Worlds to Save

Worldmakers edited by Garner DozoisWorldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming
Edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press ($17.95)

Supermen: Tale of the Post-Human Future
Edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press ($17.95)

by Ryder W. Miller

In the 1990s, Kim Stanley Robinson won many of the major science fiction awards for his Mars series (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) which chronicles the terraforming, or planet altering, of Mars. Despite Mars not being fully explored at the beginning of the series, the colonists start the process to create an atmosphere and oceans on the Red Planet. The series was shocking for anyone who hoped that we would do better by the next planet we inhabited.

Terraforming is not a new idea, and other authors have taken up the theme (such as Pamela Sargent in a series about terraforming Venus), but in detail and precision, Robinson described what many would like to do to our closest neighbor in space. Though forces arise to combat the terraformers in his series, the battle is lost and only remnants of the pristine Martian environment are saved. Robinson's series is thus a sobering reminder that if we think of ourselves as environmentalists, we would want to preserve Mars or at least treat it like a wilderness, rather than like the Frontiers of old which we have destroyed.

In Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming, editor Gardner Dozois anthologizes stories that have been written about terraforming other planets. As Dozois points out in his introduction the word terraforming was coined by Jack Williamson in the early 1940s, and Mars was also terraformed in Arthur C. Clarke's The Sands of Mars (1951), but the stories included here don't begin until 1955, with most of them written in the eighties and nineties. Dozois has assembled stories by many of the famous science fiction writers, but there are also works by the lesser-known writers of the more recent generations of story tellers.

Confronted with a barren, dangerous, and probably sterile solar system, many science fiction writers chose to terraform some of our celestial neighbors in order to tell their stories. Mercury is heated to high temperatures by the sun, Venus has been turned into a furnace by a runaway greenhouse effect, Mars is an ice box, and Jupiter and most of the other planets are gas giants. In the interest of saving lives and making the planets more hospitable, many storytellers in Worldmakers argue that we should change their environments to more suitable conditions. But there are also some stories, ironically Robinson's and Sargent's, with characters that object to the terraforming.


Dozois also points out that making these changes could be potentially dangerous, and in fact it is the danger which makes some of the philosophical stories exciting. But the stories show that even if we try to terraform the planets of the solar system, we may not necessarily be successful at doing so. "Ecopoesis" by Geoffrey Landis, one of the more memorable stories in Worldmakers, details how the planet Mars will become frozen again if the carbon dioxide escapes the atmosphere. Then there are the politics involved, and the human failings; as the worlds change, so do some of the characters—some even changing sex and identities.

In Supermen: Tales of a Post-Human Future, Dozois explores an alternative to terraforming: "pantropy," or the technological altering of human beings to adapt to new worlds, futures, or hostile environments. Though it is a struggle to apply the values of environmentalism to developments in space exploration, commercialization and militarization, Deep Ecologists should in theory applaud the pantropics. Unfortunately, this is not the collection of anti-terraforming stories one would hope; the anti-terraforming arguments are not developed with equal elaboration. The follow-up anthology could have better focused on pantropy by addressing the problems of terraforming rather than by dwelling on the strangeness of the future. Imaginary worlds are lost in the process.

What environmentalists can take from these stories is that there are worlds to save; environmental efforts seem even more necessary when Dozois likens our changing of the Earth to terraforming a new planet. The difference here is that we are not even able to protect the Earth from the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion, while the imaginary terraformers of fiction are making deliberate plans to alter worlds. These fascinating tales of our "post-human" future indeed have much to say about the present.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2002/2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2002/2003