I am a child of the 50’s. I had a happy childhood, loved school, and really, really liked science. My standout memories of my elementary years are these: we made a paper machè cow in 2nd grade, the sunset is red because that color light is bent by the Earth’s atmosphere more than the others, Russia launched Sputnik, John Glenn orbited the Earth, chocolate comes from cocoa beans, and the Golden Age of Greece was only 50 years. What a hodgepodge of memories! As a child I knew absolutely that America was the best nation on Earth, and that I was living in a new Golden Age. In my mind, always, the Golden Age was linked to spaceflight. I also knew that the Golden Age of America would probably end within my lifetime.
I have lived through amazing times. I watched the moon landing, abandoned my slide rule in favor of calculators, learned to write programs and use computers, watched the arrival of the Internet, and now own a cell phone that is actually a powerful computer beyond anything I dreamed of as a child. The world of biology has transformed in an equally powerful way as understandings about DNA and cells created an explosion of biotechnology that affects our food supply, medical options, and quality of life. Energy use and production has changed, human population has exploded, and diseases that I never heard of before have emerged. Polio is almost gone, Ebola is here. Climate change is upon us, and the geopolitical climate is transforming at the same time.
The Golden Age of Greece was only 50 years. What we have today will not continue forever.
This is one of the central premises of the book Coming Home by Jack McDevitt. In the book the society that we live in now eventually crashed, entered a Dark Time, and much was lost; the time when man first began to enter space is known in the future as the Golden Age. Thousands of years have gone by, humanity is spread over many distant planets, and the bits and pieces from our time are now worth money. Because of the intervening Dark Time, books, art and other artifacts from our era are rare. Just imagine: a drone, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the lamp on President Obama’s desk, and James Watson’s Nobel Prize medal all for sale! The antiquities trade developed in the future is very lucrative for the right dealer, and objects from the time when people first left Earth and entered space are especially marketable. You know, a laptop that went to the moon, parts of the lunar orbiter, mission patches from the original astronauts, slices of moon rock, a coffee cup from the first mission beyond the asteroids. These things are now worth a bundle.
The story focuses on Alex Benedict, a successful antiquities dealer who is part detective, part celebrity, and his associate Chase Kolpath, interstellar pilot and Girl Friday. When a client brings them an ancient electronic device found in a closet during a clean out, they quickly realize that they have found an important artifact from the Golden Age of Earth. The previous owner, the deceased Garnett Baylee, devoted his life to finding a mythical cache of rescued materials from ancient space museums. Did he succeed? Why the secrecy? Where are the rest of the materials? The hunt is on!
Alex and Chase backtrack Baylee’s movements and contact his old associates in an effort to solve the mystery, locate the cache, and recovery these important historical relics. At the same time they are involved in a race against the clock to devise a rescue plan that will save the 2,600 passengers (including Alex’s Uncle Gabe) of an interstellar transport, the Capella, trapped in a space/time warp when they return briefly to sidereal time in the near future. In both efforts there is a race against the clock, conflicting opinions about the best course of action, elements of personal danger, and complications that can cause a devastating outcome. Action, suspense, family, danger, enormous profit! Read on, me hearties!
I really liked Coming Home. It is a great balance of suspense, action, science and historical/social commentary all rolled into one reading extravaganza. This book is actually the latest in a series of seven books that follow the adventures of Alex and Chase, and concludes so well I’m wondering if this is the end of their story. I hope not. The dynamics between the two are great; kind of a little like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with some rogue planets, lost space expeditions, and artificial intelligences thrown into the mix. I mean, how can you have more fun than that, science geeks? This series invites meaningful speculation about some big questions: What does it mean to be human? Why do we seek extra-terrestrial life with the assumption that what we find will be a reflection of ourselves? Who does the past really belong to? If it was possible to create a digital interactive avatar of yourself, would you do that? How many flyers can one woman crash? Do rogue planets really exist? At what point do you conclude that your ship AI is “alive”?
Final question: If this is the Golden Age, what, if anything, should be changed about how we think about the future?