Mars as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Saturday, March 20, 2010

One Day on Mars

This is the first in a trilogy by Travis Taylor. It is set in the last part of the 24th century, and centers around a conflict between the forces of the United States and a group of rebel Martians known as the Separatists.

Taylor, who is known for his collaborations with John Ringo, focuses more on the military aspects of the situation, but as you might expect he does give slightly satirical portraits of politicians and newsmen. The president is shown as someone who relies on polls as the main instrument of his decision making. The same applies to other, lower level pols, primarily congresscritters.

Taylor doesn’t deal with it, but this concern with polls goes to the heart of the nature of representative democracy. Is the representative, or senator, simply someone who acts for the majority of his constituents, or is he someone who acts out of his honest convictions that his actions are in the best interest of his constituents? One concept leads to cowardice, and abject dependence on the unstable and shifting whims of the populace. The ultimate result of such thinking is that there is a form of mobocracy, and this permits the negation of cherished liberties by the majority. The other concept leads to an arrogant disregard of the wishes of constituents. There is a link here to the belief that the party acts in the interests of the electorate. It therefore follows that the party central committee acts for the party, and the party leader acts for the central committee. So here is the pathway to dictatorship.

Taylor doesn’t deal with the issue, and I’ll follow him by chickening out myself.

On thinking about that previous statement, I realize that I should have offered some sort of solution. It’s probably an easy generalization, but there are issues that are of little or no moral consequence, such as whether a locality should sign on with a regional transportation board, and other issues that are of moral consequence. In the one case it does not matter whether one watches the polls or not. In the other cases, the death penalty, slavery, abortion, and so on, it is a matter of substantial consequence. The trick, as in most things, is knowing which is which.

There’s an old Clint Eastwood movie, Firefox, in which Eastwood steals a Soviet plane that is geared to the thoughts of the pilot. Taylor uses something similar by having his AICs (artificial intelligences) provide DTM (direct to mind) links. While it may seem nice to be able to see the entire battle environment in a mental view, I’m not sure that anyone would be able to cope with that much information. I’m also not sure that direct mental control, i.e., thinking commands is a good thing. Most physical activity takes place on an unconscious level. You don’t think about your breathing as a rule. When you dive off a board into a pool, you don’t think every tuck and spin. You may visualize the dive, but you don’t think “Now bring the legs up into a tuck.” This kind of activity, and activities like driving, boxing, and probably flying take place on the level of habit, not conscious thought.

So what can you expect? There’s the usual high body count. There’s some conservative politics. The action is fairly rapid. It’s a decent specimen of military sci-fi.