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George Moakley
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It’s been months since my last blog post. I have excuses, of course. I’ve been crazy busy. “Tides of Eden” manuscript is finished and should be released in the fall, and I met lots of new readers through a variety of book events.

But, in addition to my excuses, I also have my regrets. For one, I recently realized I’d neglected to post anything about participating in a ‘Faith and Science’ event this past January at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Michael Hegeman invited me to be his guest for a discussion of ‘Faith and Science Fiction’ after reading “Kraken of Eden” (a recording of the event can be found here:

At one point, Mike (Dr. Hegeman) brought up how the novel reflects back on the 21st and 22nd centuries, and I explained that I’m a near term pessimist and a long term optimist.

Let me explain.

I wanted to”Kraken of Eden” to be as plausible as possible in every way. My love of monster stories is always throttled by the implausibility of an alien with the digestive plasticity to munch our heroes, so I strove to describe a plausible alien ecosystem in which it makes sense for such a thing to evolve. I wanted to explore a culture that includes interstellar travel at relativistic speeds rather than faster than light travel. I modeled colonial population growth models.

You get the idea.

As much as I love science fiction, one of the many things these stories gloss over is why we’re out there in the first place. So, I applied what I’ve learned about strategic planning from my professional career.

Organizations of any kind, familial, professional, governmental, resist change. The bigger the organization, the greater the inertia. When you’re trying to convince an organization to make a profound change, you can talk all day long about the benefits. You can show them graphs and charts about return on investment.

And it’s possible, though unlikely, that you’ll see the organization change.

But if you REALLY want to motivate an organization to make a profound change, show them pain.

We see this all the time. For example, some years ago, a number of large companies had significant accounting scandals, resulting in the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. Some years before that, a bank experienced a fire that destroyed key records, followed by a surge in companies investing in disaster recovery planning and infrastructure.

Technological upheavals are fascinating in this respect. Such upheavals bring competitive differentiation opportunities that cannot be ignored. Companies initially resist investment, then fear falling behind their competitors. Internal voices expressing concern about novel security attack planes are ignored until spectacular events inevitably happen, then get the funding they’ve been pleading for.

When you’re trying to predict when an organization will make a strategic change, you have to ask when it will hurt enough.

Which brings me back to being a near term pessimist and a long term optimist.

As I envisioned a future that would include “Kraken of Eden”, I wanted it to make sense that humanity has spread throughout our solar system and begun colonizing nearby star systems. Certainly, one can envision the excitement of discovery. The return on investment that could be realized harvesting natural resources beyond Earth.

So, why haven’t we built commercial facilities on the moon? Why haven’t we done more with Mars?

Of course there are technological hurdles to overcome and we can argue about whether the potential return on investment would be sufficient.

But as I pragmatically looked at what it will take for humanity to expand beyond Earth, I found myself thinking about pain.

The human population is growing unsustainably. As our numbers continue to grow, as we, collectively, move more and more people from poverty to a middle class lifestyle that has a significantly greater ecological footprint, we continue to replace non-human biomass with the biomass of humans and our familiars (e.g., pets, agriculture, and vermin) and continue to change the climate.

I realized that, if you’d asked me, say 30 years ago, what kinds of events would be so profound that they would, finally, motivate us to act, I would have listed things like recording, year after year, the hottest years on record. Measurable sea level rise. Desertification. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms leading to the proposal of Category 6 hurricanes. Significant and ongoing declines in worldwide insect populations. Coral bleaching and the level of oceanic warming we’re seeing around Florida. The inevitability of zoonotic transfer pandemics.

In other words, I would have listed things that have already happened.

So, when I say I’m a near term pessimist, I mean that I fear the next hundred years or so may be quite challenging. “Kraken of Eden” characters reflect back on mass extinctions, pandemics far worse than Covid-19, famine, drought, …

I fear we’re going to learn just how painful things will need to get in order to motivate real change.

But I’m also a long term optimist.

Because I believe that we will get through the next hundred years. I believe we will, finally, expand beyond our Earth, and that great wonders await us out there.

It saddens me to accept that, given current life expectancies, I won’t be here to experience it all.

The best I can do is write novels that are as plausible as I can make them, and experience the wondrous future that awaits us vicariously through my characters.

While they avoid getting munched, of course…

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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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