Tag Archives: colonisation

Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond

Thanks to this availability of suitable wild mammals and plants, early peoples of the Fertile Crescent could quickly assemble a potent and balanced biological package for intensive food production. That package comprised three cereals, as the main carbohydrate sources; four pulses, with 20—25 percent protein, and four domestic animals, as the main protein sources, supplemented by the generous protein content of wheat; and flax as a source of fiber and oil (termed linseed oil: flax seeds are about 40 percent oil). Eventually, thousands of years after the beginnings of animal domestication and food production, the animals also began to be used for milk, wool, plowing, and transport. Thus, the crops and animals of the Fertile Crescent’s first farmers came to meet humanity’s basic economic needs: carbohydrate, protein, fat, clothing, traction, and transport.

Jared Diamond tries to explain why some societies developed better than others. For example, why 168 Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro  could conquer in 1532 the million-large Inca Empire and not the other way around? Why some societies evolved to guns and others are still hunter-gatherers?

In short, Diamond considers that simple geographical luck, such as proximity to domesticable plants and animals (quite few worldwide) created centers of innovation. Those centers spread, if not stopped by natural obstacles like mountains or seas, their innovations.

Good book on early human development

The book follows the anthropological theory of cultural materialism, which says that environment shaped societies. It sounds a bit deterministic: no matter what you do, geographical luck determines your progress. For example, the Incas were doomed, mainly because they had no defense against the germs brought by Europeans.

Another lesson from this book is that, no matter the society, sooner or later, best innovations will prevail. For example, in the fragmented Europe, even if some societies refused some innovation for cultural or other reasons, the neighboring societies that adopted the innovation had a technical advantage that would make the laggard society to either adapt or be conquered.

Innovations drive the society forward, the society very existence depending on that, such as it is the case with Native Indians. This is a very strong argument for trade. For example, being constantly exposed to others through trade and competition, makes a society seeing what is best and allows the opportunity to adopt the new. This explains, for example, why competing and trading Europeans managed to surpass the bigger and earlier advanced Chinese. The Chinese closed up to trade and their earlier political integration worked in their detriment, the closing up happening to the entire center of innovation which was China.

To sum up, Jared Diamond considers that Europeans are no smarter than Australian Aborigines, they were just luckier to be closer and with easier access to early centers of human innovation.

On the down side of the book, Jared Diamond talks very little about guns and steel, as advertised on the title, and mostly about germs and farming. The book reads like an anthropology book with some detailed history from early human settlements to Antiquity.

Overall, a book with some very interesting ideas and with a strong call for open societies and humanity as whole.

(Featured image by John Doebley – A possible evolution of corn)

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson

The whole voyage to Tau Ceti and back takes place inside the Local Interstellar Cloud and the G Cloud, which are concentrations of gas within the Local Bubble, which is an area of the Milky Way galaxy with fewer atoms in it than the galaxy has on average. Turbulence, diffusion: in fact, with our magnetic field coning ahead of the ship, electrostatically pushing aside the occasional grain of dust big enough to harm it in a collision, all atoms of any kind encountered en route are pushed aside, so we register our surroundings mostly as a kind of ghostly impact and then as a wake, shooting by to the sides and then astern of us.

Aurora is a beautiful hard scifi novel, describing a voyage of humankind from Earth to another planet, for colonisation. The voyage fails, as all the other voyages of colonisation tried by humankind sometime in the future. The crew decides to come back to Earth, barely trying to understand and adapt to the new planetary conditions.

While I enjoy the idea, the writing, the narrative and all the scifi descriptions, I fundamentally disagree with the message of the book: that we are chained by biological strains to remain on Earth. Hence, we should do the utmost care to preserve the planet as pristine as possible.

According to Kim Stanley Robinson, outside of Earth, people are stupider, unable to adapt and none of the tries of colonisation has any success, despite well-planned voyages. I think this conclusion comes in contrast with humankind achievements so far: small groups of people exploring, colonizing and adapting to very different strips of land and weather patterns. Humans did not get confined in Africa, but pushed further and further, from the desert to islands and from arctic to jungles.

The story of this voyage failure to Aurora, the alien planet, is well constructed and tension is skilfully built. gradually increasing pace. The protagonists’ motivations and characters are carefully constructed.

A pessimistic story of humankind interstellar voyage

However, there are things I don’t like. The leading voice towards returning to Earth has no credentials, except being the daughter of the main engineer of the ship, dead at the time of alien planet arrival. She seems the leader not because of personal willpower or building a solid argument, but because she is known to most people and most voyagers are likely to fight the least her option.

The arguments towards returning to Earth are poorly constructed. There is no try to adapting  and understanding the new planet. No years of orbiting trying to see where the problems are and how they can be resolved. It is a very different and pessimistic story than the Martian, for example.

It seems unlikely that people can revolt and endanger the entire expedition, without exhausting all avenues of solving their issues peacefully first.

I like the narrative, but the logical path seems flawed and not realistic. There are too many psychological, mind games, when there are too many practical problems to solve.


Colonization: Second contact – Harry Turtledove

Atvar was glad to return to Australia. It was late summer in this hemisphere now, and the weather was fine by any standards, those of Home included. Even in Cairo, though, the weather has been better than bearable. What pleased him more was how far the colony has come since his last visit.

“Then, all we had were the starships,” he said to Pshing. “Now look! A whole thriving city! Streets, vehicles, shops, a power plant, a pipeline to the desalination center-a proper city for the Race.”

“Truth, Exalted Fleetlord,” his adjutant replied. “Before very much longer, it will be like any city back on Home.”

This is the first book that I review after an exchange of books with a friend.

The book presents an alternate fictional history on Earth in the 1960s, when the world, finally at peace, is divided between a species of lizard-like aliens and several human world powers. The World War II was interrupted by the alien invasion, leaving the Third Reich, the Soviet Union and the United States as the leading human powers on Earth. Instead of fighting each other, they had to fought the aliens, loosing all the South, including Australia, South America, all Africa and parts of Middle East.

The book is the first in a series (Colonization), that follows a very successful tetralogy (Wordwar) where the fights between human powers are the aliens are described, during the World War II.

In Second Contact, the alien colonisation ships arrive, in the hundred of millions, creating a huge challenge for humans. Some revolt, but only the United States seems to do something, in space, which will find out in the second book of the series.

Are we alone in the universe?

The author patiently develops the stories and the characters, which come from all the regions, races and powers. Here we can see the Fleet Lord Atvar, the alien traitor, the life of a Jew in Alien-occupied Poland, the struggle of the communist Chinese for liberty against the Aliens and many other interlinked stories. While the stories and characters are numerous, they are easy to follow and understand. Turtledove beautifully reconstructs life after war. The pace of the book is slow, with many dialogues and character development situations, and the plot moves accordingly, leaving the impression that not much is happening. It seems that the book mostly prepares the ground for the series, rather than presenting a story, because many of the plot lines remain open.

An entertaining book to read for the fans of alternative history; definitely not-action packed, but carefully written, with good historical research.