I have a ticket to the 1:00 showing of The Two Towers. I hadn’t planned on going today–I’m not someone who really has to see a film on opening day. But, today happens to be my only day off this week, my Christmas shopping is finished, my mental energy is waning under the Christmas onslaught, so what better way to recharge the mental batteries with three hours of exciting, escapist fare?
There are rumors that a new Star Trek film was released recently. I wouldn’t know about that.
On another Star Trek note I thought I would share some of my insights into the SCE series as I’m writing an entry due out in 2004. SCE, short for the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, is an original-to-eBooks series about the USS da Vinci and the SCE team she carries about the galaxy, solving tech problems here and there. If the original Star Trek was “Wagon Train to the Stars” and Voyager was “Gilligan’s Island in Space,” then SCE is “M*A*S*H in Space.” The crew consists of highly-trained professionals, specialists in their fields of study, focused on a single goal. In M*A*S*H they were doctors on the front lines. In SCE they follow the mantra, “Have Tech, Will Travel.”
The story I’m writing, Ring Around the Sky, is one I’ve wanted to tell for a long time, since I was about seven years-old. Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos had a painting of a planet perhaps a thousand years beyond us technologically that had built a dozen space elevators and an planet-encircling solid ring connecting the terminus points, and when I was seven my parents gave me Cosmos for Christmas and the mind began turning over the possibilities. What sort of civilization would build such a thing, and why would they build it?
In the Star Trek universe interstellar travel is painlessly easy. It requires very little effort to reach the stars once a certain technological level is achieved. Staples of literary science fiction such as terraforming, asteroid harvesting, and space habitats are uncommon in Trek, and why should they be common when Class-M worlds abundant in resources and living space can be reached easily by warp drive? Why build space elevators if transporter technology readily exists? If warp drive and transporter technology are as cheap in terms of energy and resources as Star Trek claims, then civilizations that utilize the resources of their solar system before moving out into the stars would be uncommon, if not extraordinarily rare.
Suppose that a civilization harvested the resources of their solar system because they had to do so because they had no other choice, despite the easy costs associated with warp drive and transporter technology. Suppose they discovered the theories behind warp drive and matter transport, could even build working prototypes to demonstrate the soundness of the theories. Suppose that for reasons beyond their control and having everything to do with a quirk of evolution, warp travel would kill them, that they were limited to a relativistic plane of reference. Harvesting the resources of their solar system would almost be a biological necessity, a cultural imperative. Space elevators, O’Neill habitats, comet harvesting. The whole Heinleinesque future.
And then, suppose they went extinct due to a nearby supernova, leaving their toys intact?
A space elevator would be a sturdy thing. It would have to be. You wouldn’t want it to collapse accidentally causing all sorts of environmental damage. Could it last thousands of years, untended? What about a series of elevators, a dozen or more, rising from the equator out into space, ending in a solid ring around the planet? Could they stand the test of time?
And what if, centuries or millennia later, another race recolonized the world, the elevator system still intact, and put it use, not knowing how to maintain it or repair it?
Such is the setting of Ring Around the Sky. Describing the planet has been great fun, and one scene is practically vertiginous.
Next time: why Bart Faulwell is my favorite SCE character, and why he has all of two scenes in the story.