danieldwilliam: (Default)
This is the last of a triptch on Iain Banks. Very much one for the macabre lawyers out there.

Banks died after taking possesion of his author copies of Quarry.  These presumably form part of his estate and pass to his heirs.  Being the author copies of a posthumos work by a famous author gives them some extra value to collectors. The provenance would be hard to prove, one book looking much like any other book.  Unless he had signed them.

An unsigned book might sell for a little over its face value. A signed copy, one of only a box full that will every be signed, signed by the dying author, perhaps for thousands of pounds, maybe more. I’m thinking of the situation where Apollo astronauts signed huge numbers of autographs as form of life assurance policy for their families ahead of the rocket launches.

There are three scenarios. The author signs the books then leaves them in his estate. He signs the books then gifts them. He gifts the books, then signs them.

So what’s the inheritance tax position if the author gave the books unsigned to someone – a small ordinary gift exempt from inheritance tax and then signed them, a small ordinary action which together represented the gift of a substantial monetary value?

It is not to my credit that this sort of question keeps me awake at night. Nor is it to societies credit that it exists at all.
danieldwilliam: (easter island)
Sad though I am about the premature, indeed early, death of Iain Banks I’m finding it difficult to connect with the collective mourning. Social media seems full of similar notes on his passing, my own included.  They seem sincere and respectful but a little distant. Lots of electronic glasses of whisky are being drunk in his honour.

Perhaps I don’t believe that all that many those glasses are being actually being drunk.

Would a Banks Dinner be well attended?
danieldwilliam: (Curly Wurly)
So, Iain Banks has died. It is not often that two of the best novelists of our times die on the same day. Banks is the first of the great novelists of my time that I'll miss.

As my dad put it in a text message to me. “Very sad to hear of Iain Banks’ death. He’s given us a lot of pleasure and would have writen a lot more.”
There are no spoilers here. Not any more. )
The Culture was a place I wanted to live. A place where I and everyone I knew would be much better off and much better.

What I hoped for in future Culture novels, what I’ll miss, is an exploration of what it was like to be an ordinary Culture citizen going about your life in ordinary times. I wanted to hear the story of the Cultureniks who built the cable car system on Masaq. If the Jane Austen were Banks what would she write?
danieldwilliam: (Default)
Last year at about this time I decided to try and read the Clarke Award short list.

It was partly a desire to keep current with the best, or at least the currently well regarded in Science Fiction. Partly it was an attempt to find some new authors.

It began and ended with the End Specialist by Drew Magarey, perhaps the worst book I have ever read.* Not even the fact that the book title is a superb innuendo involving an Edinburgh Massage Parlour can make me think anything but ill of that book.

So, I’m a little more circumspect about repeating the experiment. However, looking at some of the chat about short lists for various awards they seem of a much higher standard this year.  No Christopher Priestly writing blogs in vain. Nothing on the list by anyone called Drew.  In the powerful words of D’ream, Party Up the World.

So, I’m going to give it a go again this year.

*If I ever met Drew Magarey or his publisher I’m going to ask for my money back.
danieldwilliam: (Default)

[livejournal.com profile] strange_complex has written a better review of Doctor Who than I’ll manage. I endorse her message and I’m grateful for her sharing her anger about the treatment of LGBT people in this episode.

So this isn’t meant to be a review of Doctor Who but a post about where I am emotionally with the new series.

Kind of Meh. Which is about where I expected to be. I wasn’t disappointed by Asylum of the Daleks. I was expecting a strategic mis-use of the Daleks, a plot more full of holes than an Edinburgh street and to find myself thinking at the end, well that didn’t suck, much.

And that’s sad. I feel sad. Generally, I’m sad about the whole thing.  It’s not great science fiction. It doesn’t feel as brave as it has been in the past. I don’t feel I’m being treated with much respect. 

This episode was pretty much everything I dislike about the current franchise.  It’s full of plot-holes. Big plot holes (if all the Daleks were killed in the Time War where did the retro Daleks come from?). Little plot holes (who posts the key for an insane asylum back through the letter box? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?)  The science fiction is poor to the point of being science fantasy. There are too many Daleks. So many Daleks I feel like an extra in Zulu. The Daleks are Epic. It’s a triumph of cool over substance.

I keep tripping over the plot holes – what is the point of chaining up an insane Dalek in a locked room, if you leave their internet connection switched on?

Dammit another one – if you have nanomachines that can turn your enemies into Dalek stooges why not just send some in the post to every planet you want to destroy?

At some point I’d expect to start watching Doctor Who with the Captain and at some point he’s going to spot a plot hole and I’m going to have to choice to become complicit in Moffat’s lazy plotting or admit that I tolerate it from Doctor Who but not from other programmes because I’m still coming to terms with the emotional fall out of being 10.

I wonder what I’m going to say to him. I don’t want to spend my hard earned fatherly reputation for not fudging when I don’t know by fudging the plot hole on Moffat’s behalf and I’m not sure I’m happy with the alternative response which is – when I was your age this programme meant such a lot to me that I’m prepared to tolerate nonsense like X because I want to love this programme now as much as I loved it when I was a boy and I want you to love it too, so please don’t pay much attention, and, um Look, a Dalek.

I’ve set the series to record on my new PVR.  Partly, because I can do that with a  button now and partly because if I didn’t I might not remember to watch Doctor Who and that would be admitting that I just didn’t care as much as I used to.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Doctor Who and River have a relationship that runs in different directions. From River’s point of view she is meeting the Doctor as she gets older and he gets younger. And vice versa.

They have an agreement about no spoilers. Neither tells the other what they know about the future of the other one.

This presumably happens a lot to Timelords and those who associate with them.

Occasionally bits of future knowledge explicitly leak out (character A hands offers character B a drink they don’t drink, yet).  More subtly how people behave when they know something is likely to be different than how they behave when they don’t know that thing.  Therefore information about the Doctor’s future, held by River, could leak out based on how she behaves when they are together or the topics she avoids.

Thinking about Cryptonomicon and Enigma and the suspiciously successful and efficient RAF reconnaissance flights it should be possible for someone to work out something about their future from looking at the behaviour of people travelling in different directions or at different speeds in their timelines. Quite a bit if you put a lot of effort into it and had several different sources to work from.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Again, a conversation with Andrew Ducker has prompted me to think out loud. In the World of Tomorrow, what happens to all the criminals?  The petty criminals, that is.

Charles Stross’ blog a few weeks ago had a discussion about the impact of ubiquitous monitoring devices.  Small computers, powered by ambient heat, light and the wi-fi radio pulses being aimed at them which cost euro-cents each to produce. Some have small cameras in them. Some a small meterological kit. Some a chemical sniffer package. They are all linked. Nothing that happens goes unseen.

They are small enough and cheap enough to fit into any physical object as large as a wallet and worth £10. You’re £100 sneakers will have GPS, not to stop people nicking them, but to analysis your jogging for health and fitness purposes. All of your black, brown, silver and white goods come with anti-theft / anti-left my lap top on the train again devices, as standard. Never mind your car having GPs tracking, the wheels have their monitoring system.

So what happens to burglars, sneak thieves, pick pockets. Bike thieves and small drug users and petty drug dealers? Where do they go.

To illustrate, I have a few examples of the experience of the petty criminal of the future.

You break into a house. It’s a nice, ground floor, main door flat in a prosperous middle class suburb of Edinburgh. The sort of flat the author owns. It’s mid-afternoon. The owners are out at work. There must be a couple of grands worth of kit in there. Plenty to chose from.

Watching you from thew walls are a dozen monitors.  A couple take a picture of your face. This is rendered into 3D (by some software my brother-in-law has developed) and compared to a list of “known and loved” faces.  You’re not known and you’re not loved.  The lights come on. The stereo that you are trying to steal comes on. Loud.  Painfully loud. After a few minutes of disorientatingly loud noise the stereo informs you that the police have been informed about the break in.(1) Desperate to salvage something from your burglary you tuck the stereo under your arm and make for the back door. It’s running on battery power and still stream abuse abuse at you as you make your escape. You pull the batteries out of the back of the stereo.

Evading the police is easy. They arrive in their car and you’re already off down the alleyway. The cops are too slow, too stupid.  Half an hour later, whilst you are sitting over a pint in the pub where you hope to fence the stolen stereo the police turn up and nick you. For good measure they nick the barman too for aiding and abetting but generally to remind landlords not to harbour petty criminals and fences in their pubs if they want to hold onto their license.

And this isn’t just one house. It’s every house that can afford £100 for kit and £10 a year for the subscription service.

You turn to bike theft.  There’s a nice touring bike sitting out in the open. Worth a couple of k new. You cut through the lock in a minute and half and ride off.  The perfect crime, swag and getaway vehicle in one.

250 yards away the owner of the bike’s phone rings.  It’s the bike calling her.  Or rather, it’s the GPS tracker in the bike calling her, to tell her bike is moving and would she like to activate Trac and Trace for 50 pence. She would. Before you’ve gotten a mile the police have pulled you over. By the time the owner of the bike has finished her second Elston the bike is back in her possession.

And it’s not just expensive bikes. The kit costs a couple of quid and comes as standard with all new bikes.

So, you turn to picking pockets.  Not only lucrative but a real artisanal criminal activity. Not so much a job as a way of life.  Now, you’re not dumb. You’re a criminal learning machine. You know that that wallet is going to have a GPS tracker. So you know you don’t have long to lift the wallet and buy something.  You carefully scope the PIN number at the bank machine before you dip and dab the wallet.  Slipping the card into the ATM you know you’re in for a pay day.

“Account Frozen. Please Try Again Later.”

Detecting that wallet is more than 100 metres from the owner by comparing the GPS tracker in his wallet with the GPS tracker in his phone, shoes, and leather jacket the wallet has decide it’s been stolen and automatically freezes all of the accounts for cards in the wallet. That technology cost £5 and came free with your Royalties Gold Account. Which is a bit of redundancy, because the camera at the ATM didn’t recognise you and was going to ask for additional security information whilst it called the police.

But this time, the police don’t know where you are. You’ve ditched the wallet, there’s no GPS tracker on you.  You’re safe.  Except that the photo the ATM took of you and rendered into 3D is now on the local police net’s Person of Interest list and the cameras that are everywhere, monitoring traffic, monitoring how crowded the streets are, monitoring the number of squirrels in the park, providing real time street views for Google Maps, all of these cameras are now looking for you. 

And the police pick you up for the third time. (2) This time they are cross because they actually had to look for you a bit this time.  The hand cuffs are put on robustly.

You’ve learned your lessson. It’s time to get a proper job. Drug dealing.  You make a connection. You become a retailer of low end drugs. Tucking the weekends supplies into your jacket you walk outside into the bright sunlight street. It’s going to be a good day. Nothing can go wrong.  A monitor finds the air you are walking in interesting.  Part of the city’s polution monitoring network has spotted a chemical on its Watch For List.  Another monitor joins in.  In a few minutes the polution network realises that there is a source of illegal drugs moving along the street. It notifies the police net. That switches on the cameras and the cameras and the sniffers follow you for a bit whilst they work out who is carrying the drugs. The fact that you’re wearing a balaclava doesn’t help. The police net is tracking you using your gait. Then they direct the local bobby to pick you up on a probable cause stop and search warrant.

And you’re in the back of a cop car again.(3)

And a few days later the police raid the warehouse based on your, unreliable testimony, and the evidence of multiple drug scent trails leading back to it. Everyone involved goes down for 3-5. (4)

Looking into the future it’s difficult to see a space where it is economically viable for many types of petty criminal to make a living.  If every house you break into and every wallet you nick calls the cops and they know where you are, petty crime becomes very risky and the potential reward falls. Who’s going to buy a bike with a GPS tracker and an agrieved owner? How much money can you steal from a frozen bank account?  If you have the skills to circumvent the systems put in place to stop you nicking stuff you probably have the skills to get a decent job or become a criminal mastermind and hang out with Raffles and Catherine Zeta Jones . So, unless you are Slippery Jim DiGriz a life of  (petty) crime doesn’t strike me as rewarding.

(1) Hard core systems won’t even warn you. The first you’ll know about it will be when the cops turn up. Or the newspapers, who will have hacked the security network looking for stories.

(2) In some jurisdictions you are now facing a Three Stikes and You’re Out life sentence. In other jurisdictions I’m not sure what they cut off for a third offense. They probably just blind you or something.

(3) or maybe not, maybe it’s worth more to see where you are going and arrest a few of the punters too. After all, if you can’t legalise dope or pills and tax them the next best thing is to fine everyone who uses it £100 an arrest.

(4) and you lose your jacket under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

I am reading the books that have been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. It’s a way of broadening the pool of authors I read whilst at the same time reassuring myself that my hard earned money isn’t going to be wasted.


I’ve read two of the six shortlisted books so far.

Greg Bears’ Hull Three Zero and Drew Magary’s The End Specialist.

So far I’m not that impressed. I’m not getting what I expected and I’m not getting what I think I should be getting from books that arguably the six best science fiction books published last year.

I’m looking for a good story well told. Interesting characters doing believable things leading to a satisfactory end with good structure and delicious language.

I’m looking for a tale of science that provokes thinking about the role of technology on lives as they are lived. A parable from the future that has been sent back in time. Something that makes me really think about how the future might be and what things are happening today that shape that future

I’m looking for a genre changing story. Something that changes the way science fiction works, the conventions, short hands and tropes.

Hull Three Zero is interesting for the manner of telling.  The story is a fairly standard one. There is a problem on a Big Spaceship. Only our hero can solve the problem by reversing the polarity.

The unusual element is that our hero has no idea who he is for about three quarters of the book. Which in a first person narrative is disorientating and interesting.

There were some thoughts provoked on the nature of evolution as it is experienced by the subject and on the ethicality of certain forms of generation ship and of the colonisation of occupied systems. But these were a bit by the by.

So a fairly standard story with fairly standard ideas told in an interesting way which triggered some thinking on my part.

It’s the best of the two so far.

The End Specialist by Drew Magary ought to have been the more thought provoking of the two books read so far.  It deals explicitly with the effect of a dramatic change in life expectancy. It ought to be a really interesting story about the impact of near immortality with an exploration of the resource constraints of increased population meeting

I just don’t think it deals with it very well.  Faced with sudden mass immortality people continue to behave much as they did before.  As the population rises resources become scarce. This drives up the price but it doesn’t seem to trigger any reduction in demand or technological innovation. In the face of rising prices no one seems to delay having children. There is a lemming like approach to the impending doom. As a warning I found it a little one dimensional.

I think it says something about the USian approach to consumption and climate change.

However, because the economics hasn’t been thought out clearly I found the story didn’t carry me into a future I thought lamentable but plausible. Paulo Bacigalup tackles this kind of dystopia better in Calorie Man and some of his other stories.

Nor was the main character interesting enough to carry a whole novel. He didn’t seem to change much internally.

I was waiting for a big ending which took me from the world of the narrator back to the world of the prologue. Instead the story just sort of slips away.

It would have been a better short story.

So, mindful of Christopher Priest’s views on the short list I’m moving on to Charles Stross’ Rule 34.  Having read Halting State recently I’m not expecting to have my conceptions of the future or of the genre radically altered but I am looking forward to an enjoyable tale.  I suspect that this series of Stross’ work will be more influential on the genre and my thinking about the future in aggregate.

danieldwilliam: (Default)
Testing a Sci-fi Cut )
danieldwilliam: (Default)
I’ve recently finished two books by Cory Doctorow.  I’ve read a couple of his short stories and really enjoyed them.  I was less taken with the novels.
I read Eastern Standard Tribe and Makers in that order. I enjoyed Eastern Standard Tribe more.

Extensive Spoilers for Eastern Standard Tribe and Makers by Cory Doctorow )

Eastern Standard Tribe is a first person narrative about how the protagonist ended up in a mental health hospital and how he goes about trying to leave hospital following a break down that flows from a failed romantic and business venture. Our hero thinks he is being bilked out of a fantastic business opportunity by his girlfriend and best friend. He thinks they have conspired to have him committed so they can steal his business.  He also thinks he is secretly working for a Tribe based around using social media on Eastern Standard Time. He believes himself to be sabotaging a rival tribes reputation.  Any and all of this may or may not be true.
Eastern Standard Tribe has a really interesting unreliable narrator.  He is obviously suffering some mental health issues, or at least a combination of extreme fatigue and emotional stress, which is making his decision making processes less than optimal.  He may, in fact, be mentally incompetent. So far so good as unreliable narrators go.  What made the main character interesting for me was that he may be deluding himself about the whole Tribe thing. Tribes may or may not exist. They may or may not be coherent enough to have a group identity that transcends employer or nation. They may or may not be organised enough to have saboteurs. They may be a nothing more than the fantastical projection of a troubled man on to some out of hours social media acquaintances.
I also appreciated the speculative nature of the science fiction.  Here is some technology. Here is how it might shape society. Here is a story that is not an essay that makes you think about.
So, an interesting character, decent narrative, interesting speculative elements. Not a bad book at all.  I wasn’t struck with the notion that this was the future but I was encouraged to think about the different way people might interact with each other and the effect this might have on their political loyalties and their mental health.
The Makers is a less good book.
I wanted it to be better than it was.  I think it needed to be shorter.
It is the story of the a group of entrepreneurs who are the standard bearers for New Work, a movement that attempts to combine endemic unemployment, easy Intellectual Property rights and a good dose of entrepreneurship along with a distributed co-op model of corporate management. The first third of the book follows the characters and through them the movement from its start to its eventual failure.  The idea is fascinating from an economics and entrepreneurship point of view. This is a thought experiment about what happens when technology means that everyone has access to an intellectual property solution to almost anything and that barriers to entry are so low that the unemployed can use their low reservation wages and opportunity costs and just have a go. Does the mass scramble to find valuable applications for existing technology lead to a new industrial revolution or a quick and dirty Ponzi  scheme.   In an economy like this do all economic decisions revert to the short run cost of labour?  All interesting stuff. Very interesting.
The characters are robust enough to hold my interest through the thought experiment. They weren’t of much interest in themselves.
The last two thirds of the book is less good. I’d go as far as to say actively bad.  The characters who were a pilgrim’s guide to the new economics of the early to mid 21st Century become the focus of the story. They weren’t interesting enough to carry a further 400 pages. I kept waiting for the book to return to the economics but it didn’t.  I huffed and puffed my way through the rest of the book. I wanted it to return to the conflict between nimble, shallowly capitalised small partnerships and co-ops and large IP lawyer heavy mega-corporations. I wanted discussion about the conflict between value creation and value appropriation. I wanted our heroes to go back for round two.  I wanted to find out what happens to a retirement plan when you can’t make meaningful investments in capital because all forms of capital have been rendered short term investments. 
It didn’t. Mainly. I think it tried but it didn’t succeed. It maundered through the break up of the partnership of the two entrepreneurs.  One of the heroes sold out. The other one didn’t. The bad guys seemed to win and everyone loves Disney.  I didn’t find the characters interesting enough to follow their relationship to its death.  In a fable about economic models I want economics.
What I took from the novel was that the author thinks that if only things were different  the overwhelming coolness of guys like the author will make them rich and famous and well, cool.
I think it would have been a much better story if it had stopped at the original failure of New Work. That was interesting. By following the characters long after they stopped doing anything interesting I think the book lost the initial impact of the New Work experiment. The characters weren’t interesting enough to justify 400 pages of, well frankly, indulgent coolness.  Great speculation, mediocre characters, overly drawn out story. An excellent novella ruined by the addition of an  overly long and dull sequel.
danieldwilliam: (Default)

I have just read this post by Charles Stross which I was pointed towards by the ever fantastic [livejournal.com profile] andrewducker  .

 In it Stross talks about the likelihood of human colonisation of interstellar space. There follows a discussion of the human colonisation of the solar system. Basing his views on a combination of economics and physics he was sceptical that we would be successful or even try unless there were a change in the available technology radical enough to be considered magical. Basically, his argument is that other stars are too far away, we’d need too much energy and there is nothing out there that is worth going to.

Cut for Science Faction ramblings )

 He has a point. When you think about it without allowing a massive volutarist drive and using the actual numbers interstellar colonisation looks a massively daunting task. It looks like it would be an undertaking wholly unlike anything tried before.

 I think you have to consider these things incrementally. The whole problem does not have to be solved all in one go. So long as there is a sufficient economic or ideological imperative today people will find a way to move to the next stage. In hindsight this will look like a ladder but will really be a drunken walk. Innovation is usually the application of existing technology and Henry Ford to new problems or in new ways.

 Each solution to a problem nudges the system so that a new set of problems and opportunities emerge. The history of the Roman empire can be understood as a series of border wars. In its early days Rome did not have a settled policy of expansion. A series of immediate responses to the difficulties of a then current border situation brought about by the solution of problems of the previous border situation that drove the expansion outwards. So I think it will be with interstellar colonisation. A series of stages which each include their own set of problems and opportunities to solve those problems. Each solution must be valuable to the people involved in that stage regardless of its contribution to the greater aim.

 The stages are roughly.


1.       Have economic activity in Earth orbit

2.       Have economic activity in Earth orbit which requires people to be there

3.       Have people living in Earth orbit.

4.       Have people live in the Inner Solar System

5.       Have people live in the Outer Solar System

6.       Fill up the available space

7.       Send a colony ship.


At each stage there is a drive to move to the next stage. Someone will be made better off in some way by expanding. They need to be, why else would anyone move to the next stage.

 An early problem to which there is no current solution is getting off our own planet in a sustainable way. This probably requires a space elevator although my Space Bagel concept might also work. To build a space elevator one requires the right materials and a way of temporally  getting off the planet cheaply. Cheap access to Earth orbit is already economically valuable. So are the sorts of materials that would be needed to build a space lift. At some point someone will crack the problem of making them and then making them cheaply enough.

 I think we’ll solve cheap access to Earth orbit first. We seem to have plenty of people who are trying to achieve it. This will probably lead to more economic activity in space and more exploration of space. We’ll find things worth exploiting. We already know some valuable things are out there. Great hunks of metallic asteroid and lots and lots of sunshine.

 In order for colonisation of Earth orbit to take off there need to be both pushes and pulls that over come the economic costs and dislocations. 

 The Earth will soon have a population of 9 billion. If they all wish to live as Americans do we require a lot more energy and a lot more food than we currently have. More than we can currently produce. We’ll also start to run low on various useful metals. We’ll be polluting more than the ecosystem can cope with. Livings standards will be under pressure as will our survival.

  Food, however, is a function of space and energy. There are plenty of metal rich asteroids kicking about the place. Pollution in a closed system is a problem solvable with sufficient energy. So there is an economic argument for building a space elevator to connect lots of orbiting farms and factories to markets on Earth. Space and energy is plentiful and there is plenty of stuff up there to turn into other stuff that you can sell on Earth. These facilities will require management and maintenance. There would now be full time jobs in space.

 After a while, people may or may not be fed up of commuting up and down the elevator. They may meet and fall in love with someone on a different cycle of tours to themselves and want to raise children. There may well be a number of people who actively want to live in space because it is cool. People may or may not become sick of the risk of radiation exposure and be prepared to pay to have the problem solved. The situation on Earth may become more crowded. At some point there will be the risk of war, or oppression, or ideological clash. There will be an economic benefit in solving the problems of living in the long term in space. I suggest that at some point this collection of problems and opportunities will be solved and people will begin to live as well as work in space. Starting at first for a few years, then extending for most or all of their lives.

 Turning to ideological considerations if you were Chinese or Russian or European would you be happy watching the Americans head off into space with all the energy, stuff and, well space up there. We couldn’t allow a space station gap to emerge, Madam President. Whilst putting resources into space exploration and colonisation may not necessarily always be rational on its own account in the context of avoiding being outflanked by a national rival it may make more sense.

 This creates a drive for many people to live and work in orbit around Earth. This creates problems and opportunities. Shifting raw stuff from the asteroid belt to Earth is more expensive than shifting high value finished stuff to Earth. Put another way, what is the difference between the asteroid belt and Brazil? The space around Earth will become crowded in time. People will want to move out to the burbs. People who were born up there won’t see the way  they live as unnatural or unpleasant. Thinking about Brazil some more, at some the people up there stop just gathering stuff and turning it into useful stuff to send “home”. They start wanting to use some of the stuff themselves.

 And so we gently and slowly roll outwards as the sets of problem and opportunity resolve themselves into new, expanded solutions.

 By the time we have filled the solar system there will be trillions of us. We begin to approach some kind of Dyson encirclement.

 Two big problems remain. 

 It is a long way to the stars. I will be dead long before I get there. However, the economic and commercial benefit of longevity treatments is obvious before, and separate from, wanting to go to the stars. With billions of people, then trillions, there is a lot of science going on. Lots of people will be paid handsomely for trying to solve this problem.

 Then there are the energy problems. These are best solved with some very large infrastructure. Stross suggests that in order to launch sufficiently large ships into interstellar space I need to persuade lots of people to do something that has no economic benefit to them. This is not true. I need to persuade a smaller number who are sufficiently rich that between us we can afford to pay lots of people to build us the infrastructure and sell us the energy.

 You don’t need to like flying to make money working for an airline.

 Bearing in mind that the energy required is about 5 second worth of the Earth’s total electricity production at the moment and by the time we are contemplating this we will be harnessing a significant proportion of the Sun’s output the energy required to send something quite big out of the solar system will be a relatively small proportion of the total energy budget of the solar system.

 I think it likely that, from a population of trillions and trillions we might find a few people who thought it sufficiently worthwhile to sell everything they owned and leave the solar system. They may be religiously driven, or ideologically driven. They may be scientists or rebels or explorers or nutcases or some exciting combination of some or all of the above.

 At some point it is likely that the longevity problem and the infrastructure problem will be solved at the same time and solvable by drivers that are inherent in the situation as it then presents itself. There is no need for voluntarism in these scenarios. At least not on the part of the population who will not benefit directly from interstellar colonisation.  

 Off we go.


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