Brenda Cooper

Energy: Free in the Far Future

This is the fourth installment in a set of blog posts about my current science fiction series.  The first book, THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, is now available in paperback.  The sequel, READING THE WIND, came out on July 22ndin hardback.  Each post explores one way the books address a problem we are also affected by, or probably will be affected by in the future.  I hope you enjoy this one:  Energy:  Free in the Far Future.

 

Part of my job as a science fiction writer is to build worlds.  I get to decide what to make a big deal about, and what to change, but leave in the background for the reader to notice (or not).  This series is set in the far future.  I want to tell a story that you’ll recognize now, about people you’ll feel close to.  I want the world different enough to flavor it with the future.  In this post, I’ll talk about one of the parts I left in the background: energy.

 

I left it out because I’m hopeful about it.

 

Right now, we’re obsessed with energy.  We tend to get it the hard way.  For oil, we dredge it up from the bowels of the earth, change its consistency and clean it up, stick it in cars, and burn it.  For coal, we dredge it up from the bowels of the earth, and burn it in such a way that we can capture the energy of the coal fire and run it down physical wires that have virtually no storage capacity to deliver it to houses and businesses on demand.  One the good side, we dam rivers and damage fish and downstream water uses to get energy.  We put up acres of windmills and capture the wind (and run the energy down physical wires that have virtually no storage capacity to deliver it to houses and business on demand).  On the significantly better side, we’re making some use of solar energy, although it generally costs a lot to capture it very inefficiently.

 

These don’t sound like the tools of a scientifically advanced society.  They sound like vestiges of old history, steps above carefully banking coals at night to blow them into fire to cook our breakfast with the next day.

 

Real power will come from efficient harnessing of the sun, or from converting one type of molecule into another.  I’m sure we’ll do this, although I’m not yet sure how.  But here is a promising direction to look in.

 

Nanotechnology is a Holy Grail science that many people claim will fix many problems.  What it will really do remains unclear.  But one of its obvious uses is in manufacturing of better materials.  Lighter and stronger, with fewer errors and weaknesses.  We may be able to make stronger, better, faster, lighter transportation that doesn’t need as much fuel as what we use today.  Like shipskin, from the SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, a substance that stays clean and shiny for years, fully withstanding the elements.

 

A step further, we may be able to actually manipulate matter.  To turn straw into gold, for instance.  Or air into energy.  Or energy into power in a simpler way.  Whatever we do, I don’t believe that in the far future we will be overly challenged by energy.  So I left it in the background, but if you look, you’ll see abundant and free energy is an underpinning of the worlds you’ll read about in READING THE WIND.

 

It’s fairly hard to find really simple articles about this by googling it, but here are a few things worth looking at:

 

The description of an interesting class that’s available at Stanford University now.

 

A listing of energy related articles in Smalltimes magazine

 

An article at Nanotechwire about cheap solar energy