Sunday, May 29, 2011

Settings: The Moon

From Harrison Schmidt's Incredible Vacation Slideshow

Back in graduate school, I had the opportunity to see Harrison Schmidt talk about his trip to the Moon. As the last man on The Moon and the Apollo program's only astronaut scientist, he was fortunate enough to have spent more time on the surface than the most (Buzz and Neil only spent a few hours at The Sea of Tranquility), and as a result, his vacation slideshow was more entertaining than your vacation slideshow. One thing that strikes you about seeing an Apollo astronaut in the flesh is the undeniable fact that that human being, the one standing before you, has set foot on another world, another planet. From then on, that tangible world, easily seen with the naked eye, mountains, seas, craters and all, becomes a different muse. And the fact that human beings have walked, driven, slept, ate, and urinated planet-side, for me, only adds to the wonder.

The Moon in more exciting times
Lately, The Moon has taken a back seat to more exotic Sci-Fi locales (Mars has been the 'in' destination of choice for the past 25 years). There's a 'been there, done that' feel about the place, which I think is unfortunate. Besides Heinlein's seminal "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and Arthur C. Clarke's short story catalog (including The Sentinel, which would become 2001 A Space Odyssey), The Moon provides little more than a simple set piece for most current Sci-Fi (there are, of course, exceptions) and for those wishing for something more akin to Cameron's Pandora, it can fall a little flat.

The Moon, even a little boring for a recycled Sam Rockwell clone.
But I like to write plausible science fiction, and for myself, the Moon is plausible by the mere fact that we've already been there. If human beings are to build a future there, that gray dusty world will function more as a job site, and as a veteran of many remote, at times desolate, Earth-side job sites, I find The Moon churning with fiction opportunity, but not in the Buck Rogers space opera kind of way, more of an existential kind of way. So much so, my current novel is set there.

The Moon, as I would see it.
Watching 2001, there's a scene where Dr Floyd is on The Moon in a meeting to discuss the Monolith discovery. While a segue to other events, that windowless, somewhat stark, meeting room hinted at an everyday future where human beings work and make a living on the Moon. Basically, if I were to one day go to the Moon, or some one like me, it would be a business trip where I would spend my day couped up in a yawn-worthy meeting to review engineering data for some lunar-based satellite tracking hardware. I wouldn't be there to liberate a race of 9ft tall blue Thundercats from the military industrial complex, I'd be there complaining about the food, the shuttle delays, and the time-zone changes (28 day days are a killer). But taking the future for granted is what science fiction doe best, to marvel at the mundane.

If we are to become a true space-faring people, not just dabblers and one-offer, we will have to conquer the Moon. It's a journey will we have to take, and as a science fiction writer, that truth is undeniable. But how will we do this? What new technology will make this achievable? As it sits now, we neither have the inclination nor the financial incentive to exploit the lunar landscape. But that could easily change just as the human condition changes. Just as European empires could conceive of little reason other than gold to venture to the New World, right now human beings find little other reason to travel to the Moon than to say we've been. But I believe that's myopic and narrow sighted, just as I find defunding general scientific research narrow sighted. Ever onward, you never know what you're going to find.

No comments:

Post a Comment