What if Poor Richard’s Almanac were reimagined for today? The Asteroid Belt Almanac, coming soon from The Head and the Hand Press in Philadelphia, is all about using this homey literary form to help us imagine the futures we’re moving toward. The old Farmer’s Almanac offered stories and interpretations of the stars to help farmers with their planting. The Asteroid Belt Almanac is a place to consider the strange intersections of creativity, science and technology that we’re experiencing now.
It will include my essay, Gravity and the Cloud, an expansion on my blog post Gravity and the Noosphere (both inspired by seeing the movie Gravity), as well as the script for a graphic novel about travel to Mars, thoughts on music in the digital age, star charts, and much more. The publishers hope that it will “help to measure the kind of atmospheric pressure felt between daring hypotheses, between small steps and giant leaps.”
Preorder the Asteroid Belt Almanac! For $15, or more if you would like extra rewards, you’ll get a beautiful book, craft-printed on recycled paper. I love how with this project, The Head and the Hand Press is linking its commitment to fine artisanal printing with a new way of funding, via Pubslush, a site dedicated to crowdfunding for books.
I loved seeing Gravity. In my opinion, the Planet Earth should be nominated for a supporting-player Oscar. I drank in the massive, stunning views of the earth in the background of so many scenes—completely convincing, thanks to high-level CGI effects. At those screen-filling distances, you could make out the thin, blue-white film of the atmosphere, the delicate outer membrane that makes life on earth possible. There they were: the biosphere and the atmosphere, as seen from space for real by just a few hundred people so far.
That soft shell of atmosphere offers a visual analogue to other, unseen layers, both actual and imagined. There’s cyberspace—a zone of reality that’s tied to physical things like computers, servers, satellites and fiber-optic cable, but can’t be seen or felt. We call this domain digital, but what does that mean? It doesn’t seem farfetched to think of this quickly filling-in worldwide web as another, invisible shell surrounding the earth’s surface.
And then there’s the noosphere, an idea put forward by the theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin about 90 years ago. He was inspired by Vladimir Verdansky, a Russian scientist who himself gets credit for coming up with the term “biosphere.” With the noosphere (the prefix comes from Greek nous, for mind) Teilhard invites us into a kind of thought experiment: imagine that all of human thought surrounds the earth in an invisible shell. As our mental outpourings grow and intensify, this “thinking layer” fills in and comes into its own. Teilhard suggested that the noosphere would emerge out of technologies “extending a closely interdependent network” around the world. At that time he was referring to radio, teletype and television—but his description seems to eerily anticipate the Internet and our current web of digital communication.
This promise of the noosphere pulled me in when I first heard about it. It was there when I wrote in the libretto for Violet Fire about Nikola Tesla’s vision of the earth becoming “a single brain” through his planned World Broadcasting System. In Leaving Alexandria, the novel I’m working on, it has helped me envision the accumulation of knowledge, from ancient libraries to our expanding digital cybersphere. We can’t see any of these the way we can see the translucent envelope of our atmosphere, but that doesn’t stop us from experiencing them around us.