Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 3. Worth their weight in diamonds

This is the third in a series of posts that question some of the classic tropes in science fiction. This series was inspired by observations made while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

The book is a really wonderful space opera, first in The Expanse series, which later inspired the creation of the SyFy Channel show, The Expansein its third season as I write this. But it does seem to accept unexamined some of science fiction’s time-honored (and, in my mind, outmoded) tropes.

In particular, my comments center upon Ceres Station, its population, and its governance, as portrayed in the book. I compiled a short list of outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres:

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.

Last week I took issue with the idea that there would be abundant, expendable excess humanity available in the extrapolated setting and time span.

The primary reasons why humans won’t be that abundant are the difficulty of achieving a viable pregnancy in most space (or space-adjacent) environments, and the lowered rates of childbearing among well-educated women who can control their fertility, a reality we already have seen played out in developed nations for several decades.

Today, I’d like to look at the reasons why the humans who do get there won’t be expendable at all. ASIDE from the human rights angle, which ought to be the FOUNDATION of any discussion about the “expendability” of human lives, if we’re not going to have lots of excess babies in space, then Earth is probably exporting the vast majority of the people who live in space.

Every human being who is technically educated to the point of being employable Out Therethen hauled up out of the gravity well is going to be an extremely valuable commodity. 

Hauled up out of the gravity well” alone gives you one reason. In 2009, Michio Kaku explained the cost of transporting someone to Mars this way, in a Forbes article: “imagine your body made of diamonds.

The XKCD Web Comic gives us ALL the gravity wells (in the solar system, that is)!

Even now, it doesn’t cost as much to put a human in orbit as it did in the early days of the Space Race, and that cost will inevitably continue to go down. But I guarantee you it’ll never be so cheap and easy that “anybody can do it.” 

Nor should “anybody” do it. Space is dangerous. Learning how to survive there takes a lot of training and highly specialized (not cheap) equipment. Which brings me to my next point: the “technically educated to the point of being employable” part.

If humans are neither able nor inclined to breed like rabbits in the tunnels of Ceres, that means in space most of the “grunt labor”–and more of the advanced processes than you might imagine–will be done the way more and more of it already IS, here on Earth: by robotsRobotic manufacturing processes are already essential to the current aerospace industry, and this trend won’t go away. I examined this and related automation issues in a series of posts about the automation of labor that started last March. 

Who will manage, troubleshoot, and integrate those robots? That’s the role for highly technically skilled and trained humans. Humans with master’s degrees and doctors’ degrees, sure–but also highly skilled technicians, to keep everything running as it should. We’re already experiencing a critical shortage of skilled labor, and the push into space will only add competition to entice workers in this job niche.

Typically, competition for workers means good salaries, signing bonuses, enticements, and perks added to sweeten the offer. If you want a model for what the workforce of the future will look like, look at Silicon Valley and the current aerospace industrynot the coal mines and textile mills of yesteryear.

Skilled workers, designers, and more are needed to put Spacex rockets into orbit–and the need for such teams will only grow as human expand their enterprises into space.

Moreover, companies are going to have to treat their employees with respect, or those intelligent, educated people will find ways to organize for change, mutiny, or jump ship to sign on with a competitor. How has science fiction not figured this out yet?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover image; the XKCD Web Comic, for the gravity wells size comparison chart; to Cerasis, for the photo of robots manufacturing something (I can’t tell what, though, and Cerasis author Adam Robinson didn’t include that information in the article); and to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, for the photo of the Spacex Team.

Celestial trifecta

The Super Blue Blood Moon did not look like this from the second floor bedroom of our Westwood, Kansas home. There were branches. There were other houses. It was setting (at totality) about the time the sun was coming up on the opposite horizon, so we only got to see the Frog eat the Moon, but then he ran away with it, below the horizon.

This moon looks way cooler than ours did–but I’m still glad we got up for it.

It was still totally worth getting up for. For one thing, it wasn’t cloudy! We had a total eclipse of the sun in the Kansas City area last August, and it was totally socked in and raining at totality, where we were. So we saw it get dark. We saw the 360-degree sunset. But we barely got to use our solar sunglasses at all.

Somewhere up there a solar eclipse was happening. Very frustrating.
The cloudy “wrap-around” sunset, mid-afternoon August 21, 2017, taken without the proper filter so it doesn’t look as red as it did in real life.

I’ve been pretty busy, these past few weeks, but some things just must be taken time for. The main thing I’ve been doing is making a final push to finish my novel. If all goes well, I’ll be done by Sunday with this part of the writing.

And presumably, the Frog will give us the Moon back tonight.

IMAGES: The gorgeous photo of a previous (September 2017) Super Blue Blood Moon, by real NASA-affiliated photographer Dominique Dierick, is courtesy of Sky News. Thank you! The two “Alleged Eclipse” photos are ones I took last August with my trusty iPhone 6, at my friend Marna’s farm.

The spirit of Rosie, and the winds of change

The Artdog Image of Interest

World War II was a time to step up. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone did their part. No “war on a credit card” for the so-called Greatest Generation. Millions of American women–including, for the first time, middle-class, white, married women–did just that: they stepped out of their comfort zones to take industrial jobs when the vast majority of American men went overseas to fight.

In doing so, they changed their own outlook, society’s understandings, and the world of working women forever.

This attitude was personified in an extremely popular 1943 song, Rosie the Riveter, by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb.

But Rosie really got her form from Norman Rockwell  in May, 1943.

Rockwell’s Memorial Day cover for The Saturday Evening Post captured the spirit of the song, and has resonated with more than one generation of women. Here’s a video about the painting, and the larger phenomenon, from the Library of Congress that I really found interesting. Please note, however: it’s almost 15 minutes long.

The iconic 1942 “We Can Do It!” poster from Westinghouse artist J. Howard Miller was later identified with Rosie; copyright issues made that image available much more readily than Rockwell’s painting, for several decades.

At the time, people warned that letting women do a man’s job would change things–and it certainly did. While the fight continues today for pay equity, and women still face discrimination of all sorts in the workplace, very few people today doubt that women can do things that go far outside the limits placed by traditional sex-role stereotypes.

In part, we have Rosie to thank for that.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Changing World’s VisionWorks, for the main image of Rockwell’s “Rosie.” Many thanks to YouTube and the Library of Congress for the informative video. (Also to YouTube and GlamourDaze for the video and song).


The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I wonder how many Republicans would endorse this idea today, much less act accordingly? But it’s a crucial balance to get into one’s head, because in society today we so often get these two backwards–to our own detriment.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Upworthy’s Pinterest Page. Also to the late President Abraham Lincoln.

Does your gift-wrap do impressions?

Artdog Images of Interest

While researching creative gift-wrapping strategies for this month’s series, I discovered an interesting sub-genre of creative wrapping approaches: gifts that look like something else.

Mary Dacuma’s creative gift-wrap evokes a chimney with stockings–your very own Santa-stop, whether your home has a fireplace or not.
Pair your chimney-and-stockings with a Santa suit, and everyone can say “Ho-ho-ho!” (also by Mary Dacuma)
No one will mind if this turns out to be a “stuffed shirt”–in fact, I suspect they’ll be pleased.
Your “Christmas shirt” can also sport suspenders . . . and candy “buttons,” too.
And speaking of candy, what sweeter way to disguise rolls of quarters (a great stocking-stuffer idea!) than this candy-roll look, attributed to Martha Stewart?

Although these clever disguises won’t fool anyone, I bet they’ll amuse some of their recipients–and the givers will get extra “points” for creative approaches. Challenge yourself: what kind of creative “impressions” can your gift-wrap do?

Blogger’s note: Life intervened lat week, and although I had planned this topic to be last Saturday’s post, I never got it posted. So sorry! But it’s still not Christmas yet, so I figured this would still be timely. I hope you agree!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Mary Dacuma and E-How, for the chimney-with-stockings and Santa-suit gift wrap ideas. For instructions on how to re-create these looks, check the E-How page. The “stuffed” Christmas shirt and the shirt-with-suspenders gift wrap ideas are both from Lawrie Gullion’s “Christmas” Pinterest page. The quarter rolls disguised as candy are attributed to Martha Stewart, though I couldn’t find a direct link to this photo on her page of gift-wrapping wonders; I found this photo on the Room-Mom 101 Pinterest page.

Please excuse my setup difficulties

I’m looking at a steep learning curve.

I have been advised to switch from Blogger to WordPress, so my blog can appear on my website. This is no small task, since I’ve been blogging for close to a decade on Blogger, at my Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Adventures blog.  

It’s been closer to twenty years, since I last set up a website. I’m looking at a steep learning curve and short periods of time to devote to this, so I predict an, um, interesting time. I think persistence is going to be my only hope.

I haven’t had time to look too deeply into creative solutions or design. So far, I’m still trying to figure out how to “import an XML file.” (I’m certain that means something clear and helpful to many people with a broader background in websites than I have).

Wish me luck!

IMAGE: Many thanks to “Marketing for Hippies,” for the highly appropriate image.

P.S. Meanwhile, please check out my current post on the Blogger site.

Can a Man REALLY be a Feminist?

Artemesia Gentileschi, (possible) self-
portrait as The Allegory of Painting.

In the creative fields, as well as in all others, women have had an uphill battle for equal consideration. 

A small sampling the not-so-widely-renowned names of painters Artemesia Gentileschi, Louise Bourgeois, or Berthe Morisot provides a good example. They worked alongside such male contemporaries as Caravaggio, Dali, and Renoir, and arguably were just as skilled and visionary. But you might note I only needed to list one name for each of the men, and you undoubtedly knew who I meant, if you have any background in art history. 

These women have become better known in recent years, but I challenge you to find them in an art textbook from the 1950s or ’60s. You’ll find loads of women in those textbooks–but they’ll be the models (the objects), not the artists.

Louise Bourgeois, part of the Femme Maison series.

You can find parallels in any field, not only the arts. In most of the world, for most of history, it has been a man’s world. Little wonder, then, that feminists for years have “closed the circle” and not been much interested in male input. 

Especially since I live in a relatively conservative part of the country, I am all too well familiar with the commonly-held belief that the term feminist has become a synonym for man-hater

Berthe Morisot, Portrait of the Artist’s
Mother and Sister.

Centuries of abuse and resentment will cause reactions of hatred and repudiation. But that’s ultimately a losing game for everyone, if attitudes toward the opposite gender do not evolve.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary life, in my opinion, is that more recent generations of young women have rejected calling themselves feminists, even while they enjoy many privileges they never would have had without the historic role of feminists.

How long will it take before the realization hits that if you exclude roughly half the population from the conversation–especially the half that, to this day, often holds most of the power–it’s going to be difficult to change the way society as a whole thinks. 

Why would a man ever have any interest in gender equality? Don’t they already have it pretty good? Well, yes and no. If you insist on strict gender stereotypes, then “being a man” is a pretty scary, dangerous, unhealthy thing to be (just look at the mortality statistics). A man may have more advantages in some ways, but he’s held to unrealistic, self-destructive standards, in others. 

Men aren’t given much credit when they show their feelings, take care of their children (other than paying their bills), or try to make peace instead of fighting or arguing, for example. Gender stereotypes force men to be domineering brutes, just as they force women into subservient roles. 

The UN’s “HeForShe” campaign, started in 2014, has received criticism for trying to include men in the conversation–not just because equality is good for women, but because it’s good for men, too. The campaign’s leaders may not always strike the right note for everyone (or for every situation), but it seems to me they’re asking the right questions. 

Perhaps feminist and feminism aren’t such accurate words for this new paradigm, given their single-gender emphasis, despite the fact that we usually focus on the relatively more disadvantaged female side of the equation. 

But gender equality itself is an idea that must ultimately prevail, if we (whatever our gender) are to live fully-realized and fulfilling lives. It’s good for women, and it’s actually good for men, too. It think it’s time to invite men into the discussion as equals.

IMAGES: Many thanks to that ever-bountiful resource, Wikipedia (please consider making a contribution)! The photo of the painting by Artemisia Gentileschi is from her Wikipedia page. The three images from Louise Bourgeois’ series Femme Maison are from the Wikipedia page devoted to that series. The photo of Berthe Morisot’s painting is from her Wikipedia page. And the logo for the HeForShe campaign is from the Wikipedia page about the program.