- Pournelle, Jerry.
A Step Farther Out.
Studio City, CA: Chaos Manor Press, [1979, 1994] 2011.
This book is a collection of essays originally published
magazine between 1974 and 1978.
They were originally collected into a book published in 1979, which
was republished in 1994 with a new preface and notes from the author.
This electronic edition includes all the material from the 1994 book
plus a new preface which places the essays in the context of their
time and the contemporary world.
I suspect that many readers of these remarks may be inclined to
exclaim “Whatever possessed you to read a bunch of
thirty-year-old columns from a science fiction magazine which itself
disappeared from the scene in 1980?” I reply, “Because
the wisdom in these explorations of science, technology, and the human
prospect is just as relevant today as it was when I first read them in
the original book, and taken together they limn the lost three decades
of technological progress which have so blighted our lives.”
Pournelle not only envisioned what was possible as humanity expanded
its horizons from the Earth to become a spacefaring species drawing
upon the resources of the solar system which dwarf those about which
the “only one Earth” crowd fret, he also foresaw the
constraint which would prevent us from today living in a perfectly
achievable world, starting from the 1970s, with fusion, space power
satellites, ocean thermal energy conversion, and innovative sources of
natural gas providing energy; a robust private space infrastructure
with low cost transport to Earth orbit; settlements on the Moon and
Mars; exploration of the asteroids with an aim to exploit their
resources; and compounded growth of technology which would not only
permit human survival but “survival with style”—not
only for those in the developed countries, but for all the ten billion
who will inhabit this planet by the middle of the present century.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, Pournelle nails that as well.
Recall whilst reading the following paragraph that it was
written in 1978.
[…] Merely continue as we are now: innovative technology
discouraged by taxes, environmental impact statements, reports,
lawsuits, commission hearings, delays, delays, delays; space
research not carried out, never officially abandoned but delayed,
stretched-out, budgets cut and work confined to the studies without
hardware; solving the energy crisis by conservation, with fusion
research cut to the bone and beyond, continued at level-of-effort
but never to a practical reactor; fission plants never officially
banned, but no provision made for waste disposal or storage so
that no new plants are built and the operating plants slowly are phased
out; riots at nuclear power plant construction sites; legal
hearings, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers…
Can you not imagine the dream being lost? Can you not imagine the
nation slowly learning to “do without”, making
“Smaller is Better” the national slogan, fussing
over insulating attics and devoting attention to windmills;
production falling, standards of living falling, until one day
we discover the investments needed to go to space would be
truly costly, would require cuts in essentials like food —
A world slowly settling into satisfaction with less, until there are
no resources to invest in That Buck Rogers Stuff?
I can imagine that.
As can we all, as now we are living it. And yet, and yet….
One consequence of the Three Lost Decades is that the technological
vision and optimistic roadmap of the future presented in these
essays is just as relevant to our predicament today as when
they were originally published, simply because with a few
exceptions we haven't done a thing to achieve them. Indeed,
today we have fewer resources with which to pursue them,
having squandered our patrimony on consumption, armies of
rent-seekers, and placed generations yet unborn in debt to fund our
avarice. But for those who look beyond the noise of the headlines
and the platitudes of politicians whose time horizon is limited
to the next election, here is a roadmap for a true step farther
out, in which the problems we perceive as intractable are not
“managed” or “coped with”, but rather
solved, just as free people have always done when
unconstrained to apply their intellect, passion, and resources
toward making their fortunes and, incidentally, creating wealth
This book is available only in electronic form for the Kindle
as cited above, under the given ASIN. The ISBN of the original
1979 paperback edition is
978-0-441-78584-1. The formatting
in the Kindle edition is imperfect, but entirely readable.
As is often the case with Kindle documents, “images
and tables hardest hit”: some of the tables take a
bit of head-scratching to figure out, as the Kindle (or
at least the iPad application which I use) particularly
mangles multi-column tables. (I mean, what's with that,
LaTeX got this
perfectly right thirty years ago, and in a manner even
beginners could use; and this was pure public domain software
anybody could adopt. Sigh—three lost
decades….) Formatting quibbles aside, I'm as glad I bought
and read this book as I was when I first bought it and read it
all those years ago. If you want to experience not just what
the future could have been, then, but what it can be, now,
here is an excellent place to start.
Web site is an essential resource
for those interested in these big ideas, grand ambitions, and the destiny of
humankind and its descendents.