Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Flutter of Space Bat Wings

You don’t actually know a time or a culture until you discover the thoughts that its people can’t allow themselves to think. I had a reminder of that the other day, by way of my novel Star’s Reach.

I’m pleased to say that for a novel that violates pretty much every imaginable pop-culture cliché about the future, Star’s Reach has been selling quite well—enough so that the publisher has brought out two more SF novels set in deindustrial futures, and is looking for other manuscripts along the same lines. What’s more, Star’s Reach has also started to inspire spinoffs and adaptations: a graphic novel is in the works, so is a roleplaying game, and so is an anthology of short stories by other authors set in the world sketched out in my novel. All of this came as a welcome surprise to me; far more surprising, though ultimately rather less welcome, was an ebullient email I received asking whether Star’s Reach was available to be optioned for a television miniseries.

For a variety of reasons, some of which will become clear as we proceed, I’ll call the person who got in touch with me Buck Rogers. He praised Star’s Reach to the skies, and went on at length about wanting to do something that was utterly faithful to the book. As I think most of my readers know by now, I haven’t owned a television in my adult life and have zero interest in changing that, even to see one of my own stories on the screen. I could readily see that people who like television might find a video adaptation entertaining, though, and no doubt it would make a welcome change from the endless rehash of overfamiliar tropes about the future that fills so much of science fiction these days.

Ah, but then came the inevitable email explaining exactly what kind of adaptation Buck Rogers had in mind. It was going to be more than just a miniseries, he explained. It was going to be a regular series, the events of my novel were going to provide the plot for the first year, and after that—why, after that, he was promptly going to drag in one of the currently popular bits of hypertechnological handwaving so the characters in my story could go zooming off to the stars. Whee!

Those of my readers who haven’t turned the pages of Star’s Reach may welcome a bit of explanation here. The core theme of Star’s Reach—the mainspring that powers the plot—is precisely that humanity isn’t going to the stars; the contrast between the grandiose gizmocentric fantasies of today’s industrial world and the grubby realities of life in 25th-century Meriga frames and guides the entire novel. An adaptation of Star’s Reach that removes that little detail and replaces it with yet another rehash of the interstellar-travel trope is thus a bit like an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in which the hobbits enthusiastically sell out to the powers of evil and Sauron wins.

I communicated this to Buck Rogers, and got back a lengthy response of the take-my-ball-and-go-home variety, saying in a hurt tone that I was wrong and just didn’t understand how his proposal fit perfectly with my story. I sent him a polite note wishing him luck in his future projects, and that was that. All in all, I think the situation turned out for the best. I’m not particularly desperate for money—certainly not desperate enough to be willing to see one of my favorite books gutted, stuffed, and mounted on the nose cone of an imaginary starship—and this way I still have the movie and TV rights, on the off chance that somebody ever wants to film the story I wrote, rather than a parody of it.

It was only after I’d clicked the “send” button on the short polite note just mentioned that I realized that there was something really quite strange about Buck Rogers’ final email. He had taken issue at rather some length with almost everything I’d said while trying to explain to him why his proposal wasn’t one I could accept, with one exception. It wasn’t a small exception, either. It was the core issue I’d raised at quite some length: that he’d taken a story about what happens when humanity can’t go to the stars, and tried to turn it into a story about humanity going to the stars.

I don’t think that absence was any kind of accident, either. You don’t actually know a time or a culture until you discover the thoughts that its people can’t allow themselves to think.

This wasn’t the only time Star’s Reach had attracted that same sort of doublethink, for that matter. Back when it was being written and posted online an episode at a time, I could count nearly every month on hearing from people who enthused about how wonderful the story was, and in the next breath tried to push me into inserting some pop-culture cliché about what the future is supposed to look like. Far more often than not, the point of the insertion was to show that “progress” was still on track and would eventually lead to a more “advanced” society—that is, a society like ours. When I explained that the story is about what happens when “progress,” in the sense that word has today, is over forever, and our kind of society is a fading memory of the troubled past, they simply insisted all the louder that the changes they wanted me to make were perfectly consistent with my story.

Regular readers may also recall the discussion a few weeks back of the way so many people’s brains seem to freeze up when faced with the idea that others might choose not to use the latest technology, and might instead keep using older technologies they like better. Further back in this blog’s trajectory, three or four other topics—most notably the prospects for the survival of the internet in a deindustrializing world—reliably triggered the same odd behavior pattern, an obsessive evasion of the point accompanied by the weirdly stereotyped repetition of some set of canned talking points.

It’s fascinating, at least to me, that so many topics brought up in this blog seem to function, for some readers, as a kind of elephant’s graveyard of the mind, a place where thinking goes to die. That said, among all the things that trigger a mental Blue Screen of Death in a portion of my readers, challenging the frankly rather bizarre notion that humanity’s destiny centers on interstellar travel stands at least a little apart, in the sheer intensity of the emotional reactions it rouses. If I try to call attention to the other evasions on the list, I get a blank look or, at most, an irritated one, followed by an instant return to the evasions. On the subject of interstellar travel, by contrast, I get instant pushback: “No, no, no, there’s got to be some grandiose technofetishistic deus ex machina that will let us go to the STARZ!!!”

The question in my mind is why this particular bit of endlessly rehashed science fiction has gotten so tight a hold on the collective imagination of our age.

I suppose a case can be made that its ascendancy in science fiction itself was inevitable. SF in its pulp days found its main audience among teenage boys, after all, and so it makes sense that the genre would fixate on the imagery of climbing aboard a giant metal penis to be squirted into the gaping void of space. Even so, plenty of other images that were just as appealing to the adolescent male imagination, and just as popular in the early days of the genre, somehow got recognized as hackneyed tropes along the route that led from the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s to the paperback SF novels of today, while interstellar travel has so far evaded that fate.

By the time I first started writing science fiction, for example, everyone had more or less noticed that traveling to an exotic future by way of suspended animation, or the couple of other standard gimmicks, had been done to death decades before, and deserved a rest. Somehow, though, very few people noticed that traveling to an exotic planet by way of one of the three or four standard gimmicks for interstellar travel had been overused just as thoroughly by that time, if not more so, and deserved at least as much of a break—and of course it’s gotten even more of a workout since then.

It’s reached the point, in fact, that with embarrassingly few exceptions, you have your choice between two and only two futures in today’s science fiction: you can have interplanetary travel or apocalyptic collapse, take your pick. No other futures need apply—and of course the same thing is true even when people think they’re talking about the actual future. So taut a fixation clearly has something to communicate. I think I’ve figured out part of what it’s trying to say, with the help of one of the authors who helped make science fiction the frankly more imaginative genre it was in the days before the Space Patrol took over exclusive management. Yes, that would be the inimitable H.P. Lovecraft.

Few people nowadays think of Lovecraft as a science fiction writer at all. This strikes me as a major lapse, and not just because the man wrote some classic gizmocentric stories and made the theme of alien contact a major concern of his fiction. He was unique among the authors of imaginative fiction in his generation in tackling the most challenging of all the discoveries of twentieth century science—the sheer scale, in space and time, of the universe in which human beings find themselves.

Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould coined the term “deep time” for the immensities of past and future that reduce our familiar human timescales to pipsqueak proportions. It’s a useful coinage, and might well be paired with the phrase “deep space,” meaning the spatial vastness that does the same trick to our human sense of distance. Lovecraft understood deep time and deep space to an extent few of his contemporaries shared—an extent that allowed him to take firm grasp of the yawning chasm between our species’ sense of self-importance and its actual place in the cosmos.

If the view of the universe revealed to us by modern science is even approximately accurate—and, like Lovecraft, I have no doubt of this—then the entire history of our species, from its emergence sometime in the Pleistocene to its extinction at some as yet undetermined point in the future, is a brief incident on the wet film that covers the surface of a small planet circling an undistinguished star over to one side of an ordinary galaxy. Is it important, that brief incident? To us, surely—but only to us. In Lovecraft’s words, we are “faced by the black, unfathomable gulph of the Outside, with its forever-unexplorable orbs & its virtually certain sprinkling of utterly unknowable life-forms.” Notice the adjectives here: unfathomable, unexplorable, unknowable. What he’s saying here, and throughout his fiction as well, is plain: the message of deep time and deep space is that the cosmos is not there for our benefit. 

That’s precisely the realization that so much of today’s science fiction is frantically trying not to get. The same sort of thinking that led ancient cultures to see bears, queens, and hunting dogs in the inkblot patterns of the skies has been put to hard work in the attempt to reimagine the cosmos as “New Worlds For Man,” a bona fide wonderland of real estate just waiting for our starships to show up and claim it. It’s not just ordinary acquisitiveness that drives this, though no doubt that plays a part; the core of it is the desperate desire to reduce the unhuman vastness of the cosmos to a human scale.

The same kind of logic drives the fatuous claims that humanity will watch the sun die, or what have you. Let us please be real; if we get lucky, not to mention a good deal smarter than we’ve shown any sign of being so far, we might make it a few tens of millions of years (that is, five or ten thousand times the length of recorded history) before our mistakes or the ordinary crises of planetary history push us through extinction’s one-way turnstile. For all we know, other intelligent species may arise on this planet long after we’re gone, and pore over our fossilized bones, before they depart in turn. “Nor is it to be thought”—this is Lovecraft again, quoting his fictional Necronomicon“that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters.” Spooky, isn’t it? Now ask yourself this: why is it spooky?

The modern attempt to impose a human scale on the cosmos is actually something of an anomaly in terms of human cultures. If the ancient Greeks, for example, had gotten to telescopes and stratigraphy first, and figured out the actual immensity of space and time, that discovery wouldn’t have bothered them at all. Ancient Greek religion takes it as given that human beings simply aren’t that important in the scheme of things. Turn the pages of Hesiod, to drop only one famous name, and you’ll find a clear sense of the sharply limited place humanity has in the cosmos, and a calm acceptance of the eventual certainty of human extinction.

It’s one of history’s most savage ironies that the scientific discoveries that revealed the insignificance of humanity were made by societies whose religious ideas didn’t take that sensible view. Most versions of traditional Christian teaching place humanity at the center of the cosmic story: the world was made for our benefit, God himself became a man and died to save us, and as soon as the drama of human salvation is over, the world will end. Of all world religions, Christianity has historically been the most relentlessly anthropocentric—it can be understood in less human-centered terms, but by and large, it hasn’t been—and it was societies steeped in Christian ideas that first found themselves staring in horror at a cosmos in which anthropocentric ideas are all too clearly the last word in absurdity.

I’ve discussed at some length in my recent book After Progress how belief in progress was turned into a surrogate religion by people who found that they could no longer believe in Christian doctrine but still had the emotional needs that had once been met by Christian faith. The inability to tolerate doubts concerning “Man’s Destiny In The Stars” unfolds from the same conflict. Raised in a culture that’s still profoundly shaped by Christian attitudes, taught to think of the cosmos in anthropocentric terms, people in the United States today crash facefirst into the universe revealed by science, and cognitive dissonance is the inevitable result. No wonder so many of us are basically gaga these days.

Such reflections lead out toward any number of big questions. Just at the moment, though, I want to focus on something on a slightly less cosmic scale. Regular readers will remember that a while back, at the conclusion of the last Space Bats challenge, I wished aloud that someone would launch a quarterly magazine to publish the torrent of good stories set in deindustrial futures that people were clearly eager to write. The publication fairy was apparently listening, and I’m delighted to announce the launch of a new quarterly magazine of deindustrial science fictionInto The RuinsGiven the frankly astonishing quality of the stories submitted to the three Space Bats challenges we’ve had so far, I suspect that Into The Ruins is going to become one of those “must read” magazines that, like Weird Tales in the 1920s and 1930s, defines a genre and launches the careers of any number of major writers. This is a paying market, folks; let your writer friends know.

With that under way, we can start pushing the boundaries even further.

One criticism that’s been directed at past Space Bats challenges, and at the three published After Oil anthologies that have come out of them so far (the fourth will be published early in the new year), is that collapse has become a cliché in contemporary science fiction and culture. Mind you, a lot of those who make this criticism are in the unenviable position of the pot discussing the color of the kettle—I’m thinking here especially of SF writer and prolific blogger David Brin, whose novels fixate on the even more spectacularly overworked trope of salvation through technological progress, with space travel playing its usual hackneyed part—but there’s a point to the critique.

Mind you, I still think that the decline and fall of industrial civilization and the coming of a deindustrial dark age is far and away the most likely future we face. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the opportunities that might have gotten us out of that unwelcome future have slipped past, and the same mistakes that have been made by every other civilization on its way down have been made by ours. What’s more, there are still plenty of good stories waiting to be written about how industrial society ran itself into the ground and what happened then—it’s the apocalyptic end of the spectrum of possibilities that’s been written into the ground at this point, while the kind of ragged decline that usually happens in real history has barely been tapped as a source of stories. That said, since we’re talking about imaginative fiction, maybe it’s worth, for once, stepping entirely outside the binary of progress versus collapse, and seeing what the landscape looks like from a third option.

Yes, the sound that you’re hearing is the flutter of space bat wings. It’s time for a new challenge, and this one is going to take a leap into the unthinkable.

The mechanics are the same as in previous Space Bats challenges. Post your story to the internet—if you don’t have a blog, you can get one for free from Blogspot or WordpressPut a link to it in the comments section of this blog, preferably in the comments to the most recent post, so everyone sees it. Stories are due by the last day of June, 2016—fans of Al Stewart are welcome to insert the appropriate joke here.

The rules of the contest, in turn, are almost the same as before:

Stories should be between 2500 and 8500 words in length;
They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;
They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;
They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;
They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;
They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy—that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;
They should take into account the reality of limits to growth, finite supplies of nonrenewable resources, and the other hard realities of our species’ current predicament;
They should not include space travel—again, that weary cliché is long overdue for a rest;
They should not rely on “alien space bats” to solve humanity’s problems—miraculous technological discoveries, the timely arrival of advanced alien civilizations, sudden lurches in consciousness that make everyone in the world start acting like characters in a bad utopian novel, or what have you;
Finally, they must be set in futures in which neither continued technological progress nor the collapse of civilization take place.

I probably need to explain this last point in more detail. Through most of human history, progress was a very occasional thing, and most people could expect to use the same tools, do the same work, and live in the same conditions as their great-grandparents. The last three centuries changed that for a while, but that change was a temporary condition driven by the reckless exploitation of a half billion years of fossil sunlight. Now that the earth’s cookie jar of carbon is running short, to say nothing of all the other essential resources that are rapidly depleting, the conditions that made that burst of progress possible are ending, and it’s reasonable to assume that progress as we know it will end as well.

Does that mean that nothing new will ever be invented again? Of course not. It does mean the end of the relentless drive toward ever more extravagant uses of energy and resources that characterizes our current notions of progress. Future inventions will by and large use fewer resources and less energy than the things they replace, as was generally the case in the preindustrial past, and the pace of invention and technological obsolescence will decline very sharply from its present level. Authors who want to put interesting technologies into their stories are entirely welcome to do so—but don’t make the story about the onward march of gizmocentricity, please. That’s been done to death, and it’s boring.

In the same way, history is full of crises. Major wars come every few generations, nations collapse from time to time, whole civilizations decline and fall when they’ve exhausted their resource bases. All these things will happen in the future as they happened in the past, and it’s perfectly okay to put crises large or small into your stories. What I’m asking is that this time, your stories should not center on the process of collapse. Mind you, quite a few of the stories in the first three anthologies didn’t have that focus, and the fourth anthology—consisting of stories set at least a thousand years in the future—is entirely about other themes, so I don’t think this one will be too difficult.

Neither progress nor collapse. That opens up a very wide and almost unexplored territory. What does the future look like if those overfamiliar options are removed from the equation? Give it a try.


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John Michael Greer said...

Two fast apologies. First, yes, I'd intended to do another Retrotopia post this week, but this is what came out instead; we may be alternating fiction and nonfiction posts for a while. Second, those of you who tried to read the blog when it first went up were in for a feast of ransom-note typography and bad formatting; for some reason Blogger's software choked on something in the post, and I had to go in and fix everything, very nearly line by line, which won't have been easy to read! Thank you, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled Archdruid Report.

siliconguy said...

Well, the Total Perspective Vortex was intended to destroy its victim's mind. As Douglas Adams put it, the one thing in the universe you can't have and remain sane is a sense of proportion.

Larry said...

Glad to hear that Star’s Reach is a monetary success and possibly future great monetary success; I enjoyed the read and am giving it as a holiday gift.

On a different note, I suggest that your series on the Lakeland Republic should be part of required reading for, if not the ongoing global warming in Paris, the next one, wherever it should happen to be.

One purpose, and possibly a main purpose of these global warming conferences, is for the “lesser developed world” to shake down the “developed world” for contributions (multiple billions per year) to combat global warming and, maybe more importantly, so that the elites of these less developed societies can still jet around and have the latest gadgets.

Global warming, at its core, like all polluting, is a moral problem and fighting against it should be done for its own sake. Downscaling technology, as in the Lakeland republic, provides a vision how this can be done.

John Michael Greer said...

Siliconguy, au contraire, if you don't have a sense of proportion you might as well sign up for the padded cell in advance, because you'll act on the conviction that the universe will bail you out from the consequences of your own mistakes. Philip Carr-Gomm, who's the head of the largest of the Druid orders these days, likes to say that Druids cultivate three special senses: common sense, a sense of proportion, and a sense of humor. I've wished more than once that those senses were practiced a little more broadly!

Larry, thank you! It's a perennial source of weariness to hear the latest round of climate negotiations being lauded to the overheated skies as the thing that's going to save us, when, as you say, it's just another way of feeding business as usual. Mother Nature hasn't been invited to the negotiations, which is probably just as well, because she doesn't negotiate.

Patricia Mathews said...

All I can say is that I'm looking forward to the quarterly, the fourth anthology, and whatever else comes out of the Star's Reach spinoffs.

I do know what was going on with "Buck Rogers," though, because as a sometime committer of fanfic since the 1980s, I have often been tempted to rewrite someone else's story to give it the ending I felt it deserved. And at times have filed off the serial numbers and changed the scenery and have done so. Now buried with all the bad poetry, rants, and derivative lit.

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
Cleveland, Ohio: There is NO meeting this week of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
Splendorem Lucis Viridis!
Faithfully yours
Tower 440

Pinku-Sensei said...

Congratulations on getting Hollywood's attention, even if you eventually found it unwelcome. It means that your ideas are interesting enough that someone found them profitable to exploit. I shouldn't be surprised, as "The Hunger Games" Mockingjay-Part 2", the culmination of a series that features both apocalyptic collapse and continued technological progress simultaneously (but in which the loss of space travel is mourned in passing, pun intended), is big box office. At least that is more realistic than a future in which Fiat Chrysler uses the power of The Force to sell cars.

As for that hurt final email, I think the writer/producer was ticked off that he lost a chance at a meal ticket riding the wave of DOOM and then hope because of your artistic and philosophical integrity. Honestly, if that's what he wants, there are plenty of good classic science fiction stories still to be made, including the promised Ringworld movie. I've been waiting for someone to produce that for thiry years, ever since Larry Niven sold the movie rights the first time and I lost my chance to write scenarios for the Ringworld role-playing game.

As for the advent of Into the Ruins, may it indeed incubate a new subgenre of speculative fiction as you hope. I'm looking forward to one of the stories eventually being nominated for the Hugo Awards, although I have a feeling it might take the kind of concerted voting that made this year's list of nominees so controversial. Be careful doing that. It might be a misuse of the topic of your other blog.

Cherokee Organics said...


He said: what? No way. Do you reckon that Buck Rogers actually read and understood the core themes of your novel? It is all very weird to me... Congrats on the strong sales too, I enjoyed the book immensely and never read it on online either due to limits to the amount of time that I spend online. I do prefer paper copies of books.

On the other hand it is nice to read that the devil visits you from time to time and that you are unprepared to sell your soul. ;-)

Well, I reckon a case might be made that people are actually selling their souls and their descendant’s souls too in order to pursue that distant objective of the stars. How else do they justify the casual cruelty that we inflict on this planet of which we are a part of? You see if a person acknowledges that the goal of the stars is unachievable then surely they then have to acknowledge all of the other little things that they are consciously or unconsciously doing that is done in the name of pursuing that progress goal? I don't have children, but pretty much everyone else that does have them, enjoys a hazy pleasantry of pretending to themselves that they can do such and such - despite the likely outcomes or cost to themselves - as long as their children will lead a better life. If we seriously damage the planet in the process, no problems, because our descendants can simply zip off to another fresh planet and start all over again. It seems a very daft belief to me, but I'm surrounded by that sort stuff on a day to day basis, so I don't worry about it anymore, nod my head sagely and just get on with dealing with things as they are.

And speaking of which, the way that global warming is going, we'll be lucky to get through the next decade without major disruptions to our infrastructure. I have to laugh when I read of the latest plans to tackle things like global warming - in the future, mind you - because it's already happening. I call the whole plans thing: A plan to make a plan. It is very exciting really because I've noted that people thereafter pat themselves on the back and say: Thankfully that's done and we don't have to think about all that unpleasantness again. Phew, what a relief!

What actually surprises me the most is the real reluctance on the part of our society to want to invest in our collective infrastructure - it is really weird because they seem to be pretending that it all doesn't matter. But I suspect that the costs of failing to do that are ratcheting up with each passing year. It has a lot of parallels to US national debt – which is a frankly bizarre situation which I’m expecting to blow up one of these days.

What is really weird is that people are pretending that we are in a deflationary period right now, but costs are going up all around me. What I’m seeing is inflation which is accelerating and it surprises me how effective the messages to the contrary have been. A postage stamp costs $0.70 per small letter today, but next week it will become $1.00 – oh yeah, and if you want the sort of service delivery that you expect today, I’ve been told that you have to purchase another $0.50 bar code stamp to put on the same envelope. Apologies, it is not a price increase to $1.50 per stamp and it couldn’t be inflation could it because we’re in a deflationary period.

I reckon a manned space program should be a bare minimum if space is to be even considered as an option at all. That's not working out so well though, is it?

Respect to Joel! Tidy work mate.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Devils haircut. Summer has arrived with a bang. I experimented this week with the recently purchased second hand food dehydrator. The bees are buzzing and the tomatoes are growing in the heat. Lots of wildlife photos and how I adapt the place here for them during these hot and dry summers. Also, I'm putting the orchard (300 fruit trees) into drought survival mode. All good fun stuff and lots of photos.

nuku said...

"go away on holiday", "get away from it", "throw it away": most humans love the idea of "away". Anywhere anytime but the here and now, and having to face the reality of who they are and who they aren't.
So its no surprise that the ultimate get-away, aside from "going to heaven", is space/time travel, the farthest away you can get.
In addition, there's the Frontier fantasy: virgin worlds to explore/exploit and play the hero in.
And for the those who don't fancy a deep space/time trip in their physical bodies, there's always virtual reality!

Bootstrapper said...

I'm glad you didn't sign-up for the TV adaption John. Robert Heinlein would have sued Hollywood for their adaption of "Starship Troopers", if he'd been alive to do so.

I'm glad I've saved all your blog posts since the beginning. I had a feeling that the Internet might eat your work one of these days.


Shane W said...

"would fixate on the imagery of climbing aboard a giant metal penis to be squirted into the gaping void of space."
OMG, LMFAO on that one. Took me a while to regain my composure and continue reading. Wow, so much food for thought this week. It's interesting how much I've noticed people doubling down on their faith in progress in various forms lately--one of the most chilling things I hear is of the "I have faith in humanity" lines (why?!) along with the "tech will save us". I guess you told us that would happen as limits closed in on us.
BTW, I just finished Vol. I of The Sunset-Drowning of the Evening Lands--very prescient, and I look forward to Vol. II, and am eagerly awaiting Small is Beautiful. I must say, there's a whole lot of weirdness going on in the world in a bad way, and I can't make any sense of what's going on, but have a deep forboding about it--Trump/Muslims, Calif. shooting, Turkey, Paris, the race protests @ universities. I just feel like it's all part of a full court press to distract us from the real issues.

ZombieLord said...

John - a few thoughts. Have you read "Rare Earth Hypothesis" by Pete Ward and Donald Brownlee? It's very much in the category of what your talking about. A read of their book and a quick google search for comments about their book will show a very clear disconnection between what they actually say and what many members of the public claim that they say. Like the "Limits to Growth" and many other controversial works, the disconnect between what the authors say and what members of the public claim that they say can be painful.

One of the reasons why "Rare Earths" provokes such a disconnect is that it suggests very strongly that even if we could zoom around the galaxy at super-luminal velocities, there might not be an aweful lot of places to go with complex life and intelligence. In that sense, it's very much the opposite of the tradition that really kicked of with HPL who saw life and intelligence (and generally pretty aweful and nasty to boot) as being pretty ubiquitous throughout th universe.

Anyway : I was about to digress into a long winded rant but decided that it was probably too boring. Please consider reading "Rare Earths" simply because it's one of those books that people love to hate.

Finally : I'm working on a book (a very lengthy one actually) with the provisional title "Plan B for a post peak-oil world". I've been working on it for just over two years and I have about five of a total of twelve chapters done. Please feel free to offer advice on how I might get it published.

Charles DeYoe said...

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I have not yet read The Star's Reach but I definitely intend to! But as an interesting coincidence, I just yesterday finished watching a 1978 Japanese animated TV show called Future Boy Conan (aka Mirai Shonen Conan aka Conan: The Boy in Future) and feel like it has a premise you might approve of as far as children's entertainment goes. It's a rough adaptation of The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key (which I've never read since it's extremely out of print. The prologue shows that humanity destroys most of the land in World War III using imagery that makes the modern viewer instantly think of sea-level rise; some humans attempt to escape into outer space but their rocket fails and they crash to an island on earth. After a few years, one of the survivors on the island gives birth to Conan, the series protagonist and despite the bleak premise, a lot of the show's atmosphere is more "fun adventure" than anything else. Anyway, Conan ends up encountering the 'bad guys' who are an organization that's actually called "Industria" which is desperately clinging to the high-tech past, using slaves and military might as necessary. Meanwhile the 'good guys' live in "High Harbor" which is home to people who adopt a more rustic way of life and a far higher standard of living. And of course there are neutral parties and traitors to both sides, making it a bit more interesting than a simple "good guys/bad guys" type show.

I have no idea how interesting my summary is for you to read but if you'd like to see the opening, it's here:
I think the imagery is pretty amazing for children's entertainment. I know you won't be watching the actual show but I feel like you'd appreciate knowing that it exists!

On another note, I've been mulling over the irrational demonization some folks in society get, such as that Victorian-style couple from a few weeks ago. A (non-Christian) friend sick of hearing anti-Muslim sentiment posted a picture of Mother Theresa on Facebook with the comment "Hmmm...she covered her hair for religious reasons. Think she's a terrorist?" which INSTANTLY inspired someone to respond saying that Mother Theresa was, in fact, "a terrible person." I know a lot of famous people provoke this kind of reaction: they'll tell you Gandhi was a pedophile, Martin Luther King, Jr. was misogynistic serial-adulterer, Abraham Lincoln was a racist, etc.
I suspect that this reaction comes from the nation's deep Protestant roots and the idea that since humans are flawed, they should never be admired. Basically that people should look only to divine figures like Jesus. I'm pretty sure most people pointing out these flaws are atheists, but I can't help but think that the mentality is extremely similar. They see someone looking positively about a "mere mortal" and feel compelled to brand that person a sinner.

I'll certainly subscribe to Into the Ruins and maybe I'll even try my hand at writing a story for the contest this time around.
ANYWAY I feel like I'm rambling so I'll end this comment here!

JimK said...

I know some very intelligent people who have great faith that interstellar travel lies in our future. I don't think these folks are entirely blind to the challenges involved. What drives their faith is that they see how we are destroying earth. So they see interstellar travel as our only way to survive. I weep at the tragedy of this logic. But there it is.

HalFiore said...

Toynbee wrote about Egypt and China as civilizations that had avoided collapse by basically becoming a zombie. No longer alive and going through what he considered the normal cycle but maintained by certain strategies in a fossil form. He seemingly considered this some sort of failure, but I can't imagine that the elite that pulled such a thing off wouldn't be pretty proud of themselves. Beats the heck out of the alternative, as they say.

Is something like this what you have in mind?

DeVaul said...

First off, I would like to congratulate you on turning down the enormous amount of money you could have gotten for trashing your own magnus opus. Few choose that option. Well done.

While I have not read the book, it must be good if they want to do a TV show based on it and then expand it into a one dimensional cartoon featuring live human beings.

On another note, I believe your depiction of the Lakeland Republic is rather utopian compared to the future that is most likely to take place. I base this statement on my own observation of human behavior, which does not seem to match the inhabitants of the Republic. They appear to be sane and reasonable people.

Are you sure "Lakeland" is a possible outcome for human beings?

Shane W said...

one question I've wondered, what reason do you use first person in your non fiction writing? Any particular reason why you violate the commandment "Thou Shall Not Use First Person, Thou Shall Use Third Person, in Formal Writing" I figure it must be good. Just curious...

Mike said...

I find it ironic that so many of your readers urged you to add some whiz-bangery or other to the Star's Reach world. As for me, my biggest quibble was that Trey's hazard detection kit seemed too high-tech to be appropriate for the time and place. I think every journeyman ruinman ought to have had one or two highly trained pet rats (which he would have trained himself). Their intelligence, super-sensitive noses and ability to access the smallest of spaces would make them invaluable, not just for sniffing out hazards among the ruins but treasures as well.

Kevin Bahm said...

I've been thinking about time and space quite often lately, having just re-read "Biocentrism" by Robert Lanza. Please pardon me for not addressing your central argument in this week's post, but am I correct in assuming that you are familiar with what quantum theory has to say about space and time? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on how quantum theory fits into your views on Man's place in the cosmos. Your writing (at least my limited experience of it) seems to address time and space from a strictly Materialist perspective. Not that there is anything wrong with that: I put great stock in your opinions on the future of humanity and the planet, and when I am in the mood for metaphysics I can find that on other blogs. Being mortal puts certain constraints on how we perceive space and time, so it is natural that ideas we have on the subject of the future should be expressed in language conducive to discussion. Yet be that as it may, I find it interesting that a blog written by an Archdruid is silent on any deeper spiritual aspect of the nature of reality. When Einstein said "space is what we measure with a rod, and time is what we measure with a clock" he meant that is all they are. The importance of that statement is that someone has to be engaged in the act of measuring. The concept of deep space and deep time is not really meaningful without consciousness. Of course that does not have to be human consciousness, but I don't recall you mentioning anything along this line of thinking in any of your posts so I am just giving free rein to my curiosity. What do Druids say about such things?

Joe said...

What, neither collapse nor star trek? Everything between those extremes has already been well covered by the likes of Sigrid Undset (Kristen Lavransdatter), Samuel Clemens, Laura Ingalls Wilder and many others. We've already been there, done that. We've got plenty of coarse brown bread; what we're lacking is circuses.

Trmist said...

Nice to hear that Star's Reach generated interest in being made into a film or television series. I enjoyed the book but in my opinion Twiligh's Last Gleaming was much more fun to read. I couldn't help but think Twilight would make an excellent movie. The story was original and completely at odds with just about everything out of Hollywood. Growing up watching movies instilled a love for film in me. Sadly most of what is made today is trash. There are usually less than a handful of movies made in a given year that are worth watching. The main problems are the scripts are terrible, and the plot lines are too far fetched. Maybe someone will see the genius of the Twilight and put it up on the big screen.

Howard Skillington said...

At the risk of simply reformulating a conclusion already reached by many of your readers, I would venture this: the reason so many cling to the notion that “man’s destiny is in the stars” is that it indefinitely obviates the grim verdict that we have blown our one chance.

Sure, we may have destroyed this environment, this atmosphere, these oceans, but that’s ok – just think of the infinite number of even better ones out there among the stars, just waiting to give humankind another chance, or two, or million.

If our dominion includes those “billions and billions” of other worlds to plunder, then we needn’t mend our ways, because even if we make as big a mess of them of we have here, we can just jump back in the spaceship and zoom off to the next planet, the next chance to get it right.

For mankind to own a destiny among the stars we can go on being as selfish and short-sighted and foolish as we have been on this earth an infinite number of times. Denied that, we would be doomed to live forever with the devastation that we have already wrought on the only world we will ever have.

Thomas Daulton said...

Couple of off-the-cuff reactions...

Your symbolic analysis of the adolescent appeal of phallic spaceships reminded me of the Vonnegut short story, "The Great Space F*ck". I can't find it online, but I have no doubt you have read it at least once!

I must admit I tend to toss Lovecraft into the "horror/fantasy" pigeonhole because of the way magic figures prominently in his mythos. The use of Magic in Lovecraft's stories probably deserves a column of its own from you (perhaps over at Galabes) since, like his cosmos, it is not human-centric. It's not "Harry Potter" type of magic, but neither is it Golden Dawn stuff either. Lovecraft's system of magic is interesting, often copied, rarely improved upon.

However, the above notwithstanding, my actual favorite Lovecraft story is "In the Walls of Eryx". People refer to that story as a deviation from the rest of Lovecraft's work because it is supposedly a straight-up sci-fi story. (Minor spoiler: A human space prospector for rare and valuable energy minerals on Venus becomes trapped in an invisible maze.) I like it because it's a refreshing change from the frankly repetitive nature of his horror/fantasy stories, which nevertheless keeps the most solid elements of his favorite themes: weird, horrifying, primitive natives with powerful secrets, and a cosmos which is bleakly indifferent to the well-being of humans. I love how that story is vaguely scientifically plausible (given the conceit of space travel, but it's only to our neighboring planet) and it doesn't involve extra dimensions or breaking the Newtonian laws of physics.

Brien said...

Looking forward to this crop of stories! I had a few ideas for stories that I shelved because they didn't seem directly Collapse-oriented enough; now I'll have to get up and actually write them.

On an unrelated note, but probably of interest: last Sunday our local priest actually gave a sermon against the Religion of Progress; he explicitly denounced placing one's hope in technology, medical advances, or "Progress" generally, comparing it to Judah's ill-conceived alliance with Egypt in Isaiah 30 (one of the day's texts). I was surprised as well as gratified to hear these ideas taking hold (or being returned to?)

Aron Blue said...

I'm okay with not going to the stars. I can go into my own self, and make myself a better person if I work really hard at it.

Joe McInerney said...

Douglas Tompkins, Patagonian conservationist and founder of Esprit and The North Face, died yesterday in a kayaking accident.

Attending Wes Jackson's annual Prairie Festival party at The Land Institute in September 2014, I had the pleasure to hear Tompkins speak. He was a founder of the Foundation For Deep Ecology,

which produced the anthology "Energy Reader" featuring a selection by John Michael Greer and populated by many post carbon thinkers including Richard Heinberg. In his talk, Tompkins singled out the ideas of John Michael Greer as being of particularly important influence on many of us listening to him that day. You will be missed Doug Tompkins. Thank you.

“Remove ‘sustainable’ from your dictionary, there is no sustainable business. Only biological sustainability counts,” he told a room full of business students at the IESE business school Doing Great and Doing Good conference on responsible business.

Blueback said...

As someone who is an active participant on a number of online military related forums, I have run into the same weird phenomenon you have with regards to the F-35 Lardbucket (and yes, I do use that epithet regularly in online debates on the subject).

There are many people (aviation buffs, especially) who have put their hopes on that one airplane to such a high degree that they literally cannot process the idea that the F-35 is a useless piece of junk whose only real purpose is raid the treasury on behalf of Lockheed's executives and stockholders. No amount of evidence can convince them otherwise.

I used to think these people were just paid trolls, and some undoubtedly are, but I think the same sort of dynamic you talked about in this post also comes into play. They simply cannot grasp the idea that they are being lied to about the Lardbucket, that the F-35 is useless and will never work properly because of inherent design flaws and that we will end up losing wars because the Chinese and the Russians were able to built better stealth fighters like the J-20 and the PAK FA while we wasted our resources on the F-35

Max Osman said...

What's the outlook on that civil war?

Claire said...

Ha ha ha!
Thank you for the the 'three special senses.' Common sense has long been my favourite oxymoron. I suspect a sense of proportion is equally rare. Adams has a point perhaps; it might be devastating to an untrained mind.

jonathan said...

haven't you heard the good news? nuclear fusion is, once again, right around the corner! no, really. i read it right here:

when i read this stuff in my twenties i was thrilled. in my forties i was annoyed. now in my sixties i am blase, even a little amused. but never mind the past. now they are sure they have it right.

i blame this arrogance and narcissism on the enlightenment. i'm sure reason and human control over events seemed like good ideas, but while religions may be anthropocentric, at least they recognize that there is something in the universe that eludes our understanding and control.

PhysicsDoc said...

It is ironic that one of the principal theories developed in 20th century physics, namely special relativity, makes travel to the stars in any practical sense impossible. This is only partly due to the limiting speed to light. The physics of relativity make us forever time disconnected with distant stars, even if we could find a way to accelerate to speeds near to the speed of light. There are some people who cannot accept this, and have gone out of their way to construct elaborate counter theories which on the surface appear to be sound. They have all the right mathematics and derivations, but are making some assumption that are incorrect. They insist up and down that all physics past Newton is misled in some way no matter what arguments are made to convince them otherwise. I think that this may be another manifestation of the religion of progress which cannot accept that even modern physics limits us to the earth and nearby planets.

Apathetic Bald Manlet said...

Hello JMG,

You've implied on several occasions that the laws of nature as presently understood are a good approximation for reality. If you don't mind me going slightly off-topic, what do you take to be the nature of consciousness? Do you believe it's a purely physical process rooted in the operation of the brain?

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, I honestly don't mind seeing that in fanfic, or even -- given the necessary filing off of serial numbers -- in published fiction. Science fiction in particular has grown immensely by a kind of debating process in which different versions of the same story, with different endings and meanings, got published sequentially by different writers -- think of Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz and Edgar Pangborn's Davy as opposing sides in a debate about the place of religion in a postatomic future, for example. My objection to Buck Rogers' rewrite is the same I would have made to an attempt by an editor to force the same change on the story -- it's an attempt to silence one, rather underrepresented, side of the debate.

Pinku-sensei, the interesting thing is that I've had two nibbles on Star's Reach so far -- one just asking about availability, then silence; the other from Buck Rogers. For all I know it might someday get filmed. As for a Hugo, nah, if things unfold the way they usually do, deindustrial SF will be stonewalled by the mainstream for decades, and will have to create its own award -- possibly the Richard, after Richard Jeffries, whose After London is the first work of deindustrial SF I know of.

Cherokee, I have no idea what Buck Rogers was thinking. As for "deflation," the reason people are talking about that is that we're in an economic condition that's not supposed to exist -- stagflation -- the Ghost of Energy Crises Past, marked by rising prices amid economic contraction. It may just slip over into hyperstagflation before too much longer.

Nuku, oh, granted. It's the unthinking wastefulness of a society that's never gotten around to grasping that nobody's going to clean up its messes for it.

Booststrapper, I've got plans for that as well -- once the internet becomes too unreliable, expensive, or both to be a good medium, all my back posts will be published in book for as they originally appeared.

Shane, glad you found that amusing! As for weirdness, no argument there -- I think we're seeing the sort of collective nervous breakdown that comes before an era of crisis. Hang onto your hat...

Zombie, I've read it -- an interesting hypothesis, and worth exploring. As for getting a book published, one huge advantage of the peak oil field is that you don't need an agent. Finish your book, and then go visit the website a publisher that does books on peak oil-related themes (look at your peak oil bookshelf for suggestions), find the submissions guidelines, and follow them exactly: you'll have as good a chance of getting into print as your book deserves.

Charles, I somehow failed to hear about Future Boy Conan. Fascinating that (according to online sources) it's apparently hugely popular in the Arab world! As for the obsessive demonization, yes, I think it has something to do with our society's religious background, but I think there's more to it than that. It's not accidental, I'd suggest, that it became popular in the wake of the Reagan era, when Americans by and large cashed in their ideals; when you've done that, nothing makes you more uncomfortable than someone who hasn't done so, and so finding some excuse to drag them down to your level becomes the order of the day.

JimK, and of course babbling on about interstellar travel allows them to continue to pursue the sort of "normal" American lifestyle that's destroying the planet.

HalFiore, that's one of many, many possible options. I'd encourage you to consider writing a story about that.

DeVaul, utopian fiction is always meant to push the boundaries of what we think we can be as human beings. That said, stay tuned; the narrative isn't yet half done, and we'll be seeing the Lakeland Republic from a range of other angles, some of them rather divergent...

Joel Caris said...


Thanks for linking to Into the Ruins! It's brought a nice flow of visitors so far, as well as some subscriptions. Nice to see the link come with a new Space Bats contest, as well! I'm excited to see the works that show up for it.

A few notes to everyone else. First of all, JMG has also sent on the entries from the last Space Bats contest that weren't selected for the anthology. I'll be working my way through those in the coming weeks to see if there are any I'd like to include in one of the first issues of Into the Ruins. If you submitted a story and you don't want me to review it for any reason, please send me an email at and let me know, referencing the title of your story. On the other hand, if you have an updated version than what you submitted that you'd prefer me to review, then please go to, submit the new version according to the guidelines, and let me know in your submission email that it's an updated version of one of the stories I should already have.

Also, I don't have any of the stories from the first two Space Bats contests that weren't selected for the anthologies. If you'd like me to review one of those stories, please go submit! I'd love to take a look.

In regards to subscriptions, thank you to everyone who has already subscribed and anyone who is planning to. It really does mean a lot to me that people are willing to put their money down on a new project before the first issue has even come out. Trust me, I'll hold true to that obligation. Also, I initially had it on the subscription page that I was only taking subscriptions for U.S. addresses. After doing a bit of further research in regards to an inquiry, I've come to the conclusion that I CAN offer international subscriptions by shipping directly through my publisher. They're available at a higher price, so please email me directly at to inquire about your specific locale. I'll get back to you with whether or not it's an option and what the price would be (it varies a bit depending on the country.)

Also, I just managed to get a blog up and running on the site shortly after JMG posted this week's entry. If you're interested, you can check that out here and join the conversation in the comments, if you'd like. I also am soliciting Letters to the Editor for the first issue. Please take a look if you'd like to potentially lend your voice to this project outside of a story submission.

Lastly, thank you for the kind words, Chris! I've missed our comment chats from Of The Hands. I'll have to start keeping better track of your blog.

Shane W said...

BTW, I posted something regarding a Green Wizards conference on the Green Wizards site

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, I heartily encourage you to take those commandments, use them for toilet paper, and drop them into the outhouse of your choice. Moby Dick is written in the first person, so is Huckleberry Finn, so is The Catcher in the Rye -- I could go on. Canned rules are for hack writers; if you're serious about your writing, find the voice, the style, the structure, the plot, and the person that fits your vision, and go with that, no matter what "the rules" say.

In the case of Star's Reach, it was clear to me from the beginning that the story needed to be told in the first person, in Trey's own voice, and in a nonlinear order -- basically, the raw materials of his autobiographical notebook as he sat in half-darkness wondering what was waiting in the vast dark abandoned facility around him. So that was what I did. In the same way, Twilight's Last Gleaming is told in omniscient third person -- that was even more necessary than the first-person reminiscences of Star's Reach, in order to give the story the sense of impersonal events spinning out of control and sweeping up my characters into the maelstrom. In my latest completed novel -- the final title is The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, and it's got a half-finished sequel at this point, The Weird of Hali: Kingsport -- it's third person but with a taut focus on the viewpoint character, because that allowed me to take the audience along for the ride as an ordinary grad student at Miskatonic University finds out that there are two sides to every story -- even the stories of the Cthulhu mythos. Any other approach wouldn't have permitted the same gradual slippage from ordinary college life to a wider world full of tentacled horrors that just might be the good guys after all...

You choose your voice, and your viewpoint, based on the story you want to tell. Ignore the canned rules. End of sermon!

Mike, nice. I like that, and wish I'd thought of it -- it would have made a very nice bit of background detail, with the rats as voiceless but expressive characters along for the ride.

Kevin, I write about things from a materialist perspective here because that provides a common ground for discussion. Are you at all familiar with Schopenhauer's discussion of the world as representation? That's pretty close to my take on things -- but introducing that here would cause a lot of confusion, and occupy far too many posts to explain.

Joe, do you mean that as satire, or is your imagination really that stunted?

Trmist, I agree! I think Twilight's Last Gleaming would make a stunning movie; it's a very visual, very image-centered story, much more so than Star's Reach. Still, we'll have to see whether somebody in the movie industry notices that. (And then we'll see if they're willing to do that as written -- I can all too easily imagine a lot of pressure to change the ending so the USA is saved.)

Howard, no question, that's a big part of it.

Thomas, the interesting thing to me is that so much of Lovecraft doesn't use magic at all. At the Mountains of Madness is a science fiction story about alien contact; Beyond the Walls of Sleep and From Beyond are pure gizmo stories; the whole Herbert West: Reanimator series is a ghoulishly funny sendup of the Frankenstein motif; and of course there's In the Walls of Eryx, as you noted, which is classic space opera. He also did straight horror along the lines of The Picture in the House, and did it well. As for the stories that did use magic -- yes, that's probably worth a Galabes post one of these days.

Brien, write those puppies! While you're at it, next time you see your priest, could you please tell him from me that it's a pleasure to hear about a Christian clergyman who actually worships Christ rather than Progress, and is aware of the difference? Those are few and far between these days...

Aron, true enough!

John Michael Greer said...

Joe, yes, I heard. I met Doug only once, at an event in New York, and we talked only briefly; we had some fierce debates by email, as his views and mine clashed in some important ways; but I was sorry to hear of his passing.

Blueback, okay, that's got to be a new low for the human imagination -- I can understand piling unrealistic expectations on an imaginary starship, but the F-35? The Lardbucket is a fitting successor to the Brewster Buffalo -- except that the Buffalo could probably outfly and outfight it.

Max, getting closer by the day.

Claire, glad you like it. As for the sense of proportion, it's not the untrained mind that has to fear it -- it's the mind that's been fed an unhealthy diet of anthropocentric fantasy and an overblown sense of entitlement. Unfortunately that's all too common these days.

Jonathan, I wish I could argue. The Enlightenment had so much promise, but let itself get caught up in the hubris of reason -- and as has been said, and truly, hubris is the past tense of nemesis.

PhysicsDoc, okay, now you've fascinated me. Can you point me to a readily available book or website that explains, in layperson's language, how time disconnection works on an interstellar scale? This sounds well worth exploring.

Manlet, no, I consider the brain to be a purely experiential phenomenon occurring in the mind. I'd point you to the opening pages of the second volume of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation for a cogent summary.

Joel, you're welcome. I'm really looking forward to that first issue, and will consider a crotchety letter to the editor...

Shane, glad to hear it.

Genevieve Hawkins said...

Funny that you mentioned writing I have this entire book written in my head that seems appropriate for the genre even if it's nothing more than my musing about what would happen if the power went out. I'm sure that's been an overplayed theme too (I suppose that could be heavily argued as catastrophic collapse) but perhaps I'll put some of those thoughts on paper. I never knew there was somewhere to go with it....

Yucca Glauca said...

One of the things I always found interesting about The Book of Invasions is the way it causally talks about one group ruling Ireland and then being replaced by another group, quite comfortable with the idea that some day another group will likely replace the sons of Mil. Most of the modern Irish Pagans I know, who don't happen to live in Ireland, like to take history of Ireland in The Book of Invasions as a metaphor for the history of the world, which leads to the sort of thinking about humans being simply one in a long chain of "species" that spend a little time on top.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla said...

In the hands of the Finnish Air Force against the Soviets during the winter and continuation wars, the Brewster Buffalo ended up with the best kill to loss ratio out off all the fighter models in the entire global conflict. It's unfair to compare it to the f-35.

PhysicsDoc said...

Maybe my use of words (disconnected in time) makes it sound more interesting than it is. If one travels at non-relativistic speeds similar to our existing spacecraft even the nearest stars are thousands of light years away or more. Obviously traveling to such stars at such speeds if it were possible using multiple generations or cryogenics would disconnect the travelers from earth by such large amounts of time. On the other hand one could travel to such stars in reasonable amounts of time by just increasing the speed. The problem here is that there is a limiting speed, the speed of light, and it takes ever greater amounts of energy to get closer to the speed of light (an infinite amount of energy is required to reach the speed of light). Let's say for the sake of argument that a spacecraft could get very close to the speed of light. The nearest star is about 4 light years away. Relative to earth the travelers would take 4 years to reach the star. Due to relativistic time dilation the travelers would experience a much shorter amount of time (~zero time for travel almost at the speed of light). Therefore even for the nearest stars a minimum disconnection of time of the order of years or decades would take place. For more distant starts centuries or more time would separate the travelers from the earth they left even if the trip for the travelers was short. The physics of time dilations can be found in any book or reference on special relativity. In my opinion this physics forever removes the possibility of jaunting around space from star to star in the same way as we currently travel from place to place on the earth. Even of possible, we would have to separate ourselves from earth and its current inhabitants in large amounts of time as well as space.

Heian said...

Talking about fiction, in 2012 i was in a book store that had a three books for the price of two sale and one of the books i picked up back then was The prince of thorns from a author named Mark Lawrence. It was standing in the fantasy section but after reading trough it i realized it was more a hybrid between fantasy and science fiction.

The action actually takes place in Europe around 1000 years into the future. But it never openly says it out loud until later on in the trilogy, It just gives hints and small winks here and there. Everything looks like a very standard late medieval fantasy setting when you start reading it. But then you realize that the description of a cave system they are exploring reminds you about a parking garage. Or a castle where the center is built around a old high rise or skyscraper.
I also like the name they have for land that is destroyed by nuclear or chemical poisons from our time. Its called Promised Land.
And they are not trying to bring back progress or go to the stars in this story.
Even though the author has worked as a scientist and at one point he was qualified to say 'this isn't rocket science ... oh wait, it actually is'.

It does contain fantasy magic aka Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the main character in the first trilogy is not a very nice person to put it mildly, especially in the first book so that might put some people off. It has some other flaws here and there but if you like fiction its worth checking out. And its a trilogy and all the books is released so you dont have to wait many years for the next book like with some other authors. (Cough Cough George RR Martin)

will said...

JMG, re the whole 20th-21st century "the stars are our destiny" motif - I would agree that it's something of a (alliteration alert) fossil-fueler phallocentric fantasy. Still, I think the desire to "travel to the stars" is not necessarily an unnatural one. The trouble comes when this desire is filtered through a modern reductionist materialistic scientism. Then the result is a misplaced concrete-ism - the human desire for spiritual transcendence, to reach out in spirit and consciousness, translates into a desire to physically leave the earth in metal gizmoships. In the same manner, the desire for a "heaven on earth" becomes a hellish communism or nazism, the desire for an androgynous state of being becomes some form of hermaphroditism, etc. The time in which we live is replete with such misplaced concrete-isms.

I do think that HP Lovecraft's cosmic vision of things is correct, insofar as he could perceive; contemplation of the Immensities of Time and Space can be fearfully overwhelming. And the fact that everything seems to be composed of vibratory pixels and that we're living in a sea of insubstantiality can be a tad unsettling as well. But though his imagination futuristically saw the cosmos through the lens of a Hubble telescope, HPL was what we would call a thorough secular materialist. No, he didn't subscribe to anthropocentric fantasies re space-faring and the like, but his vision was, I think, limited. A more encompassing vision would have intuited that the immensity of Space and Time is something quite different when perceived with spiritual insight. In the more subtle realms of existence, distance, size, and time are not what they are in are in our material world, nor is space as "empty" as it appears to our material eyes - to paraphrase Jacob Boehme, every parsec of space is inhabited. In short, I tend to think the Immensities are a lot more negotiable, so to speak, in the spirit realm than they are in the material world.

In this sense, I don't think it's all that outrageously anthropocentric to believe that a parcel of the Whole incarnated as a man in this tiny corner of the universe in order to set an example of how to live and move in the Light. Probably happens when and where needed anywhere in the universe, I would imagine. Also in this sense, I tend to think that, though the human race is not dominant in Creation, we are part of the Whole, a part of the fabric, and as such, we play an important role in the balance of Creation - and we might continue to do so after our species has officially died out on planet earth. 

As long as we are finite creatures, we must live finitely, and the Great Immensities serve to keep our anthropocentric fantasies in check. But this is not to say we are also spiritual beings who may in the fullness of time move among the stars - it just won't be in physical bodies. 

PhysicsDoc said...

Just as a follow-up to my previous comments, the solution to the dilemma of conventional space travel is to point to the physics of general relativity where the ability of space-time to warp or form unconventional geometries can in principle be used to overcome the limitations I previously described. Unfortunately these schemes inevitably involve some form of unobtainium or nearly impossible conditions to succeed. One of the more recent ideas in this direction is the concept of Alcubierre warp drive where the space craft essentially surfs on a wave of space-time. Unfortunately this trick requires a region of negative energy density which requires exotic matter yet to be discovered (see also unobtainium). There is actually a team at NASA pursuing this. I think this kind of technology is even more of a long shot than AI or fusion energy but again the belief that it must be possible since technology must advance is almost unshakable.

PhysicsDoc said...

It seems that "Einstein's Universe, The Laypersons Guide" by Nigel Calder has good reviews but I have not read it myself.

Dau Branchazel said...

JMG, I'd like to take your metaphor and up it one...the elephant's graveyard in the room. The place where thinking goes to die and nobody even notices it's there.

Unless that's what you meant, then we'll call it a draw.

After having just re-read Star's Reach, I realised how little had stuck with me about the actual alien contact theme since I first read it serial blog style. The thing I loved,the thing that stuck was the journey. The growing up of Berry and Trey through the story. And the different types of love that Trey discovers while meandering about from failure to failure. But, when I finished this time, apart from re-enjoying that aspect of it, I felt satisfied for the people of Meriga. I felt, that what they were going to have in place of wasted years trying to force the concept of inter-galactic travel upon the resources and finances and creative energies of the world was going to be that much more fulfilling. They couldn't go, but they could know.

For my two cents worth on the idea of it being a film, I would love to see someone like Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry take it on. I love their aesthetic vision, but also feel that they would have the sensitivity to deal with the theme of love and growth appropriately along with the dreams and Star's Reach scenes, without making it gaudy or hollywood plastique.

I would pay to see that on the big screen, and so would many others, and in the process of making millions of silly dollars, many minds could be sufficiently corrupted. Mwuahahahaha.

Rob Rhodes said...

Kudos for not letting some fracker from Hollywood inject poisons into your book then leave it seeping 'biological methane' for countless seasons while its characters are silenced by a non disclosure clause.

Chloe said...

I think the particular issue you've brought up here may to some extent be an issue of the sci-fi/techno crowd, rather than - like the mental graveyards of progress and technological opt-outs - industrial civilisation in general. I don't get the impression that most people think about the future of humanity at all, except to blithely assume that it's pretty much going to resemble the present (maybe a bit better or a bit worse) - certainly there's no public discourse on the matter beyond, at best, 2050 or so - and a lot of people wouldn't consider living "in the stars" precisely *because* they're so Earth-centric they can't even believe we sent people to the Moon…

Not that you're wrong about the attitudes of people who *do* ask these questions; they tend to be the same sort who insist cold fusion is just around the corner and we should believe them because *they* understand the physics. Personally, I'm pretty certain the only way we could possibly - and I do not mean "probably" or even, "chance in a billion", I mean, "everything else is completely impossible" - travel between the stars is if members of some alien civilisation picked us up and took us there. Which might do good things for the human ego, but it's hardly likely, even if we do stick around for another ten million years.

Ten million years of evolution is the distance between ourselves and the chimpanzees or the gorillas. Our current form, Homo sapiens, has been around for maybe half a million years at the outside. We're generalists and pretty adaptable (even if we do have a bad habit of unbalancing our environment that far predates the industrial era) so it's not too unlikely that our lineage will persist a fair way into the future - in all the variable and diverse ways that characterise the hominins of the past. Our descendants might well be around in ten million years and they may even be something we would recognise as human (and vice versa) but they won't be the same species - singular or plural. Which is one of those unsettling thoughts of the kind most people can't even conceive, to add to the scale of the Universe and the inevitability of our civilisation's end. (Even if it doesn't collapse as such.)

Anyway, I must add Star's Reach to the Christmas list and see what the going rate is on a subscription of Into the Ruins across the pond.

ed boyle said...

I once read on an OBE/lucid dreaming book or website that one can travel the universe and to various dimensions in astral body. Worm holes are the only scientific fitting concept to see the universe. Archimedes screw was great progress for the 5000 year old egyptian farming culture and when electrity is gone will be brought back. Japanes samurai swords steel making was only surpassed by modern high tech. Tech can exist as sample butnot for the masses. I reserve for myself for example to believe in immortal master in himalaya but not in mass production of such.

The desired story should concern a cultural stage below our current one in terms of hectic, waste and above Thunderdome, cannibalism, chaos. Biochar, archimedes screw, passive solar, feng shui, acupuncture, reiki, herbal remedies, civil war, corruption, slave like working conditions, wealthy oligarchs, narrow minded ritual practicing hypocritical priest caste, exploitation of women and children and foreigners or minorities. Essentiall nothing should change from the present except the pace of technological change, which should be a fairly static matter with wealth accumulation shifting glacially, determining caste. A one century story would be required to flesh out a wsr-peace cycle within a static culture. I think that any story should take the 4 genrrational theory into acount. E.g. i f the story took place in year 30 after crisis war then boomer type generation would be having kids, taking over frpm parents of gi fame. If it takes place in year 70, like today, corruption will be universal and hope zero, regardles of technology. This is a function of human nature, like weather is seasonal or pisces are emotional, foxes are sly.

Joel Caris said...

I'm looking forward to the first issue, too. And I would love a crotchety letter to the editor from you to kick off the new publication. I can think of a few other regular commenters whom I would quite enjoy a good letter from, too.

As for Star's Reach, I'm not sure if I want to see it on a screen or not. I think I lean toward no, but I sure would be interested to see the translation. I really enjoyed the novel and have a friend who did, as well. You also now have me very intrigued for The Weird of Hali. Is a release date scheduled yet?

Marcu said...

So much good news this week! I particularly look forward to the Star's Reach graphic novel. I'm also glad to hear that the story won't be sold down the river, as it were, to match the whims of the entertainment industry. I'm also looking forward to the Into the Ruins publication.

I recently finished re-reading Star's Reach and enjoyed it even more the second time around. The idea that things can turn out okay via a third road that is neither techno-rapture nor apocalypse is a welcome one. It leaves me with a feeling that I cannot really describe better than a "dull" hope. Something that burns slow and steady.

The reason I was re-reading Star's Reach was in the hope of finding inspiration for a story to enter into the anthology project. Now there is another space bat challenge as well! I was wondering if you or any of the readers might have any advice on writing along these themes? I find it difficult to write, I have a bad case of civilization disease as Dave Pollard would say. It is difficult for me to imagine the future when the present is trying so hard to overwhelm you with flashing lights and loud noises. It is an occupational hazard to live in a large city I guess.

I hope to enter as many stories as I can write and I look forward with great anticipation to the release of all the works outlined in this week's post.

donalfagan said...

Thanks for the link to Into the Ruins, and the new space bats challenge.

To Jonathan's link about "hot" fusion, I would add that Tom Whipple is still banging the drum for cold fusion, or low energy nuclear reactions, LENR:

Is a puzzlement. If you've read Whipple's concise ASPO reports, he doesn't seem the type that would accept news releases of self-looped magnetic generators, water buoyancy generators and cold fusion generators without skepticism. I can only assume he really wants to believe that something will appear to save our bacon.

Ben Iscatus said...

JMG, I for one agree with you that other worlds are "unfathomable, unexplorable, unknowable."

How to convince those that don't believe it, though?

Without danger of contradiction, Mars or Titan would always be a far more hostile worlds to live on than Earth, where we have evolved, even if Earth had suffered 12 degrees Celsius global warming and had Beijing-style smog every day. Even if we could travel to pristine Earth-like worlds in other solar systems, the challenges there would be impossible - alien bacteria and poisonous alkaloids, for example.

Terraforming is something we can't even risk here - we don't know enough about the drawbacks and feedbacks. Ordinary logic rules out the whole idea of abandoning Earth before we even start. Some films recently have started to suggest this - like 'The Martian' and 'Gravity'.

As you imply, there really is no Planet B. I guess we humans just can't help fantasizing.

Renaissance Man said...

"The question in my mind is why this particular bit of endlessly rehashed science fiction has gotten so tight a hold on the collective imagination of our age. "

I submit that one of the key narratives of white European cultue is the quest for new horizons.

That particular narrative is found in the stories of how our distant paleolithic ancesters spread across the globe, with the subtext that we gloriously have dominion over it. we 'progressed' across the planet.

It is found in the way we treat the migration era following the collapse of Roman/mediterranean civilization.

It is found it the way we look at the rise of the Mongol Empire &c. even as that particular one threatened to destroy European civilization in its infancy.

The story is about the glory of conquest, and, in particular, the glory of global conquest by Europeans aided by superior technology, which, in our story, implies superior people.

The typical SF story is about aliens having advanced and superior technology, and are therefore superior -- until outwitted by a plucky band of ordinary red-blooded heterosexual Americans, etc.

Historically, Europeans spread out to 'new shores' and the 'explored new territories' and that is exactly the opening line of Star Trek; having fully explored this planet, we must now go forth and explore new planets.

And, as an aside, the Star Trek world supposedly is risen from the ashes of a devastating war (i.e. apocalyptic collapse) from which a new, better humanity created this brave new world, off-world. Therefore it embraces both approved branches at once.

latheChuck said...

Totally off-topic, but maybe our gracious host will let this one through anyway...

If the end of the year is a time for you to reflect, plan, and settle accounts, you might want to try to put a dollar value on access to TADR. Personally, I figure that it's worth at least $1/week (and have supported it at that level for over two years, with cash and other contributions). For reference, the Washington Post at my elbow says $1.25 per day, and it costs a lot more than that to support our share of our church. Also, if reading TADR helps you cut back on the expensive entertainments of our age, why not share some of the savings?

Odin's Raven said...

Could it be that the hysterical focus on either apocalypse or space travel is how a very materialist culture responds to the intimation of its imminent mortality?

Space travel is the materialist equivalent of going to heaven. Its like the notion of 'rapture', leaving ruptured circumstances behind. Belief in progress becomes the techo-theo-logical requirement for 'salvation'. It seems like an atheistical materialistic version of popular Christianity. Two sides of the same coin.

Greg Belvedere said...

I have often wondered about the possibility of your work being adapted to the screen and how odd it would be considering you don't watch TV or many movies. I would certainly like to see another version of the future injected into mainstream culture. But I can't fathom how someone would make that change to Star's Reach. The way it deals with our relationship to the stars without us going there is one of the things I love about it. Meditating on The Star card I feel that our relationship to the rest of the universe is of something of importance and mystery, but that the way much of sci-fi deals with it does not really deal with the depth of the issue. If you can find someone who will not butcher Star's Reach perhaps HBO or Netflix will produce it and it will find an audience.

I'm very excited about the the new space bats contest and Into The Ruins. I had a novel sized idea that I simply can't do at the moment, but I feel I could tackle some short fiction and have some ideas that would fit both. Finding time while taking care of a 2 year old and doing all the other work around the house is very difficult. But I think having a place to potentially publish short stories will motivate me to manage my time better. I have started writing the Stay at Homestead Dad blog again.

ProvidenceMine said...

Thank you for your work, JMG!

I myself am a huge Star Trek fan, but even I've come to the conclusion that there is no way that a 'Star Trek future' is possible.

When I listen to people like that Tyson guy (or is it Dyson ), or Michio Kaku, I find myself shaking my head in utter disbelief. How on Earth can these dreamers think we'll be able to get all of the energy needed for the kind of space travel and space habitation that they propose?! These people are scientists, and you'd think that they'd know better! Banking on this space future to me is the equivalent of the Christians waiting for the Rapture!

I can't imagine what excuse these 'great minds' have in leaving their logic at the door on this issue, and yet have no problem putting on their 'skeptic' caps when it comes to anything that they consider to be 'magic' or outside the realm of scientific thought!

I just don't get it.

latheChuck said...

Re: special relativity and interstellar travel, I don't think there's anything really subtle about the limitation, except for the idea that the speed of light (in a vacuum) is a fundamental limit, and that all the evidence says that stars are really, ..., really far away. There's no energy source that can accelerate a starship anywhere close to the speed of light, and even if there were, it would still take not just years but generations to get there and back. Space-time may be curved, but not in a way that can bring distant points closer together.

By the way, the "Special Theory of Relativity" is much simpler than the "General Theory of Relativity". It's like finding a special case of a math problem that's much easier to solve than the general case. For example, if you're factoring trinomials (a high-school algebra problem), the general case is "a*x*x + b * x + c", which may require the quadratic formula to solve. A special case might be "assume a = 1, and b = 0, and c is the negative square of some integer d". Then the general case reduces to the special case "x*x - d*d", and the factors are just "x-d" and "x+d". The "special case" of Special Relativity is that the curvature of space-time is insignificant, so you can still use plane geometry to calculate distances.

Lynnet said...

A practical question, only slightly off-topic: Luddite historically means someone who is against a particular technology and goes out to destroy it (like Ned Ludd). Is there a term for someone who doesn't want to destroy technology, just be left alone by it? Luddite doesn't capture my opinion of smartphones; I don't want one, in fact I had one, hated it, and went back to a flip phone. I don't want to DESTROY all smartphones; everybody can make up their own minds as to what they want, can afford, feel comfortable with, etc. This ties into the larger question of people pushing others to have exactly the same religion, way of eating, use of technology, etc., as they do, and why they think they're entitled to do that.

So, what word captures the desire to avoid a particular technology, not to destroy it for others?

Phil Harris said...

You have on occasion gently reminded us of the non-negotiable matters of our world such as thermodynamics and our own personal extinction. It is curious to think how the ‘reaching for the stars metaphor’ has become treated as if it were a ‘scientific reality’ in ‘the future’. Such a concept as ‘the future’ it seems to me is itself a cultural artefact. The very term Science Fiction perhaps was supposed to award plausibility to a future we might in some ill-defined way participate in now? [I personally will not be participating in any future likely 10 or possibly 20 years from now!]

How un-pragmatic can we get? The heart of the matter was perhaps expressed by the saying that “technology you have never experienced before is indistinguishable from magic”. Note this idea of ‘magic’ also seems characteristic of our era. US Marine Corps logistics delivering supplies to remote Pacific island in WW2 is reported to have forced local political and societal structures to invent belief systems later known as ‘cargo cults’ in order for local minds to seem relevant (sane?). Most of us elsewhere were also ‘taken-in’ I guess.

I have been guilty in writing my own short stories for Space Bats 3 and now in SB 4 when I tried to hold on to much that I still know as dear to me. The question I posed to myself, but left undefined I think, was, ‘is it possible to avoid war’? If by good fortune or adroit use of circumstance, the places we live in can avoid the close-up experience of atrocity as an apparently ‘universal’ fact built-in to life, then a returning civilisation will know a different cast of mind.

This place where I live now experienced in the past a very real extended low in the human story (stories) – read some of the bleaker Border Ballads – where war and atrocity and malnutrition ruled the day. It is possible to feel in some of our areas pretty directly (a kind of magic), the aftermath of such badness. In the majority of areas, however, the pall has by and large been lifted by subsequent generations, despite what we would consider now to be poverty. You can feel the goodness.

PS One young person in our house and I were discussing yesterday writing a short story if another Space Bats challenge appeared. Already a practised writer, she was thinking of having a go at this genre. Hey Presto! She has until next June!

Jake said...

Puts me in mind of Giacomo Leopardi, a thinker whose largest work (the Zibaldone, his notebooks) was only recently translated into English, and who is still widely misunderstood—willfully, it seems at times—by nearly everyone outside of his dedicated translators and scholars as merely a sort-of proto-romantic poet. I wonder if one could find an earlier acceptance of both a modern conception deep time-and-space and that Greek acknowledgement of our incidental existence one encounters in Leopardi's work—for instance in La Ginestra, written 1836 and translated here by Jonathan Galassi.

I see the stars
burning up above in purest blue,
which the sea reflects in the far distance
and, twinkling everywhere, the world
glistens in the empty sky.
And once my eyes have focused on those lights,
which seem a tiny point to them,
though they're enormous, so that next to these
the earth and sea
are in truth no greater than a speck
to which not only man
but this globe where man is nothing
is totally unknown; and when I see
these still more infinitely distant
nuclei, it seems, of stars
that look like haze to us, to which
not only man and earth but all our stars
together, infinite in size and number,
the golden sun among them,
are unfamiliar or else they appear
the way these look to earth: a point
of nebulous light—
how do I think of you then, sons of men?
And, considering
the way you are down here,
to which the earth I walk upon bears witness,
and that even so you see yourself
as lord and end assigned to Everything,
and how you were often flattered to relate
that the authors of the universe
came down to this mere grain of sand called earth
for love of you, and often condescended
to speak with you and yours,
and how you keep retailing absurd notions
insulting to the wise, down to our day,
which seemingly surpasses every other
in knowledge and civility; what emotion, then,
moral unhappy race, what notion of you
finally assails my heart? It's hard to say
whether it's laughter or pity that prevails.

Of course, it would be easy to dismiss Leopardi as a pessimist, which of course he is—one of his translators, Patrick Creagh, refers to him as a 'cosmic pessimist', a title that would be even more appropriate to Lovecraft—but that trait in-itself may have, after all, been necessary to diagnose the illusions behind a time, like our own still is today, characterized in it's myths by a kind of desperate optimism.

One should keep in mind that this writer, who could mockingly refer to "the magnificent, progressive destiny / of mankind" as being best represented by the blackened and petrified lava covering the slope of Mount Vesuvius, also remembered and wrote of the Italian soldiers who froze to death on the Russian steppe under the direction of the latest figure-head of progressive faith. These ideals of god-like transcendence—space travel, transhumanism, or whatever the latest idol happens to be—aren't merely absurd and impossible, they have a tendency to, as it were, manufacture suffering in the human and inhuman world. There are real consequences to the ideaology that "extols human nature above the stars."

Whether that attitude is inevitable or not is another question, but I suppose I've rambled far enough for this context.

Nastarana said...

Dear Blueback, I find the same attitudes among the gung-ho pro GMO crowd online. Some, as you say about your peers, are undoubtedly paid trolls. Others seem to have an unshakeable faith, which I guess must be rooted in some kind of deep emotional neediness, that all of nature can and should be made clean and nice like a Disney cartoon.

Dear Jonathan, also pebble bed nuclear power plants, which have never and never will be built. A bit of related more or less good news is that the nuclear plant near Oswego, NY, on Lake Ontario, is to be decommissioned. Good news because Oswego could have a bright future as a lakeport, more or less because it will be up to a private company to manage the decommission. Oswego River already connects with the Erie Canal system and there are Coast Guard station and lighthouse already in place as well as usable port facilities.

Dear Mr. Greer, I, congenital cynic that I am, alas, respectfully urge you to consider the possibility that interest from the entertainment industry ('industry' being the operative word here) is not necessarily a good sign. On behalf of at least some of your fans, always admitting that I can only speak for myself, I would respectfully urge you to do what you need to do, depressing though that undoubtedly is for a creative person, to secure and retain ownership and "rights to" for yourself and such heirs or other entities as you may designate, of all your writings. I believe copyright, unlike patents, is free and can be renewed. Don't get me started on abuse of copyright in the world of quilting and other handicrafts; that, as they say, is another story.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I kinda figured something like that would happen after you first mentioned Buck's proposal on your other blog. I have a theory that at this point anything that goes onto the tube will become twisted by our culture's desperation. The communication medium of choice for the mass market cannot, or will not, be allowed to show anything that contradicts the narrative of progress.

Will the new mag accept the stories we wrote for the previous contests? I'm coming up with some new ideas set in the near future, and in the WAAAYYY far future, but I would still like to get the story of Presibin Lal published.



Brezelburg said...

Hello JMG and everybody,

yesterday I stumbled upon a thing that had seemingly dropped out of Star's Reach and into the present: An open letter to the Scientific Community, concerning the still meager factual basis for the Big Bang theory, and the almost uncritical support that model gets anyway.
Actual cosmologists ask for more skepticism toward that beloved dogma, *cough*, theory. In an actual scientific paper!

I wonder if the surfacing of heretic thoughts like these in a serious publication might indicate a new humility, a crack in the 20th century delusion of grandeur.
After all, an ever-growing, knowable cosmos fits much better into an era of expansion than into one of accelerating crisis.

Derv said...

Hi JMG, long time no see! I've been following as a lurker but been too busy to comment lately. This was an interesting and insightful article as usual; I was particularly pleased when my thought processes on the origins of the "to the stars" myth magically appeared a few paragraphs down after I thought them. Great minds and all that.

In my opinion, Lovecraft's successors betrayed the very purpose of those stories in much the same way that your would-be tv producer wanted to betray yours. As the backstories of these cosmic monsters became more elaborate, it gradually became classified and compiled into a single mythos. Beings whose very faces were supposed to drive men into utter madness were filed under "Great Old Ones" and "Outer Gods" with genealogical tables and autopsy-style drawings. The whole point of the thing is mystery that defies classification, and it is now thoroughly classified.

As for the "inevitable" journey to the stars, I think you hit the nail on the head with the pseudo-Christian role that it plays in the myth of progress. It is the auto-apotheosis of mankind, to coin a phrase, meant to substitute for the Second Coming. Mankind's destiny cannot be dust - that's simply abhorrent, to everyone. Even those who think there is no afterlife and that the universe will decay into heat death usually assign some greater place or meaning to our existence (including immortalizing us by belief in a "bulk" instead of linear time, in which case mankind always exists).

But I confess - and perhaps this is because I am a devout Catholic - that I don't understand this whole "we are unimportant to the universe" argument, for the simple reason that the entire argument appears to be based on size. What a bizarre qualifier for importance! As though Jupiter were "more important" than the Moon, or Goliath "more important" than David. Since when did size have anything to do with importance? Yes, the universe is mind-bogglingly large. I think this serves multiple purposes personally - to express every beautiful thing that God could express, to provide us with an inescapable sense of awe, to reveal to us the laws of nature, and so on - though I don't expect others to think the same way of course.

Nevertheless the universe is not a table-setting at the King's banquet, where only the people in the center count for anything. We aren't less important because we are smaller and less centrally-located than we once thought. We can live on the fringes, on a tiny pebble, and be the most valuable, precious thing in the universe. Or not. The size is no determinant. Indeed, the very "centeredness" of us was a statement on our baseness in the ancient and medieval eras, not our importance. We had the properties of corrupted dirt while the rest of the universe danced in perfect harmony among celestial spheres. Being one of those spheres could practically be considered an upgrade. The danger lies not in thinking we're important, but in the strange hybrid idea of inevitable, materialistic apotheosis.

Indeed, if the life of Christ suggests anything to us, it should be that the seemingly unimportant (say, a poor child born in a barn who dies as a criminal on the fringes of an ancient empire) to worldly standards can actually be central to spiritual ones. Earth is to the universe as Christ was to the first century: small, relatively unnoticed, on the outskirts, and incomparably precious.

Lastly, I'm glad to hear that there's another space bats challenge! I have a good idea that I've been working on that might be a perfect fit. And I may have to entertain branching out into post-industrial sci-fi in novel form...

jim said...

Ok, I really like this challenge. No canned apes in space nor a new dark age.

Within that enormous set of possibilities I want to tell a story about
Skyriders: Coming of Age. A story about young people learning what it means to be Pan Narrans not Homo Sapiens, set long after the troubles of the twenty first century. In a world not dominated by any one culture but loosely connected by the Skyriders.

zaphod42 said...

Top of the morning to you, your Archness. And, an interesting topic challenge, might I say.

Some time back, I had an idea to do a polemic work on the three converging crises of our time. As I began research, and read from and about other works on each, it became apparent that no one really wants to hear about how impossible our "dreams" have become - though some of the problem arises from our own intransigence. Later, the sheer magnitude of the situation became overwhelming, and I pretty much set aside any factual presentation.

I set that aside much like an earlier beginning, where I had proposed to set out a 'biographic drama' to be titled, "The Space Men" in a reality based universe where mankind had actually introduced the species throughout the galaxy by way of small shiplets, each containing embryonic people, with a 'genesis machine' set to locate new earths on which these would be incubated, machine educated, and established on as many as possible. The thesis of the novel/novella was that communications between these colonies would be conducted by near-lightspeed craft, and the story would be told by the 'captains' of the ships. After suitable research, it became evident that said space men would quickly become insane. Like "Convergence," this was very depressing, and similarly set aside.

Being naturally the optimist, I see your challenge as providing an avenue to set forth a possible future in which nature asserts itself, as it no doubt will, and where humanity does what is necessary to survive in that future, as in a fit of sanguine positivism, we may assert that they surely must. A future where civilization does not crash and burn; where nations do survive (albeit it altered forms), and some strengths of character sustain, and moral ideals prove to be comforting and comfortable. In short, a future that is palatable for the average reader.

Maybe I will dust off that first research set, and see how those facts can be integrated into a story line... if at first you don't succeed, and all that.


Bill Pulliam said...

I'm sure that would be only one of many "rectifications" of Star's Reach to make it appeal to the teenage male audience. I imagine Berry would have been *ahem* straightened out (huge teenage boy ick-factor there), meaning his whole back story would have needed a compete rewrite. And the gynocracy of Circle would likely be made evil, of course. And we need more weapons. Lots more weapons. Nihonjin raids would be essential.

One should never be surprised at the ability of American pop culture and its architects to miss the point of ANYTHING. Springsteen's "Born in tha USA" is about how Vietnam vets suffered and were ignored and rejected by society and their government, yet it is embraced as a political anthem by right-wing nationalists who have never listened to anything but the chorus.

Re: Lakeland Republic, I am taking it more as a rhetorical device than an actual forecast.

Dammerung said...

There's always Terence McKenna's plan for getting us to the stars on waves of consciousness instead of wings of steel.

Twilight said...

In addition to the anthropocentric Christian view, there is the concept that we only go around once – one human life, and them eternity as a former human. So this is all there is, and the idea that it will end, or that humans will end is a problem. Therefore humans must be imagined to expand in time and space, no matter how absurdly, unimaginable big that is. It's made worse by the arrogance that we are even capable of comprehending this universe.

Still, I think there's one more aspect to it: light pollution. The ancients could walk out on most nights, and the incredible vastness of it was right there. So many stars it looks like a fog. It's a never ending show of unfathomable power and beauty, and no wonder that man's spirituality has been forever tied to the heavens. But it is all but hidden to us now. Now we have one star, and it plays in our houses all the time and tell us what to think and how to feel.

Some of us have learned to turn it off, and to walk outside and see the reality that has always been there, right above our heads. Even faint and diminished by our fossil fuel powered photon orgy, it still has the power to break the spell.

tazmic said...

JMG, I have passed on your links to my writing friends, thanks.

A quick question: If you consider the brain to be a purely experiential phenomenon occurring in the mind, what does this make of the otherwise vast cosmic horror of the unimaginable scale of the universe, if not just a rather large thought occurring in the mind?

Curiously, we seem to be placed in the middle of the scale of things, in terms of orders of magnitude, midway between the very largest and the very smallest.

Patricia Mathews said...

Before reading all the comments, so this may be redundant - one reason people are so insistent that we not only must, but WILL travel to the stars, is the alternative a lot of the pro-star-flight writers keep putting forth.

"If we don't, the human race will die! Look at all those island cultures that died off because they were alone on their islands!"

"So that even if we destroy ourselves, humanity will live on it the colonies."

To threaten people with extinction as the alternative to starflight is a no-brainer for most people, for whom even personal extinction is a terrible threat. And BTW, Christianity, which was supposed to give people hope that that they would have an afterlife, actually made matters worse in some denominations after the Reformation by scaring people sick with the threat of hellfire for every human impulse, minor childish misbehavior, or even "God is disgusted with you for not being perfect." So add a lingering fear that hellfire awaits you after death.

And for a lot of atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists,God has been replaced by Humanity, which makes the threat of human extinction even worse - it's the Greater Cause they live for!

Ekkar said...

Good for you not selling out John Micheal Greer!
My notion of the idea of human galactic space travel, is the same as my notion of transhumanism crowd (wether or not either comea about) is ultimate eacapism from unsatifactory life situations. Why do I have such notions? I've come to notice that for the most part friends of mine, and other folks whom not only fully subscrbe to these ideas as final but, as you have also experianced, get personaly offended by any opposing ideas.
Same goes for critizizing cell phones.
I also see a personafication of all these impersonal things; cell phones, space travel, transhumanism, etc, as clear indications of deep unhappiness. These same folks all have another commonality with eachother ( in my experiance) and thats that they have little to no relationship to the natural (non-man-made) world.
Thanks again!

Sven Eriksen said...

John, you gotta give heads up before writing things like "giant squirting iron penis of outer space". I just snorted coffee all over the keyboard again...

Bob Patterson said...

Indeed, we have lost a sense of proportion, when it comes to technology. The US military seems to be falling into the same "super weapon" trap the Third Reich fell into. The conflict between the Third Reich and Russia seemed to turn out to be a few "super weapons" vs hoards of more primitive, cheap, reliable weapons (thinking here about tanks). Russia won.

Of course US weapons procurement has been politicized. How else could you explain the continued use of the Chinook helicopter and the B-52 bomber (both from the 1950's and refitted many times). And if cost escalation continues on its current track, the entire defense budget will buy 1 Tank, 1 plane and 1 ship.

Think about this simple fact. The single invention that most drastically increased the effectiveness of warriors in early history was - the stirrup. Instead of trying to stay on the horse, the horse became a stable weapons platform (to use USAF jargon).

GHung said...

JMG; "The question in my mind is why this particular bit of endlessly rehashed science fiction has gotten so tight a hold on the collective imagination of our age."

Could it be that the only alternative is to look inward; that we fear what we may find there? Stare into that abyss too long and there may be nothing staring back, not even our own personal Jesus.

S.Treimel said...

I enjoyed Stars Reach.
When I was reading the blog entry this week, I thought: "Could Buck Rogers be some clever crank who is pulling a prank on JMG?" I have to imagine that email addresses, websites, and all that can be spoofed really well these days. Its the internet after all. How can you tell who is at the other terminal?

John Crawford said...

It continues to amaze that folks don't get the notion that we are all finite creatures and our continued existence is rooted in a very fragile biosphere. No techno miracles are going to fix the mess both our civilization and environment are in. In any event the civilization is "toast" and all that is left is adaption and a huge serving of luck. Great post, it puts things in a realistic perspective.

Shane W said...

Sounds like this Space Bats challenge focuses on the Ecotechnic Future, though I suppose one could write something in the Scarcity Industrialism or Salvage Age that did not involve collapse.

will said...

Derv - some of us do think the way you do.

dermot said...

Shane, QUOTE: " It's interesting how much I've noticed people doubling down on their faith in progress in various forms lately--one of the most chilling things I hear is of the "I have faith in humanity" lines (why?!) along with the "tech will save us". I guess you told us that would happen as limits closed in on us. UNQUOTE

This reminds me of J.G. Ballard, writing through the character Maxted in 'Kingdome Come':

QUOTE “Look at the most religious areas of the world at present - the Middle East and the United States. These are sick societies, and they're going to get sicker. People are never more dangerous than when they have nothing left to believe in except God.” UNQUOTE

Ballard was writing about Islam and Christianity. The same process applies to a civil religion, in this case Progress (and Americanism). An Americanist Christian might have faith to fall back on, but secular Humanists must cling more feverishly to their tech toys as things unravel, and the Faith in tech rises to match their inverse prospects. They have nothing left to believe in but computers, and thou shalt not question Moore's Law.

When I came to the US in the early 90s, mixed in with the Star Trek, you could still see tech-skeptical shows on TV. History docs that gently mocked the euphoric faith in Progress at the 1900 new year celebrations and World's Fair. Such docs explained how that naive faith came to ruin in WW1, and later of course, WW2. Since then, what changed to push such a narrative completely out of bounds? Gulf War 1 (with Smart bombs) may have been a turning point, the de-Vietnamisation of the US imagination - with the rapid expansion of tech bubble 1.0.

In any event, it's terrifying to see the toytalitarian state of things now.

I believe it was in interview between JMG and Chris Martenson, in which CM described the 'iPhone moment'. He'll give a lecture, laying out the predicament. When it's over, a sector of the audience holds up their smart phones, as if to say "Tech will save us", or "They'll think of something".

MIckGspot said...

Happy Thursday JMG and crew! I ordered Stars Reach today and look forward to enjoying it as I have with non fiction JMG books. This weeks reading included "The Selfish Gene" based on a citation in your book "Apocalypse Not". Thanks again for your continued drive to truth.
Got to run now, the wife wants me to pick up a loaf of bread at the Jupiter Super America on my way home from Europa. Family First!

onething said...

I have to say I am sympathetic on both counts -- inability to reconcile a future without progress and/or accepting that we will never see the cosmos.

It seems to me, and it would be interesting to investigate this, that the acceptance of our perpetual imprisonment here is likely to be even more difficult for an atheist/materialist, since space ships are the only option for ever getting to travel anywhere. Also, increasing knowledge and exploration of something so vast is a kind of substitute for a divine entity. In the human search for meaning, this is a real limit.

It really is a hard, hard lot that we have here. It's all well and good to mention how unimportant we are, but I see it a bit differently. If we are capable of wondering and desperately longing for something, almost hard-wired to desire it, then it seems reasonable to hope for it being possible. The desire I am referring to is for contact and knowledge.

And I know you will take umbrage (JMG) as my use of the term "imprisonment." I fully agree that this is a precious and lovely planet. I have no desire to even ride in a spaceship, if only because I find the possibility of a death in dark, cold space so abhorrent. You'd never find me volunteering to colonize some other planet; I would not even have been on the Mayflower.

But there it is. We're alone here. We have some company, but still, we're in solitary. And what's worse, we're in the amnesia ward. That the universe is so huge only makes the tininess of our sphere more annoying.

As to the end of progress, what I would not like to see is the helplessness that people used to have for lack of knowledge of many things, top of my list is sanitation and birth control, but other things as well.

Ruben said...

A couple of enjoyable articles on the impossibility of interstellar colonization:

Kim Stanley Robinson—Our Generation Ships Will Sink / Boing Boing

The High Frontier, Redux - Charlie's Diary

Ruben said...


The Luddites were not opposed to all technology, simply to technology that degraded their quality of life. The questions JMG asks are clearly Neo-Luddite.

A great book is Rebels Against the Future, discussed in this short interview of Kirkpatrick Sale.

James Gemmill said...

I'm hoping it's not too much to hope for that our favorite archdruid (is that title supposed to capitalized as a proper noun?) will be, at least, an occasional contributor to Into The Ruins.

BoysMom said...

Perhaps it's because of science: the reason why I think we should be focusing whatever resources we can muster to settling other planets/moons in our own solar system.
We know of no other life in the universe, only our little planet's bit. If life has value, and is worth preserving at all, then it's on our planet's life to preserve itself. At the moment, that means humans, since we're on the top of the heap technologically. We also know there have been massive extinction events in the past. We know we, as a species, had about a thousand ancestors survive a near-extinction event. We know many species have gone extinct in the past, and many currently are. We know eventually our earth will most likely be destroyed by our own sun.
It seems to me the only appropriate life-valuing response to that is to seed the other planets we can reach at all with life. Surely we have some thermophilic single-celled organisms that would like the long Venusian day. To be sure, Venus will not outlast us, but perhaps some of the outer system moons will. And perhaps whatever evolves on Venus will be, well, wiser and more suited to going beyond than we have been, so far.
Had our ancestors made different choices at the dawn of the petroleum era, perhaps humans would have been able to use our energy resources to go beyond. But they didn't and we have not. Maybe some far-distant cousins will succeed where we failed.

Myriad said...

I'm sorry to hear that the Star's Reach TV deal didn't go through. I'm not at all surprised to hear the general reason for it. The specific reason does seem odd, though, not to mention terribly un-economical for a TV production (for instance, needing entirely different sets, models, and effects, and probably also a different audience, for the second season). Had Buck developed it that way I doubt that any production studio would have accepted it. Of if they had, they'd have persuaded him to make his season finale the pilot instead. In other words, doing a show about some people living after some generic collapse (such as a pandemic or world war) who stumble on a working starship and presumably meet some aliens. You'd end up with a series named Star's Reach without any of the novel in it.

(By the way, "stumbling on a working starship and meeting aliens after a destructive world war" is pretty close to the official Star Trek back story. A series about how some protagonists use that new technology and/or alien aid to help restore and reshape human civilization, and the very difficult problems they would encounter in doing so, might actually be interesting. Star Trek's timeline skips over that part, of course. What problems?)

The new contest theme is interesting. Definitions and distinctions are necessarily going to be vague, but to me the focus on the process of collapse (especially if the collapse is rapid) is the key difference between "apocalyptic" and "deindustrial" stories. For instance, Little, Big takes place concurrently with a collapse, but the focus is so far away that an inattentive reader might not even notice. More usually, a collapse can be part of the back-story that explains the present state of the world without being the focus of the immediate story. When the collapse is/was very slow, the boundaries blur farther. (Retrotopia is certainly not apocalyptic, and may or may not be deindustrial.) The stories in the first four After Oil volumes are a pretty good mix between directly portraying the process of collapse, and not doing so (usually in those cases focusing on life in the aftermath instead). But no comprehensive collapse at all, not even in the back story, would be a different animal still.

Quick contest rules question. Is the previous rule limiting submissions to one per author still in effect, or is it rescinded for this time around?

Bruce E said...

Great post, I'm very much looking forward to the next Space Bats fiction challenge. This time I might even try to submit something myself if I can find a story to tell that interests me.

Your observations of cosmology put on a human scale reminded me of the "young earth creationists," who take literal interpretations of the first 5 books of the Old Testament to derive an age of the entirety of the cosmos that is less than ten thousand years. I'm also reminded of the near-permanent conviction among a not-insubstantial number of Christians for the last two thousand years, who are convinced that they will live to see the end of the world. The combination of these two things are an exaggerated way of collapsing the entirety of the history of the cosmos to a very human scale. Ten thousand years is much more accessible than is ten billion years, even if you have to assume a 900 year old man here and there to get there. Ten thousand years of time isn't even enough for light to get a tenth of the way across our galaxy, so don't trouble me with cosomological speed limits just yet -- the galaxy can simply inform my nighttime daydreams, the piece of cosmological paper I write my mythologies that tell me I'm the center of the universe and it was all built this way for me.

I think a lot of the emotional rejection of the idea that "progress" (as we've come to define that word) is over is similar to the death of the idea of heaven for someone who was once a Christian and now finds themselves an atheist. At least speaking for myself, I've found that while my conscious mind accepts the logic behind a rejection of heaven, there still exists in that sea of unconsciously-held emotional mythos an attachment to the idea that death isn't the end for some sort of "spirit," some sort of je ne sais quoi that makes me as an individual human into a self, that will survive in some form following the collapse and death of my body.

Truly letting go of heaven, and in fact not only resigning to my fate but preferring my eventual and inevitable death to something like everlasting life, takes a re-imagining of what it is that is good in the same way that letting go of the idea of interstellar travel and even preferring where it is we are actually headed as a species, which is extinction. How we get there is still up to us, just as what I do for the rest of my time alive is up to me. I can't wait to see what people think up for a possible narrative of a more graceful and dignified aging and death of humanity as contrasted with a fearful view of extinction and going down kicking and screaming.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla said...

To continue on from my comment regarding the Brewster Buffalo, it's worth noting that the f-35 has been in development for close to 20 years. Over that same time span during the 1930's and 40's aircraft design went from biplanes and experimental monoplanes to stuff like the Zero and the Spitfire and then onto the first jet fighters and bombers. There's really nothing from that period that is comparable to the f-35 boondoggle.

Gabeindc said...

In the context of how mankind may develop in the distant future, readers might like to check out a book I read as a kid, in the 50's. From Wikipedia:
"Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a "future history" science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years[1] and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first. Stapledon's conception of history is based on the Hegelian Dialectic, following a repetitive cycle with many varied civilisations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, but it is also one of progress, as the later civilisations rise to far greater heights than the first. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, and is an early example of the fictional supermind; a consciousness composed of many telepathically-linked individuals." A very interesting read!

John Michael Greer said...

Genevieve, write that puppy. As noted in the post, Founders House -- the publisher of Star's Reach and the After Oil anthologies -- is looking for other deindustrial novels.

Yucca, that's a common element in a lot of polytheist faiths -- a comfortable acceptance of humanity's actual, relatively minor place in the cosmos. It would be interesting to explore the connections involved.

Sulla, I suppose that's true! Okay, then, can you think of a fighter as bad as the F-35?

PhysicsDoc, okay, gotcha. I'm familiar with that much of relativity theory -- I was wondering if there was some further wrinkle in relativity theory that, as a layperson, I didn't know about.

Heian, interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

Will, as I noted in my post, it's entirely possible to interpret Christianity in a non-anthropocentric way, and you've sketched out one way to do that. C.S. Lewis, in his interplanetary trilogy, sketched out another, and there are still others. My point is not that it can't be done, but that it has so rarely been done, and the historically Christian cultures of the West have tended toward a relentless anthropocentrism, partly justified by their take on Christianity, that left them completely unprepared for deep space and deep time.

Dau, the thing is, I think any producer who took the story seriously, and didn't just try to use it as a container for special effects, could make a good film out of it. The question is simply whether somebody's going to take it seriously.

Rob, thank you for a highly appropriate metaphor!

Chloe, I wonder if it varies from one side of the pond to the other -- I encounter a lot of people here in the US with a fixation on space travel.

Ed, be careful about that word "should." I can imagine many stories suitable to this Space Bats challenge, and only a few of them fit your "shoulds."

Joel, I haven't gotten a release date yet, but it should be available at some point in 2016. There will be several more books in that series -- I'm not yet sure how many, but there's a lot of Lovecraft to riff off, to say nothing of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert W. Chambers, and Arthur Machen, among others!

Marcu, the best advice I ever got as a writer is that inspiration is optional. Start writing at least a page a day whether you feel inspired or not. Don't edit while you're writing -- that's where writer's block comes from; just keep your pen or your fingertips moving, and don't worry about the quality of what comes out. There will be time for that when you've got your first draft and are ready to begin editing, which is where you put the quality in.

Donalfagan, yes, I know. You're probably right about Tom, but it's sad.

Ben, exactly. If Mars is such a wonderful opportunity, why haven't we colonized Antarctica yet? It's got a better climate than Mars, air and water are a lot easier to get there, it's got at least as much in the way of untapped resources, and the transportation costs are lower.

Renaissance, I think that's part of it -- but only part.

LatheChuck, thank you!

Raven, why, yes, it does, doesn't it?

sgage said...

@ Ruben said...


The Luddites were not opposed to all technology, simply to technology that degraded their quality of life. The questions JMG asks are clearly Neo-Luddite.


The Luddites were not even simply opposed to technology that degraded their quality of life. They opposed technology that they saw as destroying not only their own personal livelihood, but also the whole socio-economic organization of their world. And they were absolutely right, even though they failed to stop the onslaught of industrial capitalism. Because that's what it was about.

Blueback said...

With regards to the F-35 Lardbucket:

It's the weirdest darned thing I've seen in a long time. Go to online forums like SNAFU, or Breaking Defense and look around at some of the discussion threads and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Moreover, its the same set of weird pathologies and mental blocks that you described in your post. I have seen the same exact responses that you described, but from F-35 fanboys when I and others have tried to point out the problems and shortcomings of the Lardbucket and questioned its usefulness in a real war. It's as if these people literally cannot process information that contradicts the party line that they've bought into. It's a scary and sobering thing to observe first hand.

I don't doubt that part of it is due to the fact that the US military has literally bet the farm when it comes to tactical airpower on the F-35. If the Lardbucket does in fact turn out to be a useless, overpriced piece of junk that will be outclassed by contemporary Russian and Chinese stealth fighters which will likely be combat-ready before the Lardbucket is, the US military stands to lose its long-accustomed air superiority in future wars.

Militarily, that's hard to overstate the importance of. The last time the US military had to fight for air superiority was in 1943. The US has had overwhelming air superiority in every military campaign since then. The closest the US came to losing air superiority in the post-war period was in the early days of the Korean War. A lot of American weapons systems, force structures and tactics are based on the assumption that American military forces will always have control of the skies. By contrast, the Russians and Chinese have always assumed they would have to fight for air superiority in a major war and their ground and naval forces are structured and trained on the assumption that they have to be prepared to operate without it.

So if American forces find themselves in a major war with an enemy that has better airplanes and air superiority, its going to come as an extremely rude shock and given the techno-dependency and the entitlement mentality that pervades American society these days, I expect that American military forces would crumple in short order due to psychological shock, if nothing else. Twilight's Last Gleaming, coming to a warzone near you...

Jason Heppenstall said...

Bill said: "One should never be surprised at the ability of American pop culture and its architects to miss the point of ANYTHING."

This made me chuckle. I recently saw the documentary "Empire of Dreams" about George Lucas and his Star Wars films. It's no secret that the original Star Wars was written as an anti-war Vietnam allegory, and Lucas drew heavily on Joseph Campbell's mythological instruction, with plenty of Jungian archetypes and some hero twins tossed into the story pot to brew up a decent tale. Ironic then that it became so successful, with (American) audiences identifying so readily with the rebel forces and despising the evil empire. In the documentary the journalist Walter Cronkite spectacularly misunderstands its success by saying (paraphrased): "After the disaster of Vietnam it made us feel good about ourselves again, knowing that space travel and inter-galactic adventure lies in mankind's future, and that good will conquer evil."

I think there was a good reason Lucas starts the films off with the words "A long time ago ..."

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, oh, if Star's Reach got turned into a movie I'd go to a theater to see it. I'm not a great movie fan, but cinema doesn't produce the boredom and irritation I get from television, and I enjoy the very occasional movie.

ProvidenceMine, well, frankly, when most of those people put on their skeptic caps they're no more open to dispassionate analysis than before. In my other blog a while back, I posted an analysis of the logical fallacies that are generally used by so-called skeptics to dismiss evidence they don't like -- a mirror image of the process you've described, the uncritical acceptance of ideas they do like.

LatheChuck, oh, granted. I simply thought -- mistakenly, as it turned out -- that PhysicsDoc had something else in mind.

Lynnet, good question. I don't happen to have a word handy; it might be worth trying to crowdsource such a label. Any suggestions?

Phil, and the young person in question might also consider writing a story or three for Into The Ruins as well!

Jake, thank you for this! I hadn't encountered Leopardi, and I like the flavor of his writing -- something of an Italian equivalent of Robinson Jeffers, I gather.

Nastarana, not to worry. I keep tight control of my copyrights, and manage them fairly aggressively -- you have to, to make a living as a writer.

Varun, I can't speak for Joel, but I don't imagine he'd turn down a submission just because it had been entered in a contest before. It was frankly heartbreaking, having to select a handful of stories out of a heap of really good contest entries -- that's one of the reasons I'm delighted to have the magazine up and running, so there's an ongoing venue for deindustrial SF.

Brezelburg, fascinating. The Big Bang theory has always struck me as just too obvious a projection of the myth of progress into space, and like any other blatant rehash of a familiar narrative, in need of extra skepticism.

Derv, that is to say, you accept the anthropocentric interpretation of Christian faith, defining this planet and this species as "incomparably precious" in a way that others aren't. That's certainly your right, but as I'm sure you're aware, the argument you've offered will only convince those who are already inclined to agree with you. I find Will's theology -- that the incarnation of Christ was of surpassing importance for us, but other species elsewhere in space and time might have their own unique relationships to the Light -- far less improbable; for that matter, as I've mentioned here before, I'd find Christianity more plausible if along with becoming man, God also became wombat, hummingbird, cedar, granite, interstellar dust, etc. Still, whatever works for you...

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG - The Big Bang (the theory, not the TV show) was actually a reasonable hypothesis based on what was known at the time it first became widely accepted; it passed Occam's test fairly well back then. It's only been in recent decades with more observations that conflict with the simple version of it that it has started to grow strange appendages like inflation and dark energy. Occam's ghost is starting to seriously raise an eyebrow at it, I suspect. It'll take a generation or more to really accept massive upheaval of that magnitude, of course.

Repent said...

For the second time this year, I have observed the 'blue pill' people starting to change their behavior. On two separate occasions in the last week I have seen people at work openly talking about real issues, such as the risk of escalation of the Syrian conflict into an actual war, and also if progress can continue forever without killing the planet and us with it. I'm not sure what has shifted the social narrative, but I have never EVER seen this around me before, people are starting to wake up!

In regards to the going to the stars narrative, when you learn that outside of the Van Allen belts life really can't withstand the radiation for long, it's obvious that we're stuck here on Earth essentially forever. Recently I was, for entertainment, watching a video from the people who claim that the moon landing Apollo programs were faked. I've spent the whole of my 45 years of life being 100% certain that they were real, but after listening to the video, I think some details have been left out from the official story.

Now I'm 99% certain that the Apollo landings were real. Still it is worth questioning the social narrative no matter how strange that may seem.

tazmic said...

@blueback - It's as if these people literally cannot process information that contradicts the party line that they've bought into.

As Underdal stated in “Science and politics: the anatomy of an uneasy partnership”:

'Over time the selective use of information with a particular tendency will create beliefs biased in that direction.'

Marie K said...

Greetings, Archdruid!
I’ve been musing for some time about the way people cling to the idea of going to the stars, and I have the beginnings of an idea about something else that might contribute to the problem. I’ll try not to be too incomprehensible.
People feel trapped on the earth because they only allow themselves to consciously perceive things within the very rigid, materialistic, progress-oriented mindset that is fashionable at this point in history--even though there are elements of human experience that have no place in that worldview--and that creates a rather claustrophobic conception of reality. It never occurs to them that they might be stuck inside an idea rather than a in a physical place, though, because their mindset does not allow for awareness of itself. So instead of recognizing that they feel trapped within a concept--a realization that their mindset cannot allow--they transfer the trapped feeling to something that the mindset can allow--physical space. Thus, the earth feels intolerably confining, and they pine after the stars.
There was a period where I felt like that, at least, but I never did get along too well with conventional reality and I cheerfully abandoned it as soon as the opportunity arose. This was due in large part to your other blog, by the way, so many thanks for that.

I’m a long time reader of your blogs, but this is my first time commenting. I’m a bit nervous, I have to admit.

Twilight said...

Regarding the F35 - as I've mentioned before I've been designing products for some 27 years, and one of the other groups in our company has begun a project that aims to be all things to all people, incorporate every buzzword the sales guys have not comprehended and exceed all the specs of all the competition, blah, blah, blah. Since we've all seen this bad movie before we know it will end in tears. Cruelly, I've dubbed it the F35 program, which I think is gonna stick. I will do my best to put the thing out of it's misery, but in the meantime I'll do my part to turn "F35" into meme.

Joel Caris said...

Hi Varun,

By all means, submit your story! And to reiterate, I'll happily accept unpublished submissions from the first two Space Bats contests. I already have the unpublished ones from the most recent contest, forwarded on by JMG.

Tony said...

@ JMG and physicsdoc:

One could say there is one wrinkle to our understanding of space and time that separates us from distant places in the cosmos in an interesting way. One of the other effects of relativity, beyond time dilation and issues with accelerating up to the speed of light, is the way that motion affects how one effectively slices space-time into space and time, and how much of the distance between two events becomes time and how much of the duration between two events becomes space. Two objects that aren't right next to each other moving the same way can never agree on what events are simultaneous or not at a distance and thus what 'now' is far away, with the disagreement going up both with the speed difference and the spatial distance. Over the distances that exist in the cosmos, this can add up - getting up from your couch and walking across the living room changes what instant you would call 'now' in the Andromeda galaxy by about a week! (and the Earth's rotation is hundreds of times as bad) (though you'd need to move in the same direction for about two million years before you saw that 'now' and the difference became visible).

Speaking of space... one doesn't have to consider the cosmos to be our destiny to find it important, or worthy of exploration or study, for its *own sake*. What sometimes annoys me about Tyson and other current pop science types much more than Carl Sagan ever did is the way they always seem to need to bring talking about the universe back to humanity and what it means for US, while as often as not it seemed that Sagan would talk about humanity as one expression of the magnificent variety of things that can and do happen in the universe.

Tony B

Derv said...


Yes, that's fair to say I do. I would note that incomparably precious doesn't mean other things can't also be precious, of course. And as I mentioned, I don't expect others to accept my view. It's simply the idea that size has something to do with importance that I take issue with. Is there a certain amount of time or relative size that's necessary before something, some beings, should be considered "important?" Like if there had only been a thousand stars, and we had been around for 23% of the universe's existence, then we're important, but less than that and we couldn't be?

I think we can all agree, on reflection, that it's an absurd notion. It's an argument that confuses awe with insignificance. I don't intend that to be an argument FOR the importance of mankind, mind you - merely a defeater of the argument that the scale of the universe means we are unimportant.

Shane W said...

I must say, the idea of a Space Bats submission kinda intimidates me. I don't consider myself at all creative and way too literal for fiction. I don't think I've ever attempted fiction...

patriciaormsby said...

Joining Shane in LMFAO *Irony warning* Oh c'mon, JMG! Space is the ultimate Disneyland! If we cannot make it to the stars, how will I ever be able to see all of the planets lined up in neat order as we subaru past them at warp speed? I wanna go to that planet with the endless Moab scenery and meet the lizard people! I wanna time travel through a black hole!*

I haven't actually talked to any of the astronauts. Japan's were not on ego trips, but quite business-like about the whole thing. It sounds like you get your big adventure in the spotlight, where you are too busy with the assigned work for more than a few passing glances at the Earth below you and you get to experience a few phenomena that are only momentarily available near the ground, such as by falling off a cliff. Then, before you know it, it's all over and you have to cross your fingers that you don't burn up on reentry. We all have seen posters of how our "blue marble" looked from the moon. How many of us are still awed? I enjoy identifying obscure bits of scenery from an airplane at 30,000 feet, and could do it for hours. But months?

Just staying on the Earth is proving to be a bigger and bigger adventure every day. In Japan, someone from the weather bureau usually turns on the north wind about November or so each year, and they leave it blowing and blowing, resulting in excess air conditioning to the islands until about March, when a cold front (ironically) finally manages to shut the blasted thing down. This November, however, they'd barely get it running when another cold front would come through and shut it off again. Today we have yet another front passing, with the south wind preceding it at hurricane speeds, warming our town to balmy, and probably melting any snow that managed to accumulate on Mt. Fuji. About a decade ago we were visited on December 1 by a typhoon of tropical origin, with similarly impressive results. Toyama on the Japan Sea side is having three consecutive days of sun in December, something they haven't seen in more than 60 years. This is an El Nino, for whatever that is worth, but nothing like any of the other El Ninos I've experienced in Japan. The last La Nina sent a torrent of water and debris down the nearest mountain, and nearly lofted our van into the creek. It will be interesting to see what the next one does.
Whatever the case may be, I'll attempt to stand under a waterfall nearby to celebrate the upcoming winter solstice.

wagelaborer said...

This is not a fictional story, it is my family history, but I think it illustrates your point.

My grandmother married a rich man, and when he died in a car crash, she inherited a lot of money. This was in the Roaring 20s.

She had a lot of parties, and wasted a lot of money, and had a great time.

By the time my mother was born, the money was all gone, and they lived in abject poverty.

As you point out, when the inheritance was gone, life went on, but it was very difficult.

Doctor Westchester said...


A interesting story in light of my comment last week about what would happen if the US tried to "Iraqisize" Mexico: Notorious Drug Kingpin El Chapo Declares War on ISIS.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Derv and JMG, check out 'The Sparrow' and 'Children of God' by Mary Doria Russell.
Catholic Sci-Fi, involving Jesuits vs aliens on another planet etc.
Jim of olym

Blueback said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hellgrrl said...

I feel like I have to point out that the number one game in the world for console/pc right now is about a deindustrialized, post-nuclear war America- Fallout 4. I'm aware you don't like tv, but for people in their 30's this is THE THING right now. Half of the game is first person shooting, but the other half is scrounging for junk to "craft" things. There are pockets of high technology, and low technology. In this installment, a lot of time is spent trying to make settlements and join them into a state. So I think this is all a little more on people's brain than you might realize. The other popular series by this publisher is a sword and sorcery fantasy that has the same thing, herbcraft and clothing making. Growing wood for homes, etc. I feel these two games really say something about the collective psyche at the moment!
Particularly the around 30-ish people. I have been a reader since 2008 and only realized recently that most of the posters here are a bit older than I am. I only point it out because I think we can live in our little bubbles and not know what's happening in other's bubbles. Young people are clued into a low tech, climate change future. Just not many of them are preparing for it (except for the owning guns part, way too many of them own guns in my experience).

will said...

>> ..... as I've mentioned here before, I'd find Christianity more plausible if along with becoming man, God also became wombat, hummingbird, cedar, granite, interstellar dust, etc. Still, whatever works for you...<<

Heh, well, coming from my esoteric, holistic Christian perspective, I'd say that God - being the sum total of everything that exists - has and is become wombat, hummingbird, etc. Seashells and apricots, too. Pure manifestations, in other words. Wombats don't need a Christ - in a sense, all wombats are Christ. Man, of course, having evolved to self-awareness, has the potentiality to become the most dynamic of God-manifestations on this planet; man also has the potentiality to regress into the primal fires and become the essence of what we'd call evil. Man needed, still needs, a Christ - a Light by any name. 

will said...

Lynnet - how about "just lud-dite be, already"? Or maybe a "techtotaller"?

Max Osman said...

The shale bubble seems to have popped

Shane W said...

that's been my experience, too--the younger, the more they get things, faster, with less denial ("tech will save us,"i believe in humanity","we're going extinct soon", etc. The under 30 crowd is the sanest to have come down the pike in quite a while, and it's refreshing, tho, to be fair, there's still a lot of clueless, screen addict types.
BTW, just so you know, LMFAO is NOT swearing, Laughing my Fracking Appendix Out. So there. :P
Re: Lakeland Republic, I am taking it more as a refreshing possible future than a rhetorical device. I'm not sure what the point of writing things like Twilight's Last Gleaming and Retropia are, other than to condition people to actually think of the world, and North America in particular, in post-US terms, and to get Americans to think about nation crafting in the post-US world.

Mark Rice said...

A couple books not quite in the mainstream that were made into movies:

A while back I read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell . The novel has civilization decline and fall. Then I saw the movie. Hollywood decided this needed a more upbeat ending and retrofitted the story with a Deus ex Machina ending where the protagonists are saved and moved to another planet. This ending did not work. The movie was a flop and deserved so.

A longer time ago I read Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard. Ballard is not for everyone. Nature is a powerful force not really understood by the people in Ballard stories. The boy sees the flash from across the sea in Nagasaki and thinks it is the spirit of a dying old woman leaving her body.

Somehow Spielberg managed to capture the spirit of Ballard's writing when he made a movie from this novel. The movie was not a huge box office success but it worked. Many people did not like the protagonist in the movie but I do not think he was supposed to be that liable.

onething said...

Perhaps people were fooled by the smallness of the old cosmos, but perhaps they can also be fooled by its current vastness. The conglomerations of particles appears vast but the center is everywhere and the distance between the self and God is always zero.

Blueback said...

Oops, I meant anthropocentric, not anthropomorphic in my last comment. I have deleted the previous version and substituted a corrected version:

Big Band theory: I have long had serious qualms about it as well, especially with all the epicycles that have to be added just to make it still work. I always thought the plasma cosmology of Hannes Alfven and his disciples was more plausible.

The Enlightenment: I generally refer to it as the "pseudo-Enlightenment". While some of the motives were not doubt well-intentioned, it was extremely anthropocentric, hubristic and materialistic. It seems to me that it was motivated largely by a rejection of religion and the belief there was anything higher than humanity. While this is understandable after centuries of Christian dogmatism and the Wars of Religion that wracked Europe in the 16th and 17 centuries, the pseudo-Enlightenment made the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and laid the grounds for many of the tragedies we see unfolding today.

PS Here is a lecture by the Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, which closely mirrors many of the things you have been discussing on this blog.

Ben said...

@ hellgrrl (and JMG) - I think you're on to something hellgrrl, I'm 33 and can say that a lot of people around my age are, at least on some subconscious level, are coming to terms with the fact that the future we ordered is going to come out over cooked and bitter. Granted, too many of use are still playing video games, but I almost wonder if this is a way of working thru the stages of grief.
Some of us are even learning practical skills to get ready. I prefer that to playing games, but to each their own.
Unfortunately, I think at least in the US, owning a gun is prudent. I don't endorse violence, but, to use a Fallout-style metaphor, it may not be a good idea to be the only country without nuclear weapons when everyone else has them...

John Michael Greer said...

Jim write that puppy! I want to read it.

Zaphod, same goes for you -- write it!

Bill, I have a sufficiently adolescent sense of humor that the word "rectification" always suggests putting something where the sun don't shine, so yes, that's a good turn of phrase. I figured that the most likely modification, after the space travel business, was replacing the amorphous blobby Cetans with scantily clad starlets in yellow body paint. As for the Lakeland Republic, it's actually halfway between the two -- not a prediction, but a way to explore actual possibilities (even though they doubtless won't be assembled in that particular order).

Dammerung, er, that would be the Terence McKenna who predicted the arrival of infinite novelty on December 21, 2012?

Twilight, I put a passage in Star's Reach about that -- it's the received wisdom in 25th century Meriga that the people in our time had all those lights going outside all the time to keep them from having to see the stars and notice that the universe was so much bigger than they were.

Tazmic, it's a common misconception that anything in the mind must be a thought. Look at the keyboard of your computer. Can you choose to perceive it any way other than the way you actually perceive it? Not without damage to your sense organs. And yet it's as much in your mind as a thought is -- a representation that, as philosophers and cognitive scientists have both pointed out, has only the most distant third-hand relationship to the "thing in itself" that the image in your mind represents. In the same way, the cosmos in all its vastness around us is a representation, not a thought, though we can think thoughts about it. As for our position in the scale of things, why, if we were as small as a molecule or as big as a galaxy, I suspect we'd say exactly the same thing, because "biggest" and "smallest" are simply labels for the biggest and smallest things we are capable of perceiving...

Patricia, that's why I point out that expecting the human race to live forever is just as idiotic as expecting any one of us to live forever. I suspect that ditching the fantasy of immortality is just as important a mark of maturity for a species as it is for an individual.

Ekkar, fascinating. Yes, that would make sense -- the fantasy of going to the stars as a psychological escape from an unhappy life situation.

Sven, sorry about your keyboard. I really have no way of predicting which of my utterances will cause coffee explosions, though -- one of the minor drawbacks of Aspergers syndrome.

Bob, and then the services start bickering about whether the entire US military budget gets devoted to the ship, the tank, or the plane.

Ghung, that could be part of it. I suppose you pick the abyss you want to stare into...

Stephen, I have some reason to believe that "Buck Rogers" was who he said he was, though of course that doesn't amount to proof.

Shane W said...

What is the Big Band theory? Does it involve Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey?
Regarding metal penises squirting into space, it was more than just "fart joke" humor, but that you managed to be so cleverly flippant about something that the Star-wishers take VERY, VERY seriously.
@Ben, Hellgrrl,
I don't know if you all see it like I do, but I see a lot of sizzling rage among 30 something millennials. It isn't till you get, say, under 25 or so that widespread acceptance and loss of entitlement kicks in. Of course, they say that 25 is a general cut off between kids with Boomer parents & kids w/Gen X parents, so perhaps Gen X parents, having not had it so well themselves, are raising their kids w/more realistic expectations?

John Michael Greer said...

John, nicely summarized!

Shane, or you could come up with your own theory of the future and write a story set in that. It really is wide open, as long as you avoid progress and collapse.

Mick, funny. Wave at the aliens on Ganymede on the way past.

Onething, is a plant imprisoned by the soil that supports its roots and its life? As I see it, that's the relation we have to the Earth.

Ruben, thanks for these! I'd seen the Charlie Stross essay, and also the over-the-top tantrums it garnered from the SF community; I hadn't seen the Kim Stanley Robinson piece.

James, if I come up with any further deindustrial SF short stories, which is certainly possible, yes, I'll certainly consider the new magazine for them.

BoysMom, from my perspective, that sounds a lot like playing God. Shouldn't we instead let other planets come up with their own life forms, rather than imposing ours on them?

Myriad, yes, I figured that would be the way the series finally turned out -- a rehash of Stargate with a postapocalyptic Earthside setting, lots of glitzy special effects, and the aforementioned scantily clad cuties in yellow body paint playing the Cetans. As for the current contest, the one entry per author was just for the previous contest, in a desperate attempt to keep the number of stories down to manageable proportions. By all means write several for this contest if you wish.

Bruce, exactly -- the mythology of space travel is the exactly technolatrous equivalent of the mythology of young earth creationism and imminent rapture, an attempt to force deep space and deep time into the Procrustean bed of the human scale.

Sulla, fascinating. Can you think of any weapons system that's been this deeply mired in graft and endless delays, or has the Pentagon actually achieved something novel for once?

Gabeindc, now that's a classic worth revisiting.

Blueback, why, yes -- and that's why I put the F-35 Lardbucket into Twilight's Last Gleaming and had the defeat of the US Air Force in the skies above Tanzania play so central a role in the Chinese victory in the East African War.

Bill, oh, granted. I've simply noticed that, historically speaking, when a theory of the cosmos resembles popular notions about human destiny too closely, that theory is probably doing to be discarded before long.

Repent, interesting that people are starting to talk about the unspeakable. As for the Apollo launches, though, I personally knew several people who worked in that program, and I trust their detailed personal knowledge of the project considerably more than the speculations and innuendoes of the moon-hoax people.

mgalimba said...

@Marie K

That is a very insightful and entirely comprehensible comment on the escapist fantasy of space travel. I admit that have a soft spot for star-travel sci-fi (Firefly!) because such imaginative spaces can have a little of that Butlerian carnivalesque sense of freedom and possibility that, as you point out, gets shut out of our lives here on the dull old Earth. Not that it has to be dull, but we've accepted a kind of imprisonment as normal, as what we have to do to 'get by" and 'keep up" and 'fit in.' Oh, to be a space pirate!

John Michael Greer said...

Marie, that sounds like a plausible analysis to me as well.

Twilight, funny! I hope it catches on.

Tony, of course the cosmos is beautiful and worth studying in its own right! A good case could be made that, as with so many other things, it's much easier to enjoy and treasure it for its own sake if you're not obsessed with the idea of doing something to it...

Derv, it's a logical fallacy to insist that a scale of relative importance implies a binary division such as "important up to this point, unimportant from there on." A cosmos consisting of one planet with one species on it would give that one species a position of greater relative importance than a cosmos of trillions of planets with billions of species on them would give to any one species on any one planet, and other cases would fill the spectrum in between. Now of course an intelligent divine being that happened to choose to carry out an act of incomparable preciousness could choose any planet and any species for that purpose, but insisting in the absence of any evidence that such a being is limited to one such act, and we just happen to be the species so selected, seems like spiritual pride to me.

Shane, American schoolchildren are taught to be ashamed of their creative abilities and their capacity to use language. Recognize that those feelings of intimidation are a hangover of your schooling, and give it a try!

Patricia, blessings on your upcoming misogi!

Wagelaborer, a good working parable.

Doctor W., that is to say, the warlord of one warband is challenging the warlord of another, as the Visigoths challenged the Huns. The more things change...

Auriel/Jim, thanks for the suggestion.

Hellgrrl, thanks for the heads up. I have basically no contact with the world of video games, so appreciate the info.

Will, and yet we don't know the hearts of wombats, hummingbirds, et al. For all we know God became whale, and died under a whaler's harpoon in 1854 to bring salvation to whalekind. I've come to think that human beings will have achieve maturity as a species when we stop trying to be special -- and "more in need of salvation than any other species" is very much a claim to special status -- and come to terms with being just one mode of life among myriad others.

Max, we'll see. The crash has been announced prematurely before.

Mark, the former is a good example of what I was trying to avoid. I don't know how likely the latter would be.

Onething, I'm not arguing -- just pointing out that the same is true for every other being throughout the cosmos.

Blueback, hmm. I see Traditionalists such as Nasr as the mirror image of the Enlightenment, a movement that embraces all the same distinctions and simply reverses all the value judgments. I'm far from sure that's a useful approach here.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, thank you. I was indeed trying to be flippant, but also to point out that there's really something rather adolescent about it all.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I'm in agreement with Renaissance Man and reached the same conclusion independently.

A while ago PBS ran a serialized docudrama based on a history book about the race between the Scott and Amundsen expeditions to reach the South Pole. The series was titled "The Last Place On Earth". The poles and Mount Everest were literally the last spots on dry land to be subjected to these sorts of heroic First White Man to Set Foot expeditions. Africa and the Amazon jungle had already been done in the previous century.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Rudyard Kipling wrote a pair of decent stories about delivering the mail by rocket and the Melies brothers made a fantasy film about a trip to the moon, but the theme of human space travel did not really catch on in popular culture until after the Great War, just as Westerners were running out of wild lands to explore and conquer on this planet.

I have not read any Russian science fiction, but my impression is that the Sputnik launch and the entire Soviet space program were motivated by the desire to demonstrate the superiority of their science and technology, not by a romantic belief that Humanity's Destiny Is In the Stars. Communist ideology had its own set of goals for the future.

Derv said...


That's a fair point on the false dichotomy, and I accede that to you. And I grant that, all things being equal, our importance would be much more likely if we were a unique object in the universe; I just don't believe there are grounds for thinking the inverse is true.

As for the spiritual pride point, I would say that that would be absolutely, 100% true, were it coming from myself and my own opinions. But from a Christian perspective (which I know you don't accept but for argument's sake), the idea that mankind holds a special place is revealed by our Creator. And believing such a thing based upon the authority of God is not at all prideful; it's an act of humility to accept what God has revealed on His authority. And in addition, this special place is a consequence of God's love, and not our own intrinsic worth.

But I'm sure you've tired of discussing this, so I'll let you have the last word and let it rest. I just felt the need to clarify and to point out that the Christian perspective is not arrogant or inconsistent on the part of the believer.

RPC said...

"Shouldn't we instead let other planets come up with their own life forms, rather than imposing ours on them?" I dunno...the more I think we're just another species, the more I think we have the same "rights" as any other. If the Norway maple can try to conquer the world with all the means at its disposal, why can't we?

Michelle said...

Good morning, good Archdruid and other readers!

I just read this snippet with my lunch: "Shane, American schoolchildren are taught to be ashamed of their creative abilities and their capacity to use language. Recognize that those feelings of intimidation are a hangover of your schooling, and give it a try!"

Not five hours ago, my son asked for a special treat to take on his 8th grade field trip today. I initially said no, because he'd already asked for a less-special treat and I'd said yes. He convinced me when he said, "That was before I had the epiphany about..." the better treat. My response was, "Yes. You may have (the special treat) because you used the word 'epiphany.' I believe in rewarding behavior I want to see repeated."

Now, to be sure, I'm not an average mother. My degrees are in medieval history and literature. My working life before full-time motherhood was as a Naval officer - a Naval Aviator, to be precise. One of my best Navy friends was just promoted to Admiral - a rarity among helicopter pilots, and quite possibly the first female helo pilot Admiral to date. But I was so tickled that my fourteen-year-old son articulated his request so eloquently that I said yes, when I'd been planning to say no.

Bruce E said...

Quick question on what might constitute the middle ground between "progress" and "collapse."

I was thinking of a peak world population in 2020 of 8.5 billion and a short story that takes place in 2520 where it is down to 100 million after 500 years of more-or-less constant 0.9% contraction.

I would call it a "soft landing," but in deep-time terms it could be viewed as a collapse. Would such a scenario qualify as middle ground per your contest rules?

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Deborah, I can certainly see that in the Moon landing, and some of the other first person on X fantasies, but I'm not sure it accounts for the whole fantasy.

Derv, fair enough.

RPC, last I checked, we already have.

Michelle, my congratulations to your friend, not to mention your son and yourself. I can certainly applaud rewarding the capable use of language!

Bruce, a controlled descent isn't a collapse in my book, so that one would certainly qualify. I'll look forward to your story!

John Michael Greer said...

Harriett (offlist), comments posted here don't give me any way to contact the commenter unless you put something in with your email address! If you'd like to put through a second comment with that latter detail, though, I'd be happy to reply.

Susan J said...

Thank you John. Reading this blog post, I remembered questions of my own and this time was able to answer them.

Who cares if our world is insignificant within the universe? Someone with an oversized ego.

Why is the notion of "escaping" to the stars so appealing? It certainly lets one off the hook of responsibility for the here and now. The notion that you only live once makes abandoning your home more appealing than staying put and learning to live within your means and the means of the planet.

william fairchild said...


Why am I not surprised that Buck wanted to take your beuatiful story and turn it from Star's Reach to Star Trek v2.0? Such a wasted opportunity. Perhaps he jsut felt it wasn't marketable. I think he was dead wrong, and if kept true to form, would have been a potential hit.

Nobody thought GoT would work in visual form. The producers brought George RR Martin directly in the loop, made every effort to keep it true to the original vision, minimized the magic deus ex machinas as the author did, and it blew up the interwebs and HBO. I think people hunger for clever storytelling that questions their expectations.

Shortly after I started following your blog, you had a post on binary thinking. I think this is one of your gifts, getting people to step outside the black vs. white and tread the subversive foggy path of the gray. Perhaps in those mists, truths can be found.

I wonder if our unique binary political system has influenced a collective desire to define the world in binary terms. You are either red or blue (never green) socialist or capitalist (never gift economy or steady state) Christian or Musloatheist (never neopagan). Hence a discussion of the fate of Industrial civilization becomes the Google path to singularity and the internet of things, or a Mad Max live "in the caves".

I was shocked last week. I was talking about the fact that COP21 was an excersize in futility, that even if ALL the commitment to reductions happened (will the Senate ever ratify this. Ted Cruz: Filibuster) this leads to 2.7c (minus potential positive feedbacks or underestimated sensitivity in the climate system). I said a lower energy future was not only necessary but locked in due to thermodynamic and geologic considerations.

The response: "You wanna go live in treehouses and eat pinecones!" Geez, really.

As to the latest flight of the Spacebats --yay! So many stories, so little time. :D

Shane W said...

Offtopic, but I never realized how many people were on Green Wizards until I started posting about the conference. I wonder how many are within a reasonable distance from me?

william fairchild said...

Off topic.

@Patricia Mathews

I have been off-web for a bit. We got into a tiny little kerfuffle over the post Shadows in the Cave. No apology necessary. Anytime poverty or race is dscussed, emotions can run high.

Nevertheless, if a comment is off kilter, a challenge is welcome. It leads to better thinking. If I feel the challenge is off-base, I will push back sometimes. It is most certainly not personal, with the possible exception of arguing with Trumpites. ;)

So thanks for your kind and gracious reply.


I am well aware of Lifeline. In IL, it is called Safelink. If someone qualifies, I encourage them to take advantage. Despite Chicago, this is a very rural state. With poor public transit, a corrupt and feckless governorship and state house, and miles and miles of rural roads, it can very literally be a lifesaver. Here it takes the form of a prepaid tracphone.

Nick said...

To add to what hellgrrl said about Fallout 4, about a year ago there was a spate of fairly successful indie survival games. That being said, most of these games seem to have some cataclysm, whether personal (ending up on an island as a sole survivor of a plane crash) or global (nuclear war, a Carrington event, etc), which is consistent with the popular narrative that the only two futures are technorapture or the apocalypse.

Regarding the mighty F-35 Lardbucket: There are lots of articles on the subject, and all of them are fighting an uphill battle - Super Tucanos are what the US military actually needs for most purposes, but the embarrassment of buying a fighter plane from the Brazilians that would not have looked too out of place in WW2 is too much for the USAF. I read an article cheerleading the possibility of super-mobile US forces of the Future that are able to operate without infrastructure because the helicopters, V-22 Ospreys and of course, F-35s can all take off vertically. Never mind that an armed F-35 needs aerial refueling minutes after performing a VTOL.

Maybe I should write a short story about how after downing the fuel tankers needed to keep F-35s even pretending to fight a war with smuggled-in Chinese missiles, a squadron of Venezuelan Super Tucanos cripples an American expeditionary force's aircraft in minutes.

Maybe the US military can save money by merging into one fighting unit equipped with a stealthy, amphibious, supersonic version of this:

JMG: "Shane, American schoolchildren are taught to be ashamed of their creative abilities and their capacity to use language. Recognize that those feelings of intimidation are a hangover of your schooling, and give it a try!"

I would be very interested in reading an elaboration of this point. I imagine we'll get one in Retrotopia, although I would also really like to see the kind of schools that the well-to-do in Toledo send their teenagers to. I have a very strong sense that you (JMG) are right, I just don't understand why you are right. As with most hangovers, the first step is to drag yourself out of bed for a glass of water - it'll get better from there, I suppose.

onething said...

"Onething, is a plant imprisoned by the soil that supports its roots and its life? As I see it, that's the relation we have to the Earth."

Yeah, I really tried to specify that is not what I meant at all. Imagine a woman born and raised as a minor concubine inside the walls of a lovely harem, with marble-pillared courtyard and gardens and all. She knows about the world out there, villages and rivers and marketplaces, but she can never see it, never go there. Think of the questions that are very real to many people, such as what is going on in this universe, where are we, is anyone out there? Seeing how many stars there are and how many planets therefore also, only increased my own faith that there must be, must be others, probably many others.


"the idea that mankind holds a special place is revealed by our Creator. And believing such a thing based upon the authority of God is not at all prideful; it's an act of humility to accept what God has revealed on His authority. And in addition, this special place is a consequence of God's love, and not our own intrinsic worth."

But then, that requires believing that God would write a book, and that no one added or subtracted or badly translated it, that the scrolls which were accepted and rejected were all the correct ones. But if men wrote that book, or parts of it, then it would be quite convenient, many of the things written therein.

Artorias said...

Great post John. I commend you on sticking to your guns regarding the film/TV rights.

I wish George RR Martin had done the same.

Leo Knight said...

Off topic, but I just finished reading "Ecotopia," and enjoyed it quite a bit. It also triggered a wave of nostalgia, mixed with sadness for what might have been.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Addenda on the Rudyard Kipling science fiction stories, which are set in the present century. There's a short Wikipedia article about them which includes a quotation from a review of With the Night Mail (1905) by Arnold Bennett; I agree with Bennett's assessment. At the bottom of the article is a link to a PDF of both stories with their original illustrations. These two stories exist on the boundary between Jules Verne and steampunk and are well worth your time if you like that sort of thing; even more if you write it.

I mistakenly remembered the mail delivery vehicles as being suborbital rocket ships but it appears that they are advanced dirigibles.

I agree with JMG's response that there are other ideas and emotions supporting the belief that human beings must personally explore and settle outer space. I think JMG and others have made valid suggestions as to what they are. I just think those other factors are not as deeply embedded in Western Civ. as the complex Renaissance Man analyzed.

Jake said...

John Michael,

That's a good comparision; another poet more-or-less sidelined for his bad habit of puncturing bubbles. Unfortunately for those of us without a grasp of Italian, Leopardi is notoriously difficult to translate, so apparently we're only getting a pale version of the 'real deal'. That hasn't prevented it from being a highly informative and moving read for myself, though.

Shane W said...

I have more faith in Chapo Guzman doing more damage to ISIS than the West...

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for that insight and it sounds correct. And, my gut feeling is that it is accelerating here. Is that happening in your part of the world?

I cracked out a copy of Macroeconomics Third Edition (Hall and Taylor 1990 edition) - it is an exciting life here :-)! - just to see what they had to say on the subject of stagflation. You may be pleasantly surprised to note that the economic condition was described by Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson of M.I.T. and the text also acknowledged that an economy recently hit by serious materials price shocks might be in this condition. A sad and sorry state of affairs.

However, disappointment then set in because the text went on to suggest in less than a full page that the condition (which makes it sound like a sort of temporary illness?) was basically self-correcting as inflation and prices battle it out in the marketplace. The basic gist of the correction process was that: "falling prices are the key to recovery." - without discussing the actual mechanism. An interesting hypothesis which I'm sure will get a thorough workout and debunking over the next few short years. Which is a bit of a shame really and I believe down here the powers that be would prefer to wreck the economy itself than suffer from the indignity of inflation – so watch this space.

I'm genuinely surprised that the text did not mention issues of supply and demand for those materials, political responses etc. but instead relied on the workings of the invisible hand...

So, I read a bit further and came across an interesting chunk of honesty in relation to economic policy where it mentioned that current economic thinking, views the world in terms pursuing policies which decrease inflation at the cost of higher unemployment or vice versa. My take on that is that it is a brutal world view which props up the living standards of those with money and employment and creates a significant and ever growing under class of economic non-persons - but then that is just my take on the world. No wonder that the mantra: Growth will save us has such currency in the population as it allows the population to be unspeakably cruel to its fellow members.

The funny thing is that I reckon the various policy options to tackle inflation whilst pursuing growth have been maxxed out and the policy options are also subject to diminishing returns at an ever greater cost to society as a whole. My understanding here is that in order to reduce the supply of money in the economy (and thus keep inflation in check) is that the powers that be here are considering lifting the sales tax on all goods and services (which incidentally has turned most businesses into tax collectors thus outsourcing government tax collection costs to the population - but that is another story) from the current 10% to 15% - there is a really strong push for that. Add in the imminent shut down of the local car manufacturing industry which I reckon is a bad idea for strategic reasons, but also for the 250,000 people that work in it and may have invested their own capital in it.

Mate, my only take on this level of craziness is that the government is pursuing the deliberate crashing of the economy just to force prices down - there is no other possibility (other than the obvious other than it is just plain crazy). I can't believe that they would not be aware of the consequences of those actions?

Anyway, gotta bounce as I'm putting a couple of cubic metres of poo into the orchard today - it is amazing that people think of that stuff as a waste product. More fool them!



Tidlösa said...

C S Lewis is interesting in this context, since he does suggest at several points that Earth isn´t all that important. He says even in his non-fiction books that perhaps intelligent life on other planets isn´t fallen, or has been redeemed in some way we can´t possibly know. In "Mere Christianity", he takes the position that we can´t even know what arrangments God has made to redeem the non-Christian peoples. Your comment about the whale dying to save whalekind sounds incredibly Lewis-esque, although he would probably never say such a thing in public! In a pub, after a pint of beer, and in a semi-jocular mood...who knows? :D

Of course, Lewis was influenced by esotericism (as I learned just the other month or so, reading a book by Gareth Knight to that effect), so this could be his nod to the Neo-Platonic or even Theosophical tradition!

As for the Big One, Eric J Lerner has written a book titled "The Big Bang Never Happened". You probably won´t like it, though, since it´s based on the idea of Progress - Lerner (a kind of Quasi-Marxist) believes that modern cosmology isn´t progressive enough, since it implies that enthropy eventually kills progress! He´s also into fusion. That being said, Lerner´s book seems to be the most widely read critique of the Big Bang presently in print. He also has a website summarizing his arguments. His main one is that the theory needs ad hoc hypotheses to sustain itself, such as immense amounts of dark matter (which nobody has ever observed)...

will said...

>>Will, and yet we don't know the hearts of wombats, hummingbirds, et al. For all we know God became whale, and died under a whaler's harpoon in 1854 to bring salvation to whalekind ....<<

Well, to be honest, John, I don't think that's entirely fitting. Christ-Whale would not have been harpooned, but rather would have died at the flukes of his or her bro and sis whales, nearly all of whom would have highly chaffed at Christ-Whale's insistence that they not privilege themselves over those risible bipedal creatures clambering about on dry land. 

And it would have been in 1773, not 1854. 

Actually, for all they may have evolved in sentience and self-awareness, I won't believe whales are in need of salvation until they start launching hellfire missiles at each other. If whales are consciously evolved in some manner and are in no need of salvation, then they're already several rungs above us on evolutionary ladder. But who knows, maybe some day they will be in need of salvation and it will be their turn - it just seems to be our turn now. 

Dwig said...

Question on the rules:
Could stories include a magical element (in the Galabean sense), for example, use of magic to resolve conflict, reduce tensions, etc.? Not used as a deus ex machina, but to leverage the perspectives and powers of magic to good effect.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I'm not so sure I agree with your assessment of gamer culture. From what I can see the biggest draws are the "open world" with near unlimited options to explore and grow wealthy and powerful. People are addicted to living a highlife vicariously through their avatars. Most of the people I know who game have a deep seeded sense of helplessness.

Ol' Bab said...

Most of us are aware that it's not just Peak Oil, but the sooner-or-later peak of (nearly) every thing that Progress and BAU require.
So I trust it's not contrary to the spirit of this bog that I throw my hat in for Cold Fusion as a Real Thing. But it will have no effect on the basic fact of collapse, just how long it takes, and the forms and paths.
I am not a space bats fan, and I dearly hold fast to the "No free lunch" rules of physics.
The theory is largely not there yet, the data is all over the map, but it seems that under certain very hard to replicate conditions the coulomb barrier is sidestepped, light atoms fuse, energy is produced. Perhaps involving phonons, or similar, because there is a remarkable absence of fast neutrons (radiation).
The best example is a nominally 1 Megawatt assembly that has been producing 700,000 watts(ave) of heat for most of a year, with only about 250,000 watts of electrical input, made by Italian engineer Andrea Rossi. Fuel used is grams, not pounds.
Google: andrea rossi cold fusion. Do not bother with Wikipedia, Scientific American, Nature journal; they all have blackouts on science contrary to the establishment.

But maybe you knew that...
Ol' Bab

Blueback said...

Japan isn't the only country that's been experiencing a lot of weird weather lately nor is it the only one experiencing spectacularly nasty weather due to this years El Nino.

We just had a really bad storm system come through the Pacific Northwest earlier this week. The worst hit on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in the area where I live. There was lots of property damage, landslides, washed out roads and flooding in Washington State and Oregon and at least two people were killed. One of the smaller towns in the area where I live still has hundreds of people in staying in emergency shelters and evacuation orders were issued yesterday for some of the outlying areas because of road closures due to washed out roads and landslides. There are also thousands still without electrical power because of downed powerlines and damage to substations.

I live in a small industrial town in Southwestern Washington State. The last few years have definitely seen a lot of unusual weather. Last year, we actually had a tornado blow through the middle of the town where I live. I was at my favorite local indie coffee shop when it blew through and saw it as it passed by. Pretty scary when a tornado passes close by only a few hundred feet from where you are sitting. The street out front of the coffee shop looked like the inside of a wind tunnel. There was quite a bit of property damage including the roof of a school gym that was completely pulled off. Fortunately, there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Thing is, the last time the area I live in got hit by a tornado was in the 1920's.

Last winter was an unusually dry one and we had a really dry summer as well, enough that there have been serious concerns about the snow pack in the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges and the governor of Washington State actually declared an state of emergency this summer because of that. Now, with this years El Nino, we are getting the opposite and have had an unusually wet winter so far. A friend of mine who is a retired engineer and used to work for the BPA tells me that at least we stand a good chance of the snowpack, aquifers and reservoirs being replenished, which a good thing because the long-term forecasts that I have seen suggest the sort of dry winters that we saw last year will probably be the new normal.

BoysMom said...

Brother Greer,
Except, as far as we can tell, other planets haven't produced life. Life seems to be a one time event, popular science fiction aside. Now we can't go everywhere, but everyplace we've managed to put a probe has been lifeless. From a secular perspective, the purpose of life is after all, to reproduce. (I have a cold right now: I could wish that this virus did not share that particular life characteristic!) Religions, of course, offer other purposes for life, but I cannot think of any that were entirely anti-life, that being a rather swiftly self-terminating viewpoint: even those people who are anti-human reproduction seem to be strongly pro-plant.
I'd rather see life continue, even if my species, or even my phylum, does not.
(From my perspective, our attempts to copy God are proof that we are created in His image, no matter if they fail . . . but I suspect that's more in line with the Well, when an appropriate topic comes up.)

Dagnarus said...

At the beginning of the post I was first of the opinion that the reason for inter stellar space travel fantasies area tied to the fact that it is the only reasonable scenario in which economic growth can continue indefinitely. As I read the post it struck me that all the things which you stated about humanities insignificance in the grand scheme of things only really applies, if we don't somehow find a way of "this rock". If humanity somehow finds a way to colonize the universe then suddenly humanity becomes extremely relevant. If interstellar colonization were possible our descendants could leave there mark all across the universe, further given the number of redundant populations wandering around it becomes credible that humanity or it's descendants could continue to exist on the order of billions of years thus making humanity significant in time. If interstellar travel is not possible however, then it becomes clear as you have stated that human existence is in the grand scheme of things "a brief incident on the wet film that covers the surface of a small planet circling an undistinguished star over to one side of an ordinary galaxy." If humanity never reaches the stars the fact of our material existence, which according to materialism is the only form of existence we have will eventually be engulfed by first earth's geological forces, and then by Sun itself before being ejected out into interstellar space, essentially making it as if we had never existed. If humanity goes to the stars, our mark on human society, according to materialism the only immortality we have, can be spread far and wide throughout the universe. It is this I think people give up, when they realize that interstellar travel just ain't gonna happen.

Caryn said...

Thank You, JMG for another fine essay and update. Good for you for turning down such a bad offer. I'm not a writer, but I do still find your process and trials in writing very informative.

A couple of responses to my fellow commenters:

Max Osman: re the shale bubble popping: Near our US home, ('near' in Wyoming terms - about 2 hours drive then 1 hour hike up the mountain) sits a lonely rusted old oil well. It's been sitting still there on national park land for decades. A few years ago it's 10 year lease was about to expire and the powers that be were considering whether or not to renew the license to the owners could drill. Our little town was in a fracking panic as we only have well water and have seen what fracking did in Pavilion. I was asked to join them in writing to our Congress-Critter who would decide whether or not to extend the owner's lease and let them drill. Our area has been through the exploratory searches and not enough oil or gas was found to make drilling worth anyone's while. I didn't think, but didn't know if there was a real threat for us.

Before writing anything I spent a few days researching the issue and the well itself online and discovered it was owned by a hedge fund company in NYC. They were actively selling shares in it. Well, I and my town wrote our letters, but IMHO, we needn't have worried. They were granted an extension of the lease, (our Congress Critter is useless), but they didn't drill. No one ever came out to even look at the thing. It was a scam. I'm sure some investors in NYC and elsewhere lost something on it, possibly a lot. They may still be selling shares in the useless thing. It was very interesting and creepy seeing both sides - seeing behind the curtain of such a scam taking place. Interesting (and creepy) now to see it all fall apart. It's no surprise at all.

Mark Rice: I LOVE both of those books, have read 'Cloud Atlas' 3 times and may pick it up again, now that you mention it!
"With every crime and every kindness, we birth our future".

Blueback: Thanks so much for the link, Nasr is a fantastic lecturer! You're right, very much overlap with our own dear and revered Archdruid in ideas, even some details. Quite chilling, but I've also thought a lot about his concluding ideas, in essence: with our very existence we are all killing/harming/taking from the planet. And there are too many of us taking too much. The charitable intentions of saving and prolonging lives is at this time in history suddenly incompatible with saving the lives of our future generations. There are no easy answers anymore.

Finally: Hellgrrl: As the mom of 2 older teen gamers - I agree. The young are more switched on than we think, probably more so than we are. AND deindustrial lifestyle, crafts & skills, warfare etc... are a big part of some of their games - even the fantasy based ones. It has on a number of occasions prompted my kids to pick up the real tools, saw, hammer, sanders and needle and thread and make real things, (OK, mostly weapons & shields) for themselves. Oddly it's given my grannyish hobbies of soap-making and veggie gardening some street-cred, (garden cred?) with them. :)

Ezra Buonopane said...

I'm confused. You say that submissions to the anthology should take place in a future where neither infinite technological progress nor collapse of civilization occurs. But a few sentences earlier you acknowledge that whole civilizations do collapse when they exhaust their resource bases, which is indeed what our current civilization is doing right now. Not to mention Star's Reach is set in a future where that happened. Maybe by "collapse" you're implying abruptness, as if one day industrial civilization is functioning perfectly and the next week it's a thing of the past, but the end results of that and a century-long decline seem quite similar: a less politically and economically complex society with much smaller energy usage due to the lack of abundant fossil fuels.

Martin B said...

To give an idea of how fast aircraft design is progressing, in 1974 I attended the Farnborough Air Show in England.

41 years ago, these were the highlights:

- On the apron stood a SR-71 Blackbird which had just set a transatlantic speed record of 2,000 plus m.p.h.

- The Concorde supersonic airliner did a fly-past with a half-roll to show off its characteristic double-curve wings.

- A F-15 Eagle landed, then took off and shot up almost vertically at a frightening rate of climb until it disappeared into the clouds.

- Four Harrier jump-jets landed in line astern and stopped in front of the terminal, but their wheels never touched the ground. They stayed hovering. They turned in unison to face the crowd, dipped their noses in salute, turned back down the runway, and took off again.

I don't think we've come much further since then.

btidwell said...

Mr. Greer,
I'm not the least surprised by the popularity of Star's Reach! It is one of the more lyrical pieces of fiction I think I've ever read. The contrast between the bleak, if dignified setting, the sincere characters, and the poetry of your writing is just incredibly poignant. I can absolutely see why it would make a good RPG, although it lacks the magic, melodrama, and/or violence that seems to fuel the plot in the one's I'm familiar with. However, I don't play them myself so there are many I haven't heard of from friends that do. I do hope it goes over well. The world you created is almost irresistible for another author to not want to dive into but nobody, other than you, will do it justice with fan fiction.

As for the TV show, I can only guess that Buck Rogers was grasping for a longer plot line. There was a time when a non-comedy show about the lives of interesting characters in an interesting place would have made for very good TV. Not so much anymore. Today there has to be war, violence, melodrama, preferably sprinkled with at least a few zombies and vampires. The everyday life of a humble Ruineman just wont cut it. At the same time, just like the manic search of "growth" in every other sector of our economy, a successful TV show must drag itself forward season after season for as many years as possible, until it breathes it's last ludicrous gasp of boring irrelevance. Heading into outer space, as utterly ridiculous as the plot turn is, is one of the few ways to guarantee an endless supply of riveting adventure for Trey & company to have. A movie, or high budget HBO miniseries would be a much more appropriate format, but obviously not the business that Buck Rodgers was in. Maybe that will come to pass. I would love to see it done justice on a big screen.

donalfagan said...

Here's a Foxtrot Alpha/Jalopnik article on F-22s, F-35s and their proposed, but unaffordable, successors.

Brother Guthlac said...

—it can be understood in less human-centered terms, but by and large, it hasn’t been—
Noted. Thank you. God incarnating continually in all creation. Can be and has been, in remarkably orthodox contexts, for centuries. But quite admittedly has, by and large, not been so noticed. Most people , by and large, also belief the Hogwarts is the place to study real magic.

John Roth said...

Here's an idea if you want a more sustainable replacement for concrete:

I'm not all that sure about the height, though, since there's a definite limit of how high you can go without a steel skeleton.

onething said...

While we're at it, I recommend Against The Big Bang by Paul Laviolette. He might have a later version than that one.

Boys Mom,

I think it is very, very premature to conclude we are the only planet with life. It also to me would be very much in keeping with the way we see life on this planet, so incredibly abundantly flourishingly full of life. Why would the creator then depart from this pattern and make endless galaxies, all dead, all empty?

Blueback, thanks for the link to Nasr's lectures. I listened to two of them yesterday and they cheered me up.

Re Dagnarus,

Very reluctantly (because it is the sort of thing a smug Christian would say) I'm starting to see that for certain people at least, atheism and other related ideas can indeed be a desire for humanity to be the god/s.

Dennis D said...

I would like to contribute an idea for an underlying religion to other space bat authors out there. I have several half completed stories from previous challenges, but they all seemed to be guided tours without a proper plot. Perhaps there could be a spot on the green wizards site for these, that others could pick through for ideas like I pick through the auto wreckers for parts for my old truck? Anyways, the basic idea for the religion is that someone decides/reveals that the earth itself is actually a generational lifeship, sent out on a long forgotten mission to transport life to some destination. The mystics/priests are of course concerned with what this mission was supposed to be, and who the original creators were. The day to day import is that if the planet is our "ship", then those that do things to harm the biosphere are considered "saboteurs". There are lots of grey areas such as whether a particular act or behaviour is actually sabotage or repair or improvement to the ships systems. This melds the religion of progress with a lot of the old religions, as well as Gaia being the name of the ship itself. I think that this is not a "Space Bat" as long as it stays as belief, and no actual creators are ever found.
So I offer this idea out to anyone with the only payment being able to see it put to use by others, as I have a terrible track record on completing my stories.

MIckGspot said...

Hello Martin, Thanks for the overview of Aircraft evolution. Where would you put Unmanned Ariel Vehicles AKA (Drones) in the picture? Will future aircraft need pilots? Are Space bat wings with out the bat possible?

Ben said...

@ Nick - A friend recommended a game to me called "This War of Mine." Its set in a fictionalized Sarajevo, and you, the player, have to keep a group of civilians alive by salvaging things, scrounging food and avoiding bandits. Its also a side scrolling game, so its a bit like Oregon Trail but in a war zone. Now that winter is setting in, I have a little more time for games.

@ Caryn - The kids really are more alright. I will say that as many around my age (33) are settling down and having kids of their own, they are starting to surrender more to consumer culture. I will keep gardening though, and I reckon the next economic shock will jar some sense back into my generation.

Shane W said...

RE: global warming,
don't know about your side of the Appalachians, JMG, but on our side, it's been a record warm winter--highs hitting 70'F(~22'C) and winter has barely made an appearance with Winter Solstice rapidly approaching. Of course, with the erratic, globally warmed jet stream, we don't really know when, or IF, winter will appear.
I was thinking back to last week's post, about whether to flee a civil war or not. I know in Britain during the War that a lot of people who fled Britain were looked down upon for abandoning their country, and that the Royal Family garnered a lot of admiration for staying in London instead of evacuating to Canada. Along those lines, do you, personally, see the utility of staying so that you, or your ideas, would garner more respect than if you fled, and are you concerned about how fleeing would be perceived? Also, by staying do you think you could shape the outcome of what's to come more so than if you fled? I'm asking objectively--I'm not sure how I would act, but would love to know how you regard such things.
Also, I'm curious to know if you think the ADR rates up there enough to be trolled by the CIA, etc. Just wondering...

Shane W said...

Oh, backslapping and congratulations are the order of the day as a wondrous climate change agreement that's sure to be followed to the letter was agreed upon to day, that is certain to arrest the progress of global warming and lead to a post fossil fuel era of prosperity was agreed upon. :P

Grebulocities said...

About deflation and inflation - I think it is worth pointing out that even the Shadowstats inflation rate actually did decline by about two percent (both 1990 and 1980 methodology) when the price of oil abruptly fell by a factor of two. So if the government changed its methodology to make inflation appear to be 2% and sweep economic decline under the rug by spuriously low inflation adjustments, the official stats would make inflation out to be roughly 0%, hence the alarm about deflation.

Hyperinflation, however, did not happen as John Williams continues to predict, and it does not appear to be on the horizon, despite the large increase in the money supply caused by QE. The reason is that QE was only designed to buy up the banks' bad debt at what it was officially worth rather than its real value, replacing it with real money. This plus the bailouts transformed them from being bankrupt by any honest accounting standard to being technically solvent and able to get back to their nefarious behavior as if nothing happened. But there's no mechanism by which the printed money would reach the real economy - it went entirely to Wall St and stayed there. There is some indirect effect in that being solvent causes them to lend more, triggering some inflation by reinflating bubbles. But they can't lend rapidly enough to induce hyperinflation - if they tried, the reinflated bubbles would burst very quickly and it would be 2008 again.

The fact that he makes repeated failed predictions about hyperinflation makes me somewhat skeptical of him. It certainly seems reasonable to me that the government is deliberately understating inflation by changing their methodology so as to paper over economic decline - that would match what I've seen involving prices clearly increasing faster than ~2%/yr in the real economy, and the obvious fact that most people are worse off today than ten years ago despite what the economists and pundits say, unless "better off" means "having more powerful electronic gizmos". But one of the recurring themes of this blog is that people who repeatedly predict things that don't happen should be viewed less seriously, and it's time to start doing that with the people who called 2008 correctly but have been wrong since then.

That said, I suspect there is a fair amount of truth to what he says. If I ever get the time to scour all the economic data I can get my hands on and all the changes in methodology that have been made, it would be interesting to try to figure out what is really going on wrt inflation, GDP growth, and other economic stats that seem be manipulated and back out some sense of what is actually happening from the manipulated data.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Will,

Of course it is possible to know the heart of a wombat. That comes from experience and observation over a long period of time. They're animals, we're animals and it is all one big ecosystem really. The question that comes to my mind from your statement is: why would you believe that it is impossible to know the heart of a wombat?

It might be useful for you to remember and also ponder upon the fact that not every culture views humans as somehow separate and distinct from nature - that is only a dominant meme in our industrial culture. And of course we have to maintain that meme in order to pursue the agendas of casual cruelty on our ecosystem – and we are blind to that meme. For example if you treat animals, and in fact the rest of nature as an abstraction to be used for our own ends it allows us to do whatever we want to it and not consider the consequences.

If you really think about it hard, you may even be aware deep down that psychopaths view other people as abstractions. There is something in that!

Incidentally, whaling went on here well into the mid 19th century and many of the very attractive seaside towns down here were established on the back of resources gleaned from the whaling and sealing industry.

Just some stuff for you to think about.



PatriciaT said...

Question about the latest contest: How far or how near in the future can the story be set?

Myriad said...

But what shape would the bone ridges on the Cetans' foreheads be? :b

I don't think I'll have "several" stories to submit (I haven't before when it was allowed), but maybe as many as two. Mostly I just like to be clear on the rules. Anyhow, thanks for the good news—more stories to read!

Regarding the "epicycles" of Big Bang cosmology, I agree that the field is in a muddle right now. I'll warn everyone, though, that if a more parsimonious model comes along to replace it, it will not look, to most people, like any sort of return to sanity, any more than relativity, QM, or heliocentrism were easy to accept. For instance, something makes the outer stars in galaxies orbit much faster than they would if the mass were distributed as it appears to be and gravitation works the way we think it does. If it's not dark matter, it's gravity leaking through parallel universes at great distances, or extra dimensions of time, or side effects of Wolfram's digital universe, or something comparably outrageous. It's not going to turn out to be, "Oops, just some dust on our telescope lenses, never mind!" And of course, the universe is under no obligation to make sense to us, or to always behave according to elegant epicycle-free theories.

Derv said...

Here is my submission for this contest. It's quite... odd... compared to previous submissions, but I hope you find it to your taste. It's the product of a long consultation between myself and one Magister Ludi, whose work I believe you've admired as well:

As always, feedback from all is welcome!

Derv said...


I don't think JMG wants the comments (at least on this blog) to get too deeply into religious details, so I won't say much. The short version, offered essentially without any of the evidence to back the claims, goes something like this:

1. I'm quite certain that the existence of God can be concluded from reason and experience (see, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Arguments, Leibnitz, Anselm, et al.), and that God can further be deduced to possess a certain nature - all-good, all-knowing, and so on.

2. This God, in creating us with an intellect and will, created us with a nature perpetually unsatisfied with finite existence, and with an infinite capacity for understanding and love. As such, He created us with the desire and ability to know and love Him; if He didn't, then He created us with a nature that is essentially cruel, and His nature does not allow cruelty.

3. Concluding that God both exists and is knowable, it is then a matter of discovering how to know Him. I've concluded that He is known through the Catholic Church. The particulars of that are...well, extensive, and getting too in-depth for the present forum. Neverthess, I have what I believe are very good reasons for thinking this.

So there it is. If you want to discuss it further, I'd be happy to, but through email. Mine is d(underscore)senti(at)hotmail. If you don't, then I wish you the best and will send a prayer your way. :)

Derv said...


Oh, also, I left plenty of potential to expand my story, in case you wanted me to expand upon the character of Van Horowitz and turn it into a true bildungsroman of sorts. I admit it has little in the way of plot at this point, which could definitely be remedied if you find the present version strays too far from the rules. Just let me know. Thanks!

Bill Blondeau said...

JMG, I'd like to echo @EzraBuonopane's concern with respect to the constraint of the new Space Bats contest.

It's not entirely clear to me whether our projected futures (in which eligible stories are set) are expected to be premised on a non-collapse of current industrial civilization?

Or are the stories themselves simply expected to take place in non-collapse periods of a history that is punctuated, normally enough, with various collapses?

This would have obvious relevance for me.

In a practical sense, I'm wondering whether my existing future history would be disqualified: the Circumpolar world in which The Borax Road Affair was set involves a fairly thriving economic world, in which various technological suites are being tested for applicability by historical process, but still reverberates with distant echoes of the past collapse of our Waster civilization. Moving that same history some 1500 years further into the future, Finding Flotsam is also set in a post-collapse recovery period. It's not, however, the collapse of our civilization—nobody (except a few historians) remembers that anymore—it's recovery from the biotech-based Old Biologist civilization that succeeded ours, and collapsed for its own reasons and in its own way.

I feel strongly that the collapse -> recovery -> equilibrium cycle is one important mechanism of succession in civilizations (as much as in the sequence of broad-leafed weeds to grasses to shrubbery to woodland to terminal forest and onward.) The future history I've begun to develop is an exploration of such a millennia-long sequence. I'd like to carry on with stories set in those two periods, and others along a long timeline. However, if that's contrary to the spirit of the current Space Bats contest, I'd be looking at something rather different...

Also, congratulations to @JoelCaris for launching Into the Ruins! I've subscribed. Thanks, Joel, and I hope the floodwaters are receding.

Mark Rice said...

This is with regards to the "Twilight's last Gleaming".

The National Interest has a long article entitled Five ways war with China could be started or avoided.

will said...

Hi, Cherokee Organics -

Actually, I didn't say that you can't know the heart of a wombat, that was JMG. I do think, however, that the consciousness of a wombat, how and in whatever manner it perceives the world, will forever elude us. Doesn't mean we can't honor and respect the lil guy as a fellow citizen of earth. As for the rest of what you said - could not agree more.

Antroposcen said...

Dear JMG,
This observation just also recently struck me. I have just come home to Sweden after a week in Paris and the COP21. There I spent time with activists, listened to talks and participated in some peaceful actions. Not that I think that actions really change anything, it´s more media communication than real action, however it is fun to do and I feel that I am among friends. Fighting "the man".

The reason why I was in Paris was because I was invited to a one minute shortfilm festival with the theme "Act on climate change". My film portrays a woman in a forest clad in iron age-like clothes who finds an ancient cracked ipad covered with millenias of lichen and fungi. A solar cell on the thing gets activated and the tribe woman sees a recorded message apologizing for how the people of our time messed everything up. The film is not a masterpiece in any way, but it has a clear message: This tribal woman who don´t understand a word of English and dumbfoundedly look into a magic talking brick can very well be a woman of the future.

In the process of editing I showed it to some people who really couldn´t understand it. How can the man in the ipad say "this is a message to the future" when it is clear that the woman getting the message is a figure of the past. She doesn´t wear futuristic clothes, she looks like a viking lady! Even after I named the fricking film "A message from the past" most people still thought it was a composted ipad travelling back in time talking about a message to the future. (You with me?)

Of course the message was better understood among climate activists in Paris. But when I talk with them about the deeper meaning of the film. That we most probably have to live with a lot less in the near future, due to lack of easily accessible energy and so on, the activists just won´t understand! Many of them travel around the world for their actvismus. They fight, they party and they shout: "Keep the carbon in the ground!". The carbon which obviously makes our lifestyle possible. When I tell them about a brighter future when we get more time to spend with friends and less stuff and maybe ride horses made of horse I get called a pessimist. I say: No, I´m a realist. They say: Humanity always find out something.

Because a life without touring the globe fighting for climate justice with laptop machines and street protests is just not comprehensible for these people. Maybe not even for me! I understand it. But I don´t wanna! Be stuck in Sweden eating rutabagas when I can take the plane to Paris for € 50 and eat moules de fricking frites?! It is understandable why people don´t want to see.

Now we live in the dream of “renewals”. It´s gonna solve everything. And if somebody think differently it´s just not worth taking in. It doesn´t exist. Anyways, thanks for letting me rant. I love your blog. If anyone is interested to see the one minute film this is the link:

James Fauxnom said...

@ Mark Rice

Too funny! That article is entirely mistitled. The author leaves it til the last paragraph to state that the US can "can stop the slide to dangerous disagreement... that will remove any doubts about the outcome from escalation and conflict." Yawn. I would have ended with the US should stay out of the western pacific.

Bruce E said...

Wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that, based on this post, I picked up your book Star's Reach and my e-reader says I'm 18% of the way through. I am very taken by what you've done here!

It's almost like you got tired of answering the question of wannabe authors of fiction like myself and wrote a novel that is about how to go about writing a novel. Whether or not you intended these things, I'm picking up a metaphor between the ruinman and the author of fiction, the ruin as the one telling the story and the ruinman taking a sort of dictation, and the primary advice given on how to write a story is something to the effect of, "just do your best to get out of the way and let the story tell itself."

The hero of your story seems to apologize that he wants to tell the story in the order it occurred, but that the story doesn't want to tell itself in that order so he's (in an endearing and clumsy way) trying to accommodate the desires of the story, to stay out of its way as best as he can manage.

Good stuff -- I'm glad I came upon the ruins of your blog, and found a clue that led me to Star's Reach! I should perhaps be a better prentice to you, as I see you rummage through the comments section of your blog much more than I do, leading me to believe that I'm probably missing out...

Bob Patterson said...

My favorite author, William Gibson, gave up trying to write science fiction, as the technology seemed to catch up to his stories so fast, the were blase'. He now writes cutting edge stuff about the near future.

This attitude of beating people into submission and denigrating negotiations is really astounding. Seems like desperation. You would think that the UK Parliament would be hesitant to sign up for Iraq: Part 3. No way. Off they go. Is it machismo, the influence of the arms industry, the fear of looking weak, an imperial primacy or what?

I found a clever thing on youtube. You take a large plastic barrel and use a saber saw to cut slits, and a heat gun and wine bottle (white wine, funnel shape) to create growing pockets. Lots of plants in low square footage.

buddhabythelake said...


Many thanks for another opportunity at a Space Bats contest. I began free-writing the evening I read the post and unlike the last time, I will complete and submit this story!

All engaged in the discussion of christian theology--

About two years ago, I came to an interesting decision re my spiritual perspective. Having been raised in a christian environment, I have a natural affinity for that structure, but had always wrestled with the specifics of the credos. It (finally) dawned on me that I did not have to accept the pronouncements of church councils simply because they were church councils and was free to decide for myself what I believed (duh!). At that point, I began to work backwards through the historical development of christian doctrine, until I arrived at the Council of Nicea, and realized that I could reject those findings as well. There were christianities before the rise of the current orthodoxy. Personally, I consider myself "christian" though most would say I'm a heretic of the highest order (a label I sometimes use myself). I consider Jesus of Nazareth a prophet in the mold of Elijah and the other prophets of old who stood with the poor and oppressed, spoke truth to power, and were generally executed for those stances. (I have taken to referring to him as Yeshua bar Yosef as a means of distinguishing the man from the god-man of the orthodoxy.) Reading the gospels in this light is educational, to say the least.

Nancy Sutton said...

I've never had an opportunity to share this long-ago-memorized poem ... but perhaps here ;)

Our Little World - Oliver Herford - 1513

IF this little world to-night
Suddenly should fall through space
In a hissing, headlong flight,
Shrivelling from off its face,
As it falls into the sun, 5
In an instant every trace
Of the little crawling things—
Ants, philosophers, and lice,
Cattle, cockroaches, and kings,
Beggars, millionaires, and mice, 10
Men and maggots,— all as one
As it falls into the sun,—
Who can say but at the same
Instant from some planet far
A child may watch us and exclaim: 15
“See the pretty shooting star!”

Nancy Sutton said...

To Buddha and Derv,
Being a Christian myself, Catholic at that (and a Methodist, Quaker, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, and, for a few hours on some mornings, an atheist,;)...I'll share my view of Christ, as I explained my disbelief in the 'Atonement Theory', to my parish priest. I believe that anyone preaching 'God's' infinite love, forgiveness, embrace of all, etc., would be 'eliminated' by the powers that be, of any age, and Christ was willing to go to make this 'sacrifice' in his commitment to the facts... hence, his execution. Many others have been crucified in the same cause.

Juhana said...

BTW, what sources you are using to get at least semi-reliable news nowadays? In many European countries news and actual at-the-ground events have gone their separate ways after Green March by illegals truly started this summer. If you have not read about Green march to Spanish Sahara at 70's, you should... To save their federalist project the EU elites have thrown all requirements of honesty and reliability to the trash bin. Unfortunately for them, national and ethnic identities among Europeans and all tribes living around Mediterranean are so strong, so old, that their propaganda project is like putting lipstick to the pig. It does not fool anyone, at least outside circles of entitlement. Propaganda is not biting as they wish it should.

And it was, again, football riots which predicted who shall be main adversaries. During World Cup, French and Algerians living in France were chopping each other to pulp, and that truly showed the mood at the streets, from where the propaganda machine never informs. Religious and ethnic undertones were quite high around the continent during that sporting event, and it was like weather warning for things to come. Newspapers here are screaming recovery and climate negotiations, but I follow football events and internet fringe to truly know when duck and cover. As War Nerd pointed out years ago, new conflicts start where liberal Westerners are never looking.

It is like one big San Quentin prison yard, gangs marked and pre-destined by their ethnicity and identity, fighting to the bitter end, to win or fall among their owns. At least when it comes to Old World, you happen to be wrong with one aspect of this crisis of Peak Progress: you wrote once that old identities melt away during crises, to form wholly new ones. There is not even tentative blossoming pointing to that direction. During Roman collapse, old faiths of Rome had decayed for centuries, and new contenders were already there, lurking at the treshold, even before the final series of crises started. There is nothing like that this time around. There are no heavy-weight contenders for old faiths or current status quo, no new alternatives. Only Christianity of the Western Europe is tired and lost its grip, but it's contender is not a new faith, but it's old adversary. Everywhere else, even in Eastern Europe, it is time for joyous revival of old faiths, those once challenged by Enlightnment. Only those who follow religion of progress seem to believe otherwise in the Old World, and they are losing, quite fast.

I personally have thios fetish that I want to read at least semi-reliable news. Especially New World has been clouded by very, very propagandistic and unreliable information. It seems like fog of war has drifted and made allmost whole world to lurk among dense fog that distorts the landscape beyond any recognition. If you have any tips for news sources, they are welcomed.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Will,

Thank you for the reply.

One minor quibble, if you may please indulge me. Your earlier comment confused me because you wrote: "I'd say that God - being the sum total of everything that exists - has and is become wombat, hummingbird, etc"

But then went on to write: "man also has the potentiality to regress into the primal fires and become the essence of what we'd call evil. Man needed, still needs, a Christ - a Light by any name."

Then surely from that viewpoint - and it is excellent to see such an all encompassing viewpoint - Christ is not separate from evil for I don't understand how God can be the sum total of everything and also not be evil in your worldview? Dunno it seems like a perplexing predicament. What do you reckon?



Christine said...

This post struck a chord with me - which, admittedly, is not that unusual, I just don't usually comment! I'll just say that suddenly my teenage sons love of Classics as well as Earth and Space Science (basically geology and astronomy), not to mention his rejection of the Christian faith he was raised amidst, doesn't seem quite so incongruous.

Denys said...

Would take a writing submission into the contest from a 15 year old? 13 year old? They groan at what is offered to them in terms of new fiction in the young adult section. As a mom I've been appalled at how the killing of others is seen as necessary and sex and lust is all the dialogue. I guess these books sell to teens who load it onto a kindle or iPad with their parents none the wiser.

Denys said...

We just finished reading Calvin the other week and that was a little rough. He professed that we are all damned except for an elect few, and there is nothing the damned can do to redeem themselves. We find a lot of that thought in secular society, despite the often professed idea of America being the land of opportunity and we all have freedom.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Dear Antroposcen,

Thanks so much for your link to your film,


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Dear Deborah ("Unknown Deborah Bender",

Thanks for your reference to Rudyard Kipling's extraordinary celebration of the might-have-been world of airships, at
I skimmed some of Kipling's material, with delight. Now, in the Year of Grace 2015, Kipling's little sci-fi oeuvre must be accounted prescient Steampunkery.

Everyone: the Wikipedia article has among other links a link to a well-laid-out PDF of the stories, with period illustrations. Included in this PDF are purported 21st-century aviation-industry discussions and advertisements. These are beyond priceless. I quote just the greater part of one instance here (from a purported 21st-century trade journal, responding in its general-discussion column to a letter from an irate householder): PATERFAMILIAS — None whatever. He is liable for direct damage both to your chimneys and any collateral damage caused by fall of bricks into garden, etc., etc. Bodily inconvenience and mental anguish may be included, but the average courts are not, as a rule, swayed by sentiment. If you can prove that his grapnel removed any portion of your roof, you had better rest your case on decoverture of domicile (See Parkins v. Duboulay). We sympathize with your position, but the night of the 14th was stormy and confused /.../


(thinking of airships,
such as the Air Ministry's R101 - final flight was 1930-10-04/1930-10-05 -
manned by rather tweedy chaps)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Frightfully sorry, have to quote just ONE more (Kipling's purported 21st-century vicarage advertisement; airship chauffeur sought):

steady man wanted for slow speed, low
level Tangye dirigible. No night work,
no sea trips. Must be member of the
Church of England, and make himself
useful in the garden.

The Rectory, Gray's Barton, Wilts.



Shane W said...

God is dead in the West, and has been dead at least since Nietzsche proclaimed it so 100 years ago. Islam is the successor religion in the West. At this point, Western Europe's only hope to contain Islamic volkerwanderung lies with Russia, as the US and NATO is slowly being rendered irrelevant in Syria. JMG seems to think the US will implode within 10 yrs, so we're very quickly being yanked off the world stage--similar to Russia/Soviet Union during WW I--we're going to soon have way to many domestic problems to do anything anywhere outside North America. Donald Trump's (and, to a lesser degree, Bernie Sanders') campaign(s) pretty much sum up the US right now.

latheChuck said...

I don't know who's being interviewed on WCSP-FM (C-SPAN radio), but he seems to be on a first-name basis with the Secretary of Defense. Along with a variety of other defense issues, he just said that "it takes 10,000 hours to train an F-35 mechanic". I assume that includes on-the-job experience working on whatever less-skilled tasks might be involved, but it's not hard to see a fleet grounded by a shortage of ground-crew members. (10,000 hours is 5 years, of course, and who knows how many F-35 mechanics might fall out of that career path before they reach the 5-year mark?)

5 years sounds like a good schedule for learning to grow a garden, too, so don't put off until Spring the garden tasks you can start learning to do today. Break up old sod while the weather's cool, add shredded leaf mulch, setup the indoor seed sprouting area, buy those seeds, etc.

latheChuck said...

Update: the man being interviewed on C-SPAN is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Dunford.

Shane W said...

I just read where Cumberland MD is one of the poorest cities in the US. I'm thinking you may be onto something there, JMG. I'm wondering if the area I live in may be too affluent. I'm thinking that may be one of its biggest problems...

jean-vivien said...

@ Antroposcen
I always felt that Northern Europe liked to give lessons while still enjoying a priviledged lifestyle. On the other hand there are alternative people there too, but that song, "we are all citizens of the world", which is supposed to be the mantra of a new global culture, is basically a farce : affluent people can afford to be citizens of the entire world, plane ticket and hotel included, while the rest of the folks have to deal with their countries of residence where they are not citizens anymore. Not citizens, in terms of taking control of their destinies, but also not citizens economically, in the face of rampant unemployment, culturally, in the face of an omnipresence of the lowest common denominator (TV, which has gotten even stronger with the Internet which was supposed to overturn it).

In terms of political farce, France is a particularly poignant example this week, as the COP21, which it was hosting, ended at the same time as the regional elections, where left-wing and right-wing parties have allied to "blockade" the far-right. Goal reached, but a lot of disillusion as people now feel that they are being rehashed the same old promises as usual, while the masks have fallen, with supposedly opposed parties allying together, or the right allying with the far right... and an abysmal absence on the political scene for the ecologists and any sort of political discourse regarding actual ecological policies. Both the COP21 and the elections could possibly look like an incredibly expensive simulacrum, the circa while nobody really knows where the panem will come from. The big politicians are all talking about creating jobs, while news of growing unemployment keep on piling up.
You'd be interested to know that, at lunch at work, among the discussions this year have been revolving around making homemade fruit juices, and homemade bread. While the elephant in the room would have been an ongoing MnA operation of the industrial group with pretty uncomfortable consequences for all participants. Homemade soap was deemed too risky though...
It is fair to say that the disconnect between what people think and their daily lives has never been so great. Latest bit of farce : a looney teacher who cut himself and then invented an imaginary agression supposedly commited by ISIS... It is hard not to think of this place and time, 2015' France, as a pre-war situation, but the latest bit of media rout about Trump n Co make me feel like the USA are further ahead on that. I usually think that Jim Kunstler is an usual ranter, just waving doomsday signs to seel books. But to his credit, he does capture very well the uneasiness of the times.
At least intellectuals here are starting to take action to bring culture into more popular places. Maybe culture could save us... after the collapse of all the cultures revolving around big industries (communism, blue-collar culture, but also social involvement of people in all sorts of associations). I'll get my paperbound versions of Retrotopia under one arm, and a thermos of hot tea under another. Just no hands left for the loudspeaker.

buddhabythelake said...

Nancy and Derv-

It is a testament to the social conditioning as much as anything else, but I admit that when I reached the point of realizing that I explicitly denied the divinity of Christ, I swallowed hard as I stepped over that line.

onething said...


The sickness of regarding animals as nothing also sometimes infects the scientific types, which is illogical in light of Darwinian belief, and very disappointing. That Iranian professor Nasr that someone linked to had some interesting things to say about this. He says it is the loss of the sacred in our ideology replaced with ideas of total domination of nature which is the root of it.

I also think about getting into the heart of an animal, and sometimes try to do so. It's definitely possible as some people have this gift. I had a deep communion with a horse once.

About God and evil, my opinion is that evil is real but confined within only certain spheres of reality, and it does have a purpose.

will said...

Cherokee Organics - 

>> Christ is not separate from evil for I don't understand how God can be the sum total of everything and also not be evil in your worldview? Dunno it seems like a perplexing predicament. What do you reckon?<<

I don't want to take up to much space on this subject, one that has been pretzeling the minds of philosophers and theologians since the beginning of time - this is, after all, a blog about de-industrialization and how to deal with it - but I can offer this, inasmuch as it makes a certain intuitive sense to me: God is at one with Creation, and at the same time, Creation is separate from God. This would have to be so if the purpose of Creation is to provide God with a true partnership - and true partnership can only be chosen. So let us say that God is *innate* in all things in Creation. It is the responsibility, the divine commission, of Creation's consciously evolved life-forms to "spiritualize" Creation, that is, to bring forth the hidden god into full manifestation so that Creature and God become co-creators. Bottom line - though we may have been woven out of the body of God, we are still separate, and it is only by choice that we become divine partners. 

Heres another way of looking at it: God exists in successive yet simultaneous "layers", the first being the primal fire (a.k.a. the "wrath of God"). We see this in raw, red in tooth and claw nature - nature's riot of sex, devouring, and death. God's second layer is the sublimation of the primal fire-energy into love, compassion, wisdom. This we also see in the beauties and symmetries of nature .... and of course, fully in Christ. Thus the primal fire and the sublimation are both components of God. However, if we refuse the sublimation and regress into the primal fire, we essentially choose evil. 

Not easy to articulate. As Augustine said, "When I don't talk about God, I know Him. When I talk about Him, I don't know Him." 

Candace said...

hi JMG,

I'm at risk of flogging a horse, since I mentioned this book in the comments of your other blog, but I thought this quote was particularly appropriate to some of the push back you get from others for your ideas, and in particular the issue you had with "Buck Rogers" completely missing the point of Star's Reach.

From Worm At The Core p. 134

"In addition to trying to convince others to adopt our own customs and beliefs, we humans also tend to "tame" the views we find threatening by incorporating attractive aspects of them into our own cultural worldview. We refer to this as "cultural accomodation" because people are altering their own worldview to include something appealing from another worldview, but in a manner that does not undermine their most cherished beliefs and values."

If you decide not to put the comment through, no worries, just thought you might find it interesting.

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