What about planetary life?
Anyone who writes science fiction—particularly “hard” SF—has to deal with this issue. The fact is, especially in hard SF, this can take many forms…more on that in a minute.
This article discusses a real-world (in this case Mars) situation: http://news.yahoo.com/mars-life-search-hindered-planetary-protection-concerns-scientists-112342935.html and there are concerns we need to address. Do we risk contaminating Mars with Earthly organisms in order to advance our understanding of the planet? Or do we cripple our exploration to protect either the pristine Martian environment or existing Martian life?
But let’s look at these issues from the point of view of an author building a universe…
Just as one example that pretty much everyone will know (as opposed to pulling out some possibly obscure SF references), Star Trek had the Prime Directive. In a nutshell, this directive prevented Kirk (and presumably the rest of Star Fleet) from doing anything to interfere with developing civilizations. And yes, that is exactly what we are talking about. After all, if you infect an entire planet with the rhinovirus and the population has no immunity and they all die, isn’t that interfering with their development?
In my Immortal Love Universe™ (the setting for all of my books with Siren/BookStrand) the issue of protecting existing life has been hinted at but not directly addressed in the released stories. All of the current works take place very far in the future, so there are few pristine planets left for such first contact. In the Flights of Fancy series, there are first contacts with existing civilizations, but the attitude of the Empire is that interference is sometimes needed. The problem is that the Immortal Love Universe™ starts in about 1950 AD and runs for about 22 billion years. No, that’s not a typo. Billion. There’s plenty of room and time for expansion of these details.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t expand this idea just a little. The same concept applies to contact between any two differing cultures…say Native Americans and Europeans. Yeah…that went well.
I really have several questions for those reading this…
For readers and authors alike, what should we do about Mars? How much science do we sacrifice to protect the Martian environment, or, how much of the Martian environment do we sacrifice for the sake of science?
For readers only, how should an author handle this in a story (or group of stories)? Do you even care?
And lastly, for authors, how do you deal with the concept in the tales you spin?
What say you?