As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.
That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!
So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.
So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.
If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?
Small white asters making snowdrifts beside the road. First milkweed pods splitting open. Oak trees dropping their nasty ball-bearings all over the road.
Little change on the foliage front -- more ash leaves down, more red maples starting to turn, and the wild cucumber vines have started to go yellow in the trees.
Roadkill consisted of another garter snake that has become one with the asphalt.
Damp, still air, got out on the bike. Did not die.
15.26 miles, 1:12:55
No local hurricanes. Jose may brush past us tonight into tomorrow, with high surf and minor coastal flooding but little wind and maybe a bit of rain. Air temperature 62 F and dew point 61, overcast, near calm, some fog. Bike ride after the roads dry off?
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Then, a few minutes ago, I took the dog out for a walk, and the neighbor came out, and said, look at the trunk of your pine. Whoa!
Here's from the side. click and embiggen, to see how far around the trunk they go.
And this below is from the sidewalk. Look in the upper portion of the trunk--that is a zillion bees tightly packed together.
That looks so . . . weird.
If they're still there in a couple of days, I'll have to find beekeepers to move them. My son's biological family on the female side has a deadly bee allergy running through them--his bio uncle has to carry an epipen everywhere, and my patio is about the size of two bedsheets put together. In fact, when I dry my laundry outside, I can only get one set of bedding out there at a time.
EDITED TO ADD: Between one check and the next ten minutes later, they suddenly vanished. I would have loved to see them swarm! But they are gone, and I hope they find a good, safe home.
Upland trees starting to turn. Nowhere near "color" yet, though. Some of the ash trees are doing their "Turn one day, drop the next" routine.
Asters and goldenrod dominate the roadside. More of the really showy purples every day, with two tones.
No fresh roadkill to report.
Fog lifted a bit, got out on the bike and rode across town to the airport and back. Still damp enough that my glasses fogged up at a couple of traffic light stops.
Minor oddity -- while I was stopped out at the airport, a four-engine turbo-prop landed, identified by sound as a C-130. But it had a civilian paint job. Bit of Google shows that some civvy cargo carriers use them . . .
16.45 miles, 1:21: 03
Today, calimac is in Southern California, and so had a chance to come by for tea and scones. (Well, I had tea, and calimac had water.) We blabbed non-stop about reading, Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, classical music, the evolution of TV, the differences in short story and novel writing, and how to conduct an interview/ run a panel (calimac suggested this interview with Robin Williams and Stephen Fry), and the Mythopoeic Society, and then reminisced about stuff the younger generation has no concept of, except in movies: things you never think of, such as leaded gas, and the total lack of recycling of the sixties, party lines, how horribly expensive it was to make long-distance calls (especially in the days when families had a single phone), etc.
We didn't just blab about old people stuff. We also talked about how awesome YouTube is, especially for musical discoveries. I have so many saved links, tabs, and tags that I can't find what i'm looking for half the time, but I did manage to find this one, and am always looking for more, of course.
Ah, that was fun--then, of course, back to work.
This is from a few years ago. I wonder what the people who thought it was plausible are doing now? Aside from presumably supporting Trump.
Then I get to do it again, because no one* bothered telling me which dates didn't work for them.
*Actually, someone did bother, but I never got her sms. Weird. And annoying.
We need to remember this, when we’re creating non-industrial worlds. It’s all too easy to get suckered into a positively Victorian mindset that sees the modern age as the pinnacle of human achievement, in some pseudo-evolutionary fashion, which therefore demands that anything that came before us is by definition inferior. No, pre-modern and pre-industrial solutions to the same problems that we face may well be different but that doesn’t mean lesser.
Human ingenuity has been around for untold millennia and it’s worth doing the research to find examples of solutions to problems, because the history that ‘everyone knows’ is frequently at best only half the story, and at worst it’s downright misleading. ‘Everyone knows’ that Henry Ford invented the production line, right? Actually, he invented a particular mechanised version of an approach to manufacturing that’s been around since the Bronze Age. There’s an archaeological site in (if I recall correctly) Turkey that I read about some while ago, flourishing in the 8/9th century BCE where carved hollows and troughs in the rock have recently been rescued from that all-purpose archaeologist’s explanation of ‘ritual purposes’. Someone realised that these shapes looked familiar and went away to check. Yes, these troughs and hollows are the outlines of the component parts of a chariot; specifically those long pieces of wood and elements of wheels that experimental archaeologists have established could only have been shaped by steaming the wood, somehow clamping it and allowing the wood to cool into a new form. These chariot builders weren’t using clamps but the rock itself to make the components that were then assembled by specialists in mass-production.
I have a particular advantage here in that I’m married to a mechanical engineer. He spends his working life designing car assembly lines with dozens of robots now doing the work done by hundreds of men when he first started his apprenticeship, forty-plus years ago. So he’s very good at working out how things work, and at identifying how approaches to the same problem change over the years and centuries. He also has a solid appreciation of the issues around for instance, moving massive slabs of stone to build monuments from Stonehenge, to the pyramids, to the temples of Hagar Qim on Malta, dating back to 3600-3200 BCE. This would be an engineering challenge today. For people using stone rollers, wooden levers and some sort of rope? No one who could manage that deserves to be called primitive, as far as he’s concerned.
So from the small scale items for day to day use, to major building projects in our imagined worlds, we need to remember that non-industrial societies could get along perfectly well without all our modern conveniences. And we don’t only find such things in museums and archaeological sites. Fantasy world builders should take a look at the ingenuity and practical skills of our fellow humans currently living in what can all too often be patronisingly called ‘developing’ countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
I remember seeing a TV programme where a group of Andean women build a suspension bridge to cross a river gorge, only using grass and their bare hands. Yes, really. First they made string by twisting the long strands together, then they combined those strings into cords and then made those cords into ropes, and the ropes into cables, all twisted and counter-twisted at every stage to create strength through tension. The village women on the far side of the gorge were doing the same. When they had enough cables ready, someone fired an arrow to carry a string across the gorge. That string was tied to a cord which pulled a rope which pulled a cable to be secured across the gorge. Three cables gave them one to walk on and two hand rails on either side which were joined together with more grass-rope struts which formed a framework for weaving solid sides. By the end of the day, they had a new bridge.
So please don’t make the mistake of thinking that life in your pre-industrial fantasy land has to be nasty, brutish or short. Anymore than you underestimate people who don’t happen to be white and westernised in our own world today.
At least three flat garter snakes on my route. Asphalt is *not* a good choice for your morning warm-up.
Not-roadkill, scared a chipmunk back into the weeds early in my ride. Cars go faster than me, rodent. Pay attention!
Red maples getting serious about this autumn thing out in the bog.
Got out on my bike, did not die.
15.28 miles, 1:15:33