Speaking of Olympus Mons

It’s curious how difficult it is to find the location of the actual summit of the volcano.

Various sources will tell you how high it is, some will tell you it’s near the south edge of the summit caldera, but you need to dig a bit to find that it’s a little west of Pangboche crater (whose north rim appears to rival it), just an unremarkable spot in the middle of a plain. If you know where to look, Google Mars kinda gets you close (yellow pins on right):

A little underwhelming

No dramatic summit ridge? No awe-inspiring pinnacle? Not even a small rise to set the spot off a little bit? I expected more from the largest (planetary) mountain in the solar system.

This is where artistic license comes into play.

Doesn’t Look All That Intimidating

Came across this while doing some story research: Olympus Mons, complete with escarpment and aureole

Nothing to it, really…

 

 

It’s one picture of hundreds of its kind, cited as evidence of how impassible the escarpment around Olympus Mons is to surface-traveling explorers.

Yet…

Look at the left side in this picture (west-northwest on Olympus Mons). No escarpment. No impassible five-mile-high cliffs. Just a long slope. Kinda like the ones on the south side of the volcano.

I bet you could drive a rover up those slopes…

A Minor Shortcoming, Trivial Really

Plasma reactors could create oxygen on Mars

Yet, by firing an electron beam into the reaction chamber, they were able to convert about 30% of the air into oxygen. They estimate that the device could create about 14 grams of oxygen per hour: enough to support 28 minutes of breathing, the team reports today in theJournal of Applied Physics.

Guerra’s team still needs to solve some practical problems, Hecht notes.

Yes, I can see how only being able to produce 28 minutes of breathing oxygen every hour would be a practical problem. On the bright side, it wouldn’t be a problem for long.

(Yes, I know it’s only a concept and not yet built or scaled to real-world size, but the author set that up, so…)

 

The Drama of Space Nuclear Power

Who knew miniature reactors for space nuclear power could be so epic? So excessively, needlessly, theatrically epic?

What is a Micro-Reactor?

The Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor has a high-power density, which means that it can reliably, flexibly and sustainably support a range of operational demands, providing power and heat output, as required.

Crucially, the Micro-Reactor is scalable to be easily transportable by rail, sea and even into space, making it a versatile and credible power source for a multitude of applications.

The Micro-Reactor uses an inherently safe and robust fuel form. Within its core, each particle of uranium is surrounded by multiple protective layers, allowing it to withstand even the most extreme conditions.

But how portable is the 1MW class? Can you tow it behind a rover…? 

Maybe a rover like this one?

Endurance Wreck Discovered

This has been sitting in my drafts box for a couple of weeks, so I’m a little late to the party with the news: Wreck of Shackelton’s Endurance Found

The state of preservation is remarkable, not only given its century-long submersion but compared to the crew’s descriptions and film of what happened to the ship as and after they were forced to abandon it. I would have expected a pile of rotted lumber scattered across the seafloor.

We have a Dispatch story outlined and partially written (yes, I know I say that a lot) based in part on the Endurance expedition, which I would like to get to if we can ever get Ghosts of Tharsis completed. It’s The Anabasis performed by members of the Shackelton, Mawson, and Scott crews, led (unfortunately) by someone who makes Fauci look like Oppenheimer.

 

There’s a Story Here

I don’t know what it is, but I can imagine a dozen of my own:

If you take away the ray-gun rifle and the gas giant in the background, it’s a retrofuturist take on the climax of our (eventually upcoming) story, “The Olympian Race”.

(Unfortunately, I found this several years ago and don’t recall now where it came from.)

“Redlands” On Sale

For a short time, we’ve reduced the price on “Redlands” to only $0.99.

It’s hard to believe that this story takes place only 26 years from now. That would make Silas Hudson around ten years old today, and Susannah Caillouet around three.

When worlds-famous science popularizer Silas Hudson and his partner are brutally killed while visiting an isolated settlement on Mars, settlers take justice into their own hands. The justice they seek carries a greater danger than murder, however, and their actions threaten to conceal another crime with far-reaching consequences.

In this Dispatch, freelance journalist Calvin Lake investigates the truth behind the events of March 2047, and their long-term consequences for Mars.

Redlands

Lockdown has enabled us to put the finishing touches on the next Calvin Lake Dispatch: Redlands. I’m currently finishing preparations for publishing, so you can expect to see it available by Wednesday.

 

Redlands is a murder mystery in the form of a journalistic investigation into the deaths of beloved science popularizer Silas Hudson and his producer Carrie Altenham on March 5, 2047.  

 

When famed science presenter Silas Hudson and his companion are brutally murdered while visiting Redlands, an isolated settlement on Mars, settlers take the law into their own hands. The justice they seek carries greater danger than the crime, however, and their actions threaten to conceal another crime with far-reaching consequences.

Cover Art: "Redlands"
A double murder threatens the social cohesion of a remote Martian settlement, and in the process exposes a troubling secret.

It’s a pity about Hudson, though. The more we wrote about him, the more unfortunate it was that we had to kill him.

Coming Soon: Dispatches from Mars

In addition to the full draft of Ghosts of Tharsis, we have several stories in the works, more Dispatches from Mars by freelance journalist Calvin Lake, author of “Anatomy of a Disaster”. While that story was written tongue-in-cheek as a satire of several “sci-fi” tropes (notably the fiery redhead stock character and the annoying cat-fetishism of SF writers, indulged in by hacks and masters alike), it was the first use of Lake and his Dispatches as a framing device through which we could explore elements of the Ares Project universe that wouldn’t fit into one of the novels. We have at least ten of them outlined, with two substantially completed and one now finished and out for review. I’ll throw in a bonus description of a fourth story that has a full detailed outline, because I’m generous like that.

  • “True Crime” (working title)
    • Lake investigates an incident at Redlands Automation (makers of, among other things, the science pins mentioned in In the Shadow of Ares and “He Has Walled Me In”). When celebrity science popularizer Silas Hudson and his producer are murdered while visiting the settlement, order threatens to dissolve into mob violence as the settlers improvise justice for the killer. Eyewitnesses recount the murders and the dangerous days that followed – but are any of them telling the truth?
    • The story tackles a surprising number of themes for a 22,000 word short story, including:
      • The nature of science popularizers like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Silas Hudson is their inverse, in that he’s actually brilliant in his own area of expertise and has learned through embarrassing experience to consult with experts in other fields before talking out his ass. He’s philosophical, he’s engaging, he shares credit with other experts, he’s earnestly curious about the way the universe works, he’s everything you could ever want in a science popularizer (apart from being dead).
      • The problems of civic order and justice in a frontier settlement where there is no established law and order. This theme is meant to be explored in depth in a different Dispatch and in the third novel, but here you get a glimpse at what can happen when there are no formal methods for dealing with serious crimes.
      • The invisible threat of “the crowd” in small, isolated populations like space settlements. We draw on Charles Mackay and Gustave le Bon to show how “extraordinary popular delusions” can spread as a social contagion and grow rapidly out of control and out of all contact with reality.
      • The unreliability of personal accounts of crimes and other dramatic events.
      • The value of sticking to the truth over taking the easy route of lying, which can be dismayingly tempting even to scrupulously honest people under certain circumstances – one seemingly small lie can snowball into tragedy.
      • A variety of recurring themes in our stories, such as the “baby taboo”, immigration on bond/contract, the protection of scenic places, commercial development, the practical operations of a Martian settlement, “facers”, etc.
    • This story is complete and out to our test readers for review and feedback. I expect we’ll have it published in the next 3-5 weeks.
  • “Pipeline”
    • Lake shows us the single largest development project on Mars undertaken to-date, and the colorful businessman behind it. His attempt at obtaining an interview with Jedediah Thoreson leads to an unexpected journey through Thoreson’s past and Mars’ future.
    • There are a few parallels to Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” here, but the development and outcome of the story are very different.
    • The main themes here are free markets vs. anti-business zealotry camouflaged as environmentalism and humanitarianism, the importance of a clear vision to a large project, how large projects might be organized and funded on Mars or the moon, industrial development and future industrial technologies, and how people aren’t always who or what they seem to be.
    • Despite our original intention that “Anatomy of a Disaster” be non-canonical given its farcical nature (remember that it was first published on the blog as an April Fool’s joke), there is a cameo appearance by one of the characters from that story, and Thoreson Polar Water itself is mentioned in that story as a reference to this (future) Dispatch.
    • I especially like the narrative substructure of this story. Describing it here would reveal a lot of spoilers, unfortunately, so readers will just have to uncover it for themselves.
    • This story is around 80% written out from the detailed outline.
  • “Marineris”
    • This Dispatch describes the First British Trans-Marineris Expedition. An eleventh-hour leadership change initiates an escalating spiral of bad decision-making. Initial successes despite bad choices lead to hubris and eventually catastrophe.
    • The feel and certain elements of the story are modeled on the exploration missions of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and specifically Mawson’s account in Home of the Blizzard. While none of these real-world expeditions went awry for the reasons shown in “Marineris”, those reasons are exaggerations of various leadership and mission planning flaws those early explorers experienced mixed with the authors’ own real-life leadership experiences.
    • The main themes in “Marineris” are of course leadership and the planning and conduct of complex missions. In particular, why you don’t put gamma males in charge of anything, ever, and the importance of sticking to a plan, preparing for contingencies, and not overextending yourself. Other themes include the practical elements of such a mission (i.e.: an architecture by which settlers on Mars might pull it off), the stultifying dead-end of technocratic socialism, team dynamics under reckless and incompetent leadership, the thrill of discovery, and the majesty of wild nature (even when it seems to want to kill you).
    • This Dispatch introduces a special-purpose hopper which will figure prominently in both Ghosts of Tharsis and “The Olympian Race”, and shows the origin of its name (it being the only named hopper in the MDA fleet). It also ties in to an unnamed Dispatch in which Lake buys a second-hand rover and runs into unexpected company on his way back to Port Lowell.
    • This one is currently about 70% written from the outline.
  • “The Olympian Race” (detailed outline complete and ready to write)
    • Lake relates the dramatic true story of two “gentlemen explorers” vying to be the first man to reach the top of Olympus Mons. Each thinks he has an insurmountable head-start over the other, only for their rivalry to converge at the end in a deadly all-out race to the summit.
    • This Dispatch is more an action story than a big-theme story. It’s a character-driven mixture of extreme sports and crime caper (remember that the MDA forbids all unapproved access to the Wilds, i.e. the lands outside of the settlement tract, which includes Olympus Mons and all approaches to it).
    • For crossovers, it’s the only Dispatch we’ve outlined so far in which The Green makes an appearance, and as noted above, it features the special purpose hopper from “Marineris” (as well as another key piece of hardware used on that Expedition).

The Trouble With Science Popularizers

More people are starting to notice the problems with Bill Nye:

The trouble with science popularizers in general is that by nature, the job entails talking about a wider range of technical topics than any individual can fully comprehend at the level necessary to discuss them competently. While an expert in one field can speak intelligently about closely-related fields, the further away from one’s own expertise one travels, the more difficult that task becomes. And it’s even worse if a man in that role is a textbook example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, so assured of his superior intellect that he is incapable of recognizing that he is in fact a fool.

Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson inspired a character in another “Dispatches from Mars” story Carl and I are trying to finish up – a character who as a science popularizer and a man is the opposite of these two.

The big difference between the fictional Silas Hudson and these two is that he learned very early on, when he fell into a career as a public personality on the back of a book and related video series, that it’s easy for any expert to fall prey to the temptation to speak authoritatively about fields of which he has lesser, little, or even no knowledge. After publicly embarrassing himself, he redeemed his image by hiring a research staff to vet his scripts and books with true subject matter experts, and by conscientiously acknowledging the limits of what he personally understood. In other words, he started off as a young man with an enormous ego, humiliated himself as a result of that ego, and learned a bit of humility and ethics from the experience – humility that improved his ‘product’ greatly.

I’m actually disappointed that we have to kill him off. But when you’re writing a murder mystery, someone has to be the victim.