I approve of Kim Stanley Robinson’s message: interstellar travel, and interstellar colonization, are almost certainly impossible. He breaks the obstacles down into 5 categories, physical, biological, ecological, sociological, and psychological (wait, since when is ecology not biological?) and explains how unlikely we are to overcome them. We’re part of Planet Earth, and nowhere else.
This may sound like terrible news to people weaned on Star Trek and Star Wars, but I prefer to think that closing off the fantasy alternatives helps us focus on the realistic ones.
Oh no! For some people this is a disturbing and deeply pessimistic conclusion to come to. Then when you combine that new judgment with the recently discovered problems concerning the plan to terraform and inhabit Mars (presence of perchlorates and absence of nitrogen), and we come to an entirely new realization about our species: there is no Planet B.
Earth is our only home.
Oh no again!
This conclusion, startling to some, obvious to others, has ramifications that are worth pondering. If it comes to be a generally agreed on view, it might change how we act as individuals and a civilization. These changes in behavior might turn out to be crucial for our descendants. So although this entire discussion consists of speculations about hypothetical futures, which is to say, science fictions, still they are worth thinking about, as useful orientations in our sense of our own history as a species.
I like that. It’s not a bad thing to take a sober look at what we’ve got (which is a pretty danged sweet planet) and maintain and enrich it, rather than neglecting it for a dream of building a hermetically sealed dome on a hostile planet far, far away.
Something else I like: Robinson has just written a novel about…humans colonizing a planet around Tau Ceti, titled Aurora. He doesn’t condemn the genre, which is good, since I like reading space opera of various sorts, but is asking us to recognize that it’s no more realistic than fairy stories. Which are also fun.