I discovered Karl Schroeder’s work when I was researching brown dwarfs some years ago. Who knew that somebody was writing novels about civilizations around these dim objects? Permanence (Tor, 2003) was a real eye-opener, as were the deep-space cultures it described. Schroeder hooked me again with his latest book — he’s dealing with a preoccupation of mine, a human presence in the deep space regions between ourselves and the nearest stars, where resources are abundant and dark worlds move far from any sun. How to maintain such a society and allow it to grow into something like an empire? Karl explains the mechanism below. Science fiction fans, of which there are many on Centauri Dreams, will know Karl as the author of many other novels, including Ventus (2000), Lady of Mazes (2005) and Sun of Suns (2006).
by Karl Schroeder
My newest science fiction novel, Lockstep, has just finished its serialization in Analogmagazine, and Tor Books will have it on the bookshelves March 24. Reactions have been pretty favourable—except that I’ve managed to offend a small but vocal group of my readers. It seems that some people are outraged that I’ve written an SF story in which faster than light travel is impossible.
I did write Lockstep because I understood that it’s not actual starflight that interests most people—it’s the romance of a Star Trek or Star Wars-type interstellar civilization they want. Not the reality, but the fantasy. Even so, I misjudged the, well, the fervor with which some people cling to the belief that the lightspeed limit will just somehow, magically and handwavingly, get engineered around.
This is ironic, because the whole point of Lockstep was to find a way to have that Star Wars-like interstellar civilization in reality and not just fantasy. As an artist, I’m familiar with the power of creative constraint to generate ideas, and for Lockstep I put two constraints on myself: 1) No FTL or unknown science would be allowed in the novel. 2) The novel would contain a full-blown interstellar civilization exactly like those you find in books with FTL.
Creativity under constraint is the best kind of creativity; it’s the kind that really may take us to the stars someday. In this case, by placing such mutually contradictory — even impossible — restrictions on myself, I was forced into a solution that, in hindsight, is obvious. It is simply this: everyone I know of who has thought about interstellar civilization has thought that the big problem to be solved is the problem of speed. The issue, though (as opposed to the problem), is how to travel to an interstellar destination, spend some time there, and return to the same home you left. Near-c travel solves this problem for you, but not for those you left at home. FTL solves the problem for both you and home, but with the caveat that it’s impossible. (Okay, okay, for the outraged among you: as far as we know. To put it more exactly, we can’t prove that FTL is impossible any more than we can prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’ll concede that.)
Read the rest here…
Here is a link to December 6, 2013s Youtube video of Jason McClellan’s Spacing Out space/UFO show. Interesting take on science and UFOs.
A U.S. scientist wants to detect Mars life and teleport it to Earth. And he already has the technology to do it.
Dr. J. Craig Venter. (Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute)
J. Craig Venter, Ph.D. is a leading scientist in the field of genomic research. He is also the founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company dedicated to “commercializing genomic-driven solutions to address global needs such as new sources of energy, new food and nutritional products, and next generation vaccines.”
He and his research team have been field-testing technology that he believes will revolutionize the search for extraterrestrial life. According to the South China Morning Post, “Not only does Venter say his invention will detect and decode DNA hiding in otherworldly soil or water samples – proving once and for all that we are not alone in the universe – it will also beam the information back to Earth and allow scientists to reconstruct living copies in a biosafety facility.” He hopes to detect Martian life and bring it to Earth using a digital biological converter, or biological teleporter.
The India Times describes, “Dr. Venter’s machine would merely create a copy of an organism from a distant location — more like a biological fax machine.” Storing genetic code in a computer and transmitting it just like any other data is the basic idea.
Cover of J. Craig Venter’s latest book. (Credit: Viking Adult)
Dr. Venter’s team, and scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center, recently conducted field-testing of this technology in the Mojave Desert south of Baker, California–a dry environment similar to Mars. Researchers tested the unit that would, in theory, send data back from Mars. But according to Dr. Venter, a prototype of the unit that would receive the transmitted data here on Earth exists as well, and will be available for sale next year.
India Times explains that this machine will be able to “automate the synthesis of genes by stringing small pieces of DNA together to make larger ones.” With this technology, “A person with a bacterial infection might be sent the code to recreate a virus intended to kill that specific bacterium.” Venter optimistically surmises that this technology will enable doctors to “send an antibiotic as an email,” and allow diabetics to “download insulin from the Internet.”
From Centauri Dreams:
Because of my fascination with exotic venues for astrobiology, I’ve always enjoyed Karl Schroeder’s novels. The Canadian writer explored brown dwarf planets as future venues for human settlement in Permanence (2002), and in his new book Lockstep (soon to be published by Tor, currently being serialized in Analog), Schroeder looks at ‘rogue’ planets, worlds that move through the galaxy without a central star. Imagine crimson worlds baked by cosmic radiation, their surfaces building up, over the aeons, the rust red complex organic molecules called tholins. Or consider gas giants long ago ejected from the system that gave them birth by close encounters with other worlds.
Objects like these and more are surely out there given what we know about gravitational interactions within planetary systems, and they’re probably out there in huge numbers. I’m not going to review how Lockstep uses them just yet — in any case, I haven’t finished the book — but we’ll return to its ingenious solution to time and distance problems in a future post. Right now I just want to mention that one of Schroeder’s characters muses upon ‘a hundred thousand nomad planets for every star in the galaxy.’ Now that’s some serious real estate.
If the number sounds like a novelistic exaggeration, it’s nonetheless drawn from recent work. Schroeder is invoking the work of Louis Strigari (Stanford University), who has studied the possibilities not only of planets ejected from their own systems but those that may form directly from a molecular cloud. The figure of 105 free-floating planetary objects for every main sequence star is from a 2012 paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (you can read more about Strigari’s ideas in ‘Island-Hopping’ to the Stars).
Rogue planets would be tricky to find but gravitational microlensing should help us set constraints on their actual numbers, and as we’ll see below, direct imaging has its uses. If rogue worlds are available in such quantities, we can imagine a starfaring culture capable of exploiting their resources. We can even speculate that a thick atmosphere that can trap infrared heat coupled with tectonic or radioactive heat sources from within could sustain elemental forms of life even in the absence of a star. Tens of thousands of objects in nearby interstellar space would obviously be a spur for exploration.
A Newly Found Orphan World
Eighty light years from Earth floats a solitary planet that has been discovered through its heat signature in data collected by the Pan-STARRS 1 wide-field survey telescope on Maui. In mass, color, and energy output, the world is similar to directly imaged planets. As you might expect, PSO J318.5-22, a gas giant about six times the mass of Jupiter, turned up during a search for brown dwarfs, delving into the datasets of a survey that has already produced about 4000 terabytes of information. The discovery was then followed up through multiple observations by equipment on nearby Mauna Kea, with spectra from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the Gemini North Telescope indicating the young, low-mass object was not a brown dwarf.
Image: Multicolor image from the Pan-STARRS1 telescope of the free-floating planet PSO J318.5-22, in the constellation of Capricornus. The planet is extremely cold and faint, about 100 billion times fainter in optical light than the planet Venus. Most of its energy is emitted at infrared wavelengths. The image is 125 arcseconds on a side. Credit: N. Metcalfe & Pan-STARRS 1 Science Consortium.
“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” explained team leader Dr. Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”
The find is interesting on a number of levels, not least of which is that observations of gas giant planets around young stars have shown that their spectra differ from those of L- and T-class brown dwarfs. Young planets like these, according to the paper on this work, show redder colors in the near-infrared, fainter absolute magnitudes at the same wavelength and other spectral peculiarities that suggest the line of development between brown dwarfs and gas giant planets may not be as clear cut as once assumed. The paper makes clear how complex the issue is:
PSO J318.5−22 shares a strong physical similarity to the young dusty planets HR 8799bcd and 2MASS J1207−39b, as seen in its colors, absolute magnitudes, spectrum, luminosity, and mass. Most notably, it is the ﬁrst ﬁeld L dwarf with near-IR absolute magnitudes as faint as the HR 8799 and 2MASS J1207−39 planets, demonstrating that the very red, faint region of the near-IR color-magnitude diagram is not exclusive to young exoplanets. Its probable membership in the β Pic moving group makes it a new substellar benchmark at young ages and planetary masses.
A landmark indeed, and here the Beta Pictoris moving group, a collection of young stars formed about twelve million years ago, is worth noting. Beta Pictoris itself is known to have a young gas giant planet in orbit around it. The newly detected PSO J318.5−22 is lower still in mass than the Beta Pictoris planet and it is thought to have formed in a different way. The paper goes on:
We ﬁnd very red, low-gravity L dwarfs have ≈400 K cooler temperatures relative to ﬁeld objects of comparable spectral type, yet have similar luminosities. Comparing very red L dwarf spectra to each other and to directly imaged planets highlights the challenges of diagnosing physical properties from near-IR spectra.
The beauty of objects like these from an astronomical point of view is that we don’t have to worry about filtering out the overwhelming light of a parent star as we study them. Co-author Niall Deacon (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) thinks PSO J318.5−22 will “provide a wonderful view into the inner workings of gas-giant planets like Jupiter shortly after their birth.” The discovery also gives us much to think about in terms of future explorations as we contemplate a cosmos in which perhaps vast numbers of planets move in solitary trajectories through the galaxy.
I like the idea of targeting “rogue” planets as potential interstellar missions within the next 100 years. The probes can be smaller and the fuel problem won’t be as bad.
From Open Minds TV:
In the search for intelligent extraterrestrials, scientists listen for incoming radio signals and they hunt for Earth-like planets. Some scientists are also looking for megastructures constructed by aliens.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope searches for planets using the transit method–Kepler’s sensors detect dips in brightness caused when an alien planet passes in front of its star from Kepler’s perspective. And this same method is used by scientists searching the universe for alien megastructures.
Simple illustration of a Dyson Sphere. (Credit: Vedexent/Wikimedia Commons)
According to Universe Today, astronomer Geoff Marcy, who was recently appointed to the new Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at the University of California at Berkeley, was awarded a grant to hunt for evidence of Dyson spheres using Kepler data. A Dyson sphere is a theoretical megastructure envisioned by theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson consisting of a giant array of solar panels that would surround a star to harvest its energy.
Scientists hunting alien megastructures are also looking for theoretical structures known as ringworlds. Universe Today explains that ringworlds “would consist of a giant ring in orbit around a star, constructed comfortably inside the star’s habitable zone.”
Whether alien megastructures actually exist is unknown. But as Universe Today points out, “The possibility alone is exciting enough to make it worth continuing to look.”
Actually looking for Ring Worlds and Dyson Spheres would be relatively easy using Kepler data since the Kepler probe uses occluded starlight to detect transitioning alien planets.
The theory is that advanced alien tech would be larger constructions than normal planets and thus, the starlight would be blocked longer. That suggests super-alien cultures.
Sigh. What ever happened to old fashioned UFOs, lol?
From Centauri Dreams:
Astronautics pioneer Robert H. Goddard is usually thought of in connection with liquid fuel rockets. It was his test flight of such a rocket in March of 1926 that demonstrated a principle he had been working on since patenting two concepts for future engines, one a liquid fuel design, the other a staged rocket using solid fuels. “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” published in 1920, was a treatise published by the Smithsonian that developed the mathematics behind rocket flight, a report that discussed the possibility of a rocket reaching the Moon.
While Goddard’s work could be said to have anticipated many technologies subsequently developed by later engineers, the man was not without a visionary streak that went well beyond the near-term, expressing itself on at least one occasion on the subject of interstellar flight. Written in January of 1918, “The Ultimate Migration” was not a scientific paper but merely a set of notes, one that Goddard carefully tucked away from view, as seen in this excerpt from his later document “Material for an Autobiography” (1927):
“A manuscript I wrote on January 14, 1918 … and deposited in a friend’s safe … speculated as to the last migration of the human race, as consisting of a number of expeditions sent out into the regions of thickly distributed stars, taking in a condensed form all the knowledge of the race, using either atomic energy or hydrogen, oxygen and solar energy… [It] was contained in an inner envelope which suggested that the writing inside should be read only by an optimist.”
Optimism is, of course, standard currency in these pages, so it seems natural to reconsider Goddard’s ideas here. As to his caution, we might remember that the idea of a lunar mission discussed in “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” not long after would bring him ridicule from some elements in the press, who lectured him on the infeasibility of a rocket engine functioning in space without air to push against. It was Goddard, of course, who was right, but he was ever a cautious man, and his dislike of the press was, I suspect, not so much born out of this incident but simply confirmed by it.
In the event, Goddard’s manuscript remained sealed and was not published until 1972. What I hadn’t realized was that Goddard, on the same day he wrote the original manuscript, also wrote a condensed version that David Baker recently published for the British Interplanetary Society. It’s an interesting distillation of the rocket scientist’s thoughts that speculates on how we might use an asteroid or a small moon as the vehicle for a journey to another star. The ideal propulsion method would, in Goddard’s view, be through the control of what he called ‘intra-atomic energy.’
Image: Rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard, whose notes on an interstellar future discuss human migration to the stars.
Atomic propulsion would allow journeys to the stars lasting thousands of years with the passengers living inside a generation ship, one in which, he noted, “the characteristics and natures of the passengers might change, with the succeeding generations.” We’ve made the same speculation here, wondering whether a crew living and dying inside an artificial world wouldn’t so adapt to the environment that it would eventually choose not to live on a planetary surface, no matter what it found in the destination solar system.
And if atomic energy could not be harnessed? In that case, Goddard speculated that humans could be placed in what we today would think of as suspended animation, the crew awakened at intervals of 10,000 years for a passage to the nearest stars, and intervals of a million years for greater distances. Goddard speculates on how an accurate clock could be built to ensure awakening, which he thought would be necessary for human intervention to steer the spacecraft if it came to be off its course. Suspended animation would involve huge changes to the body:
…will it be possible to reduce the protoplasm in the human body to the granular state, so that it can withstand the intense cold of interstellar space? It would probably be necessary to dessicate the body, more or less, before this state could be produced. Awakening may have to be done very slowly. It might be necessary to have people evolve, through a number of generations, for this purpose.
As to destinations, Goddard saw the ideal as a star like the Sun or, interestingly, a binary system with two suns like ours — perhaps he was thinking of the Alpha Centauri stars here. But that was only the beginning, for Goddard thought in terms of migration, not just exploration. His notes tell us that expeditions should be sent to all parts of the Milky Way, wherever new stars are thickly clustered. Each expedition should include “…all the knowledge, literature, art (in a condensed form), and description of tools, appliances, and processes, in as condensed, light, and indestructible a form as possible, so that a new civilisation could begin where the old ended.”
The notes end with the thought that if neither of these scenarios develops, it might still be possible to spread our species to the stars by sending human protoplasm, “…this protoplasm being of such a nature as to produce human beings eventually, by evolution.” Given that Goddard locked his manuscript away, it could have had no influence on Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s essay “The Future of Earth and Mankind,” which in 1928 speculated that humans might travel on millennial voyages to the stars aboard the future equivalent of a Noah’s Ark.
Interstellar voyages lasting thousands of years would become a familiar trope of science fiction in the ensuing decades, but it is interesting to see how, at the dawn of liquid fuel rocketry, rocket pioneers were already thinking ahead to far-future implications of the technology. Goddard was writing at a time when estimates of the Sun’s lifetime gave our species just millions of years before its demise — a cooling Sun was a reason for future migration. We would later learn the Sun’s lifetime was much longer, but the migration of humans to the stars would retain its fascination for those who contemplate not only worldships but much faster journeys.
Goddard was obviously influenced by his contemporary J.D. Bernal with his The World, the Flesh and the Devil which predicted Man’s spread out into the Solar System and interstellar space with artificial worlds and hollowed out asteroids.
These worlds are needed because such journeys will take hundreds or perhaps thousands of years.
Of course that brings in natural evolution and what these people inside these places will become when they eventually reach their destinations and if they’ll actually have need of them.
From Mysterious Universe:
Although many people look to the skies for answers concerning the UFO puzzle, there are more than a few reports on file demonstrating that UFOs have a deep connection to the oceans of our world. Indeed, I have many such cases in my files, and here’s just a few of them. Puerto Rico, or to give it its correct title, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is what is known as an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Caribbean Sea. And according to some, it may very well be the one place – possibly more than any other on the planet – that is home to not just one secret base, but to an overwhelming plethora of classified locations, certainly of a governmental nature, and maybe even of an alien nature, too.
Over the course of the last twenty-years or so, the people of Puerto Rico have been swamped by a multitude of UFO encounters, sightings of strange and unearthly-looking craft surfacing from both mountainous and cavernous lairs, and run-ins with strange, vampire-style creatures that one might accurately describe as the distinctly evil-twin to Steven Spielberg’s benign E.T.: the Chupacabras. And then there are the USOs (Unidentified Submarine/Submersible Objects) of Puerto Rico.
In 2004, when I visited Puerto Rico for the first time – in search of the Chupacabras – I was told of the account of a former civil-defense employee, who had seen a gigantic, unknown craft rise silently out of the coastal waters of the island, while he was on an early-morning jog in the spring of 1999. In this case, the vast device, which was viewed at a distance of around half-a-mile off the coast, or perhaps slightly more, wobbled slightly – rather like a falling-leaf – as it took to the skies, and then streaked vertically at a fantastic speed, before finally vanishing from view as it grew ever smaller, and was finally lost due to the effects of the bright, rising sun.
Further rumors of a potentially-related nature were also provided to me on that same expedition to the island. They came from a retired police-officer who had heard rumors to the effect that, somewhere off the coast of Puerto Rico – he was not entirely sure where exactly – in late-1993, elements of the U.S. Navy spent several days tracking, via sonar, the movements of a huge USO in the deep waters off Puerto Rico. Perhaps aware of its potentially hazardous nature, the U.S. Navy contingent was ordered to merely carefully log the movements of the undersea craft, but never to engage it any way, shape or form whatsoever that might be interpreted as hostility.
Taking the above into thoughtful consideration, is it truly feasible that Puerto Rico might be home to a massive undersea installation? When one realizes that we, the Human Race, have had the ability to construct such science-fiction-like facilities for decades, then the possibility becomes all-too-real, and not so unbelievable, after all. And, make no mistake: evidence of our very own undersea abilities is far from lacking.
For example, an October 1966 document prepared by one C.F. Austin, of the U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California, includes a truly remarkable statement. Titled Manned Undersea Structures – The Rock-Site Concept, it states in part that: “Large undersea installations with a shirt-sleeve environment have existed under the continental shelves for many decades. The technology now exists, using off-the-shelf petroleum, mining, submarine, and nuclear equipment, to establish permanent manned installations within the sea floor that do not have any air umbilical or other connection with the land or water surface, yet maintain a normal one-atmosphere environment within.”
If, as this previously-classified U.S. Navy document demonstrates, the government of the United States was constructing undersea installations – with a comfortable shirt-sleeve environment, no less – a number of decades before the documentation was even prepared in the mid-1960s, perhaps someone else, someone from a world far, far away, has secretly been doing likewise. And, maybe, they chose Puerto Rico as their secret base of both underground and undersea operations.
Extending from Bermuda in the north to southern Florida, and then east to a point through the Bahamas past Puerto Rico and then back again to Bermuda, is a truly ominous realm of wild, churning and turbulent waters known infamously as the Bermuda Triangle, a permanent fixture in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, and one that has become renowned for the hundreds of aircraft, ships, boats and unfortunate souls that have disappeared in the area without trace – and for decades, too.
Down to earth explanations for such vanishings, it goes without saying, most certainly proliferate. Compass malfunctions, disorientation, sudden and violent bouts of severe weather, mechanical and electrical failure, and pilot error are just some of the conventional theories that have been offered as answers relative to why there should have been so many disappearances in such a clearly delineated area over so many years.
But, not everyone is quite so sure that those particular theories provide all the clues to solving the maritime mystery; one of the reasons being that on numerous occasions USOs have been seen in the area.
One particularly significant case involving a craft of distinctly unknown origin occurred in April 1973 when a Captain Dan Delmonico, a calm and collected character with a fine reputation for being grounded and logical, had an encounter that could be considered anything but grounded and logical.
It was around 4.00 p.m., while negotiating the waters of the Gulf Stream, specifically between Great Isaac Light, north of Bimini, and Miami, when Delmonico was amazed by the sight of a large cigar-shaped object – nearly two hundred feet in length, grey in color, and with rounded ends – which shot through the water, not surprisingly amazing and astounding Delmonico in the process. Who, or what, piloted the strange submersible on that April 1973 afternoon remains unknown.
Ninety sixty-six saw an unusual event occur at Pasajes, Northern Spain that caught the attention of the Ministry of Defense. From a radio officer attached to the S.S. Patrick M. Rotterdam, came the following, which I found in 1997, in a then-newly-released batch of formerly classified British Ministry of Defense files on UFOs. This case does not involve a USO directly, but since the witnesses were at sea, it may be of some relevance. A letter sent to the MoD by the ship’s captain reads thus:
“Perhaps the following will be of some interest to you or Jodrell Bank. Whilst at Anchor at Pasajes, North Spain on 22 April at 2100 Bst in a very clear sky, one of the crew noticed a bright patch in the sky and drew my attention to it. It appeared stationary and squarish, the area being about 4 times the size of a full moon. Several of the crew watched, being interested and of course at anchor, there is very little to do.
“The patch elongated and became brighter and to our amazement a complete ring, similar to pictures of flying saucers, bright and distinct with dark centre. For several minutes this object remained visible then returned to a patch, receding elongated again. Then it branched out to form a letter M. When the ring was clear it was about [the] same size as a full moon. We know it was not the moon because the moon was in another quadrant and lying on back at [the] same time. The patch receded away into distance. I can assure you none of us were drunk.”
And there you have it: a round-up of just a few of the weirder USO-themed reports from my files, all of which suggest maybe it’s not to the stars – but to the seas – that we should be looking for the answers concerning the many UFO-themed mysteries that dominate our world.
When Bill Byrnes was doing his UFO Hunters years ago, he did a few episodes about underwater UFOs, but he linked them to the extraterrestrial, not underwater life like in the movie ‘The Abyss.’
It’s too bad UFOs are linked to outer space, about 60-70% of UFOs are sighted in or under the water, most of which around South America, not North America.
But since the U.S. and thus North America has the bully pulpit, the UFO meme is the extraterrestrial variety, not under the oceans.
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
From Dr. David Clarke:
The death of ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher has deprived UFOlogists of an answer to an enduring question: what did she really know about Britain’s Roswell incident?
Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain’s Prime Minister during at the time of the Rendlesham incident in 1980 (credit: BBC.co.uk)
Thatcher, who died on 8 April aged 87, was 19 months into her first term as Prime Minister in 1980 when US airmen at the nuclear-armed twin airbase RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge reported ‘unexplained lights’ (UFOs) hovering above Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
The ‘Rendlesham Forest’ incident happened at the height of the Cold War when tensions in Poland – then behind the Iron Curtain -were reaching crisis point. In the years that followed, the Ministry of Defence drew up secret plans to base US cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common and US airbases in eastern England and was keen to avoid drawing attention to a persistent story about a UFO landing near one of them.
MoD always claimed the UFO incident was ‘of no defence significance’ but until I obtained a copy of their closed file on the case in 2001 – using a precursor to the Freedom of Information Act – the results of their inquiries into the strange sightings remained shrouded in secrecy.
The file revealed their conclusion that ‘it was highly unlikely that any violation of UK airspace would be heralded by such a display of lights…[we] think it equally likely that any [Soviet] reconnaissance or spying activity would be announced in this way.‘
But before these plain facts entered the public domain UFOlogist and internet gossip columnist Georgina Bruni revealed that she had quizzed Thatcher face-to-face about her knowledge of UFOs and Rendlesham.
The bizarre conversation took place in London at a charity cocktail party during 1997, shortly after the former Prime Minister had returned from an engagement in Washington DC. At the time Bruni was working on a book that she hoped would expose ‘the truth’ about Britain’s Roswell.
Seizing the opportunity, Bruni asked her opinion on UFOs and claims that world leaders knew about the existence of alien technology. She received this response:
‘You can’t tell the people’
As Special Branch guards and husband Dennis listened, Bruni asked if she was referring to UFOs. According to her account published in 2001, the following exchange then took place:
‘Determined to pursue the questioning I stood facing her and, almost in a whisper, I said, “UFOs and alien technology, Lady Thatcher.”
“You must get your facts right,” she answered.
“What facts?” I wanted to know. In a worried tone of voice, but with her usual composure, she repeated,
“You must have the facts and you can’t tell the people.”
That was the end of the conversation. Bruni – who died in 2008 – shook Thatcher’s hand, thanked her and the Prime Minister was escorted out of the room, followed by her bodyguards.
Bruni was so impressed by this ‘admission’ that she used the phrase You Can’t Tell the People, despite its ambiguous status, as the title of her 2000 book that publishers Macmillan promoted as ‘the definitive account of the Rendlesham Forest incident’.
As a believer in UFOs and conspiracy theories, Bruni’s gut instinct was Thatcher, like Winston Churchill and other world leaders, had been briefed on the defence threat posed by UFOs and aliens. She mused: ‘If Britain was under threat…Thatcher would want to know all the intricate details…What were the facts she was referring to and, even more importantly, why should she insist that the people should not be told about UFOs?’
In the second edition of the book Bruni revealed she was, as a result of her research into the mystery:
‘…convinced that they [UFOnauts] are time travellers from our future or another dimension…that would account for why there is a reluctance from our governments to reveal the truth about these encounters. How would you tell the people that there is an intelligence far more advanced than we are, who are capable of creating such incredible technology?’ (p406, paperback edition)
Several attempts were made to obtain an explanation of the phrase ‘you can’t tell the people’ from Baroness Thatcher’s office, without success. But a persistent UFOlogist, the late Eric Morris, extracted one plausible explanation from the former PM’s personal assistant Mary Wakeley.
In a letter dated 12 November 2001, that Morris later donated to my archive, Wakeley insisted that the comment ‘you must first get your facts right’ was one ‘that Lady Thatcher regularly uses in almost all circumstances and therefore it would be no surprise that she might have said the same on this occasion.’
Extract from a letter sent by Margaret Thatcher’s PA to UFOlogist Eric Morris in 2001 (author’s collection)
‘However, I do not think one should read too much into it – as the author [Bruni] obviously has done.’
Wakeley reveals she was familiar with the UFO story as she notes that ‘you will not be surprised that this matter has been raised before.’
Although this anecdote appears to have impressed Bruni’s publishers, like many UFO-related yarns, it does not stand up to critical scrutiny.
It could, for instance, be argued the ‘facts’ referred to by Thatcher were those contained in the MoD’s policy assessment – used to justify the closure of their UFO desk in 2009 – that UFOs as alien craft did not exist but those who believed in them would never accept that disappointing conclusion.
So this was more a case of ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’ rather than a clue to the puzzle of Britain’s Roswell incident.
A well written article, but I disagree with Dr. Clarke on a couple of things:
The testimony of the security people on Christmas 1980 and -
As Stanton Friedman says, “Not all UFOs are flying saucers, but all flying saucers are UFOs.”
And not all flying saucers ( or flying triangles ) are interstellar craft. Some might be time machines.
And that might be worth kept secret by certain world leaders.
But we’ll never know.
Another hat tip to the Daily Grail.
This picture was produced by my son Chris with my assistance to develop imagery that helps describe a “solid light” case that was focused at a beach headland area at Kiama New South Wales in Australia back in the early 1970s. I have revisited this affair many times and it has inspired my worldwide focus on similar cases. Gildas Bourdais from France helped me immensely with regard to the strange event played at Taize back in 1972. I have also focused on the classic Trancas case from Argentina in 1963. Both cases are striking, but not without their weaknesses and possible explanations. In both cases my enquiries to date suggest the possible explanations are not all that compelling, but we still need to examine them, to see how the evidence for these classic cases stack up.An objective and solid evidence based focus on the role military and government has emerged with the appearance of the book “UFOs and Government – A Historical Inquiry” by the UFO History Group, the primary authors being Dr. Michael Swords and Robert Powell, and contributions from the rest of the group – Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, myself (Bill Chalker), Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme, Jan Aldrich and Steve Purcell.One of the major themes that runs through the “UFOs and Government” narrative is the recurring sense of lost opportunities to engage appropriately with a consistently unexplained phenomena, which if studied properly could yield fascinating scientific breakthroughs. When the picture presented is of poor investigation and active debunking with far too little serious in depth analysis, and yet we have impressive international evidence of a consistent unexplained phenomenon, there is a vast disconnection from an appropriate scientific response.The book “UFOs and Government” alludes to several lost opportunities to focus on enduring unexplained attributes of the UFO phenomenon. Unfortunately if your only insight into the UFO phenomenon was the typical debunking official military response revealed time and time again by their documents and histories, you would miss these strange and possibly breakthrough attributes of the UFO phenomenon.A striking example of this is the fascinating 1960 Red Bluff California case where official attitudes caused a UFO witness, a highway patrol officer, to not initially describe the “light beam projected by the object seemed like what would be described today, as a big, fat laser beam. That is, it did not spread out or diffuse “properly.” But worse than that, the beam seemed to have an “end” to it,” wrote Mike Swords. Here was a remarkable example of what many researchers have called “solid light” in action. In writing this Dr. Swords touched upon a critical issue. He highlighted that Dr. James McDonald did manage to draw out this remarkable detail, because he was actually interested in what the witnesses reported, rather than conducting a myopic debunking exercise. Genuine scientific skepticism, driven by a desire to question and carefully investigate an experience can potentially yield scientific breakthroughs. We now know that there are many such cases of “this peculiar sawed-off light” or “solid light.”Indeed Michael Sword’s indicated in an endnote in “UFOs and Government” that “sawed-off light” cases are “a peculiar feature of a smallish set of “high strangeness” UFO encounters. As these encounters are widely spread across the world, this feature is suprising and difficult to explain on sociological grounds.” He indicated he had some 44 cases in his own files.I had been studying these sorts of “solid light” cases for decades so I naturally contacted Mike about his collection.I emailed Mike Swords:“I have been quietly studying for decades this strange aspect of many worldwide UFO cases and have developed a very disorganised collection of material on such cases.“In both “The OZ Files” and “Hair of the Alien” I refer to solid light cases and describe an Australian case from Kiama, southern NSW from the early 1970s. I have been looking into the case since learning of it in the 1990s and earlier this year conducted a very detailed site investigation to determine if the observations reported by the primary witness were possible and to see if further information could be found. The case is rather complicated and also has entity and abduction aspects. The primary witness has closely guarded his privacy and I have only had one face to face meeting with him, as well as many phone conversations, written statements and emails.“The on site investigations this year took place because the main witness was more forthcoming with locational details. Some of this was in my original interview notes and material when we originally talked in person, however they were not precise enough to undertake an on site reconstruction. Finally this year these confirmations were forthcoming and I had sufficient detail to locate the exact viewing locations, lines of sight, and confirm accurately the Kiama beach location. I stayed there for 2 days gathering information and managed to confirm that his ex parents in law were still living at the house in question. The ex father in law while elderly recollected the night, but while he feels he may not remember the event as the main witness Graham described to me, he is certain that his former son-in-law would not have invented the story. Bill, the ex-father in law, recollects that Graham was agitated and focused on the incident, but Bill cannot recollect that his own involvement was as Graham described it in his accounts to me.“Having talked to Graham a number of times over the years I have found him to be a compelling witness, but one who has struggled mightily with the ontological status of the events. Indeed he was originally much more comfortable casting the event as a strange dream. While the recent investigations seem to caste the stranger aspects as being witnessed by Graham only with marginal supporting cast in the form of his ex wife and ex father and mother in law, as well as possibly some neighbours, who may have interpreted the event in different ways, this seems to be a strange “display” event, so frequently reported in many CE type cases, particularly those with high strangeness elements, such as this one. In many of these sorts of cases there often seems to be selective perceptions of the events, sometimes so acute that often people near to each other have a very different experience, as if a central witness is the only intended viewer?“The ongoing investigation has continued to energise my interest in solid light cases and I have been attempting to drag all my solid light cases together with a view to create a catalogue of such cases, building on the early SOBEPS catalogue of the 1970s.“I was also intrigued with a UFO film taken by Ray Stanford, covered in Chris Lambright‘s recent e-book “X Descending”. Because I had some previous contact with Ray back in the 1970s and early 1980s and talked to him briefly at the 1987 Washington DC MUFON symposium, I renewed our acquaintance. This lead to some extensive email exchanges in which he elaborated on the “new film”, beyond the “air spike”/Leik Myrabo connection which Chris has understandably focused on.“Instead I focused on a different part of the same footage which appears to show a “solid light” projection event.“Apart from many other cases I was also drawn towards a Chinese event I located that occurred in 1998 at a desert Air Force base, involving a Chinese Air Force F-6 pursuit. The possibly striking confirmation of Zhao Xu, who is described as a famous Chinese Defence expert in unmanned aircraft, as one of the various high level witnesses, who mentioned “Surprisingly these two light beams of light were not as we normally see light beams, as has been according to the distance and spread, but as two light-emitting entities, sticking out from the bottom of the UFO ending on a certain length. At least today we have not got control of this sort of light technology.” Radar detection was also involved. Given this comment was made by a defence specialist* I suspect some Chinese military science investigation and research since then.* Correction: following further research and more detailed translations the quote above referring to “two light-emitting entities” comes from General Li the PLAAF missile base commander in the Badain Jaran Desert in Lanzhou province. Major General Zhao Xu witnessed the UFO incident. It was General Li’s pilots who undertook the attempted aerial pirsuits and close up observations.“Meanwhile open science has been playing with Bose-Einstein condensates et.al to manipulate light in diverse ways – our crude opening gambit in a direction that might show us “solid light” effects that have been reported for decades in a diverse range of international (UFO) case material. Mainstream science directions in this area have been nicely summarised with references in Sidney Perkowitz‘s “Slow Light: Invisibility, Teleportation, and other mysteries of light” (2011).“Hence my ongoing deep focus on “solid light” cases and my long winded way of asking if I can get a copy of your 44 “solid light” case files! A big ask I know, but it would support an in-depth focus on these cases and perhaps a collaborative workup of a catalogue of such cases to build on the early and somewhat flawed SOBEPS catalogue?“Best wishes in “solid light” anticipation, like don’t keep me in the dark (pun intended),Bill”Mike was very helpful and shared his listing of cases. Indeed he addressed this research focus in his always interesting blog “The Big Study” – thebiggeststudy.blogspot.com – on October 19 2012 – with a post entitled” “SLOW LIGHT & UFOs”:“Bill Chalker wrote the other day. He’s contemplating making a review of so-called “solid light” UFO cases, and I welcome that. Bill’s a hard-science-trained ufologist and might just be able to make some sense of a real puzzlement in this field. He asked me if I’d scour my files for such cases [since I'd foolishly admitted to having around 44 of such things], and so I did, making a list for him to pursue and build his analysis more robustly [Bill already had a bigger bunch than that].”Mike further stated, “In my understanding the term “solid light” came from witness testimony— the light beam seemed “solid”; it was as if the beam extended like a solid tube, etc. This phrase stuck but is probably a bad one. The light effects that we’re witnessing in these cases behave not like solids but like “regular” light which is abnormally “contained” somehow. Things don’t seem to be “impacted” by these beams, only illuminated by them. The things [generally] seem to be more like spatially-constrained lasers [admittedly of wide diameter] than anything solid, and might well be more like tubes [i.e. hollow] than “full” beams.”I recommend readers read Mike Swords valuable post on this fascinating group of cases.I’ve included the core details of the catalyst for this re-invigorated enquiry into “solid light” cases.BIZZARE UFO “LIGHT” PHENOMENA AT KIAMA…. I was approached by a man who was troubled by a bizarre episode on the south coast at Kiama, in the early 1970s…. The reporting witness, who I will call Graham, has pondered the nature of what occurred. He is troubled by it and now feels more comfortable with it being a dream. The fragmentary nature of the events and the strange elements of the experience beckon this interpretation. But there are startling aspects that fit in with some extraordinary characteristics of the UFO phenomenon. I have spoken to Graham on a number of occasions and meet him directly for an extended interview. I found him to be a compelling witness who is grappling with the ontological issues that striking episodes often force us to confront. I have quoted from his own prepared statement:“Awoken by a light coming into the room, I was too drowsy to do anything about it, I wanted to sleep. It came to mind that the only way light could come into the window was a light was being shone at it. I thought it may be an intruder so I forced myself awake, to step over the baby and my two year old daughter sleeping on the floor beside me. When I got to the window I could see nothing unusual outside. Thinking it must have been a dream because I had remarked on the endless stream of car headlights winding their way along the old highway towards Sydney. I laid down again and fell quickly asleep. Again the light came into the room. This time I jumped up quickly, wide awake again, there was nothing unusual outside. Suddenly I saw a light beam white in colour with a blue fluorescent tinge evaporating from it. Because of the luminescence of the light I was able to make out the shape of a flying craft from which the beam projected at an angle to the ground of about 75o. “The beam was about 30 feet long and about 2 feet six inches diameter, given the craft was between the headland I was on and the next headland. Suddenly the beam, still only 30 feet long fell, like a perfect cylinder of solid light. It did not fall in the direction of gravity, it continued along the path of its own axis. The cylinder of solid light hit a caravan. Upon impact the light behaved like water, pouring over the caravan, over its roof, over its walls, over every nook and cranny of the van. Like fluorescent paint from an electro, airless spray gun. The caravan illuminated completely for about three seconds then the light faded away. My attention was on the light. I could not see the craft any more.“I rubbed my eyes and looked for the craft. It appeared slightly to the left of its original position with another beam of light, descending from it at a very slow speed; say about only 3 feet per second. When the beam reached a given length, longer than the first time, it began falling as before. This time it hit an amenities block and the light covered its surfaces completely illuminating it in the same way as the caravan. Again the light faded away.“From the same location, the craft let another beam go at an angle of about 45o to the ground level line. The beam was much longer than before. It reached the beach and illuminated approximately an area of sand forty feet at its widest. Inside the lighted area were two men standing motionless looking up at the craft. A young woman jumped up from sitting near a small beach fire and ran to stand with the two men. A second young woman was running backwards trying to brush the light off her arms and body. Then she too stood separate to the other three and also stared up at the craft. The light suddenly went out and I looked for the people. Has it taken the people I thought. Where as I was marvelling at the craft and light before, I now became angry, thinking it has terrorised that woman. It was not a good thing as I first thought. Now I could see the fire dimly glowing. I looked this way and that to see if any of the people walked in front of the fire, to prove they were still there. I fell asleep on my feet. When I awoke I was standing on the other side of the window, one hand on the window.“I looked outside the window only feet away. The craft hovered over the street in front of the house. It manoeuvred very close to the window. I was impressed that it looked like a spaceship. It had no helicopter noises or blades. It did not force itself off the ground. There was no blowing of the small trees. It was not a hovercraft, and it had no wings like a plane. The metallic material it was made of appeared as though it was unpolished Zinc alloy. It had no seams, no rivets, no weld marks, no plates visible. It was as if it was made from one piece of metal about 40 feet wide and 10 feet high, which began to spin in one direction, then it stopped and spun for a shorter time in the opposite direction. Then it stopped spinning, hovering in a steady position above the skyline. There were no thoughts it belonged to the western world. That it was a secret craft, that got into difficulty. That I wasn’t meant to see. I blacked out.“When I came to, the craft was still opposite my window. I thought why was I meant to see that it had no welds or seams, it seemed to want to show me that. I looked at a window shape about six feet wide and two feet six inches high with carved corners. The metallic window shield suddenly disappeared and I could see inside the craft. I saw no fittings. It had flat vertical off white walls. I felt very peaciful. A man walked into the room of the craft and stood in front of the window. As he walked in he was looking at a flat object he was holding in his hands, like a clip board but thicker. He began to move his arms as though he was working on something at bench height below the window. Totally absorbed, he worked away. I felt completely safe. Another man then entered the room looking at the other man and what he was doing. He stood also facing me looking at the bench and pointing like without words he was helping the other fix something.“They had bright silver one piece suits like thin wetsuits on, with no badges or markings. They carried no weapons or tools. The craft had no fittings or anything that looked like a weapon, so I felt safe. And besides, they didn’t know I was watching them. With that thought the last one to enter the room smiled at the other, then they both smiled directly at me. I had physical fright, my hair stood on end literally and I knew what it meant to be really scared. I dropped to the floor and said, “Everybody keep down. Stay out of the light.” I knew that in the light they could control my thinking to feel and think peacefully. Suddenly great noise and severe vibration of the house took place. The laundry light went dim, the fridge began jumping about and there was great noise above the roof. The washing machine was bumping about also. I said, “Quickly get under the doorways, the house is going to fall.” It was like the craft overhead sucked the electricity out of the house, then took off.“Bill shouted out, “Shit, what was that? It took the bloody roof off.” I said, “It was a UFO.” Somebody said what, againI said, it was a UFO. Bill said, “Yes I saw it as it took the roof off.” Bill was trying to comprehend how come the roof was still there.“Gordon __ living behind came out to his back door and said very explicitly, “What the …… was that? I thought it took the roof off.” He too was greatly concerned with checking out his roof, reassuring himself it was still there. The lady next door on the seaward side opened a window and said, “Where did it crash? Do we have to get out?” She became very angry saying again, “Do we have to get out?” No you’re safe. It’s gone. Relieved, she said, “I am alone with the children tonight, that bloody pilot should be shot for that.” It was unusual to hear people who I had never heard swear before, swearing.“Bill and Gordon were saying it was a UFO. Suddenly, __, Bill’s wife began to try and quieten everyone down and get us all inside. We decided that I should phone the Nowra base. I spoke to the duty officer. He said he was the only one on duty. He asked me if I saw any orange lights. I said, “Yes.” He then quickly said it was a weather balloon you saw, it was let go at such and such a time from Jambaroo, it didn’t inflate properly and other people reported seeing it as an orange light over Kiama. In my mind I thought, he knows what it was, it must be secret. I’ve done my duty reporting it, so that was that.“The next day (our wives) said two men in dark suits with ID tags came to the door asking did any one see anything unusual last night. Frightened by the men, they said no and the men went on. (Our wives) warned me not to speak about it, they were very frightened that something would happen to me if I spoke up and also it would make us a laughing stock in the community. The plan was we would forget it, not talk about it, even to one another. So it would be distanced from our lives.“Bill was reading the paper some days later and said an expensive Navy helicopter flew from Jambaroo over Kiama. It lost its electronics and crashed forty kilometres out to sea off Kiama. The navy was reported to be trying to recover it to find out what happened. The crew were rescued. I said, “Yeh, I know about losing power, the same thing happened to the helicopter as what happened to the fridge and the laundry light. The UFO took its electricity.” Nothing was said further. We ignored the event. What I saw holds future understanding for me, if it was a dream I believe. Possibly it was an active imagination, a dream and actual occurrences combined.”This strange affair has several defined stages, but the evident discontinuities in awareness, argue both for a surreal, dream like quality and also reflect the paradoxical reality of some of the stranger elements of the UFO phenomenon. The extraordinary behaviour of the “light beams” behaving as both “solid” and “liquid” has been reported elsewhere in Australia and overseas. The apparent display quality to episodes in the incident is reflected in many cases. There seems to have been a number of gaps in the time sequence. The apparent plight of the people on the beach is provocative, and one I am trying to unravel. This is clearly a case that would benefit from further in depth enquiry.Fortunately the original witness to the Kiama case re-contacted me. He has been very difficult to relocate after my original interviews with him. He is still very guarded about his privacy and protecting the welfare of his family. However we were able to have some very extensive discussions and a detailed interview where I was able to locate the events much more precisely in the Kiama area and secure more details about the incident.He confirmed an aspect I had long suspected as part of the experience, which he only original hinted at in the vaguest possible way. He has an abduction recollection that was consciously recollected at the time, but he was extremely reluctant to share these details during our original discussions years ago.He recollects sitting in a curved hallway in a strange environment. He heard a voice and turned to find a woman. She asked him, “Do you remember what happened in there?” “No,” he replied. “Do you?” he asked. “Put it this way, I won’t be telling my husband.”He doesn’t recollect much more, or he volunteered little further detail about this aspect of the Kiama encounter. However he did say he started to frequent some UFO group meetings with the express purpose of seeing if he could find the woman he had encountered in the Kiama experience. At one meeting he saw a woman who looked like the woman encountered in the “strange environment”, presumably onboard the UFO. When he started to talk to her he felt she was not the right person and did not persist with the conversation.
I described some of the results of my 2012 field investigations in the Kiama area in my email to Mike Swords quoted above. I hope that further research and investigation will continue to assist the evaluation of this strange case. It will be fascinating if the ongoing enquiries further validate the affair. “Solid light” cases represent an intriguing and challenging opportunity to research a potential “breakthrough” aspect of the UFO phenomenon. If we can get to the bottom of such extraordinary manipulations of light and other associated UFO light phenomena, then real progress in a UFO science can be made. Maybe mainstream science is slowly catching up. New Scientist has done a few reports on “tractor beam” development following the Bessel beam principle, including this one:which was accompanied by this Russell Tate/Getty Imagest image:
An earlier New Scientist piece (3 March 2011) highlighted the Chinese connection: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20193-treklike-tractor-beam-is-possible.html(This image accompanied the March 2011 New Scientist article)
Now Jun Chen of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and colleagues, have shown that it is possible to create exotic beams that would pull rather than push on an object. For tiny particles with dimensions of a thousandth of a millimetre or so, this would result in the particle being drawn back towards the beam.Hmm … I wonder what inspired them? Perhaps the Zhao Xu and General Li 1998 UFO observation? Seems to me that maybe someone within our more clandestine scientific community is already trawling through “solid light” UFO cases?
The “solid light” phenomenon is gaining scientific value in the laboratory as in the actual “slowing down” of light in crystals and heavy gases using diffuse lasers.
All in all, I think that the answer to the UFO issue lies in finding the answer to quantum entanglement, brane theory and linking of parallel universes at a practical level.
Hat tip to The Anomalist.
From Centauri Dreams:
I’ve always wondered how Arthur C. Clarke coped with the news he received in 1986, when doctors in London told him he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terminal illness that in the States is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The diagnosis was mistaken — it turns out Clarke actually suffered from what is known as ‘post-polio syndrome,’ a debilitating but not fatal condition. For two long years, though, he must have thought through all the symptoms of ALS, knowing that the degenerative motor neuron breakdown could gradually sap him of strength and movement. How would such an energetic man cope with an agonizing, slow fade?
Neil McAleer’s revised biography (Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke) gives the answer, as recounted by Clarke’s brother Fred:
“…after the initial shock, Arthur more or less said, damn it, he’d got an enormous amount he wanted to do, and if he’s only got fifteen months to do it, he’d better whack into it. And he did whack into it, and the next year he produced four books.
“Eighteen months later he was still writing, and all the horrible things they told him might happen hadn’t happened to him. Of course they had told him all the things he should do to keep it under control—what diets to take and what exercises to do, which he very religiously did. He carried on working intensely and produced an enormous amount of work, which might have been the saving grace. If he had been the sort to say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die in fifteen months,’ he probably would have…”
That story speaks volumes about the man, identifying a resolve that kept him working despite his other ailments into his nineties. It also tells me that he was able to place himself mentally in a context that weighed a single human life against the broad movement of history. I think Clarke was happy to see himself as someone who instigated currents of thought, changed perspectives and launched careers. He did these things for people of all ages both by the example of his own life and by the lives he created in fiction that showed us what humanity might become.
Young Writer at Work
By the time Clarke moved from Somerset to London in 1936 he was already suffused with science fiction and in particular enraptured with Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, not to mention the second-hand copies of American science fiction magazines that were then available in England. He spoke of the ‘ravenous addiction’ these magazines inspired and the effect that Stapledon’s novel, with a time scale spanning five billion years, had upon his imagination. He was twelve years old when he first read Last and First Men, awed by its cosmic reach and its placement of the evolution of humanity against the broader backdrop of the cosmos.
Think for a moment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Has any film ever covered a wider swath of time, from the beginnings of tool making to the apotheosis of the species in an extraterrestrial encounter? This was Clarke’s stage, but the other great discovery of his youth, David Lasser’s The Conquest of Space (1931) gave him the technology he would spend a life examining. Lasser was the founder of the American Interplanetary Society (which became the American Rocket Society and, eventually, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). He was also, for a time, the editor of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. If Stapledon brought Clarke the cosmos, Lasser gave the boy a focus on the attainable, the idea of space as a reachable frontier.
In London, Clarke had a tiny flat in Norfolk Square and was soon co-editing (with science fiction writer William Temple) the fanzine Novae Terrae, whose editorial sessions were so cramped in Clarke’s quarters that Temple once said “…there was hardly room for the two of us, and A[rthur]’s Ego had to be left outside on the landing.” Clarke’s nickname of Ego derives from this period when Temple and Clarke both discovered the latter’s competitive nature. I think McAleer is right in stressing, though, that Clarke’s volubility was largely the result of his enthusiasms. This was a man who loved, above all else, the communication of an idea.
Into the Remote Future
For those keeping score, Novae Terrae would soon become, under the editorship of Ted Carnell, the influential magazine New Worlds. But in the days just before World War II, while working on issues of Novae Terrae and assorted publications for the British Interplanetary Society, Clarke found time to begin developing his first novel from ideas that had come to him back in Somerset. “Against the Fall of Night” would appear in an early version in Startling Stories in November of 1948, but that hardly ended the tale. Clarke kept rewriting the story, seeing it into print as a novel from Gnome Press in 1953 and then putting it through a major revision as The City and the Stars, published in 1956.
I seldom think of Clarke as a reader of poetry, but he clearly knew his Housman:
Here, on the level sand, Between the sea and land, What shall I build or write Against the fall of night?
The words are from Housman’s poem “Smooth Between Sea and Land.” Maybe the idea of long stretches of sand and a metaphorical night that comes to us all fired his imagination. I came across The City and the Stars just a few years after it was published and was mesmerized by its setting in much the way Clarke was taken with Stapledon’s Last and First Men. Here was Diaspar, the city of the far future, the only city on planet Earth, whose inhabitants moved through a high-tech monument to stasis. Nothing changes in Diaspar even as the world around it loses its oceans and becomes desert. Clarke would have much to say about the kind of inward thinking that his characters have to overcome, but the unmistakable fact about Diaspar is that the city at the end of time is also achingly, eerily beautiful.
Here’s science fiction writer Jo Walton on the book, nailing its essential allure:
The plot is quite simple. Diaspar is beautiful but entirely inward turned. Alvin looks out and discovers that there is more in the universe than his one city. He recovers the truth about human history, and rather than wrecking what is left of human civilization, revitalises it. By the end of the novel, Man, Diaspar, and Earth have begun to turn outward again. That’s all well and good. What’s always stayed with me is the in-turned Diaspar and the sense of deep time. That’s what’s memorable, and cool, and influential. Clarke recognized though that there isn’t, and can’t be, any story there, beyond that amazing image. It’s a short book even so, 159 pages and not a wasted word.
As to its author, I love the way he could never let this book go. It was, after all, his first novel, and as such it was perhaps the most deeply inspired by the reading of his youth. When he wrote a new preface to it in 1955, he noted that developments in information theory encouraged him to re-think the future course of humanity, a revision that would lead, says McAleer, to a whopping seventy-five percent new prose. The man was indefatigable; he couldn’t let go when ideas seized him, and when he had the wind behind him, no horizon was too far to strive for.
Restless Thoughts from Orbit
On the same visit to the United States in which he met Neil McAleer and learned that he did not have ALS after all, Clarke visited the National Air and Space Museum with Gregory Benford, long-term colleague Fred Durant and Hector Ekanayake, whose friendship with Clarke in Sri Lanka spanned decades. Benford noted the lack of long-term perspective in much contemporary science fiction and pointed out that The City and the Stars had been written before the discovery of DNA, so biology made no significant appearance in the story. Benford and Clarke’s Beyond the Fall of Night (1990) would be the result of that conversation.
McAleer’s biography gives the details on all of Clarke’s books, but my childhood fascination with The City and the Stars has kept me focused on the early stages of Clarke’s career in London and the ideas that began germinating both there and earlier in Somerset. The Signet paperback illustrated here is not the edition I first encountered, but I have to run it because of my love of Richard Powers, whose cover art appeared in so many paperbacks from this period. In this case, Powers’ surreal images go far toward capturing the timeless allure of the city in the desert.
The letters that McAleer has access to offer insights from Clarke’s old associates, and some new ones as well. In 2006 a British engineer named Nicholas Patrick was about to fly on a Space Shuttle mission, Discovery STS-116. He wrote Clarke to invite him to the launch, telling him he had been reading Clarke’s books since growing up in London. Due to his health problems, Clarke was unable to appear, though he wrote an enthusiastic response thanking Patrick, who replied:
“I am sad to hear that you will not be able to attend the launch, but understand completely given the circumstances. Perhaps instead, if you are willing, I might email you from orbit. “A month ago I reread The City and the Stars, perhaps my favourite book, and was again drawn by the ideas in it. Ever since I first read it, I have wanted to find an old spaceship and travel to distant suns. I shall be very happy in low earth orbit, but I don’t think it will completely satisfy me.”
And that’s the thing: Anyone who has grown up with The City and the Stars is going to find even the wonders of Earth orbit a bit tame. Clarke was always at his best as a science fiction writer when taking the long view. His characters would learn to burst free from Diaspar, but its very conception is as staggering and poetic as anything he ever wrote. From the book:
Here was the end of an evolution almost as long as Man’s. Its beginnings were lost in the mists of the Dawn Ages, when humanity had first learned the use of power and sent its noisy engines clanking about the world. Steam, water, wind-all had been harnessed for a little while and then abandoned. For centuries the energy of matter had run the world until it too had been superseded, and with each change the old machines were forgotten and new ones took their place. Very slowly, over thousands of years, the ideal of the perfect machine was approached – that ideal which had once been a dream, then a distant prospect, and at last reality: No machine may contain any moving parts. Here was the ultimate expression of that ideal. Its achievement had taken Man perhaps a hundred million years, and in the moment of his triumph he had turned his back upon the machine forever. It had reached finality, and thenceforth could sustain itself eternally while serving him.
Thus Clarke’s description of the computer that runs Diaspar free from all human intervention. What continues to confound me about Clarke is what McAleer brings out so well, the duality between an imagination capable of transcending time and the canny engineering horse-sense that spawned near-term space achievements. This is the man who dreamed up communications satellites when not dreaming of eternal cities of the far future. Tomorrow, then, let’s look at Clarke the space pioneer.
Sir Arthur was one of my favorites growing up and I found his “hard” science science-fiction very entertaining and thought provoking. His ‘Rendezvous With Rama’ and ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ was the pinnacle of his “interstellar works” and no doubt influenced many of the rocket scientists working in NASA and private industry.
I did in fact read ‘The City and The Stars’, but after I read the other two books. I found “City” kind of esoteric and very advanced for it’s time period. In fact, I found several “Singularity” ideas in it.
Excellent post by Paul Gilster!