon literally blew up on the launchpad so many times, the Soviets pulled a Chernobyl-level classification on their efforts that lasted to well after the fall of communism. So “claiming” Venus sort of makes sense for a people who have only limited success beyond the moon and never left eighteenth-century imperialism behind.

Understand I'm not here to cast shade on the Russians. Truth be told I find Americans almost as equally obnoxious and ignorant with the United States only saving grace being that we haven't quite fallen into the authoritarian trap Russian finds itself. There's still a chance we Americans could pull our collective heads out of our asses and and be decent citizens of this planet.

Given the conditions on Venus my interest in the planet was pretty nonexistent. Now there is talk among planetary science types that as “recently” as seven-hundred-million years ago Venus might have had Earth-like conditions including oceans of liquid water. But something went sideways and its atmosphere became increasingly warmed by the greenhouse effect to the point global temperatures went critical and the water boiled away.

Over the decades a bunch of science fiction authors have wrote about terraforming the planet back to something livable. But to the best of my meager knowledge most scientific estimates of the Goldilocks Zone -the region of the solar system where liquid water could exist under certain conditions- puts Venus beyond the inner edge. Meaning to me at least that Venus is a total write off for manned exploration and settlement.

Well, shit got weird on September 14 of this year when scientists at two different radio telescope sites detected the compound phosphine in Venus's atmosphere about fifty-five kilometers above the surface. Turns out phosphine is a possible signature of life on other planets because anaerobic bacteria here on Earth produce phosphine as part of their biological processes.

In short, anaerobic organisms do NOT require oxygen for growth and may react negatively to the presence of it in their environment. Which is good for any possible bacteria-like organisms floating high up in the atmosphere of Venus because the planet has only tiny trace amounts. No, anaerobic bacteria are not some speculative or rare lifeform, in fact humans have quite of lot of the little buggers living in their gastrointestinal tract. When they get uppity humans can develop such illnesses at appendicitis, diverticulitis, or perforations of the bowel.

For the unenlightened individuals among us who like border walls, they're may be potentially alien invaders living in your gut. Let's see your deranged orange messiah build a wall and deport them back to their shithole birthplace.

Back on a serious note, the reason the astrobiology types are even mentioning anaerobic processes being responsible for the presence of phosphine is because Venus's harsh environment would normally break it apart. So some source is obviously replenishing the phosphine and while here on Earth that would mean bacteria, the possibility of it being something other than life can't be ruled out. However, we have no idea what non-biological process might account for the supply of phosphine. Obviously, further observations and even mission to Venus will be required to determine what exactly is going on in the clouds of Venus.

Going back to the days when the conditions on Venus was discovered, serious science types speculated even then about lifeforms floating in the clouds well above the hellish regions close to the surface. Somewhere around fifty-five kilometers above the surface of the planet temperatures fall to more livable levels. The sulfuric acid rain Venus is also famous for occurs below that level as well.

So incredibly, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that we could have a complex biosphere in the clouds of Venus. One scientist even speculated about jellyfish-like creatures lazily drifting in wind doing their own jellyfish-like things.

It also has to be mentioned that given the relative closeness of Venus, and Mars for that matter, any life found on those planets could have originated any of the others. That goes for Earth as well, meaning that life here might have sprung up on the other two and due to a volcanic eruption or massive impact threw life-bearing rocks into space that eventually fell to the surface. From there that primitive life did what all life does and eat, reproduce, and spread out.

Venus is not the only planet in our solar system where life might be floating in the clouds. In Carl Sagan's original Cosmos television series back in the 1980s, he speculated on lifeforms living in the clouds of Jupiter. But I believe he admitted that such a thing was highly unlikely given the chaotic and harsh conditions believed to exist in that environment.

More to the point back in the 1980s, the most accepted opinion was that the rest of our solar system was completely devoid of life. Since then there is considerable evidence to suggest that the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the underground regions of Mars, and now Venus have a strong chance to harbor lifeforms. If I had my way, and a couple of trillion dollars within easy reach, we would be finding out as fast as possible. 

 

Sources:

"Venus is a Russian Planet-- Say the Russians"

CNN.com September 18, 2020

"Life on Venus? Scientists Hunt for the Truth" 

Nature.com October 2, 2020 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Latter-Day Prometheus - See Fan Fiction

 


From space the Earth looks beautiful, the blue of the oceans the green of the forests and the browns of the deserts all teem with life. But I find myself circling the world of my birth seeing it as a graveyard. I arrived home to find the greater mass of humanity having been killed in a plague that my instruments and sensors tell me happened over six-hundred years ago after my recruitment into the Cohort.

From a population that must have peaked at over eight-billion human souls before the plague, my sensors say there is only a little under ninety-million people now scratching out a near neolithic existence on the surface. After analyzing my findings, the simulations I've run suggest that the human population more than likely dropped to around two-million at its lowest point.

I came home believing I'd find my species having expanded out into the solar system. That given what the Cohort had judged as Homo sapiens probable technological growth rate, that humanity by now should have primitive starships running between the Sol system and several of the nearby stars with planets that could easily be colonized.

Instead, I find my species on the edge of extinction with no way to protect itself from what fate or circumstance might throw their way. Any number of events could occur and end all hopes for humanity eventually reaching its potential.

My Cohort training comes into effect and I send dozens of sensor pods down to the surface to try and find out what happened. As the pods descend into the atmosphere, they release billions of tiny sensors no bigger than motes of dust. These instruments would float on the wind and embed themselves on anything they touched. This included all living things and especially human bodies. In the span of days I would have a comprehensive genetic analysis on everything living.

The results come back as expected but they are horrifying nonetheless. It was a virus that destroyed civilization by killing billions all across the planet. No surprise there, but what was unexpected was that of those very few that survived the initial outbreak it burned out the visual centers of their brains leaving them blind. Worse yet, the virus was still active and is passed from mother to child. Except for the possible but rare mutant immune to the virus, the entire human race on Earth is totally blind.

The sensor dust I released is also able to record video and audio signals. With that data I am able to determine that a sight-less culture has naturally emerged among the various survivor communities. Something that could easily be predicted but the as with everything else involving my species it gets complicated. In all these blind cultures the very concept of sight is something akin to myth. In others, namely the North American continent, the blindness is considered a punishment from God for Man's sins.

From this video and audio data, I learn that fanatical groups of religious zealots scour the countryside looking people who might be sighted. The similarities to hunting for witches in North America and Europe are haunting. My sensors collect video of people having been burned at the stake.

Curing this virus-imposed blindness isn't a problem, my medical systems can analyze and develop a safe cure in a few weeks. Synthesizing the counter-virus and deploying it across the planet could be done with the dust sensors. Adults humans wouldn't regain their sight, but young children and everyone born after deployment of the cure would would be able to see.

The problem is all these blind cultures, especially the religious ones. Thousands would die at the hands of the fearful believers in God's wrath, especially the children born to sight.

It is a conundrum my Cohort mentor, Janai, would find funny in a cosmic way. It reminds me of a situation we found ourselves in just a few years ago in another part of the galaxy.

***

Janai found me on the shore of one of the lakes of liquid mercury the Sgrang use to breed their young. The Sgrang are a species composed largely of mercury and other elements housed in a silicon/carbon matrix and require exacting conditions for successful reproduction. Out of trillions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, their home world was incredibly unique. It had evolved a hydrogen/nitrogen atmosphere, something quite rare by itself, but what really set it apart was its geology. The planet was improbably rich in heavy metals all the way up to uranium and other heavy elements that didn't exist on Earth.

The evolution of life on the Sgrang home world took advantage of both the heavy metals and its above average vulcanism. So much that when the Sgrang realized one of their neighboring stars would go supernova they called for the Cohort to help them find another planet to live. The coming supernova, less than three lightyears away, would utterly sterilize their world.

The conditions on the Sgrang home world didn't allow either Janai nor myself to set foot on the surface. The Cohort had environmental suits that could stand the incredible pressure and heat, but it simply wasn't worth the risk. Instead our minds were linked to mechanical avatars allowing us to interact with the Sgrang. Beings that looked like stone caterpillars with spikes of clear crystals for eyes covering their bodies.

“Has the council come up with any ideas on where the Sgrang can go?” I ask after turning towards the ridiculous looking mechanical cephalopod standing beside my equally weird looking humanoid form.

Despite her extremely alien shape, both mechanical on the surface and biological up on the orbiting starship Janai chuckles just like a human. “The council is dumbfounded, twenty-million worlds extensively cataloged in this section of the galaxy alone and none meet the requirements. The planetary vulcanism isn't a problem, it's the Sgrang elemental composition. None of the known worlds have quite the exact composition, most have too little of the heavier elements. Too much and the young Sgrang emerge from the lakes of mercury without the normal mental capacity.”

“Has the ship contacted the Cohort Motherbases, maybe one of the central libraries knows of worlds in the one of the smaller satellite galaxies like the Large Magellanic Cloud or even all the way to Andromeda?” I ask my mentor as I watch Janai dip one of her ten tentacles in the mercury lake.

Unlike the fictional interstellar governments from the science fiction I read and watched on Earth, the Cohort is not based inside the galaxy. The Cohort mainly existed on gigantic bases built out in the intergalactic void. Most advanced intelligent species consider galaxies insanely dangerous places with all sorts of disasters ready to befall any lifeforms unwilling to think beyond the surface of their home mud balls.

Membership in the Cohort, something humans would not be ready for probably a millennium, required a mass relocation to one of those bases. The benefits included technology originally developed by the Elder Races and exposure of cultures of hundreds of other species. Living condition are idyllic on the residential Dyson Spheres with the extremes of planetary weather carefully controlled. Plus each member species gets living space of about the surface area of ten Earths. As long as the members behave like rational beings and control their numbers, everyone get along quite well. Plus evacuating the planetary home worlds gives evolution a chance to proceed allowing near intelligent-species to make the jump to full sentience.

After a long silence Janai finally gives her answer. “ The council is purposing a different solution.”

“What other solution is there besides seeding the Sgrang on another world?”

“Ah, my young protege, you need to stop thinking so three dimensional.” Jania says in her soft voice that usually means I'm about to get a lecture.

After she tells me her answer it is my turn to be dumbfounded. What the council wants to do violates everything I understood to be right and wrong. Janai reminds me that to be a successful Cohort diplomat I have to reserve the right to change the rules of any game I find myself playing.

I protest, but being the only hairless primate from an insanely primitive planet in the Cohort, I am ignored. At least Janai sees fit to give me several decades to think about the situation. After all, the Sgrang are vital to the science of thirty dimensional physics.

Several days later, Janai is at the main hangar of our starship to see me off for my sabbatical. “Where will you go Jacob Reese?” She asks obviously worried over her sad protege.

“Probably Earth, my dumbass people should well off the planet by now. Who knows, maybe they've crossed the threshold point for initial contact.”

“Remember Jacob,” she says stroking the hair on my head with one of her real tentacles like any concerned mother, “the universe loves to play practical jokes that cross all of spacetime.”

***

That memory occurs to me as I run the simulations on my ship's main computer. Despite my ship's small size the hyperdrive it uses to cross interstellar space is no different from much larger cousins. Instead of using it to cross distance though, I am forced by the situation on Earth to consider crossing time.

Deploying further dust sensors on Earth allowed me to access century old records sitting on the hardrives of ancient computers rusting away in forgotten facilities. This has allowed me to narrow down the year and month the plague first emerged.

The main purpose for the Cohort's existence has always been to reduce suffering among intelligent species and promote the expansion of life and civilization. And in the case of the Sqrang, that even means going back in time and altering their biochemical evolution just enough so that one of the cataloged worlds meets their requirements.

The science of temporal adaptation is what the Cohort calls it. Being that the Cohort is over two-hundred millions years old means they have plenty of experience in closed-loop time travel.

I am still uncertain though, if I alter time and prevent the plague from occurring I will effectively kill millions of people dooming them to a form of oblivion incomprehensible to most thinking beings. On the other hand, if I introduced the cure now it would almost certainly cause untold bloodshed with the newly emerging sighted people being persecuted by superstitious and religious types. Because if there is one constant in the universe it is backwards ignorant beings believing they know the mind of God.

In the end, saving the billions who perished during the plague and those that would have been born after is my first priority. And yes, I am not blind to the knowledge that my actions are more than a little self-serving. I want the civilization that produced me back probably most of all.

With one touch to the command screen, I bring up the holographic display and input the required codes to initiate temporal travel. I input the destination going back two-years further for a safety measure.

The holographic icon that will activate the hyperdrive floats a few centimeters in front of my hand. Swiping left will begin the operation, to the right will cancel it. My certain falters, I think of all the humans on the surface living and loving, making the best of their lives. Do I have a right to wipe them all way, not even leaving a trace that they ever existed?

Clearing my thoughts, I swipe left sending my ship and myself to that critical pivot point in human history.


Author's notes: Yes, this is a form of fan fiction and yes, my wife and I spend way too much time watching television. Our explorations of the internet entertainment channels and their offerings is embarrassing even in these Covid-dominated months. Still though, it was subscribing to Apple TV that I stumbled across one of their original shows called “See”, staring Jason Moma. The show's premise is essentially what I wrote in my humble story.

A plague sometime this century kills off the vast majority of humans. The survivors, about two-million, are all blind as a result, and so are the children that comes after them. As apocalypse entertainment goes how the producers go about building this blind world is fascinating. The viewer gets incredible hints at the complex cultures and adaptations that would arise if such an event every happened.

Humans are highly adaptable creatures but a state of blindness effecting the entire species is a form of Hell all by itself in my opinion. On the show most humans appear to live in a near neolithic state with any leftover technology akin to sacred religious relics. Even worse, being blind the sun is technically unknown to them and is worshiped and called the “God Flame” for the heat it produces. It goes without saying the survivors have no idea the moon nor stars exist. Leftover metal is called “God Bone” and is highly prized. No, there isn't any evidence that they can produce metal themselves.

My attempt with this story was to create an ethical dilemma for my character. That given the ability to change history and save billions of lives is condemning millions to oblivion less of a crime? I obviously made my choice, I'd like to hear what others think.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Back to Clemson

Of course, just a week into Darth Wiggles arriving at Clemson University it was realized that we hadn't brought everything she needed. More importantly, Wiggles changed her mind and wanted a small refrigerator in her dorm room. So my wife and I ran back up there last weekend to bring her all the items, including her favorite foods from Costco. Thankfully there wasn't a football game last weekend.

My son did a semester at Clemson when he first started college but we never got a chance to walk around the campus. He transferred down to the University of South Carolina to finish he degree. I found the Clemson campus beautiful and wished I could have spent more time just walking around that day.  

Still not very knowledgeable about Clemson, and no, I'm not into college football but this clock tower is apparently famous. 

A bad picture of Wiggles standing next the statue of the guy the university is named after. Yes, we all were wearing masks that day but taking a picture with one on is silly to me.

Just a nice tree.

Late in the afternoon, my wife and I had to head back home. We left Wiggles in her dorm room happily eating Costco chicken dumplings and watching television. This squirrel though saw us off, he was quite upset with all the cars and people walking around his home. When we got back to Columbia I pretty much collapsed on the couch and was still tired the next day. Regular posts will return next Saturday with maybe a quick one in the middle of this week.  
 

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

World War Four

 


Karl Marx famously stated once that religion was the opiate of the masses. Sure, I'll buy that for the most part but here in the United States the OxyContin of the great unwashed is conspiracy theories. The land of the free and home of the brave is now awash in all manner of bizarre and brazenly stupid and semi-suicidal theories about malevolent forces plotting behind closed doors to bring an end to all that is good and righteous.

The overwhelming majority of the time the second anyone I'm around brings up a conspiracy theory, I suddenly remember a desperately urgent errand that has to be accomplished before that person starts spouting his or her insanity. Personally, any story or premise that even hints at a National Enquirer-level of intelligence I immediately classify the spreader of such information a worthless fool.

Here's the problem though, all conspiracy theories are not created equal. Most are indeed playthings for dangerous childish idiots such as President Obama orchestrating “Deep State” attacks of the Orange Buffoon's Administration. But a small minority dance just in the realm of the possible while not likely given their complex nature and the number of people who would be required to implement such plans.

But what if the perpetrators of these conspiracies don't really try to hide their activities?

Despite initially trying to hide their actions my favorite boogeyman, Russia, has been openly interfering in the elections of dozens of nations. Most notably, from my point of view, are the elections here in the United States with them going full court press back in 2016 to get the Orange Buffoon elected.

While Russian intelligence was able to hack into the voter rolls of various states in 2016, I haven't seen any strong evidence they were able to alter election results. There was more than enough idiots and fools who stayed home or voted third-party to throw the election. But the Russians have been proven to have engaged in an active, and eager, cooperation with the Trump Campaign as well as conducting a massive disinformation and propaganda program on social media that the idiots and fools bought hook like and sinker.

Here's where I begin to drift into what could be called the conspiratorial realm.

 


 

Way back in the late-1990 I read an article where a Russian professor by the name of Igor Panarin, who predicted the breakup of the United States and its balkanization into six different parts. Five of these new countries would then fall under the dominion of various powers like the European Union, Canada, Mexico, China or Japan. This Panarin believed independent Alaska would revert back to Russian control like it was in the first half of the nineteenth century. Truth be told, Russia has a bit of a neurotic fixation on Alaska since they feel the United States stole it from them.

But Russia is nursing more than a neurotic fixation on a lost piece of territory. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union certain powerful Russians and a good chunk of the general population have been nursing a heavy grudge against the United States. For a people who have always believed they were ordained by God to play a huge role in global destiny, going from a superpower to almost a failed-state would naturally cause physiological issues.

To a certain extent, I believe the powerful in Russia have gone beyond just holding a grudge and wanting to sow chaos in the United States to pursuing an active course of violent destabilization. The unexpected growth of bizarre conspiracy beliefs, such as the scary “QAnon” is just too convenient given that Russia is trying to reassert itself on the global stage.

A “normal nation” wanting to play in the geopolitical big leagues would mobilize its economic and military might achieve such goals. But Russia doesn't have the Gross Domestic Product, population, nor military resources available for such endeavors.

Sure, Russia is constantly producing nice artistic renderings of massive aircraft carriers, new manned space capsules, and other fancy toys only militarily and economically viable countries like the United States and China can produce. But while they are pursing a course of military modernization, they just don't have the economy nor population to maintain such programs.

In fact, like the late Senator John McCain said, Russia is just a glorified gas station whose only claim to global importance is their nuclear weapons. Unlike the United States, China, the European Union, and Japan no one wants any products from Russia like cars, televisions, airplanes, or any number of other pieces of technology. All they have is oil, and while it is currently a valuable product, in the years ahead its importance will steadily decline.

Throw in its declining birth rate, well below replacement level, there is little chance the Russian economy will be able to maintain its current standing. In other words, Russia is destined to fade in the global background as nations in Asia blow past them in importance.

But that isn't stopping Russia from wanting to reclaim what its sees as its lost status. So in my opinion it is pursuing a form of asymmetrical global warfare by funding various right-wing nationalist movements in Europe and its social media campaign here in the United States. This is more than just the old divide and conquer strategy, Russia is clearly working to discredit the European Union because a massive economic superpower made up of liberal nations might threaten all the autocrats and plutocrats living in and around the Kremlin.

But the United States holds a special place of hate in the Russian autocracy. Vlad Putin and any number of his cronies want to hurt the United States like they feel was done to them. While saying they have an active military-like plan to destroy the United States might be an overstatement, I truly believe they would be happy to see our cities burn and our people kill each other in the streets.

That they have centered their efforts of our centuries old racial divisions and fears, exacerbated by our own economic issues just shows they have been listening to Igor Panarin and others like him. 

 

Source:

"As If Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of the U.S." Wall Street Journal December 29, 2008

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Darth Wiggles Goes to Clemson


 

Well my wife and I reached another milestone in life last Saturday. Our daughter, Darth Wiggles, is now a full time student at Clemson University and living on campus. You would think being a full time student would naturally mean living on campus, but with the Covid pandemic throwing everything into chaos, she was doing online courses for three weeks here at home before it was her time to move up there.

The actual move to campus wasn't that bad compared to stories I have heard from other people. We did have to drive two cars because of all the stuff my daughter needed, but only barely. And the campus police and other Clemson staff had most everything dealing with the incoming students expertly planned out and carefully managed.

In fact, I only made a fool of myself twice that day, the first was unknowingly driving off the actual street and onto a pedestrian walkway. The second example was somehow getting lost LEAVING the campus. Once my wife and I had Darth Wiggles settled into her dorm room, we said goodbye and drove away in our respective cars. My wife pulled out of the parking lot immediately but I wanted to find an interesting podcast on my phone, so I didn't started driving for about fifteen minutes. Long story short, I missed a turn going out somewhere and was heading towards the South Carolina/Georgia/North Carolina border area for twenty minutes.

Darth Wiggles appears to be settling nicely into her new surroundings while for her parents the house to just too damn quiet. Right now the plan is for her to spend four to five weeks up there before coming home for a visit. No matter how much she was looking forward to getting on campus, there will be a period of homesickness to overcome.

It still sucks though, for my wife and I.

Monday, September 7, 2020

True Losers and Suckers


 

 

U.S. Armed Forced veterans are overwhelmingly a conservative bunch. It's a mindset that if you don't already have upon entering the service it's one that you'll eventually adopt in some fashion. See, what few of my fellow liberals and next to no progressives understand is that when your in combat or even just training for war there isn't any time to question the circumstances.

The orders handed down to any soldier, Marine, sailor, or airman have to be obeyed immediately and without question or people could die. I understand that sound dramatic and maybe even cliché, but it happens to be true. Military operations whether they be actual campaigns with real bombs and bullets flying or a field training exercise on a military post, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get lots of people dead. And the one thing every member of the armed forces wants to avoid above getting themselves killed is being responsible for the deaths of others.

Many in the civilian world misinterpret this professional dedication as robotic and unthinking, that we soldiers, Marines, or whoever don't quite have the brainpower to avoid danger. Worse still, many convince themselves that anyone joining the military is already suffering a vital shortage in IQ points. That only brutes, bullies, or near-sociopaths would willingly surrender the control of their lives to get a chance to kill other human beings.

I'm not going to lie, some of those people do join the military. The same goes for such individuals that hear the call of crusade or want to live out their Rambo and Chuck Norris fantasies. But believe it or not, the officers and NCO's of all services have a pretty good record of weeding such mutants out of the service.

This begs the question often asked by members of the civilian world: why does any sane person join organizations where the pay is crap, the living conditions are at best cramped, and where you could suffer painful disfigurement or death? 


 

For the right reasons it has to be the benefits, whether they be medical for loved ones or educational for themselves. Being able to take you kid to a dependable doctor without having to worry about going bankrupt is pretty good reason. So is being able to pay for college without being weighed down by student loans.

Yes, patriotism is a good reason to join but so much mud has been mixed in those waters that we start drifting into territory where we have to watch out for brutes, bullies, and the near-sociopaths. I've personally know about leadership in one of my units cutting soldiers from a deployment roster because they advertised their desire to go Rambo or Chuck Norris on the locals. Such wannabe movie commandos don't like being a team player and have a tendency to get others killed.

Far too many misconceptions now exist between the the safe and soft civilian world and those of us who serve or have served. At one time it was safe to say that Republicans had at least some inkling about the sacrifices and tribulations members of the armed forces and their families suffered through. That many of the politically conservative members of our society having taken on the burdens and hardships of military service themselves understood the dedication it took to something greater than themselves.

Even though I'm politically liberal, I'll admit many of my Democratic cohorts are as self-centered, self-destructive, and oblivious to the nature of the real world as their Republican counterparts. Many on the political left refuse to understand that the world is a dangerous place. Even though it was made that way through corporate or old fashioned national imperialism, that doesn't give any other third-world country or group the right to kill Westerners. Yes, peace and reconciliation is the best way to solve the world's problems but that's a long hard road.

All that being said last week showed that while the liberal and progressives don't have much of, or any idea about what it takes to resist chaos. But now its become public what the Orange Buffoon truly thinks of the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

No I'm not surprised, the Orange Buffoon has never given one slight instance that he ever believed in anything that didn't make him money or got him laid. Even when he was nominally considered a New York Democrat, any of his appearances on television I happen to view left me feeling dirty and nausea afterward.

 


Being a twenty-one year veteran of the active army and National Guard with enough IQ points to spare for something other than eating and breathing, this news of his true feelings did make me laugh. We're talking about a family that got caught read handed stealing funds from a kids cancer charity. The Orange Buffoon and his parasitical offspring and assorted gold diggers don't give a damn about any other people but themselves.

The Orange Buffoon's one talent is his ability appeal to the fears and hate of the Marching Morons. He has never shown a drop of empathy to another human being and brags about playing all the angles when it comes promoting himself. Usually saying another human being has no redeeming qualities is a gross overstatement, but in Trump's case it happens to be true. I despise the man, his family, and all his sycophants to the point I worry about my mental health.

Strangely, I don't totally hate his rank and file supporters. Their inability to see through his deceptions and look beyond their own hates and fears makes them the true losers and suckers in this disaster.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Book Review of Revelation Space

 


 Science fiction in its best forms pushes the boundaries of the possible for those individuals who have relatively open minds. That's especially true for the sci-fi subgenre called “hard science fiction,” which builds its stories around known scientific principles and logic. This not to say hard science fiction novels and movies don't include incredible futuristic technology and bizarre situations, they just have to be within the realm of the possible given current knowledge.

In other words popular culture favorites like Star Trek and Star Wars are more accurately defined as science fantasy since they require faster-than-light propulsion (FTL), various forms of extrasensory preconceptions, and near human-like aliens among other impossibilities. \When the legendary Arthur C. Clarke first made this distinction clear to me, I about had a fit with what I thought was an insult to my beloved Star Trek. But he was absolutely correct, anyone can create a space opera fantasy but I have found that stories which built within the realm of what is possible far more satisfying.

This is proven with the Alastair Reynolds novel, Revelation Space. The novel begins in the twenty-sixth century with three seemingly separate story-lines that eventually merge.

The first story-line begins on a planet called Resurgam in the real-life Delta Pavonis star system. A guy by the name of Dan Sylveste is leading an archaeological colony researching the long extinct Amarantin species. Over the years since they arrived on Resurgam, Dan Sylveste has come to believe the Amarantin had developed a technological civilization before their sun had a massive flare and essentially barbecued anything and everything on the surface a million years ago. More importantly, Dan has a strong hypothesis that the flare wasn't a natural disaster, that some intelligence was responsible.

The second story-line centers around Ilia Volyova, who is part of a crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. A massive sub-light vessel called a lighthugger since it came come extremely close to the speed of light. See the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity all have nanotechnology augmentation devices in their brains and bodies, but in the captain's case he was infected with the “Melding Plague” which mutates both the nanotech and human cells. So Ilia and the rest of the crew want to find Dan Sylveste, who also happens to have considerable knowledge on how to treat the Melding Plague.

At first, the good crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity believes Dan Sylveste is on the colony planet, Yellowstone orbiting the star Epsilon Eridani. This is because with no FTL technology information can be decades out of date by the time it becomes generally known.

The third story-line involves Ana Khouri who is a bit of an accidental castaway on the colony planet Yellowstone. She was originally from a planet called Sky's Edge in a different star system but through a complex set of events, mainly a planetary civil war, is put in long-term hibernation. Hibernation chambers get mixed up and Ana wakes up on a completely different planet decades later. Oh yeah, she's married and her husband's chamber is either still on Sky's Edge or sent God knows where.

While on Yellowstone, Ana has to make a living and gets hired by a mysterious figure known as the Mademoiselle to infiltrate the incoming Nostalgia for Infinity, fly with them to Resurgam and kill Dan Sylveste.

While Dan Sylveste might seem a popular guy, he's a bit of an asshole with numerous people who literally hate his ass. The first being his ex-wife who lead a rebellion on the newly colonized Resurgam years before, stole the starship that brought them there, and high-tailed out of the system to never be heard from again.

Next, Dan's sparkling personality eventually lead to yet another rebellion overthrowing the colonial government he setup and controlled. Which I can't really blame since Resurgam is far from being a garden spot. The planetary atmosphere isn't directly breathable and the surface more or less looks like a heavily burned bagel covered in dust. The rest of the humans on the fledgling colony are tired of digging in the dust and want to turn their attention to terraforming the planet.

After the second coup, Dan is a prisoner of the new government but finds time to fall in love with the daughter of the man who took over and marries her. At the wedding there is yet another coup with Dan and his new wife, a lady named Pascale about the only people who escape the attack.

When the Nostalgia for Infinity arrives at Resurgam the crew radios down demanding that they cough up Sylveste. There are of course issues, this third colonial government tells Nostalgia to go to hell. Illia in turns hacks into the planetary internet altering records to “create” a fake outpost and nukes it from space. This justifiably terrifies the government who quickly offer up Dan and Pascale.

Dan Sylveste being a really clever asshole is brought aboard Nostalgia for Infinity with the crew not knowing he has smuggled microscopic amounts of antimatter hidden inside his own nanotech implants. You might say big deal, but the antimatter is more than enough to destroy the ship.

Dan makes a deal with the crew to not blow up the ship and try to save their captain if they take him to the nearby dwarf planet Cerberus which orbits a neutron star. Dan believes Cerberus is the key to unraveling what happened to the Amarantin.

I'm stopping here because the rest of the novel is about as mind blowing as they come without actually having to cleanup all the blood, bone, and goo off the floor and walls.


***

One of the real scientific topics the novel touches on is the Fermi Paradox. In summary, a bunch of real life top-notch scientists were having lunch on day and began puzzling over the fact that a starfaring species could colonize the galaxy in a couple of million years just zooming along at ten-percent the speed of light. Throw in a few other adventurous species doing the same and there should be ample evidence of alien civilization even here in our own solar system.

So between bites of his Ruben sandwich, Enrico Fermi asks just where in the Hell is everyone. Decades later numerous smart men and women have pondered the question with most possible answers not very comforting and a few outright scary. Yes, this plays to the extinct Amarantin species in the book.

Another fascinating point of the book is the Melding Plague. Here in the real world nanoscopic particles used in various industrial and even household applications are already a health concern. Like microplastic trash, our bodies don't have a means to flush such artificial substances from our bodies. Nanoparticles could be totally benign but in all likelihood they will eventually be found to cause major health concerns.

Now add only slightly futuristic nanotechnology with the particles programmed to perform certain helpful tasks, like destroy cancer cells for example. Imagine billions of smart particles running threw a human body with bad programming, instead of destroying cancer cells they decide to go rogue and eat all the healthy cells.

One of the darkest nightmares of nanotechnology is the Grey Goo scenario where not only are the nanoparticles programmable, but can build new more versions of themselves from any convenient material. We're talking anything from steel, concrete, or even human tissue. Speculation has it that such a “plague” could go exponential and turn the entire surface of the planet into a massive sea of Grey Goo.

The level of universe building in Revelation Space is fantastic. The author, Alastair Reynolds is a master at painting a complex but grounded work of science fiction. The human societies occupying the universe of Revelation Space are in no way places I would like to live. But that makes them even more plausible in my mind given that human nature more or less stays the same in his twenty-sixth century.

If you're a fan of great science fiction go buy or borrow this book. Oh yeah, its part of a trilogy and the second book is even better in my opinion.