How Would A Settlement Be Built on Mars?
My novel – my very first published one! – is “The Bride From Dairapaska.” It is set on my vision of a terraformed Mars and incorporates a lot of what I’ve learned about soil building, resource management, colonization, infrastructure needs, and how to work without access to fossil fuels.
There is a story, I promise. But before I could write the first word, I had to build a green Mars, and that meant thinking about how it could be terraformed.
There was one problem: After a lot of reading and thinking, I concluded that it can’t work. It would be easier to turn the Gobi Desert into a green and pleasant land, well-watered, fertile, and rich in agricultural products of all kinds, than it would to grow a blade of grass on Mars.
For one thing, terraforming the Gobi Desert does not require 140-million-mile-long supply lines on average for your equipment. Earth has fossil fuels. There is soil. There are plenty of people to do the work. There are no problems with a breathable atmosphere. It has the gravity that the human body and every other critter evolved with. Earth has a magnetosphere which both holds in the atmosphere and repels the deadly, radiation-laden solar wind. Mars does not. There are difficulties in traveling through space, starting with outer space damaging the human body starting from the very first day.
So how do you build a green Mars? First, obtain a lot of Handwavium. This important element was discovered by the first science-fiction writers to explain faster-than-light travel, bug-eyed monsters, time travel, or any other concept that science couldn’t explain.
Next, work out the terraforming process. The number one issue in terraforming the planet is building soil so the colonists can feed themselves. I decided that Mars could be seeded with genetically-modified molds, algae, lichens, mosses, and fungi. Give them 100 million years to work, and you’ll have soil. For my purpose, I made them fast-growing to cut down the time!
Then I broke out the Handwavium to give Mars a magnetosphere — by creating machines to make the core of the planet spin — and give it a heat-trapping atmosphere.
The next problem was fossil fuels. It’s hard to imagine life without coal or oil, yet people managed. However, a high-tech civilization depends on coal and oil. Solar panels and wind turbines cannot be built without fossil fuels. Solar panels are made from plastics derived from oil. The metal needed for steel can be dug out by men with picks and shovels. It cannot be smelted without charcoal (made from trees), peat (compressed plant material that hasn’t turned into coal), coal, or oil. You can’t run a blast furnace on electricity even if you can generate the electricity with your nuclear power plant.
So, the colonists will make do with what they brought with them, and get real good at fixing broken equipment and clever at coming up with substitutes.
Once that was settled, it was time to figure out how the colonists would organize to settle the planet. I developed a feudal, agrarian culture built on the labor of peasants. I use men as draft animals, something many cultures have done. What is a coolie but a draft animal? You’re going to have people, you need people, they have to eat and so that muscle gets put to work.
But not all of Mars will be settled. After a couple hundred years, there’ll be enough people to cover less than half the surface, which leaves lots of space for people to form horse-riding tribes similar to Native Americans or Mongols. They’ll develop their own belief systems, customs, and family traditions.
Next, I considered the distribution of wealth. In many traditional empires, the closer you are to the capital, the more technology you have available. The richer you are, the more technology you can use. A Roman emperor could have ices in the summer; his lowliest subjects did not. Life in the capital of Barsoom on the equator will feel very different from life with the horse-riding barbarians in the northern and southern latitudes.
Relations with Earth also play a role in the stories. Immense amounts of wealth had to be poured into terraforming Mars. The investors expect a substantial return on their investment. All empires expect their colonies to generate wealth that is returned to the empire’s elite. This is called a “wealth pump.” The colonies of an empire are mined for their assets, and that wealth pours back into the center of the empire, leaving the colony increasingly stripped bare.
The Spaniards did this to South America. The British did this to India. The Chinese are doing this right now in Africa.
Do the residents of those colonies appreciate this? They do not, unless they personally benefit.
When these questions were settled, I could begin “The BrideFrom Dairapaska.”
How would these elements play out with real people trapped in a world not of their own design? You can see this play out in the cover art, which demonstrates these contradictions so well. Who is the bride? That woman carrying a baby with two other kids? What is “Dairapaska”? Why is she green? Why are there two moons? Why are they in the middle of nowhere? What are they running from?
“The Bride From Dairapaska” gives you the answers, and introduces you to a Mars you’ve never seen before. I’m looking forward to exploring it in future books, and I hope you’ll come along for the journey.
Writing is a business. If you aren’t getting paid, it’s a hobby. The IRS says so and they’re right. As a functioning business, it should provide you, the writer, with not just a current income (even if it’s only walking-around money), but a future income as well.
If you want to see something sad, ask a room full of freelance writers about their tax strategies. It’s like asking a pack of baby kittens about space travel.
The Bride from Dairapaska On Amazon
In a rural village on a terraformed Mars, a lonely young wife takes her children and dog and flees into the vast open steppes. Debbie only wanted to escape her abusive husband, but her encounter with the Steppes Riders, and especially Yannick of Kenyatta, unwittingly ignites changes that attract the attention of Mars’ ruling families. Left to her own resources, Debbie must adapt to her new life and figure out how to defend her adopted people.
“The Steppes of Mars” series imagines a transformed world where a disaster on Earth decades ago cut off all contact with its wealth and resources. Experience a Mars where its genetically modified inhabitants have developed their own cultures, beliefs, and religions. A semi-feudal world where ruling families control vast demesnes under a central government at Barsoom. A world of limited resources where train travel is possible but cars and planes are not. A world of free-cities — open and domed — villages, vast fields and steppes, and people banding together to survive and thrive in this harsh new world.
About Odessa Moon
Odessa Moon has, at various times, painted, sewed, served in the Navy, worked as a sales clerk and cashier, taken care of her family, and gardened with enthusiasm. She reads extensively, especially about medieval history, the class struggle, colonization, and resource depletion. She read piles of science-fiction and fantasy in her youth and often wondered what the authors hand-waved away about how difficult it really would be to terraform another planet at the end of a 140-million-mile supply line. Her “The Steppes of Mars” series combines all those interests.
When Ms. Moon is not writing, she is working on improving the soil in her own garden and planting trees in Hershey, Pa., where the air really does smell of chocolate.
Visit her website at OdessaMoon
Do you think we'll ever build a settlement on Mars? Would you go? Do you think mankind would take all the social problems of Earth with them to Mars? Have you ever been to Hershey, PA and smelled the chocolate in the air?