Since twelve men left their mark on the Moon, humanity has wondered about the prospects of venturing further out, to the Red Planet. It’s a daunting undertaking, from the journey itself to the prospects for sustaining life on a planet with a marginal atmosphere. Dinner on Mars addresses the prospects for feeding human life on Mars, using known and novel technologies to bring life from Mars’ red dust. The author presents the information in the form of an extended discussion between two people, with some needed narration between the conversation. The conversation begins with the initial practicalities of carving out room for human life on Mars – literally, as their scenario sees humans tunneling into Martian mountains to create spaces sheltered from the sun – before moving to the main course, food. Shipping enormous quantities of food from Earth to Mars is obviously impractical, given the fuel needed to lift anything off the surface of the Earth. The authors place much hope in using bacteria and algae as bioengineers and agricultural tools, though they also look to genetic modification and synthetic meat & dairy. Interesting and engaging enough, though reading this in tandem with Wendell Berry’s critique of industrial food made these prognostications depressing despite the authors’ optimism. I have no interest in meat that grew somewhere else other than a cow pasture, nor will soy milk ever cross my lips – but knowing how we might feed ourselves far from Earth is a key part of any attempts to explore and use the resources of the solar system.
I stumbled upon this Firefly graphic novel a year or so ago in a comic book shop. Written by Joss Whedon, it’s an enjoyable story that captures the spirit and dialogue of the show well. The art is very well done: I’m not a graphic novel reader, but I liked the style and though it depicted the characters especially well. The story concerns the gang being set up so that an Alliance spec-ops man with a lust for revenge can destroy one of the Serenity’s former browncoats. As good as the art was, I much prefer the more substantial novel series that’s come out in the last few years.
Lastly, Think Like an Ecosystem was one of my first science-y books this year. I say science-y because while it’s deeply informed by ecological thinking, it’s not quite a proper ‘science’ books. (I’m still claiming it for the Survey, though, in the wildcard category.) The book is an introduction to permaculture, which has been on my radar for a while after stumbling upon a podcaster who practices and teaches it. I’d hear him mention principles that were unfamiliar to me from time to time, and eventually figured out that they were part of an integrated system he employed on its land – but this book introduces everything properly. Permaculture is an intensive approach to the land that has the aim of replicating the results of a natural ecosystem, wherein nothing is waste but instead contributes to the greater growth of the whole. A given area’s expression of permaculture principles will vary on the area itself, on what natural resources and cycles it’s already exposed to: permaculture begins with a close, patient, and prolonged study of the area and what is happening. The book helped me fit together a lot of the odds and ends I heard about on the show, but I’m going to look for some videos to try and better understand how these systems might look.