Settling the Sun

18.55, Friday 10 Jul 2020

I ran across an interesting science fiction provocation… why not settle the Sun?

Oddly, though space colonization is a hugely popular topic in science fiction, I can’t find examples of stories set in this scenario, of most activity cramming close to the Sun.

Indeed: most stories focus on activity moving in the other direction – inhabiting Mars or the moons of Jupiter.

The argument goes:

… it seems to me that planet Earth has a lot more raw materials than it does energy. Our planet is huge; its energy is more limited. And raw materials can be recycled, while energy cannot. So my guess is that Earth will run out of energy long before it runs out of raw materials. Thus the main attraction of non-Earth locations, besides nearness to Earth, will be energy (and cooling). And for energy, the overwhelmingly obvious location is the Sun.

This also makes me think about the Sun’s deep gravity well. It take energy to lift material away from the Sun; it’s free to move material toward it.

So could we - in our speculative solar system spanning civilisation - have the Sun as the hub of the knowledge economy and the seat of Empire? Computer brains the size of mountains, floating in the honey of the chromosphere; turbines astride the free energy gradient driving endless cognition, artificial intelligences orders of magnitudes superior over anything else in the eight planets, running finance, planning the economy, and weaving computationally-expensive but material-light diversions: the arts, high-def luxury VR, parties…

And, in this scenario, is the rest of the solar system basically the material feedstock for this celestial seat of decadent dominance, a 25th century British Empire, glittering wealth propped up by a vast extractive network taking labour and material from those who work in the dark?

The history of colonisation is one of resource theft and the erasure of humans and non-humans alike. I’ve used it here because it’s in the title of the article, but it’s not a word to be used lazily. See this previous reference to the ethics of space exploration.

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