ICY HOPE 28/11/08


Icy Hope

In the midst of all the media bleakness that keeps bombarding us lately one piece of news really excited me. This was the discovery of large amounts of ice under the surface of Mars. Frankly it strikes me as one of the most optimistic things to hit the airwaves for months. This was partly as I knew a little about terraforming (the science of creating life supporting atmospheres on other planets) as my heroine in my first novel Madonna Mars was herself a terraformer and I had interviewed (by phone) the eminent Chris McKay at the AIMS institute, NASA on the subject. This was back in 1996 when the possibility of ice (which means it will be easier to terraform and colonise) seemed absurd to the rest of us apart from a handful of international scientists who would met four times a year from all kinds of disciplines to cover the many angles to terraforming – from developing plants that could exist in extreme temperatures and extreme hostile atmospheres and would, in time, release more oxygen back into the atmosphere, to methods of melting the polar caps of Mrs itself (including theories like floating a huge sheet of tin foil in Space to reflect the sun back onto the polar cap of the planet itself.) Chris McKay himself was excited about all the up-coming expeditions to Mars (the results of which we are hearing daily now in 2008) but then ice on Mars was merely a hypothesis – but it meant a far more stronger possibility of life (even if it is on a micro level) and certainly a far greater chance of an eventual human colony. If you’ve ever read the accounts of the early colonists in Australia and of the horrors of the ocean journeys then you have an understanding of the extraordinary hardships Man will endure in pursuit of new frontiers and exploration. In the face of such dedication it actually seems inevitable.

f They have also just discovered ice on Saturn and it is quite possible our own Milky Way might be teeming with some forms of life (perhaps not as we recognise it) and, most certainly the rest of the Universe. Again, I am reminded of the blind faith of the flat liners of the 16th century, or those who would martyr scientists who claimed the Sun went around the Earth (naturally God made the Earth centre of the universe). It seems extraordinary arrogance to believe we could be the only intelligence in the cosmos.

The story line of Madonna Mars was basically inspired by James Lovelock, environmental visionary and himself an ex NASA scientist. Remembered this was twelve years ago, a cautionary tale, I had wanted to explore the notion that Gaia (name Lovelock had given to coined the notion that Earth was an living, self-regulating organism – inspired by the Greek Earth goddess who interestingly enough fathered by Chaos) was not benevolent (or merely indifference to the presence of Man) as Lovelock might depict her, but was in fact malevolent and had started to create strange weather to shake off (or destroy) the very species responsible for her slow destruction – Mankind. Each chapter starts with an account of this strange weather – which is rather disturbing as, since the book was published in 1998, some of this ‘weather’ (aka climate change) has begun to occur.

Meanwhile, in the tradition of all good conspiracy sc-fi thrillers, our heroine has stumbled upon the fact that the secret service has already started to colonise Mars and plans an evacuation of all the top scientists and professionals before Gaia makes earth entirely uninhabitable. Prophetic indeed.

 This first novel is the least successful of my books as, at the time, I was naive and there was very strong pressure of my then publisher to really produce Quiver Two (which had been a massive hit) and so make it an ‘erotic’ thriller. It remains an awkward hybrid with a few cult fans.

As the daughter of a mathematician and granddaughter of a doctor of Chemistry, my early years were influenced by the sci-fi on my father’s shelves, Asimov, HG Wells, Arthur A Clarke etc. But both of them were strongly atheist and emerged from the socialist traditions of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and consequently had a stronger investment in the illumination of science as the great future hope. I would describe them as Newtonians, and neither of them lived long enough to see the more wondrous and less easily explained aspects of quantum psychic, time/space contenum (is the very plausible theory that the future leaks back and effects present day events). Meanwhile I’m lining up for a passage on the first space ship out.