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Salt Beings

Thanks so much for Charlie's introduction, and for his extremely generous invitation to post here. I’ve enjoyed Charlie's books, especially Rule 34, and the discourse on this blog. I will see what I can come up with, while Charlie and my other lucky friends head off to a spaceship conference. And they complain of jet lag? For me just a trip to Oxford Street (from rural Ohio) would be worth the jet lag.

My book that Charlie kindly mentioned, The Highest Frontier, turned out to be controversial. Greg Benford and Don Sakers loved it, but someone else feared reading it would make himself ill, while yet another wanted to see "if the test readers live." I thought readers might pause at the zoophiles, the twin towers scene, or the gay-married college president. But the main flashpoint proved to be salt (NaCl). Could table salt become a controlled substance?

Salt’s taste and antimicrobial power run through human history. There have always been salt roads, salt taxes, and salt wars. Salt trade drove the rise of cities like Liverpool, and wars in Europe. Gandhi's independence movement began with a salt march. In America, the Iroquois called colonial Europeans "Salt Beings" for their obsession with it. Today, in modern medicine, the salt wars continue.

In The Highest Frontier, Jenny Ramos Kennedy is a Cuban-American student-athlete who goes to college in a casino-financed space habitat. She likes to capture ultraphytes (invasive UV-photosynthetic extraterrestrials) and keep them in the cellar, just as kids today keep skunks or pythons. But unlike pythons, cyanide-producing ultraphytes make the bioterror list. Ultraphytes (today’s colonial Salt Beings) are actually halophiles, life forms that need high salt. To curb the spread of ultraphytes, Homeworld Security controls salt. If that sounds about as useful as controlling toothpaste in your carry-on, read and find out.

The orbital spacehab is something I’d like to learn more about. Could an orbital spacehab really get made by 2100? Engineering is not my field, but from the Wright brothers to commercial jets took 50 years. Today, the International Space Station does surprisingly well with pathetic investment; what if someone were to stake more? I wonder if the folks who built Vegas could put something more outrageous in space. And when the government outlaws vice on Earth, they’ll need someplace off-world to keep it--and tax it.

What most interests me space biology. My microbiology textbook opens with the Mars Phoenix lander. Could we grow space lift cables as bacterial cell walls? Some bacteria related to anthrax already grow thread-like macrofibers, which genetic engineering might convert to nanotubes. The cables would be self-healing, amid all that Kessler debris. Could photosynthetic bacteria run fuel cells and make hydrogen? This is no longer fiction, it’s science today. Could solar microbes someday power a space habitat? One thing is clear: We need power generation off-world, the sooner the better, because all large-scale energy sources have large downsides for planet Earth.

Have to run and check my drug-resistant bacteria, but let me know if the test readers live.


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This page contains a single entry by Joan Slonczewski published on September 28, 2011 2:18 PM.

If we had two heads, would we be twice as wise? was the previous entry in this blog.

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