Generation Ships & morality

I went to a panel at Worldcon on the morality of generation ships, and have been thinking about it since.

(I'm also going to take this opportunity to recommend this Jo Walton story set on a generation ship, which is great and has something to say about choice and decisions.)

So, the question under discussion at the panel was: is it morally acceptable to board a generation ship (i.e. a ship that people will live on for multiple generations on their way to another planet), given that you are not just making a decision for yourself, but for your future children, grandchildren, etc etc. The two main categories of moral problem that the panel identified were:

  • the risk of the voyage itself;
  • the lack of choice for every generation after the one that gets on the ship in the first place.

The 'risk' issue seems reasonably strong. It's very unlikely that anyone would have a really clear idea of what the planet was like that they were going to. If you're using a generation ship at all, then you probably don't have any other form of fast travel, so any information that exists about the planet will be scanty, very out of date, or most likely both. (See Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, which is also great.) So it's not at all a reliable bet that your descendants will truly be able to settle where they're headed to, even if it looks good from here.

There are also the risks of the voyage itself, including but not limited to radiation issues, the possibility of running into something else, and the likelihood that the ship will genuinely be able to maintain a workable ecological system. We don't have good on-Earth comparisons for small closed systems; what experiments have been conducted have been very short-term and not terribly promising. What about the social dynamics? What are the risks of, say, a totalitarian system arising? If the risks on Earth are very high, or humans on Earth are facing imminent disaster, then this might be an acceptable trade-off, but how high is 'very high' and how disastrous does a disaster have to be? Does it need to be Earth-wide? If your current home is, for example, sinking under rising waters, and you know that any alternative will mean becoming a refugee in poor circumstances -- how much risk is 'reasonable' to accept then?

Which brings us on to the issue of 'choice'. One could argue that a kid living in a refugee camp without enough food or warm clothes has, notionally, some future 'choice' or 'opportunity' to escape that. A child on a generation ship is stuck there.

But why is "can't leave generation ship" morally different from "can't leave Earth"? Which is of course a situation into which all children are currently born and which we do not consider morally problematic. And how realistic is the 'choice' that the average Earth-born child has? This was where I thought that the Worldcon panel fell down a bit. They threw the word "choice" around a lot but didn't at all interrogate what realistic "choice" is available to which children in which situation on Earth. There are many kids born without very many realistic 'choices'; children who are unlikely to go more than a few miles beyond where they were born, children whose projected lifespan is short, children whose lives are likely to be very difficult. How different is that, in reality, from a generation ship? In fact, if the generation ship does work, it might be a better life than on Earth: guaranteed food, shelter, and useful work (making the ship run).

The panel talked about limiting the choices of children born on the moon, because they might not be able to go back and live on Earth -- but why is Earth necessarily better than the moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt? Why isn't it immoral of us to have children who are stuck down here in the gravity well?

More generally: we're constantly making choices for our children, and through them for generations beyond; we're constantly giving them some chances and removing other options, every decision we make. Is that immoral? It's not avoidable, however much privilege you have, although most certainly more privilege generally means more options.

Would I get on a generation ship? Well. Not without a really good perusal of the specs. But I'm not convinced that it's immoral to do so.

Me at Worldcon 75

In two weeks I will be off to Helsinki for Worldcon 75! About which I am very excited.

I am also in some programme items, so if you're going & any of these are of interest, come along:

Now I need to start making some notes so I will have something to say...

Tales of the Civil War — out now

Tales of the Civil War, another City of the Saved anthology, is available to buy now and shipping in physical form now-or-very-shortly! It's edited by Philip Purser-Hallard and contains stories by Kara Dennison, Kelly Hale, Louise Dennis, Helen Angove, Selina Lock, and me.

Book cover, text "The City of the Saved", "Tales of the Civil War", "Edited by Philip Purser-Hallard". Behind the text a comic-style drawing of various people supporting/grabbing/fighting over a flag.
Cover art by Blair Bidmead

For a taster, try Kara Dennison reading part of her story, 'The Tale of Sir Hedwyn'.

My copy hasn't come through yet but I am greatly looking forward to everyone's stories.

Tales of the Civil War announcement

Forthcoming later this year: another City of the Saved anthology from Obverse Books, Tales Of The Civil War. Featuring a story from me, alongside other excellent people:

"War has come to the City of the Saved. Once immune from harm, the resurrected Citizens of the universe find themselves once again most terribly fragile – and just as in the universe, too many of them now strive to take advantage of the fact.
In this unfamiliar City, the resurrected must revive the long-forgotten skills of their original lives. Knights, courtiers, detectives, killers, nurses, adventurers, spies: the afterlives of all will be irrevocably changed by the Civil War.
"These are their tales.
Contents:
* *The Tale of Sir Hedwyn* by Kara Dennison
* *The Age of Meeting Ourselves Again* by Kelly Hale
* *The Queen of Clubs* by Louise Sellers
* *To Die by the Sword* by Helen Angove
* *Just Passing Through* by Juliet Kemp
* *Angels on a Hoverbike* by Selina Lock
* *Interlude from a Civil War* by Philip Purser-Hallard"

Mancunicon 2016 — book recs

Note: these are not books that I am recommending personally, because I haven't read any of them yet. They are instead books that other people at the con talked about sufficiently enthusiastically that I now want to read them. Some of them are on my (now much larger) to-read pile, either in dead tree form or electronically; some aren't yet.

First up: two people I know had book launch parties at the con! David L. Clements released his collection of short stories, 'Disturbed Universes' (from NewCon Press); and Siobhan McVeigh has a story in the collection 'Existence is Elsewhere' from Elsewhen Press (scroll right down for buying options). I heard various of the authors reading extracts from their stories in this book at the launch and they all sounded great.

The rest of my recs are from the Feminist Fantasy panel:

  • Jo Walton 'Lifelode' (annoyingly, it seems to be out of print, and expensive second-hand)
  • The Chinese myth series Dream of Red Mansions
  • Elizabeth Gouge (note that not all of her books are fantasy)
  • Octavia Butler 'The Wild Sea'
  • Someone mentioned the Green Knowe series of children's books, which are sort-of historical fantasy. I read them as a child (a long time ago now) but am now minded to have a look for them the next time I'm in the library and see how they've held up.
  • Tanith Lee
  • Lois McMaster Bujold 'Paladin of Souls' -- I have read this one and it is GREAT. Very strongly recommended.
  • Kate Elliott -- both fiction and non-fiction. (Just looked at her post about her own books/series and am now wondering how I missed all of this for this long. Looks great!)
  • Mary Stewart -- Merlin trilogy
  • Andre Norton 'Year of the Unicorn'. (I should probably have read this already...) (but I haven't, so.)

To enlarge your (my) reading list further, E. G. Cosh (who was on a panel with me and is v cool) has a recs post too.

LonCon3

A fortnight ago I went to LonCon3 - not just my first Worldcon, but my first SFF con of any sort. Given that they were holding it about 20 min tube/DLR ride from me, in ExCel, it would have seemed churlish to skip it. 

There were a lot of panels. A LOT of panels. And I went to quite a few of them. I found myself ducking out of this one 15 min early so I could have a quick break / snack before dashing back for the next slot. It reminded me of when I first went to music festivals (20-odd years ago now) where I would pore over the programme planning how if I left *this* then and dashed over here I could catch half an hr of *that* on the way to *the other*... Another time I might endeavour to take it a little easier and give myself more time for everything else. (I entirely missed the Art Show, for example.)

Having said that, I enjoyed nearly everything I went to, and could happily go back and start over with a whole different set of things. (I missed most of the science track, for example). I have many pages of notes I am not about to type out, but a couple of panels particularly stuck in my mind afterwards (ie came to mind without checking said notes while writing this).
-- Race and British SF: a really interesting discussion about who is writing what, where, and why, which left me with a much longer to-read list. 
-- Ideology vs Politics in SF: the premise was that ideology (noble ideas) shows up in SF more often than politics (the grubby business of hammering out solutions), probably because the former is in general more interesting to write/read. Lots of discussion about the value of both about writers who do tackle politics, and about the radicalism of imagining a political alternative. 

There was also one talk (on worldbuilding) I left after getting too annoyed by the panelist who invariably referred to a hypothetical character as "he". A shame as there was good stuff from the other panelists, but it was just too irritating. I cheered myself by getting some dal for a late lunch. 

I saw "kaffeeklatsch" repeatedly on the programme with no explanation, then when I established what it was, was too shy to sign up. Then I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Saulter (author of the excellent novels Gemsigns and Binary, about which I was most enthusiastic at her) at another panel. She mentioned her kaffeeklatsch, which gave me the courage to sign up. I'm glad I did - it was a lovely hour, and I also got to meet and chat to Anne Charnock (whose novel A Calculated Life I have since read and enjoyed), Cindy of Draumr Kopa review blog, and someone from Birmingham SF group whose name now escapes me (oops). Buoyed by this I also went to Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden's one, which was interesting if less chatty. 

Despite my extensive panel attendance, I also managed to do a bit of socialising with people I didn't know at all, and thus award myself a Big Gold Social Person Star. (I had a drink with a couple of folk I did know, too, but that is less challenging because I already know that they're nice.) The fan village in many ways was great from a social point of view - lots of opportunity for mingling - but it was also very noisy (and echoey, being as how this was ExCel and therefore it was inside a big concrete box) which made life harder. I left one thing because I just couldn't hear anyone, which did nothing for my intermittent social anxiety. 

Sunday I missed most of everything that didn't involve hanging around in the fan village, as Leon came along for the day. He was delighted with his badge and First Worldcon ribbon and very enthusiastic about running round the 'village green' with a hula hoop. He is, however, still not panel-compatible. I went home with him and D at dinner time rather than staying for the Hugos. I was a little sorry, but following it on Twitter over pizza and a glass of wine at home was still pretty exciting, and also involved pizza. A very pleasing set of results. 

(Given how Sunday panned out and that I would have had L with me on Monday too, I somewhat reluctantly stayed home on Monday and missed the final day, bah.)

Brilliant weekend, if exhausting. I would go again like a shot if it ever comes back to Europe. And after over 20 years of being a fan of sorts but never going to a con, I am now signed up for both Eastercon and 9 Worlds next year and greatly looking forward to both. 

Permaculture Parenting in Juno

I wrote a piece on applying Holmgren's 12 Principles of Permaculture to parenting for the current issue of Juno, now out online and in shops.

20140312-120022.jpg

Other things in this issue include an interview with Shelia Kitzinger; an extended feature on home education; Sarah Ockwell-Smith discussing bed-sharing myths; Talking Point on organic cotton; a mum sharing her positive experience of elimination communication; ideas for free outdoor activities for Spring; eco-holiday recommendations; encouragement to become a Flexitarian and simple gardening inspiration. I've just finished my copy and thoroughly enjoyed it; it's all worth a read.