Tag Archives: hard scifi

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth – Michio Kaku

The deep space transport uses a new type of propulsion system to send astronauts through space, called solar electric propulsion. The huge solar panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. This is used to strip away the electrons from a gas (like xenon), creating ions. An electric field then shoots these charged ions out one end of the engine, creating thrust. Unlike chemical engines, which can only fire for a few minutes, ion engines can slowly accelerate for months or even years.

The Future of Humanity is one of the best books on science and astrophysics published in English language. It is now already considered a classical book on futurism and cosmology.

The book starts imagining how humans may solve some of the technical challenges in exploring space. Transport, propulsion, habitats, the economics of trying to finance the space exploration, robots are discussed, using the latest scientific discoveries. A lesson in astrophysics is offered, explaining our sun system, galaxy and the universe at large. Towards the end of the book, the latest theories proposed to explain the universe as wee see it are described.

Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and a proponent of the string theory (theory in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings). He wrote several well-received books on futurism and physics.

It is an awe-inspiring call to try and reach the starts. The message of the book is to not forget the long term: expand beyond our native planet, otherwise the nature will overwhelm us. I am making an exception and will add another quote from this author, which I find revealing:

Looking back at those dark days, I am sometimes reminded of what happened to the great Chinese imperial fleet in the fifteenth century. Back then, the Chinese were the undisputed leaders in science and exploration. They invented gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. They were unparalleled in military power and technology. Meanwhile, medieval Europe was wracked by religious wars and mired in inquisitions, witch trials, and superstition, and great scientists and visionaries like Giordano Bruno and Galileo were often either burned alive or placed under house arrest, their works banned. Europe, at the time, was a net importer of technology, not a source of innovation.

I devoured the book in about three days. It is easy to read, the concepts from physics are easy to follow, despite their complexity, and the ideas proposed feel innovative and optimistic. A great book, particularly for young adults, searching for a meaning in life.

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.


The Martian – Andy Weir


I’ll be at the entrance to Schiaparelli crater tomorrow!

Presuming nothing goes wrong, that is. But hey, everything else has gone smoothly this mission, right? (That was sarcasm.)

Today’s an Air Day and for once, I don’t want it. I’m so close to Schiaparelli, I can taste it. I guess it would taste like sand, mostly, but that’s not the point.

Of course, that won’t be the end of the trip. It’ll take another 3 sols to get from the entrance to the MAV, but hot damn! I’m almost there!

I think I can even see the rim of Schiaparelli. It’s way the hell off in the distance and it might just be my imagination. It’s 62km away, so if I’m seeing it, I’m only just barely seeing it.

The book is a solid hard science survival story. I have seen the film first, but I still enjoyed the book. The technical detail and scientific accuracy are impressive and the action looks plausible. No fantastic, last second save or dash. The narrative line is well smoothed and comes at the right pace.
The best on the planet

The protagonist is no perfect hero, he makes mistakes, but remains positive and determined. There are no mind games, nor psychological detours, which I appreciate a lot. The story focuses on the facts and solving problems.

I enjoyed the most the subtle message of the book which in my view, was that the greatest quality of the hero is not the technical skill, but the mental fortitude. He takes every problem at a time, makes objectives and plans for them. Not everything is going smoothly, but he keeps pushing.
An amazing alien planetary survival, a genre much in vogue today.

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

The Mining Colony now comprised eight modules, plus an inflatable dome that was attached directly to the asteroid. The robots had spent several weeks welding a three-meter-diameter ring into a circular groove that they had prepared on Amalthea’s surface. The inflatable had been mated to it about a hundred days ago, and filled with breathable atmosphere. It was not quite a shirtsleeves environment, since the asteroid was cold and chilled the air in the dome. And many of the robots’ normal operations produced gases that were toxic, or at least irritating. But that wasn’t the point of having a dome.

Seveneves is a book of what is called hard scifi, a category of science fiction focusing on scientific accuracy and technical detail. Neal Stephenson did a fantastic job in researching and writing this book, which is arguably one of the best scifi in the last years. The technical detail is incredible and the plot is perfectly built and sustained.

What will humanity do if we have to leave Earth?

The novel starts with the destruction with the Moon in a cataclysmic event, an action that will destroy life Earth, leaving only the space as a refuge. After this strong hook for readers in the introduction, which kickstarts the entire action, Stephenson brilliantly describes the logical steps that human race takes for its survival. The author pays considerable attention to scientific accuracy, making the book a true voyage of discovery and imagination.

It is also extremely entertaining: the action has great pace, the descriptions are just enough to understand what is happening, the plot leaves the reader guessing what will come next and the personages are truly easily identifiable and memorable. The reader finds out by the last chapters why the novel is called this way.

The book is recommended by both Financial Times and Bill Gates. It’s incredible how you keep wanting to continue, even after more than 800 pages. A masterpiece.