Space Travel vs Saving Terra

TLDR; Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson provides valuable perspective on how difficult it is for us to colonize other planets

Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut and I know many others who did. It’s not surprising in the least then, that Elon Musk is so revered & Jeff Bezos wants his lasting legacy to be space & not the everything store.

I’ve read my share of space operas that fetishize space travel and have multi-planetary protagonists & plotlines. There’s hard sci-fi like Tau Zero or more recently Project Hail Mary & there’s a tonne of other themes sociology (The Hainish Cycle), war (Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Ender’s Saga), politics (Dune), colonization (JEM) and much more.

I got started with Aurora expect it to be more of the same, except it wasn’t.

Aurora has its share of problems – character development is not ideal, there are verbose, somewhat technical descriptions that appear in places where they shouldn’t, the plot meanders unpredictably and there is a disconcerting lack of closure at the end of the book.

But what Aurora does unequivocally through it’s eminently credible narrative is explaining how difficult & improbable terraforming a Class M planet is.

If you feel at home on planet Earth, that is because you’ve evolved to survive it over 3 billion years. Life as we know it on this planet is delicate. It takes just a minor imbalance in the composition of our atmosphere to precipitate climate change at a scale that could displace billions of us and wipe out life at a grand scale.

Our chances of surviving and thriving post a nuclear holocaust or equivalent dystopia most definitely surpass our odds at being able to travel to a Class M planet and set ourselves up to survive there for any meaningful period of time.

Our only hope is to make things work at home, on the one planet whose resources we’ve evolved to exploit successfully.

Whether your idol is Elon Musk or Greta Thunberg, I would advocate Aurora as essential reading to build much needed perspective on how difficult it will be for us to become a truly multi-planetary species and the importance of respecting and preserving what we’ve got.

Poetry and Progeny

In terms of firsts, the earliest memory I have of a book that I self-read is this combo of “Whiskers for a Cat and Bilderoo is coming”. When I extend the same question to poetry there is nothing that comes to mind.

Until today.

Thanks to kiddo I rediscovered Eleanor Farjeon and Cats which we read and re-read until one of us had had enough. The poem evokes strong, and very likely false, childhood memories of the stale wooden scent of classroom 2B, my grandpa’s deep voice and my desire to own a cat as a child.

Still trundling through this reverie I stumbled upon this meta gem:

I’ll tell you, shall I, something I remember?
Something that still means a great deal to me.
It was long ago.

A dusty road in summer I remember,
A mountain, and an old house, and a tree
That stood, you know,

Behind the house. An old woman I remember
In a red shawl with a grey cat on her knee
Humming under a tree.

She seemed the oldest thing I can remember.
But then perhaps I was not more than three.
It was long ago.

I dragged on the dusty road, and I remember
How the old woman looked over the fence at me
And seemed to know

How it felt to be three, and called out, I remember
‘Do you like bilberries and cream for tea?’
I went under the tree.

And while she hummed, and the cat purred, I remember
How she filled a saucer with berries and cream for me
So long ago.

Such berries and such cream as I remember
I never had seen before, and never see
Today, you know.

And that is almost all I can remember,
The house, the mountain, the gray cat on her knee,
Her red shawl, and the tree,

And the taste of the berries, the feel of the sun I remember,
And the smell of everything that used to be
So long ago,

Till the heat on the road outside again I remember
And how the long dusty road seemed to have for me
No end, you know.

That is the farthest thing I can remember.
It won’t mean much to you. It does to me.
Then I grew up, you see. 

 

Of course we had to finish with:

Five minutes, five minutes more, please!
Let me stay five minutes more!
Can’t I just finish the castle
I’m building here on the floor?
Can’t I just finish the story
I’m reading here in my book?
Can’t I just finish this bead-chain —
It almost is finished, look!
Can’t I just finish this game, please?
When a game’s once begun
It’s a pity never to find out
Whether you’ve lost or won.
Can’t I just stay five minutes?
Well, can’t I just stay just four?
Three minutes, then? two minutes?
Can’t I stay one minute more? 

As we reluctantly wound up for the evening I had to but wonder if kiddo would one day find a lost part of themselves while attempting to similarly educate a greener, and perhaps artificial, mind.

Addressing Existential Angst – This is Water

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I find myself coming back again and again to this wonderful David Foster Wallace speech (~20 mins) on how to deal with existential angst, that I found a few months ago. I recommend you listen to it here while reading it here.

Summarizing or quoting here would be a disservice to the original so I am going to refrain from doing that. If you like what you hear and want to know more about DFW I recommend watching The End of the Tour.