Near deserted planets

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Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Apr 21, 2018 12:47 am

One thing that's been scratching away at my brain lately is the idea of being truly alone on an alien planet. I've put this here because TOS seemed to do it quite often, though it could apply to general sci-fi.

One prominent example is M-113, the planet from The Man Trap. Professor Crater and Nancy comprised a two-person research team on a world that was otherwise deserted. Of course later on it was Crater and the Salt creature. And we saw a couple of other planets in TOS with very low populations - Flint's planet, PSI-2000, etc. It made it seem like there must be quite an abundance of inhabitable but uninhabited planets in TOS.

That idea of a very small group being all alone on a planet fascinates me. I've heard it said that there can be a psychological effect to being in a country with a very low population density. Brits who go to Australia sometimes feel it. Australia isn't much smaller than the continental USA, yet has something less than a twelfth of the population. And at that most of the population is concentrated in cities, so there are huge tracts of the country that are just totally empty. Brits say the emptiness of the place can kind of weigh on you psychologically, so you're never quite comfortable there. I guess those who grow up there are used to it.

Now of course on planets like M-113 there may be no other people, but there is life in the form of native creatures. But that got me to thinking, what's the absolute most alone you could possibly feel on a planet?

Now the first thing to consider is, this must be a Class M planet or damn close. Why? Because if it's not habitable, you're not really going to be out in a big wide empty as such. The colony in the Masterpiece Society was one group all on their own, but it would be quite crowded because everyone is constantly crammed in together. I want our resident to really be able to be outside and alone.

But on the other hand, I don't want native life forms. I don't want the guy to be able to get hold of a pet for companionship. And for completeness, let's say he can't even have native vegetation to enjoy - he can't 'hug a tree' because there are no trees to hug.

But that's impractical, as a completely lifeless planet won't have Oxygen. We MUST have some kind of life in order to have Oxygen... so what's the minimum needed for that? On Earth most of the Oxygen comes from algae in the sea, so let's say this planet has oceans which contain a single type of algae that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits Oxygen. And that's it, that's all the life on the planet. The land is utterly barren.

Into this we put our resident. Perhaps he's a researcher, or maybe his ship crashes there. He comes down in the centre of a large continent, so he's thousands of miles from the oceans.

So there he is, completely alone on the entire planet without so much of a blade of grass for company. He'd have no food, of course, except for what he brought with him. But perhaps he has a replicator and working powerplant, giving him everything he needs to keep himself alive more or less permanently. Or maybe he's a cargo pilot hauling a load of a million ration packs for his government, giving him plenty of food for a lifetime.

I'm afraid I don't really have a point to make about this, a suggestion for a story or anything. I just find it a fascinating image... one guy, living there on a planet where he is entirely alone. I wonder how he would fill his days. Would he hallucinate? Go mad? And especially, what would he think about his planet? Would the quiet emptiness of it bother him? Would he start to be frightened of it? Would he have a weird urge to walk out into that vast landscape, like a man wading out to sea?

Maybe I just want to say it out loud to stop myself from thinking about it...
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Bryan Moore » Sat Apr 21, 2018 1:18 am

Do you folks across the pond get the show "Last Man on Earth" - a Fox comedy with Will Forte being the only (well, for about 15 minutes of the first episode) survivor of a plague that eliminated all animal life on earth. More people find him and that quickly ends and it delves into an incredibly well-written comedy that blends absurdity with truly touching moments. But man, those first 15 minutes raise a LOT of possibilities!
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Apr 21, 2018 10:29 am

Yeah, I saw a bunch of episodes of that, didn't care for it all that much.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Mikey » Sat Apr 21, 2018 10:46 am

I’m not sure I understand what question you are asking.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Apr 21, 2018 1:48 pm

Mikey wrote:I’m not sure I understand what question you are asking.

I'm not asking a question. Well I mean I asked a few questions there, but they were rhetorical. I'm just saying I find it an interesting scenario.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby DonP » Sat Apr 21, 2018 2:10 pm

I wouldn't go nuts trying to figure out an ecology. That only leads to needless headaches. Your example of algae for instance. If there are no animals creating co2, the algae converts all of it to oxygen, suffocates, and your planet becomes a giant spark plug. So you need at least zooplankton coverting oxygen back, which leads to food chains and ecosystems and evolution and pretty soon you're far from barren. Simpler just to say the atmosphere is whatever mix and nothing's been around to change that. After all, one person isn't likely to use up a planet's supply of air.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Apr 21, 2018 2:33 pm

Volcanoes emit CO2; the balance on the planet is between vulcanism emitting it and algae consuming it.

I'd also posit this as a very young planet; part of the reason there's so little in the way of diversity is that there just hasn't been enough time for stuff to evolve yet.

Maybe there's something simpler than algae that could fill the same role; I don't know enough biology to know.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby IanKennedy » Sun Apr 22, 2018 5:43 pm

The Martian comes to mind.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sun Apr 22, 2018 6:36 pm

IanKennedy wrote:The Martian comes to mind.

Yep. Though he spent the vast majority of his time cooped up in a smallish metal box.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby mwhittington » Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:31 am

Graham Kennedy wrote:
IanKennedy wrote:The Martian comes to mind.

Yep. Though he spent the vast majority of his time cooped up in a smallish metal box.

Not to mention later on he gained the means to communicate with NASA, even though it was only on a computer screen and keyboard.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Alexbright99 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:56 am

Made me think of an 80s New Zealand movie called The Quiet Earth. It's about a man who's seemingly alone on the planet for a long time after a disease has wiped out mankind. Not an identical scenario, because he lives in and off the remnants of society, but the psychological effects must be rather similar.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:56 pm

Yeah, I remember that one. Very weird ending. I liked it a lot!

Actually this may have been unconsciously sparked by something I developed for the Coalition universe. In that setting, to claim a planet as your own you need to maintain "a presence" on it for one year without challenge. Some people interpret "a presence" to be planting a flag and a plaque, along with a satellite broadcasting a "this planet is ours" message. But most interpret it as keeping people on the planet.

But of course, people generally don't want to spend a lot of money on that. So what you often get is a caretaker post, one person up to maybe a dozen or so.

Another aspect of this is that if you own a planet, you have claim to a volume of space around it - a sphere centred on the local sun, with a radius equal to half the distance to the next star over. So nations don't generally have claim to a contiguous block of space, but rather something like a series of bubbles - albeit that the bubbles can be more like a mass of foam IF you have claim to a lot of planets in adjacent systems.

The upshot of all that is that most nations maintain claims to lots of planets that are otherwise unappealing, simply in order to be able to claim the space around the system. So that caretaker party may well be all the people that are ever on the planet.

The purpose of all that was partly that, as mentioned, the idea of a single person having an empty planet all to themselves just appeals to me for some reason. And of course there are likely going to be times when such a caretaker party is on a planet that is not otherwise deserted and encounter weird or hostile things.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Coalition » Mon Jul 02, 2018 2:42 am

Graham Kennedy wrote:Yeah, I remember that one. Very weird ending. I liked it a lot!

Actually this may have been unconsciously sparked by something I developed for the Coalition universe. In that setting, to claim a planet as your own you need to maintain "a presence" on it for one year without challenge. Some people interpret "a presence" to be planting a flag and a plaque, along with a satellite broadcasting a "this planet is ours" message. But most interpret it as keeping people on the planet.

But of course, people generally don't want to spend a lot of money on that. So what you often get is a caretaker post, one person up to maybe a dozen or so.

Another aspect of this is that if you own a planet, you have claim to a volume of space around it - a sphere centred on the local sun, with a radius equal to half the distance to the next star over. So nations don't generally have claim to a contiguous block of space, but rather something like a series of bubbles - albeit that the bubbles can be more like a mass of foam IF you have claim to a lot of planets in adjacent systems.

The upshot of all that is that most nations maintain claims to lots of planets that are otherwise unappealing, simply in order to be able to claim the space around the system. So that caretaker party may well be all the people that are ever on the planet.

The purpose of all that was partly that, as mentioned, the idea of a single person having an empty planet all to themselves just appeals to me for some reason. And of course there are likely going to be times when such a caretaker party is on a planet that is not otherwise deserted and encounter weird or hostile things.


I'd like to see one empire that sets up self-reproducing mining facilities on the other planets, and maintains a space station to oversee the automated mining systems. Would that count as a presence, even though nobody is actually on the planet, and there are instead a few thousand mining robots are busy copying themselves to spread over the entire planet? Or would that be interpreted as 'claim-jumping', since the planet technically doesn't yet belong to the empire performing the mining?

Of course, the problem with Von Neumann mining systems is when something affects their construction protocols, and there aren't enough self-checks to prevent it from being copied to new factories. See the beginning of Code of the Lifemaker by James P Hogan. Baen has a copy of that prologue here.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Graham Kennedy » Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:22 am

Coalition wrote:I'd like to see one empire that sets up self-reproducing mining facilities on the other planets, and maintains a space station to oversee the automated mining systems. Would that count as a presence, even though nobody is actually on the planet, and there are instead a few thousand mining robots are busy copying themselves to spread over the entire planet? Or would that be interpreted as 'claim-jumping', since the planet technically doesn't yet belong to the empire performing the mining?

In the Coalition setup, you wouldn't be allowed to mine a planet until you'd kept control of it for a year. But once that year is gone sure, you could have a setup with automated mines and a space station to oversee them.

The idea of the year is to try and prevent the situation we saw in Arena, where you go to some planet and set up a base, only to find later on that it really already belongs to somebody else.
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Re: Near deserted planets

Postby Teaos » Wed Jul 04, 2018 9:48 am

Wouldn't be allowed? Says who? Who enforces these rules?
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