Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mars Attack!

Let us pay a visit to, say, the 23rd century. Earth is 'neomedieval' - not in the SCA sense, no knights and castles, but politically fragmented and cross-connected, with multiple layers of authority.

The space population is highly geocentric - the majority in low orbit, which after all is easiest and cheapest to reach from Earth. Here are the main stations supporting other space activity, such as assembly and maintenance of deep space craft. Here also is microgravity research, perhaps manufacturing; also tourist hotels, Xollywood micrograv studios, and whatever else anyone can finagle shuttle fare for up there. Here too, surely, will be administrators and emergency responders. But like Earth, its surrounding space is politically fragmented and diffuse, with multiple divided loyalties.

Low orbit is the Janus of space, looking down from one side, out from the other. From low orbit out to translunar space will be smaller and more specialized populations: on higher orbits (or as Isaac Kuo suggested at SFConsim-l, long elliptical orbits), and on/orbiting the Moon. Perhaps also ever popular L5, though I'm unpersuaded that it has any special real estate value.

All of this is within commuting distance of Earth, for sufficiently large values of 'commuting.' Most of the people are there for a few days to a few months. Beyond Earth space the buses run much less often. The population, though far smaller, is necessarily more permanent and self-sufficient. Much of it is aboard spacecraft and stations scattered across the inner Solar System. But let us suppose that there is a concentration on and around Mars. (If you think Mars is overrated, substitute Ceres, or wherever. It might be both, but let's keep things simple.)

Mars and its orbital space are a single commute zone, so to speak. Long term habs there can support multiple secondary outposts, and they can backstop each other. No colony in the traditional sense is needed for a cohesive Martian identity to emerge. Shared experience and perspective, along with frequent intermingling, will do the job. And, like Earth orbital space, Mars and its orbital space will have some administrators and emergency responders, the seeds of government - but with a difference. They too are Martians.

What we have here are two different worlds - figuratively as well as literally. Earth orbital space has a large and varied population, much of it transient and most of it shuttling back and forth from Earth itself. Orbital-space regulars will have some shared identity as spacehands (I prefer this to 'spacers'), but they are not a community. Martians, though fewer in numbers, are a community, their Martian-ness reinforced not only by the Red Planet itself but by years of intermingling and interdependence, and shared distance from Earth.

Different worlds, and different politics. In Earth orbital space, goods from the shadow side will find a market if the price is right. A spot of larceny, even outright piracy? Someone else's problem (unless it happens to you). Let the downside courts argue over who has jurisdiction and who sends a patrol craft to deal with it. In Mars space, not so much. Margins are too small, people and stations/bases too interreliant to shrug off that sort of thing. Trouble around Mars is everyone's problem.

So. What happens when an incident of barratry sends a Mars-bound cargo pod on orbit to nowhere? The first time, the Martians burn up the comm channels with angry protests, and demands that the Powers That Be Do Something About It.

The second time, they decide that if the Powers That Be cannot or will not clean up the mess in Earth orbital space, they'll have to do it themselves.

And that, boys and girls, is how the Solar System came to be governed from Mars.


Anonymous said...

I like the scenario. There's lots of room in it for stories and you can fit a whole bunch of different tech and societal assumptions into the general outline.

I can't see Mars capturing the Solar System outright. Where does the population come from? Even a generous population assumption of ~1 000 000+ makes them a tiny minority against Earth's billions.

I could see them setting up a patrol. The Non-United Earth governments let Mars bear the expense, so long as the Patrol doesn't interfere with government business. I could also see Mars and the Patrol slowly growing to the point where they can interfere with NUEarth business, and the Earth governments decide to take over the Patrol operations.

On the one side - Mars and its Patrol, experienced and backed by Ceres and the other permanent outposts of humanity. On the other side - A half-dozen inexperience space navies and competing patrols, backed by Earth populations who wonder why their taxes just went up or their kid just got drafted.

By Hollywood space battle standards, it ain't much. By the standards of the officers and crews of the various craft, monitoring the tactical computers while projectiles and particle beams whiz around at significant fractions of c, it's a nightmare. And if you're on a US Space Command craft, do you trust the commander of the EU Survey and Defence craft or the AI in charge of the Equatorial Alliance autonomous kill vehicle?

Interesting times.


Rick said...

I sort of glided past Step Two a bit, didn't I?

But you sketched out a plausible line of development. Leaders on a fragmented Earth might be quietly relieved to have someone keeping order up there. So the can gets kicked down the road until there is a conflict of vital interests. (Even perhaps indefinitely; Earth and space might be separate political spheres.)

Truth to be told, when I started this post I didn't know where I was going with it, but it ended up in a place nicely different from the conventional colonial-revolt theme.

Anonymous said...

Wake up one day and realize that you're no longer the political center of the human universe...kind of like Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Things could get crazy for quiet a while. Chaos really does make for a wonderful backdrop for stories, but would be hell to live through.

Rick said...

Per the legendary (and perhaps apocryphal?) Chinese curse, 'May you live in interesting times.'