New Earth

This is kind of sci-fi book review and kind of a stream-of-concisouness current events commentary, but first of all, obligatory bike content: Calmar Bicycles in Santa Clara, California begins their business liquidation sale on Monday. They’re a long time presence in South Bay cycling, long time supporters of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, regular participants in the city BPAC, and they even helped me get San Jose Bike Train running with zero benefit to them.

Besides the usual bugaboo of the challenges of e-commerce, Calmar owner James Lucas says two factors drove the nail into his retail coffin: the difficult labor market, and rising rents. Colleagues at my office tell me that sky-high property prices in Silicon Valley are incentives to get an education and work harder. They completely fail to understand that even our high-tech knowledge economy needs people to stock grocery shelves, fix roads, teach our children, empty bedpans, collect garbage, repair homes, install plumbing, and even sell and service our bicycles. If they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area because our wonderful NIMBY neighbors refuse to allow more housing, they can’t afford to commute a hundred miles from the Central Valley to work here.

Obligatory Bike Content, Part 2: San Jose Bike Trains runs next Wednesday, March 1, 2017, departing Bel Bacio in San Jose’s Little Italy 8:15. Media may be on hand to shoot video of the ride start.

Ben Bova New Earth book cover

Personal thoughts on Trappist-1

This week’s announcement of seven known “earth sized” planets around the Trappist-1 system 39 light years from our own Solar System reminds me two things:

  • The Firefly ‘Verse, with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, each one terraformed to support human life, to be New Earths.
  • Ben Bova’s novel New Earth, in which Humankind sends an expedition to an earth-like planet in the Sirius system just 8.6 light years away.

I enjoyed Bova’s writing when I was about 12 years old. I picked up New Earth more recently on a lark and was disappointed at the wooden characterizations and un-compelling storyline before realizing Bova wrote of his own romantic relationship with a much younger woman whom he married the year this book was published. It’s not really central to the plot, but the 50-year-old expedition leader in New Earth falls head-over-heels in love with the 30-year-old alien hottie, and never mind about mission objections. Can you say “male gaze” with me, boys and girls? I knew you could.

Besides the mid-life crisis of their wish-washy, angst-ridden leader, the team wonders: how can they have a fully functional ecology with an oxygen atmosphere on a planet around a star that’s less than 500 million years old? Per current evolutionary theory (the context Bova operates in), it took nearly that long for single-cellular life to appear on our Old Earth. It took another two billion years before the first major extinction event with the Oxygen Catastrophe. Multicellular life begins over a billion years after that, and they’re mostly slug-like blobs until very very recently.

Besides that, the Sirius stars are very hot, spitting out all kinds of high energy nastiness that destroy DNA.

So I wonder about all the excitement about Trappist-1, estimated to be around 500 million years old, which means little chance of any kind of widespread chemical process that resembles life, and little chance of a breathable atmosphere. The planets, which all orbit very close to their primary, are almost certainly tidally locked. Like the same face of the moon always appears to earth, these planets probably have the same side always facing their sun. The star likely generates some significant electromagnetic activity which will strip away the atmospheres of these closely orbiting planets.

Still, hope springs eternal, so maybe we’ll eventually send colonizers on a one-way trip. Because the planets are so young, they’ll be virgin territory for terraforming — any environmental review will discover no artifacts or life, so we can go in and bulldoze these planets to our hearts’ content with a Star Trek Genesis Device, and eventually create the Alliance ruled by an interplanetary parliament as a beacon of civilization as the savage outer planets refuse Alliance control and fight a devastating war and create brand new compelling stories.

New Earth, incidentally, is the first of a trilogy, which itself is part of Bova’s much larger “Grand Tour” series. It’s pretty bad and I can’t recommend it, but click here if you’re tempted so you can read other reader reviews. The cover art on the novel shown above, incidentally, has absolutely nothing at all to do with the story. It’s just random sci-fi looking space art. Does that seem right to you?


  1. I once had an online conversation with John Hemry, author of the Lost Fleet series. I had complained about how all the LF covers had nothing to do with the actual stories. He said I was right, but he didn’t get to choose the covers.

    Then in the next book, there was a character complaining about book covers that had nothing to do with the contents…

    My 15 minutes.

  2. Hah, yeah! That’s pretty funny that you made it into the story like that.

    I’ve heard randomly irrelevant cover art is frequently a problem in the world of sci-fi and fantasy publishing.

  3. Web link to Calmar needs an ‘m’ at the end. James told me the building owner plans to demolish it and build apartments. I recently bought a cassette there and the price that Shimano sells it to them is outrageous compared to what it goes for online, so it really is a combination of factors. So sad to see Calmar go (but I’m sure Summit’s stoked). James has done so much for the bike community here!

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