In its center cowered a tiny caricature of ourselves, closer to our ancient spacefaring cousins than to ourselves, but still recognizably relative to both. But it was small, small, a mote that might have been barely a fiftieth of my own young mass. I looked at it crouched there in the center of its disc of web: four leg-pairs.
“It… this animal… is it sentient? It’s older than I am,” I said, whispering, reverent without understanding why. But I was.
A snippet from a work in progress, The Spiders Fly, a short story in which an alien species explores the wasted remains of Earth… and what remains there of its very, very distant ancient cousins.
Mysterious? Of course! There’s only so much to reveal of a short story. I need to be mysterious.
A little earlier, I wrote about pessimism in science fiction. Seemed like a nice idea to follow that up with an optimistic little story doodle.
(Untitled 100 word short-short)
The children gasp happily at the view as the shuttle door opens. They set up the picnic on matted needles under a gnarled pine by the beach. I snap pictures of the shoreline and rocks, hoping to compare them to the old paper snapshots my great-great-great grandfather took nearby.
In his snaps, there is a city here, half drowned in a rising sea. Today the sea has retreated again, and the cities are inland, underground; forest and grass and wild animals reclaim a world made mostly of natural beauty.
The dirty work is all in space; Earth is beautiful again.
Am I the only person who feels a little bit of disappointment along with the excitement of reading about various plans, achievements, and speculations of NASA and other space agencies around the world?
I’m glad there’s talk about the next Mars probe and the possibility of a manned Mars mission sometime…soonish…maybe…in the nebulous indefinite future. I’m glad there are people tinkering with rocketry still, seeking ways to refine current technology. I’m glad there are people researching ion drives trying to make them stronger and more efficient.
But it’s all kind of pale compared to what might have been.
We in the USA like to say, “we put a man on the moon”. Well, we did. And then we didn’t go back. The moonwalkers are dying of old age and we still haven’t been back. Well, what good is that?
If the US isn’t going to do it, I hope someone does. Maybe it will be a private effort and not a national one when it happens.
However it happens, I hope it’s soon. If there’s anything humanity needs, it’s the return of the frontier. There really aren’t any left on Earth, and we’re a restless people. When there’s nowhere new to go, we start to jostle. Sometimes the jostling turns to fighting. We really don’t need to be fighting. Not when we’ve nukes to toss around if we get really mad.
- NASA refuses funding Inspiration Mars’s manned mission to Mars in 2017 (dnaindia.com)
- Details of 1st Private Manned Mars Flyby Mission Unveiled (space.com)
- Space Agencies Of The World, Unite: The U.N.’s Asteroid Defense Plan (npr.org)
- International Space Station Turns 15 (sys-con.com)
- How Greenhouse Gasses Saved Mars (science.time.com)
- Gold rush in space? Asteroid miners prepare to prospect (hispanicbusiness.com)
- Asteroid miners go after most precious resource: water (mining.com)
- Examining Buzz Aldrin’s roadmap to Mars (nasaspaceflight.com)
- To the moon? NASA passes the torch for space commercialization (nbcnews.com)
- NASA shelves fuel-efficient tech, effectively slashes outer planet exploration (slashgear.com)
Image via Morguefile, my favorite source for random imagery
Interesting that in most science fiction writing featuring aliens, the aliens are either fairly monolithic (one world, one political unit or culture), or have two or three major divisions. Seldom more.
Our good Earth, on the other hand… there’s a whole lot of Balkanization going on. The large units such as the United States, the EU, China, India all have significant internal divisions of some sort that create internal friction. Perhaps not the kind of internal friction that leads to dissolution, but who knows what the future may hold? We generally seem to assume, as groups, that cooperation will lead to cultural extinction for the various subsets we create for ourselves as human beings. It certainly could, too. History has plenty of examples of cultures dissolving and dissipating within larger wholes, especially conquering larger wholes. History also has examples of peoples preserving their heritages for centuries within larger units as well.
Some science fiction addresses these issues, but I think overall the tendency to cast alien races as large world or interstellar-empire-spanning political or cultural blocs represents the perception that in order to pursue exploration of space effectively, great amounts of resources are demanded.
Unity is the best way to coordinate massive efforts. We see this in our own recent history. Although it was largely a showpiece in many ways, the 20th century space race between the USA and USSR illustrates this. Those two nations commanded enormous resources and strong industrial bases. Smaller or less industrially developed nations didn’t join in because they didn’t have the means to.
The only way around this issue would be a technological advance that reduces the resource expenditures needed to escape Earth’s gravity well. Even with that, there’s still the demands of building whatever ships or habitats we plan to use in exploration or seeking resources, and coordinating those efforts. Again, easier to do with a large fairly single-minded bloc.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just easier if it is. Thus, relatively homogenous aliens when compared to the diversity of real-life Earth.
Plus, big homogenous bloc aliens are easier to write. There’s that, too. Describing 200 alien nations in one story, novel, or even series could easily overwhelm the narrative with worldbuilding.
Anything I missed? Tell me in the comments and I’ll get to it as soon as I finish designing my latest big-single-political-and-cultural-bloc alien race.
- Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction (theawl.com)
- Science Fiction, Aliens, and Suspension of Disbelief (jtdavidson.wordpress.com)
I’ve just published this piece of flash fiction on Smashwords, where it makes title #35 I have published with them. Over the next couple of weeks it will percolate through the virtual distribution pipeline to various venues, links to which I keep over to your right, in the sidebar, at the very top. Socrates, Unafraid is short, sweet, and free. Since it is free, I thought I would share it here as well. If you enjoy it… well, I’ve just told you where to find the rest of my work, haven’t I? 🙂
By S. A. Barton
Copyright 2013 S. A. Barton
The cup slips from my fingers, as it always has. It shatters between my feet, losing itself on the marble as the fragments scatter, white on white. For a moment, the shards persist. Then they become faded, then translucent. Then they are gone, and I am alone. There is me, sitting before the garden that wreathes the edges of the portico in flowers, my chair, the table, the empty flagon. Were I solid, the poison would churn through my guts. I sit, regarding the nodding heads of the flowers, and imagine it burning. Instead, unseen, it nevertheless fades into invisibility, into nothingness, as the cup has.
Did it exist? Did the cup? Did I? I smack my lips at the saccharine and heavy aftertaste the poison has left as I watch yellow sulfur moths stitch unsteady paths among the dusty red of the roses. A chime sounds, high and tinkling: once, twice, thrice.
My body is ready. The chime has sounded each day as my body has stood ready, untouched, as thirty thousand days and thirty thousand cups have passed.
It, this body, stands among ninety-nine others; none have stirred. I can sense so. They stand motionless and ready in ranks, in a square, in a ruined acropolis meant to stand at the center of a new and untarnished humanity, spit out at last into the stars from the rotting, collapsing womb of a spoiled and dying Earth, a last paroxysm of the self-preservation urge of a species.
Around the ranks of these carbon-tubule humanoid frames engineered to endure eons and bear the minds of we the last teachers of Earth, arrayed against the smooth concrete walls, are honeycombed a thousand incubators.
Within them, thirty thousand days old, long turned to motes of dust, are a thousand thirty-two-cell human embryos, selected to bear the genetic diversity needed to seed a new humanity from among them. All poisoned by the subtle traces of heavy metals and radioactives in the atmosphere, undetectable from an Earth which sent this last doomed gasp. Perhaps there were a people here once as well, alien and yet enough like us to drown in their own waste and violence as we have. If there were, they have left less of a trace than we have. Only the poisons that have destroyed our final offspring remain.
I stare at the blank marble floor, contemplating the sunset not yet here that my virtuality will bring, and the sleep, the waking, and cup thirty thousand and one.
It is enough. Finally enough. For the first time, I answer the chime.
I have spent thirty thousand days in hiding, in grief, in a solitary despair at the fate of humanity. I sense the others have left their bodies inactive as well, for the same reason, I assume. I cannot imagine another.
But there are still we final hundred. Our bodies, our fleshly human bodies, are forsaken. But our minds, our thoughts: we are human in those. At long last I accept that it must be enough. It must: it is all there is. We still might build and grow, construct new bodies and load them each with one of our hundred minds. Time and experience will change all of us, new and old, and finally as centuries pass we will diverge, until from a hundred seeds there will be thousands and millions of us, different enough in time to be called different individuals, if sprung from the identical hundred roots.
I open my eyes; carbon laminate eyelids unshroud lenses of flawless and smooth diamond. I look out across the ruined acropolis, the still forms of my ninety-nine inert companions, the thousand dust-shrouded incubators become tombs.
None of those things are there. I stand, robotic limbs locked in place but warming with current, loosening, in a cylinder of industrial diamond mounted upon a modest pedestal of plain marble. My eyes, not needing the action but driven by the appendix of a biological reflex embedded in my virtual mind, blink once, twice, thrice in surprise, diamond regarding diamond. And my focus shifts, and I look beyond.
There is the acropolis, clean and smooth, the concrete hidden behind marble façade. Lights, aimed into the great vault above, reflect a comfortable and warm sunlight upon the thousand incubators, standing open and doorless to display the guts from which sprang the last thousand human beings.
Of my ninety-nine companions, no sign at all.
Before me, a dozen children mill about a single adult. One of the children reaches up and tugs at the dusty red rose of her blouse.
“The Unawakened, teacher. His eyes opened. Does that mean he’s not The Unawakened anymore?”
The teacher turns to me, eyes widening, mouth forming an O of surprise. I smile, finally.
Even late, teaching is what I am for. And there are children here after all.
See more from S. A. Barton:
On Twitter at http://twitter.com/tao23
And on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/S-A-Barton/312607662122218
According to the very recent article pictured above, there is a very high likelihood that there is at least one habitable, Earthlike planet within 20 light years of Earth, and possibly more. The number of habitable planets out there may be a lot higher than our best guessers had been guessing.
It’s by no means certain that there’s a beautiful and fallow new Earth sitting next door (or as next door as interstellar distances get), but this is encouraging to wild-eyed dreamers like me. We could be one really good technological advance from going and taking a look.
If we don’t mind our grandchildren being the ones to look down on a new planet and decide whether or not it’s good to live on, we could go now. Or now-ish. I’d imagine it would take a couple or five decades, if we were so inclined and assuming our technology stays basically the same, to dig out the guts of an asteroid to make a decent sized generation ship habitat capable of carrying a few thousand people and go take a look. It could be enough to start a new Human Race franchise at a new location. It looks like the human population has been that small in the fairly recent past.
I’d sign up. But I’m guessing my family might want me to discuss it with them first…