Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘As a Species of Megalomania, This Is Hard to Top’

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But never mind the logistics. If we live long enough as a species, we might overcome them, or at least some of them: energy from fusion (which always seems to be about 50 years away) and so forth. Think about what life in a space colony would be like: a hermetically sealed, climate-controlled little nothing of a place. Refrigerated air, synthetic materials, and no exit. It would be like living in an airport. An airport in Antarctica. Forever. When I hear someone talking about space colonies, I think, that’s a person who has never studied the humanities. That’s a person who has never stopped to think about what it feels like to go through an average day—what life is about, what makes it worth living, what makes it endurable. A person blessed with a technological imagination and the absence of any other kind.

And yet: Mars!

Written by gerrycanavan

August 6, 2012 at 8:03 am

2 Responses

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  1. The rhetoric of colonization is also problematic, of course, even if we are only looking to conquer “uninhabited” (and uninhabitable) planets. In addition to never studying the humanities, I wonder how much serious science fiction some of these people have read. I certainly can’t imagine Gingrich reading Kim Stanley Robinson, or reflecting on the ethics of space exploration and what that means for human society beyond the familiar tropes of “exploring and conquering the frontier.”

    NASA’s mission seems different to me, focused as it is on science and not human imperialism. Of course, implicit in all of NASA’s work is the idea that we are “paving the way” for humans. If we send humans purely for scientific purposes, then okay. But that’s not what most people are imagining or dreaming about, I suppose.

    Tom Elrod

    August 6, 2012 at 8:36 am

    • I’m fond of this piece because I say something a bit similar in my dissertation:

      …This central insight—an ecological one—makes visible certain contradictions that were programmatically obscured by the “space empire” fantasies under discussion in the previous chapter. In stark contrast to the untold riches they are imagined to provide, distant space colonies—whether on inhospitable moons or orbiting far-flung planets—are in fact necessarily markers of deep, abiding, and permanent scarcity, requiring careful management without any waste of resources for any hope of survival. From an earthbound perspective, the colonization of space appears wildly expansive, a “New Frontier” that opens up the entire universe to human experience and exploitation—but from a perspective inside one of these spaceships or colonies, life is a state of fragile and even hellish enclosure, at constant risk of either deadly shortages or deadly exposure to the void outside. Asimov, of all science fiction writers, confronts this paradox in a late work, Robots and Empire (1985), which sees one of its robot heroes (operating under the self-generated “Zeroth Law” ) deliberately and permanently poison the Earth’s crust with radioactive contaminants in order to force humans off their otherwise paradisal home world. Earth is already perfect for us, R. Giskard reasons—too perfect. The only way to get human beings off the planet and out into the universe (where, scattered across hundreds of worlds, the species will finally be safe from any local planetary disaster) is to destroy Earth altogether:

      “The removal of Earth as a large crowded world would remove a mystique I have already felt to be dangerous and would help the Settlers. They will streak outward into the Galaxy at a pace that will double and redouble and—without Earth to look back to always, without Earth to set up as a God of the past—they will establish a Galactic Empire. It was necessary for us to make that possible” (467).

      Taken in the context of the rest of Asimov’s immense shared universe, the only available conclusion left to the reader is that this robot made the correct decision to poison the planet and kill all nonhuman life on Earth.


      August 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

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