Charlie Stross Messes With Your Head Again

This time he’s explaining why the Earth really isn’t a good place for humans, nearly all of the time. And it’s not just because this is where the universe keeps all the spammers.

44 Comments on “Charlie Stross Messes With Your Head Again”

  1. Stross is Great. I guess it’s always good to realize that life as we know it is very special. We may infest the world like lice, but at least we are able to conceive of our place in the Universe.

  2. “So, over a long enough period of time, real estate is a bad investment?”

    Location, location, location. I have some prime acreage on Europa that I would be happy to sell you…

  3. This reminds me of a thought I had recently. Why look for planets to live on or even consider terraforming? By the time a sentient species got to a truly interstellar capability they wouldn’t really need planets anyway. They could no doubt build a perpetual space-ark or something. The analogy would be a troglodyte temporarily living in a McMansion while waiting for his real estate agent to find him a suitable cave.

  4. this is where the universe keeps all the spammers.

    That does explain the Fermi Paradox…

  5. John – I’m sure Lex Luthor will come up with some plan to speed that up considerably. He _does_ have a thing for beachfront property, you know.

  6. In the long term, you want to Move On.

    The question is what rate you have to move at.

    Humans populated North and South America at a few miles per year (I would have to check but I think it was 3 or 4) during the last big ice age.

    We probably have something like a billion years to get out of the solar system or get non-dependent on a planetary surface’s particular conditions. That is, all things considered, plenty of time.

  7. Sean –

    For some reason, your comment on spammers and the Fermi paradox made me think of Saberhagen’s Berzerkers…

    “Why do you want to kill us all again?”


    “oh, CR*P…”

  8. Sufficiently advanced robots could survive in virtually every habitat on Earth – or off it, for that matter.

    So in the long-term, the obvious solution is not to try to live in bodies made out of meat. Terry Bisson had the right idea.

  9. Melendwyr, once you go bot, you never go back. If we want to stay human, we’ll need to stay in our meat bags. These things are able to limit us in some very creative ways. Can you imagine us as a species of super-bots? It starts to look like Saturn’s Children. Although, those bots did have limitations.

  10. Sean –

    For some reason, your comment on spammers and the Fermi paradox made me think of Saberhagen’s Berzerkers…

    “Why do you want to kill us all again?”


    “oh, CRAP…”

  11. #11 – that is only true if you’re talking about Sol dying. There are other things that could wipe us out without any warning whatsoever. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow!

  12. We probably have something like a billion years to get out of the solar system or get non-dependent on a planetary surface’s particular conditions. That is, all things considered, plenty of time.

    I suspect the sun going off phase is the least of our worries. Assuming we don’t find a sufficiently asinine interpersonal feud to off ourselves over, the window of cheap energy for details like boosting big hunks of metal to escape velocity (and to make those big metal hunks in the first place) is a lot smaller. And we seem to be more interested in using it making new iterations of tamagotchis to amuse ourselves with.

  13. When I read stuff like this, and then think about sending a little tin can with 5 or 6 people all the way to Mars, it only increases my sureness that what we really need to do, before we even think about moving humans to other planets, is to learn how to live in space habitats.

    Space is thoroughly hostile to us, sure, but if we can learn how to live sustainably with a few hundred, then a few thousand, then tens of thousands and more people in habitats constructed in space from materials found and processed in space, then we just don’t have to worry so much about finding new homes on new planets. We can build reasonably comfortable home habitats and eventually fly them pretty much anywhere.

    A spacefaring civilization should be spacefaring. I think that since we’ve all grown up watching sci-fi where “interstellar trade,” moving stuff in little ships from system to system, is common, we really don’t get how such practice is pretty unlikely, even if we build beanstalks and come up with some awesome FTL drive system.

    Think about how much raw energy (and also how much human work-time) it currently takes to lift a couple of tons of food up to the ISS. Or, imagine how much it would have cost to send shiploads of food to the American colonies, instead of learning to grow food on site.

    Gravity wells are deep. Once you climb out, you’re better off staying out!

  14. I wasn’t expecting to run across the noun phrase “decorticated human clones” today, but I’m glad that I have.

  15. I think Charlie is being disingenuous. He’s pretending that his idea of a space probe sending decorticated human clones is just a gedankenexperiment, but I just turned on the TV, and there they were. Survivor, Dancing With The Stars, Scare Tactics, Fox News, MTV…I could go on.

  16. One has to wonder then if an inhabitable planet as argued by Stross can even exist. Is there such a thing as a steady-state world, where habitable conditions persist for more than a fraction of the lifetime of the body? I think that perhaps the rules of the Universe always guarantee wild instability in habitat.

    Maybe a better measure of suitability for colonization would not be its current habitability, but rather its stability.

    With enough technology you can vastly improve the habitability of a candidate world. But it may prove impossible to keep a world that way, if say like Mars you have a moon that destined to make a pretty impressive impact event.

  17. CHARLES STROSS can divide by zero.
    CHARLES STROSS knows the last digit of Pi.
    CHARLES STROSS makes science books feel inadequate.

  18. CHARLIE STROSS can put Humpty together again.
    CHARLIE STROSS knows what caused the Big Bang.
    CHARLIE STROSS knows what dark matter is for.

  19. CHARLIE STROSS has swept clear his orbit.
    CHARLIE STROSS red-shifts to octarine.
    CHARLIE STROSS is lord of the githyanki (No, seriously.)

  20. I’ll have to remember this. As a science-type I tend to think of habitable as ‘a bacterium or archaeon of some type could reproduce here quite comfortably’* — which is most of the top tens of kilometers up and down from the surface of the planet, for most of the past and probably several billion years in the future. It’s an interesting question and relevant (how often does life evolve in the universe roughly corresponds to places where simple life can make a living) but not what most people mean when I talk about habitability.

    * Differentiating places like the surface of the Moon, where bacteria have survived in spores, but generally can’t get around to the activity and reproducing thing.

  21. Wondering what happened to IVANOVA is God…

    But seriously, the probability that a race could advance as far as we humans have is quite small. Stability *IS* key — Deron has it right (in my opinion). You tilt Earth, or move it inwards or outwards (semimajor-axis-wise) by 1% and suddenly our nice friendly habitat is, um, vicious/mercurial/tempermental.

    It does not bode well for SETI, sigh. Chances are someone out there is discovering our radio transmissions just as we disappear into an ice age. :/

  22. CHARLIE STROSS cannot be killed, it can only hoped that we may bar the door to his realm.

  23. Allium, Charles Stross is octarine? Oh, that’s rich. The next thing you know you’ll be calling him an ocultist. IOT even. Bwah-ha-ha-ha.

    Charles Stross is the Grand Magus.

    How lucky is it that we live in the Goldielocks zone and have a moon that is just the right size to eclipse the sun perfectly? I love the way this nutty planet was designed.

  24. TGA @33: I love the way this nutty planet was designed.

    The Magratheans will be pleased to know you liked it! Slartibartfast wanted to know if you particularly like the fjords.

  25. CHARLIE STROSS can talk to lobsters.
    CHARLIE STROSS once, on a lark, did a bit of world building so intense that it caused a rigt in the space time continuum and time shifted back 14 billion years.
    CHARLIE STROSS used to be a professional drug dealer, but quit because the job wasn’t challenging.

  26. Chris #20: …decorticated human clones

    Strangely enough ‘decorticated’ was already a word, meaning husked or having the bark stripped off. Same compound, it’s just that ‘cortex’ meant ‘bark’ in Latin before it meant ‘wrinkled high-surface-area part of the brain’ in English.

    The other works fine with the idea of test-probe clones, but isn’t how Charlie was using it. Pithed anthropomorph?

  27. Isn’t Pithed a loaded term? I love it, but would the Remastered use a negative term to do something they thought was a good thing? I think a “pithing bush” sounds a little nicer, somewhat botanical.

  28. When CHARLIE STROSS turns 100, he will receive a sevagram from the Queen.

    King, most likely. Unless you think Elizabeth is going to live to be 138.

  29. I am just lovin’ the CHARLIE STROSS KNOWS stuff. Because he is the most “interesting man tn the world”. However, he doesn’t watch TV much so even he is ignorant of this kind of status. CS you’re the best dude!

  30. And me having just finished reading Saturn’s Children :D That’s enough head messing for one day :P

  31. If you want to stay on YOUR planet a VERY long time, pick an early K dwarf. They evolve so slowly that habitable zones literally last for several times that of solar mass stars. Have to be careful, don’t want to be so close you become tidally locked, you’re probably gonna have to have plate tectonics etc. Oh, there are LOTS of them also (several times as many as 1 solar mass stars). And the cost in energy of getting to LEO is actually quite low, it’s the inefficiencies that make it seem expensive (a 10 mw laser powering a launch from 100,000 feet would be pretty cheap, for example, once you figure out how to make a 10 mw laser….).
    Staying out of gravity wells is a very good thing, in general (one of the many reasons why using the moon for a launch pad/learning environment is so stooopid). However, it sorta appears you’re going to have to a) genetically engineer humans to thrive in very low g environments or b) spin your space habitat to create enough gravity. The latter certainly isn’t impossible, obviously. This is why it’s best to look for ET in your local asteroid belt (or Oort Cloud even).
    Oh, EUROPA in a billion years or so? only if you’re a radiation resistant dolphin. I’m buying property on Titan myself.

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