Thinking about the last ‘off-the-cuff’ remark in my previous ‘relevant SF’ post, I produced the seed of a story outline. Since I am too busy to write this myself, I thought I’d share it with everybody interested in SHINE, and hope that it may inspire you.
Disclaimer: please don’t take my ‘thinking-aloud’ musings as gospel, but rather as a jump-off point for your own inspiration. Feel free to use each and every idea and notion, or to cherry-pick from them, or twist them to your own advantage. Even better if you think: “I can do much better than that, and I’ll show you’: I’ll happily look forward to your stories in May and June.
So here goes:
Let’s set up the bleak parts first (hey: if we want to write solution-based SF, we need to understand the problems first. Unfortunately, there’s no lack of problems): imagine a Chilean fishing company or family (or both). They held on as long as they could, innovated both their propulsion systems (think Skysails and solar power to supplement the biomass driven, top efficiency, electronically controlled diesel engine) and their fishing method (think ‘smart nets’ made of ‘intelligent polymer‘ that can both readjust the width of its mazes according to the sort of fish its aiming to catch, that has sensors keeping it at least a few yards above the sea bottom in order to keep the reefs and other ecosystems there undisturbed, and more).
Still, it was not enough: fish stocks plummeted (by overfishing, and helped out by climate change), and in a final desperate stroke to save fish species, very strict fishing quota have been introduced worldwide. Maybe it’s already too late.
Unwilling to lay off the fishing vessel(s) they’ve invested so much in (especially innovation-wise), this Chilean (protagonists don’t always need to be from the US) fishing company/family looks for other ways to use its ship(s).
Another environmental problem is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch:
A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility…and worse…
The problem is compounded by the fact that all this plastic slowly disintegrates into small parts called ‘nurdles’, without biodegrading. To put insult to injury:
One study estimated that nurdles now account for 10 percent of plastic ocean debris. And once they’re scattered in the environment, they’re diabolically hard to clean up (think wayward confetti).
So our Chilean entrepreneurs are reconfiguring their ‘intelligent polymer’ nets with nanotech sensors that are able to distinguish between living organisms (fish, plankton, etc.) and dead plastic nurdles. The kind of net that opens up to let a living thing through, but it fine-mazed enough to take out nurdles. Basically, it functions as a huge, self-thinking sieve (the really crazy writers among you might even make it self-aware, but keep in mind that you have to keep it below 10K words. Or if you turn it into a novel, then at least acknowledge me in the foreword…;-).
For this they need to collaborate with a local nanotech/biotech company, and the local University. Together, this consortium succeeds in getting a subsidy from either the Chilean government or an international environmental organisation. This sets them up for — let’s say — two years to make this work, after which they need to be financially self-sufficient.
They go out, test the equipment, and after a lot of hurdles and throwbacks get it to, more or less, function. But then they find that crossing vast distances across the Pacific to ‘sieve’ it, and then getting the boatloads of nurdles to the US — who just happen to have the only installation to recycle these nurdles (it’s very difficult, see again the Plastic Ocean article) is — without the government grant — a money-losing venture.
Then, as they almost see their hope for their new venture disappear before their eyes, one of their vessels has a chance meeting with an exploration vessel of the Liftport Group. Liftport (this is an existing organisation: feel free to invent your imaginary one) intends to build the Space Elevator in October 27, 2031 (love the optimism of these folks). In their study (see pages 12, 13 and 14) they estimate that a semi-submersible platform located about 1000 miles west of the Galapagos Islands — best weather conditions — is the best option for the Earth base of the space elevator.
Now these innovative, forward-thinking people get to talk, and eventually figure out that — thinking very much ad-lib, here — that refurbishing an old supertanker into a plastic conversion factory right next to the space elevator’s semi-submersible base is both more environmetally friendly and cost-effective than importing all the carbon from either oil (which is beyond its peak, by then, and thus hideously expensive) or recycled plastic from the mainland. Conversely, 1000 miles west of the Galapagos is much closer for the Chilean entrepreneurs — who are traversing the Pacific — than the USA, which would make their project cost-effective as well.
So we basically have a marriage made in heaven: a budding fleet of ‘ocean-sieving’ vessels — who can, while they are sieving, simultaneously put a catalysing agent in the sea that initiates plankton growth, and so indirectly help the fish stocks to recover — supplying the raw material for a floating plastic recycling factory that produces the complex carbon nanotubes (tweak it by doping the carbon nanotubes with hydrogen, which is the other main component of plastic) needed for the space elevator’s tether.
This is mainly background, which can step into the foreground as the real story develops: maybe the Chilean (ex-)fishermen are fighting a fishing mafia who fish illegally and sell those rare fish for a profit on the black markets, while most people eat seaweed or plankton-based formulas. Or there is an extra complication (isn’t there always) involving huge ‘cruise islands’ — which make the Titanic look like a lifeboat — that become continuous habits as the population pressure increases, and they put extra pressure — both on the barely recovering fish stocks and pollution-wise — on the ocean. Or whatever angle you can come up with.
UPDATE: as the real world doesn’t stand still, I just chanced upon this story about a type of plastic that is soluble in water, and the resulting compound can be used to harvest seeds (a gel to fertilise your garden, e.g.). A touring fashion exhibit called Wonderland merges couture with conscience.