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Science Fiction Thursday: Nuking Mars, Actual Power Armor, and Ridley Scott Talks Water on Mars

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Science Fiction | October 8, 2015 |


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What does the greatest genre in the world have for us today? Nukes and Mars and power armor and water and Mars. Did I mention Mars?

First up, we’ve got science non-fiction, in which Tesla founder Elon Musk wants to nuke Mars in order to terraform it. Says Mr. Musk:

“What I was talking about, was having a series of very large, by our standards, but very small by calamity standards, essentially having two tiny pulsing suns over the poles. They’re really above the planet. Not on the planet. Every several seconds, send large fusion bombs over the poles. A lot of people don’t appreciate that our sun is a giant fusion explosion …So if you have two basically tiny suns over the pole that would warm up the planet. Then you would gasify frozen carbon dioxide, thicken the atmosphere and warm up the water and all of that would have a greenhouse effect. Have a cascading effect to continue warming up the planet.”

I have so many thoughts that involve sixteen different ways this is bad wrong.

First, just on basic math. Even if we’re conservative and only blow up a single bomb every ten seconds, we will have used every nuclear weapon ever constructed in history in approximately 416 hours or 17 days. So, no. There is literally not enough nuclear material on the entire planet of Earth to do what he is proposing.

Second, there’s a reason that Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere. It doesn’t have a magnetic field to speak of, and the magnetic field of a planet is what deflects the constant barrage of charged particles from the sun and keeps it from just blowing the atmosphere away. You could magically dump an Earth-like atmosphere on Mars and it would be gone in a few weeks, blown off into space like dust in a hurricane.

My opinion on Musk vacillates a lot between eye-rolling and respecting the ambition of dreams that he pushes. But sweet Heinlein’s grave, run your ideas past a scientist or at least a sci-fi author before you start speculating if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

And in further science-fiction news the army is kind of sort of getting closer to actually deploying actual honest to go power armor in the field. The TALOS: Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit. Oh my god, they must have mastered sci-fi technology, they even have a completely contrived name so that they can have a hardcore sounding acronym. Here’s what it looks like:

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If that thing transforms into a motorcycle, I demand one for Christmas so I can fight the Invid.

(source: Live Science)

Finally, Ridley Scott gave a brief interview to Wired in which he talked about what the discovery of liquid water on Mars would have changed about The Martian. He says intelligent things and does not disappoint:

I’m slightly alarmed that a sci-fi movie director who gave us whatever the hell Prometheus was can talk more intelligently about science and Mars than an actual guy running a company that’s trying to go there.

Book and movie of the week! This week’s were Hyperion and the film Young Ones. If you want to comment about either of these, put it in its own comment with the first line being either ” Hyperion Spoiler” or ” Young Ones Spoiler”. Also: if you reply to a comment with one of these spoiler tags, you don’t need to bother putting the spoiler tag yourself. Everyone should just assume that if the top level comment is a spoiler, it’s spoilers all the way down.

Hyperion Spoilers
I’ve loved this book for years, even though I read it very late in the grand scheme of things (around 2005, I think). The world is a gorgeous and breathing thing, a universe of ideas. I’d recognized from the start that the structure of the novel was a nod to The Canterbury Tales, but a more literary friend of mine pointed out that each and every story told is in its own way an homage to a specific sub-genre of science fiction, and that made it even better on this last read through.

My favorite parts of it are little details though. First, the theorization by Saul that the story of Abraham and Isaac is not about god testing man but about man testing god. There’s a gorgeous logic to it. And second, the philosophy of the Teilhard Heresy, which will lead you down a wikipedia rabbit hole of theology and the nature of the universe.

Young Ones Spoilers
This is a fantastic “small” science fiction film, using a dystopian world as a setting more than as a easy metaphor or a story in and of itself. And by being just backdrop, it allows so many little interesting details to emerge organically as parts of everyday life: washing dishes in sand, water politics, buildings made of shipping containers, and my absolute favorite, the strange track system and snake-like spines that snap into his mother’s back to allow her paralyzed self movement through what amounts to a post-apocalyptic nursing home.

It felt like an old short story from a moldering seventies paperback, a feeling reinforced by the way it was shot in washed out colors and with staggering and simple robots.

Next week: We’ll read Charlie Stross’ The Atrocity Archives, which is the first of a several book series called The Laundry. Think something like the tone of The Dresden Files mixed with the sobbing bureaucracy of Office Space and the mythos of Lovecraft. For a movie, we’ll be watching Snowpiercer, which teaches us about snow, axes, and what meat tastes best in the economy class of future trains.



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