100 Days

This post was featured yesterday on the official Chung Kuo page, but I’m re-posting it for posterity’s sake (with permission). We’re only 100 days away from the publication of Daylight on Iron Mountain! I know I’m excited! Full text after the break.

100 days

Today – Tuesday the 26th of July 2011 – marks precisely one hundred days until the publication of the second Chung Kuo novel, Daylight On Iron Mountain. Like its predecessor, Son Of Heaven, it’s a completely new work, and takes the reader from where matters left off in 2065 to two years later, then jumping forward twenty years to 2087 and the momentous events of that year.

I’ve always seen Daylight as being a bridge between the bucolic, post-Apocalypse world of Son of Heaven and that teeming, crowded world we first see for real in The Middle Kingdom, which is set more than a century later. It’s an explanation of that world, and why it’s shaped the way it is. Old hands at Chung Kuo might comment that there was never a need for explanations, but I’m not so sure. In imaginatively returning to those early years of Chung Kuo, I found myself understanding it far better, making greater sense of what I’d created first time round. And besides, it was fun writing it. Fun showing Tsao Ch’un in his middle years as well as his late. At his prime as well as in decline.

And so the countdown begins. And as the days pass, I’ll keep you all advised of what’s happening – giving you a glimpse of all the processes that go into the publication and promotion of the book.

But before I do, let me address something that’s been very much in mind these past few days – something which seems totally within my remit as author of Chung Kuo, and that’s the unshakeable sense I have that, over this very weekend that’s just passed, we have seen the final and irreversible passing of power from one empire to another.

Yeah, I’m talking NASA and the last space shuttle flight and President Obama’s giving up on the future. Because that’s what it is. The Russians might be putting up more space shots than the Chinese right now, but I’ve no doubt to whom the future belongs – in space, anyway – and that’s China. They’re busy pumping money and effort into sending not merely probes but crews, to the moon and ultimately to Mars. By 2020 we’ll begin to see that, and a further ten years on – I have no doubt about this – we’ll see them begin to colonize those two big chunks of rock, for purposes that we might well not agree on.

I’m not alone in thinking there’s been a radical power shift, and that it’s happening right now. Twelve per cent growth a year, that’s what we’re talking about, while the West languishes and wonders whether it can scrape together sufficient funding to keep the wheels oiled and turning. And what are the Chinese doing with all that liquidity they’re in possession of? Building weaponry. Fleets and armies, and endless spacecraft. It makes me think of Heinlein and The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. I mean, what is going to happen when we’ve got China in control of the wrong end of that gravity well?

Of course, things might change. There’s an election next year for a start and, though I’m a socialist and thus a democrat at heart, I can see that any Republican candidate who seems to resurrect America’s outward-looking spirit, by pumping funds into a newly-revitalized NASA space programme, might well stand a chance. Americans, after all, want some sign from their leaders that they have some kind of influence over the future, and right now that’s the one thing Obama isn’t giving them.

And hey, it’d be nice for once to get your feedback on this one. Do you agree with me, or do you think things’ll turn out a lot better than I’ve intimated? That’s why I’m posting this on both the official site and the fan site – to try and get some coverage and some debate. What are your feelings on what’s happening in our world – in particular as far as China and America are concerned.

Here’s a few things to throw into the mix and get you thinking.

The ISS – the international space station – is due to be mothballed in 2020, with no successor planned. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the 100-ton station the Chinese plan to have up there by 2020 as the final phase of their Project 921. And even before then China will have put its Shenzou 7 space laboratory module in orbit, with a manned crew, by the end of 2012.

In the meantime, with the shuttles grounded, 3200 NASA staff sacked, and NASA’s budget stripped to the bone, the only option America has, if it wants to put an astronaut in space, is to literally buy space on a soviet rocket, at $60 million a throw.

And what’s going to replace NASA? Privately funded space exploration companies, that’s what. Now, this might actually work. But any such private concerns will have to satisfy their investors, because the amount of US government funding going into encouraging this venture is minimal – less than a billion dollars, whereas the shuttle had $150 billion pumped into it. Some commentators believe that what we’ll get is hotels on the moon. That is, if the Chinese haven’t claimed the moon by then.

If you’ve time, search out William Hawkins’ web article, “Forfeiting U.S. Leadership in Space”. Now, I don’t think I’d see eye to eye with Mr Hawkins on many things, but I do on this, and his article is, at worst, thought-provoking. Let me quote him for a moment –

“The stirring vision of giant space stations, commercial shuttle flights and extensive moon bases given to the public in the classic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey has become a sad testimony to three decades of lost American opportunities. I have seen this once great American spirit of adventure reborn in China. I have been amazed (and alarmed) by displays of Chinese plans to build bases on the Moon, then move farther into the solar system. I grew up in a confident America animated by futuristic thinking, but that drive has faded. Beijing is now the home of energy and ambition.”

It’s really really hard to argue with any of that. China is what America was. With the advantage that the Chinese politburo can keep pumping billions and billions of yuan into their project, whereas the Americans…

Well, with what’s going on right now on Capitol Hill, do I really have to make the point? The US is being penny wise and pound foolish (as we English term it) in abandoning space. And abandon it they have, have no doubt about it. They’ve given away their inheritance.

Where has the spirit of The Right Stuff gone? And how in God’s name have the American people put a man in charge who hasn’t the vision or common sense to see that NASA isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity if America wishes to remain a great power. Oh… and just to rub salt in the wound, it’s been estimated that the wealth of the Moon (if mined) is in excess of $20 trillion. And who’ll get the benefit of that?

Yeah, the Chinese.

Not to speak of Mars. Now one of the things President Obama said, when cancelling NASA’s lunar project in 2010 (which effectively killed NASA) was that “we’ve been there before”. If you think that was inane, he went on to say “There’s a lot more of space to explore”. Well, yes, there is, only it has to be approached step by step, and a permanent base on the moon was an essential step. The Chinese realize this and have designed their space program to cover all bases and to take all of the steps that have to be taken. That’s why – with some confidence – they can talk about putting a man on Mars by 2035.

And then? Then China will claim Mars for their own, and anything else that’s out there. Just watch it happen.

Okay. Enough. I could (and probably will) add more. But come back to me on this one. Am I just being paranoid? Does President Obama have a point? Or am I missing something? Let me know, huh? Let’s debate this.

While we still can debate it…

David        26 July 2011

Oh, and remember –


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