Generation Ships & morality

Aug. 20th, 2017 02:43 pm
juliet: (waveform tree)
[personal profile] juliet

Mirrored from Juliet Kemp.

I went to a panel at Worldcon on the morality of generation ships, and have been thinking about it since.

(I’m also going to take this opportunity to recommend this Jo Walton story set on a generation ship, which is great and has something to say about choice and decisions.)

So, the question under discussion at the panel was: is it morally acceptable to board a generation ship (i.e. a ship that people will live on for multiple generations on their way to another planet), given that you are not just making a decision for yourself, but for your future children, grandchildren, etc etc. The two main categories of moral problem that the panel identified were:

  • the risk of the voyage itself;
  • the lack of choice for every generation after the one that gets on the ship in the first place.

The ‘risk’ issue seems reasonably strong. It’s very unlikely that anyone would have a really clear idea of what the planet was like that they were going to. If you’re using a generation ship at all, then you probably don’t have any other form of fast travel, so any information that exists about the planet will be scanty, very out of date, or most likely both. (See Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is also great.) So it’s not at all a reliable bet that your descendants will truly be able to settle where they’re headed to, even if it looks good from here.

There are also the risks of the voyage itself, including but not limited to radiation issues, the possibility of running into something else, and the likelihood that the ship will genuinely be able to maintain a workable ecological system. We don’t have good on-Earth comparisons for small closed systems; what experiments have been conducted have been very short-term and not terribly promising. What about the social dynamics? What are the risks of, say, a totalitarian system arising? If the risks on Earth are very high, or humans on Earth are facing imminent disaster, then this might be an acceptable trade-off, but how high is ‘very high’ and how disastrous does a disaster have to be? Does it need to be Earth-wide? If your current home is, for example, sinking under rising waters, and you know that any alternative will mean becoming a refugee in poor circumstances — how much risk is ‘reasonable’ to accept then?

Which brings us on to the issue of ‘choice’. One could argue that a kid living in a refugee camp without enough food or warm clothes has, notionally, some future ‘choice’ or ‘opportunity’ to escape that. A child on a generation ship is stuck there.

But why is “can’t leave generation ship” morally different from “can’t leave Earth”? Which is of course a situation into which all children are currently born and which we do not consider morally problematic. And how realistic is the ‘choice’ that the average Earth-born child has? This was where I thought that the Worldcon panel fell down a bit. They threw the word “choice” around a lot but didn’t at all interrogate what realistic “choice” is available to which children in which situation on Earth. There are many kids born without very many realistic ‘choices’; children who are unlikely to go more than a few miles beyond where they were born, children whose projected lifespan is short, children whose lives are likely to be very difficult. How different is that, in reality, from a generation ship? In fact, if the generation ship does work, it might be a better life than on Earth: guaranteed food, shelter, and useful work (making the ship run).

The panel talked about limiting the choices of children born on the moon, because they might not be able to go back and live on Earth — but why is Earth necessarily better than the moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt? Why isn’t it immoral of us to have children who are stuck down here in the gravity well?

More generally: we’re constantly making choices for our children, and through them for generations beyond; we’re constantly giving them some chances and removing other options, every decision we make. Is that immoral? It’s not avoidable, however much privilege you have, although most certainly more privilege generally means more options.

Would I get on a generation ship? Well. Not without a really good perusal of the specs. But I’m not convinced that it’s immoral to do so.

Worldcon Recs

Aug. 17th, 2017 02:28 pm
juliet: (waveform tree)
[personal profile] juliet

Mirrored from Juliet Kemp.

Here is a list of the recs I picked up from various panels I attended at Worldcon. (These are likely not complete, but they’re the ones that I wrote down.)


In Defense of the Unlikeable Heroine:


  • We Who Are About To – Joanna Russ


Non-Binary Representation In Fiction:


  • Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction – ed K M Szpara (anthology)

  • The Black Tides of Heaven / The Red Threads of Fortune – JY Yang (forthcoming in Sept)

  • Provenance – Ann Leckie (forthcoming, but read some on her website)

  • Jacob’s Ladder – Elizabeth Bear

  • River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey

  • Pantomime – Laura Lam

  • Killing Gravity – Corey J White

  • Interactive fiction Craft phone games (Choice of Deathless/City’s Thirst) – Max Gladstone (you can play an nb character)

  • “Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder” (essay) – David J Schwartz

  • Rose Lemberg

  • Foz Meadows

  • A Merc Rustad


Beyond the Dystopia


(This one should be complete as I moderated the panel and made a point of writing them down to tweet afterwards.)


  • Two Faces of Tomorrow – James P Hogan

  • Culture series – Iain M Banks

  • Dragonlance

  • Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders – Ada Palmer

  • The Postman – David Brin

  • A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed And Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

  • Hospital Station – James White

  • Malhutan Chronicles – Tom D Wright (panelist)

  • Orbital Cloud – Taiyo Fuji (panelist)

  • The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison


Older Women in Genre Fiction:


  • All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye – Christopher Brookmyre

  • Blood Songs series – Anthony Ryan

  • Remnant Population – Elizabeth Moon

  • Barbara Hambly


Also, Catherine Lundoff keeps a bibliography of books with older women protagonists.


Colonialism and the Space Opera:


  • Praxis – John Williams


Moving Beyond Orientalism in SFF:


  • Black Wolves – Kate Elliot

  • Vixen and The Waves – Hoa Pham

  • Isabelle Yap

  • Ken Liu

  • Stephanie Lai

  • Zen Cho


(Plus one from Nine Worlds in which the MC has Borderline Personality Disorder: Borderline – Mishell Baker)

What I saw at Worldcon 75

Aug. 14th, 2017 06:05 pm
ewx: (Default)
[personal profile] ewx
 

Things I attended included...

  • Appeal of the Bland Protagonist. I remember only that Robert Silverberg was fairly entertaining.
  • The Long Term Future of the Universe & How to Avoid It. I don’t think we got as far as proton decay. Entertaining but I don’t think I learned much.
  • Polyamorous Relationships in Fiction. I think a fair few examples given but I don’t really remember much about this.
  • What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds. This was largely a very well-pitched survey of what we know about minds and brains and their development here, with the implications for the alien underlined. Excellent.
  • New, More Diverse Superheroes. Something that’s been improving lately. Many of the examples were familiar. Slightly surprised that Vimanarama wasn’t mentioned, it can’t be that obscure?
  • How to Tell the Ducks from the Rabbits. This covered some unpublished research modelling some perceptual effects we find in human vision. Ian Stewart is a good speaker.
  • Cyberpunk and the Future. Fairly rambling but quite entertaining and IIRC avoided the trap of falling into a laundry list of recommendations which can sometimes happen.
  • New Publishing. A couple of models I didn’t know about (though ‘run publisher as a co-operative’ doesn’t seem conceptually new) but I didn’t get a sense that any particular model was about to set the world on fire. Apparently ebook sales are declining as a proportion of the total, which surprised me.
  • Supermassive Black Holes. A quick survey of how black holes work (which didn’t contain many surprises) followed by some new stuff: the GR-aware visualization of a black hole made for Interstellar, corrections to it involving red/blue shifting and the spin of the black hole, a further visualization of what you’d see as you flew into one (assuming you destroyed by any of the many hazards) and a project to radio image out galaxy’s central black hole. Another excellent science talk.
  • Hugo Awards. Very glad to see Monstress winning Best Graphic Story.
  • Beyond the Goldilocks Zone. Panel about the possibilities for exoplanets that sustain life. One point I’d not previously been aware of was that although Europa-style bodies might (hypothetically) have life in sub-ice oceans, there’s no realistic way of detecting this from a distance, meaning that more earth-like planets are a better bet for analysis. (The “goldilocks zone” is the range of distances from a given star in which planets can support liquid water on their surface, making them a good bet for life.)
  • Gender and “Realistic History”. The panel largely surveyed past examples of groups and behaviors sometimes thought to have been absent or rare in the past. Interesting listening.
  • Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0. Another excellent science talk, this time on the detection strategies for exoplanets and the results they’ve had so far. There are a lot of exoplanet discoveries awaiting confirmation.
  • Language Creation. David Peterson (famous for the conlangs from Game Of Thrones) described the basics of making a convincing sketch conlang. A very entertaining speaker.
  • The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism. An opportunity for Charlie Stross to steal the show. Fun.
  • Bullets in Space. Basic orbital mechanics, done fairly well. The basic proposition is that ballistic projectiles are a terrible idea when fighting in an orbit; if they miss the target they are probably going to hit something you didn’t want them to.
  • Tomorrow’s Cool SF Physics. Enjoyed it but don’t remember anything else about it.
  • Designing Life. Fun discussion of biotechnological possibilities for modifying and creating life.
  • Ideas Crossing the World: Japanese Adaptations of Western Fantasy. In practice I think this mostly amounted to an opportunity for the panellists to entertain with their encyclopaedic knowledge of manga and anime.

...there were other things but I can’t remember enough to say anything about them.

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Jonathan McDowell

May 2009

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