Friday, October 26, 2007

The Science Fiction Writer's Babel

This is going to be the first of an occasional series. The picture to the left is one of many sketches I made of the Tower of Babel in my notebooks as I was working on the novel. The following prose sketch was written after the fact.

The Science Fiction Writer’s Babel

Start with an elevator. A space elevator, of course, anchored to a small asteroid some distance beyond Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO). The stresses will be enormous, but we’ll use carbon-whisker nanotube cables. Total length of the tower: 35,786 kilometers, a little over 22,000 miles.

The structure can be built from the ground up and from the top down simultaneously. The upper levels will have to be pressurized, of course, and because the space elevator (or “skyhook”) will only stop every thousand miles or so, even with six electromagnetic cars per elevator, and many, many conventional elevators between stops, it will still be necessary to have several arrays of (say) five elevators each, with staggered stopping-places to keep the entire building reachable.

Which means we’re talking about a city. That’s good. Cities are energy efficient. Once Babel has reached the mile-high point – a perfectly insignificant fraction of its final height – it can hold every man, woman, and child on Earth. The rest of the planet can be preserved as farmland and wildlife refuges. Further, Babel will suffice to house even a geometrically-increasing population for at least five hundred years. When we run out of farmland, we can harvest the atmosphere of Jupiter and manufacture food – we’ll be much closer to the Sun, remember, a source of nearly infinite energy. Best of all, since everyone will be in the same boat, so to speak, an attack on an enemy’s territory will be an attack on oneself. Wars will cease to be. They just won’t make sense anymore.

Hunger, war, environmental degradation . . . Obviously, by the time Babel reaches GEO, all of humanity’s age-old problems will have been solved.

But why stop there? Once GEO has been reached, continue building westward, along the GEO “sweet spot,” until Babel has entirely circled the world and can be rejoined with itself. Thus creating the first-ever stationary-orbital Ring Tower.

So let’s start building! I’ve done the conceptual work already, and that’s the hard part. The rest is just engineering.

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