Saturday, November 29, 2008

Science Fiction: People and Starships and Societies Where Wall Street is Relevant

The Times Union, a newspaper serving New York State’s other capital region, has an interesting op-ed piece titled “RPI’s Quest for Life," which details Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s search for life on other worlds.

The op-edder makes several references to science fiction, including this tall tale: “No, the scientists aren't out to find life as we know it from science fiction -- people and starships and societies where Wall Street is irrelevant -- but more basic stuff in the microbial realm.” Solid fiction levered with irony, considering RPI is a nonprofit organization and its search for extraterrestrial life is being funded with a $7.5 million, five-year grant from NASA, an Off-Wall Street entity.

Perhaps the op-edder should ask Santa for a copy of “Tenbrook of Mars” (2008), a science fiction novella by Dean McLaughlin that features people and starships and societies where Wall Street is relevant. McLaughlin’s story incorporates Mars Petro, a publicly held space energy company whose stock price collapses when it declares bankruptcy in the wake of a catastrophic accident. The consequences of the financial meltdown: engineer Don Tenbrook and several thousand other company employees are stranded on Mars. The governmental bailout: Space Administration purchases distressed assets from the ailing Mars Petro, including the spaceships Edgar Burroughs, Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, and Raymond Bradbury, in an attempt to rescue Tenbrook and his colleagues.

If the scientists at RPI succeed in finding life on other worlds, it will simply confirm what science fiction writers and readers discovered decades ago.

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