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  • gpmoakley

At the risk of self-aggrandizement (not my intent; I’m proud of my humility!), I wrote “Kraken of Eden” with a commitment to plausibility that I believe is rare in speculative fiction, and I hope that my readers recognize and appreciate it.

That commitment included addressing why we’re out there in the first place.

Sure, we’ve seen speculative fiction include ‘pulls’ like mining projects.

But I’ve done a lot of strategic planning over the years, and one of the things you quickly learn is that ‘pulls’ may get you from ‘no’ to ‘yes, someday’, but nothing gets you from ‘yes, someday’ to ‘yes, TODAY’ like a good, solid ‘push’.

So, what will, finally, push us to initiate colonization beyond Earth?

I believe that ‘push’ will come from the dire consequences of our relentless population growth.

Some readers may remember the spotted owl controversy of the 1990s. Spotted owls of the Pacific Northwest were designated a threatened species, leading to legislation to protect the owls that, in turn, protected the forest, which impacted the lumber industry.

Spotted owls are far from the only species protected by controversial legislation. Another famous example was the snail darter, an innocuous little fish that blocked a Tennessee dam project.

There were, and still are, those that question the sanity of inflicting economic pain to protect these species. Who, they ask, really cares about an owl or a snail darter?

While I’m sure conservationists care about each species, the reality is that protecting such species is often but a means to an end. The spotted owl, for example, lives in old growth forest, but there isn’t a legal structure available to protect old growth forest. But the endangered species act does facilitate protecting an endangered species, and if protecting an endangered species protects an ecosystem, then the most expedient way to protect an ecosystem is to protect an endangered species that relies on that ecosystem.

Those that wonder why we should care about spotted owls might now say, fine, if it’s not about the owls, then why should we care about the ecosystems?

In 1798, Thomas Malthus published his ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’, pointing out that human population grows geometrically while our food production grows arithmetically.

He predicted catastrophic ramifications in the near term, including famine.

But his timing was poor. The catastrophes he predicted didn’t happen, largely due to improved food production resulting from agricultural advances and the Industrial Revolution. The result was lasting popular ridicule of Malthus and, to a degree, a lasting skepticism about the consequences of human population growth.

But it’s worth stepping back to consider his observations on a grander scale.

Consider a hectare of pristine wilderness. Consider the biodiversity of that hectare. How many plant and animal species live out their lives in that hectare? What is their net biomass?

Now, imagine it cultivated. Biodiversity is significantly reduced to the crop species we’ve planted and the very limited number of weeds and vermin that manage to evade our advances in herbicides and insecticides, targeted fertilizers, and crop strains whose productivity and resistance to pests are improved through selective breeding and even genetic engineering.

So, yes, Malthus failed to predict agricultural advances that continue to allow us to produce more nutrition per hectare than he ever imagined.

But at what cost?

Let’s consider two ecosystem qualities related to biodiversity.

As biodiversity decreases, so does stability. If a hectare is cultivated to grow a crop, and that crop is impacted by disease or adverse environmental conditions, that hectare’s biodiversity will crash.

As biodiversity decreases, so does carrying capacity, the amount to biomass an ecosystem can support. Carrying capacity increases with biodiversity, so while increasingly sophisticated agricultural methods produce more food per hectare than Malthus ever dreamed, the overall biomass of each hectare is reduced.

A hectare of high rise residential buildings may contain a lot of biomass in the form of humans and their familiars (e.g., pets, potted plants, and vermin), but every gram of that biomass is supported through the conversion of land to agriculture and every hectare of land converted to agriculture reduces the biodiversity, biomass, and stability of that land.

If we could presume that carrying capacity were a constant regardless of biodiversity, then we could assume that increasing the human population would come at the expense of competing species. Every additional gram of human biomass would be one less gram of wildlife, wildflowers, etc.

But if carrying capacity decreases with loss of biodiversity, we compound that impact. Every additional gram of humans and our familiars comes at the cost of more than a gram of other living things.

As our population grows, as we convert more and more wilderness to agriculture and urban development, we are not only replacing more and more non-human biomass with human biomass, we are also reducing the carrying capacity and ecological stability of an ever larger percentage of our world.

And this effect is compounded when societies achieve the otherwise admirable goal of lifting people from poverty to middle class lifestyles that have dramatically higher ecological impacts.

So, while Malthus failed to appreciate the near term implications of the agricultural advances of his time, he wasn’t wrong when he pointed out that we are on a path that is not sustainable.

In “Kraken of Eden”, our heroes look back on a history that includes dire consequences during the 21st and 22nd centuries. Consequences we are already witnessing. Mass extinctions. Climate change. Increasingly severe weather. Famine. Drought. Pandemics. As one character says, we realized that, if we didn’t take steps to reduce Earth’s human population, Earth would do it for us, and quite unpleasantly.

I can remember, over the years, conducting strategic planning workshops and raising an important question when attempting to predict when an organization would make a major change in their strategic direction.

I asked, “Does it hurt enough yet?”

I have no doubt that humanity will, as described in “Kraken of Eden”, spread through our solar system and then nearby stars.

I have no doubt that, when we do, we’ll work to restore the Earth as best we can, but how long it will take, and how different a restored Earth will be from the one that nurtured our species, will depend on the level of pain required to finally push us to the stars.

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  • gpmoakley

If you’re following me on social media (if you’re not, you really should <g>), you may have noticed that I’m doing a lot of book events.

Book events are delightful.

Yes, they can be exhausting and stressful, because, as any artist will tell you, nothing puts your ego on the line like presenting the results of your creative efforts to an audience. A novel, a song, a photograph, any artistic expression, is like sending your child to the first day of school. I love my child, but will anyone else? Will my child make friends?

But book events are delightful because people love the book. They love the front cover art; you can see it on their faces when they pick up a copy. They love the idea of the book; you can see it when they’re reading the back cover. You can tell, as we talk about the book, that they love, as I do, a good monster story that’s different. Different, because this story includes a meticulously researched imagining of a truly alien world and the creatures that might inhabit it.

Because I do love my book. I know that might sound egotistical. But it’s not delusions of grandeur (or even adequacy <g>).

It’s just that I wrote the book I have always wanted to read.

I concurrently love monster stories and hard science fiction. I’m the kind of guy that watches a movie set in southeast Asia grumbling because the rocks and plants and critters our heroes walk by are clearly from southern California.

I wanted a monster story grounded in reality. Realistic biology and realistic space travel and a realistic (albeit sobering) future history.

Daunting too, because, well, I’m shy. Those that know me may find that hard to believe; those that know me well will understand how true that is. I over compensate, sometimes, because, personally and professionally, in meetings and delivering presentations, or even writing this blog, that shyness often gets in the way. So I push it down, put on a smile, and reach out to connect with individuals and audiences.

But it’s an effort, and it can be exhausting.

Until I get to meet like minded fans of speculative fiction.

Sure, I’ve read (and re-read) a LOT of books. I’m a voracious reader. I have many, many favorite authors across a broad portfolio of genres; many you’re surely familiar with, and many that are more obscure.

I have what might seem, at first glance, to be a diverse library. Science fiction, of course, but also historical fiction, mysteries, westerns, horror, drama, and a lot of non-fiction.

What might seem an eclectic mix has one thing in common. They all create the opportunity to explore, “what if?”

What if I were a hobbit? What if I lived on the western frontier when it was still east of the Mississippi? What if I was born in feudal Japan? What if I’d been part of D-Day? What if I lived aboard a star ship? What if I were a serial killer? What if I were a shark?

What if I were a xenobiologist exploring the ecosystems of the first world discovered to have complex life? On a truly alien world, filled with diverse, truly alien life? What would it be like to explore such a world, and see what could be different, what must be the same? What if such exploration revealed, to me, subconscious biases that have constrained my thinking?

In my last blog post, I wrote about scientific revolutions. We experience the world around us through paradigms, conceptual frameworks, sets of ideas about how things work so fundamental that we don’t even realize we’re accepting them as filters for our perceptions until we’re confronted with something that breaks them.

I’m fascinated by conceptual frameworks, and I love stories, fictional or not, that let me try on a new conceptual framework.

Every story introduces characters, locations, and situations that may stretch your conceptual framework.

For me, a great story of any genre offers an opportunity to, temporarily, live a different life, adhere to a different code, experience a different conceptual framework.

A science fiction novel has a richer conceptual framework. If a novel is an exploration of human relationships and a science fiction novel explores those relationships in a speculative environment, then the conceptual framework has to include that speculative environment.

A hard science fiction novel has the additional challenge of a speculative environment that is founded on real science that may also need to be explained. In fact, as a reader of such fiction, I especially enjoy hard science fiction that imbues the story with an education about the underlying science without getting in the way of rapidly turning pages to learn what happens to the characters you’ve grown to care about.

While I do enjoy stories involving aliens that look very human except for some minor prosthetic like a pointed ear and I do enjoy stories involving fleets with phasers and blasters and photon torpedoes and light sabers and all of that, such stories, to me, feel more like fantasy than science fiction. That’s not to denigrate them; I love such stories the same way I love stories about Hobbits, Elves, and the like.

But they don’t feel like science fiction to me.

For me, science fiction has sound, solid science at the heart of the story, the ‘what if?’ of the story.

That’s what I was striving for with “Kraken of Eden” and the new novel I’m now working. I want the science at the heart of it, with the plot turning on the science as our characters figure it out with us.

I’m always happy when I’m at a book event and someone decides they want a copy of “Kraken of Eden”.

But what makes the event a delight for me is when a prospective reader’s eyes light up as I explain that it’s not just a monster story, it’s a plausible monster story, grounded in sound science, with diverse, believable alien life.

That’s when I know my ‘child’ has made a lifelong friend.

So, are you a science fiction fan?

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  • gpmoakley

I have loved science since I was just a wee nerd.

That love of science should be evident to anyone reading “Kraken of Eden”.

I wanted a thrilling monster story about a plausible monster. I wanted truly alien aliens on a truly alien world. I wanted to explore what could be different versus what must be the same. I wanted our scientists racing to understand what they were facing through sound scientific methods.

I also wanted to explore something that I believe is important and timely. I wanted to explore the degree to which our conceptual frameworks constrain our imagination.

Here’s what I didn’t want. I didn’t want yet another exploration of scientific hubris. Heartless, arrogant scientists are all too common in popular culture in stories that come across (at least to me) as condemnations of science.

Our daily lives are increasingly depending on the practical application of science, yet the average person demonstrates both a disdain for science and a profound lack of understanding with regard to the scientific method. I suspect part of this is a generation of screen writers bored to tears during science classes for want of inspirational teachers.

Here’s the thing.

The scientific method really isn’t that complicated. It’s really just orderly thinking. We make observations, we see patterns, we come up with ideas to explain the patterns, and we apply these ideas to make predictions.

Let’s poke at this.

First, note that I wrote ‘to make predictions’. Science is about making useful predictions. ‘Truth’ is the province of religion.

That doesn’t mean scientists don’t believe their theories are true!

But it does mean that if you present a scientist with an observation that breaks their theory, sure, they’ll question it. Sure, they’ll want to see it repeated. Sure, they’ll try to find a way to reconcile it with the theory.

But, ultimately, if the observation breaks the theory, they will amend or replace the theory with something better, then continue to move forward.

Amending or replacing our theories enables us to make ever richer models and ever better predictions about everything from tomorrow’s weather to plotting a course to intercept a celestial body with a probe.

That means that scientists are always looking for the observations that don’t quite fit, because those are the observations that improve theories and models and predictions.

Scientists searching for the exceptions that will improve theories are all too often misinterpreted by people that don’t understand the scientific method with questioning the science.

Probing climate science and finding discrepancies that lead to better models for climate change does NOT mean scientists are questioning human caused climate change.

Studies that refine our understanding of the health implications of our dietary habits does NOT mean anyone’s questioning the health hazards of tobacco.

Studies that revise our understanding of evolutionary processes do NOT mean scientists are questioning the validity of evolutionary theory.

That all said, there ARE times when an observation is so profound, it goes beyond revising theories.

We do, in science and in our lives, form paradigms. Conceptual frameworks for how we see the world that include presumptions so fundamental that we no longer realize we are filtering the world around us through these presumptions.

Until we make an observation that is so inconsistent with our world view, so disruptive, that we step back, step outside our conceptual framework, and see the universe in a new light.

Copernicus struggling to reconcile the complex movement of the planets in the night sky (the word ‘planet’ means ‘wanderer’) with Earth as the center of the universe, then realizing it all made much more sense if the Earth and the planets were orbiting the sun.

Darwin noticing that Galapagos finches diversified from source stock on the mainland to ecological niches inhabited by other species on the mainland.

Einstein realizing that the speed of light is a constant regardless of your frame of reference.

My favorite example is Antoine Lavoisier, raised in a conceptual framework that all things are composed of air, earth, water, and fire (blood is warm and red because it is composed of water and fire) wanted to determine the mass of fire. So he weighed a log, burned the log to release the fire, and weighed the results in order to determine the mass of the fire that had been released. But it GAINED mass, which would mean fire has NEGATIVE mass, a result he could not accept. So he stepped back and reimagined the universe, proposing the oxidation/reduction model that is the foundation of modern chemistry.

I wanted the Eden science team to be confronted with an intellectual crisis, an observation that breaks their conceptual framework. Not to suggest they are in any way intellectually inadequate or dogmatic.

Instead, I wanted to explore how real scientists, confronted with an observation that should not be possible, finally accept the reality of that observation, revise their conceptual framework, and then apply the scientific method to deal with the threat they face.

If you’ve read, and hopefully enjoyed, “Kraken of Eden”, I’d love to hear whether you think I was successful…

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