Don’t Stop Believing: Brian Fies’ Eternal Faith in Tomorrow

“There was a time when building the future was inspirational,” Brian Fies writes in his new graphic novel, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? “Ambitious. Romantic. Even enobling. I think it can again.” Fies, award-winning artist and author of Mom’s Cancer, turns back the clock to the optimistic days of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and traces how that optimism faded over the years, both in the father-son relationship at the heart of his story and in the relationship America itself had with the vision of the future it dangled tantalizingly out of its own reach. In a world seemingly hell bent on self-destruction, Fies offers a glimmer of old-fashioned hope based in the determination to keep on believing in the future, no matter what.

Young Buddy and his Pop share a common language of the future in all its gleaming, rocket-powered, utopian glory. Fies recreates the sense of unabashed wonder in technology that young people once allowed themselves to feel, and older people could still buy into as well. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? teaches in great detail what happened to yesterday’s world of tomorrow, paralleling the personal life of the boy becoming a teen becoming a man with the public life of machines becoming hope becoming just machines again, with the resulting disappointment. Along the way, scientist Wernher von Braun, visionary Walt Disney, astronaut Ed White, and other historic figures stand as touchstones for the human element caught up in the politically influenced drive to the future. The lyrical way that Fies makes use of White’s spacewalk, the first by an American astronaut, will give your heart wings, too.

Fies takes history and science and weaves in words and pictures wide-ranging metaphors the way that novelist Richard Powers does solely in words. We’re so inundated with dystopian visions of technology that a hopeful future actually can make us uneasy. Fies recognizes that reticence and addresses those doubts before offering a convincing vision of a better tomorrow. This old-fashioned romanticism will draw snide comments from jaded readers, but those who allow themselves to enter Fies’ world will accept the need for a hope in the future if not its probability of happening.

One of the more entertaining aspects of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? is the recurring comic-within-the-comic device of Captain Crater and the Cosmic Kid—doppelgangers for the father and son who express openly the feelings that hang silently between the “real” duo, who are more comfortably in sharing a love of science fiction than the love they have for one another. Fies rewards lovers of comic book history through thinly veiled homages to the comic creators of the past in these interludes. The visual quotations in these insider comics will send you scouring your collection to reread the originals.

“Ad astra per aspera,” shout the dynamic duo over and over. “Through hardships to the stars.” Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? calls us to keep reaching for the stars despite the hardships of the past and the present. As Robert Browning once wrote, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?” Fies echoes Browning in extolling the value of the reach, for heaven awaits those who dare to believe. Fies’ comic is a book to share with your children and your children’s children, for it is a document of faith lost and faith restored—something that we need more of every day.

[Many thanks to Abrams ComicArts for providing me with a review copy of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? by Brian Fies.]

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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