Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Look Back at Themes

I was dusting off some files from the early development of In the Shadow of Ares, and in a way it was like flipping through baby pictures.  Included was a summary of themes we were aiming to include in the book, classified as “General” and “Exploration”, and I think we achieved our goals:


  • Positive future
  • Technology is good
  • Capitalism is good
  • Realism
  • Reason wins
  • We need a frontier


  • Exploration is not without risk
  • Simpler is better
  • Live off the land
  • Exploration and settlement go together
  • Settlement and the role of property rights

We’ve been asked if the sequels will share the “pioneer” theme of the first book, which I suppose is included in the above.  The sequel picks up two years later, and will include more cosmopolitan settings than the first book, but it’ll still be a new, untamed world.  Several of the other familiar themes will be present (though perhaps de-emphasized because they are less critical to the story), plus a few yet-to-be-revealed.

Concrete-Forming Robots for Mars

Well, not exactly for Mars, but this is what we had in mind when we wrote about teleoperated “formers” building the foundations for the Green’s agricultural domes – Buildings Made with a Printer:

Some areas would have strong, dense concrete, but in areas of low stress, the concrete could be extremely porous and light, serving only as a barrier to the elements while saving material and reducing the weight of the structure. In these non-load bearing areas, it could also be possible to print concrete that’s so porous that light can penetrate, or to mix the concrete gradually with transparent materials. Such designs could save energy by increasing the amount of daylight inside a building and reducing the need for artificial lighting. Eventually, it may be possible to print efficient insulation and ventilation at the same time. The structure can be complex, since it costs no more to print elaborate patterns than simple ones.

Other researchers are developing technology to print walls and other large structures. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of industrial and systems engineering and civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California, has built a system that can deposit concrete walls without the need for forms to contain the concrete. Oxman’s work would take this another step, adding the ability to vary the properties of the concrete, and eventually work with multiple materials.

We devised a similar idea for In the Shadow of Ares as a means of building large structures on Mars without the need for a large construction crew and the sorts of construction equipment, specialized forms, etc. used to cast concrete on Earth. In our case, it was a reasonable application of the speculative technology already established in the novel (specifically the simulacrum intelligence used in MAs and the robotics employed in diggers).

Mars Society Links to “In the Shadow of Ares”

I missed this a couple weeks back, but the Mars Society linked to In the Shadow of Ares. Unfortunately it isn’t a review of the book, so there’s no telling what they thought of it. 

The Mars Society has an important role in bringing about ITSOA. The Ares mission design is of course derived from Mars Direct, MS founder Bob Zubrin’s brainchild. Carl and I know each other through the old Louisiana chapter of the Mars Society, which we helped found back in 2000. And the idea for the book originated from a panel discussion on Mars in science fiction at the 2001 Mars Society Conference at Stanford University.

Fog on Mars

This report on a newly-released analysis of data from the Phoenix lander pretty closely describes what we had in mind for the “yardang” scene…only in reverse – Martian-Fog Study Finds Thick Haze, “Diamond Dust”:

“Heat from the air is lost to the ground, so the air close to the ground gets colder, and as that pocket of [cold] air gets larger,” more water vapor in the atmosphere condenses into ice crystals, and the fog gets thicker, Moores said.

“The fog starts closer to the ground and rises in height over time, so the cloud gets thicker and thicker and higher and higher as the night goes on,” he added.

Eventually the icy haze begins to shower the ground with a light sprinkling of snowlike particles. The shower is not quite snowfall, the scientists say, but is perhaps more akin to the “diamond dust” that falls from the skies on some cold nights in Earth’s Arctic regions.

Some 0.0001 inch (2.5 micrometers) of frost coats the Martian surface by the time the sun begins to rise in the morning. That icy layer then sublimates—turns directly from a solid to a gas.

In our case, the resulting frost at first sublimates into a fog as sunlight hits it, then rapidly dissipates. It may be a bit of literary license (or not — there’s no saying that what we described doesn’t happen), but it’s not far off from observed reality.