Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Martian Gold Rush

How about a story showing a gold rush on a near-future colony of Mars?

Terri Main publishes a paper called "Science news for Sci-Fi writers," in which today I saw a link leading to an article from Io9 that shows a photo I'm including below:

This photo shows dry ice pits common in the southern hemisphere of Mars, a planet cold enough to fill these pits every Martian-southern-hemisphere-winter with frozen solid carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere. Every summer, some of the frozen CO2 (a.k.a. dry ice) melts away, revealing these pits with curious shiny gold rims. (For scale, the small one in the center is about 200 feet across.)

It so happens that as of now, no Earthly scientist knows what the causes the gold-coloring around these pits.  What if it so happens that it's actual gold, that the process of forming and sublimating dry ice somehow brings subsoil gold up to the surface and deposits it along the rims of these pits?

If it should happen in the near future that human astronauts walk on Mars, something very technologically possible, the southern ice cap is about the last place they'll want to travel, due to a high elevation there that preserves a cold which by comparison makes Antarctica seem like cool summer day.  But what if humans actually establish a settlement on Mars elsewhere and eventually someone gets around to exploring the southern icecap, and finds all this gold?

Martian settlers will first, of course, be interested in getting oxygen, food, water, and staying warm, but historically speaking, the quest for gold has had an fascinating effect on people.  The settlers of Jamestown were far more interested in finding gold than planting food crops, a collective decision that led to the starvation of many of them.

Imagine human beings on Mars driven by goldlust, in fierce competition fighting it out in a place they can barely survive. for nothing more than lumps of cold precious metal...


Saturday, November 26, 2011

The four faces around the throne of God--faces of aliens?

The title of this post was meant to be attention-grabbing.  Bear with me, please.

The book of Revelation talks about four beasts around the throne of God, one with the face of a man, one like an eagle, one like a cow, one like a lion (Rev 4:6-8).  These same creatures are also mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, notably in Isaiah 6, where they are called "Seraphim," which is Hebrew for "burning ones."  Ezekiel 1 gives more description of these angels, stating that each one of the four creatures has four faces, each face pointing one of four directions, like the cardinal directions of the compass.

Please note that I'm not maintaining these four creatures designated for special service of God are anything but angels.  They seem to constitute a special type of angel, naturally, but I hold to the Biblically orthodox view that they were directly created by God, just as all the other heavenly beings in God's service were created.  I don't hold the (nutty, IMHO) view that Ezekiel 1 describes a UFO coming to Earth with alien creatures on board.  I don't believe alien intervention is in any way required to explain events of the past, including the events of the Bible.

But still...it's not surprising at all that one of the faces is human, right?  Human beings are created "in the image of God," whatever that means exactly (I think it points to a spiritual truth rather than a physical one).  Human beings are the focus the story of the Bible:  the creation on the sixth day, the fall into sin, God showing Himself as one of us in the form of Jesus, human beings featured surrounding the throne of God in heaven after the end of this age.

So where do the other three faces come from?  Clearly these are creations of God as much as mankind is, but what is particularly special about lions, eagles, and cattle?  Why not bears, doves, and sheep?  The answer most theologians give rests in symbolism.  The four faces stand for four somethings, perhaps the four gospels.  Each face represents some aspect of truth. 

Certainly this is possible.  Even though I believe the Seraphim really exist, God could have chosen the faces for this unusual creation of His for symbolic purposes.  But I would feel better about this interpretation, if all  the faces were animals.  But one face is human and human beings are not primarily a symbol of anything.  Humans exist because God created them to.  They surround the throne of God because He wants them to be there, rejoicing in everlasting fellowship with Him.

What if God created other beings like us, that is, spiritually  in His image, needing redemption, or perhaps having never fallen into sin?  Creatures capable of understanding Him, intelligent in the same way human beings are?  These creatures could possibly inhabit other planets in our universe, or altogether different universes.  Technically such creatures would be aliens, though I don't mean the term "alien" as it is usually used in science fiction--to describe beings imagined to have been created elsewhere by random evolution.

What if a story featured a future humanity with interstellar space travel, who voyage out in search of intelligent alien life, only to discover a sum total of three other intelligent species?  And one such species have faces like cattle, one like lions, and one like eagles?  And all of them have stories of creation, fall into sin, and redemption running parallel with humanity's story recorded in the Bible?

It'd make an interesting story setting, at the very least...


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Angels in Other Dimensions

This past year while I was deployed to Afghanistan, I ran into a copy of Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos, a book designed to explain issues in modern Physics in layman's terms.  It was worth reading, not just because it inspired a few story ideas in my mind.

In discussing string theory, a hypothetical attempt to combine all forces of energy and types of matter into a common theory which imagines the universe to be composed of various types of vibrating strings, Dr. Greene revealed that this theory cannot possibly work unless there are dimensions beyond length, width, height, and time.  Most versions of string theory (there are many versions) imagine at least ten dimensions, where the other dimensions are so tiny we can't perceive them.

I've seen this compared to looking at a garden hose from a distance.  From a distance, a hose looks looks like it only contains one dimension, length.  Up close, of course, it has width and depth as well, and has surfaces contained both on the exterior and interior of the hose.  Up close, it's far more complicated than from a distance.  Likewise, it is theorized that our real world has multiple dimensions that are invisible because they are very tiny, wrapped up around themselves, too small for humans to perceive even with powerful microscopes.

A subset of string theory that I'm not even going to attempt to explain in any detail here, called "braneworld" or "brane cosmology," imagines the dimensions are not necessarily smaller, but that the entire universe as we know it is trapped within a subset of four dimensions and that all the light and other forces that gives us information about our world are trapped in the same four we inhabit, with the possible exception of gravity.  In this theory we would possibly be surrounded by other dimensions on a scale we could  see, but the light that gives information to our eyes simply does not enter these other dimensions.  This subset of modern physics makes it possible that we are surrounded by an invisible world of measures beyond length, width, height, and time.  This made me think of the spiritual world.

Perhaps the world of angels and demons inhabits these other dimensions.  Please note that while the "braneworld" idea imagines we would be unable to perceive other dimensions, the reverse would not be true.  From the higher dimensions looking down, our world would not at all be invisible.  If angels and demons inhabited the other dimensions of braneworld theory, they could be literally right next to us and able to see us, but we would not be able to see them.

Whether true or not, it would be great for a Christian Fiction story to be written from this point of view.  Someone should write a tale showing understanding of branes and string theory, showing how the spiritual world surrounding us is compatible with these ideas of what could be real in modern physics, portraying our world existing in full view of these other dimensions invisible to us, prodding skeptics doubting the existence of God to reconsider a belief that's consistent with the latest speculations of Science. 

And it just might make a very interesting story setting...


Friday, November 18, 2011

Elmer Quincy, waste trader

An exotic setting or technology is usually the first thing that crosses my mind when I have a new story idea, which I populate with characters after the fact.  But today a character popped into my head and the setting followed afterward.

Elmer Quincy inhabits a future world where interstellar commerce is common, as is contact with alien races.  Under the principle of "one man's trash is another man's treasure," Quincy makes his living collecting biological waste and trash from certain alien cultures and trading them to others.

Dirty in every sense of the word (physically I imagine him obese, in stained and greasy overalls, with a stubbly face; in business I imagine him a tough haggler and quick to make a profit even when not strictly legal), he distinguishes himself by what he refuses to do:  join a criminal syndicate involved in alien slave smuggling.  Disliked by the law, pursued by criminals trying to kill him, perhaps befriended by an odd religious sect, Quincy becomes an unlikely hero and slave liberator.

I really like this story idea, but as my queue of stories I want to write is already rather long, this one is up for grabs...


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Rotifer Beast

I once began to write a story from the point of view of single-celled organisms, several years ago.  I imagined parameciums as intelligent and conceived a story about three paramecium knights who had to fight a horrifying beast.

The beast I picked was a rotifer, something I'd seen in a high school biology class, under a slide that was supposed to show paramecium cells.  My biology teacher speculated the rotifer I saw had eaten all the parameciums that were supposed to be there.  Which proved to be the spark for a story idea that came up years later...

In the story I gave the knights three personalities and accents: one French, one Spanish, one German.  My intent was to have all of them fail in their quest, only to be rescued by a "simpler" cell--the equivalent of a shepherd boy in the single-celled world I imagined...

The story wasn't working right, plus it started seeming weirder than anyone other than me would probably enjoy, so I abandoned it.  Though it does float around in the back of my mind from time to time that I might finish it in another form.

Anyway, today I ran into a news link showing a picture and a bit of video of a rotifer that reminded me of why this particular microscopic creature inspired me so much.  Imagine yourself smaller than such a thing--it would be utterly terrifying.

Posted here now with the intent of inspiring new stories from others...or maybe from myself...


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fantasy Park

Jurassic Park imagined a fictional scientific method to bring dinosaurs back to life, for the purpose of inhabiting a for-profit amusement park.

You could imagine the same sort of thing with a "Fantasy Park"--genetic engineering being used to deliberately create dinosaurs, griffins, ents, trolls, and other fantasy creatures of all kinds, specifically for a for-profit park.  Humans on salary could, via surgery or genetic engineering, volunteer to take roles as demi-human elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.

This story could be written as a minor variation on Jurassic Park itself:  Several experts visit the park before opening with some innocent children along for the ride, everything goes horribly wrong as fantasy creatures escape because somehow they're too real and too malevolent to ever be caged in.  I would rate that a fairly interesting story plot, even though an obvious copy.  I'd actually prefer something more original, though.

An improvement would be to make the fantasy creatures somehow real, though still through the power of science.  Perhaps the park designers could use a Stargate-style technological portal into other worlds for the purpose of drawing real creatures from alternate universes with characteristics strikingly like those of realms of fantasy. Them getting out of control could be a simple matter of the creatures not only being real, their magic  proves to be real, too--even in our non-magical world.  Caging real dragons in a park would quite naturally get out of control...

I think a more original variation on the scientific portal idea would be that messing with inter-universe technology opens a doorway into a specific alternate universe, one inhabited by creatures significantly similar to what you'd see in Lord of the Rings.  So in this case, a "Fantasy Park" story would be like going out on safari.  You pay the (hefty) price, get equipped with swords and gear, and going along with a guide carrying a few technological gizmos in case things get out of hand, you go hunting orcs or whatnot.  Responsible people in the fantasy world would soon find out about the inter-universal tourism and either would support or oppose it.

After a long time of this I can imagine a cross-cultural contamination going on--so that industries and goods from our world leak into the world of fantasy.  I find interesting a "Fantasy Park" in which fantasy creatures from an alternate universe are thoroughly drenched in our culture.  Imagine a dwarf tour guide in traditional gear, leading a group through a historic battlefield between orcs and dwarves, stopping to answer his buzzing cell phone ("Just a moment, folks.  I need to take this one.").  Elves take up surfing and eat at McDonald's, somewhat like Kat Heckenbach's story "Dude" in the anthology Aquasynthesis (which happens to contain three of my stories also!).  Trolls have a hankering for KFC, bones and all...people visiting the park see it as a sham but enjoy it anyway--except for young children, of course, for whom everything is real.  A story plot could revolve around a malevolent spirit, thought to be long vanquished, working behind the scenes in the park...

Of all the possible story settings I just proposed, the one just above appeals to me the most.  But I've imagined another sort of "Fantasy Park," one created in the world of the fantastic creatures itself.  A wizard assembles a group of creatures, creating a park, then opens a magic doorway into our world and takes tourists into his universe.  For the proper price.  Imagine such a wizard mysteriously interested in something particularly sinister from our world, such as robot drones or plutonium.  Or anthrax cultures...