I have been primed for an interest in somewhat believable sci fi about space travel. Martian was a good tight read and the movie was also very good. More extravagant in projecting beyond known science and especially technology was the marvelous read SevenEves by Neale Stephenson.

Closer to the tidiness and familiarity of Martian, but also like SevenEves in imagining into trajectories of possibility that journey off the scales of the known, is "Saturn Run" by John Sanford and Ctein.

I am very familiar with John Sanford's moderate yet cogent and literate crime stories set mainly in Minnesota. This is a surprising divergence of topic and it seems likely that he is getting needed support for the science and science fiction from Ctein.

I haven't finished reading this book (I am about 2/3 through it), and if I were to wait to the finish to bring it all together in a rather comprehensive review, I might never get to it. So in minimal sketched out form, the story goes something like this. An American space station from the year 2060 something is in orbit above the earth. (Ahh, I've already forgotten some of the factual details, but I finesse the truth here anyway.) China is doing preparing a Mars expedition and possible colonization. The US won't be able to compete well for speed of arrival.

Meanwhile at a high tech and science firm on earth, someone registers some strange movement in the sky that relates to Saturn. It appears that there may be some extra-terrestrial activity near the Saturn rings.

The US decides that this level of potentially existing technology would be a huge boon to the country and in stealth begins to convert the existing American space presence into a ship that can travel to Saturn. They don't want to alert the Chinese as to this discovery so that said Chinese don't reformulate and retool their Mars expedition on which they have a head-start into a Saturn expedition.

The details of this story depict the secret mission's development, the inevitable discovery by China, and the facets of the competitive race that ensues. The story has its excitements, its character developments, and its fluid rendering of science, society, and psychology.

Getting to the nut - sorry for the spoiler here - the US does arrive at the alien satellites that for various reasons orbit Saturn. There are no aliens there (so far) but their is an artificial intelligence that is designed to welcome other space civilizations, and inform and share some of it's technology. The human travelers will be able to take back some important advancements. This of course is quite lovely for the US that wants to advance its competitive edge and assure its power status in the world.

China's ship is having difficulties arriving into orbit, and I don't yet know the plot unfoldment, though one can feel the tension and the potential for fighting and damage and catastrophe. All this so far seems quite well written and is within an arc of entertaining believability.

I insert now some transcribed quotes that speak to the alien knowledge and strange strategy that this satellite presents. I haven't read so many sci fi stories of this sort to know how creatively unique these circumstances are, but they seem quite fresh to me. The door and locks open up to the new guests and they enter into a large space:

"The only item in the room was a stand-alone console toward the back of the room. A meter and a half high, it would have been impossible to miss even if the room had been as cluttered as a secondhand junk store: it glowed with flickering bands of rainbow colors and looked disturbingly similar to an antique jukebox.
Words appeared in the air above the console that read: 'You can remove your helmets. The air is sterile and breathable to earth standards and is maintained at 21 degrees Celsius.' In a few seconds the words changed to Chinese ideograms, followed by Arabic and Rusiian, then a half-dozen other languages, before it cycled back to English."
...

"As they all stuck to the floor, or deck, or whatever it was, new words appeared over the polychrome console. 'Please say something to me.' ...
'Hello. We are from Earth. Uh, the third planet in this system.'
Colors shifted across the sides of the alien console making it look even more like a jukebox, and then it spoke: 'American English. I can speak in American English. Now what questions do you have.'
Barnes asked, 'Who are you?'
The jukebox said,'I am not a "who" but a "what." I am a low grade artificial intelligence tasked with answering questions. I am programmed to understand thirteen human languages, five of them based on the probability of being the first-contact languages...I am not a fully intelligent AI. I chain rhetorical logic via a statistical grammar. Though it may sound as though I'm being conversational, in fact I am always responding directly or indirectly to questions. My data storage has the answers to 71,236,340 explicit or implicit questions. I can synthesize new answers from those I am preprogrammed with, but at times you will ask questions for which I have no answer, to which I'll reply, "I don't know."'
Barnes asked, 'Can we set up camera equipment to record this conversation?'
'Yes, I will wait.'"
...

" Barnes said, 'Our jukebox raised another concern. New question: Why do we have to worry about harming ourselves or the depot?'
The jukebox said,"This depot has technologies and artifacts from many different species. No visitor could be familiar with them all. Some of these devices are dangerous if misused, the same way a milling laser is dangerous if misused.'
Clover nodded: strange technology, strange tools.
The jukebox: 'Also there are containment modules that should not be accessed without proper instruction, as they currently hold a total of eight hundred forty-nine tones of antimatter.'
...
'Let's go back to the jukebox.' They turned back to the answer-bot. 'Excuse us, we need to discuss the information you imparted.'
'My programming informs me that it is very common with first arrivals and I am not programmed to take offense in any way. Do you have any other questions at this time?'
Hannegan cleared his throat: 'Uh, you said this depot stored over eight hundred tones of antimatter, Where? And how?'
The jukebox said, 'The constellation of smaller moo lets you see associated with this depot are containment modules for the antimatter. The material is in the form of iron-58, which is electromagnetically isolated from the walls of the modules.'
...
Hannegan glanced at Barnes, then asked, 'Can you provide engineering designs and instruction manuals for the antimatter production and containment facilities?'
This time there was no hesitation in the response. 'That information is exportable to all species.'
Barnes said, 'I think that's enough for this session. We should return to our ship now. Are we allowed to return at any time?'
'Yes, at any time.'
We will bring engineers to discuss a high-bandwidth I/O pathway. May they come at any time?'
'Yes, at any time.'

...

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As I think I mentioned, Saturn Run was the first science fiction novel I've read in probably several decades.  I used to read sci-fi and fantasy voraciously, especially in my teens, but I started to shift to other genres (non-fiction and fiction) once I entered college, just dipping into a sci-fi or horror book every now and then.  But now that I have a teenage son who enjoys reading sci-fi and fantasy as well, I've started to think about the genre again -- especially since he pushes me every now and then to write a book like the ones he reads...

Now your discussion of Seveneves has me thinking about picking up that book as well.  So this may be a gentle easing back in to the genre.  (I did also just read Ursula K. LeGuin's book, The Dispossessed, for a book club event about a month ago -- and really enjoyed it.  As you recall, her books are often quite stimulating and evocative ... and The Dispossessed touches on themes, especially, that have been recurrent here on IPS, particularly on the anti-capitalism thread).

My approach to "thinking the alien" would likely be similar to yours: either starting from basic physical and biological premises and then imaginatively following out an alternative evolutionary pathway: what would it be like if creatures that communicate through chemical exchanges, or echolocation, crossed an evolutionary threshold into self-consciousness and sapience...?  Or what would advanced beings be like if they evolved out of a radically different phylum or kingdom or eco-niche...?  But sometimes I've approached such reflections just by interrogating those things I take to be "given" about life -- whatever features and bases seem fundamental or taken for granted -- and then I experiment with "thinking otherwise."  (This is what I did with my language experiment years ago, trying to figure out how I could communicate in a nuanced, "full" way, without appealing to nouns or pronouns.)

'Thinking' like an alien - what you say does seem like a good approach. What are the givens, and wondering 'what ifs'.

I remember that when I heard about your language creation before I was very impressed. You do seem primed with capability and interest to write a book. If you ever can get to it in a full life.

Part of my free thinking, self-care time this early AM was spent floating around the topic of writing an alien story (not me actually writing :)) and I came to remember more of the obvious of what audience-readers want and need in order to relate. The freedom within mental and mind may be a fine place to start (probably among many) but most people need action and plot line, often hero's journey-like, in order to stay engaged.

A story probably needs a lot of everyday touch-points, within, for one example of visualizing scope and depth, the AQAL framework, though certainly not necessary.

If I had an other life to live, and could start with some of what I have gained in this one, I might work on becoming a story-teller, and novelist. You could probably pull it off now :) Jus sayin.

So your son is deep into other worlds - exciting expansions - hah.



Balder said:

As I think I mentioned, Saturn Run was the first science fiction novel I've read in probably several decades.  I used to read sci-fi and fantasy voraciously, especially in my teens, but I started to shift to other genres (non-fiction and fiction) once I entered college, just dipping into a sci-fi or horror book every now and then.  But now that I have a teenage son who enjoys reading sci-fi and fantasy as well, I've started to think about the genre again -- especially since he pushes me every now and then to write a book like the ones he reads...

Now your discussion of Seveneves has me thinking about picking up that book as well.  So this may be a gentle easing back in to the genre.  (I did also just read Ursula K. LeGuin's book, The Dispossessed, for a book club event about a month ago -- and really enjoyed it.  As you recall, her books are often quite stimulating and evocative ... and The Dispossessed touches on themes, especially, that have been recurrent here on IPS, particularly on the anti-capitalism thread).

My approach to "thinking the alien" would likely be similar to yours: either starting from basic physical and biological premises and then imaginatively following out an alternative evolutionary pathway: what would it be like if creatures that communicate through chemical exchanges, or echolocation, crossed an evolutionary threshold into self-consciousness and sapience...?  Or what would advanced beings be like if they evolved out of a radically different phylum or kingdom or eco-niche...?  But sometimes I've approached such reflections just by interrogating those things I take to be "given" about life -- whatever features and bases seem fundamental or taken for granted -- and then I experiment with "thinking otherwise."  (This is what I did with my language experiment years ago, trying to figure out how I could communicate in a nuanced, "full" way, without appealing to nouns or pronouns.)

"Trending" these days seems to be interest in greater detail and realism about travel in space and habitation of space craft and planets.

With this book, the Martian book and movie, Neale Stephenson's SevenEves, and probably other science fiction that is contemporaneous with the true and recent 1 year-plus space station astronaut, it doesn't surprise and it does make me smile that TED, the trender-of-almost-cutting-edge, has a pithy presentational sketch for us.

A nice modest slice through the challenges of human beings' potential adaptation to new worlds of experience beyond planet earth:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_nip_how_humans_could_evolve_to_surviv...

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