Fiction Science Club

Novelist charts a course for the future space frontier

If Jeff Bezos needs a blueprint for building a space station beyond the moon with ore from an asteroid, he just might want to start with “Critical Mass,” a newly published sci-fi novel by Daniel Suarez.

The 464-page book describes in detail how entrepreneurs, engineers and astronauts take advantage of a cache of material mined from an asteroid to create a giant, ring-shaped space station, a space-based solar power system, a mass driver for delivering resources from the moon and a nuclear-powered spaceliner. To add to the drama, they’re doing all this in the midst of a global climate crisis in the late 2030s.

Building space outposts and moving heavy industry off-Earth to preserve our home planet’s environment is an overarching theme in Bezos’ long-term space vision. “We want to go to space to save the Earth,” he said in 2016. “I don’t like the ‘Plan B’ idea that we want to go to space so we have a backup planet. … This is the best planet. There is no doubt. This is the one that you want to protect.”

Suarez agrees with Bezos’ sentiment, but not because the billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin came up with the idea.. In the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, Suarez points out that Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, Bezos’ space mentor, had the idea first. “This is the idea of settling deep space by re-creating our biosphere in free space as opposed to settling another planet,” he says.

With “Critical Mass” and the other books in his Delta-V trilogy, Suarez aims to do what O’Neill’s 1970s-era mix of science fiction and fact, “The High Frontier,” did for the likes of Jeff Bezos. Suarez aims to get people thinking about how a space-based society could work.