The rovers went on, following a well-travelled route past mile upon mile of strip-mined lunar soil before eventually stopping at the base of a hill. The patchwork of parallel furrows looked out of place, like ploughed-over farmland where no farm could possibly be. Joel twisted round to face Max and Safi from his seat next to Oliver.
“We are here,” he said. “Now please, prepare yourselves.”
Then the rovers started moving again, taking them round the side of the hill, and showing them for the first time what was lying on the other side.
“Oh my God,” Safi said when she saw it. “Oh – my – God.”
If the colony they’d seen before had looked like a clump of palm trees, then this one was a forest, a forest of giant redwoods. Gone were the squat cylinders that had made up the previous site, and the clumsy angular frameworks that had held the solar reflectors. Instead they’d been replaced by elegant, sinuous structures, with thick solid bases like huge tree trunks, blending into curved frameworks of struts and girders, growing and branching upward with thousands upon thousands of solar collectors at their tips. The comparison with a forest canopy was unavoidable, as the hundreds of structures that were present managed between them to capture every bit of sunlight that fell on the site. The area that they covered must have been two miles wide, and the largest ones stood over two hundred feet tall. Max could find no words to describe what he felt as they approached the place. Only Joel broke the silence.
“Welcome to the jungle, people!” he said, laughing.
CREATIONS is a work of fiction – but let’s start with the reality…
In June 1980, and lasting for a period of 2 months, a NASA study group convened in Santa Clara California to discuss the prospects for building self-replicating machines to operate on the Moon. The implications of what they were suggesting would sound like science fiction in themselves: starting from a single robotic seed, the idea was to create an automated mining and manufacturing facility, which as well as mining the lunar soil and extracting its precious minerals, would also build a copy of itself, a second facility which once activated would work the same way – including its ability to make further copies.
The growing machine population would spread exponentially, and would allow the entire surface of the moon to be strip-mined in a matter of years, with the only initial investment being that single seed facility. In this way the valuable resources of the Moon would literally pull themselves out of the ground, and arrange themselves into whatever structures or commodities the machines were programmed to make. The idea has been referred to as a “Santa Claus Machine”, a term coined by Theodore Taylor in 1978 (see Wikipedia), and for this kind of “something for nothing” scheme (or at least something for very little), the name is a good one. Imagine them building habitats, ready for colonists to move straight into, or solar generators, or a fleet of spacecraft for onward exploration of the solar system – anything that would otherwise take decades of human effort to achieve.
The Moon would not be the only target – the asteroid belt could be mined too, or transformed into habitable space. And despite its science fiction undertones, the NASA team addressed the task in level-headed engineering terms. And they determined that it was entirely feasible. The technological hurdles were huge, but there were no fundamental barriers to prevent machine replication from being achieved.
Replicator Concepts from NASA Conference Publication 2255: Advanced Automation for Space Missions
Self-replicating machines were not a new idea in 1980. In fact John von Neumann had studied the idea in the 1940s, including the fundamental similarities between replicating machines and biological life, and his analysis of how self-replication might happen, and the requirement for a coded “blueprint”, preceded the discovery of the structure of DNA. But the NASA study, reported in NASA Conference Publication 2255: Advanced Automation for Space Missions, took that theory one small step closer to reality.
Other people have investigated the idea too, leading to a variety of suggested applications, such as Edward F Moore’s “artificial living plants” or self-replicating factory barges sailing round the oceans pulling disolved materials out of solution.
My thought on hearing all these ideas: What if machines like that were just left to replicate, with no restrictions? What if the equivalence between replicating machines and biological life was taken to its logical conclusion, and evolution took over? Would the result count as a kind of artificial life? And what would that mean for the human race, if what came out of that process was stronger and faster than us? That story, is CREATIONS.
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Reviews and Accolades
02-Oct-2014: Review posted on Amazon:
A good, fast read with great action and perfect ending.
… I thoroughly enjoyed Creations, and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction.
…The ending of the book is a fantastic “That was set up all along and I should have seen it coming”, and leaves you intrigued about where a sequel could go. The plot is clean, the characters fairly well developed and relatable, and importantly in a near-future sci-fi, the world is believable.
…Mitchell does a really good job writing a fun, gripping, action-filled ending to the book.
01-Nov-2014: Another review posted on Amazon:
“Creations” is a book of great ideas. … “Creations” opened up for me ideas as to how the exploitation of space might be managed—and mismanaged.
10-Nov-2014: Another review posted on Amazon:
Sci-fi action capped with a brilliant ending.
…Mitchell creates a plausible near-term future world filled with plenty of sci-fi tech goodness
…I enjoyed Creations and recommend it for readers that might otherwise be reluctant to the sci-fi genre. The plot is action-driven and explores the plausible technologies available a quarter-century from now and their implications for humanity. And not to spoil the ending, but Mitchell definitely saves the best for last.