Red Gold: a unique book (in a very minor way)?

A claim to be unique requires some extraordinary evidence, but I think I can back that up. Red Gold is a futuristic novel about the colonization of Mars, and there is nothing extraordinary about that, indeed there are many others out there.  No, the claim for uniqueness is based on something far more unusual. The backstory in the novel was in the near future when I wrote it, and in the event, what I wrote came to pass, with me as the “player”, and it was not what I intended. Let me explain.

Red Gold was written in the early to mid 1990s, and was set in 2075-76. The setting was the colonization of Mars, but the story was more about the disintegration of a relationship between two nominal business partners when one learns that the other is creating a massive stock-market bubble on Earth with fraudulent Martian stock (or shares, depending on where in the world you are). To expose the fraud, I needed “a totally unexpected discovery”. Further to my concept of putting science in fiction, I had explained that the “soil” on Mars is very deficient in nitrogen, and there is very little in the atmosphere as well. Accordingly, feeding people in the long term might be difficult. This gave me the inspiration for the “unexpected discovery”: One of the protagonists could find the nitrogen fertilizer needed to make Martian settlement viable in the long term. So I wrote in that the main character took drilling equipment to the very bottom of Hellas Planitia, which happened to be owned by the protagonist, and many of the drill samples found urea.

Why was it a surprise? Well, standard scientific theory said the required ammonia in the early atmosphere could not have been present. My solution was to invent a minor scientist, Pavel Marchenko, who had predicted a reduced atmosphere in the early 21st century, but his papers were variously rejected by the mainstream scientific journals, and eventually the theory was published in an extremely obscure place and promptly forgotten.

Red Gold eventually made it to an editor’s desk in a serious publishing house, but it was rejected as too implausible (actually by another editor who was clearing a desk, after the first one died). I got somewhat irritated to have my science trashed by a literary editor, even if it was originally presented “tongue in cheek”, so I became involved. The more I looked into the nature of Mars, the more certain I was that my argument was sound. Furthermore, it made predictions, one of which was, of course, that the early lakes on Mars may have accumulated ammonia, which would react with carbon dioxide to form urea. The ammonia solved the major problem of how water can flow on Mars when the temperatures never reached the melting point of ice. So, I worked away at this and eventually formed a proper theory. It was then that I fulfilled the destiny: the papers were rejected as either not being compelling, or, in one case, because I did not do computer modeling.

To be fair, there was a fundamental problem; scientific papers are rather brief, and usually establish one point. Unfortunately, this analysis is based on the intersection of sets of data, and no single point is compelling. To gradually build up the case you need a book, not a paper. There was a further problem. Carl Sagan showed that, because of sunlight, ammonia in the atmosphere only lasts decades, although he noted that screening chemicals could prolong that. The problem with that is, ammonia will largely be dissolved in water, where it is more protected. Irrespective of what various scientists believe, one sample of seawater has been found on Earth containing water from when the Earth was 1.3 billion years old, and this sample had sufficient ammonia in it that about 10% of all nitrogen on Earth was in that form. If that can happen on Earth, surely it could happen on Mars as well.

I eventually tired of the rejections and self-published the theory as my ebook “Planetary formation and biogenesis”, which the scientific community would definitely consider to be obscure. There is one minor point I did not fulfill: after various pointless rejections (I could not resist throwing the odd barb) Marchenko published in Armenian. That I could not do! My guess is, I shall further fulfill the backstory: my theory will be thoroughly ignored.

I think that is unique, but I could be wrong. Let me know if you think I am. Meanwhile, if this piques your interest, there is a free download at Amazon for November 16-18.

Why explain how devices work in fiction.

One reason to explain is when the addition adds to the story. The problem then is deciding what is worth explaining, and if it is, how to do it? An explanation is different from a description, which involves “what it is”, while an explanation involves “why it is like that”. Somewhere intermediate are the answers to the “how” questions. “What it is” may be necessary to follow the story, but “how it works” is different. In my opinion, it only matters when something else follows. If this can be pulled off, a far more enriched texture follows.

In my latest ebook, Red Gold, the background involves the colonization of Mars, which requires large-scale space ships to get there, since the plot also requires starting on Earth. To get artificial gravity, these are giant rotating disks. Now, we could merely have rotating disks, but look what happens if you think about how they rotate. First, there must be a means by which they can rotate while having motors that direct the direction of travel. That is most easily achieved (in fiction, if not in reality) if the motors are separate from the disk and joined in some way to something that does not rotate. These requirements give rise to a description that, while quite speculative and open to a lot of criticism, at least has the virtue of painting a more detailed picture that I hope makes the written section more plausible. How to do this? I had the disk spinning about the non-rotating support, and within this there is a massive inner hub that spun at extreme velocity in the other direction. For those in the know, when spinning something up, somehow you have to conserve angular momentum. It would be easier in some ways to have the counter-spinning part external to the disk, but that would make the stabilization of the motor mount near impossible. What I hoped to achieve with this detail that is not needed for the story is to give the reader a better feeling of “being there”.

However, the real point is that having reached this “design” more detail can be added. The disks carry plants so it is important that they travel through space “face-on” so as to maximize the collection of sunlight, but they have to land “edge-on” or “bottom down” so the motors have to be able to be re-oriented. Finally, the motors have a mass of about 25,000 tonne, so there has to be a means of separating them from the disk prior to landing, otherwise the supports would collapse and the motors would crush the ship. That means the disks have to land essentially unpowered.

Once that is done, I felt it was important to use those descriptions to aid the plot. Thus the danger of the landing permits one protagonist to get down before anybody else, and this allows the build-up of tension between two men who are falling out. The structure also permitted the invention of a ball game that is rather difficult to play. There are two major protagonists who start off as business partners (more or less). This game was used to bring to the open that one was sexually involved with the other’s wife, and it was also used to have a game between the two protagonists, and when one is shown to be a bad loser, the rift between them starts to open, which is a major advance to the plot. The design gives a great excuse to get the ship to land in the “wrong” place, at least as far as one protagonist is concerned, and it forces several other things to happen that otherwise should not have. So, while it may seem unnecessary to have such a detailed discussion of ship design, I hope it gives a clear picture to the reader, and as the book continues, the specific design permits several pieces of plot development. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that when the plot depends on the descriptions, then everything hangs together better. What do you think? If you wish to form your own opinion, the ebook has a free download from Amazon on November 16-18.