Season 4 of The Expanse is about to begin on Amazon Prime. Host Mat Kaplan visits with the authors of the eight novels (so far) that are the basis of this outstanding hard science fiction series that begins with humankind having become a spacefaring species that spans the solar system. We’ve also got space headlines from The Downlink. Bruce Betts celebrates more recognition for the Planetary Society’s LightSail project in this week’s What’s Up.
- Season 4 of The Expanse on Amazon Prime
- The Expanse (novel series)
- The Santa Fe Institute’s InterPlanetary Festival
- The Downlink
- V.R. Space Explorers: Titan's Black Cat by Bruce Betts
This week's prizes:
This week's question:
If The Planetary Society was exactly 40 Earth years old, what anniversary would we be celebrating in Mercurian years?
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at email@example.com no later than Wednesday, December 18th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
What are the names of the first two modules joined to form the core of the International Space Station?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the November 27 space trivia contest:
What is the largest known object in our solar system that, as of now, has NOT been visited by a spacecraft? Flybys count. The Sun does not.
The largest known solar system object not visited by a robotic explorer from Earth is Eris.
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Inside the universe of The Expanse, with its authors this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of a human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Forgive this fanboys' excitement. As this episode of our show is published, we're just two days away from the season four premiere of a wonderful show that was almost lost forever. And we're also not far from release of the last book in the series of novels that the TV drama is based on.
The Expanse is one of the best hard science fiction sagas I've ever enjoyed. Its authors and producers will join me in minutes. We'll start with a few real world developments brought to us by Planetary Society, editorial director, Jason Davis. These and other stories are in his weekly digest, we call The Downlink. The European [00:01:00] space agency's [00:01:01KOPS] spacecraft may be in space by the time you hear this. Of course, it's an acronym. The characterizing exoplanet satellite will study nearby stars to determine the density of planets that are already known to be circling them. Another step toward discovering if there are exoplanets that are suited for life.
Speaking of exoplanets, it's possible that the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to tell us if some rocky worlds have atmospheres. A team of scientists has proposed a new and much faster technique for detecting atmospheres. Now we just have to get JWST up there and working. That's expected in 2021. Both the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and a Russian progress have docked with the international space station. Together, they have delivered about five metric tons of cargo including experiments like the barley germination project we talked about a [00:02:00] couple of episodes ago. And Japan's Hayabusa 2 has turned its ion engines back on. They will speed those precious samples of asteroid Ryugu back to earth in about a year. There's more waiting for you at planetary.org/downlink. Jason publishes a new edition every Friday.
Many of you will remember my visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend last spring's InterPlanetary Festival. I've saved a highlight of that visit till now as The Expanse is about to return to our TV screens. The story starts in our own solar system. Humankind has spread beyond Uranus and is divided into three major factions. Plots generally revolve around the crew of the Rocinante, a fighting ship that has been, shall we say, liberated from the powerful military forces based on Mars. Rocinante was Don Quixote's horse. It's a great name [00:03:00] for a spaceship that is captained by the decidedly quixotic James Holden.
All of the characters are terrific. The action is jaw-dropping. The planetary politics have much to say about our own times. And thankfully, the science is realistic and impressive, even when it eventually moves out across the Milky Way. For these elements and more, we can thank Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They write the series novels and short stories under the pen named James S.A. Corey. And they are also producers of the TV show, which after being canceled by Syfy has moved to Amazon Prime. Daniel, and Ty, and a bunch of their enthusiastic fans joined me last June under an InterPlanetary Festival tent.
From Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the InterPlanetary Festival, this is Mat Kaplan for Planetary Radio with the authors, the creators of The Expanse, Ty Franck and [00:04:00] Daniel Abraham.
You guys have a lot of fans here today, and I'm one of them. It is an absolute honor to have you here. Uh, I told you just before we got started that it was listeners who, I think, you already had about four books out. It was first said to me, "What, you were not reading The Expanse, you have got to get started with this." And I was only a few pages in to Leviathan Wakes when I was completely hooked. So, uh, thank you.
Daniel Abraham: Thank you. I'm, I'm glad it's working for you.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, it sure is. I read that the two of you met not too far from here in Albuquerque.
Daniel Abraham: That is true. For those of you who are not present and we're just like, no, who's talking? I'm Daniel. Um, so when you hear this voice, that's, that's me. Um, I was born in Albuquerque. I've been in Albuquerque pretty much my whole life, so it wasn't a big commute for me. Ty [00:05:00] moved to Albuquerque, and we had some friends in common and, uh, Ty wound up in the same writing group that, uh, I was in the critique group that I, I was going to every month.
We wound up being kind of the two people who lived close enough to each other, and he introduced me to console gaming and was trying to bring me over and get me to play Left 4 Dead, and generally reduced my productivity, and it didn't work out so well. [laughing]. So-
Mat Kaplan: Okay.
Daniel Abraham: ... so then after that there was just blood everywhere. I mean, there was [laughing] it was, yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Obviously inspiration for some of the scenes in the series.
Daniel Abraham: Absolutely.
Ty Franck: It's really easy to hide bodies in the West Mesa. [laughing].
Daniel Abraham: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Ty, you had started to create The Expanse universe with something else in mind, you weren't doing, you're originally thinking of a series of bestselling science fiction novels.
Ty Franck: No, no there's been a lot of versions of The Expanse. I mean, initially, it was a, it was a video game pitch a long time ago. Um, and then [00:06:00] a, a tabletop game, and then eventually the books. So it's been through a lot of iterations, and now a TV show, and I'm waiting for the stage musical. [laughing].
Mat Kaplan: I think it's right for conversion to a musical. Absolutely. Daniel, what I heard was that after the two of you got together, and it was, what's the name of that con?
Daniel Abraham: In, in Bubonicon?
Ty Franck: Bubonicon.
Mat Kaplan: Bubonicon, is it after the [crosstalk 00:06:22] place?
Daniel Abraham: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. No-
Ty Franck: Because New Mexico is one of the few places where you can still get that.
Daniel Abraham: Perry Rodent is their mascot and, uh, no, it's, it's, we're just kind of leaning into the strengths we have here in New Mexico. [laughing].
Ty Franck: I mean, they, they could have gone HAuNTcon. [laughing].
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. Like, they started a long time ago. Hot spires wasn't a thing.
Ty Franck: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: They, it's, it's, it's, uh, for the gritty reboot. It'll be, uh-
Mat Kaplan: You guys just keep doing patter. I think that's great. I love that. Um, how did you find out about The Expanse? Well, was it you who thought, "Hey, this would make a good book."
Daniel Abraham: Yes. It was me who thought this would make a good book, and I'm, I'm smug about that. [laughing]. [00:07:00] Um, what happened was Ty was running this tabletop role playing game with a bunch of our mutual friends. He was, he was up in Santa Fe. I couldn't go 'cause I had a kid. My, my kid was like newborn driving up to Santa Fe for, uh, a role playing game session just wasn't practical. So I whined about it enough that he started running a, uh, an instance down in Albuquerque with just me, and him, and our wives.
Um, and we did that probably only three or four times, uh, before it became clear to me, he'd already done all the hard part. We had huge binders with all of the information about it. Anytime I asked him a question about the world, he knew the answers and could just tell me. I, uh, said, well, you know, we should write this up, make it into a book, sell it for pizza money. It'll be fun.
And, and the reason I'm smug is the folks up in, in Santa Fe included Melinda Snodgrass, Ian Tregillis, uh, George R. R., Martin, Walter Jon Williams, [00:08:00] none of them thought that. That was me. They all had first shot. They all missed it. I was-
Mat Kaplan: I'll bring up now that you have a long history with that guy that a lot of our audience must have heard of, George R. R, Martin, right? Game of Thrones ring any bells. You've been a long time collaborator, right?
Daniel Abraham: Uh, I- I've worked with George on, I've adapted a lot of his, uh, work as a comic book script, so I did a lot of the scripting work for that, and we wrote a novel with, uh, Gardner Dozois called, uh, Hunter's Run.
Mat Kaplan: And more since then.
Daniel Abraham: Um, yeah, some Wild Card stuff.
Ty Franck: Yeah, yeah, that's what I was thinking of Card universe with-
Daniel Abraham: I mean, that's, that's... Wild Cards universes is, is certainly a massive project. It has been going on for-
Mat Kaplan: Yes, it's such a huge product.
Daniel Abraham: But I'm such a small part of it. But I always feel a little weird taking credit for it. I made a couple of characters and told a few stories, and that in this massive project that he has overseen. Uh, yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Ty, you, had you written a book before?
Ty Franck: [00:09:00] No. [laughing].
Mat Kaplan: So, two with like a fish in the water, uh, because, I mean, don't you guys, I don't know if you actually alternate chapters, but don't you sort of specialize in, since the story is frequently told from the viewpoint chapter by chapter of different characters, you, you hand it off, don't you?
Ty Franck: Uh, we started out that way, but, um, that eventually sort of went away. When we first started, we traded, we picked which viewpoint character we would write, but I think by about book five we weren't doing that anymore.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, it got to the point where we kind of knew each other's voices. After long enough, you wind up kind of losing the, the confusion, uh, you've, you've done it long enough, you've practiced it. So I could imitate Ty's voice, Ty could imitate mine, and we're both editing each other's work the whole way through anyway, so there's always the error correction phase.
Ty Franck: Uh, we divided up more now by content. So if the chapter is about somebody being sad, Daniel writes that. [laughing].
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, pretty much.
Ty Franck: [00:10:00] If, if the chapter has a lot of explosions in it, I write that.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. [laughing]. Well, it's pretty much kind of a violence and romantic failure division of, uh, labor. That's, that's how we do that.
Mat Kaplan: Uh, seems to work.
Daniel Abraham: Uh, so far. I mean, uh, we, we have one more book in the, the project, so, uh, we'll see whether we stick landing.
Mat Kaplan: I'll come back to that.
Daniel Abraham: All right.
Mat Kaplan: Since, uh, I guess, our heroes still have to deal with the biggest challenge to their universe. Although, I'm so afraid of saying too much and we have a lot of Expanse fans here so we can say anything in front of them. But there's so much more going on in this series. Before we get even close to any of that, Once you finish the first book, Leviathan Wakes, did you have any idea it would take off the way it did?
Ty Franck: No, uh, I mean we, when we sent it to the publisher, we sent a completed first book, but then we also sent a sort of a one paragraph outline of the next two books-
Daniel Abraham: Of the next two books, yeah.
Ty Franck: ... where [00:11:00] the idea being that they might not just wanna buy a standalone, they might wanna buy something with the idea of a series, and we would sell it to them either way. So we just sort of said and this is book two, this happens in book three, this happens.
Daniel Abraham: And, and literally, that was the amount of thought that went into it at the time. We wanted to have a, a series title. So, uh, we made up a series title by going, well, what's a synonym for big? Um [laughing], and no, it was, it was, it was really us marketing the book to publishers that was the, the thing that turned it from a standalone novel into a series.
Mat Kaplan: But it has become, I, I think it is right up there with any of the great science fiction sagas throughout history, foundation, trilogy, you name it. Uh-
Ty Franck: Well, I, I think we should check in on that in about 50 years.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Wow, then, and then... I'll give you that, but I bet you're going to be [crosstalk 00:11:50]-
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. We'll, we'll see heroes. [laughing].
Mat Kaplan: Listen, I was on the freeway like a week ago, and I do a double take because the car in front of me I see has an MCRN, [00:12:00] Martian Congressional Republic, uh, Navy sticker on it. If I have the original member of the MCRM here on my tie, so it's Marvin the Martian. Obviously, it is, uh, maybe it won't be in a half a century, but it is a cultural phenomenon right now.
Daniel Abraham: Oh, we're hoping so.
Mat Kaplan: Uh, it's doing okay.
Daniel Abraham: It's, uh, it, it has certainly been a, uh, oh, weird ride for us. Um, we were aiming for something that was fun to do and would make pizza money. And so, th- this has overshot that. Um, we're doing something else. [laughing].
Mat Kaplan: I could rave for hours about the entire series and what you create and how you open up the galaxy, uh, to humanity. But it's really, for our purposes on Planetary Radio, it's the early books that probably are more relevant and we'll give less away, although we may still have a few spoilers, warnings to [00:13:00] anybody who has not, uh, been through the books already.
It is this future of our solar neighborhood that you drop us into at the very beginning of Leviathan Wakes. It's already all in place, uh, that I think is, is really gonna be relevant for, for our Planetary Radio audience. I wonder how much of that system-wide civilization and economy that you've designed. A lot of it is made a lot easier because of one technological development. You know the one I'm thinking of, right? The Epstein Drive or is it Epstein?
Ty Franck: Yeah, right.
Daniel Abraham: I don't know 'cause-
Ty Franck: He's dead, we don't get to ask about...
Daniel Abraham: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: That allows everybody to get places a lot faster than they would with propulsion technology we know about now. Do you think that that kind of universe, excuse me, that kind of solar system that you created, would it have been practical without this way, and we should say it's not like warp drive, it's just a really efficient way of creating a rocket to get people from [00:14:00] here to there?
Ty Franck: Yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's just a fusion reactor with the little afterburner on it. No, I mean, I think the, the reality is that while we will certainly send more stuff out into the solar system and, you know, they're talking about a permanent base on the moon, which is great. Talking about many exploration of Mars, which is really cool. The economic argument for massive expansion of the solar system is a difficult one to make right now, especially when you can use robots to do things.
It feels unlikely for that reason, but, uh, you know, as we've often said, we don't find robots interesting to write about, so we didn't do that version of the future. I mean, if, if you're looking at where we are now and the likelihood of the future, that seems much more likely is that if we wanna mine something off of a asteroid, we sent robots out to do it.
Mat Kaplan: In your solar system, in your universe, there are three major factions, you've got Earth, you've got Mars, and you have those fascinating folks, the belters who really [00:15:00] occupy more than just the big asteroids in the belt, right?
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. No, that's [crosstalk 00:15:04]-
Ty Franck: ... anything beyond Mars really.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. The belters, I guess, at least their, their ancestors, they went out there to get away from-
Daniel Abraham: Well, or they went out there to, uh, make money or, uh, I mean, I don't think it was that first wave of migration was built on the idea of making an independent autonomous space so much as finding ways to get lots of money for getting platinum. Uh, you know, that's, that's, uh, so much of human migration is driven by those kind of immediate family and size, monetary and economic issues. That's, that's how it's been through a lot of history and it's how we imagined it going forward.
Mat Kaplan: So not so much pilgrims trying to avoid oppression and set up their own oppressive society, but the profit motive.
Ty Franck: Yeah. Almost everything that happens happens because somebody thinks they can make money off of [00:16:00] it.
Mat Kaplan: And yet these belters, they get a pretty raw deal overall.
Daniel Abraham: Well, many people are wrong. [laughing].
Ty Franck: Well, I mean, uh, it's a pretty clear line from them to our modern earth. You know, the, the people in, in the DRC who dig up coltan, which is an incredibly valuable mineral, they're not rich. If people dig the coltan up don't ever get rich from that. So the, the idea of that just because you're the person who does the manual labor that extracts the valuable resource, that's often not connected to who actually makes money on that resource.
Um, and so, we are sort of riffing on that, that the people who went out and dug these things up in this incredibly dangerous environment in space, they're not the ones who get rich off of it. Somebody back on earth [crosstalk 00:16:42] later in Mars-
Daniel Abraham: Has found a way to leverage that.
Ty Franck: Yeah. The- they're the ones who get rich off of it. And that, that just feels very real.
Mat Kaplan: They get their revenge, of course.
Daniel Abraham: Well, again, we, we read a lot of history. Uh, and one of the things you see a lot through history are, is this [00:17:00] cycle of oppression and, uh, kind of institutionalized cruelty then playing out over generations. It becomes, uh, a cultural fact. It becomes a, a, uh, a thing that is passed down from generation to generation. Uh, and, yeah, it, it fuels future conflicts. And as long as you have those wounds that aren't healed, they keep flaring back up.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. The more I learned about the delters and their society, the more I thought of the great Marshall McLuhan quote, First we shape our tools and then our tools shape us, which I guess would apply to the worlds we live on or inside of as well. Are you ever sorry that on the TV series they can't physically represent belters the way you guys, they really have become almost not a different species, but they're very different even physically from the way we are here on earth.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, o- on the other hand, we have a long history of finding [00:18:00] other physical traits to be prejudiced about, so I, i- it's, it's nice that we have one, especially for the books where we can talk about that kind of prejudice and racism without actually co-opting anybody's lived experience here.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Daniel Abraham: It would have been interesting if we could do that visually, but I, I feel like we did a pretty good job making a separate culture.
Ty Franck: Yeah, but, uh, there's also an argument to be made that if the belters were very visibly different from everybody else in the way, same way they are on the books, that the average viewer who hasn't read the books just sees them as an alien race, which sort of messes up the whole point of the thing.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, yeah.
Ty Franck: Because the whole point, and somebody earlier was asking, you know, which faction do we, do we, uh, side with, and, you know, sort of the thesis of the, of the series is that factionalism is the problem, that picking sides is the problem, that tribalism is the problem. And so, if you give a viewer a way to easily identify tribes, in some ways, [00:19:00] that sort of takes away from the message that you're trying to, uh, send.
Mat Kaplan: There is one scene, at least only one that I know of in the TV series where you do see a belter who looks the way you described, it's gotta be CGI. It's a guy who's like in a dungeon.
Daniel Abraham: Hung on hooks, yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Do you-
Daniel Abraham: There're, they're [crosstalk 00:19:17].
Ty Franck: Yeah, there's, there's a scene in a bar early on, uh, in the first season where a very tall guy walks by, uh-
Daniel Abraham: ... and then one, one guy, the, the Zocalo, who was giving stuff to, uh, Miller and [inaudible 00:19:31] was-
Ty Franck: Yeah, that-
Daniel Abraham: ... he was amazing.
Ty Franck: Yeah. So we do, we do try to find these very tall, thin people that we cast. And the idea being that they're the extreme version of that, the ones who grew up in very low gravity environments, that sort of extreme physiology.
Mat Kaplan: Ignoring the, the physical changes that have taken place, I think the TV series does a pretty good job of capturing how culturally different belters have become, where they've developed basically their own language [00:20:00] or Patois or what, dialect. It's really, it's fascinating. And the way that they use their hands to communicate because they're so used to being in pressure suits. All of what you guys created.
Daniel Abraham: Well, all of which we stole from other places. I mean, let's, let's be, let's be fair about that. The, the hand gestures are speculating up off of scuba diving now.
Ty Franck: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, Ty was talking about the, the Belter, uh, Creole being our version of Greek fisherman's language, where you have people who are from a bunch of different countries with a bunch of different languages all working the same waters and doing the same job. Yeah. You find ways to communicate, and that becomes its own thing.
Ty Franck: Yeah. You sort of, you take the word from each language that best describes a thing, and that becomes a new language. It's just all the best words.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Ty Franck: If you assume that every country on earth sent people out into space, that's hundreds of languages, those people will have to find a way to talk to each other, and that you wind up sort of a new thing.
Mat Kaplan: It's a [00:21:00] great synthesis. I love reading. When, I, just a few days ago, I don't, I had meant to read for ages, the short story, The Butcher of Anderson Station. Finally read it a few days ago. It's wonderful. And there is a lot of belter speech in there, and it's just, it's great to read.
Daniel Abraham: Well, the, the, the version we have in the books is what you might call not rigorous. Um, it was built to, uh, have an effect and to, uh, create, uh, an experience for the reader. It wasn't built to, um, accurately represent linguistic drift. For the show, it's much more rigorous and accurate.
Mat Kaplan: Did, did somebody... wa- was somebody brought in?
Ty Franck: Oh, yeah, we hired a linguist-
Mat Kaplan: Wow. Okay.
Ty Franck: ... to, to create a language.
Daniel Abraham: We are not linguists.
Mat Kaplan: We-
Daniel Abraham: That is not something we do.
Mat Kaplan: But we should add, you guys are both producers on the show, right?
Ty Franck: Yes.
Daniel Abraham: We are, yes.
Ty Franck: We are more involved in the show than any other writer I know has [00:22:00] been involved with anything they have had adapted from the, it's weird. We are in a very strange space with that.
Mat Kaplan: I'm glad of it. I have to mention one other almost little throw away short scene. It can't last more than three seconds. It is in the television series. I think it says something about the accuracy that they've, that all of you have gone for it in the TV series, and it's where somebody is pouring a drink, and they're on one of the asteroids that the belters live in. You could see, as the liquid is poured, it goes a little bit to the side. Coriolis effect-
Daniel Abraham: 'Cause it's a fixed station.
Mat Kaplan: Damn that's good. [laughing].
Daniel Abraham: No, it's very exaggerated.
Mat Kaplan: So you can see.
Daniel Abraham: So you can actually see it 'cause it would be, in reality, it would be much less exaggerated than that. But that curve would be there. But we wanted to make sure it was visible to the viewer. Yeah.
We try to, we try to go for a universe in which like inertia works and [00:23:00] gravity works, and it turns out that's enough to make people think you're hard science fiction as opposed to, soft little kind of, uh, you get a lot of credit for that.
Mat Kaplan: But that's one of the great things about the books and the TV series, I think. 'Cause I know that the two of you also collaborated on a Star Wars novel.
Daniel Abraham: We did. That was less rigorous. That was, uh, there was actually... Funny thing, the, the, the, the climax of that Star Wars novel had some things going on that were ridiculous. Um, there was a point where we were getting ready to kind of choreograph the final battle and Ty was going, but this would never, this, this is not popular. So it's Star Wars. That's fine.
Ty Franck: Which is why I think of it as a fantasy series rather than a science fiction series.
Daniel Abraham: Which is perfectly legitimate, and nothing wrong with that.
Mat Kaplan: But The Expanses is science fiction. It's good science fiction.
Daniel Abraham: Well, I like science. [crosstalk 00:23:56].
Ty Franck: It's okay. Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: [00:24:00] Everybody here has a much higher opinion of your work, I think.
Ty Franck: No-
Mat Kaplan: Don't you, guys?
Mat Kaplan: Right.
Ty Franck: I have an extremely high opinion of my own work. Uh, what I don't have, what I don't have I don't have a high opinion of is, uh, my grasp of, uh, rigorous science. I'm not a scientist.
Daniel Abraham: A lot of the stuff that we brought, all the science that we brought to it, we brought to it because they were things that we already loved, and we already knew, and we had already spent our time learning about out of love, out of, out of kind of an interest in the subject. We have done very little research specifically for the books or for the show. We've done a lot of research just because we liked being educated. And then we used that-
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: ... for the show. There's a, there's an old quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, uh, never marry for money, go where the money is, then marry for love. We didn't study in order to do this. We made this out of the stuff that we'd already studied.
Ty Franck: Maybe that's one of the reasons it's such a great series of [00:25:00] books.
Mat Kaplan: More from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, creators of The Expanse is just ahead.
Hey, everybody, it's Matt with another opportunity to talk to you about the great courses plus. And in, particular, one course that I'm gonna get to in a moment. But as I have mentioned, they have thousands of lectures from dark matter to ancient Egypt to, uh, the art of negotiating, to cooking, and, of course, with the great courses, plus you have access to all of these great streaming programs from terrific instructors, including Sabina Stanley, who is the, uh, professor who teaches a field guide to the planets. Uh, this is outstanding. I wish I could play a sample of this course for you. It is absolutely terrific. The graphics are great. It even gives honorable mention to LightSail. It is a, a terrific way to learn more about the basis of all the stuff that we talk about.
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I was gonna leave the belt behind, and I was gonna talk about characters later, but there's one character-
Daniel Abraham: Okay, go for it.
Mat Kaplan: My favorite belter, Joe Miller, who is just-
Daniel Abraham: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: ... I mean, straight out of some war novel except it's happening in space.
Daniel Abraham: So one of the things that's really interesting about science fiction generally is that there's not a basic science fiction story with almost every other genre. When you pick it up, do you know what you're getting? If you pick up a, uh, a romance novel, either they're gonna hate each other and fall in love or love each other and die, depending if it's Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet.
[00:27:00] I- if you have a mystery novel, there's gonna be a crime and someone's going to solve it. If you have, you know, any of those have the story that they're working off, that they're riffing on, they're in conversation with. Science fiction doesn't do that. Science fiction, you could be picking up an Ursula Le Guin thing that's this amazing sociological treatise with this very thoughtful plot wrapped around it. You could be picking up an action film in book form. You could be picking up whatever it was Philip K. Dick was doing. 'Cause that guy was a little weird by the end. [laughing].
Um, and then they all fall under science fiction. So one of the things we got to do with The Expanse was talk to ge- different genres along the way. Leviathan Wakes was definitely our science fiction guar and Caliban's War was our science fiction political thriller. And the Batten's Gait was our science fiction, haunted house story. And Cibola Burn was our science fiction western. And then, there's room, there's room in [00:28:00] science fiction to do that.
Mat Kaplan: You gotta, for the uninitiated, give, you know, the elevator speech bio of Joe Miller. And don't forget the hat.
Daniel Abraham: Joe Miller is a, uh, a detective for Star Helix security doing, uh, police work, private police work on Ceres Station, one of the great port cities of the belt. He wears in the books a pork pie hat and is caught between being a, a belter, a man who's a native of his city. And the enforcement arm of, uh, government that's very distant and fairly oppressive, and he's a little broken by it.
Ty Franck: The thing that always amazes me is... I mean, we did deliberately wrote nowhere to be problematic and a little creepy-
Daniel Abraham: And, yeah.
Ty Franck: It gets creepier, it goes through a lot of changes.
Daniel Abraham: The number of people who, who just love him unabashedly always surprise me. I'm like, you know, he's creepy, right?
Ty Franck: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: [00:29:00] I mean, he, he's deliberately creepy 'cause we wanted that guy to have that particular story but he's, he's sort of accidentally heroic rather than like deliberately heroic. 'Cause I, it always surprises me when people are like, "Oh, he's the biggest hero of the thing."
Ty Franck: It's like [inaudible 00:29:15].
Daniel Abraham: Yeah, kinda.
Ty Franck: Yeah. On the other hand, [inaudible 00:29:19][laughing].
Daniel Abraham: I mean, don't, don't scrape the romance plot on that one too hard cause what's underneath the Chrome is not necessarily, yeah.
Ty Franck: And he's a little, he's a little, uh-
Daniel Abraham: He's unhealthy. He's deeply unhealthy. It's noir. [laughing] That's what, that's what noir means.
Ty Franck: And he's, and he's very easy going about casual motor.
Daniel Abraham: Yep.
Ty Franck: You know.
Daniel Abraham: And he's very comfortable with making, uh, unilateral decisions, uh, on behalf of-
Ty Franck: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: ... whoever. Really.
Mat Kaplan: What does he say? Watch the corners, and doors-
Daniel Abraham: Doors and corners.
Mat Kaplan: [crosstalk 00:29:54]. Ah, he's a great character. I don't care what you say. Um, let's go to [00:30:00] Mars.
Daniel Abraham: Let's go to Mars.
Mat Kaplan: First of all, you've got two more outstanding characters from there who are, are more favorites of mine. The utterly bad-ass, Bobby Draper, who's a, a Martian Marine and, uh, Alex, Alex-
Daniel Abraham: Alex Kamala.
Mat Kaplan: The pilot of, uh, of our, of our favorite interplanetary spaceship. Yeah. Is it Rossinante? Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Daniel Abraham: Well, if you're mispronouncing it, so am I.
Mat Kaplan: All right. Which we'll get to when we maybe talk a little bit about James Holden and friends. Again, stealing from history but Mars is, is the United States. tell us what's going on on Mars is the series, as the series begins.
Ty Franck: It's the colony that breaks off from its Imperial founders and becomes a military power in its own right. And, you know, if earth is England then, then Mars is sort of the United States. But they're a culture, uh, different from the U.S, in that there are culture with a [00:31:00] singular purpose in a way that we are not, um, their purpose is to, uh, at least at the beginning, to Terraform Mars and to make it, you know, a planet you can live on, and breathe on, and, and grow plants on. Um, and they have been working on that for, at that point in the books, you know, over 100 years. Um, and it's a generational project.
It's, uh, we have a character talk about it like a cathedral in the, in the medieval period where the guy who laid the first stones of a cathedral, his great grandchildren laid the last stones and finished the cathedral-
Mat Kaplan: That's great.
Ty Franck: .... so that generational thinking.
Mat Kaplan: One of the great tragedies of the series is that that basis of Martian society gets lost. It gets stripped away.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. When, as, as happens with everybody over, and over, and over, history moves past you. And the plans that you had don't necessarily, uh, match the plans that the world has for you. Yeah. If I have a philosophy, it can be boiled down to the universe [00:32:00] doesn't care what you think.
Mat Kaplan: They're not the best of friends with, uh, us down here on old earth. You take us at least to the brink of war, right. Between earth and Mars. Yup. It's happened before. I mean, you said if the Martians, the United States, you've got not just independence, but 18, 12, and some friction even after that.
Daniel Abraham: Part of the stories about imperialism and when you have two superpowers, and then a whole lot of also rans, uh, you're going to get a lot of jockeying, and you're going to get the super sort of bumping each other to assert their control over everything else. Um, and that's, you know, we're fortunate that we never went into an open war with the USSR, but there were certainly many times when it seemed like we would do that.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Daniel Abraham: And there were certainly a lot of proxy wars where USSR and the United States weren't at war, but there was a war going on in some little country somewhere that was clearly about those two ideologies.
Mat Kaplan: It was a locally hot war, even if overall was cold.
Daniel Abraham: Right. So, so, I mean, that sort of thing. [00:33:00] I find it very unbelievable that with two superpowers, you're not going to have that sort of thing going on.
Mat Kaplan: I wanna go to earth by way of, if there is a central character in the story, it is the wonderful James Holden. I mean, I wrote down here on my notes, he's utterly heroic to me, but he's also what? Irritating, eccentric, idealistic. I mean, he's only vice seems to be his coffee addiction.
Daniel Abraham: I don't know that the people who, uh, have to deal with him, but agree that that's his only vice. I, I think, I think that idealism and that sometimes naive, uh, certainty and, uh, the irritation. I think the, I think those counters vices for folks too.
Mat Kaplan: But he keeps getting it right. Now, before we go there, tell us who James Holden is and why he becomes so wrapped up in saving humanity over and over.
Daniel Abraham: Uh, he's only defining characteristic is he has a hard time, uh, accepting authority from himself or from [00:34:00] others. His great naivety is that, that everybody is basically good. And if everyone had perfect information, they would make the right decision, which is thinking much better of humans than probably most of us do. So the idea that a, a, a central authority should tell everyone what is true, he finds that very problematic. Um, what he believes is that don't listen to the authority that's telling you what's true about the universe. Find out for yourself. You'll make the right choice. I know you will. And the other side of that is he's always disappointed.
Mat Kaplan: And we, we talk about him, especially in the books as being kind of the Holy fool. He's the one who's going through the universe constantly trying to do the right thing and, and be a decent human being. And sometimes that means being incredibly heroic.
Ty Franck: And he keeps blundering into getting it right. Well, Mike gets it wrong a lot too, but yeah, but-
Mat Kaplan: He's never ill intention
Ty Franck: He fails forward. You know, you, you, [00:35:00] you get things wrong and you get things wrong. You get things wrong, and then you stumble across the thing that was right. A character who always gets everything right, is boring.
Mat Kaplan: He builds up this little family, which we should talk about the other members of that family at least briefly. And they have this wonderful home that roams the solar system.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah. Well, that's not good about-
Mat Kaplan: That again, for he last little bit about that, again, for anybody who is, the misfortune, of have not had the exposure to The Expanse.
Daniel Abraham: The rasadante is a salvaged Martian worship, salvaged, perfectly legitimate, not stolen. That was not how the Martian Navy sees it. There's some, there's some, there's some legal action. We do have some, uh-
Mat Kaplan: True.
Daniel Abraham: Um, and it is crude by four, well, between four and six folks throughout the series from Mars, from the belt, from earth. They're really the lens that we use to tell the whole story. And part of the reason we've done that is that it is a crew that is mars and the earth and the bell- [00:36:00] all of the factions are represented and become something kind of special because of that.
Mat Kaplan: The ship punches above its weight.
Daniel Abraham: Often.
Mat Kaplan: Uh, the two other major characters that we haven't talked about, and I got, there are so many. I love Christian and, uh, what's his name, Fred Johnson.
Daniel Abraham: Fred Johnson.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, What a great character. But you got to talk about Amos and maybe start with Naomi.
Daniel Abraham: Naomi is our, our, uh, representative on the ship of the belt. She's, uh, an engineer, mostly self taught who was part of a, uh, a radical fringe in the, the belt, uh, that was shooting for belter independence and social justice that has verged off into a social injustice on a different scale. We, we, we talk about them in terms of Hezbollah and the IRA and people who are [00:37:00] militant. She is a recovering militant, yeah. Throughout the books. And wh- if somebody who has seen kind of tribalism through to its logical conclusion that is unimpressed, then Amos is, I don't know how to describe, Amos. Amos-
Mat Kaplan: I'll tell you if anybody beats Joe Miller just for being an absolute delight and full of surprises. It's Amos.
Ty Franck: Yeah. Amos seems like it. I, I write, uh, almost all the Amos dialogue have done in the books and now I do on the show. Um, and actually, it's funny 'cause West who plays Amos on the show, when a new script comes out, he'll come running up to me. Like, you haven't done an Amos pass on this. This is a right, which is very flattering. But, um, yeah, he's just, he's the guy who lives at the back of my head that I mostly ignore, so I'm not imprisoned. Um-
He's, he's a bit amoral.
Daniel Abraham: No, he, yeah, he is absolutely amoral. Uh, Amos is, uh, is a guy who is a survivor [00:38:00] and is absolutely about solving the problem as quickly as possible. Um, and if you're the problem then consults you and-
Ty Franck: And that, that can be unpleasant.
Daniel Abraham: You know, There's, there's very little animosity there. It's like, Oh, you've made yourself a problem, now you need to go away. Nothing personal.
Mat Kaplan: He's something of a sociopath. And, and, and morally in his devotion to [crosstalk 00:38:22] his right.
Ty Franck: No, uh, what he has is, uh, w- we, we-
Daniel Abraham: We actually, yeah, we dug into this, and he's sort of a sociopath. He's, uh-
Ty Franck: What's the...
Daniel Abraham: Profoundly dissociative.
Ty Franck: Dissociative. Yeah, he's dissociated disorder where you have difficulty making emotional connections to other people and, and that sort of thing. I'd say it's a common, uh, result of childhood trauma, which he had lots of, which he had when children are, are learning early on that they can never trust anyone, that changes the way their brain works. And then they become adults who don't trust anybody-
Daniel Abraham: Don't trust anybody and never make connections. Uh, we make Amos a little different in that he is aware of what he is, um, [00:39:00] because he's very smart. So in those same way that, that, uh, functioning sociopaths can build an intellectual conscience rather than an emotional one, he sort of has built an intellectual conscience for himself where he understands that the things he does are not good. He understands the ways in which he can be better. And even though it's not a thing he does naturally, he sort of has built, uh, an aftermarket version of a conscience, sort of latches onto people who he thinks are good. And then it's constantly running a sub routine in his head going, what would DME do in this situation? Probably not kill bad guy, so I'm not going to kill that guy, right? And that's, that's how he sort of fills in for that.
Mat Kaplan: You mentioned the guy who plays Amos Wes, he's awesome. To me, everybody on the TV series, those are the faces in my head when I read the books now. It just seems to me like this is some of the best casting ever.
Daniel Abraham: It seems like that now. I mean, it's not that good now because they're good. [00:40:00] When we first started up the show, there were a lot of people who were very skeptical and thought we'd, we'd done a terrible job and then the actors stepped into the roles. Uh, there's this kind of backwards casting thing that happens where, by doing that we have been able to reframe the books. 'Cause, yeah, I think most people when they read Amos now think of West even though they don't actually look the same.
Ty Franck: Yeah. They, if you read the description of the book, they don't actually look anything alike. But Wes sort of embodies Amos's soul in a way that it doesn't matter.
Mat Kaplan: Are there any other characters that you'd like to say something about to the fans here?
Ty Franck: People always ask, you know, da- did making this show change the way you think of the characters in books? And the answer is, no, they're very separate things to me. But the one crossover is Sharia Dosh Lu.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Ty Franck: That is the voice of a mozzarella now, even when I'm riding the bus Raleigh now, even though they don't look anything alike when I write, [00:41:00] that's the voice I hear.
Mat Kaplan: She's very good.
Ty Franck: She is awesome.
Mat Kaplan: And t- tell people about Christian, she have the foul mouth and great power at the United Nations.
Daniel Abraham: So Christian [inaudible 00:41:10]h, it was our, our uh, political view into The Expanse universe. She was the deputy under secretary to the attorney or to the secretary general. I think that's right. Yeah. When we were planning out the second book, I'm talking about this a little bit, when we're planning at the second book, um, we had kind of the roles we wanted, you know, we didn't know what the coup the characters were, but we knew we wanted to have the, the political operative, and we knew we wanted to have the, the mother who has lost her child and is the refugee who is trying to get her kid back. And we knew we wanted to have the Marine. One of the things we decided to do was gender flip the expected roles. The Marine is Bobby Draper, the parent who's lost their kid and just try to track it as pracs. Um, who's a father, who's lost a kid. And we took the, the political powerhouse and made [00:42:00] her this little East Indian grandma who was also channeling Rahm Emanuel.
Um, so the way that she moves through the world is by making you uncomfortable, by making you blush first. As we went to, to cast that, we got Sharia Dash Lou who is this amazing actor and was able to embody this kind of profoundly powerful human being who just walks in the room and commands the room. Just it's hers now. She is the queen.
Ty Franck: She is the queen.
Daniel Abraham: The is the queen. The queen must be obeyed. And she has, she's been delightful to work with and I think she's been delighted to get to be Christian, novice. While I think it's given her permission to do some things she might not have done otherwise. She's certainly curses more now than she did when I first met her. [laughing]. She feels much more at home.
Mat Kaplan: Anybody who may have just joined us. I'm Mat Kaplan, a Planetary Radio [00:43:00] from the Planetary Society, and we are talking with the authors of The Expanse, that wonderful series of books and now headed into the fourth season of the great TV series that everybody ought to be watching. Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, and we have a lot of their fans here today.
Uh, we are here as the guests of the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Throughout everything that you guys have talked about, you've constantly related the action, the locations, the characters back to our world here in the troubled first part of the 21st century. Clearly, that was something you intended from the start time, right?
Ty Franck: Anytime you write, you're writing your experience, even if you're writing about 10,000 years in the future. I mean Dune, which was written, you know, 30,000 years in the future, he's writing about oil, and he's writing about the middle East and he's writing about the freedom fighters in the middle East and, and, and what [00:44:00] happens to your, your civilization, your culture when suddenly an incredibly valuable resource is discovered in your, in your home.
Um, so he was writing about the time he lived in. Uh, and I think everybody does that. You, you take the things that, you know, the time you live in, the things you worry about or, or think about and you then project future versions of those. But, uh, I don't know how else you, right.
Daniel Abraham: And that's, and that's part of, I mean, we were joking, but when I say come back in 50 years, um, it's possible that the things that seem really, uh, powerful about the books right now, the thing that they really speak to us as we are living through this moment. Um, if, if and my fingers are crossed here, um, we solved some of those problems. If we, uh, move past some of those problems, if the winds up being, uh, the things that we've chosen to build our, our story on are really [00:45:00] of the moment, um, then we will fade quickly.
And in a way, that would be a blessing because the things we're dealing with at the moment are kind of terrible. Um, if on the other hand, the future rhymes with history, uh, maybe we'll, maybe we'll continue to speak to whatever is happening then.
Mat Kaplan: Uh, Ray Bradbury's quote about why do you write about such terrible futures? He said, because we, so that you won't have to live in them. Um, but like all great fiction, your characters are wonderfully complex. There are no pure bad guys, I don't think, or pure good guys in the stories. And in this very technologically advanced future that you write of, human nature doesn't seem to have changed much. You don't think it's going to change much in a couple of 100 years, do you?
Ty Franck: So humans have existed in basically this shape for we think about 150,000 years. Um, and whenever we find stuff that is older than the stuff we had done before, we find tools, we find weapons, we find paintings, it [00:46:00] paints a picture of humans that are basically just exactly like us, but they didn't have, they didn't have smart phones, they didn't have cars. They care about the same things. They, they, they worry about the future. Yeah.
So I, a big influence on, on my writing and my view of things is, is, uh, you know, there's the story of um, uh, Gilgamesh, uh, and, and it's one of the earliest stories ever, sort of orally transmitted and then eventually written down. And the thing Gilgamesh is worried about his death. He's worried about like his friend has died and will his friend be remembered and, and is there a way to avoid death, and how can you make yourself matter after you're gone? We still worry about that stuff right now. That hasn't changed. And that, that was first, you know, people were telling that story thousands of years ago.
So I don't feel like the things we care about, and the things that we want, um, and the things that we get in wrong change all that much from generation to generation.
Mat Kaplan: Daniel, anything to add?
Daniel Abraham: I think it's the same [00:47:00] organism. I think that the organism does not change. I think the technology around it changes. And that's what, that's the, that's the ratchet of history. The cyclic part of history is Jackie. And to see who gets to sit next to the cute guy, it's what we're doing. It's what we've always done.
Mat Kaplan: I'm gonna hold my last couple of questions and go now to our audience, which is loaded with fans of The Expanse.
Speaker 5: [inaudible 00:47:25] human nature has been the same for 150,000 years since, uh, [inaudible 00:47:34].
Daniel Abraham: I, I- [crosstalk 00:47:36]
Mat Kaplan: The question is you talked about we go back 150,000 years or behavior hasn't changed much. I'm guessing that our precursor hominids probably were all so kind of mixed on this issue. Uh, he's asking you don't think consciousness has evolved somewhat and he, he uses the example of the two of you saying you're feminists.
Daniel Abraham: I have hope that it does. Um, you know, that if I'm ever [00:48:00] hopeful about anything, that is my hope. Um, I think that we can train ourselves to be better, but I think it takes effort. And I think, I think if you don't put in the effort, if you don't try to be better, the default position is not a great one because we've, we've, we very quickly default back to there's a problem, I should stab it with something pointy. Um, and, and we've seen a number of times in recent history where civilization has broken down because of some natural disaster, whatever.
Um, and how quickly we go back to stab it with something pointy, take it stuff. It's kind of shocking how fast we go back to that. So, yes, I'm very hopeful that we can train ourselves to be better than we are. And I think we do. Do I think that has changed the biology of what we are. I don't think it has yet.
Ty Franck: I'm the optimist in the group. The formulation I have is the debates that we have about feminism, the debates we have about [00:49:00] cultural identity, the debates we have about whether to accept refugees into our culture, our debates that we were having before we had written language, the role, roles of men and women, the roles of gender in society are all conversations that have been going on forever, always.
And yeah, we're still having them and we're going to keep on having, and we have fumbled forward, uh, stupidly, painfully, hurting each other and, and yet also making amazing things and making new progress and capable of tremendous acts of kindness and of generosity. And I don't see the future changing either of those. I don't see the future making us perfect, and I don't see the future making this monstrous. I think we're going to continue bumbling along through the future just the way we have bumbled along through the past.
Mat Kaplan: I will give you one more shot out there since these guys seem to be happy to [00:50:00] talk with you-
Daniel Abraham: They're fans-
Ty Franck: ... they seem to be happy to talk.
Daniel Abraham: ... of the Expanse. [laughing].
Speaker 6: So when you're not producing a television, what is your writing process? It sounds like you have brainstorming session and then-
Mat Kaplan: The writing process, uh, when you're not doing the TV show, and when can we expect to see the end of The Expanse?
Ty Franck: The last book?
Daniel Abraham: Uh, well we outlined together, we, we, we start off by having a very long outline of a whole book, um, in very simple like one line chapter, uh, descriptions, most of which is wrong. Um, then we outline each chapter as we're starting to write it. I hand my stuff to Ty, Ty hands his stuff to me. We edit each other's stuff, stick it on the back of a master document and then do the next couple chapters, and do the next couple of chapters, until that big outline is clearly wrong. And then we make another big outline, and then keep going until it's done. And yeah, we're working on the last book. The, the last book will be [00:51:00] out, uh, I expect next year-
Ty Franck: It'll be out eventually.
Daniel Abraham: Again, I'm the optimist.
Mat Kaplan: All right, the TV show, the fourth season. And you must be, I mean, what do you have to do for Jeff Bezos whenever you see him? Because he rescued the series from Syfy.
Daniel Abraham: You know, um, the times we have hung out with Jeff Bezos, we've pretty much just hung out. There were marshmallows, there were very good marshmallows. All I, all I-
Ty Franck: It's a really nice open bar.
Daniel Abraham: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Gets it all on Amazon, I'm sure, by the case. I'll wrap it up and give you the chance to tell us if you wanted readers and viewers to leave with anything other than feeling they'd had a great time reading or viewing The Expanse, what do you think it, what would you want it to be?
Ty Franck: The philosophy from the books that I think most resonates with me, and it's actually something Daniel wrote, and it pisses me off because it's something he wrote for one of my characters. So it [00:52:00] makes me really angry that he came up with this line. But, uh, one of our characters says we're gonna be good together. All of our lives, we should be gentle with each other. That is sort of, I think, the philosophy of The Expanse.
Daniel Abraham: I can't top that.
Mat Kaplan: Wouldn't you also say that one of the major lessons of the entire series television and books is stay the hell away from TV. [laughing].
Daniel Abraham: Well, you know, what's your risk tolerance?
Mat Kaplan: Well, it is my great pleasure as a representative of the planetary society and I only have one, I'm afraid she'll have to split it to present you with his genuine piece of Phoebe. Oh, be careful how you handle it and you can fight over that. Of course people do in the books of course.
And there is so much more for you true fans out there who are listening to us or are here with us at the InterPlanetary Festival, that we could have talked about across this entire wonderful series of eight books. So far, we haven't even mentioned the Protomolecule except in that last reference. [00:53:00] And boy, does it drive a lot of what is still to come. Um, all I can say is I am a true fan. I cannot wait for the last book or the fourth season. I bet everybody here feels the same way. Please join me in thanking Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the creators of The Expanse. I'll be right back with Bruce Betts and what's up.
Casey Dreier: I know you're a fan of space because you're listening to Planetary Radio right now, but if you want to take that extra step to be not just a fan but an advocate, I hope you'll join me, Casey Dryer, the chief advocate here at the Planetary Society at our annual day of action this February 9th and 10th in Washington, D.C. That's when members from across the country come to D.C. and meet with members of Congress face to face and advocate for space. To learn more, go to planetary.org/dayofaction.
Mat Kaplan: Time for what's up on Planetary Radio. Bruce Betts is the chief [00:54:00] scientist of the Planetary Society. He is back to talk to us about what's up in the night sky, and I hope to help us celebrate a little bit, something that, uh, we knew it was coming, but we couldn't talk about when I talked to Bill Nye a couple of weeks ago about, about LightSail 2, we've gotten another award.
Bruce Betts: We did indeed. Popular science has, uh, chosen LightSail 2 as its grand award winner in aerospace for the, uh, top innovations in 2019, and we'd beat out some pretty big competition. So we're quite, quite proud of that.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I hope that, you know, people at Boeing, and SpaceX, and elsewhere are still gonna talk to us [laughs] after this 'cause we beat all of them.
Bruce Betts: Maybe they won't notice.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Anyway, it is, it is quite, uh, an accomplishment, and, and we thank Popular Science and, and thank you to you and the rest of the team, uh, for once again proving that we were onto something great [00:55:00] with it.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. Worked out well and, uh, we're still flying, and still tweaking issues, and still figuring out how to solar sail more efficiently as we slowly, slowly drop closer to the atmospheric drag.
Mat Kaplan: Well, we don't wanna go there just yet, but let's-
Bruce Betts: No, no.
Mat Kaplan: ... let's, let's go on up to the night sky.
Bruce Betts: And the night sky in the evening, Phoenix getting higher, super bright, brightest star like object out there in the West in the early evening. Below that now, just below it is Saturn looking yellowish and, uh, it will continue dropping. So check it out. In the pre-dawn sky, you got Mars over in the east looking reddish into its upper-right spica, the blueish star of Virgo.
And if you're catching this early on, Geminids meteor shower peaks December 13th, 14th. It's got a full moon this year, so it won't be as spectacular, but it is on average the best meteor shower in the [00:56:00] year. So if you have some patients, you should be able to still check things out, and even for a couple of days after that. Onto this weekend space history, it was 1972 that Apollo 17 successfully landed and left the moon, the final humans to visit the moon, 1972.
Mat Kaplan: The end of the Apollo 50th anniversary season is, uh, is still three years away. So, uh, we've got a ways to go.
Bruce Betts: And depending on whether you count the Apollo-Soyuz test program, even another three years, well, we'll argue that in three years.
Mat Kaplan: Okay. [laughs].
Bruce Betts: We like to plan our arguments ahead of time. We find out who takes which side, I don't know.
Mat Kaplan: It's much safer this way.
Bruce Betts: Onto random space fact. Just didn't have the energy in it today. Sorry. So, uh, we're gonna start with some definitions and move to something quite interesting. It's the old solar [00:57:00] day versus sidereal day. A solar day is how long it takes an object to have the sun come back up to the same point in the sky. So like one noon to another noon, it's 24 hours on earth. A sidedereal day is how long it takes the object to rotate relative to the fixed stars. So not counting the orbit around the sun. And so for earth, that's 23 hours, and 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds.
Okay, that's interesting. But they're really close. But you get really weird when you talk like about some other planets, say Venus, it takes, uh, 243 days to rotate on a sidereal day, rotate on its axis relative to the fixed stars. Takes only 116 days, 117 to do a solar day for the sun to come back to the same point in the sky. Of course, there is a catch with Venus, that if you're on the surface [00:58:00] and survived and didn't melt, you can see the sun anyway. So I don't know what the point of this whole exercise.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Well, I don't know. It may matter to the venusians.
Bruce Betts: All right. We move on to the trivia contest. I asked you what is the largest known object in our solar system that has not been visited by spacecraft with notes, flybys, counters, visits, and we are not counting the sun. How did we do, Matt?
Mat Kaplan: We had a, a minority of respondents who thought it was palace, uh, that asteroid in, in the belt, right?
Bruce Betts: Yeah. Palace is much smaller, and it is next in line, uh, since we've done series and bested it's next in line for an asteroid. But the asteroids are much smaller than those things way out in the outer solar system, at least, the largest of them. So-
Mat Kaplan: Here's the one I think you wanted, and I know I'm gonna read this from a friend of the planetary society, friend of Planetary Radio, one of our volunteers who's a regular listener and [00:59:00] entrant in the contest, Ocean MacIntyre here in, SoCal, Southern California.
Bruce Betts: Excellent.
Mat Kaplan: Eris is the largest named object in the solar system that has not been visited. And then she put in parentheses, unless you mean planet nine, but since it hasn't been physically seen, shrug, she walks right out. [laughing].
Bruce Betts: Yeah. I wou- I wouldn't count it as known, but uh, it is maybe there, we're hoping.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Well, you know, signs point to, but she's right. But our winner is Royal Snarly. Royal Snarly up in Ketchikan, Alaska, it has been almost two years since Royal's last win. He agreed that Eris is that largest known object in the, in our solar system that has not yet been visited by a spacecraft. I guess there aren't any in any other solar systems that have been visited. So not by us anyway.
Bruce Betts: No, not, not by us, anyway.
Mat Kaplan: Royal, we're gonna send you a Planetary Radio T-shirt that you [01:00:00] can check out in the Planetary Society firstname.lastname@example.org. I like it a lot. I wear it. I, anyway, we also got from Mel Powell also in Southern California. He says, although at 884-ish episodes that's 17 by 52, the vault of high quality, big fun, lots of learning Planetary Radio episodes might be slightly larger than eris, but he's unaware of any flybys of that vault.
Bruce Betts: Yes, we, uh, we keep all of them and they volt or in a medically sealed pickle jar on functional Agnos Porch.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. They only let me out, uh, in time to do the show each.
Bruce Betts: And we're sitting, we're wondering about that frankly.
Mat Kaplan: From Ontario, not the one in Southern California, the one that is, uh, up, up North of here, uh, S and BegLou, he says, uh, Eris was named after the Greek goddess of strife and discord. It hasn't [01:01:00] been or will be visited by a spacecraft. That's punishment for what it did to Pluto. It only gets to be photographed by good old humble. Some people need to get over their grudge.
And along those same lines, from our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild in Kansas. Now Eris is the goddess known for strife and epithet. Her planetoid's the biggest that we haven't been to yet, and Eris was the reason why Dear Pluto moved on down, demoted to a dwarfish size by Pluto killer Brown, Mike Brown, of course, at Caltech, the discover of Eris and, and a lot of other stuff. That's a way out there in the silver system. We're ready for another one.
Bruce Betts: Happy Planetary Society anniversary, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Yay.
Bruce Betts: We're 40 years old. As of November 30th, the articles of incorporation were filed 1979. So for a 40-year-old Planetary Society, exactly 40 [01:02:00] earth years old. How old is the Planetary Society in merch? Kurian years. One anniversary approximately would be celebrating in Makurian assuming the planetary cited to be 40 earth years. Exactly. Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: I'm sure it's much more impressive than it would be a Neptunian years.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. We're s- we're still quite, quite the infants. I mean, You have too many years.
Mat Kaplan: You have until the 18th that would be December 18 2019 at 8:00 AM Pacific time to get us. This answer, and when yourself, okay, Planetary Radio t-shirt at sacsewer.com. But wait, wait, there's more. You know why? Because Bruce Betts has written a new book, and I'm looking at it right now in Amazon. We'll put up the link to it here or in Amazon or someplace. It's [01:03:00] the VR or virtual reality space explorers, subtitle, Titans Black Cat. And it's cute. I like it. It, it does, uh, it looks like the first of maybe a series.
Bruce Betts: Well, here's hoping, here's hoping open. It's a fictional group of kids in the future who take virtual reality tours with their hologram and robotic dog to fun places in the solar system.
Mat Kaplan: You mean their hologram who happens to be named Dr. Bruce, and really doesn't look much like you. Lucky for you. Funny story. [laughing]. Uh, I know-
Bruce Betts: They decided that kids didn't respond well enough to the Dr. Bruce prototype that looked me. So now Dr. Bruce's glowing green with a mustache and, and eyeglasses.
Mat Kaplan: Big, round eyeglasses. Yeah. Anyway, it's fun. Uh, that'll be yours too. That and the shirt, uh, if you're chosen by random.org as, this new a contest winner, we're [01:04:00] done.
Bruce Betts: All right, everybody, go out there? Look up the night sky and think about what type of noise they could use for backup sounds on trucks. That would be more amusing than just beeping. Thank you. Good night.
Mat Kaplan: Get Back by the Beatles.
Bruce Betts: Nice.
Mat Kaplan: That's Bruce Betts. He is the chief scientist of the Planetary Society, who joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and it's made possible by its expansive members. Join us at planetary.org/membership. Mark Hill Valdez, our associate producer, Josh Oil, composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan. Ad Expanse