Category Archives: Science and Society

Panel Postmortem: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise?

This post is the first in what I intend to be several recaps of some of the most thought-provoking moments during this weekend’s Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention.

First of all, I have to thank Andrea Hairston. As a panelist and audience member, moderators have consistently been the most significant factor affecting the experience of con panel. Andrea was our fearless leader during this panel and I think we all owe her thanks for her energetic and positive management of the conversation.

Panel Description: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems? Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff

I was happy that the conversation could begin with every panelist answering the titular question in the negative: no, optimism is not just nostalgia in disguise. We had different perspectives as to why and how to move forward, but it was great to have that connecting thread. I won’t (and really can’t) give a transcript or summary of the conversation as it happened, but here are some of my key conclusions that I took away.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: Rogue One, skip the section “Positive Stories in Negative Spaces.”]

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About the Issues in Red Soil

SciFi Policy has posted an in-depth interview with N.A. Ratnayake about the issues in Red Soil Through Our Fingers.

Human expansion into space is happening. Where previous generations imagined the push into space driven by government programs such as NASA, we are seeing now that it is likely to be corporations or private interests staking claims out there at least as much as governments. In fact, multiple companies have already declared near-term space intentions such as orbital tourism, mining lucrative asteroids, extracting fresh water and hydrocarbons, and settling on the Moon and Mars.

There is likely more platinum and water in the asteroid belt than there is in all of planet Earth. To whom does this wealth belong? Commercial enterprise and private interests will need to play a large role in opening up space for humanity, but strong public space policy now is essential to shape and guide the coming age for society as a whole. Writers, scientists, engineers, and policymakers have been talking for decades about what our future in space will look like.  The public at large needs to enter this conversation, so that we can make sure our expansion into space results in an equitable, sustainable, and responsible distribution of the truly staggering amount of resources right here in our own solar system.

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SciFi Policy Interviews Me on the Issues in Red Soil Through Our Fingers

SciFi Policy has posted an in-depth interview of me about the social, political, and economic issues in Red Soil Through Our Fingers. SFP is a group that seeks to review, discuss, and advocate for science fiction that helps us explore issues of political, social, and economic importance. Check out this interview for discussion of Red Soil‘s plot and characters, human spaceflight, space settlement, corporate space, Mars, and my favorite policy-relevant fiction!

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Avoiding a Corporate Conquest of Space

It will be viewed as a historic milestone: the act that first allowed merely multinational mega-corporations to become interplanetary ones: The United States congress has recently passed legislation, H.R. 2262, that guarantees the private property rights of United States citizens in space.

On the surface, private property rights in space may seem like an innocuous, or even positive development. We are on the cusp of a real space age, as private companies begin exploring Earth orbit and our solar system. As a species, we need to come to an agreement over how space assets will be managed and regulated, and private property rights in space would be a major needed component of such an agreement. In general, commercial enterprise in space is good thing for expanding humanity’s reach into the solar system.

But the actual text of this bill raises questions of equity and corporate oversight for humanity’s future in space. The bill is a clear violation of a decades-old treaty that pledges to make space the peaceful domain of all of humanity. Without additional oversight, this law could legally change the role of the United States in space from guarantor of freedom to protector of profit.

I find the issues raised by the law timely, as my upcoming novel Red Soil through Our Fingers that imagines a future Mars where corporations own vast stretches of Mars.

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Why Public Engagement With Space Policy Matters

Dr. Linda Billings has published an article entitled “The Inexcusable Jingoism of American Spaceflight Rhetoric” in Scientific American’s Forum. I read the article with great interest, because  I find myself on both sides of her argument.  On the one hand, human expansion into space is happening, whether we like it or not, and regardless of any government program’s mission statement. Where previous generations perhaps imagined the push into space driven by big national programs, we are seeing now that it is likely to be corporations or private interests staking claims out there at least as much as governments. In fact, multiple companies have already declared near-term space intentions such as orbital tourism, mining lucrative asteroids, extracting fresh water and hydrocarbons, and settling on the Moon and Mars.

But here is where Dr. Billings is absolutely correct: We need to make sure our expansion into space results in an equitable, sustainable, and responsible distribution of the truly staggering amount of resources right here in our own solar system. And that will definitely require a cultural shift in how we talk about spaceflight.

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The Mars One Debate

I saw on the Mars Society’s webpage that the Mars One colonization program will debate their MIT critics at the society’s upcoming convention next month. I have a triple interest in the debate. My novel-in-progress, Red Soil Through Our Fingers, a Mars colonization novel. Secondly, as a former aerospace engineer, I have experience and a huge personal stake in the design and outcome of space exploration missions. And further, one of the listed critics of Mars One, Andrew Owens, is a friend and writing group member!

Needless to say, I have a few thoughts on the matter.

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Arisia Panels – “COSMOS: A Space Time Odyssey”

I had the honor of serving as a panelist on four panels at Arisia 2015. I’ll be summarizing what I recall from each discussion in a series of posts.

COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey ( Mark L Amidon, Justine Graykin, Gordon Linzner (m), Marlin May, N.A. Ratnayake)
Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a successful season of “Cosmos”. Seen by many as a “remake” of Carl Sagan’s PBS show, others consider it a bold shot back from scientists at the anti-science nabobs of our day. Let’s talk about how much it has (or hasn’t) changed the discussion.

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Language Is…

Language is a technology, a doorway, a weapon, and an agent of change and hope. As it shifts both form and function, the metaphors that describe it change too.

Language is a technology that has shaped our brains. Ted Chiang’s novelette The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling (a Hugo nominee last year) particularly struck me as revolving around the same complex issues — how important language and particularly writing has been to the human psyche. Language changes the way we think — it is a tool that can be both used and misused to great effect.

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