Archive for August, 2018
In recent weeks (I’m writing this on August 19, 2018) we’ve heard from the President of the United States that he wants the US to set up a “Space Force,” for what reason I’m not exactly sure. The main result of this force will be the presence of weapons, particularly atomic, in outer space. I wonder why.
As someone who writes science fiction and has more than just a passing interest in outer space, and as someone who has a scientific degree (although not one in space science), and as someone who blogs occasionally about outer space, I think I will lower my blogging standards a bit and comment on the proposed US Space Force. Keep in mind that I don’t by any means feel obliged to comment, nor am I an expert in space sciences, nor do I feel the world is breathlessly awaiting my opinion. I’m just throwing out my two-cents-worth for anyone to read and/or comment on.
As I see it, there are two fundamental reasons for desiring a Space Force, and each can be subdivided into offensive and defensive categories. The first is to have an armed force to attack or defend against aliens from outer space that may invade Earth. This has got to be the stupidest reason for having a Space Force I can think of. Why? Because there’s nothing out there. There aren’t any aliens poised to attack Earth. The Earth has been around for over four billion years and in all that time, especially recently, there has not been any credible evidence whatsoever in any way, shape, or form that any alien from beyond the stars has landed here or abducted anyone, or left a calling card, or anything. It’s just us science fiction writers who say that. Note that I said “credible” evidence. Sure, some people have come forward to say they’ve been abducted by aliens, and lots of people believe that an alien craft crashed near Roswell, and lots of people have seen UFO’s, and so on and so forth. But there’s no credible evidence that those ships or green lights or whatnot contained aliens. We’ve been listening for signals from outer space for I don’t know how long and haven’t heard anything. Not one damn thing. Let’s face it; there’s nobody out there. Fermi’s paradox about “where are the aliens?” is just a valid today as it was when Enrico Fermi proposed it back in the 1950’s. So it seems to me that taking the extraordinary step of putting dangerous weapons in outer space to defend or attack aliens is pure nonsense.
Now as for the second reason. This has to do with putting weapons in orbit around Earth in order to attack or defend one or more countries on Earth’s surface. Militarily, this is a good reason. Orbit is high ground, and in warfare, that’s always good. We’ve had spy satellites in orbit for years. Now we are proposing Putin weapons on those satellites to attack someone. Only God and a few strategists at the Pentagon know who at this time. I’m sure the military loves this possibility. It gives them a considerable advantage over ground-based weapons. Theoretically, it could be possible to detect the launch of an ICBM from, say, Russia, China, North Korea, or wherever, earlier than by ground-detection alone, and then respond with a weapon launched from a satellite directly on the offending country. I’m no military expert, but even I can see that, and I strongly suspect the current administration wants weapons in space for this main reason.
The most important facet of this entire argument is one we should never lose sight of: do we really want weapons in outer space? Do we want nuclear (NEW-clee-are, not NUC-u-lar) weapons floating in orbit above us, or shall we continue the generally-agreed on policy of not putting any sort of weapon in outer space AT ALL, a general concept that has been around since shortly after the first satellites (Sputnik, Explorer) were launched. All countries that have ever launched satellites have (I hope) adhered to this idea. Space has been for peaceful exploration ONLY. Not even the Apollo or Shuttle astronauts had weapons. (Why would they? Who’s going to invade the shuttle or a tiny, cramped Apollo capsule on the way to the moon?) I say keep it that way. Unless there’s a credible threat from little green men from Mars (H. G. Wells notwithstanding) or from beyond the solar system, let’s keep space, from low Earth orbit to infinity, weapon free. Star Trek is fiction. There are no real Klingons out there.
Are you having trouble thinking up a good plot for your next story? There are many ways of doing that, of course, but here’s one way writers have used for years that can result in a story (any type of story: novel, short story, flash fiction, whatever) that will keep readers turning the page. Take any sort of everyday story line—going downtown, flying in an airplane, running a routine mission in special ops—and change one or a small number of details to a point where the story becomes extremely unlikely in today’s world. That’s the operative word, here: unlikely. I’m not suggesting you write science fiction, don’t go that far. Just make one or a few small changes that puts the story in the realm of the improbable, or incredible, or even strange and unbelievable, something that makes the story unique, something that puts it in a one-of-a-kind category. It won’t take much, changing a few details may work.
For example, let’s take the classic novel Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The story is about a whaling captain, Ahab, who lost a leg to a white whale and vows to revenge the loss. Melville, who spent time at sea in a whaling ship, knew what he was writing about. It’s not too unlikely that there might have been whaling captains at New Bedford in the 1800’s who lost limbs to whales, and wanted revenge. That’s understandable. And there might really be white whales (probably albinos) out there, but what Melville does is juxtapose those two unlikely possibilities. He puts two improbable situations together to form the basis for a classic novel. Either one alone would be unlikely to result in the tension necessary to carry the novel, but together they work. They’re small changes in the otherwise staid life of a New England whaling town to be sure, but that’s all it takes to make a great story.
Perhaps another example will illustrate what I’m talking about. Take the movie, “Rocky.” The first one, the one that started the franchise. Rocky Balboa is a small-time boxer, nowhere near heavyweight contender level. Yet Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the script, added one small, highly unlikely change to the story of Rocky. Stallone has the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, pick Rocky out of nowhere to fight the champ. Why Rocky? I don’t know, and I doubt that any self-respecting state boxing commission would ever approve such a fight. The match-up is too one-sided. Rocky himself even admits he could get hurt. And Apollo Creed would never have any way of knowing that Rocky would turn out to be such a worthy opponent. But that one little change, however inconceivable it might be, makes for a very intriguing story, and spawned a well-known series.
In short, a small change in the direction of a story toward the highly unlikely, can transform an otherwise regular, drab event into a tale that holds the reader’s or viewer’s attention, and produce a fascinating story. I’m sure you can think of other examples. Like William Shatner on that airplane in the Twilight Zone episode. A funny-looking apparition on the wing of an airplane? Hardly. Yet, it works.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s this funny green light shining through my window.