|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
This evocative cover from the first edition of my novel The Sky Road illustrates hip, groovy SF site io9's list of favourite last lines from SF novels (and yes, that book's last line is one of my favourites, too). Somewhere in the deep background of the notion of a spaceship being built in the centuries-old scars of the oil-rig construction yard at Kishorn was knowing about a sliver of overlap between Scottish SF fandom and the space movement. That intersection still exists. A couple of weekends ago I was at a small but ambitious con in Glasgow, Satellite 2, marking the fortieth anniversary of the first Armstrong on the Moon. Space enthusiasts Duncan Lunan, Robert Law and Andy Nimmo were on various panels, along with more conventional experts and authors on the Apollo missions. If you wanted to know just how the Apollo Guidance Computer worked, and why its top contractor was the sparkplug division of General Motors, you could hear Frank O'Brien, who knows more about the AGC than just about anyone else. If you wanted to know how Apollo flew to the Moon, you could hear W. David Woods, who wrote the book on it.
For me, a highlight of a very engaging and informative weekend was a talk by Prof Colin McInnes, DSc FRAes FInstP FRSE FREng, titled 'Random Thoughts of a Techno-Utopist Running Dog'. The usual conception of sustainability, Prof McInnes argued, was a dangerous idea. Technological stagnation only means slower resource depletion. We need continuous technological progress to make new resources available. The idea that we should use less energy is outrageously inhumane and regressive. Most of humanity gets its energy from burning wood and dung. We need a vast increase in energy production. That means nuclear power, including new kinds of nuclear plant such as the Thorium Energy Amplifier. Nuclear waste is just inadequately burned nuclear fuel. We need to find ways of burning it all. Most reycling schemes are feel-good rather than do-good, condemning us to pre-industrial, manual rooting about in rubbish. We need plasma torches and mass spectrometers to really recover all the useful stuff in our waste. 'Humanity is the singularity. We are self-replicating smart matter.' To campaign against cheap flights to Prague while jetting across the world for eco-holidays in the Galapagos is naked class warfare. With synthetic genomics we can have carbon-neutral aviation even cheaper than today's travel.
He took his argument all the way to building a Dyson Sphere and beyond. Brilliant stuff. I wish he could deliver the same talk in every high school in the country. Come to think of it, how much would it cost to make a DVD of the talk and send it out, free, to every science teacher in Scotland? Most of them wouldn't show it, of course, but it might save a few minds from the Green slime.