Coming Soon: Smaller Nukes?

Does the forecast nuclear renaissance include smaller nukes?  The folks at NuScale Power in Oregon seem to think so:  Small Nuclear Ready for Big Splash.  I’m a strong supporter of nuclear power, but disagree that small nukes will be practical for electric generation anytime in the foreseeable future.  At least on Earth…

In the Shadow of Ares includes what we consider technically achievable near-term Mars settlements, meaning ones heavily dependent on nuclear power.  Solar will play a role, but most other terrestrial power sources will have no relevance.  What too many humans today irrationally fear on Earth will be indispensable as we open up a new world.

Move Over, Taco Bell, Here Comes Vat-Meat

Walter Russell Mead sings the praises of those entrepreneurs who might one day bring us an environmentally-friendly and guilt-free source of protein: synthetic meat.

Now I don’t know whether this particular technology will ever pan out, so that PETA activists will be stopping in at the local McDonalds for a tasty shamburger. Dr. Mironov might be wasting his time, or he might really be onto something.

But the point is that there are hundreds of thousands of Dr. Mironovs working on all kinds of unconventional inventions and ideas in labs and garages all over the world.  Most of them may never produce very much but, especially with the tremendous advance of knowledge in biology of recent decades, some of them are going to get some very remarkable, life changing results.

Whether we will get delicious juicy shamburgers and sinfully salty, crisp facon (fake bacon) anytime soon is beyond me.  But that the future will be full of surprises that change the basic rules of the energy game is almost certain.  This is why I don’t think the prophets of doom have it right.  Human ingenuity has been getting us out of tight corners and making life unexpectedly better for thousands of years; I don’t think we’re done yet.

Those who have read In the Shadow of Ares already know of one possible market for this technology. Indeed, a grow-it-at-home version appears in the opening chapters of the book. If the technology works, and can be packaged into a reliable system with reasonable space and resource requirements, it would be a wonderful source of protein and familiar foodstuffs in an early Martian settlement, where raising livestock would be impractical for many years until sufficient habitable volume and related infrastructure had been established.

Indeed, if it works well (by which I mean it produces something more palatable and less monotonous than just a synthetic form of Spam), the technology would eliminate the need to ever raise livestock on Mars…if anyone would ever seriously consider doing such a thing.

On E-Publishing

Sarah Hoyt has come to the same realization that we did regarding e-publishing our novel:

But the field is opening, expanding, and offering a lot of other chances.

As for writers? Well, while there are books I’m not willing to let go small press or e-only – not yet – that is changing, too, and ask me again in three years and it could be quite different. For years now, being published anywhere but by the big boys/gals was an admission of failure. Just the lifting of that taboo is huge. As is the fact that being self-published is not the end of the world, anymore.

As she and several of her commenters point out, one risk in e-publishing is that a solid editorial influence is not necessarily present. An author can side-step the seemingly closed circle of the traditional agent-publisher route, but they then bear the responsibility of thoroughly editing their own writing (which for most of us is a risky proposition) or finding and paying out of pocket a suitable freelance editor to do it for them.

What convinced me that e-publishing was not the kiss of death to our book’s prospects, or a mark of failure (ie: “your book’s so terrible you can’t get it published for real“), was actually seeing a Kindle. Before that, I figured it was a gimmick that would be resisted by established authors and publishers in the same way that studios and record labels resisted digital media to one degree or another. But after trying one out, I started paying more attention to e-publishing. Soon, I was seeing news items about this or that author publishing their books directly to Kindle, getting urged by friends to go straight to Kindle ourselves, and seeing people using readers in airports and other public places.

By August, it had occurred to me that what happened to the music industry with the emergence of iTunes was happening in similar fashion to the publishing industry with digital readers. The technology was right, the public had accepted it, and now serious content was becoming available.

The post above briefly discusses how – far from being a threat – e-publishing could actually expand business opportunities for the traditional publishing industry if they are wise enough to embrace them. As an outsider, that makes a lot of sense to me…with the cost of “printing” books reduced almost to nothing, and the demand for new material always increasing, publishers who embrace e-books as (if nothing else) a farm team for their more traditional publishing business will be well rewarded. The cost to a publisher of editing and marketing an e-book may be little different, but with the overhead associated with preparing, printing, and distributing a paper book eliminated the overall investment in a new book is reduced, and taking a chance on a new author or an innovative story is therefore less risky to the bottom line.

Another opportunity that might emerge (and I would be very surprised if it did not, given precedents) is for e-book “small label publishers”. These would be akin to indie film houses and small/personal record labels, bringing to market unknown or niche titles and authors who would otherwise go overlooked or ignored by the mainstream publishing industry. The benefits these small labels could provide might include streamlined versions of the editing, preparation, and marketing functions provided by traditional publishers, but more importantly, they could confer a degree of respectability to overcome the stigma of “vanity publishing”. The label would serve as a secondary brand-name, helping inform potential readers that the book they are considering downloading has been through some sort of selection process and (as their familiarity with the label grows) serving as an indicator of the quality they can expect even from an unknown new author. One of the commenters on the linked post indicates this is already happening with Baen Books, so it would not surprise me to see it happen soon with new, start-up labels as well.

In short, our perceptions of “self-publishing” have completely changed in the past year, thanks to Kindle and other e-readers. E-books no longer seem to be a flash-in-the-pan fad, and the traditional agent-publisher model may as a result be forced to change to something a bit more open.

Mining Mars

As we portray in “In the Shadow of Ares”, mining will certainly be a crucial part of the economic development of any off-Earth settlements.

“Hispanically Speaking News” ran this story yesterday:  Scientists Will Simulate a Space Colony in Chile to Study Life In Mars:

Chilean scientists along with scientists from several other countries will construct a base in the most-arid desert in the world, Chile’s Atacama (where the 33 miners got trapped) aiming to simulate life in a space colony on the planet Mars, which shares a lot of characteristics with Atacama.

While the tie-in to the Chilean mine rescue is interesting, it is not clear if mining will play a significant role in any simulations.  It would certainly seem to be relevant.  As we portray in “In the Shadow of Ares”, mining will certainly be a crucial part of the economic development of any off-Earth settlements. 

At least the Chinese seem to think so:

In March 2011, a delegation from the Chinese space agency will visit the Chilean desert project.  The Chinese are projecting that by 2020 they will have below-ground bases on the Moon to extract minerals and are eager to research and test their cutting edge space technology.

Where can we expect the United States to be in 2020?  Will the recent shift to private enterprise see the economic and regulatory incentives necessary for this fledgling industry to survive and thrive?

McDonald’s on Mars

One theme running through In the Shadow of Ares is the economics of early human settlements on Mars, and one way in which we explore this theme is through the contrast between the entrepreneurial independent settlements and those subject to the meddling of the Mars Development Authority.

Readers of MarsBlog may find familiar the following passage, which sets up the first major illustration of this theme and is based on a blog post from almost exactly five years ago:

Aaron halted the rover near the base of the huge sculpture.

“Why are we stopping?” Lindsay asked.

He leaned forward, looking at the nearly complete monument rising before them.  “Look.  Can you see it?”  From this angle the third arch was hidden behind the central axis, so that the Gate appeared to be only a pair of arches.

“See what?”  Amber asked.  She and her mother both craned their necks, trying to see what it was that Aaron was seeing, besides the obvious.

Aaron traced an “M” across the rover’s window with his index finger.  “McGate,” he grinned.

Lindsay chuckled.  “Ha…you’re right!”

“Mick what?” Amber asked.  She had heard the project referred to as “Gate-gate”, by critics of the MDA’s waste of funds and materials.  The controversy had been surprisingly short-lived in the Martian media, with Quipu and the smaller news aggregators alike quickly losing interest in it and not following up on the occasional revelations of mismanagement and overspending.  The rumor among the independents was that MDA pressure squelched the reporting of any controversy.  It was easy to believe such a rumor — the Gate was, after all, Administrator Poissant’s pet project.

“McGate,” he repeated.  “You know, like McDonalds.”

“The Earth restaurant?  Are we getting one?”

“No, no, no,” he shook his head.  “But isn’t it ironic that the new ‘signature’ of Port Lowell should look so much like an ‘evil corporate logo’?”

“Evil?” Lindsay frowned.  “McDonalds isn’t evil.”

“No, of course not,” Aaron laughed.  “It’s just that the MDA resents successful private enterprise.  Look at the independent settlements — the better they do, the less power the MDA has over them.  A Martian McDonalds would be MDA’s worst nightmare:  it would mean Mars had reached a high level of economic development.  Private development, exactly the kind they don’t like.”

“What do you mean?” Amber asked, confused.

“Well, shipping all the ingredients in from Earth would be prohibitively expensive, so they would have to be produced right here.”

“So?  How hard can it be to make a hamburger?  I mean, aside from the fact we don’t have cattle on Mars.”

“Yet…” Lindsay amended.

“Yet.  Well, it’s not just about burgers.  The meat, cheese, pickles, onions, buns, and other things have to come from somewhere.  That means a whole range of other complex economic activities.  Things like meat synthesis facilities that go way beyond what we have on Mars today, bakeries for the buns, and plants making soft-drink concentrate and condiments.  Not to mention all the necessary transportation and construction elements, or a manufacturing industry able to produce the specialized machinery needed to turn all the raw materials into the final product and deliver them to customers — freezers, refrigerators, fry vats, grills, microwave ovens, cooker ‘bots, soft-drink dispensers, and more.”

“And don’t forget customers,” Lindsay added.  “You need enough customers to keep the restaurant profitable.”

“Certainly.  They’d also need unskilled and surly teenagers to staff the counter.”  He winked at Amber.  “And all these industrial capabilities — machine fabrication, transportation, specialty materials — would support many other industries, besides food production.  All of that together implies economic self-sufficiency.”

“Which means the MDA is no longer needed,” Amber said.  “We could petition for full sovereignty.”

“Exactly.”

“In the Shadow of Ares” – Now Available!

“In the Shadow of Ares” (formerly known around here as “Labyrinth of Night”) is now available for download at Amazon.com: In 2029, the third exploration mission to Mars vanishes without a trace. Two decades later, the success of human settlement of Mars and the life of a young girl hinge on the secret of what […]

“In the Shadow of Ares” (formerly known around here as “Labyrinth of Night”) is now available for download at Amazon.com:

In 2029, the third exploration mission to Mars vanishes without a trace. Two decades later, the success of human settlement of Mars and the life of a young girl hinge on the secret of what happened to the Ares III mission.


Twenty years later, Mars is a growing outpost of humanity, and 14-year-old settler Amber Jacobsen is a minor interplanetary celebrity – ‘the First Kid on Mars’.  Pioneering Mars is hard, unglamorous work, though, and Amber secretly wishes she were just an ordinary girl living on Earth.

When her family’s homestead is destroyed in an apparent accident, the Jacobsens relocate to an independent settlement located on the northern fringes of Noctis Labyrinthus, a vast and largely unexplored canyonland.  Their new home promises new opportunities, and Amber looks forward to being just another member of the community. Instead, the other settlers dismiss her as a burdensome child and refuse to accept her as the responsible young adult she has become.

In order to prove the value of her unique knowledge and perspective, Amber vows to uncover the fate of the Ares III mission, whose loss had largely been forgotten in the rush of the Martian settlement boom.  But this seemingly harmless challenge thrusts her into a deadly conflict: those who know the truth will kill to keep it hidden, while those who destroyed her family’s homestead would use the secret to secure their dominance over all of Mars.

In solving the mystery, Amber could destroy everything the Martian settlers have worked to create.

It’s priced at an affordable $6.99, and would make a wonderful Christmas present for the science fiction reader or young adult on your shopping list. Especially if you’re buying them a Kindle or they already own one (remember, you can also download the free Kindle app for various electronic platforms if you/they don’t have a Kindle reader).

While I’m going to be occupied for much of the weekend with writing a business plan and attending Christmas parties, I do expect to get the blog at AresProject.com up and running again in the next few days. We will use that forum to discuss the book, the backstory, etc.

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McDonald’s on Mars

Commenter Wally expresses concern over the development of space: Besides, who wants to go to McDonald’s Restaurant on Mars? I do. Not because I find the food appealing, but because of what the fact of a McDonald’s on Mars would say about the planet’s level of development. Shipping in from a distribution center on Earth […]

Commenter Wally expresses concern over the development of space:

Besides, who wants to go to McDonald’s Restaurant on Mars?

I do.

Not because I find the food appealing, but because of what the fact of a McDonald’s on Mars would say about the planet’s level of development. Shipping in from a distribution center on Earth all the mystery meat, synthetic cheese, pickles, onions, buns, soft-drink syrup, shoestring potatoes, condiments, service items, and other consumable products a franchised fast-food restaurant would require would be prohibitively expensive, at least by the modes of transportation available in the near term, so the existence of a simple McDonald’s on Mars would imply a whole range of other complex economic activities:

  • the ranching (or decanting) of various types of meat;
  • agriculture capable of supplying oil seeds, wheat, cucumbers, onions, sugarcane/corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and assorted spices;
  • silviculture providing pulp stock for paper goods;
  • processing facilities for the meat and other raw agricultural goods;
  • secondary processing facilities, such as bakeries for the buns, plants for conversion of sugar or corn syrup into soft-drink concentrate, other plants producing ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.;
  • transportation for moving the raw materials and processed items (not to mention the consumers);
  • a local construction industry capable of building a structure to house the restaurant, and a supply of building materials;
  • a local manufacturing industry with the ability to produce the various pieces of specialized machinery and fittings required to turn the aforementioned consumables into final product and deliver them to customers — freezers, refrigerators, fry vats, grills, microwave ovens, soft-drink dispensers, cash registers, communications systems, preparation tables, sinks, water heaters, icemakers, customer furnishings, etc.;
  • the constituent items (gears, motors, electromechanical elements, control devices, refrigerants, sheet metal, advanced plastics) that go into the production of such equipment;
  • the miscellaneous secondary items involved in the running of the primary business, such as cleaning equipment and supplies;
  • items taken for granted in a terrestrial McDonald’s: a supply of breathable air, potable water, and reliable electricity;
  • a reliable supply chain making all of the above available on short notice;
  • enough unskilled and surly teenagers to staff the restaurant;
  • all of the above available at a cost which still allows the restaurant to make a profit;
  • a trustworthy means of exchange (i.e.: money), and the financial infrastructure that goes with it;
  • applicable legal structures (contract law, property law, etc.) and appropriate enforcement institutions; and
  • enough customers to keep the restaurant profitable.

Not to mention the fact that a McDonald’s would be a pleasant alternative to a communal cafeteria that would be a more practical and efficient if drab means of providing meals. That is, the restaurant would indicate a level of development at which options for enjoyment are available, and people can concern themselves with quality of life (in this case the enjoyment of a simple pleasure) versus mere subsistence.

Who would go to a McDonald’s on Mars? I would — to celebrate the accomplishment that the existence of such a thing would symbolize.

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