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Lieutenant General (Ret.)—USAF
President, Genesis Systems Global
Humans have a future in space, but this book shares an even greater truth: Humans have hope for a better future in the stars.
The book in your hands tells a fictionalized account of humanity’s first attempt to settle planets circling an alien star. Throughout time, great storytellers have been the most powerful teachers to inspire humanity to create better, kinder, and safer societies. This anthology of short stories inspires that same spirit of hope for a better future. These stories are written by some of today’s best science fiction writers and edited by two people supremely qualified to orchestrate this entertaining adventure with a sense of both adventure and technical realism: Les Johnson and Ken Roy. Les is a science fiction writer and thirty-year NASA research scientist who has managed programs ranging from nuclear thermal rockets to interplanetary solar sails. Ken is a retired Oak Ridge nuclear engineer who has widely published in technical journals on advanced space topics. They are both founders of the Interstellar Research Group, a professional organization of technical specialists and science fiction writers (many are both!) who convene every eighteen months in a five-day convention to discuss interstellar travel and how to take it from science fiction to reality. Talks can range from the technical, such as creating a solar system–wide telescope using the Sun as a gravitational lens, growing synthetic meat on Mars, or the latest development in plasma or antimatter physics, to the social, such as how new societies might emerge from different planetary conditions. Many IRG participants are counted among this book’s authors. I should know. I’m one of them! I was honored to speak at their 2017 symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
This book shares the IRG’s most important trait: a deep sense of disciplined optimism. The general attitude around the world for the past few years has been challenged. The COVID pandemic caused millions of people worldwide to live in fear and quarantine in their homes. Fears of a worldwide economic recession have dampened moods that otherwise might have improved as the world began to reopen. War in Ukraine and rumors of wars around the world have mixed with draught and famine worries to cause even more anxiety among humanity, particularly among our youth. Today, the future could appear dark if we did not have authors like this to remind us of our great potential as a human race.
Even the space community has not escaped a sense of despair. In 2019, respected political scientist Daniel Deudney published his book Dark Skies, in which he argued that space settlement would mean the extinction of humanity. To be fair, Deudney pointed out several genuine threats that may arise from space expansionism, such as the rise of artificial intelligence, the evolutionary effects of different space environments leading to altered versions of humanity and hostility between them, and the proliferation of new technologies necessary for space travel that can also become horrible weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands. These are indeed all potential challenges. However, heroes of the future never cower in fear. Instead, they innovate with joy and hope in their hearts for a brighter future.
The stories we tell ourselves matter. If we let imagined monsters in the unknown darkness keep us in our beds cowering under the covers, then we will never see the rich, green fields of infinite possibility. Dystopian stories can be helpful to develop a healthy caution and pragmatism, but their abuse can also breed paralysis and death.
This book is, in part, a response to Deudney’s pessimism. Rather than fearing Deudney’s hazards, the authors of these stories confront them directly and find that they can be overcome and may even be reformed into critical advantages in creating a better future. Many of these stories are filled with danger and tragedy, as our human future among the stars will inevitably be. We will, after all, be human beings. But they are by no means dystopian. These stories are about effort, compassion, heroism, and triumph. These stories are optimistic. These stories are about overcoming fear and adversity to build a better world. A positive world. These stories don’t seek to enslave the human spirit to paralyzing terror. Rather, these stories seek to show how the best of humanity, and humanity’s offspring, will blaze a trail to the positive future in store for everyone.
We must always remember that a positive future is not one without conflict or challenge. A utopian future is an impossible future—and that is a good thing! Utopias are sterile…and boring…and ultimately they are soul-killing environments. Humanity’s interstellar future will be more positive than we can contemplate today, but it will also challenge us to the limits of our imagination, ambition, and skill. We will also purchase it with sweat, tears, and blood. Our descendants’ incessant conflict with the deadly environments beyond Earth will present hardships probably not seen since Polynesians in canoes challenged the Pacific Ocean to find new and distant islands thousands of miles into the unknown blue millennia ago. Settling the American West, the most recent societal-scale settlement effort, cost thousands of lives from many different civilizations. We should not lie to ourselves that expansion into outer space will be any less costly. Though, fortunately, human expansion into the stars may not threaten extraterrestrial societies with war or extinction, the soil of new human worlds will still be littered with the sacrifices of pioneers fighting natural forces never before seen back home on Earth.
However, this future they create will still be an optimistic and positive one. Just as many who read this book will live in cities and states carved from the wilderness just over a century ago by pioneers, so will the children of humanity’s first interstellar pioneers live in glittering metropolises forged in the imagination and determination of their grandparents. But this future is also realistic in that it is forged by people very much like we are today. Our future interstellar pioneers will live, love, work irritating jobs, suffer hardships, clean toilets, burn dinners, and make countless other mistakes, just like we do—and just like our pioneer ancestors did.
That is why these stories are ultimately important. They don’t just light a candle of an optimistic future to merely defy the darkness of today’s despair. They represent a very important truth:
Humans have hope for a better future in the stars.
The people who go to the stars will not be gods, superheroes, or models of moral perfection. They’ll simply be our children’s children. They will be ordinary people who will overcome the same types of challenges our parents overcame, and the challenges we have and will overcome. We, today, even with wars, pandemics, and famine, are setting the stage for the fantastic age that is coming. We are doing so by doing what humans have always done and will always do: overcome obstacles…and more than a few mysteries!
So let these stories comfort, entertain, and inspire you in these often-troubling times. Our past is locked in concrete but the future is ours to create. It won’t be easy or painless but let’s shoot for a magnificent future full of possibilities, laughter, love, discovery, and, above all, adventure.
Humans have hope for a better future in the stars.
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