Are The Stars Beyond Our Reach?

via Stars Beyond Our Reach

We dream of reaching the stars. Indeed, it’s at the core of what I’ve been writing, and the same is true for many other science fiction authors. It’s also the subject of intensive research by some fairly serious scientists, even if they don’t quite get the billing and notoriety of NASA projects focused right here in our own Solar System.

But is it truly possible?

I like to think so, but I also understand that the challenges are incredibly daunting, more so than the majority of interstellar-themed science fiction stories would have us believe.

Bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson tackles the challenges of so-called generation ships, in which people will be born, live, and die during the voyage, and only the grandchildren of the original astronauts will be alive at journey’s end in his 2015 novel Aurora. It’s a great read, and I highly encourage you to check it out. I won’t spoil it for you by talking about his conclusions in the novel.

But Robinson also wrote a blog post discussing his thoughts on the various challenges faced, Our Generation Ships Will Sink, and perhaps the title gives it away. He goes into some detail about the issues faced with biological, ecological, physical, sociological, psychological… lots of logicals there. Even upon arrival, the problems don’t cease.

Robinson’s article is a great read, but if you want a nicely wrapped up synopsis of it, I recommend Richard Rabil Jr’s Stars Beyond Our Reach, linked at the beginning of this post. Rabil is a technical writer, who writes both fiction and essays on subjects as diverse as technology and faith, and he tackles many interesting subjects on his blog (which I’ve only just discovered, but so far it’s very promising). He also does a great summary of the evolution of science fiction as a genre, another post I can strongly recommend.

If, like me, you are fascinated by realism in our quest to reach the stars, Rabil’s summary is a good place to start.

Stars Beyond Our Reach


header image credit: Reimund Bertrams (user:DasWortgewand) / pixabay.com under Pixabay License

6 thoughts on “Are The Stars Beyond Our Reach?

    1. You’re welcome! I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

      I admit, I’m not much in the way of a book reviewer, but I will say that I’ve gone both hot and cold on Robinson’s novels. I first came across his work with “Antarctica,” which captured my attention because I spent nearly four years there, and he was writing about some places that I know. He did a great job with that one, in part because he actually visited there under the National Science Foundation’s Artists and Writers grant program, so he was able to infuse his writing with greater realism about the southernmost continent than almost anyone else I’ve ever read who wrote about it.

      Then I read “2312,” and that one was a disappointment. I felt the story was too disjointed, and I could never sympathize with any of the characters, or feel what the narrative direction of the story was. It felt more like a jumbled-together collection of shorts that became one unwieldy tome. As a result, I didn’t expect to read more from Robinson.

      And then he published “Aurora.” Despite myself, I picked it up, as the concept was one of great fascination to me (though his was not the first novel I’ve read on the subject of generation ships — if you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend Robert A Heinlein’s 1963 book “Orphans of the Sky,” which is actually a combination of two related novellas published twenty years earlier). To my surprise, I found the book highly engaging, and yes, just as you described in your post, he goes into some serious technical detail about what it would take to attempt such a journey. I feel that I learned a lot from reading “Aurora,” and probably some of it is or will be influencing my writing since then. “Aurora” is a great example of “hard” science fiction, which is not typical in the space opera or interstellar-travel subgenres.

      I haven’t read his Mars trilogy yet, but I am now planning to do so (interesting note, “2312” takes place in the same “universe” as the Mars trilogy, and there are references to characters and events from the trilogy that, unfortunately, I didn’t have the frame for at the time). Of course, I have a stack of Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton, and John Scalzi books to get through first on my TBR pile! Perhaps like your own, it tends to grow faster than I can actually read the books.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cool, thanks for the follow up, those are some great insights. I might have to take a look at Heinlein’s ‘Orphans of the Sky.’ And I’ve heard good things about the Mars trilogy from a different author I follow. Robinson is definitely known for doing is homework. (And yes, by now my reading list is probably long enough to last a few lifetimes!)

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      2. After I wrote that, it occurred to me that I just finished reading another novel which deals with some aspects of using generation ships to reach another star, though with a different set of issues for the inhabitants on board: “Chasm City” by Alastair Reynolds, published in 2001. It’s a standalone novel in his “Revelation Space” universe which I’m currently working my way through. Reynolds is a retired space scientist, so while his novels are definitely fanciful (he says he prioritizes story over science, but doesn’t want to lose the science), he does try to keep them grounded in principles of physics. He also attempts to solve the puzzle of the Fermi Paradox in the main trilogy that makes up the core of the series.

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  1. I’ve added Aurora and Orphans to my reading list. I was considering doing a generations story, either as an interstellar space ship or as a space station that stays in the solar system. I’d like to do more reading on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Without doubt, there’s a lot of fertile ground here for story ideas! Two other takes on the generational space station idea that immediately come to mind are “Outer Earth” by Rob Boffard (2018) and “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson (2015).

      “Seveneves,” of course, you’re probably already familiar with, as it seems that Stephenson can hardly publish anything without great fanfare. Still, I greatly enjoyed that story, and perhaps one reason was also one that many others DISliked: the extreme attention to technical detail. You can learn a lot about orbital dynamics just from this book!

      “Outer Earth” is more of a straight-up action-adventure story, mostly taking place on a huge space station on which the last remnants of humanity eke out a difficult existence after life is extinguished on Earth. I was lukewarm about this one, although there’s nothing inherently wrong with it; I just didn’t care for the direction it took in the final act (or book — technically it’s a trilogy, though I read it as an omnibus single volume). The setting is dirty, dangerous, and chaotic… society within this huge station is essentially starting to break down, and so is the station itself.

      What are some other stories you’ve read that you would recommend that deal with generation ships, or stations? Since you’re researching, I’d guess you’ve read a few.

      Thanks for the comment.

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