Did they truly read The High Frontier?

January 24, 2017

Author: Smith

I just thought it would be worth saying to folks who have come here on a whim, and to those of us who haven’t actually re-read the book recently, that the book “The High Frontier” by Gerard K. O’Neill is not exactly what many people think it is.
SSI SA Michael Martin-Smith made a great visitor post on the SSI Facebook page saying that O’Neill was one of the foremost “greens.”  That truth is something Spacers tend to forget about.  And it’s truly part of the real important stuff that O’Neill  covered with many, many pages  in The High Frontier.
The news lately seems to be so similar to the news of the days of Limits To Growth with all of the repeated ‘class vs. class’ and ‘Rich only means Evil’ statements and a seemingly growing anger from all sides – ok, it’s a real anger.  But when I read or see those attitudes, I keep hearing so many parts of The High Frontier in my head like a call to remember that there IS a viable answer to many of these issues.  And it’s not a pipe dream or a fairy tale from the good olde days that has since been fundamentally disproved.
I think of The High Frontier more and more over time for the non-space-habitat aspects, and for the significant amount of information that the book goes into in detail on related to the root reasons that all of the big space object stuff is important.  I re-read it and see that it’s more than anything simply about using technologies that we already have to help *Everyone On Earth* gain more security by gaining more wealth for their families and having the option for better Education – things that can snowball and make even more positives for **EVERYONE.**  No country, no neighborhood, no person left behind.
The well-off don’t have to stop being well-off for the poor to stop being poor.  There is plenty for all all around us.  And we’ve been able get it, if we really want it, for decades.
I see The High Frontier more for that now than for the visions of life in a giant can.
If you have not personally read The High Frontier for yourself, then this will seem like I’ve had too  much Kool-Aid from Utopia – I tell you that that is the biggest of all of the misconceptions surrounding this particular Engineering book.
Ok, I’ve read The High Frontier cover to cover several times. Asking others to do that is asking a lot of busy people.   I was ‘forced’ to get in the habit of re-reading it because of my volunteer work at SSI – having worked on the kindle edition and since then being intermittently on a project that we hope will be coming farther along soon.  But still, I’ve done the re-reading and that’s where my view comes from.  I think re-reading it is why when I see some mentions of The High Frontier being  far from the Actual Points of the book, I get a little frustrated.
Books for the Space community and Spacer fans, IF they mention SPACE living at all instead of really being about other-planet living, seem to have a cover-picture-only view of what The High Frontier is fundamentally about.
For instance, these are the first two sentences of the Dedication page of the book “Space Trade” by L. Paul Turner:
“This book is not a repeat of Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill’s great dream book, “The High Frontier.”  It is not a description of idyllic pasture and forest in space, although on a scale of acres, gardens and trees are in the plans.”
Yes, it looks like there may have been a tiny publishing issue, it doesn’t make grammatical sense but you get the gist of the meaning: The High Frontier was a book of pretty pictures.  “…. great dream book…” says it all.
For people who haven’t read The High Frontier, this is a disservice.  Because cows chewing their cuds under a sky made of regolith IS NOT what The High Frontier was about – in my humblest opinion.  Yes, some of the covers, including the 1989 SSI edition that we re-used for the Kindle picture do show a frolicking family under a curved sky but … it’s not what The High Frontier text is really about.
I’m not picking on Mr. Turner’s book, he isn’t alone by any means in what he probably innocently has presented.  But since I started using “Space Trade” as an example I’ll continue quoting that very first paragraph from the Dedication to show the context…
“Rather, this book is one of the many smaller dreams that Dr. O’Neill alluded to in his farsighted book.  This book, about how to develop real estate in space, is a practical guide to investment, and contains a step-by-step guide to profits and competitive advantage in the current, though still inchoate age of the space trade.”
Ok.  The rest of the paragraph lightly says that The High Frontier had more than pretty flowers and dancing children.  I thank him sincerely for that.  But, having read The High Frontier more than once my personal perception is that O’Neill didn’t just “allude to” any of  the non-habitat points, he hid nothing under fluffy cloud dreams.  Details and numbers abound.  Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Fuels, Education, Energy, Agriculture, Economics, Poverty, Greed and the real interplay between them all are significant and fundamental parts of The High Frontier Concept and the mass-market book with that name.  Flat out.  It is a book about the positives of continuing the growth paths started in our industrial revolutions, about allowing – no, about Encouraging – the underdeveloped countries to grow by catching up with their own Industrial Revolutions.
After chapter one (a trailer, a teaser, a look at what could be through the eyes of a person who might one day be looking at it), the book is pretty much numbers, historical background and brass tacks.  In fact, it can be said that The High Frontier is truly “a step-by-step guide to profits and competitive advantage in the current, though still inchoate age of the space trade.”
Over time I guess the pretty pictures seem to be all that stick in the mind, but The High Frontier is far more than a pretty picture.  It’s about hard work and making a positive life for Human Beings wherever they choose to live and raise their families. It is not escapism, it is not about turning your back on the Human Race.
Robert Zubrin once told me ‘to choose to live in a tin can is a declaration that you have *absolute faith* in the abilities of your fellow Human Beings. ‘  O’Neill figured out that once people understand there are no actual limits to energy and resources a tin can be made very pretty, but the primary reasons for it to be at all are for it to be profitable and helpful to all Human Beings.

I like Mr. Turner’s book, it’s a very good read and I hope that SSI Associates add it to their lists.  I’d sure like someone to read it and write a review that we can put here on the SSI site for other Associates to learn from.  But you know what I’d also like?  I’d also like a review of The High Frontier, not as yet another “I read this when I was 17 and it brings back memories” or “we lost the will to do things like that” type of thing, but as a real review done with fresh eyes on the workable information that it presents in relation to the world that we are living in Right Now.
That’s what I’d like.
Wouldn’t you?

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