Science fiction and the death of the sun

131 points11
Reason07710 days ago

Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's 2007 film Sunshine is another great example of this genre. Rather than abandoning a frozen earth due to the dying sun, they send a mission to deliver a bomb into it to "restart" it.

A real all-star cast featuring not only a young Cillian Murphy, but a young Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Cliff Curtis, and Rose Byrne!

Highly recommended, despite never satisfactorily explaining why they require a manned spacecraft to do the job rather than sending a robotic drone ship. Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

oceanplexian10 days ago

> Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

We spent the last few years watching robots with state of the art 21st century technology and software crash on the moon repeatedly, and yet, in the 1960s a few hot shot test pilots could stick a landing on their first try. Given the choice between robots and humans, I’ll take the humans.

perihelions10 days ago

You're reading history in reverse. The Soviets landed a robotic probe on the moon years before the USA succeeded with human pilots, ("Luna 9") ("List of missions to the Moon—Mission milestone by country")

You absolutely don't need sophisticated technology or giant budgets to accomplish this.

generalizations10 days ago

Except, Luna 9 was soft landing attempt no. 12 - the point is the humans pulled it off on landing attempt no. 1.

ivandenysov10 days ago

Counter point: first unmanned US soft landing attempt succeeded 3 years before first manned attempt. Surveyor 1 - 1966 Apollo 11 - 1969. I bet that NASA learned a lot from 7 unmanned Surveyor missions and that contributed to the success of Apollo 11.

AlgorithmicTime10 days ago

Luna 9 used an airbag system, not a soft landing system.

strogonoff10 days ago

Human ingenuity aside, I wonder if sending humans on missions can offer higher success rates due to higher stakes for all involved (the cost of human life). When we send humans to the Moon, the pressure to get things right is higher and consequences of failure are very dire. Sadly, of course, not a guarantee of success.

alistairSH10 days ago

Which then leads me to wonder...

The risk vs reward calculation for human-involved missions is necessarily higher than robotic missions.

Is that additional cost an order of magnitude higher? IE, we can afford one and only one human mission, but three robotic missions? Does the math work out in favor of the single high-success mission, or the three slightly lower success missions? Obviously depends on the expected success rate and cost of each.

But, probably why we haven't done a lot with human missions since the 60s.

strogonoff10 days ago
tuyiown10 days ago

> in the 1960s a few hot shot test pilots could stick a landing on their first try.

Ha you mean the most costly, engineering first and politicized science and engineering endeavor ever attempted, and even though it was some kind of little miracle ?

kjkjadksj10 days ago

Read about missions like gemini 9. Its a sheer stroke of luck the moon mission worked, it could have easily failed and there would have been no rescue.

jxdxbx10 days ago

I didn’t want to pipe up right when it happened with my non-expertise but seriously, that Odysseus lander seemed liked a pretty dumb design. Of course it tipped over. Come on

Cthulhu_10 days ago

I am also an armchair expert but I've played enough KSP to know that their design could have worked, but they would have needed to really stick the landing. Or add enough reaction wheels so it could self-right.

KineticLensman10 days ago

> that Odysseus lander seemed liked a pretty dumb design

It was built thin and tall to fit within the Falcon 9 fairing. It didn't have extending legs because these would have become possible points of failure. The crash happened because the altimeter wasn't working, which IIRC was due to a pre-launch assembly error. As a result Odysseus landed outside the safe operating parameters of the landing legs.

vpribish10 days ago

it's a movie. they wanted, like, human drama which is substantially more difficult if the main character is not alive.

ubermonkey10 days ago

That's an astonishingly bad take that requires gratuitous cherry-picking of data.

rk0610 days ago

> despite never satisfactorily explaining why they require a manned spacecraft to do the job rather than sending a robotic drone ship. Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

As a software engineer, this statement baffles my mind. like how could anyone in right mind trust software to make right choices in prod on first try?

kjkjadksj10 days ago

You think a manned mission obviates software?

rk0610 days ago

No, but manned mission can override software if unexpected scenarios are encountered. You can't expect software team on earth to account for all possibilities for a first time mission.

Software can be tested for individual operation. But can't be relied for end to end co-ordination.

kjkjadksj10 days ago

All the controls they have use software to do work. Its not like a car you can’t rebuild your engine or jerry rig a solution yourself in outer space. If things don’t go as planned usually people just die, heroic MacGyverism is for hollywood.

amenhotep10 days ago

Every now and then I listen to the music for Capa's jump, then I have to watch the video, then I get all emotional. And the ending never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Amazing film.

Somehow knowing the secret to Murphy's acting in that scene (Boyle secretly got a crew member to sit on his back) and having that objectively hilarious image in mind while watching it doesn't diminish the effect appreciably, which is remarkable!

beAbU10 days ago

Mind elaborating on what you are saying about Cillian having a crew member on his back? I'm a little confused..

jawngee10 days ago

> a young Michelle Yeoh

She was 45 or 46 when she made Sunshine.

Cthulhu_10 days ago

Cillian Murphy was also 31 by then, still relatively young I suppose but not young like the poster seems to imply.

brazzy10 days ago

Yeah, she starred as the "mature" woman already in Tiger and Dragon in 2000.

I guess it just means that I'm oold for having that as a benchmark for Michaelle Yeoh's age rather than *Everything Everywhere All At Once"...

hackable_sand10 days ago

I thought they did explain why they needed humans, but I bet we can hand-wave that away with some radiation technobabble.

SideburnsOfDoom10 days ago

"adding humans to the mix" is not the most unrealistic thing by far, in that uneven film. The basic premise (suns do not forget to shine one day) and proposed fix (any human efforts would be of insignificant scale compared to a sun) take that honour. The third act of the film is a runner-up.

Reason0779 days ago

Most sci-fi films (heck, most films) require some level of suspension of disbelief. If you're unable to do that you'll find it hard to enjoy much at all. Do Marvel films seem realistic to you? Star Wars? Star Trek? Cartoons?

SideburnsOfDoom9 days ago

I watch a lot of sci-fi films and read a lot of sci-fi books - because I enjoy it when it's any good, so I don't need suspension of disbelief explained to me at all, thanks.

I personally found this specific film not deserving of being called a "great example" of anything. It's at best a plodding, uneven, middling example of something, IDK what. Yes, I know that your milage may vary, but this film's status baffles me and others

If anything, calling parts of it "good" and other parts "original" is generous. Most of it is neither. Perhaps if you just haven't seen or read that much, then some of it appears novel and good?

It is not trying to be the same genre at all as Marvel or Star Wars fantasy films - some of which succeed on their own terms. Unlike "Sunshine". So that straw man distraction question is irrelevant.

throwup23810 days ago

Event Horizon is a great movie to watch after Sunshine

0x38B10 days ago

These two articles in American Cinematographer (1 and 2) give some interesting background on the movie; concerning the ship they write:

> When it first appears onscreen, the Event Horizon craft itself resembles a giant crucifix hovering over the surface of Neptune. "The spaceship was built on a cruciform, like all cathedrals are," Anderson explains. "We began the design process by literally scanning [photos of] the Notre-Dame Cathedral into the computer and then constructing the Event Horizon out of those Gothic elements. For example, the big thruster engines are an adaptation of the Notre Dame towers, repositioned on their sides. A lot of the iron and steel work of the superstructure is based on the cathedral's stained-glass windows. The ship also has a lot of triptych windows and big recessed crosses.

> "When Adrian and I first sat down, we said, 'Let's do something completely different,"' says Anderson. "Since we were going into outer space, I felt we had to have a really strong design concept; otherwise Event Horizon would have ended up looking like [a bunch of] other movies cobbled together. We spent a lot of time coming up with a design concept, which we called 'techno-Medieval.' When the lights are on, everything looks very technological and very spaceship-like. But when the lights go off and the haunting begins, you start looking at the shapes, and the architecture is actually very medieval. We extended that techno-Medieval design idea into as many aspects of the picture's look as possible, without rubbing the audience's nose in it."



entrox10 days ago

It‘s fun to imagine that Event Horizon is actually in the same universe as Warhammer 40k.

Not only does the plot fit perfectly with the ship going through the warp, the Gothic design matches the aesthetic as well.

Even if not intended, it just works so well.

Cthulhu_10 days ago

I'm not into 40K as much, but did play a space combat game in the 40K universe and ships looking like cathedrals was definitely a thing.

taneq10 days ago

I'm pretty sure I read that it was originally planned to be but they couldn't get GW to sign off on it.

throwaway17_1710 days ago
strogonoff10 days ago

“We began designing the spaceship by scanning the Notre-Dame Cathedral” is an example of exactly the right kind of non-spoiler spoiler, one that doesn’t ruin the film but only makes me interested in watching it.

voltaireodactyl10 days ago

Thank you for these excellent links, the added context to that design process is deeply satisfying.

Reason07710 days ago

Yes! And then I'd follow up Event Horizon with Pandorum. Perhaps not quite as good or as well-known as the other two, but still clever and worth watching.

rasz10 days ago

If we are at waking up with no memory I highly recommend Eden Log (2007).

Borrible10 days ago

Just in case you don't know 'Fading Suns'.

Role-playing gothic sci-fi in a galaxy where the stars are dying.

xoxxala10 days ago

Event Horizon is the closest we’ll get to a Warhammer 40k film.

jtms10 days ago

We are at least getting a 40k series with Henry Cavil I believe

shawn_w10 days ago

Ultramarines says hi.

obruchez9 days ago

"Beyond the Sea" (the Black Mirror episode) had a similar problem: 2 astronauts are working in a spaceship and they can regularly go back to their families using some very advanced technology (VR, humanoid robots, etc.). Why are they not using that technology to "work from home"?

beAbU10 days ago

Sunshine is one of my favourite sci-fi movies for all the wrong reasons. The premise and setting is total bullshit handwavium.

But I absolutely loved the story, tension and slow boil. The cast as you say was brilliant.

It's a B-Grade disaster movie /really/ well executed.

hobs10 days ago

Let me just say that I fully disagree, the movie was plodding and preachy and boring up until the "twist" when it got TERRIBLE.

I cannot believe the number of people who have said that its a good movie, the entire movie required a suspension of disbelief far and away of what I am willing to give.

Pigalowda9 days ago

I remember seeing reddit users recommend it as a great scifi film in 2012. I watched it and was horribly disappointed - it’s “the core” in space with a space zombie.

I guess people like sucking down wet farts for 2 hours. Who am I to stop them?

SideburnsOfDoom10 days ago

Agreed. The premise was astoundingly silly, and the plot was "both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good". I really do not know why some people rate this film so highly.

ardel9510 days ago

So that xkcd “daylight savings time” meme was an actual movie?

gwern10 days ago

I never realized I had misread _The Time Machine_ or _The Magician's Nephew_ as being about red giants, rather than heat-death! Goes to show how easy it is to seriously misunderstand aspects of 'science fiction' when the science changes...

OP missed a good historical example before Thompson, however: Isaac Newton himself had a cosmology with the Sun being renewed by periodic comet impacts. Unfortunately, we would all die when the Sun flared up after impact, but at least aliens on other planets would get a renewed Sun:

Vecr10 days ago

The The Magician's Nephew is about red giants, or at least the expanding phase of a star like the sun. It's from the 1950s, and C. S. Lewis wrote science fiction earlier.

gwern10 days ago

No, I think OP makes a good case that Lewis did not mean an expanding red giant in _Magician's Nephew_, even if he could have used the most recent science at the time to choose to do so:

"“So big, so red, and so cold.”

“It has always been so,” said Jadis. “At least, for hundreds of thousands of years. Have you a different sort of sun in your world?”"

A red giant expanding to the point of taking up much of the sky would not be 'cold', nor would it 'always been so...for hundreds of thousands of years'. (It would be hot, the world heating up at that close an approach, and the expansion quite visible on the order of millions of years rather than totally static and unchanging.) That only is consistent with the cooled-down prior version.

Vecr10 days ago

How would it appear large in the sky though? Gravitational waves are out, maybe solar wind and light pressure were supposed to be keeping the planet orbiting higher? Or is the point that the planet was always close, but only cooled down enough for life after the star started cooling down?

gwern9 days ago
0x38B10 days ago

H.G. Wells and C.S. Lewis intersect in more ways than one; in Out of the Silent Planet, one of the characters references Wells's The First Men in the Moon (1900), and the plot of the two parallel each other when the inhabitants of Mars (in Lewis's work) find out about the violent nature of Earth's inhabitants.

PoignardAzur10 days ago

... Man, I didn't remember this at all. The Magician's Nephew had a red sun in Jadis' world? It went completely over my head.

clarionbell10 days ago

New Sun by Gene Wolfe is a great example of that genre. Also of the unreliable narrator, as the protagonist is writing his autobiography, is not well educated and suffers from rather interesting neurological divergence (he forgets nothing).

All in all, it makes for a very good series. Especially once you realize that you are reading about sci-fi world, as written about by a person living in essentially ancient society.

ignoreusernames10 days ago

Great series. If I'm not mistaken, there's an additional layer to the unreliable narrator part because the book is supposed to be a translation of that biography. So, when certain words are used, the reader knows that they don't necessarily represent the literal meaning and it's only an approximation for the actual thing in the book universe (for example, a "horse" is not actually a "horse" as we know it). It certainly helped me digest the more outlandish ideas.

autarch10 days ago

> Also of the unreliable narrator, as the protagonist is writing his autobiography, is not well educated and suffers from rather interesting neurological divergence (he forgets nothing).

And also he's a pretty terrible person trying to make himself (unsuccessfully) sound a bit less terrible.

clarionbell10 days ago

Appropriate nickname given what he does with previous Autarchs brain.

Salmoneo10 days ago

Another entry in the dying Earth/Sun or Last Civilization approach is The Phoenix in Obsidian aka The Silver Warriors from 1970 by the oft forgotten but quite seminal Micheal Moorcock of Elric fame, but He wrote way more than that. Set in a frozen Earth and with a Sun that is just a white dwarf. The last surviving sea is so salty and dense is gelatinous and ship actually "flap" over it. It's part of the John Daker/Ereköse series, and in turn part of the bigger inter-books Moorcokian Multiverse.

someone7x10 days ago

The Ice Schooner as well, but sadly no wikipedia page for it.

> In this far-future adventure, Captain Arflane leads his crew of the schooner Ice Spirit across the endless seas of ice covering Earth. To any survivors of this brave expedition will go the legendary riches buried beneath the ancient ice . . . the once-great city of New York!

radicaldreamer11 days ago

Liu Cixin has a novella about moving the earth to avoid a supernova

StefanBatory10 days ago

His books feel quite uncomfortable to me.

They read like endorsement of CCP authoritarian govt, with how often the themes are "Leaders are flawless, don't dare to even criticise them" (last wallfacer in Three Body Problem)

firebaze10 days ago

Can you name other examples? I didn't have that impression yet, and the wallfacer example strikes me as a bad one (in the given context, it is reasonable to give the wallfacers full authority, would probably be the same even if the author was a Texan Redneck)

RaoulP10 days ago

I never realised until now that The Wandering Earth and The Three Body Problem are written by the same author.

melagonster10 days ago

For more information, These products are crazy popular in China.

>It was also adapted into a 2019 film of the same name and its sequel, and a 2021 graphic novel.

Main topic is the protagonist can make the important decision: sacrifice half of human to move earth. Other people were too hypocritical and supid to do this.

jandrese10 days ago


foobiekr10 days ago

The Remembrance of Earth's Past series as a whole is also pretty terrible. Interesting concepts here and there, awful characters and writing, terrible convenient plot elements.

andrewflnr10 days ago

This hammered home for me how incredibly recent are a lot of the scientific discoveries we take utterly for granted. Even before nuclear energy, atoms themselves were only confirmed to exist in the 20th century. Everyone knows about plate tectonics, but that was confirmed in the 60s or something.

adrian_b10 days ago

I consider the date when the existence of the atoms has been confirmed to be 1865, when Johann Josef Loschmidt has determined for the first time the mass of some atoms.

(i.e. he has determined the value of what is now called the constant of Avogadro, which is proportional to the inverse of the mass of an atom; there are various related quantities where knowing one determines all the others, including the constant of Avogadro and the concentration of molecules in a gas at standard pressure and temperature; knowing the mass of any molecule or atom allows the computation of the masses of all other atoms and molecules, using the chemical formulas)

Using the mass of an atom, various other atomic quantities could be computed immediately, e.g. George Johnstone Stoney has computed in 1874 the value of the elementary electric charge, based on the results of Loschmidt. The work of Loschmidt has also allowed James Clerk Maxwell to propose in 1873 a system of fundamental units for the physical quantities which was based only on reproducible atomic properties, instead of unique artifacts like the platinum standard meter and the platinum standard kilogram. (However Maxwell's system was not yet practical at that time, because the accuracy with which the atomic masses were known was too low in comparison with the precision of the weight scales.)

Before Loschmidt, the atoms were indeed just a hypothetical construct that could explain some properties of the chemical reactions and of the gases, but nothing could be said about them quantitatively.

After Loschmidt, the atoms became physical objects with precisely known properties, e.g. you could count how many atoms are in a pebble that you hold in your hand.

By the start of the 20th century, more than a human generation had passed since the last time when scientists wondered whether atoms really exist. At that time already atom beams were routinely manipulated with electric and magnetic fields and unexpected atomic properties like radioactivity and transmutation were already known.

RaoulP10 days ago

After this morning's earthquake I was thinking how, without any theory of plate tectonics (or previous theories, if any), an earthquake must truly feel like the wrath of god. I wonder if it's been the seed for any myths.

kjkjadksj10 days ago

Maybe it wasn’t actually trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho after all

jrmg10 days ago

Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, from 1930, seems to fit this genre too. It gets a bit outlandish with telepathy, but it’s ambitious novel telling of humanity’s ebbing and flowing, evolving a lot along the way, from ‘present day’ to the far, far future when the solar system is engulfed by a supernovaing sun. Considering its ambition, it reads surprisingly well.

weinzierl10 days ago

Since it fits the topic and my efforts to find this story have been unsuccessful for years, I'll give it a try:

I am looking for a short story about an astronaut conducting radiation measurements on the dark side of the moon (or maybe mars). The astronaut ponders the strange measurement results when it dawns at him that the sun must have gone supernova and earth probably scorched. He returns to earth as the last living human, but discovers that other lifeforms (I believe to remember it was about a butterfly) seem to have survived and despite the end of humanity, life was going to continue.

I read this story about 30 years ago in an anthology of short stories which my future wife brought from our local library. Unfortunately, I don't remember any of the other stories and authors, but I believe they were all well known names and not obscure pulp fiction authors.

Today it strikes me, how naïve the thought was, that libraries and books were for eternity and that everything I'd read would be effortlessly available for me in the library to read again when ever I wanted.

fsiefken10 days ago

So is the old catalogue of the library perhaps available? Perhaps there is a dos computer or disk still available or someone who knows? Perhaps also ask in

paleotrope9 days ago

I was the same way when I was young, then I found out about books going out of print and then later, library book sales, and then even later, about librarians actively culling their book collections to make room for newer books.

PopAlongKid10 days ago

Plot sounds similar to Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven from the 1970s, but the protagonist is on the night side of Earth, not an astronaut on the moon.

whoisstan10 days ago

The Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is magnificent. Set in a contemporary setting, the sun and stars are replaced by projection shield that simulates them, and as the topic suggests it’s because the sun has died, but who did it???

megablast10 days ago

Magnificent?? Uh, no.

mannykannot10 days ago

"For another thing, if the light came from incandescence, what on earth was a pulsar? Surely a star couldn’t be alternately collapsing and un-collapsing."

This is odd, as pulsars were not discovered until 1967, and not hypothesized prior to their discovery.

Variable stars have been known to science of since 1638, and an explanation for one type, eclipsing binaries, had been established by 1784.

atombender10 days ago

You can't have an article about the dying Earth genre and not mention The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

The novel is deep and mysterious, involving — among many other things — a far-future Earth in which aliens have placed a black hole inside the sun.

It's one of those books whose true meaning and cryptic clues are mined endlessly on mailing lists, forums, and podcasts (there are at least four that cover this book).

sircastor10 days ago

I recall back in 7th grade I mapped out a sci-fi story about people having to abandon the Earth after it suddenly transitioned into its red giant phase. I didn’t ever get to writing the story, but I was captivated by the concept of the need for sudden evacuation.

RaoulP10 days ago

Around the same age, I remember first hearing about the expanse of the sun, and being afraid of experiencing it.

xjay10 days ago

In some 1990s sci-fi series, an alien race played the long game by directing some (invisible) energy beam at the sun, accelerating its transition into becoming a red giant, a process which would have otherwise taken billions of years.

Mtinie10 days ago

Which only made sense if you wanted to conquer a frozen, iron/oxygem-heavy planet[0]. Or, I guess, if you are a Krytonian.




ranger20710 days ago

To add yet another entry into the genre is Asimov's _The Gods Themselves_, where humanity exchanges energy between themselves and a parallel universe with different physical laws, only to discover those physical laws are leaking over and will result in the destruction of the Sun. The middle section is the story of the aliens in the parallel universe and is an interesting look at a three-sex species, and it makes me wonder how Asimov would interpret modern LGBTQ issues.

mdale10 days ago

Really enjoyed this journey. Could have extended into more modern tropes of singularity and mastery of energy the sun provides finding it's way into modern sci-fi.

perilunar10 days ago

I've never really understood the pessimism of the dying sun trope in SF. If humans are still around in billions of years then our descendants will either have spread throughout the galaxy, or will have the technology to either tweak the Sun to not go nova, or to move the Earth out of harm's way. Seems like a major failure of the imagination.

(Also: the idea that we need to find other planets to live on if the Sun goes nova or if we screw up the Earth is another one. We'll probably be living in millions of large space colonies, not on planets.)

bccdee10 days ago

That's awfully optimistic.

For one, why would we colonize the galaxy? We probably can't beat lightspeed. It'll take generations to get anywhere, plus a huge upfront investment, and for what? We can't send resources back, so it is not an investment. Terraforming would be extremely challenging, extremely slow, and would (if we were very, very lucky) still just get us a worse version of Earth. It just isn't a rational choice.

"Tweaking the sun" is probably unfeasible. We could crash our entire planet into the sun and it'd have little effect. The sun is really really really big and we are really really really small. Similarly, adjusting Earth's orbit would require a colossal amount of energy and reaction mass which we just don't have, and probably never will.

There's no reason to assume that humanity will inevitably advance through some exponential techno-apotheosis such that we'll eventually be able to do anything we want. Instead, it's much more sensible to assume technological growth will follow a sigmoid curve. Technological advancement has a ceiling determined by our resources and abilities, and that ceiling is almost certainly too low to accommodate a galactic civilization of stellar engineers.

perilunar9 days ago

> why would we colonize the galaxy?

To explore. Yes, it may take generations to get anywhere, and no, we probably won't be sending resources back.

> Terraforming would be extremely challenging

Yes. Terraforming is a bad idea. Much better to mine asteroids and build large habitats in orbit. When it gets too crowded, move to the next star. No need to terraform planets to spread out into the galaxy.

> "Tweaking the sun" is probably unfeasible

We've got millions of years to work out how. I doubt it would be something as crude as crashing planets into it.

> Similarly, adjusting Earth's orbit would require a colossal amount of energy and reaction mass

Yes, but you'd have a colossal amount of time to move it. Light sails maybe — they use energy/mass from the sun itself.

> Technological advancement has a ceiling determined by our resources and abilities, and that ceiling is almost certainly too low to accommodate a galactic civilization of stellar engineers.

I don't know how you can know that. It's only a couple of hundred years since the scientific revolution — how can you possibly know what the limits will be over millions or billions of years?

bccdee7 days ago

> To explore

But then why start a colony? If you're just looking around, then the massive investment to build a comfortable habitat isn't worthwhile. I think the incentives just don't line up; that's my Fermi paradox answer. I especially think it's unlikely that anyone would set off on an exploration where they were going to die of old age before ever seeing anything.

> We've got millions of years to work out how.

What if it isn't possible? The sheer scale involved suggests there's nothing to be done. It is a bonfire exponentially larger than all the mass we can conceivably bring to bear upon it in any way. When it burns out, it burns out. Moving the planet is a little more feasible [1], but doing it with solar sails would take about a billion years, even if the sail was 19x the diameter of Earth. An ion drive would be snappier, but we'd have to have effectively unlimited energy to make that happen, and we'd have to eject about a sixth of the Earth's mass from outside of the atmosphere on some sort of planetary gimbal.


> how can you possibly know what the limits will be

Oh I can't. But there are limits, and we'll hit them eventually. The most obvious limits are energy and mass. We obviously can't do anything that would require more mass than exists in the solar system, and the ceiling for practically accessible mass for any given purpose is likely much lower. Some elements are quite rare. There may not be that much energy to go around. There are also likely soft time limits: A project that takes ten thousand years might simply be beyond us politically. Some tasks, like full comprehension of the human brain, might simply be too complicated to ever be realized. The longer you think about it, the more plausible limitations materialize.

mmcdermott9 days ago

> For one, why would we colonize the galaxy? [...] It just isn't a rational choice.

If things are universally good on Earth, then sure. Bear in mind that many of the European colonies that would become the United States were built by people fleeing situations in their home country.

Of course, replicating that scenario still requires a lot of technological advancement and I agree that level of sophistication is not a given.

bccdee7 days ago

> If things are universally good on Earth, then sure.

Bear in mind that the choice is between living on Earth vs spending the rest of your life in an extremely cramped spacecraft with the hope that, after several generations of spacecraft life and many more of terraforming, your great-great-great-to-the-nth-power grandchildren will have a nice home.

Bear in mind too that destitute people will never be able to make this call; you'd need to be quite powerful to start this sort of program.

perilunar6 days ago

Yeah, nobody would want that. But why assume the spacecraft will be cramped? They could well be extremely large rotating colonies, with an internal area equal to a large city or small country. And if you can build such craft, then why bother terraforming planets? Mine asteroids or planets for materials to make new colonies, study the stellar system, and move on to the next star when it gets a bit crowded.

macintux10 days ago

As the article elaborates, for many years the dying sun was expected to be much, much sooner than that.

nunodonato10 days ago

Science compels us to explode the sun

PoignardAzur10 days ago

Or wait for a few billion years.

As an aside, I took a while to roll with the narrative about the heat death of the universe in Outer Wilds. It's too sudden: you go from a healthy yellow sun to a red star in the blink of an eye. Even if you accept that timeframes are accelerated in this game, same reason the planets are smaller, it should still happen in a timespan comparable to the sun's entire lifespan, not a single event.

Still, best game, would erase my memory to play again.

nunodonato9 days ago

glad to see that someone picked up the reference ::)

Animats11 days ago

> "Now-disgraced sci-fi patriarch John W. Campbell..."

What did he do?

KittenInABox10 days ago

John W. Campbell did one of those contrarian intellectual who knee jerked too hard. He advocated that slavery had good sides and that it should've been kept as an institution because the civil war was worse than slavery. Also that slavery was a more natural way of society. Also that the relation of smoking to lung cancer was esoteric (he loved a good cig). Oh and that racial segregation should be maintained because of the inferiority of negroes. You know this kind of personality.

cratermoon10 days ago

"In 1949, Campbell worked closely with L. Ron Hubbard on the techniques that Hubbard later turned into Dianetics. When Hubbard's therapy failed to find support from the medical community, Campbell published the earliest forms of Dianetics in Astounding."

cwillu11 days ago

“An increasingly strong interest in pseudoscience later alienated Campbell from Asimov.[4] In the 1960s, Campbell's controversial essays supporting segregation, and other remarks and writings surrounding slavery and race, served to distance him from many in the science fiction community.”

User2310 days ago


KittenInABox10 days ago

I don't believe Samuel Delany is an open NAMBLA member. He has expressed support for NAMBLA in 2004, and in 2014 admitted to reading a newsletter from them but claims not to have kept up with them for 20 years. These statements are now a decade and two decades old & I don't know what to make of him now these days. If you have more recent info, please let me know.

[Also: alleged pedophile? who alleged him of pedophilia? seriously asking]

fractallyte10 days ago

He relished challenging readers' thinking and preconceptions.

You can make up your own mind - there's a collection of his Astounding/Analog editorials in this book:

And then there's this, Jeannette Ng's acceptance speech for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award:

(She began by calling him "Joseph Campbell", with the audience cheering the rest of her increasingly incoherent speech... Derision from people who really don't understand science fiction.)

ubermonkey10 days ago

>He relished challenging readers' thinking and preconceptions.

Yes, on things like (checks notes) segregation. Huh.

fractallyte10 days ago

He wasn't afraid to dive into the details of topics that many people shun or simply dismiss.

He made arguments, and encouraged counter-arguments. Without that, there would be blind consensus, and at worst, societal stagnation. It's his relentless urge to shake things up that made him one of the most prominent figures in science fiction.

It's very telling that there wasn't some kind of disagreement with Jeannette Ng's shockingly ignorant outburst, or the delighted applause of her equally ignorant audience.

Apocryphon11 days ago

> For while the dying-earth genre came to an end in the 1940s


Dying Earth is a fantasy series by the American author Jack Vance, comprising four books originally published from 1950 to 1984.

The Book of the New Sun (1980–1983, 1987) is a four-volume science fantasy novel[2] written by the American author Gene Wolfe.

shagie11 days ago

Another entry in the 1950s to 1980s time frame: The Songs of Distant Earth by Clarke.

> The Songs of Distant Earth is a 1986 science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke, based upon his 1958 short story of the same title. He stated that it was his favourite of all his novels. Clarke also wrote a short step outline with the same title, published in Omni magazine and anthologised in The Sentinel in 1983.

> The novel tells of a utopian human colony in the far future that is visited by travellers from a doomed Earth, as the Sun has gone nova. The Songs of Distant Earth explores apocalyptic, atheistic, and utopian ideas, as well as the effects of long-term interstellar travel and extra-terrestrial life. The story is set in the 39th century and follows the journey of a spaceship called the Magellan as it carries a group of colonists to a distant planet, Thalassa. Thalassa is one of the few habitable planets discovered by Earth’s automated spacecraft, and it becomes a refuge for humanity facing the impending destruction of Earth due to a massive solar flare.

andrewflnr10 days ago

The author is using "dying-earth genre" to mean something rather specific that the series Dying Earth, despite the name, doesn't necessarily fit. I haven't read it, but going by Wikipedia it sounds like it has at least as much in common with the "sword and sorcery" stuff she mentions later as it does with the absolutely bleak stories she excerpts by Wells et al. I've read a couple of Wolfe's books (Short Sun, IIRC?) and I would definitely put them in her later category, even if "sword and sorcery" undersells them enormously.

Reading further on Wikipedia though, she might have picked a bad/already taken name for her category.

svachalek11 days ago

I think these are by far the most popular works today associated with the "dying earth" genre? Interesting that the article ignores them. But I never knew how pre-fusion astrophysics inspired this kind of story, which was fascinating.

I've read both series within the past few years and they're still worth a a read. Vance's works inspired lots about D&D (including the older "Vancian" spell casting system) and have a lot of humor. The Book of the New Sun is a challenging read, written by an unreliable narrator. They're kind of interesting if you just take them at face value but to really appreciate them you have to go down the rabbit hole of what's really happening here.

vlz10 days ago

I think the author alludes to Vance when she writes:

> The dying-earth genre didn’t vanish on the spot, but it transformed into a stock setting for sword-and-sorcery stories set in the far future where modern civilization’s technology has long since been lost

which for me is a fair characterization of Vance although not of Wolfe who's Book of the New Sun while having these undertones is much more complex and could be said to transform the setting into something different altogether.

megiddo10 days ago

Stunning that Vance isn't mentioned.

I can't imagine how he's overlooked in this article.

ndsipa_pomu10 days ago

Likewise. I feel that Jack Vance's Dying Earth series isn't as well known as it should be considering the huge influence it had on the invention of D&D (there's names of spells copied directly from it).

ronnirradd10 days ago

ctrl-f'd for vance and wolfe. was shocked they didn't make it.

MrIrrelevant10 days ago


Archelaos11 days ago

> During the Age of Enlightenment ... as the scientific method replaced religion as the explanation for physical phenomena

This happended more than 2,000 years earlier. The author seems to miss basic knowledge in the history of philosophy and science.

JumpCrisscross11 days ago

I’ll bite. What are you referring to?

kuchenbecker11 days ago

One big realization I had how sophisticated the ancient world is, the Antithikara Mechanism. Device built by ancient greeks in 200BC using thousands of years of astronomical learning to build the first KNOWN Analog Computer and devices of similar sophistication are not seen until the late middle ages / early renaissance.

nradov11 days ago

Some ancient societies were quite skilled and sophisticated in certain areas. But as far as we can determine they didn't have the scientific method as we understand it today.

Supermancho11 days ago

> the predominant scientific belief was that the universe and the bodies within it were endless

From the article. Zeng Heng, who codified a long held belief that most certainly predated 0 AD

JumpCrisscross10 days ago

Nobody claimed there was no science. Just that there was no scientific method, nor the supremacy of scientific over religious explanations for the natural world.

fiddlerwoaroof10 days ago
whythre11 days ago

Aristotle, perhaps?