Fiction Month. Novel Extract 3

  In Extract Three of my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’ Grandfather, Hugh Conway has opted for travel to the solar fields of the African desert rather than euthanasia. He has forged a bond with Ahmed, the African superintendant of the scheme. Here, Ahmed takes Hugh to visit the solar fields and they discuss the state of the world as they travel:
Ahmed was taking Hugh out to visit a solar farm, a two-hour journey by solar powered vehicle across the desert. It was strange, Hugh considered that the desert he’d first seen and thought so uninteresting, so devoid of features he now realised was as varied and fascinating as any landscape in the world. The vista changed from rocky outcrops in myriad colours sprouting from undulating sands to boulder-strewn plains stretching to the horizon, or sumptuous, curving dunes, silky smooth at a distance, the sand shifting visibly on occasions.
Ahmed was a comfortable travel companion, sensing when Hugh needed silence to appreciate the sights and occupying him with conversation or information when time lagged. The two had become friends, finding they had much in common despite their disparate cultures. Hugh felt fortunate to have been accommodated in Ahmed’s own village and whilst the other two elders, Anders and Peter, were pleasant enough he enjoyed the challenging discussions he had when Ahmed dropped by for tea or when they sat together at the edge of the village to watch the sunset-an event he never tired of seeing.
To an extent he was embarrassed, that he was learning more than he was imparting, though when he expressed this his friend disagreed.
“No, no, no my friend! There is no real distinction between teaching and learning. They are two points on the same circle, are they not? What better way to learn than to teach? And what better way to teach than to be constantly striving for understanding?” Ahmed was an optimist by nature as well as by religion. He challenged Hugh’s view of the world as doomed.
“Why would you think this?” he demanded, “Since the beginning of mankind people have adapted, learned, made the best of what they had. This is why mankind has endured. And to be adaptable is to be optimistic. When your road is blocked you try another pathway. When he needed to eat and feed his family ancient man-made tools to make it easier and learned how to grow food. When he was cold, he began to make clothes. Other ancient species did not survive. Perhaps they could not adapt or were not optimistic enough to try!”
Hugh protested. “But the poisoning and exploitation of Earth’s resources has itself been wrought by mankind. He has orchestrated his own downfall!”
Ahmed shook his head. “Not so, friend Hugh. It is a mere chapter in our history. Men will put the poison to some use, will find alternative resources. It happens already! What did you have too much of, back in your homeland? What was a surplus, a problem to be eradicated?”
Hugh did not hesitate. “Water! Water rising and water falling. Too much, always. Leeching the land of nutrients and forcing people from their homes.”
His friend nodded. “And yet here, as you see we have none of our own at all. We could equally say our problem is sun. We have too much. This is a paradox, is it not?” He laughed, throwing his head back at the clear blue sky. “Between us we have found the solution, your people and mine. We provide your power. You provide our water. Perfect, is it not?”
Hugh grimaced. “It isn’t much of a deal. Our water is poisoned with acid. Even rainwater can no longer be used untreated for irrigation or anything else. Then we create more pollution cleansing it for our own use.”
“Hugh! See here, we have no shortage of a power source. It never fails. And it is all we need to purify your water. You pipe it over. We clean it. Problem solved.”
When they were within half an hour of the solar farm Hugh was given a visor to wear to avoid glare damage to his eyes, his protest about deteriorating eyesight overruled. “No, no-we have use of your eyes my friend.”
In the distance a pinpoint of white light hovered near the horizon, expanding as they drew nearer. The extent of the solar field took his breath away. It was vast, stretching across the desert and disappearing into the earth’s curve; a silent, recumbent country of plates, as if the entire desert had been tiled over. It was unfenced, unguarded, unpatrolled. Ahmed shrugged. “The desert is its own defence,” he explained.
They travelled down a passageway between the plates, like the corridors between the polytunnels at Earthsend, until they came to some low, white buildings in the same style as his village house. A single, modest sign by the road was all there was to say that it was the property of SOL, the energy giant.
Ahmed turned to Hugh as they drove past the sign and pulled up outside the building. “Did you know, Hugh that SOL now owns and runs installations in the deserts of America, Australia and Europe? It is a powerful world force. I wonder what our African predecessors would think of that? Only a hundred years ago the African continent was on its knees, begging the rest of the world for help. It was decimated by corruption, wars, misguided ideology, famine, cruelty. Now it has become a world energy superpower, looked up to by everyone.”
Hugh experienced a wave of despondency, as if a heavy weight had been hung around his neck. He’d expected to freed of concepts such as ‘energy superpowers’ by relocating here. It was a land of purity, of high ideals; an egalitarian society that valued individuals and revered the elderly, wasn’t it?…

Further extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ can be read in this November’s posts. Comments and feedback will be much appreciated. Thank you in anticipation…

[Will there be] Life on Mars?

What exciting news that proper, wet water has been discovered on Mars! In my fuddled, amoebic, non-science brain even I have determined from the articles and interviews that this stunning news means human life can be supported on the red planet.

I wonder what David Bowie makes of the revelation. His question, written in song and released in 1971 is about to be answered, although to the disappointment of science fiction buffs we are not about to be treated to the sight of small green creatures sporting deely-bobbers but the ‘life’ is likely to be human; that is if plans to populate Mars come to execution.

Robots are to go ahead first and construct the accommodation, which is to be connected pods like those paper lampshades you used to be able get in Habitat. [As yet there are no plans for a ‘Mars Bar’]. I have no problem with the idea of robots building a house. They already construct cars and many other items. Of course you’d have to be certain they weren’t plotting something sinister like the evil Hal in Space Odyssey-but still…

Then-what? Who is to go? Once the circus of astronauts and scientists are done with Mars, what is the long term plan? This is an entire planet. What or who will it be used for? Should, perhaps, the entire population of Earth move there and leave all the hideous mess we’ve made on this world behind? Mars will be pristine and unsullied-also COLD, which means there will be far longer before global warming takes hold. It will take aeons of greenhouse gases wafting around before the atmosphere is irrevocably ruined, by which time another life-support-planet will have been identified. Hooray!

Or should Mars be used to deposit all our detritus so that our own, cosy, familiar Earth becomes viable again. Perhaps all the poisonous waste from nuclear power, all those plastic bottles that are supposed to be recycled but float around the world on enormous ships instead, cigarette ends and doggy poop could go up there?

Or should we offer Mars to Islamic State so that they can go off and commit their vile atrocities to their hearts content and leave us to live our impure lives as we please? Oh no wait, if we are not there they have no one to bomb, behead or torture; also they are pledged to expand their territory, meaning they’d have to capture nearby planets-the nearest being-yes, Earth.

There is no rush to decide the fate of Mars. NASA is dithering about probing further into the water issue owing to worries about introducing a bug into the pristine atmosphere there. Heaven [apologies] forbid that we humans should give the Martians a dose of the measles, flu or the common cold. Isn’t it a shame mankind could not have had such scruples when our own Earth was pristine and innocent…?