on July 20, 2017 :
by Ander Nesser
This is a great book of space exploration information, made into interesting incidentals of taking part in the journey, enjoying the excitement, without partaking of the undoubtedly real dangers of the enterprise. Unlike the old days of SF, that I grew up in, these are no longer so much a question of if, as when.
The central narrative character, we identify with, is not a specialist. Called Ryder, it is as if he is along for the ride, before he proves his worth, as we all would hope to do.
This is despite the fact that current technology remains hopelessly inadequate. Not even could we repeat, at short notice, the few faltering steps, taken nearly half a century ago, to our most conveniently placed giant moon.
However, we could expect brisk progress, once the race makes up its mind. And up till now, all speculation has been blind-sided by the inability of science to detect the existence of planets, in the solar systems of our nearest neighbors.They would still take many thousands of years to reach, by current means of propulsion.
But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, that certain theoretical drive principles, using antimatter, fusion, or ion drives, might make inter-planetary travel, to our solar neighbors, practical on a historical time-scale or even within a current human life-span.
The traditional SF resort, to instantaneous travel thru worm-holes, would require prohibitive expenditures of energy. And familiarity with the infinite intricacies of hyper-spatial geometry, that conceivably may come within the reach of advanced quantum computing.
There is a great incentive for a concerted human effort, that would be required to take on such a challenging project.
Unbounded was one of the last SF books, still in the dark about possible colonisation of relatively close solar systems. So it contemplates a mission, in terms of hundreds, upon hundreds of years. It doesn’t matter all that much, since even a journey to the nearest solar systems might be hazarded on similar terms, if space-ship technology cannot be brought up to speed.
Ander Nesser doesn’t duck the big problems, which have yet to be solved. He assumes cryogenic stasis a done job. But the on-board scientists are still grappling with the limited capacity for surviving genetic damage from radiation in outer space.
The possible nature of alien life forms are well discussed and imaginatively conceived. The rule for this success is the same as it was, in the first great modern extra-planetary SF novel: if you want to know the alien life forms of other planets, know them on this planet. For, the author of The War Of The Worlds, HG Wells was educated as a biologist.
Nesser gives his marine aliens the names of wave properties, like interference patterns and so forth.
Wells could have told his modern SF counterparts that democracy requires more than a show of hands or a plurality count.
The colonisation ship is a hot-house of secrecy and distrust, not only between the crew, but between crew and ship control by sophisticated artificial intelligence. This is overlaid by the problem of whether to trust the aliens, who have been shadowing them, and which of their warring factions are genuine.
All this drama of doubt and deceit supplies plenty of opportunity for a good old-fashioned space opera, to leaven all that “wonders of the universe” stuff.
One of the authors many scientific diversions, which I do find diverting, comes when one faction of the aliens puts forward the computer theory of the universe. Reality is formed of building blocks, the sub-atomic quantities, called quantum. In this respect, it resembles the discrete bits of information, handled by digital computers.
For all their aquatic exoticism, the alien factions sound remarkably like a human division between theological dogmatists and empirical scientists. The latter make a fool of the former, like in Galileo discourse on the two world systems. Of course, the author is making a deliberate reflection upon ourselves.
One of the weaknesses, of this presentation of space exploration problems, is not the fault of this comprehensively read author. Rather, it is the traditional SF stumbling block of not being able to communicate with aliens, who do not know your phonographic alfabet.
I guess the solution is the invention of an intuitively universal language of pictographic holograms, the technological equivalent of pictographic and ideographic sign language.
This manageable problem may have achieved so little progress, because effective communication between humans, let alone beings from other planets, has not been a priority. There is too much vested interest, in controling people, kept in ignorant tribal conflict. The moral is that if we do not learn to live well with ourselves, albeit out-landers, we are not going to learn to live well with out-spacers.
Likewise, the wilful ignorance of democratic method is a serious threat to informed consensus, as a necessary condition of stable progress, not least in the confined conditions of a long voyage into the unknown.
(review of free book)