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"The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space"
by Gerald K. O'Neill (Bantam) and
"Space Colonies"
edited by Stewart Brand (Penguin)

At first, I thought Bantam might be misrepresenting "The High Frontier" -- a discussion of the potential for colonizing space -- with its cover lines shouting, "They're coming! Space colonies -- hope for your future." But it turns out O'Neill writes with the care and fastidiousness of a TV pitchman. He sounds, in fact, very much like the shills who peddle nuclear-power. Reading him, I was reminded of H.G. Wells' "The Shape of Things to Come."

Not that schemes for giant self-supporting cities dancing round the earth are without appeal. Like most utopian dream spinning, they are logical, humane, efficient -- but also quite mad. If, however, you wish to read a brief in favor of space cities, "The High Frontier" has all the virtues of good propaganda: It is passionate (for all its gloss of sweet reasonableness), intelligent (within its assumptions) and unflaggingly optimistic.

Should you find yourself swept away by O'Neill 's eloquence, you will discover healthy correctives among the arguments presented in "Space Colonies." Although editor Stewart Brand is something of a space colony partisan himself (he is also editor of CoEvolution Quarterly, from which most of the book's material is drawn), it is O'Neill's critics (among them John Holt, George Wald and Wendell Berry) who have the better of the arguments in this book.

They excoriate O'Neill and his supporters for being sanguine about finding solutions in space to political and social problems that have never been amenable to solution on the planet's surface (imagine the first space colony hijacking), for offering a program that would require a commitment of resources sure to aggravate existing terrestrial difficulties, and for ignoring the fact that control of technology this sophisticated would certainly be placed in the hands of the military of the alleged great powers; they also offer fatal criticisms of the technology that is the crust of O'Neill's pie in the sky.

Approached as science-fiction, space colonies are fun to think about and dream about. But scientific fact they are not, at least not yet, and one hopes that until we can learn to live together more peaceably, they never will be. (John Gabree, 1978)

Buy The High Frontier and Space Colonies.


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