Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Going Interstellar, edited by Les Johnson & Jack McDevitt

Fiction and non-fiction about Earth's first interstellar voyages.

Going Interstellar

Baen, 2012, ~101,000 words

Essays by space scientists and engineers on the coolest ways and means to get humanity to the stars along with stories by an all-star assortment of talespinners abounding with Hugo and Nebula award winners: Ben Bova, Mike Resnick, Jack McDevitt, Michael Bishop, Sarah A. Hoyt and more.

Some humans may be content staying in one place, but many of us are curious about what’s beyond the next village, the next ocean, the next horizon. Are there others like us out there? How will we reach them?

Wonderful questions. Now get ready for some highly informative and entertaining answers.

Going Interstellar is a book with an agenda blazoned upon its cover: Build Starships Now!

It's a nice dream. It's never going to happen, at least not in this current iteration of global civilization. Never. Not. A. Fucking. Chance. But wouldn't it be sweet to see it?

I found out about this collection of essays and short stories on the Project Icarus blog. Published DRM-free by Baen, you can find the table of contents and several sample chapters here. The theme is interstellar travel (duh), constrained by known physics, so no FTL drives or other "soft" sci-fi.

The non-fiction essays are by physicists Gregory Matloff and Richard Obousy, who describe how antimatter and fusion drives actually work, as well as a scheme for solar sails. The last method seems the most improbable, especially for carrying human cargo. The physics essays talk a lot about starship drives and travel times, but the real problem with manned interstellar missions is how to keep humans alive on a journey that will take decades or centuries. The usual sci-fi solution is cryosleep or generation ships, neither of which are currently even remotely viable even in theory. Also, they sort of handwave the fact that a manned interstellar mission would consume more power and a larger budget than the combined output of our entire planet, and even an unmanned mission would be too enormously expensive. Who, in the current global climate, is going to spend trillions of dollars on a project that won't pay off until long after the people who funded it are dead? Space fans love the idea of venturing out to the stars: adventure, exploration, expanding human knowledge and all that. But an interstellar colony would have to be completely self-sufficient. Unless they discover Unobtanium on some other planet, something that solves all the world's energy problems, and they can ship it home, there's no economic payoff. The only actual pragmatic argument for investing in interstellar travel is the Armageddon scenario: colonizing other planets is a backup plan for the human race in case the Earth gets hit by an asteroid.

Here are the short stories in this collection. Some of them are available for free on Baen's site: links provided.

A Country for Old Men, by Ben Bova. The ship in this story is an exploration ship, not a colony ship. The crew spends part of its time in cryosleep. It's got a "clever" ending in the style of much old-school sci-fi, and has that sort of tone, being written by veteran author Ben Bova.

Lucy, by Jack McDevitt. The main characters are Artificial Intelligences, making this the only story involving unmanned interstellar missions. It pushes the boundaries of current science, since it's still debatable whether true AIs are even possible, but they are handled in a fairly believable manner.

Lesser Beings, by Charles E. Gannon. This is the closest to "space opera" in the collection, being a vision of a far future in which humans have colonized multiple star systems, using STL ships, but haven't gotten any smarter or more civilized.

Design Flaw, by Louise Marley. Spunky tech girl from a grimdark Earth gets her shot at the stars.

Twenty Lights to "The Land of Snow" by Michael Bishop. "Excerpts from The Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama." One of the better stories in the collection, featuring a generational sleeper ship sent by Tibetan refugees.

The Big Ship and the Wise Old Owl, by Sarah A. Hoyt. This is a generation ship story, with characters who have never known life outside the colony ship they are traveling in. As usual in such stories, it turns out that there is a big secret aboard the ship and Something Has Gone Wrong.

Siren Song, by Mike Resnick. This story about a race through the solar system had a pulp sci-fi feel; it was not one of my favorites, but will probably appeal to anyone who likes old Asimov or Clarke stories.

Verdict: Going Interstellar is written to appeal to a very specific audience: if the title appeals to you, you are that audience. It's a decent collection of hard SF stories meant to rekindle the dream of space travel, and some physics essays for laymen explaining the reality of antimatter and fusion drives. We will never, ever see this dream come true, but at least we can read about it.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, jack mcdevitt, non-fiction, reviews, science, science fiction

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