Hard science fiction, unlike most other subgenres in science fiction, is expected to extrapolate future societies and technologies from present scientific speculation. It demands scientific rigor. Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville (1975), like Larry Niven’s Ringworld (1970), is a classic rendering within hard science fiction of the discovery of a unique alien world. The sequels Orbitsville Departure (1983) and Orbitsville Judgement (1990) generally are considered to be less successful than the original novel.
Previous generations of physicists made Shaw’s vision possible. John Desmond Bernal developed several theories regarding the creation of space colonies, speculating that if more of the Sun’s energy could be harnessed and used than the insignificant percentage received by Earth, then almost nothing would be beyond human accomplishment. Bernal suggested that if humans hollowed out small asteroids, they could outfit them as solar collectors, thus capturing far more solar energy.
Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, a professor at Cornell University and then at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, took Bernal’s ideas and expanded on them. Wondering initially how people on Earth could detect the presence of intelligent aliens on planets circling other stars, Dyson pondered the formation of alternate civilizations. He reasoned that the greatest amount of living space could be found on the surface of...
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