THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 3

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 3

  …“Thanks for the warning guy,” taunts Sampson McKinney, while turning to his wife and co-pilot to quip, “just what everybody needs, interplanetary caller ID.”…

chronicle-001

At this very minute, supplanting the interplanetary cruise control, Chronicle, the McKinney’s deep-space shuttle’s automated docking systems spring to life. Dormant circuits surge with electrical current, a familiar computer-generated voice starts the show; “YELLOW ALERT. FORTY THOUSAND KILOMETERS FROM DECELERATION. COMMENCING IN NINETY SECONDS.”

The Chronicle’s mainframe speaks in predictable Hawking-like monotone; not the most exciting traveling companion, but artificial companions are better than none at all.

“Nice to hear your rusty voice AL,” not HAL of 2001, “it’s been a while.”

“TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FITFY-ONE HOURS TO BE EXACT COMMANDER,” the computer states flatly. “PLEASE SPARE ME YOUR HUMOR.”

“Or about 100 days, you precise piece of cr**…”

“INCOMING COMMUNICATION FROM COLONY CONTROL!”

“Thanks for the warning guy,” taunts Sampson McKinney, while turning to his wife and co-pilot to quip, “just what everybody needs, interplanetary caller ID.”

“We heard that Chronicle. It is against international regulations to criticize the on-board hardware…”

The new human voice is that of Braden King, Earth’s mouthpiece to space travelers for two decades.

“Long time no see King. It seems like a year since we heard your dulcet tones.”

“You’ve logged 25 million miles since we had you dodge that rogue asteroid.”

“Yeah thanks for the heads-up old man. That gave me and Cel a chance to get reacquainted, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t want to hear the details Sam…..and happy new decade to you!” Braden King is more than Director of Communication for the LOVELL SPACE CENTER {formerly Elgin Air Force Base, Florida} and Colony Control Command Com to Sampson & Celeste McKinney. This silver-haired, golden-throated gem of a man has become a surrogate parent figure to them, as well as tending to their teenage sons, Deke and Gus, while they are away.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Rogue Asteroid

Episode 3


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 2

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 2

…This baby is the most impressive space station ever!” Sampson is beaming like a father bragging on his newborn son from outside the nursery window…

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For Sampson and Celeste McKinney, this is a proud moment, one that makes their 8 month  journey to this space-place worth every blasted boring minute. Here in the year 2030, a decade of secrecy has come to an end.

“Would you look at those lights Celeste? This baby is the most impressive space station ever!” Sampson is beaming like a father bragging on his newborn son from outside the nursery window, amongst the other proud papas.

earth-background-001“It’s impressive alright. Too bad we are the only people who can see this.”

“You (me) AND 8 billion of our closest friends,” he shrugs off his wife’s oversight. After all, for these 255 days, it seemed that they are the only two people in the Universe. “It won’t be long and hundreds of people will be on their way to Space Colony 1; them and every alien species that happens by.”

Curiosity

“Poor little Curiosity has been looking for a break.” Celeste looks back at other Mars projects over the years. That American product has paved the way for colonization, with the discoveries of hydraulic {water} and O2 {oxygen} reserves in the subsoil.

“And ExoMars was a bust, generally wasting time and resources that only slowed down Colony’s development.”

Indeed his hopes for the orbiting colony’s success are glossy, but not totally unrealistic. Considering that there will be a permanent on the Martian surface soon, his estimates could be on the low side. In fact, if every person who applied for colonist status gets his/her wishes, Mars will be a thriving planet-world, complete with its own democratic government and a United States-style melting pot of Earth nationalities; with no anti-imperialist, fascist, communist or Islamic factions to stand in the way.

ediitors-noteExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is a large Mars mission to search for biosignatures of Martian life, past or present. This astrobiology mission is currently under development by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos).


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 2


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 1

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 1

CHAPTER ONE

The Red Planet

For Sampson and Celeste McKinney, this is a proud moment, one that makes their 8 month year journey to this space-place worth every blasted boring minute…

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The steadily enlarging sphere, which has been a fixture on their view screen for what seemed to be a fortnight, has silently made its presence known. The once reddish blur is now a well-defined reality that needs to be reckoned with. It is, after all, their destination.

From behind the back side of the fourth planet in the Earth’s solar system, an enormous man-made object adds space-colony-1-001itself to this pristine picture, giving them their first glimpse of Space Colony 1 in space; they had seen it last 38 months ago at the cooperative space dock, the last rivets being set in place. This grandest of all achievements of mankind has been towed by a drone-hauler to its present orbit around Mars.

For Sampson and Celeste McKinney, this is a proud moment, one that makes their 8 month year journey to this space-place worth every blasted boring minute. Here in the year 2030, a decade of secrecy has come to an end.

 

Note from Gwen: “Science Fiction was my first inspiration in my quest to write books. THE RETURN TRIP is the first of a series that features the Space Family McKinneythe first family of space exploration for NASA as it efforts to colonize Mars. As it was with ALPHA OMEGA M.D. and CONSTANCE CARAWAY P.I., the book is broken down into daily “episodes” w/an “Episode Catalog” to make the reading experience easier.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 1


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Science Fiction Coming to WIF

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Science Fiction Coming to WIF

THE RETURN TRIP

Science_Fiction

Grab some caffeine, open your trusty and ubiquitous computing device and take 5 (or 10) minutes to read THE RETURN TRIP – every day – except Saturdays at WIF.

THE RETURN TRIP

Space Colony 1 is a stepping-stone, Earth’s best chance to leave the Solar System – There is a family of space explorers named McKinney. Join them as they colonize the planet Mars…..and are hijacked to the stars.

science fiction from Gwendolyn Hoff

Earth attempts to colonize Mars, but the McKinneys get an unexpected trip to Orion’s Belt instead.

BACKGROUND: THE RETURN TRIP is a book that I wrote in the mid-1980s. In the face of current events concerning the privatization of space exploration and specifically recruiting a married couple to start a colony on Mars, I decided to reach back to my unpublished 1st draft and update my original work. The Challenger shuttle disaster took away my steam at the time, having already included some Space Shuttle trouble in the book.

This is Book One of a three book series about the Space Family McKinney. The Null Solution will be next, followed by Alternity. Every chapter is good, clean Science Fiction.


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– THE RETURN TRIP

 

 

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #311

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #311

…”I can’t seem to let the flying saucer thing go.” Carolyn Hanes is fascinated with this new medium. “Writing for the movies is so fun. I can make, what I imagine in my head, materialize on the screen.”…

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“When did you write this and why didn’t I know about it?” A husband is asking his wife about something she chose not to share with him.

“The Clipper story is in the can and with you out flying, I get bored. With Constance on the shelf, I needed a challenge, something new. So, when Robert Wise approached me, I couldn’t turn him down. I wanted this to be a surprise.” Carolyn Hanes is pleading guilty for the crime of omission.

“Surprise? The Day the Earth Stood Still?” This is really far out.”

Science_Fiction

“What do you mean? My fiction can hardly keep up with our reality. I can’t seem to let the flying saucer thing go.” She is fascinated with this new medium. “Writing for the movies is so fun. I can make, what I imagine in my head, materialize on the screen.”Image result for hollywood

“I know our story of the Pacific Clipper wasn’t all that exciting for you, but I have to hand it to you Lyn, you really know how to make up for it. Hollywood? Wow!”

“I was hoping we could visit Sara in Atlanta before going out to the left coast. It’s opening night of the ballet festival and I promised to be in the front row, cheering her on.”

“Geez, Lyn, the ballet? I’d rather be sitting in a dentist chair. Isn’t my tuxedo at the cleaners? I hear my mother calling me. I was going to grease the muffler bearings tonight.”

 “Robert Ford!” That works every time.


Alpha Omega M.D.

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Episode #311


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The Grand Canyon of the Pacific – WIF Oceanography

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 Mysteries of

the Mariana Trench

Space may be the “final frontier,” but it’s far from the most alien one. The oceans are still full of mysteries and strange lifeforms, and nowhere in the wet part of the world is more mysterious than the Mariana Trench. This vast ocean pit in the Western Pacific reveals new secrets whenever a brave explorer ventures in its lethal depths, and continues to amaze even the most jaded ocean researcher. Today, we’ll take a look at some of its strangest aspects and most enduring mysteries.

10. The size of the Mariana Trench

To even comprehend all the weird stuff that’s going on in the Mariana Trench, we must first understand its sheer size. Picture an underwater Grand Canyon. It’s easy to think that the place is just some deep, watery hole where a few creepy bioluminating critters hang about. In reality, however, the Mariana Trench is absolutely massive. It’s no less than 1,580 miles long and 43 miles wide, which understandably makes its exploration an incredibly daunting task even if you ignore the water pressure and the terrifying-looking lifeforms that lurk within its depths, which extend all the way down to roughly 36,000 feet below the surface at the trench’s deepest point, the Challenger Deep.

The Trench is technically U.S. territory, but since a giant, super-deep ocean hole that contains all sorts of strange ecosystems is obviously fairly vulnerable to human tampering, President George W. Bush declared it a “marine national monument” in 2009. This means that the majority of the Mariana Trench, along with a whole bunch of surrounding seafloor and several underwater volcanoes, are a protected marine reserve.

9. The Mariana Trench mystery sound

One of the strangest things that have emanated from the Mariana Trench hasn’t been a frightening sea monster, though we’d be surprised if the option isn’t on the table whenever the mysterious “bio-metallic” sound that sometimes emanates from the trench is heard. Marine researchers have dubbed this almost mechanical, “twangy” noise “Western Pacific Biotwang,” and it first turned up in 2014 when scientists recorded ocean sounds near the Mariana Trench with diving robots called “passive acoustic ocean gliders.”

The complex, 3.5-second sound turned up several times during the research period, and while it seemed mysterious, the scientists eventually decided that the most likely culprit is a minke whale, a peculiar small whale that can sound like a Star Wars sound effect. However, the minke whales themselves remain largely a mystery to science, and they still have no idea what the call is about, and why it has been recorded year-round.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time the elusive minke whales have puzzled scientists. For 50 years, researchers were puzzled by a strange, duck-like underwater sound that seemed too repetitive and rhythmical to be anything but man-made, and far too loud to be a fish. We didn’t figure out that this “bio-duck” sound was minke whales until 2014.

8. Strange undersea volcanoes

When listing deep-sea dangers, one imagines things like giant sharks and maybe huge octopus creatures. What you wouldn’t expect, though, are massive mud volcanoes, spewing hot mud and rock fragments from the depths of the earth to the, uh, depths of the sea. Still, such natural structures exist within the Mariana Trench, which exists in a spot where the Pacific tectonic plate is pushed downwards by the Philippine Sea Plate. This makes the area a hotspot of volcanic activity, and the mud volcanoes are part of the deal.

Incidentally, these massive geological structures bring warmth to the kinds of depths where very little would otherwise exist. Thanks to the heat and minerals of the mud volcanoes, researchers have found evidence of microbial life as deep as six miles under the Mariana Trench. This is a hint that life may survive in the kinds of extreme environs we’re yet to truly comprehend. As project leader Oliver Plumper puts it: ““This is another hint at a great, deep biosphere on our planet. It could be huge or very small, but there is definitely something going on that we don’t understand yet.”

If that quote wasn’t ominous enough, the Mariana Trench can up its volcano game to an even weirder level: It’s also home to a submarine volcano that spews molten sulphur, and another one where the eruptions are liquid carbon dioxide. Life under the sea may not always be fun, but it’s certainly eventful.

7. The Mariana Trench Megalodon

In 2018, the Jason Statham movie The Meg introduced the world to the novel concept of giant Megalodon sharks lurking in the Mariana Trench. The movie depicts the Mariana Trench having a “fake” bottom, behind which these super-sharks have lurked all along, but apart from that novel feature, the conspiracy theories about Megalodons secretly haunting the seas have been around for quite a while — and what better location for them to hide their existence from puny humanity than the deepest pit in the sea?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your views on massive sharks), this is very unlikely to be true. The Mariana Trench could not even theoretically support a creature as large as the Megalodon, and anyway, the creature used to hang around in fairly shallow, warm waters. But hey, one can always dream, right?

6. The Hadal Deep

The Hadal Deep is technically a joint moniker for the deepest parts of the ocean all around the world, but the Mariana Trench is where it is at its absolute most unforgiving. The zone is named after the Greek mythology’s underworld Hades, and fittingly enough, it’s so intensely hostile to human life that more people have been to the Moon than ventured there. This is a big part of why it holds so many mysteries: To keep people alive (and equipment intact) in the pressures of the Hadal Deep is intensely difficult.

Oh, and here’s where things get really nasty: When it comes to the Mariana Trench, the beginning of the hellish Hadal Deep is pretty much just the halfway point. The Hadal Deep starts at 20,000 feet below the surface, while the deepest (as far as we know) parts of the Mariana Trench are well over 35,000 feet deep. So, before you venture there, maybe do a practice run in one of the other 45 Hadal areas in the world.

Yes, you read that right. There are no less than 46 of these underwater hells scattered around the world, and we’ve barely scratched their surface.

5. Sounds from the Deep

Weird whale noises are one thing, but when scientists managed to capture audio from the deepest ocean pit on the planet in 2016, things got all sorts of creepy. You’d expect that the Challenger Deep would be a serenely quiet place at 6.7 miles beneath the surface, but recordings show that the area is actually chock-full of sounds that seem like something out of a horror movie.

Yes, the deep is full of screeches, moans and rumbles, and while the occasional sound can be traced back to a whale or an earthquake, a whole bunch of them remain a mystery. Perhaps the strangest thing about the recordings is the fact that you can often hear the surface sounds shockingly clearly, and boat propellers and typhoons are clearly audible on some of the tapes. In fact, marine scientists are kind of worried that man-made sounds will only increase in the ocean, even in the pits of the Hadal Deep. So, you know. When the creatures of the deep inevitably rise against us surface dwellers, there’s a fair chance it will be because they’re just coming to complain about their noisy upstairs neighbors.

4. The crazy marine life of the Mariana Trench

Imagine a science fiction monster and there’s a decent chance that a variation of it exists somewhere in the depths of the Mariana Trench. There are relatively huge amoebas that surround and consume their prey like a gelatinous cube monster in Dungeons & Dragons. There are various translucent and bio-luminescent creatures. There are, of course, many-toothed monsters like the freaky anglerfish and the huge goblin shark, not to mention creatures with telling names like “deep sea hatchetfish” and “fanfin sea devil.” What else is lurking down there? Who knows!

To be fair, the marine life of the Mariana Trench is not just pure nightmare fodder. The most fearsome predator of the area is a perfectly unassuming little pink guy called the Mariana snailfish, which gets along simply because it can live a lot deeper than some of its toothier neighbors. As it’s able to exist at a depth of an impressive 26,200 feet, it’s free to feast on smaller marine life without risk of getting eaten itself.

3. The secrets of the ocean floor

In 2012, James Cameron — yes, the Titanic director — climbed into a small specially-made submarine and spent two hours and 36 minutes descending to the lowest point of the Mariana Trench. This was the deepest solo dive in human history, and though Cameron didn’t exactly discover the Kraken, his adventure yielded some mightily interesting scientific results. Apart from various larger and weirder than expected (though not large enough to star in a disaster movie) bottom-dwellers, areas of the trench’s bottom were covered by an “astonishingly bizarre” ecosystem of a thick layer of bacteria that seemed to subsist solely on chemical reactions between the water and the rock.

It’s almost certain that Cameron’s dive was just scratching the surface, too — researchers have estimated that the bottom of the trench might house 50-100 species of xenophyophores (basically giant amoebas) alone, let alone all the other species Cameron saw… and, no doubt, many that we’ve yet to discover.

2. The whole Mariana Trench is a giant mystery

What do we know about the Mariana Trench? At the moment, next to nothing. The researchers keep constantly finding mysterious new species and freely admit that “much of the trench and surrounding areas remain unexplored.”

When you really think about what you’ve read on this list, is it any wonder? It’s almost like our planet custom designed the Mariana Trench to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and made it as difficult as possible for a fragile human being to observe. It’s a place of total darkness, cold, and crushing pressures, populated by alien-looking creatures and constantly bombarded by constant noise from both man-made and natural sources. All in all, there are belief systems out there that have less scary hells.

1. The most horrifying beast in the Mariana Trench

Yes, of course it’s humans. It’s always humans, even in the least people-friendly crevasse on the planet.

In 2019, a diver reportedly discovered several candy wrappers and a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench, a good 35,849 feet under the sea. This means we’ve already managed to contaminate the place that we have barely begun to explore, and it’s getting pretty bad. In fact, a group of experts estimated in 2017 that certain areas of the Mariana Trench are more contaminated than some of the most polluted rivers in China.

Interestingly, many deep sea amphipods hanging around at the bottom of the trench (and the oceans in general) are now stuffing themselves with plastics and microfibers that litter the sea floor. It remains to be seen how this affects them, and what effect their new diet will have on the ocean’s ecosystem in the long run. Experts’ predictions, unfortunately, aren’t too great.


The Grand Canyon of the Pacific –

WIF Oceanography

Great Sci-Fi, Wrong Future – WIF Bookshelf

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These Science Fiction

Novels Got the Science

Very, Very Wrong

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury said, “Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas[.]” He may have been biased, but he wasn’t incorrect. There are two genres of science fiction. Hard science fiction is usually scientifically rigorous, while soft science fiction uses elements of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. World building in science fiction is often creative, but  it doesn’t always reveal humankind’s future. Here are 10 inaccuracies found in science fiction.

10. Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein

Concept: Relativity

Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity says time is relative, and one’s perception of time varies based on how quickly one is moving. Since general relativity and special relativity are theories, their applications are less concrete than the uses for technology in some science fiction on this list. We use special relativity to explain why astronauts living in space are moving more quickly — and aging more slowly — than people on Earth. Special relativity is important to the plot of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1956 novel Time for the Stars. Heinlein also uses the Twin Paradox as a plot device.

The Twin Paradox is a thought experiment that is only made possible because of the theory of special relativity. Imagine two identical twins. One remains on Earth, while the other travels to a star six light years away using a rocket that travels at six times the speed of light. Before the traveling twin leaves Earth, both twins reset their watches to zero. When the traveling twin reaches the star, her watch says eight years have passed. When the twin on Earth reads her watch, she will find 16 years have passed by the time the traveling twin reaches the star. From the perspective of the twin on Earth, the traveling twin’s rocket takes 10 years to reach the star. The light that will show the traveling twin at the star will take an additional six years to return to Earth, making the trip to the star take 16 years. To the traveler, whose rocket moves at six times the speed of light, the star she is traveling to, which seems six light years away to her twin sister on Earth, is only 4.8 light years away. It takes another 4.8 years for light to travel from Earth to her rocket, so she perceives the trip as taking roughly eight years.

Robert A. Heinlein is respected as a gifted science fiction writer. He was named the first Science Fiction Writers Grand Master in 1974. He also pursued graduate degrees in physics and mathematics at UCLA. Because of his scientific knowledge, his explanations of special relativity and the Twin Paradox are mostly correct. He applies the theories correctly, with one minor inaccuracy. In his novel, the traveling twin and the twin on Earth are communicating in real time via intercom. Once the traveling twin is moving at the speed of light, he hears the twin on Earth as though he is speaking more slowly. By contrast, the twin on Earth hears the traveling twin as though he is speaking more quickly. In fact, each twin would only be conscious of his own perception of time.

9. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Concept: Colonizing Mars

In Ray Bradbury’s 1950 collection of vignettes, humans have successfully colonized Mars. Bradbury explores which impulses, noble and ignoble, humans obey regardless of which planet they’re inhabiting. As of 2019, NASA is still planning to send astronauts to Mars. The topographical features that led Bradbury and other science fiction writers to imagine it might be possible to colonize Mars by the mid-20th century, though, have been revealed to be misleading.

By 1960, astronomer Carl Sagan had discovered that Mars is consistently freezing due to its lack of atmosphere, and the canals on Mars were not, as had previously been hypothesized, former waterways.

8. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Concept: Reanimating Dinosaurs

Unlike the saddled dinosaurs calmly coexisting with humans in the Creation Museum’s exhibits, the destructive dinosaurs in Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel are a cautionary tale for humans. A course of action made possible by scientific advancement isn’t necessarily a wise one. However, despite the intricately detailed scientific plot of the novel, resurrecting dinosaurs isn’t possible.

The science of paleontology dates from the 19th century, and dinosaur footprints and fossils have consistently been recognized as historically important. To resurrect dinosaurs, though, paleontologists would need viable dinosaur DNA in order to reassemble dinosaurs’ genetic codes. Dinosaurs dominated the Earth roughly 66 million years ago. Even if their DNA was found, it would be too decayed to be useful in reassembling a genetic code. That’s good news for anyone getting tired of holding onto their butt.

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Concept: Reanimating Humans

Defibrillators can be used to revive someone who has gone into sudden cardiac arrest. However, it’s impossible to revive someone who has already been hanged, like the scientist Victor Frankenstein does in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel. During the 19th century, there was scientific research that seemed to support the possibility that corpses could be revived through the use of electricity. In 1781, a surgeon, Luigi Galvani, dissected a frog while standing near a static electricity machine. When an assistant touched a nerve in the frog’s leg with a scalpel, the frog’s leg spasmed. Galvani built a bronze and iron arc, and he attached the frog’s leg and the static electricity machine to it. The frog’s leg twitched whenever it touched the metal. Galvani formed a hypothesis: he believed the frog possessed what Galvani called animal electricity. The bimetallic arc conducted the animal electricity to the frog’s nerve, making its leg twitch. The plot of Shelley’s novel is an exploration of what might be possible if humans, too, possessed animal electricity.

After reading Galvani’s work, physicist Alessandro Volta replicated Galvani’s experiment. He observed the same result, but he reached a very different conclusion. His hypothesis, which we now know to be accurate, was that the metal was acting as a conductor for the electric current from the static electricity machine. When the current touched the frog’s leg, the frog’s leg twitched.

6. Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Concept: Human Cloning

Jodi Picoult’s 2003 book My Sister’s Keeper explores the question of whether it’s morally defensible to expect one sibling to become an organ donor for another. In Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, organ donation is a social requirement. Human clones are created solely to become organ donors. There are many science fiction novels featuring human clones. While the question of how humans determine quality of life will always be a valid one, human cloning isn’t currently possible. Further, there is no way to guarantee that a clone will be as healthy as the animal from whose cells the clone was created.

In 1996, Dolly, a sheep, became the first successfully cloned mammal. The average lifespan of a sheep is 12 years, but Dolly was euthanized in 2002. At six-and-a-half years old, she had already developed a progressive lung disease. She also had shorter telomeres than other sheep of a comparable age. Telomeres are pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes. Since telomeres shorten as cells divide, they are considered an indication of an animal’s age. Based on Dolly’s lung disease and the length of her telomeres, scientists speculate that she was actually born six years old, the same age as that of the sheep from which she was cloned.

5. Babylon Babies by Maurice Dantec

Concept: Designer Babies

In Maurice Dantec’s 1999 novel, a woman is carrying genetically modified twins whose birth might forever change the human race. Unlike most of the scientific advancements on this list, this one isn’t currently impossible. In 2018, Chinese researcher Jiankui He created the first babies with artificially increased resistance to HIV. Afterward, the embryos were implanted in the mother’s uterus, and the babies were born healthy.

Technically, these weren’t designer babies, because their parents weren’t selecting particular genes. However, the same gene editing techniques could be used to create designer babies. Gene editing in embryos is permitted in Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and Sweden. Gene editing is scientifically possible, but there’s not international consensus regarding whether it’s ethical. Consistent gene editing could allow certain countries to practice genocide or produce physically and intellectually enhanced soldiers that would give them an advantage during international conflicts.

4. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Concept: Utopia

Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1979 novel The Dispossessed isn’t the only science fiction novel depicting a utopian future for humankind. Though no author who has imagined the future as a utopia is right (so far), Le Guin’s utopia is unique for two reasons. First, her world has an anarchic planet, Anarres, that’s rich in resources. It’s a colony of an arid planet, Urras. Even in a utopia, inhabitants of Anarres are deprived of their own natural resources. Second, the novel’s protagonist, Shevek, fares better than his real world model. Shevek was modeled on a family friend of Le Guin’s, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Shevek makes the citizens of Anarres question both the limits of their personal autonomy and the consequences of exercising it. By contrast, Oppenheimer’s expertise made the first atomic explosion possible in 1945. Unfortunately, he was stripped of his job title, chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, when he opposed the United States’ development of a hydrogen bomb. Asking the American government to critique its own use of personal autonomy cost Oppenheimer his professional reputation.

3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Concept: Time Travel

H.G. Wells’ 1895 novella isn’t the only story involving time travel. However, Wells popularized the idea that humans could invent a machine that makes time travel possible. Technically, time travel exists. As previously mentioned, Einstein’s theory of special relativity says time is relative, and one’s perception of time varies based on how quickly one is moving. Astronauts living in space are moving more quickly than people on Earth. Therefore, an astronaut living in space for a year will age slightly less than people who are living on Earth during that year.

The Large Hadron Collider moves protons at almost the speed of light, essentially propelling them into the future. The kind of time travel that Wells writes about — the kind that’s controlled  by humans and measured based on a Western European perception of time — isn’t possible. In 2015, Ali Razeghi, the managing director of Iran’s Center for Strategic Inventions, claimed he had invented a machine that could accurately predict five to eight years into a person’s future. His claim was debunked when he declined to release the design for his time machine.

2. The Xenu Files by L. Ron HubbarL.Rond

Concept: The Origin Of Humanity

Unlike most of the entries on this list, The Xenu Files isn’t a novel. L. Ron Hubbard was a writer of popular science fiction short stories, but he’s most famous for founding the Church of Scientology. Scientologists pay a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars to audit Scientology courses. Once they reach the level of Operating Thetan 3, they are permitted to read the religion’s origin myth. According to the 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the origin myth, which was handwritten between 1966 and 1967, is stored at the church’s Advanced Organization Building.

According to Hubbard, Xenu, the dictator of the Galactic Federation, needed to solve his planet’s overpopulation problem. He sent his own subjects to Earth, then called Teegeeack. There, they were strapped to atomic bombs and hurled into volcanoes. The spirits of Xenu’s subjects, called Thetans, cling to contemporary humans. The only way to rid oneself of Thetans is through the Scientologists’ practice of auditing. In auditing, someone talks about events from his or her previous lives while an auditor reads an e-meter (a lie detector). The person’s truthfulness, as determined by the auditor, shows how susceptible the person is to Thetans.

If these religious practices seem like they belong in a science fiction novel, perhaps that’s because science fiction readers were the original intended audience for Hubbard’s ideas. After failing to convince doctors, psychologists, and explorers to integrate his ideas into their professional practices, Hubbard appealed to the science fiction readers who were fans of his work. He and his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., developed the system of dianetics, a term used to describe the methodology of Scientology. Hubbard’s first article about dianetics appeared in a 1950 issue of the magazine Astounding. Campbell, who owned the magazine, primarily published science fiction short stories, including Hubbard’s. Later, Hubbard used one of his science fiction short stories, “Masters of Sleep,” as a prolonged advertisement for dianetics. In his 2012 post for The Village Voice, Tony Ortega says Scientologists might be more susceptible to Hubbard’s origin story in The Xenu Files because many of them have vividly experienced past lives during auditing. For Hubbard’s early readers, the process was much simpler. They encountered information about dianetics in the same magazine that had published Hubbard’s science fiction.

1. The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

Concept: The Future

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, isn’t noteworthy because her book contains prescient predictions. The North Pole isn’t a portal to another planet. We haven’t discovered a planet that we can verify is lit by the brightest stars ever created. No human has been transported to another planet, then declared war against her own home planet (unless alien victors have compromised our collective memory of the event).

No, Cavendish isn’t noteworthy because of how she envisioned the future. She’s noteworthy because of when she did it. Written in 1666, The Blazing World is widely regarded as the first science fiction novel. A respected poet, playwright, biographer, and essayist in her own time, Cavendish also created a genre. As Bronwyn Lovell says in her 2016 article for The Conversation, “Science Fiction’s Woman Problem,” science fiction is still a male-dominated genre. Still, Cavendish ensured a future for female writers by creating a space for them.


Great Sci-Fi, Wrong Future

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