Given this new book on future space travel..
I post my essay on this topic
The Film, the Clearing and CAMHISTR
I have long held the view at the heart of the text below. The story below, or rather, fragment of story, such as it is, came to me in a moment. I wrote a rougher version of it about 15 years ago. Then I decided to ‘announce’ CAMHISTR in 2015, assuming that no one would notice, let alone care. Correct. Then I watched the film quoted from in 2018. That has ‘galvanised’ me to produce this text. ‘Enjoy’.
Two quotes from the film “The Search for a New Earth” BBC Television, BBC 4; 14 May 2018. A film about the need for humans to colonise space, fronted by two professors and Stephen Hawking ‘the most famous scientist in the world’.
Partial Dramatis Personæ
Stephen Hawking; Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University . (SH).
Danielle George; Professor in Microwave Communication Engineering, University of Manchester. (DG).
Mike Barratt; NASA astronaut. (MB).
- I am Stephen Hawking. I am convinced that humans need to leave earth, and make a new home on another planet. To stay is to risk annihilation.
- In the last seventy years the global population has tripled from two and a half billion to seven and a half billion, and our space and resources here are limited. Professor Hawking believes we may have to find a back-up plan.
- We can, and must, use our curiosity and intelligence to look to the stars. We must start now, for humans to survive I believe we must have preparations in place within one hundred years.
- Mike has already done two long duration trips to the ISS (International Space Station). Mike has already put some thought into what will be needed in interplanetary astronauts.
- We look at Mars now as the next destination, as something that is remote and difficult to do. But, in the long run, Mars will be an inter-way point, an inner outpost from which we will continue to branch out. And, when you look at how people have moved across our planet, from say, Europe to the Western world, you find, you first have the explorers, they are the ones who see things for the first time, and characterise what the environment is like, the risk if you will. And if it looks like a good place to go, you are followed by the pioneers, people who learn to live there. And typically, pioneering is also fairly austere, but you go there with a certain knowledge and a certain resolve that you are there to stay. The pioneers are then followed by the colonists if you will. The colonists bring what I would call a snapshot of humanity, of civilisation, to occupy that spot. As so we really acquire that destination and make it our own.
- So someone sitting at home on a sofa now could be an astronaut in a few generations time. And colonise a planet.
- Absolutely, and we look forward to a continual expansion of civilisation. So the cycle will repeat over and over, as we keep pushing the boundaries. We will start again with the explorers, the pioneers, and the colonists will eventually follow.
I want to rest in peace with, at least, the idea that colonialism – and/or disaster capitalism – cannot enter an inter-planetary phase in future history.
Sitting in the very middle of the clearing Scradbda poked the fire with frustrated exaggeration. The others, exhausted, were asleep, wrapped in their furs against the deepening cold. The hunt had gone badly. They were hungry, the village might go hungry, and cold, and be questioning of Scradbda’s hunt leadership.
They had wounded, badly wounded, the great cadindra, harpooned him with many irons and ropes. But somehow he had broken free, and was now lost to them in the depths of the water-forest. Scradbda, with deep pain, thought of his pain and suffering.
They had called to him, and soothed him, and thanked him, as they had harpooned and roped. The merciful dispatch had only been minutes away. But then he broke free. Now they could not hear him in the great speaking. He was dead, or closed and hiding.
She peered briefly into the dreams of her five companions. Routine stuff mostly, about the hunt, the water, the forest, the village, fragments of the great speaking. Djadgo was dreaming of her. She greeted him shyly, but left his dream.
She poked the fire again, now more for warmth. A flurry of sparks flew up into the pure cold black of the night air. Her eyes followed disinterestedly, with just maybe a flicker of joy at the pretty sight. The sparks flew up wildly, then faded to nothingness, leaving the forever blaze of stars arching over the clearing, dipping into the fringe of forest all around. But Scradbda’s eyes did not fall back to ground, to Dornve. They remained, gazing in wide wonder at the stars.
There was a new star, brighter than any in the sky. And it was moving, moving fast towards the unseen mountain horizon. The hairs on her nape, and arms and shoulders raised. Her mind and body tightened and loosened with flows of unknowable emotions. The others stirred in their furs, but did not wake, as she quickly closed her mind to the great speak. This was not, in any way, a good omen. Or was it? Was it? She must report back to the village elders, who she knew would also be sleeping, and dreaming, at this time. She rose quietly, took up her bow and pack, and set of, as light as wind, to the village.
The utterly dull routine of the auto-bridge control panels, with a myriad softly flashing lights, flickering biosensor monitors, sliding navigation maps, which had remained in a steady chatter for seven light years, began to change. The ‘land ho’ (as someone had scrawled on it in dayglow pen) console began high speed flickerings and babbling beepings, calling other function consoles into life, until the bridge was ablaze with flickering lights, spooling digi counters, and a quiet cacophony of sounds.
On the bridge a few snoozing drone-droids came to life, prompted by the central computer’s new battery of instructions, and began buzzing around, checking and setting other key control panels. They knew that the ship was waking up from its deep space cruise. They knew the ship, with their help, was soon to wake the core human arrival crew.
The pioneers on the pod decks would remain in suspended animation for some months yet. That was the plan anyway. Other decks were cluttered with anything and everything one might need to bio-form, or maybe bio-adapt – settle, colonise – a planet. A planet in the sacred “goldilocks” zone, with water, for sure, an atmosphere of sorts, a magnetic field, soil, a biodiversity, albeit alien. Bulldozers, diggers, all manner of cyborg power tools, chainsaws, 3D printers, and fixings and materials, and insecticides, herbicides, weapons, were packed into the vast hangers. In the arrival crew quarters, each member’s bio- pod controls were flickering into a new life. Gently, so gently, switching up the bio-feed systems, and brain signal prompts to wake mode.
Scradbda, having delivered her news, and it being excitedly corroborated on the next night, sat on the edge of the council circle. She was not allowed to speak, as a female and a youth, albeit it one of the top hunters. But, at least, she was allowed to listen.
The elders discussed the new star, or light in the sky, surely a star could not move like that? Some saw it as a good omen, and quoted old legends of gods falling to Dornve in very ancient times. These gods had seeded Dornve itself? Or so one legend went. Was this a second coming? Others just considered it as a mystery that would surely just pass on. A few, like Scradbda, were worried, or even in dread. The discussions circled on and on. Scradbda lost interest, whatever – there was nothing realistic they could do, they could watch, and pray, and reach out, but, what else?
Draydon, colonisation captain, not quite fully awake, prodded at the keyboard and squinted at the screen for the fifth time. “It’s the wrong planet, fuck’s sake it’s the wrong planet.”
“Hal (they had thought it funny to call the ship’s computer Hal), Hal, it’s the wrong planet?”
The core navigation and arrival crew stood in a cluster behind her, waiting for the computer’s reply. It came, “once the deep space voyage started, the pioneering explorer micro crafts from The Planetary Habitability Laboratory identified at least five new planets that were analysed as better prospects for settlement than the planet nicknamed Rainbow” We analysed this as the best option.
The crew all looked at each other. Draydon paused for a few seconds and replied, “yes but we don’t know anything about this planet, we spent years studying Rainbow – as best we could – our plans, our equipment, were all designed for there.” Hal replied. “Our analysis has taken all that into account. This planet offers excellent opportunities for successful colonisation.”
While the sensors and computers on the orbiting cruiser, and hastily deployed satellites, surveyed and mapped the planet in every spectrum, every mode, down to square metre increments, identifying geo-adaption potential, Draydon and the core crew were walking the pioneer decks, peering into the pods. Checking, in a few cases, on their own sleeping partners, and in fewer cases still, their partners and children. Draydon kissed the pod her family could just faintly be seen in, in all the tubes and swirling condensation.
“What did you dream?” Yang asked Draydon; “Sorry, what?” “When coming out of SA? What did you dream? The system induces dreams, it’s part of the programme, we need to dream, brains need to dream, in SA we don’t dream. We were warned we would have very vivid, very extreme, emotional, even violent dreams.”
Oh right – well – you remember we watched all those films, read all those books about the early explorers on earth. I dreamt I was on the ship the Matthew.
“I got a bit obsessed by it all for a while. I must have watched Aguirre Wrath of God about thirty times.”
Yes, well there was not much to do then. Just wait, then go into SA. We watched all those classic sci-fis, Alien, The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Star Wars, Independence Day, Star Trek, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Predator – all those terrible monsters!! All that hyper-drive hooey.” They laughed.
Seven of the crew sat in a row at monitors, notepads and pencils at the ready to do hasty calculations and make lists, and design sketches as streams of data were processed. They called out ‘discoveries’.
This is a smaller planet than earth. Gravity will be about 20 percent less. Not quite like walking on the moon – a bit in between
Yang said – hey, maybe we can learn to fly like birds
A year is 256 days I think
There are two moons, quite large. There will be large tides, more complicated than on earth too.
We will have to name them, the moons.
The land ocean split is about 62 38. There are polar icecaps, both sea-ice it looks like. Most of the terrain is water, forest or mountain. I can see at least two big deserts, five long mountain ranges. Some BIG volcanoes. There is A LOT of forest, tropical and temperate. Big deltas. There is not much open land. We will have to clear forest for farming it looks like.
The land seems to be in one large continent, like Pangea on earth had been. Maybe it’s a younger planet?
Soon after, the fleet of deployed satellites working full-time, the central computer reported “we have preliminarily surveyed the whole planet now.” We have set up longitude and latitude. The planet is mapped for landing and outline bio-adaption. There seem to be number of large circular clearings in the forest cover. We are wondering if these are natural features – or not – but we can’t see any sign of developed intelligent life – no cities – no roads. No advanced technology – and therefore no known advanced defence systems or weapons. We have identified one of the clearings for the primary landing.
Scradbda and her hunting party stood on the top of the hill, looking out through the trees, looking down over the steep tree canopy to the clearing below. That was the hunting ground. The killing ground. The loving ground. The fire ground. It was impossible to hunt cadrinda in the forest. They had to be lured out, or driven out, into the clearings for the kill. The clearings had been felled, and kept clear, of the persistent forest growth, for centuries. They were a place of ceremony as well as the hunting. But, as a rule, they lived in and under the forest canopy, to be in the open was a test of will. The deep forest was their world, their home.
Through the branches they could see moon Frddaga rising, as moon Luidnia was setting – a rare confluence of moments. Usually greeted with celebration, in the clearings. But not tonight. Everything was unsettled. An anxious whisper was the great speak, even maybe an anxious prayer.
A feint noise made them look up one by one, but all they saw was the light blue cloud cover, growing dark in the dusk. The sound grew quickly, Scradbda crouched and multi-thought, get to deeper cover – get down into the trees by the clearing.
The noise – nothing they had heard before, except perhaps when the great river was in flood and crashed over the Srabda falls, was getting so loud that they covered their ears. Slowly the cloud above the clearing began to glow, then shine, then dazzle. Then, with parting cloud swirls, a huge thing, much much larger, even than a cadrinda, dropped through into view, and slowing, descended to the ground.
After some time, all noise ceased, to usher in the most profound silence they had ever experienced. All the talk, the trees, the animals, each other, was silent. The great speaking was silent. Then various things flipped and rotated out of the thing. Arms and ladders and shield like things. And shinings and sounds. Scradbda was at a total loss, multi-thinking, they took up their bows.
But nothing happened.
On the lander, the crew were going through a well-rehearsed drill, but in unanticipated circumstances. Mostly they were re-checking the atmosphere, the bio-senor readouts, and computer appraisals of huge streams of data and images that the ship in orbit, the satellites and then the descending lander, had gathered. The geo-appraisal computers were working overtime. They were reminded by the main computer that this was a critical and urgent phase of the whole mission – now the ship was out of deep cruise mode, and in close planetary orbit, resources and full power would soon ebb away. The pioneers needed to be woken, rehabbed and disembarked within two months.
The crew walked down the ramp. They paused, not least for photographs. They had no idea if the other pioneers ships had made landfall, would make landfall, or ever get in communication. This was their new world, THE new world, possessed in an instant by a step onto soft, mossy like ground.
To Scradbda they looked huge and powerful, and beyond comprehension in the skins they were wrapped in. These were not skins, they were something else – something very complicated (perhaps very rare and sacred). Their heads seemed to be dominated by one huge dark, blank eye.
One jumped, almost getting above those standing – the others did the same. They looked around. They looked at each other. They hugged each other as best they could. They were holding various things at the ends of their arms.
Scradbda closed her eyes and reached out to feel them, to check them. But, shocked, met nothing. This was a huge problem, they did not tune into the big speak.
By now many of the villagers were also in the fringe of wood around the clearing, looking out – the big speak filled with jabbering, fearful, excited thought and exchanges.
The aliens slowly walked away from the base of the ramp, looking around, at each other, looking at the things in their hands. They were slowing occupying the clearing.
Finally, a village elder walked clear of the bushes toward the aliens. They froze. Those near enough each other, touching each other to bring attention to what had just appeared. More of the village then walked from the bush.
One of the aliens raised its arm, and a flash of light, like lightening, jumped from the end of its arm. In the now near-dark it was an explosion of light they had never seen.
All the Achtcas sprung into the air, like a flock of startled birds, and flapped around the space of the clearing in abject panic. A bolt from a bow hit one of the aliens in the chest, who sank to her knees clutching desperately at the pain and the object with her fat fingers. Three aliens raised their arms – Scradbda did not know what happened next, but there was terrible light and sound, and, flesh, and blood and body parts of four family members spraying through the air and to the ground.
The rest flew off in abject terror, buffeting into trees and each other. Most of the alien crew were moving, backwards, in a rehearsed formation, back to the ramp. The younger, and hunter Achtcas, circling out of sight and around, flew back fast over the clearing and fired off bolts from their bows. Most flew wildly to the ground. But one hit Draydon in the thigh. The Achtcas, encouraged by the retreat of the aliens into the lander, gathered stones and with slings began to pound it with expertly slung shots – a shield like thing shattered.
Draydon, being nearer the edge of the clearing and unable to stand, crawled into the bushes. The pain in her thigh was staggering. She found a way to sit and, trying to control her breathing, surveyed the situation. A metal bolt had punched through her suit, into her inner right thigh, at an angle.
She needed more air – they had checked the atmosphere gases, and for airborne bio-matter. It had looked ok. Bio-risk – either way – was not a priority now. She opened her visor and gulped in the cool odd tasting air. At once, the pain, it did not subside as such, but was drowned out by a dazzling cacophony of sound, and a blaze of unbidden proto-feelings. The depth of it, and the range of these embryonic feelings, hit her like a wave. She clicked her visor shut again. The cacophony of sound-feeling stopped. She checked the live audio readings on her arm monitor. Nothing – or at least nothing like that. It was a different kind of sound. A different transmission. The ship’s censors had picked up nothing. It hit her, seemingly physically – this was another world, this was someone else’s world. She thought, with panic, of her family and the other pioneers. And she realised, there was, for sure, no going back. No choice. They had bows. We had, well… She opened her visor again.
And, creeping up through her overloaded and adrenalized subconscious – was the thought that one of the sounds, or feeling sources, had been very close by, and behind her. Twisting, belated startled, she peered behind, squinting through the very right hand frame of her visor.
Scradbda too was in great pain, lying on her side. Her left wing was broken – splayed out awkwardly and uselessly. Her eyes were shut in pain and utter grief. To break a wing was not death, the tribe would shelter and feed her, but … well, she had to close her mind. Both to shut out the screaming pain and anger after the deaths, and also to hide her own fate and her pain. She knew she would have to open up again soon. She knew many would be looking, would reach out love and touch to her. She also knew the balance of the chatter would be forever changed, with gaps in it, which would slowly heal over, but leave traces, scars.
After a short while, she opened up, and she started, and closed again instantly. Someone, something, was close by, something very powerful, angry, in great pain, beyond dangerous. She got on all fours and crawled with extreme stealth towards the source. There was one of the aliens, sitting back against a tree trunk. The large eye on its head was open. It had other eyes.
It stared at her but made no move. She looked at its leg and then at the end of its arms. They were different, simpler. She opened her mind -not fully, but a bit, just to ‘see’, and just to try to be one to one. The alien was in great pain, and shock, the unseeable labyrinthine depths of its processing, were a whole unknown, endlessly receding, mysterious, alarming world – but also dulled and dimming.
It looked at her. “Can you help me?”
She looked at the bolt. It followed her look. “No. Poison. You will be dead very soon. The pain will stop.”
It swallowed. And then looked up with wet eyes. She looked up too.
In the dark, above the trees, a deep roaring grew, and many powerful, moving lights appeared sliding through the clouds, as three more landers, two of them military escorts, were dropping out of the sky into the clearing.
Scradbda looked into the hallucinating alien’ s mind, and saw traces of dreams, and stories, stories of the most terrible histories, the strangest of images, of what to it, were monsters . As she watched, in her dream like confusion, Scradbda also relived the pains of the cadrinda from the last hunt, but in a dream slide, it was not the cadrinda being harpooned, but Dornve itself. And she saw what she now knew were vast tools and weapons. She knew they were close by somewhere – and they were coming.
Draydon, slipping into unconsciousness, somehow slipped almost fully into Scradbda’s mind. Seeing herself through her mind, thought, yes, it’s like the films, but we are the aliens, we are the killers, the monsters, we are the ones.
Scradbda, deep in the alien’s mind, watched her die. All that history, all the feelings, simply flicked off. But, it was all now in her mind. She had a choice – to open up and share with all, or close her mind, now useless in the big speak, as her broken wing, and die too.
2016 blog entry (edited in 2018)
“An Entirely Serious Proposition
A campaign against modern human interstellar space travel research #CAMHISTR
Despite the optimism set out in the science film quoted from above, I think it is extremely unlikely that humans will successfully travel beyond our solar system. The scales of space-time will make it impossible to achieve in the period of time that humans are likely to be ‘successfully’ on earth.
But, just in case, we should have a campaign against modern human interstellar space travel research (#CAMHISTR).
Because…, modern humans have despoiled this planet. They are violent, voracious and destructive, and should be confined to poor old earth. Modern humans have arrived to where they are today as an excessively dominant, and over-abundant species, precisely because they are violent, voracious and destructive. It is in our (modern) nature.
If there are other amazing, biodiverse, life supporting planets out there, in other solar systems, we, modern humans, should not be allowed anywhere near them.
Many (most?) sci-fi narratives are about terrible monsters ravaging across inter-galactic space, sometimes arriving on earth, with weaker, but plucky humans taking them on, and sometimes winning out against all odds. But if we do get to travel in space, we are very likely to be the monsters – in fact, we ARE the monsters.
Modern humans have travelled across the spaces of the seas and wildernesses to other worlds and been the aliens from hell, and ushered in the era of ‘ecocide’. Let’s not allow this to repeat itself.