Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it’ll involve spoilers–so I won’t. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won’t bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into spaceprivate contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country’s prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple CanopyCoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other 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.
To paraphrase, Ceres ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids–at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I’ll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We’re writing science fiction, here. Can’t we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 

Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy’s The Expanse. 

I appreciate you all!

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.

Creating well

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

As with most of this month’s “Quote” of the Week posts, I found so many relevant quotes I couldn’t stop at just one, in my quest to explore thoughts about creating a better future. This week was no exception! I hope you’ll enjoy these combined thoughts.

IMAGES: Many thanks to QuotesHunter‘s great post of “20 Inspirational Quotes About the Future,” for the first and third quote images, and to Double Quotes for the Eckhart Tolle quote image. I’m grateful for all!

Remembering Jake

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

I’ll write the planned post about another endangered beauty spot a different time. Today I simply want to remember a beloved friend. My dog Jake has gone on ahead of me, as dogs too often do, taking a journey I’m not yet ready to take.

Jake in the back yard with me, in October 2016–Photo by Signy Gephardt

Jake was my writing companion, the co-inspirer of certain dragon body-shapes in my artwork, and my exercise buddy who made sure I took walks as often as possible–at least until his lungs gave out.

He was a rescue dog, an Italian greyhound-whippet mix (thus, a “whiggie”) who came into my life around the turn of the decade. He died this week of lung cancer, at the age of almost eleven.

He will be sorely missed.

Mine’s missing someone at the moment, alas.

IMAGES: Many thanks to my daughter Signy for capturing a moment between Jake and me in 2016, and to Defining Wonderland’s post “Adventures in Dog Watching,” for the Roger Caras quote. The source they cite for the quote image is no longer there.

No hypothetical threats, these

My Artdog Images of Interest for most of this month have focused on places of natural wonder that are under threat, with the hope that–if we’re working to build a better future–they still can be preserved. Mining hasn’t happened at the Grand Canyon yet. No one has begun to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . . . yet.

Grand Escalante, at left in blue, with a significantly reduced footprint; the decimated Bears Ears at right in red.

Unfortunately, my subjects today aren’t under hypothetical threatThe Very Stable Genius in Chief has already decimated two national monuments in Utah, with great fanfare and self-congratulation for rolling back a “massive federal land grab,” and striking a blow for “states’ rights.”  (Side note: Ever notice how it was “opening the West,” when Europeans invaded tribal homelands, but it’s a “massive federal land grab” when white ranchers’ or mineral developers’ access is restricted?)

It should be no surprise that indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation, and environmentalists have launched protests and filed lawsuits, but were not consulted when the boundaries were redrawn.

Granted, some of the more spectacular sites, such as the Dry Fork Slot Canyons, (including PeekaBoo and Spooky, featured in the video above) and the Toadstool Hoodoos still remain in Wilderness Study Areas, and thus are mostly still protected from development.

A somewhat unique view of the Toadstool Hoodoos, still in a Wilderness Study Area (no thanks to Mr. Trump).

Other areas? Not so much. Despite the economic stimulus brought to southern Utah by a tourism boom after President Clinton’s designation of the Kaiparowits Plateau (with its Late Cretaceous “Dinosaur Shangri-La” fossil beds) as part of Grand Escalante National Monument, Mr. Trump’s administration seems to have listened only to the mining and oil interests who have long bemoaned “that the Staircase monument has strangled economic development in Kane and Garfield counties for the past 21 years.” The area is now available once again for renewal of dormant oil and gas leases, or the granting of new ones.

If you follow paleontology at all, you probably already know about the Kaiparowits Plateau, the scene of many important finds over the last two decades since Clinton protected them. Just last October, paleontologists announced a major new find. “With at least 75 percent of its bones preserved, this is the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaur ever discovered in the southwestern US,” said Dr. Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Future finds such as this newly-discovered Tyrannosaur skeleton may soon be at risk from nearby mineral development.

Equally endangered are many ancient cultural sites in places such as the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the White Canyon area, which are now more open to less-restricted public access, along with the near-certainty of looting and vandalism“Only a very small part of this area has been subject to a cultural resources inventory,” Tim Peterson, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust told Nadja Popovich of the New York Times in December.

Not-so-protected petroglyphs from what used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument–photo by Mason Cummings.
Cliff dwellings such as this one in the Dark Canyon Wilderness are now more vulnerable to looting and vandalism, much to the dismay of local tribal groups and others concerned with preserving cultural sites in the area that until recently was part of Bears Ears National Monument.

We may never know everything we stand to lose, in the wake of this Trumpian downsizing move. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned so much–but which appears to be another likely result–is the loss of wildlife corridors, particularly because there will be fewer restrictions on development.

So–is all now lost? No. Environmental and tribal groups already have already filed lawsuits to block Trump’s changes to these two monuments. If you feel strongly about this, two immediate paths of action are available.

First, donate to groups such as The Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council, which are among the ten environmental groups that have filed suit, or the Native American Rights Fund, which CNN reported is representing the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute in the lawsuit.

Second, write or call your representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, to let them know your opinion. They can’t directly block an executive action, but they do have to weigh in on any changes to Wilderness Study Areas, among other things, and they are in charge of funding decisions. Contrary to the intransigence I often receive from the three men who purport to represent me in Washington (Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sen. Pat Roberts, and Sen. Jerry Moran), SOME people’s elected representatives even listen to them!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Salt Lake Tribune for the map showing original and shrunken outlines of the two national monuments (the article was written before the official changes, but the maps turned out to be pretty accurate). I also am grateful to Climb Utah and YouTube for information and the imagery from the Dry Fork Slot Canyons; to TripAdvisor’s article about the Toadstool Hoodoos for the photo of that feature (check the page for many more photos!); and to the Natural History Museum of Utah, for the photo of the newly-discovered tyrannosaur fossil from the Kaiparowits Plateau. Many thanks also to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and photographer Mason Cummings, for the photo of petroglyphs in one of the newly-exposed areas that used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument, and to the US Forest Service, via Howard Myerson’s “The Outdoor Journal,” for the photo of a cliff dwelling in the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

Taking it seriously

The Artdog Quote of the Week

If I want to improve my future, I have to do more than wish. Powered by dreams, I have to take the needed steps to make it so.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Quotefancy for the Jim Rohn quote, and to QuotesHunter’s great collection, “20 Inspiring Quotes About theFuture,” for the Mahatma Gandhi quote. I’m grateful to both!

Drill, baby, drill?

The Artdog Images of Interest

As I noted last week, this month’s theme is working toward a better future, and my Images of Interest for the rest of the month feature amazing places in the United States that are threatened or actively under attack. As long as they continue to exist, we can still fight to save them, even if things are looking bad at the moment.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is one such place that is under threat. Not immediately, but the Trump Administration has green-lighted the initiative to begin drilling there, so the process has definitely started. 

What kind of damage is that likely to do? That first link may have a dated lede, but the rest still applies. It’s also true that tundra “heals” after disruption extremely slowly.

ANWR is so enormous, no single picture can hope to capture its variety and beauty. It’s true that five won’t do it either, but I’ve tried to find a good variety to give a small taste of what’s at stake.

IMAGES: Many thanks to William Bonilla and Defenders of Wildlife for the polar bear photo taken in the ANWR; to Robert Salazar and Origami for an Interdependent World (what a cool idea!), for the photo of the famous Porcupine Caribou, a subspecies; to Peter Mather and The Wilderness Society for the lakeshore-and-clouds image from the refuge; to Florian Schulz and The Audubon Society for the aerial photo of the braided river, plains and mountains in the refuge; and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the photo of the mountain foothills. sloping down to a plain in the ANWR. I deeply appreciate all!