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A Review of FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD by Robert A. Heinlein

Farnham’s Freehold was copyrighted in 1964 by Robert A. Heinlein and published that same year by G. P. Putnam’s Sons of New York. Initially set in the time in which it was written, at the height of the Cold War, in typical Heinlein fashion, this book starts off with a bang as the main character, Hugh Farnham and his family were blasted 2000 years into the future by a Russian atomic bomb. They survived the event because Hugh had the foresight to build a bomb shelter under his home. How the family adapted to this strange new world of the future constitutes the bulk of the novel.

Staying alive was their first priority and Hugh packed the shelter with everything he thought they would need to live after a nuclear war. But once in the event, it turned out that they needed to improvise-and some of their improvisations were quite ingenious. For example, Heinlein described how they constructed an irrigation canal using a homemade transit of the type employed by the ancient Egyptians to ensure the proper slope; and, how they lined it with clay tiles similar to what the Romans used in their aqueducts. Their 250 ton steel re-enforced concrete bomb shelter had been tilted on an angle by the bomb blast. Using tools and techniques first developed by the ancient Egyptians to erect their monuments, the Farnhams were able to re-level the heavy structure without any power equipment.

Compounding the practical problems, Hugh had to deal with conflicts within the family. In addition to his wife, Grace, Hugh had two children: Duke, his grown son and Karen his college age daughter. There were also two others who were not actually blood relatives: Barbara, a friend of Karen who happened to be staying with them at the time of the attack, and Joe, their African American hired man. Early on, Grace and Duke attempted to gang up on Hugh in a struggle for power. However, everyone else had confidence in Hugh’s leadership, sided with him, and Hugh prevailed. But the conflict remained barely beneath the surface for the rest of the story, erupting on several occasions.

After six months of carving out a homestead, planting and irrigating a garden and successfully working out a division of labor; despite their differences, the extended Farnham household seemed destined to prosper. Heinlein had a surprise for them, however. Unfortunately, their homestead was located in the private game preserve of a heretofore unseen landlord. This landlord was a member of The Chosen, the people who had inherited the Earth after the European and Asian races had all but wiped each other out in the nuclear war, and they were descendents of Black Africans. The Chosen now held the remaining light skinned people of North America in slavery. The landlord, whose nickname was Ponse, had the homestead destroyed and the Farnham clan was carried off into bondage. How this was resolved, I’ll allow readers to discover for themselves.

Heinlein uses irony with great skill in this story. The reversal of the relative status of the black and white races is only the most obvious. There are numerous subtle ironies within this over arching one. The Chosen, who in this story were Moslems, proved to be just as ruthless as the white Christian slave owners were in their time and equally hypocritical in their religious justifications. Joe, who in his own time was a second class citizen, suddenly found himself one of The Chosen, while Hugh, his former employer, became a slave. There are many more such ironies for the reader to discover: some are funny and some are not so funny.

As social commentary, this book is a Heinlein tour de force. He addresses racism, a dysfunctional family, sexual liberation, adultery, property rights, religion, intellectual freedom, methods of leadership in a crisis, the Cold War, and human rights in general. And, despite the doomsday backdrop of the story, he does all of this in a way that leaves the reader feeling optimistic about the future of the Farnhams and of the human race.

Star Trek, Star Wars, or Zardoz?

What is humanities’ future in space if any?

On another list, the question was raised about the future of humans in space and several movie versions were suggested. My thoughts on these follow. If anyone wants to argue, take offense or agree, please feel free to comment.

I think the Star Trek vision is still too Earth bound, too reflective of our own forms and biases. The aliens in Star Trek, Whatever Generation are simply reflections of ourselves. They are not aliens. The Vulcans are simply the logical and rational sides of ourselves; the Klingons are our greedy and rapacious side, while all of the other aliens are simply character actors in morality plays.  It is a great series, but it is not particularly visionary.

Star Wars tries to be big, but ends up being small. It is Shogun in space.  Jedi-Samurai, endless intrigues with double and triple crosses, good guys become bad guys become good guys and so on. It is great fun but visionary about human space flight it is not.

Zardoz is a total downer. This is science fiction at its worst. It is The Sun Also Rises without the happy ending.

I see human space flight, exploration and colonization as the dawn of a new age. Those who go will be optimists. The kind of people who looked at the New World as an opportunity to be grasped rather than a mystery to be feared. We will take all of our faults and foibles with us, of course, but the tip of the spear will be sharp and we will embark on a great adventure. Those new folks, the lunar and Mars colonists, the ones born and raised there, will see the universe through different eyes. Where we see limits, they will see opportunities. I am quite optimistic. The only movie I can think of that captures this spirit isn’t science fiction at all, it is Centennial, a mini-series about the settling of a town in Colorado that begins with the Native Americans who settled there first, to the trappers and mountain men, the cattlemen, farmers and follows through to the present day. That is our future in colonizing the solar system.

Tunnel in the Sky

Tunnel in the Sky

Copyrighted in 1955, Tunnel in the Sky is the 9th of the Heinlein juveniles and it is noteworthy in several respects. First, while it is set in the future and on another planet, the bulk of the novel isn’t really science fiction at all, it is more of a survival tale. Second, while some of the story involves Robinson Crusoe type details on improvising basic technology, a major portion of it is social and political commentary made through the actions and statements of the characters. And third, the protagonist, Rod Walker, is black.

In this future, the Ramsbotham Jump has made interstellar travel as simple as passing through a doorway: on one side you are on Earth, step to the other side and you are on another planet in another star system. This is how Rod Walker and his classmates travelled to another planet for the final exam of their high school course in survival. What they didn’t know was that a fluke in the form of a stellar nova, short-circuited the gate they had just passed through and left them stranded. A trip that should have been several days long, lasted for two years. Heinlein turns how Rod and the others survived their stay on this strange planet into a fascinating tale.

While the clues are often subtle, this is probably the Heinlein juvenile with the most social commentary.  Sex and race are irrelevant to the job of surviving on this dangerous planet and Heinlein treats them that way. After having spent several days alone, and after having been ambushed and robbed by an unknown assailant, Rod met Jack Daudet, who allowed Rod to share his own shelter in a cave. A few days later while hunting, they met Jimmy Throxton who joined them as well. It is after Jimmy was there that Rod discovered that Jack was really Jackie: a girl. Heinlein uses this clever plot twist to drive home the point that men and women are equal, and particularly so in this extremity.

Gradually their colony grew with students similarly stranded until it reached a population of about 75. They constructed a village with a stockade to keep out predators and Rod emerged as the ex officio leader of the group.  At this point it was decided that they needed some sort of government so the group elected a mayor for the settlement. The mayor-elect was an older student who proposed holding the election in the first place. Heinlein uses this micro-society to explore the advantages and disadvantages of democracy and those of the very concept of government itself, while Rod discovered that politics trumps ability every time.

Heinlein treats race, sex and ethnicity as irrelevant in this book.  While this is a diverse group, the surnames of the characters are the only clues we have to place any of them into an identity group. One character, Caroline Mshiyeni, has a clearly East African surname and was seen by the other members of the group as natural girlfriend and possible wife for Rod. In the context of 1955 society, the implication here is clear: Rod must be of African descent himself. At that time, what was termed miscegenation, or interracial marriage, was not only frowned upon by the society that would be reading this book, it was illegal in about a dozen states. Therefore, looking through the lens of the mores of the mid-1950’s, the implication is that Rod is black. To drop a subtle clue like this is typical of Heinlein. He could not state that his main character was black. His editors would have rejected the story out of hand. But he could imply it to the readers sharp enough to pick up the clues. Similarly, as I noted earlier, while he could not state that men and women were absolute equals; with the Jack to Jackie transformation he could show it to be true.

The story also depicts how the young people strived over the two years or so that they were stranded on that planet to build a decent society and civilization. They dealt successfully with outlaws and crime, made the tools and equipment necessary for life, planted and raised crops, hunted in an organized way and married. They formed a government, however imperfect and dealt successfully with an environmental threat that could have consumed them.

This book moves right along and has the constant tension created by the “man on the edge of survival” situation Rod and his fellows find themselves in.  Tunnel in the Sky is an optimistic book about the strength, resilience and basic decency of human nature. While there were villains and low life characters, they were a minority and were ultimately killed or exiled by the strong and decent majority. It is telling that at about this same time William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was published. His book placed a group of young people in a similar survival situation, but with much less exemplary results: they degenerated into predatory animals. Naturally, Golding’s dark book was a success among the cynical critics. On the other hand, if you are looking for an upbeat page turner for the weekend, this is your book.

Review of The Star Beast

The Star Beast was copyrighted in 1954 by Robert A. Heinlein and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in that same year. This is the first of the juveniles to have no interior illustrations, but the cover art and title page were done by Clifford Geary. Because of the lack of illustrations, for the video montage portion of this review, I will use the some of the cover art of the many editions of this book that have been published. This is the eighth of the juveniles and as it was with all of the previous books, the plot and characters are unique. Set in the 22nd century, the book has two distinct story lines, lines that eventually intersect, and the point of view changes among the several characters that populate these story lines. This is an interesting plot device and allows Heinlein to build suspense as the reader tries to anticipate how and when the two plots lines will meet.

The first story line probably takes place in Colorado, although that is never stated, and has three principal characters. Lummox, the title character, is an alien brought to Earth by the great grandfather of the book’s ostensible main character, John Thomas Stuart XII. John Thomas is a teen aged boy who takes care of Lummox and tries with limited success to keep the beast out of trouble. Lummox, who was small enough to fit in a jump bag when brought to Earth, has grown to the size of a medium tank and is just about as tough. The close relationship of the two and their loyalty to each other is a crucial part of the story. John Thomas also has a friend, Betty Sorenson, who plays an important role in this book, even though the point of view is never centered on her. Like Lummox, Betty is loyal to John Thomas and tries to look out for him, and while John Thomas seems oblivious to the romantic implications of their relationship, Betty is not.

The second story line takes place in the Federation Capital, the location of which is not stated but in other Heinlein books is in Nassau. There are two main characters in this line and both have the point of view at various times. Henry Gladstone Kiku, OBE, Permanent Undersecretary for Spatial Affairs, is one of the most powerful men in the Federation. Sergei Greenberg is his go-to assistant and is assigned all the hard jobs, because he gets them done. As the story develops, the two men are involved in some tricky negotiations with a newly discovered alien race called the Hroshii. I’ll allow the reader to discover how this seemingly unrelated plotline eventually intersects with the one in Colorado, but it is through circumstances that only Heinlein could make believable. As a character, Kiku is especially noteworthy because he is from Kenya and is black. In 1954, one simply did not depict black men in such roles and if this had not been science fiction, I doubt if any editor from a major house would have approved it. Heinlein, always a step ahead, would cross the color line again in another of the juveniles.

The double plot lines make this an intricate novel, more so than the previous juveniles, but with well developed, believable and likeable characters as well as non-stop action, Heinlein carries it off.  The book is readable and never boring. As with his other works, Heinlein does not indulge in the poetic descriptions of scenery and characters that impresses critics and professors of literature. Rather, we learn about the characters by watching what they do. The Star Beast is another masterpiece by the original dean of science fiction.

Future of NASA

I support Mars and Lunar colonies now. But I feel that NASA run operations won’t work. NASA has become too blunt an instrument. We get way too little bang for our buck with NASA. They need to evolve into a much smaller granting and underwriting operation. But no self-perpetuating bureaucracy ever voluntarily shrinks. So it is most likely that it will lurch on into the future, doing fewer and fewer missions while consuming huge amounts of capital that would be better spent in private hands.
As an example of how the NASA of the future might function, suppose the current Mars “Curiosity” mission had been set up as an “X-Prize” type operation, with the proviso that the company or organization that completes the mission as described in the grant also has exclusive exploitation rights to any developments, media coverage, inventions, procedures and discoveries on Mars. If they find diamonds, they have first claim because the territory mapped out by the rover belongs to them. Possibly an generous land grant would be a part of the deal.
The advantages to this type of system are clear and have historical precedent. Charles Lindbergh flew NY to Paris to win a prize. He did it as economically and quickly as possible. If NASA had undertaken this challenge, they would spend five years planning a massive expedition and then after that, might actually begin development of an aircraft. The Parisians would still be waiting at Le Bourget Field for the plane to arrive.

Marooned On Mars

Marooned on Mars

Marooned On Mars was copyrighted in 1952 by Lester del Rey and published that same year by John C. Winston Company. In 1962, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the edition shown in these pictures. The cover art was created by Paul Orban. Lester del Rey was a well known science fiction writer of the mid 20th century and a frequent contributor to the science fiction pulp magazines of the era, most notably Astounding Science Fiction. Later in his career he was also the editor of del Rey Books. As well as this book, he was the author of several of what came to be known as the Winston Juveniles, books written specifically for young people.

Chuck Svenson was a citizen of the moon, proud of it and because of his unique qualifications, was selected as one of six to go on the first mission to Mars. Cut from the mission at the last minute when it was discovered that he was a few days under the minimum age of 18, Chuck, who felt he was treated unfairly, stowed away on the ship and traveled to Mars anyway. Since he was already well prepared for the trip, Chuck turned out to be an asset to the crew.

During the transit to Mars, the ship’s controls were wrecked by a meteor impact with the result that their landing on Mars was actually a crash. The ship was seriously damaged, but not mortally so and the intrepid astronauts immediately began repairs, repairs that because of the positioning of the planets in their orbits, needed to be made within seventy days. Chuck worked hard and was an integral part of the repair effort. It was while performing his share of the tasks that he made a troubling discovery: certain items of ships stores and equipment had gone missing. How Chuck eventually solved the mystery of the disappearing items is the subject of the second half of the book and I will leave that solution for the reader to discover as well.

Written as it was, before Mariner and the subsequent exploratory missions to Mars, the Mars planetary science is dated. The canals, which del Rey postulates as vine like growths emanating from the polar caps and webbing the planet, we now know to be nonexistent: merely optical illusions. The atmosphere, though thin in del Rey’s story is thick enough to support plant life. We now know it to be whisper thin and probably incapable of supporting any life at all.

These facts notwithstanding, the story is solid and moves right along. Chuck is a likeable and believable character and being born off the earth, has a unique perspective. That perspective allows him to see things that his Earth-born shipmates overlook when addressing the mystery of the missing property. Since this book was written when the primary audience for juvenile science fiction was thought to be male, all of the important characters are male as well. But I think you can ignore the limitations I mentioned, sit back and enjoy a good story, written by one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction.

Heinlein’s Juveniles

Heinlein’s Juveniles

In the period from 1947 through 1958, Robert A. Heinlein wrote 12 Science Fiction books that came to be known as his Juveniles.  In today’s parlance they would be considered books intended for young adults: junior high and high school readers.

These excellent books all have several characteristics in common.

  1. They are scientifically accurate according to the best information available at the time they were written.
  2. Both the primary and secondary characters in the stories are well drawn and recognizable as people with whom the reader can identify.
  3. They are all coming of age stories, where young people find themselves faced with adult challenges and must grow in order to meet those challenges.
  1. The novels all have fast moving plots that propel the reader through the stories and maintain a sense of forward motion.
  2. And finally, they all more or less follow Heinlein’s “History of the Future” timeline.

I intend to review each of these novels in the order in which they were written, in the hope that I can encourage today’s young readers to visit these fine books from the past.  Believe me, you will quickly forget that Venus is a scorching desert rather than the swampland that many suspected it was at the time Space Cadet was written; and it won’t matter to you that we now know that there are no canals on Mars like those depicted in Red Planet.  These engrossing stories will thrill, entertain and inform you and be well worth your time.  Those older readers, who can still remember what it was like to be young, will find them entertaining as well.

Starman Jones

Starman Jones


Starman Jones was copyrighted in 1953 by Robert A. Heinlein and published that same year by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. The sixth of the Heinlein Juveniles, it is the last one to be fully illustrated by Clifford Geary.

It is also the first of his juveniles to postulate interstellar travel. All of the earlier books confined travel within the solar system. The protagonist, Maximilian Jones, or Max as he is known, comes from unspecified hill country, possibly the Ozarks, where he is living with his widowed stepmother. When she remarries, Max leaves and through a series of misadventures, during which he meets and eventually teams up with a hobo named Sam, Max signs on as an ordinary crewman aboard the starship Asgard. Because he possesses a unique ability and through a series of unlikely events that only Heinlein could make believable, Max lands a job as a ship’s officer serving on the bridge. His adventures aboard the Asgard constitute the main body of the story and I’ll allow the reader to enjoy them.

As a novel, Starman Jones works on several levels. First it can be read as a simple adventure story and it works quite well as just that. The book can also be read as a coming of age story: Max starts out a boy and finishes as a man. And it can be read for the deeper human and sometimes political themes underlying the story. For example, the Asgard encounters an alien civilization organized along totalitarian lines. The ruthless brutality and exploitative character of the alien system is, I believe, an allegory for the communist and fascist societies of the 20th century during which Heinlein was writing.

This is the first of the juveniles to fully develop a strong female character. Eldreth Coburn is the well to do daughter of a planetary governor and a passenger aboard the Asgard. During the course of the voyage, Max and Ellie become good friends and there is a hint of romance, at least on her part. A very intelligent and strong willed young woman, she does a skillful job of concealing those traits in the male dominated society set forth in the story. For example, she allows Max to teach her how to play chess. He wins all of their matches until late in the book when he discovers that she is a master chess player and could take him anytime and every time if she chose to do so. When Max and Ellie are captured by hostile natives on a planet misnamed Charity, Ellie proves both courageous and resourceful. Nearly all of Heinlein’s later juveniles as well as his adult books have such strong and likeable female characters. Prescient as he was about future technological innovation, he also foresaw women taking a more equal role in future society.

Starman Jones is also the last book to be fully illustrated. As in the previous books, Clifford Geary’s cover art and white on black interior drawings appear deceptively simple. However, the illustrations have a hidden complexity that conveys very subtly the sense that we are visiting a world very different than our own. Geary was a great talent and a fine artist, but I know of only one other book, a children’s book, that he illustrated. About this time, young adult fiction followed the already established pattern of adult fiction: that of not being illustrated. No doubt the intellectual rationale was that by not having suggestive pictures the narrative would better stimulate young imaginations. But I also have no doubt that there was an economic motive: at that time, illustrations significantly increased the cost of producing books. Hence, there were no more pictures. This is a trend I would like to see reversed and I am doing just that with my own stories.

This is a great book and while longer than Heinlein’s previous juveniles, it is a page turner and a fast read. The action flows naturally and carries the reader along with it. Although the science is farther afield than that of his earlier books, the space-time anomalies that allow for interstellar travel are analogous to the wormholes that are currently postulated; and those are based on conjectures put forth by Albert Einstein. Written with scientific rigor as well as universal human themes such as love, envy, jealousy and self-sacrifice, this book is all Heinlein all the time.


The Alien Structure on Mars

From Jupiter IV

I followed Jackie through the air-lock-style double doorway and into a round room about ten meters across.  Spaced evenly around the circular room were three bench-like structures protruding from the wall.  Two other doorways were located in the wall opposite the entrance.  Dr. Sharma stood near one of the benches.  He was slight of build, not as tall as me, and had snow white hair.  The smile on his face illuminated the room.

“I’ve seen pictures and virtual vids of this place, Dr. Sharma, but the real thing is still the real thing, isn’t it?”

“So it is, Augie.  I can’t tell you how glad we all are to have you here safe and sound.  I understand you are more than a little responsible for that, Captain LeCarte.”  He stepped forward and offered his hand to her.

“Maybe a little.  I just did what any pilot would.”  Jackie took his hand and shook it firmly.

“Yeah, just any old average super ace jet jockey with nerves of steel and lightning reflexes,” I said as I shook his hand in turn.  “Don’t let her kid you, Dr. Sharma.  She’s tops, by my reckoning.”

“Okay, guys, compliment accepted.  Thank and thank you again.” Jackie blushed visibly.  “Now, Dr. Sharma, please explain to this country girl what this place is.”

“I honestly don’t know, young lady.  They didn’t leave any pictures of themselves, and anything that wasn’t nailed down was taken by old T.A. Scott when he visited here in 1956.”

“Excuse me if it takes me a minute to get a hold of this.  I have always known, known for sure, mind you, that the story of this place and T.A. Scott was a hoax.  No different from all the other UFO myths and hoaxes that have been floating around since who knows when.  Now I am confronted with evidence my own eyes can see that what I thought was true was actually wrong.  Please, let me get my bearings.”

“Maybe I can help you understand these things a little better.  I want to show both of you something.”  Dr. Sharma had a small device in his hand, about the size of a handset phone.  He pushed a button, and the room filled with glowing images of stars, nebulae, and other stellar objects.  The overall pattern of the images was unfamiliar.

“This sure looks different in person than it did on virtual vid,” I said.

“Yes, doesn’t it?”

“I’ve never seen any of it before.  What are we looking at?” Jackie asked.

“Watch, Captain LeCarte,” Dr. Sharma said softly.

Almost imperceptibly, the points of light began to move.  They slowly formed into a disc with a large, glowing hub and two spiral arms that radiated out from its edges.  The image was tilted toward us such that we had a perspective view.  After many minutes, the shape was recognizable as a galaxy.

“It’s a holographic image of a spiral galaxy like ours,”  Jackie said.  “Where is the projector?”

“I don’t know,” Sharma responded. “As best I can tell, it is coming from this whole structure.”

“What does that thing in your hand do?” Jackie asked. “Isn’t that the control?”

“There is no control.  This just emits a very low-energy, long-wave radio transmission at a single frequency in all directions.  When it is on, the image forms.  I discovered it by accident twenty-five years ago.”

“How did you get the projection to change from that chaotic mess into an image of the Milky Way?” I asked.

“I didn’t.  I don’t believe that mess, as you called it, is what it appears to be.  I believe that is how the people who built this place saw the Milky Way.  Then, somehow, it changed into how we see it.  Honestly, Augie, to this day I’m not sure we are actually seeing this with our eyes.  We may only be seeing it in our brains.”

“This is wild!”  Jackie exclaimed.  “What are those green spots scattered around?”

“Dr. Sharma thinks they mark the locations of other outposts like this one.”  I had seen the virtual vids of the star map when we were doing the research for the drive.

“Notice how they are all located in the annulus of the galactic habitable zone?” he asked.

“You mean that washer-shaped ring around the Milky Way, where there is enough metal for Earth-like planets to form, yet not so much high-energy radiation and so forth that it would kill off the life forms?”  Jackie knew her stuff all right.

“That’s it, Captain.  Now keep watching.”  The image gradually grew and rotated until it appeared as though we were looking straight down on it.  Then it came closer until it exceeded the size of the room.  Soon we were looking at only one section of the ring.  Several of the green spots were located on stars in the ring.  The image got larger.  After what seemed like hours, we were looking down on a star system with planets.  As it grew, the inner planets resolved more distinctly, and two of them, the third and the fourth out from the star, had green spots on them.

“That’s our own solar system.  But there are two of those spots.  One is on Earth.  Those are pretty good pictures by the way.”  She said this as the features of the various planetary systems resolved more clearly.

“I don’t think they are pictures, Captain.”

“What are they then?”

“I think we are looking — looking with our minds but looking nonetheless — at the actual solar system, right at this moment.”

“The planets are sure in the right places.”  I got out my phone and pulled up the solar system on the web.  “Jupiter’s Galilean moons are correct for this date and time.  Back last year, when you first showed me a recording of this thing, I had assumed this to be just a fancy 3-D video projection of some kind until you suggested that it was an actual image of real-time events.  That’s when the light went on for me.”

Jackie looked at Dr. Sharma, then at me. “Let me get this straight.  You guys are telling me that we are actually looking at the solar system from some point above it?  Then that means we were looking at the Milky Way from thousands of light years away just a few minutes ago.  How can that be?”

“That was my question when Dr. Sharma first mentioned his suspicions.  Answering those questions, at least some of them, led to the interval drive.  It’s what made me realize that ’t Hooft’s fifth dimension really existed and wasn’t just another mathematical parlor trick.”

“Mathematics is not a parlor trick, Augie,” Sharma rejoined.

“Sorry, sir; we can save that argument for another day.  But you are exactly right to ask that question, Jackie, because it is at the heart of the issue.  Once you know this thing can work and have vantage points thousands of light years apart almost simultaneously, you know that the old cosmic speed limit is out the window.  Then it is just a practical problem of figuring out how to do it.  Travel faster than light, I mean.”

“How do we know it isn’t just a projection of some artificially created image, like they would use in a virtual video?” Jackie asked.

“Another good question, Captain.  We figured that, based on the relative size of the Milky Way in the image at the beginning, we must have a vantage point about twenty-four thousand light years away.  We then located some known stellar objects about halfway between us.  We compared dozens of them.  What we saw in our telescopes, which was an image twelve thousand years old, was the same as what we saw in the projection.  As it moved closer, we kept up the comparisons and they continued to match until we get to the one that actually resolves the solar system.  As Augie pointed out, that one is today, right now in fact.  They were always the same.  It is like we are actually there: observing in person.”

Musgrave Station

Life on Mars in Mid-21st Century

Musgrave Station was the only settlement named for an astronaut.  The stations were traditionally named after astronomers or space scientists, usually ones who had some special interest in Mars, whereas the areographical features were named for astronauts.  Located inside a cave in Musgrave Ridge, the station was named for a 20th-century astronaut famous as a member of the team that had saved the Hubble Space Telescope.  Because Hubble was the most important astronomical instrument of its time, Musgrave got credit as both an astronomer and an astronaut.  For these reasons, the station and the ridge on which it was located had the same name.

As the rover approached, the first visible part of the station was the radio dish perched atop the ridge, with the long, semi-cylindrical shape of the hydroponic garden coming into view only as they grew nearer.  Like all Mars settlements, Musgrave was self-contained, at least in the short term, and the hydro garden helped in that regard by providing some of the food and oxygen for the Colony.  Even though the sunlight falling on Mars is only 40% as intense as that on Earth, it is sufficient to sustain plant life and power photosynthesis.

The next feature to emerge in their sight was the solar power array with its hundreds of panels that swiveled like sunflowers following the sun’s daily journey across the sky.  A robo could be seen servicing one of the panels.  The solar installation provided the electrical power necessary to run the station, was used to charge lithium ion batteries, and generated hydrogen and oxygen for the fuel cells that powered the station at night.  In the event of a general system failure, the station also had a small nuclear reactor that could provide survival power.

Although the settlement was self-sustaining, it was in theory only.  In practice, a colony of 34 people cannot function independently permanently.  There is simply not enough redundancy, either mechanical or human, to compensate for the inevitable malfunctions.  In fact, the entire Mars Colony of nearly 600 people, disbursed though they were, would be considered uninsurable by any self-respecting actuary.  The statistical universe is too small and the individual risks too numerous and large.  After an investment of $10 billion a year for nearly 40 years, Mars Colony was still hanging by its fingers.

The robo that was servicing the solar array was an example of how automation had made colonization possible.  These tools serviced the other mechanical systems of the station, tended the hydro gardens, cleaned house, and did all of the heavy lifting and drudge work that was the inevitable by-product of civilization.  They were controlled by the station’s computer system, which in turn was linked to those systems in the other stations.  The aggregate of these systems created a management tool that was very effective in coordinating Colonial activities as well as avoiding wasted effort on the part of the Colony’s limited transportation and manufacturing capacity.  Because robo labor was in limited supply, although demand for labor on the part of the Colonists was theoretically unlimited, the management system balanced these economic forces using money—credit money—as the medium of exchange.  Any activity performed by a robo had to be billed to someone.  The robo that was repairing the solar array was being “paid” by the settlement, as the array’s electrical output was used by the settlement at large.  The settlement had an account with the Colony at large, which included all seven of the settlements, and the Colony had an account with the Mars Colonial Corporation.  If an individual Colonist spilled his milk on the floor of his parents’ apartment and a housekeeping robo cleaned it up, the cost of that activity was billed to the Colonists’ household account.  Because robos were very expensive, their time was costly as well, which in turn made it prohibitively expensive for a parent to have a robo clean up Junior’s mess.  The Colonists at Musgrave, like those of the Mars Colony as a whole, were a mixture of scientists and technicians, some of whom were employed by Mars Corporation, some by other corporations, universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and some as independent contractors.  While all were extremely well-paid professionals, because it was so expensive to ship things to Mars, as much as $25,000 per kilogram, the cost of living on Mars was equally high.  Compared to Mars, San Francisco or Tokyo would seem like tourist bargains.  Consequently, most Colonists had little money to spend on luxuries and chose to clean up their own messes, saving the robos for heavy and potentially profitable work.