Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: April 2016

Did you feel a tug, just now?

Better if we don’t unravel it . . . 

IMAGE: Many thanks to The Earth Friendly Family, via QuotesGram, for this beautiful image!

When was the last time you did this simple, eco-friendly thing?

It’s always a good idea to plant trees!

But better if you do the research! Know which trees are native to your area, and seek out the best of those to suit your space and purpose. 

Make sure you plant things that help sustain the local wildlife! Otherwise, it’s almost like you’re planting something plastic!

IMAGE: Many thanks to “Ecoisms” for the quote and to EskiPaper for the photo of the forest.

Is your city flood-proof? More creative approaches needed!

Today’s Artdog Images of Interest focus on the flooding of Manhattan that happened during superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s part of this month’s ongoing focus on the environment. Let’s take a look at what happens when a city is unprepared.

The Plaza Shops of Manhattan, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012
Construction sites didn’t fare well either. This is the Ground Zero site in 2012.
Commuter nightmare: still-flooded South Ferry subway station in lower Manhattan, a week after Hurricane Sandy.

Recent thinking among some city planners for coastal cities around the world is that the floods will come. Old-style thinking calls for building higher levees and praying a lot (ask New Orleans how that worked out). 

More creative approaches, however, are calling for flood-conscious building–that is, knowing the floods will com, but being ready for them. An article reposted on Arch Daily from ArchitectureBoston calls it taking a layered or tiered planning approach.

Manhattan flooding predictions from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Will they be better prepared next time?

How can cities proactively plan to minimize flood damage? Avoid building in floodplains (What an idea!). Reclaim “buffer” wetlands to mitigate storm surge. Build so lower levels are flood-ready, and place more vulnerable parts on higher levels. Making some parts of the city “floatable.” These are just a few of the more creative and environmentally savvy approaches proactive planners are trying.

IMAGES: Many thanks to for the photo of the flooded Plaza Shops, to NBC News for the photo of Ground Zero, to The Atlantic for the flooded subway picture, and to Kat Friedrich for the apocryphal map from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Space Station DIY: Where to start?

That’s no moon . . . 

I needed to create a space station. 

I had a cast of characters, the makings of a plot, and a big-picture concept of how my universe had turned out as it did. 

But now it was time to get down to creating the habitat space station on which my characters would live.

Where does one start?

One goes back to the 1970s, I discovered. That was the era when I first learned the concept of a “space station,” much less that people were seriously thinking about how one might actually build one someday. 

My earliest book on the
subject, with a great
John Berkley cover!

I was a college kid when I went to a movie called Star Wars, for the scandalously high price of three dollars per ticket. My then-boyfriend Pascal (now husband of 37+ years) and I went back to see it over and over again, as often as we could afford to (pre-video tape–but then, I’ve already admitted I’m older than dirt). 

I didn’t know it when I was bankrupting myself at the movie theater, but just a couple of years earlier a bunch of rocket scientists and other geniuses had gotten together at Stanford University for the 1975 NASA Summer Study, to try and figure out how it might be possible to build a space colony. 

They came up with something the shape of a bicycle wheel, with mirrors mounted on the hub. Artificial gravity was to be created by centrifugal force inside the outer ring. Being scientists, they didn’t call it a doughnut or wheel-shape, but a torus. It is still known as the Stanford Torus.

This is Donald E. Davis’s rendition of the exterior of the torus.

According to Wikipedia’s article about the project, it was based on earlier ideas proposed by Wernher von Braun and Herman Potocnik. The concept was known to science fiction writers, but the scientists really got going on it in 1975.

The idea of using centrifugal force to create gravity in a wheel-like structure also was suggested in the 1957 Russian film, Road to the Stars, which is fascinating to watch. Indeed, we’re still speculating on some of the same things they did, and a lot of the speculation doesn’t seem to have changed all that much. The entire 49-minute opus is available for viewing on You Tube. If you have time, take a look.

In 1957, Pavel Klushantsev’s film Road to the Stars included a space station with a torus of sorts, that produced artificial gravity.

If you look at the list of contributors to the 1975 Summer Study, it really did take a village to work out the myriad of details to arrive at something that might actually work. It’s now all freely available online

Although it’s been used in many movies, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Elysium, the “classic” Stanford Torus isn’t the only prototype space station shape from which the would-be sf author can choose, however. In upcoming posts from this “DIY Space Station” series, I’ll look at Bernal and Dyson Spheres, the O’Neill Cylinder, and Bishop Rings.

IMAGES: Many thanks to TurboSquid for the picture of the Death Star, and to Abe Books for the cover art for Colonies in Space. The wonderful Don Davis painting of the torus, NASA Ames Research Center (ID AC76-0525), is now in the public domain. I got it from Wikipedia. The image of Klushantsev’s proto-torus design is a screen-capture from Road to the Stars, as seen on You Tube.

What’s at stake? How do you see it?

Don’t you agree?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Marian16rox on Tumblr.

Sun-Moon Mansion in China: Solar Powerhouse

The solar power sector of the energy market is growing by leaps and bounds–but nowhere faster than in China. Whether you see this as a positive or negative trend, it is changing the face of solar power generation.

The Sun-Moon Mansion is billed as “the biggest solar energy production base in the world,” and was conceived as the headquarters of a solar energy production area that could parallel Silicon Valley as a source for development. It’s certainly the most visually interesting power plant I’ve seen in a while. Here are some more views: 

IMAGES: The opening image of the Sun Moon Mansion is from an Eco Friend article, “Sustainable Solutions to Make Cities a Better Place to Live.” The others are from the Inhabitat slide show about the place.

How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness

By Jan S. Gephardt

NOTE: I wrote the original version of this post, “How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness,” in 2016. I didn’t realize how often I’d link to it in later years, nor how badly its illustrations would translate to later themes and formats. In this adjusted version (2022), I’ve updated some images, added subtitles to break it up a bit, and expanded in a few places.

The first edition of "Dune" by Frank Herbert, on a background of Saharan dunes.
Frank Herbert’s Dune changed how science fiction readers thought about planetary ecosystems. (See credits bel)ow.

The ”Dune” Generation

I am a member of the Dune generation.

Yeah, I know: that marks me as Older Than Dirt in 2016. Published in 1965 (I read it in 1973, at age . . . young adult), it changed both science fiction and (along with the 1962 book Silent Spring) the environmental movement.

This was mostly due to author Frank Herbert’s depiction of the complex ecology of the fictional planet Arrakis, a world so complex, fascinating and challenging that it became a “character” in its own right. And yet, as intricate and realistic as the depiction was, we only ever saw ONE environment on Arrakis. It was a “desert planet.”

Usula K. LeGuin's "The Word for World is Forest," with a Malaysian jungle in the background.
Richard M. Powers created the cover for the first edition of The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

A One-Ecology Planet

Similarly, Athshe, in 1972’s The Word For World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a tree-covered world. The plot is grounded, once again, in the ecology of the planet–but there’s only one kind of ecology.

It’s a common theme in science fiction: a one-ecology planet. Now, sometimes that’s not unwarranted: not much difference between poles and equator on Venus, for instance, or on Jupiter’s “ice moon” Europa.

But it’s a simplistic view, and a very far cry from the true nature the Mother of Us All, which could be described as a “water planet,” but also a mountain planet, a plains planet, a desert planet, a forest planet, and many other kinds of ecology. 

Every earth-ish science fictional world, from Hoth to Arrakis, owes its origin and vision to someplace on Earth. Sometimes, science fiction affects environmental awareness in both helpful and unhelpful ways.

The Iconic "Earthrise" photo.
Earthrise is the “most influential environmental photograph ever taken” (per Galen Rowell), a view of Earth rising over the moon on Dec. 24, 1968 by astronaut William Anders. It changed how many people thought of earth. (NASA, via Wikipedia).

Serving the Story

To my mind, there’s no reason to think any other earth-like planet with an atmosphere humans find breathable will be any less complex and extraordinary in its own way, but few sf authors seem willing to “world-build” to quite that extent.

Partially, it’s a matter of balance. Spending a lot of energy on different environments may not serve the story (and that’s what comes first). 

Also, many sf stories are set in sterile, artificial city or space-based environments. These are all too much like many “nature deprived” lives in the contemporary Western world. Not coincidentally, it’s that part of the planetary population which produces most of our science fiction. “Nature deficit disorder” leads to nature-divorced book settings? Well, maybe. 

Lois McMaster Bujold's "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen," on a starfield.
The planet Sergyar is almost a character in the latest book of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.

A Different Kind of Exo-Planet

But it’s refreshing to me when a book with a more sophisticated ecology for its exoplanets arrives. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold is an example of a more scientifically complex vision. Indeed, one of Bujold’s frequent themes is an exploration of the effects of a given environment on the societies that grow up in it. 

Our view of worlds continues to evolve in astronomy. And also in contemporary life and science fiction (one, of course, being the mirror of the others). I only hope that as our own planet changes around us, we in the science fiction community can once again influence thinking. We need to think deeply about the complexities and beauties of environments, in powerful and constructive ways.

How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness

What I didn’t quite articulate in 2016 was the promise of the title, “How How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness,” beyond in the initial paragraph. Indeed, novels such as Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach also provided early influences for the environmental movement.

Earth Day’s sponsors celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2021, and science fiction continues to impact environmental awareness. Dystopian writers endlessly hammer out all the ways we can go wrong with the environment, while movements such as Solarpunk seek to envision a more positive future.

For an evolution of my thoughts on how science fiction impacts environmental awareness, I’d invite you to explore my February 2022 blog post, “Looking for Hope.”


Many thanks to Wikipedia for the first-edition cover art for Dune and The Word for World is Forest, and also for Earthrise. The background images for both books came from 123rf. Artwork for the first edition of Dune is by the legendary sf illustrator John Schoenherr. The Saharan dunes photo came from Martin Silva Cosentino (martinsilvacosentino) via 123rf. Richard M. Powers created the cover for the first edition of The Word for World is Forestby Ursula K. Le Guin. Photographer “szefei” shot the Tropical Forest background for 123rf.

Earthrise is the “most influential environmental photograph ever taken” (per Galen Rowell), a view of Earth rising over the moon on Dec. 24, 1968 by astronaut William Anders. It changed how many people thought about Earth.

Many thanks to Amazon, for the cover image of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, cover art by Ron Miller, based upon a concept by author Lois McMaster Bujold; cover design by Carol Russo Design. I placed it on a background photo of an origin-nebula for new stars from NASA. Full image credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team.

If this is true, what does it say about the US?

I’d like to see more people take this to heart.

IMAGE: many thanks to ClipSuper for this quote and image.

Now, THAT’s Yard Art!

These are “Supertrees.” They are part of the fascinating “Gardens by the Bay” project in Singapore.

Supertrees are vertical gardens. These are filled with ferns, bromeliads, and other exotic species. They’re designed to replicate environmental niches, to preserve species from around the world.

The entire project is pretty interesting. Sponsored and funded by the government of Singapore, it shows remarkable foresight (Note: I live in a country where some state planning agencies with hundreds of miles of coastline to manage are not legally allowed to take the effects of global climate change into effect, so the “remarkable” bar may be set pretty low for me).

IMAGE: Many thanks to EcoFriend’s “Sustainable solutions to make cities a better place to live,” article.

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