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Authors: Steven Savile


BOOK: Elemental
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Table of Contents
owes a debt of gratitude to more people than it is possible to list on one page.
We would like to thank Tom Doherty and David Hartwell for their vision, support, and belief every step of the way.
We tip our hats to Christine Jaeger, Priscilla Flores, Toni Weisskopf, and Elena Stokes—some of the greatest cheerleaders the world will ever know.
To Denis Wong, Jodi Rosoff, and Steve Calcutt for all their time and hard work.
To Janet Lee, our last-minute angel in the whirlwind.
To Michael Whelan, for a cover that made dreams come true.
To our parents and friends, who lived with us during the months it took for the germ of an idea to grow into the book you hold in your hands.
To Luc Reid and the members of the Codex Writers Group, who hold a very special place in our hearts. Without them we would never have met, and this book would not have happened. Their friendship saves us from testing one of the absolutes: nothing can survive in a vacuum.
wouldn't be the amazing book it is without the generosity of the writers who donated their time and talent, so to them we say again thank you, and to the countless others who have shown their support in so many ways. It has been, and continues to be, an uplifting and humbling experience.
Three of the first writers we approached are no longer with us, and it is to these three that we would like to dedicate this anthology. In the spirit that they inspired us, we can only hope that this book inspires you.
Jack L. Chalker, Andre Norton, and Robert Sheckley
Shapers of dreams
Friends in the great spirit of adventure
Once and Future Tsunamis
Although the devastating tsunami
struck coastal areas even a few kilometers away from Colombo, I have so far not ventured out to see any of its damage. I am not sure if I can bear to look at what the killer waves have done to my favorite beaches in Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, and elsewhere along Sri Lanka's southern coast. But I have been watching with mounting horror and grief the disaster's television coverage. The New Year dawned with the Global Family closely following the unfolding tragedy via satellite television and on the Web. As the grim images from Aceh, Chennai, Galle, and elsewhere replaced the traditional scenes of celebrations, I realized that it will soon be 60 years since I invented the communications satellite (in
Wireless World,
October 1945).
I was also reminded of what Bernard Kouchner, former French health minister and first UN governor of Kosovo, once said: “Where there is no camera, there is no humanitarian intervention.” Indeed, how many of the millions of men and women who donated generously for disaster relief would have done so if they had merely read about it in the newspapers? In the coming weeks, the media's coverage of the disaster will be analyzed and critiqued. Nature's fury presented the media with an unfolding human drama of gigantic proportions that is usually the domain of Hollywood screenwriters. As a noted media watcher in the U.S., Danny Schechter, remarked: “This is not reality television. This is reality on television.”
Speaking of movies, when
The Day After Tomorrow
was showing in Colombo last summer, some people asked me if such a calamity could befall Sri Lanka. Without debating the scientific merits of the movie, I said that Nature always had a few tricks up her sleeve. Little did I imagine that before the year ended, killer waves forty feet high would lash the
coast of Sri Lanka, leaving an unprecedented trail of destruction in my adopted country. For millions of Sri Lankans, the day after Christmas was a living nightmare that mimicked
The Day After Tomorrow
. As Sri Lanka struggles to come to terms with the multiple impacts of this tragedy, we confront a massive humanitarian crisis involving over one million displaced persons. The first priority is to provide emergency shelter and relief. As soon as possible thereafter, we must create conditions that will enable the affected people to return to normal lives and livelihoods. In spite of all its progress, science can only give us a few hours' warning—at the most—of an incoming tsunami. And as we now know, there were no systems in place in the Indian Ocean countries to broadcast that warning to millions of coastal dwellers. As we raise our heads from this blow, we must address the long-term issues of better preparedness. That includes effective warning systems that work well just when they are needed. The tsunami, in its wake, brought its share of conspiracy theories and speculations. Among the latter kind was the suggestion that I had foreseen this disaster. The Boxing Day disaster reminded me that I had, in fact, written about another tsunami that Sri Lanka had experienced more than a century ago. In my first book about Ceylon,
The Reefs of Taprobane
(1957), this is what I wrote:
One August day in 1883, the water suddenly started to drain out of Galle harbour. Within a few minutes, the sea bed was exposed for hundreds of feet from shore. Myriads of fish were flopping around in their death agonies, and many wrecks, from small fishing boats to large iron steamers, were miraculously uncovered by the water that had concealed them for years. “But the inhabitants of Galle did not stop to stare and wonder. They knew what to expect, and rushed to high ground as quickly as they could. Fortunately for the town and its people, the sea did not return in the usual tidal wave; perhaps because Galle was on the far, sheltered side of the island, it came back smoothly and without violence, like a swiftly incoming tide. “It was many days before the people of Galle learned why the sea had so suddenly
deserted their harbor, when they heard for the first time the doom-laden name of Krakatoa.
These words were written too long ago for me to locate my original notes, but I am intrigued: How did the people of Galle in 1883 know big waves were coming up soon after the sea receded? What made them rush to high ground? In contrast, in twenty-first-century Sri Lanka, this simple fact was unknown to most people. No one knows exactly how many men, women, and children perished on December 26 because they rushed out to see the suddenly receding sea. But that number must indeed be high. Referring to the Krakatoa-inspired tsunami, I had also written in 1957:
It was a moment unique in recorded history, and one which will probably never come again. I would have given anything to have been present then with a camera, but would probably have been too terrified to use it.
Well, never say never. This time round, there were plenty of holidaymakers armed with video cameras on the beach. Many of them just could not resist the temptation to capture the moment—alas, some cameras and their owners added to the grim statistics. What survived makes this probably the most widely filmed natural disaster in history. Devastating as they are, disasters have been a favorite element of storytellers over millennia. In my own science fiction, I have conjured many and varied disasters that happen just when everything is going according to plan. A tsunami arrives toward the end of the story in
Childhood's End
(1953). In
The Ghost from the Grand Banks
(1990), an ambitious plan to raise the
is completely wrecked by a massive storm in the north Atlantic.
The Songs of Distant Earth
(1986) suggested a planetary rescue plan for the ultimate disaster: the end of the world. However, in terms of scientific research and policy action inspired,
Rendezvous with Rama
(1973) may yet turn out to be my one piece of writing that one
day saves the most number of lives.
opens with an asteroid impact on Europe which obliterates northern Italy—on the morning of 11 September 2077. (I am still spooked by randomly choosing this date, and claim no powers of prescience.) I cannot recall what turned my attention to the possible danger of asteroid impacts. It was quite an old idea in science fiction, and one that science now takes very seriously. Life-threatening impacts are more frequent than many people realize: there were three known major impacts during the twentieth century alone (Siberia in 1908 and 1947, and Brazil in 1930)—damage was minimal in all cases as, miraculously, they happened in uninhabited areas. It is only a matter of time before our luck runs out. In
I introduced a new concept. I argued that as soon as the technology permitted, we should set up powerful radar and optical search systems to detect Earth-threatening objects. The name I suggested was Spaceguard, which, together with Spacewatch, has now been widely accepted. Today, astronomers scan the skies in both hemispheres looking for rogue asteroids and comets. The fact that these efforts are woefully underfunded—and that some rely on private funding—says how little the bean counters in governments appreciate the value of this work.
When the possible consequences of asteroid impacts on Earth are discussed, people seem to be comforted by the fact that two-thirds of the planet's surface is ocean. In fact, we should worry more: an ocean impact can multiply damage by triggering the mother of all tsunamis. Duncan Steel, an authority on the subject, has done some terrifying calculations. He took a modest-sized space rock, 200 meters in diameter, colliding with Earth at a typical speed of 19 kilometers per second. As it is brought to a halt, it releases kinetic energy in an explosion equal to 600 megatons of TNT—ten times the yield of the most powerful nuclear weapon tested (underground). Even though only about 10 percent of this energy would be transferred to the tsunami, such waves will carry this massive energy over long distances to coasts far away. They can therefore cause much more diffused destruction than would have resulted from a land impact. In the latter, the interaction between the blast
wave and the irregularities of the ground (hills, buildings, trees) limits the area damaged. On the ocean, the wave propagates until it runs into land.
Contrary to popular belief, we science fiction writers don't predict the future—we try to prevent undesirable futures. In the wake of the Asian tsunami, scientists and governments are scrambling to set up systems to monitor and warn us of future disasters. Let's keep an eye on the skies even as we worry about the next hazard from the depths.
Although he lost his diving school in the recent tsunami, Sir Arthur Clarke has no plans to leave Sri Lanka again. He thanks Nalaka Gunawardene for his support in writing this essay.
BOOK: Elemental
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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