5 Books That includes House Journey Powered by Atomic Bombs
Nuclear explosives can be used to address many pressing problems: for example, a lack of low-level radioactive ports or the problem that too many wealthy industrial nations are not populated by survivors who envy the dead. The most pressing problem – the need for fast, affordable space travel – was not resolved until the late 1950s. Theodore B. Taylor and others suggested that the bomb could be used to enable rapid space travel through the solar system.
The Orion missile’s design is straightforward: detonate a series of nuclear explosives behind a pusher plate. The effective exhaust velocity would be much higher than any chemical missile could deliver. Contrary to most plausible propulsion systems, the Orion could offer both high thrust and high exhaust speed. At least that’s how it would theoretically work. For a variety of reasons, from test prohibition contracts to the strange reluctance of people to tolerate more and more fallout, a working Orion was never built. It remains a pipe dream.
George Dyson’s 2002 book, Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceshipis the popular work on Orion.
As any fan of Canada’s Avro Arrow could tell you, no machine is ever as great as the ones proposed but never built. Fans can take advantage of the full potential of the hypothetical without worrying about the pesky problems that would surely arise in the real world. It is, therefore, not surprising that Orion rockets began to appear in science fiction as soon as the concept became public.
Take these novels from the Disco and Reagan era, for example – memories of a time when SF was surprisingly keen on the idea of traveling on a pile of exploding atomic bombs.
Farthest Star by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson (1975)
Object lambda, an object as massive as a star, passes the Milky Way at a significant fraction of the speed of light. This requires investigation. For the time being, galactic civilizations can beam explorers across the Milky Way in no time – provided the right machine is first delivered to its destination at sub-light speed. The good ship Aurora has been diverted to deliver receivers for the enigmatic artifact.
Ben Perrin is privileged to represent humanity on Aurora. This is a mixed blessing as one of the conveniences that the Orion vehicle does not include radiation shielding. Aurora provides plenty of radiation to its crew. So service is also a death sentence.
Do not worry. The wonderful technology Aurora Lambda will deliver is not a teleport station. It’s a duplicator. Should the current Ben Perrin die – and if he has enough time to spend with Aurora, he will – the authorities will simply expire as many copies as are necessary to complete the mission. After all, it’s not that the original Ben who volunteered for the suicide mission is the Ben who will die.
King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle (1980)
After the collapse of the First Reich, Prince Samual’s world balkanized into warring states whose technology was far inferior to that of the First Reich. The Second Reich is now ready to reintegrate the world of Prince Samual into an interstellar community. Because of the technological differences, it doesn’t matter how the world population of Prince Samual feels about becoming part of the empire.
Although they have no choice of being conquered by the Second Reich, it is unclear what status Prince Samual’s world will enjoy within the realm. Worlds without indigenous space travel are relegated to the status of colonies. Worlds with indigenous space travel enjoy a much higher position.
Prince Samual’s World’s steam-time technology is mismatched with space travel, and the deadline for evaluating their world is near. Without the time to redesign space travel from scratch, Colonel Nathan “Iron” MacKinnie is sent to Makassar, where a First Reich library is rumored to have survived. Perhaps the library has a brute force orbital launch solution that is within the limited capacity of Prince Samual’s world. But time is running out and the backward natives of Makassar are reluctant to give off-worlders access to a sacred place for them.
Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson (1983)
Centuries after the thermonuclear demise of western civilization ended, the world is well on its way to restoring lost world technology. Technological sophistication does not go hand in hand with social advancement – large parts of the world are feudal states – while the luxuriant industrialization of the 20th century depletes easily accessible natural resources. Hence, the civilizations of this world cannot easily restore the security and luxuries of the past.
The Maurai Federation believes that industrialization was a mistake. It led to a poorer, more poisoned world. As the dominant power in the world, they are able to shape their posture in general. When other nations try to upgrade, the Maurai step in to curtail efforts before they get out of hand.
The Northwest Union learned this the hard way. Despite the current technological lead of the Northwest, it was forced to respect the taboos of Maurai and to push them further. Determined to break free from the shackles of the Maurai, the Union sets out to create world-changing technology based on ancient myths. All they need is time and an adequate supply of forbidden fissile materials. And if there was one thing the old world was good at, it was leaving caches of deadly material scattered across America. It’s a shame so much of North America is hostile territory …
Emprise by Michael Kube-McDowell (1985)
The Weak Force Intermodulation Projector – AKA, the split ceiling – freed the world from the danger of thermonuclear war. The gap also freed the world from the simplest substitute for dwindling fossil fuel supplies. The food and fuel wars that followed were probably superior to nuclear war only because they did not let failures poison the world. People still died by the hundreds of millions, and nations were still shaken.
A world emerging from a brief dark age is amazed to receive a message from the stars. The earth has an extra-solar visitor in the form of a nuclear-pulse-powered spaceship. A Balkanized world would be inadequate to withstand the enigmatic visitors if they were to prove hostile. Nothing for a broken world finding a way to present the mysterious galactic with a unified face.
Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge (1986)
The Peace Agency used pompons – spheres of frozen time – to conquer the world in the name of peace. Long after the agency was overthrown, mankind is using the pompons in far more creative ways. For example, Orion-style missiles equipped with Bobion can withstand the nuclear explosions of their propulsion systems and protect passengers from the passage of time during long journeys. Cheap, convenient space travel is just one aspect of the wonders of late mankind.
It’s a shame that these cunning people died out.
A handful of survivors, protected in pompons, escaped all of the wiped out people. They’re armed with impressively advanced technology that doesn’t compensate for their dwindling numbers … because it looks like an ancient human habit has found its way into the distant future: murder.
I don’t doubt that many of you have your own favorite examples of fictional Orion drives – the only kind we have – and are even now preparing to descend on me because I missed them. Got it in the comments below.
In the words of the Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book critic and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable noticeability”. His work has been featured in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times, as well as on his own websites. James Nicoll Reviews and Young people read old SFF(where he is supported by the editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Hugo Award for best fan author and surprisingly flammable.