Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The One Who Was There, by John Barnes


(SF Adventure) A journalist covers the biggest disaster in the history of Titan—the explosion of an enormous oxygen shipment—but new press rules may make her job impossible. (7,344 words; Time: 24m)

"The One Who Was There," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.454 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The story poses a very interesting problem, once we get past all the details of what caused the disaster, what was lost, and how did everyone escape. At some point, space exploration and space research has got to be about extraction of information (and maybe value); making it all about dangerous adventure really will attract the wrong sort of folks.

Con: I realize this story isn’t about science at all, but the science is very bad. This tanker (said to hold “many months” of supply for the base) is ridiculously huge. It really is just over 100 million tons (as the text says), but that’s enough oxygen to supply half a billion people for a year. That does make for a stupefying explosion (340 megatons, assuming combustion in methane), but it’s not really going to explode so much as just burn really fast. Given the enormous size of Ontario Lacus and the large amount of thick atmosphere to absorb the heat, I’m skeptical that even this much O₂ would have the effect described. And why would they import O₂ from Enceladus in the first place when they could just extract it from the water ice that’s already on Titan?

A few other details are sloppy for a hard-SF story. For example, Titan’s gravity is 14% of Earths, but why would an escape rocket limit itself to that acceleration?

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