White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 12, 13

White mars. Chapter 12, 13


The Watchtower of the Universe

The Martian marathon was organised by a group of young scientists working on Operation Smudge. They had set an ingenious 6-kilometre course through the domes, parts of which involved them leaping from the roofs of four-storey buildings, equipped with wings to provide semi-flight in the light gravity.

The marathon was regarded as an excuse for fun. Beza and Dayo had teamed up to provide a little razmataz music. Over 700 young people, men and women, together with a smattering of oldsters, were entered in the race.

Many appeared in fancy dress. The Maria Augusta dragon was present, with several small offspring. A bespectacled and bewigged Flat Mars Society showed up. Many little and large green men, complete with antennae, were running alongside green semi-naked goddesses, jostled by other bizarre life forms.

Everyone not in the race turned out to watch. The music played. It proved an exciting occasion. First prize was a multi-legged dragon trophy, created in stone and painted by our sculptor, Benazir Bahudur, with less elaborate versions for runners who came second and third.

The winner was the particle physicist Jimmy Gonzales Dust. He finished in 1,154 seconds. He was young and good-looking, with a rather cheeky air about him; he was very quick with his answers. At a modest banquet held in his honour, he was reported to have made a remarkable speech. Feeling somewhat dizzy, I did not attend.

Jimmy said that he had once believed that the process of terraforming the planet should have been undertaken from the start of our tenure of Mars. There could be no ethical objection to such work, since there was no life on Mars that would suffer in the process.

He went on to say that the duration of life on Earth was finite. The Sun in senescence would expand until it consumed Earth and the inner planets. Long before that, Earth would have become untenable as an abode of life and the human race would have had to move on or perish.

He claimed that other ports of call – the phrase was Jimmy’s – awaited. In particular, he pointed out, it was common knowledge that the satellites of Jupiter had much to offer. Whereas the hop from Earth to Mars was a mere 0.5 astronomical units on average, a much greater leap was required to reach those Jovian satellites – a leap of 3.5 AUs. Once humanity grew away from the corruption that dogged great enterprises to devise a better mode of propulsion than the chemical fuel presently used – or not being actually used, he added, to laughter – this leap would be less formidable and would prove to be nothing compared with that leap that would surely have to be made one day, the leap to the stars themselves.

Such a leap, he continued, would be undertaken within a century. Meanwhile a great engineering project, such as that which would be required to endow Mars with a breathable atmosphere at tolerable atmospheric pressure and within acceptable temperature tolerances, would attract the populations of Earth. It would provide the inspiration to look outward and to grasp that factor which, apparently, many found insurmountable – namely that, with labour equivalent to the labour which had gone to make Earth habitable for multitudes of species, many varieties of bodies could be provided with pleasant dwelling places.

Eventually, like a flock of migratory birds, terrestrial species would have to leave an exhausted Earth and fly elsewhere. Their first resting points could well be on those moons of Jupiter, Ganymede and Callisto in particular. They would have the vast water resources of Europa to draw upon, and their extraordinary celestial scenery to marvel at. Thus technology would help to achieve the apotheosis of humanity.

At this point, someone interrupted the speech, shouting, This is all political rhetoric!’

It is never wise to barrack a popular young hero. The banqueters booed, while Jimmy said, smilingly, ‘That certainly wasn’t a politic remark,’ and continued with his talk.

However, he said, his ambition to see Mars terraformed – often referred to as a first step towards humanity’s becoming a star-dwelling race – had been based on a mistaken assumption, about which he wished to enlighten his audience, he hoped without alarming them.

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Categories: Aldiss, Brian