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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Kepler's Children

   
Author Topic: Kepler's Children
TaleSpinner
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This news story caught my imagination:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7926277.stm

quote:

An unmanned Nasa mission to search the sky for Earth-like planets with the potential to host life has launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Kepler telescope will orbit the Sun to watch a patch of space thought to contain about 100,000 stars like ours.

It will look for the slight dimming of light from these "suns" as planets pass between them and the spacecraft.

[..]

Finding Earth-size planets is one thing, confirming life - even simple microbial life - exists on them is another matter altogether; and will require future telescopes capable of seeing trace gasses in the planets' atmospheres that are a possible signature for biology.

"We certainly won't find ET but we might find ET's home by looking at all of these stars," said Bill Borucki.


What, I wondered, what if Kepler and 'future telescopes' do indeed find proof that life exists on, not one, but a hundred or more planets out there? Should we make ourselves known to them? Who decides, on behalf of Earth? How would religions, politicians, commerce, military, ordinary people react?

At first I was going to just post the question and invite a debate.

But then I thought it might be more interesting to make this a story challenge. Imagine, several Hatrackers tackling one of the big themes -- are we alone and, if not, what (if anything) shall we do about it? I, for one, would find our different perspectives fascinating.

So, is anyone interested in this as a challenge?

Premise: in the near future, Kepler and his offspring discover hard evidence that there are a hundred or more planets out there capable of supporting human-like life. Now what?

Write a story, up to 5000 words, of speculative fiction that explores Earth's reactions to the discovery.

(And no, in this near future we don't yet have warp drive, FTL ships, ansibles or any science we can't reasonably extrapolate from today's. And yes, they're light years away from us and could be dead, or very much alive, right now. And no, we can't see their space ships zapping around in some distant Empire of the Stars. We just know that our instruments say the chemical conditions are such that they almost certainly exist.)

There are several other challenges going on right now, and this one will take some time to do seriously, so how about a two or three month time frame?

If anyone's interested, we could use this or a challenge thread to share reports of progress, requests for research, etc.

P.S. There are plenty of first contact stories, but I'm not sure one has been written with this exact premise of being set in the near future and little by way of FTL transport and ansible communications. And anyway, writing a first contact story is a rite of passage for authors, right?

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited March 08, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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Consider the Fermi Paradox as an underlying theme.
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JohnMac
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Oh man...this is going to be so much fun....


Now I just have to balance this with the other contest and all the critiques I have left to do for the other group. Wow, writing IS a full time job.


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annepin
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This sounds very cool, though much unlike what I usually write about. I'd love to join in the challenge when it starts and this time, I promise I'll turn something in!
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KayTi
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Excellent, Pat. Love the idea. I'm a big fan (and writer of) near-future stuff, but haven't tackled this particular angle yet.

Meanwhile, to kind of answer your question - you know we've been blasting our crap (and when I say crap what I mean is "television and radio news and entertainment programming") to space for quite some time now. And there's SETI probes/stuff that goes out with a more sanitized set of content, more scientific in nature. I don't think it's up to any one country or group on earth to decide, but seems to be rather a free for all.

And meanwhile, if you haven't read it - pick up Scalzi's "Agent to the Stars" - some funny business about aliens picking up our crap (whereby again I mean "television and radio news and entertainment programming.") Great fun, I suspect you'd like it a lot.


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Bent Tree
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I'll keep my eyes peeled for the full contest rules!
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TaleSpinner
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There are many factors one could consider.

Thanks for the pointer to Fermi's Paradox, extrinsic, it could indeed form part of the backstory, although given the story's premise, the paradox might no longer exist. The writer could choose to explore the ramifications of this, or not.

True, KayTi, we've been putting out electromagnetocasts for ages -- but that might not dissuade some from proposing we should stop broadcasts, or limit their power, in the way that governments attempt to control the internet.

There are story possibilities in the reactions of scientists, engineers, politicians and religious leaders, not all logical or realistic, some self-serving, others altruistic, still others naively, hopefully questing for knowledge and new, interstellar friends.

There's also the interaction with the state of the world at the time of the discoveries -- devasted by climate change, or not; still recovering from the credit crunch; a Star Trekian utopia where nobody starves ... well okay, maybe not -- but a research programme to develop the technologies to go visit, in the style of Kennedy's mission to the moon, would be massively expensive and attract arguments over funding priorities, requests for international co-operation ...

More ideas and relevant science welcome, although let's remember we have a wide variety of tastes, styles and knowledge here at Hatrack and we would surely not want writers to feel overly constrained, or inhibited by lack of knowledge of hard science. Also, if we debate the science too, um, prescriptively, there's a risk that we converge on a small space of "acceptable" stories, and I think this is a Big Theme.

Strawman (i.e. for discussion) set of rules:

Premise: In the near future, Kepler's Children deliver evidence that convinces a critical mass of the scientific community that there are over 100 planets out there capable of supporting human life. At that time we don't (yet) have the technology to go visit. Now what?

Short story, to 5000 words, giving room to explore the theme.

Genre is speculative fiction -- think Analog, Asimov's, etc. (Sorry, but I can't see fantasy working with this premise -- but feel free to prove me wrong if you can.)

Usual Hatrack rules on content.

Stories due by April 30. (Too tight? Deadline needs to leave us room to think and write, without being so long as to be meaningless. Discussion on date welcome.)

I'll make a challenge thread for first thirteens, we'll share the stories for crits by e-mail, and we'll vote (not anonymously) on

- best hard SF
- best human interest
- most thought-provoking

Voting categories open for discussion too ...


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JohnMac
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The initial post on this thread talked about ....

"What, I wondered, what if Kepler and 'future telescopes' do indeed find proof that life exists on, not one, but a hundred or more planets out there? Should we make ourselves known to them? Who decides, on behalf of Earth? How would religions, politicians, commerce, military, ordinary people react?"

How about a category or two for the aliens? They're such a discriminated lot.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I like that idea, JohnMac. What would the aliens think if they knew we'd detected their planets?
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TaleSpinner
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Okay, JohnMac, yes indeed, aliens are a much misunderstood lot.

(I have this silly image in mind of them spotting a distant flash of sunlight, as it reflects off our telescope lense!)

(The premise doesn't stipulate alien life, just life potential. So then there are questions like, is there alien life? Is it alive and intelligent -- now? Are we a million years too early, or too late? Not to mention, what does 'now' mean in terms of interstellar distances? ... But, the premise doesn't preclude alien life either.)

I wonder what they'd be like...

quote:

There may be a case for saying that those civilizations that have overcome their tendencies of conflict, and developed enlightened pacifist philosophies dominate the scene through a process of natural selection. If so there would be a great deal to learn from a future moment of contact. They may tell us how to avoid conflict. They may tell us the nature of God if such exists, and thereby eliminate a major cause of strife and dissention on our planet. We may be thinking of a world or cosmic religion in which petty squables such as the Arab-Israel conflict will have no place.

From http://www.setileague.org/articles/chandra.htm

I can see some agreeing with that view of alien intelligence, and others saying it's naive, wishful thinking: either way, it's the core of one of the arguments we'd have in deciding whether to go visit or not, and maybe an interesting conflict to explore in a story.

So sure, why not categories for best alien, most credible alien reaction -- is that what you mean?

(But -- if they're green, and they jump into FTL interstellar transports and zap down to Earth with ray guns blazing, they'll win the corniest cliche category, okay?)

P.S. If that seems like category overload, it probably is. But, what the heck: why not several winners?

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited March 10, 2009).]


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skadder
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This sounds like an anthology--'Kepler's Children' edited by T. Ailspinner...

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 10, 2009).]


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JohnMac
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I definately was not thinking along the lines of anything that I would consider full of corn or cheese. But thank you for considering my point.
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TaleSpinner
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Sorry, JohnMac, I didn't mean to suggest you'd do corn. It was intended as a humorous way of saying that the aliens, if they spot us, are under the same constraint as are we: no FTL, etc.

So, who's up for this? Please post 'I'm in' if you'd like to join us.

(skadder, your idea for an anthology may be a good one. Let's see if we get some decent stories and, if so, how people feel about the possibilities.)


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JohnMac
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No worries.


I'm in.


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