“Limit” and Frank Schätzing’s lunar space elevator

If you have never heard of Helium-3 and of lunar space elevatorsi, of Frank Schätzing, a writer of world-wide renown, he’ll seem like a gentleman with a great imagination. He reminds me of Jules Verne and his incredible predictions (for our great-grandparents) all of which (or almost all) later turned into reality. In “"Limit"”, Frank describes the end of the oil age in a really realistic way and it seems that I am hearing the story of another world, of another humanity. We, who on the other hand, are actually that “world” and that “humanity” are not aware of the reality that is changing and that we like schizoids continue to repeat the usual behaviours, the usual errors, starting from nuclear power. What will the post-oil world be like – the one described by Frank? A bit worse? A bit better? Certainly completely different from now.

Interview with Frank Schätzing, author of “Limit”

The end of oil and the end of the moon
Frank Schätzing: My name is Frank Schätzing. I am the author of “The Swarm” and "Limit".
Blog: Following its release in Italy in 2005 “Il quinto giorno” {English title: The Swarm}, became a best seller. Five years later you are back here in Italy with “Limit”, which in Germany sold half a million copies in just one month.
In Italy they are busy reintroducing nuclear energy while in Germany they are wanting to get rid of it. So why didn’t you think of this energy source before going to the moon to find Helium-3?
Frank Schätzing: In the first place, I have to say that In Germany at the moment we reintroduce nuclear energy, it’s not just Italy. And I think in my opinion, this is a mistake, because we have to spend much more energy and resources and money in alternative technologies, so at the moment we have a situation that for the next 12-15 years we will have nuclear power in Germany. But I think all in all this is a run-out model It doesn’t matter if we keep the contract going for another 12 years for 15 years. It’s a question of a run-out model. It hasn’t got any future. So far, talking about the future, talking about nuclear power, is to my opinion, bullshit.
Blog: Still in “Il quinto giorno”, you spoke about some sort of catastrophic event, a Tsunami. The book was released in 2005, so while you were busy writing it you could certainly not have known that a real Tsunami would hit the Indian Ocean Countries in December 2004 and mow down tens of thousands of victims. The end of oil Limit hides dark portents for humanity?
Frank Schätzing: First of all, when I wrote the "The Swarm, " going back to "The Swarm, " I took a tsunami because a tsunami was an interesting phenomenon I had read about and I could use for the story. It was just by chance that not one year later a real tsunami occurred.
So if you write about the real world and if you write about oil, for instance, you have to face that oil is running out, and we might have another 10, 20, 30, 50 years with oil, but then it will be gone. We have to look out for new energies and alternatives energies. So far I'm not a prophet to say that the age of oil will end, and I think it will end in the middle of this century.
Blog: Once upon a time, “Science Fiction” writers used to depict the future as something that was very far and very different from their reality, often displaying exceptional farsightedness by describing things that would eventually go on to become genuine scientific and technological discoveries. In “Limit”, this farsightedness almost appears to merge with the present, namely 2025, and above all, the reality that emerges is almost one of worldwide degradation, which is where we already find ourselves now. Is this so?
Frank Schätzing: If you write about the near future, 2025 in this case, you will have to face that things don't change so rapidly. Usually in science fiction, people are thinking about space ships and flying cars and about society which has totally changed. But within a few years, within 15 years, that won't happen.
I think the near future will bring a lot of good things, a lot of bad things. The danger, to my opinion, is that there will be a social divide, a medical divide, a digital divide, so that parts of mankind will develop in different directions, much more than it is today.
There will be the rich part, the wealthy part of mankind, who will have all. And there will be the poorer part of mankind, which will suffer. I think the danger, to me, is this will go on, will get stronger. In the near future I describe, we have that phenomenon, but it is not hopeless, because it is also a future in which people try to get new resources, from the moon for instance.
In which scientific research is done in all parts of the world. In which the Chinese have a big influence on the economy. In which the Chinese are no longer the servants, they are the creative brains. And so far there's a lot of progress in that near future, but of course also a lot of dangers.
Blog: Whenever there is talk of the future, in recent years many artists and writers have been depicting it as catastrophic. Many novels speak of extinction or a return to semi-prehistoric conditions. Do you also exhibit this same kind of anxiety in your novel?
Frank Schätzing: It is interesting, at the moment we have all over the world, especially in the wealthy nations, we have a mood which is sort of disastrous. We're expecting disasters, we're expecting catastrophes. I don't believe that this will happen; it's not my vision that we bomb ourselves back into the past and that we go back to prehistoric circumstance.
I think of course there will be multinational and global conflicts in the future, maybe some even worse than they have been in the past. But on the other hand, mankind develops. And never before have we had a such technological life level as we have at the moment.
So I don't agree to that disaster prophets. But if you go to the movies at the moment, look at "2012" by Roland Emmerich. Look at the "The Road" with Viggo Mortenson. Look at "I Am Legend" with Will Smith and so on. There are a lot of fantasies about destroyed cities and about destroyed mankind. We should think more positive.
Blog: Would you define “Limit” as an invitation to humanity to immediately start thinking seriously about the energy crisis?
Frank Schätzing: Of course we have to think about the energy crisis, because there is an energy crisis. And it is obvious to us that oil is running out. At the moment we have a situation that I think oil will be running out or we will stop the oil industry the moment we have brought the last drop of oil from the bottom of the earth.
But to my opinion, it would be much better to leave the oil in the earth and change much quicker to the alternative energies. We have wind power, we have solar power, we have a lot of different measures. On the other hand, there is a real option on the moon, which is interesting. As far as we could get there and bring it back to earth, we really could use environmental friendly with helium3, that stuff that is on the moon, up there on the moon, infusion reactors.
And yes, I think we have to do everything to change, to get back from coal, and to get back from nuclear power and from oil to alternative energies. It's the subject of the book and it's my personal subject as well.
Blog: Is the importation of Helium-3 from the moon by means of an elevator perhaps just your way of saying that man will be unable to find a way to overcome the next Energy crisis?
Frank Schätzing: I think we have an energy crisis at the moment, and it will get worse, insofar that we have nations now like China and India that need much more energy than they needed before. And yes, of course, we need new technologies. One of these technologies could be the space elevator.
It sounds a little bit like a lunatic ideas, but in fact, all the big agencies, the space agencies, are working on it. They've tried to figure out how to build a space elevator, and it's possible, it is. So I think we should spend a little money on that, because with a space elevator we would really be able to produce new energy from the moon.
Blog: In “Limit”, the economic lobbyists, the politicians, the economists and private researchers govern the equilibrium of the planet. The Web is something that pervades reality, but it is also a way to dominate and control it. A locus of power, but also a locus of dissent against power. What will the Internet be like in 2025?
Frank Schätzing: I think the Internet will develop. At the moment we've got a two dimensional Internet. We're changing to get a three dimensional Internet which will provide, more than today, virtual worlds in which we can live, mentally live.
By that, the Internet will much more become an alternative reality in which to live. I think it will much more than today change our way of living together, especially concerning global connected communication between all people. So far, it will doing a lot of good things to us. We can communicate much better than we could in the past. We can meet in virtual rooms.
On the other hand, of course it's an instrument of control, and we have to take care that into doesn't develop into some kind of big brother, which at the moment it is a little bit, but not that much.
Blog: In “Limit”, there are two main characters, namely Julian Orley, an American multi-billionaire who invented the elevator to the moon, and Owen Jericho, the cyber-detective who is intent on investigating the disappearance of a Chinese dissident. Do you see yourself as either of these characters?
Frank Schätzing: In the first place, I have to say that characters in the book are fictional. So far they are themselves and not me. But of course there's no doubt there always a little bit from the author, even the villains, by the way. And I've personally notices that Julian Orley, the billionaire, has got some of my personal likes and dislikes. So he's a little similar to me. But as well is Owen Jericho 100% opposite of him.
What I like about Julian Orley is that he is a visionary. That he wants to cross borders. That we wants to widen his horizon and mankind's horizon. That he's really looking for solutions for the planet. This is something that I adore. And he likes to live, which is something I also to.
And about Owen Jericho, that he never gives up, though he has to fight his inner demons. And I know sometimes it is not so easy to fight your inner demons. One of those inner demons can be the boy or the girl being in your adolescent years, which is still there somewhere. And I like about Owen Jericho that he is so courageous. He is not a simple character, but he goes through all.
Blog: The United States and China are two Countries that are at the centre of the geo-political scene, as is the case in “Limit”. Your novel also touches on Alaska, which together with the Arctic and following the thinning of the polar ice-caps, have become the focus of a new Cold War. If there were still to be crude oil available in 2025, what would your next novel envisage?
Frank Schätzing: My next novel may be something totally different from what I wrote in the past. I haven't got an idea about my next novel. But what I can say is that the Chinese and the Americans will be the two power nations in the near future. And in 2025 we will of course still have oil; I think oil will be running out at the middle of the century.
So at the moment we see that like the Chinese, that need a lot of energy, tried to get the last oil resources. And of course it's a competition with the USA. And it will lead naturally to new conflicts. Imagine them going to the Antarctic, who will be the first one? And of course that will be, I think, a lot of conflicts will come onto us because of oil.
Blog: Why has no one ever asked themselves why we should reduce Energy consumption rather than simply go out and find new sources and greater quantities? Why not simply use less of it? Does the constant search for Energy make any sense? Should we not stop and think about how we use the available energy?
Frank Schätzing: I think this is a blue eyed position. We try to reduce energy, each of us does. We build cars that don't need that much fuel. We build cars that will run by electricity. I think in all the wealthy nations at the moment people try to reduce their need of energy. But that doesn't change the situation.
We have six billion people on planet earth, and mankind grows and grows. Experts say that in 2050, we will have 8 10 billion people on planet earth. All these people need energy. And now there are upcoming nations who didn't need that much, like China and India. And they as nations who get a new position in the world, they will need much more energy than before.
So even if each human being on planet earth would drastically reduce its need for energy, still the global need for energy will grow. So we haven't got a choice, we have to find new resources.
Blog: If you were to imagine the end of the human race, how do you think it would happen and when?
Frank Schätzing: I think the end of the human race will come when planet earth will touch the sun. So it will last for a very long time. I don't believe that mankind will vanish so quickly.
It was nice meeting you folks on the Internet. I hope very much seeing you again soon. Maybe in Italy, maybe in Germany. Bye bye.

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Posted by: Alessandro Bettella | November 17, 2010 01:47 AM

I'm a big advocate of this blog as a political space, so it always annoys me when I read crap like the above -- and what I'm referring to is this notion that technology solves everything. This is obviously absurd, since for every problem that technology 'solves' it creates 100 new ones. It's important to remember that it's been technology that has fueled the greatest transfers of wealth to the wealthy, the great scams of the last 40 years, the biggest being what we have just witnessed in the great bailouts of the past few years. It depresses me to witness this slavish attitude of viewing technology as the saving grace of humanity; for me it's just the opposite; technology is doing its damnedest to drive us to extinction. There's no question that technology in the hands of an infantile intelligence is the worse disaster this planet has suffered in recorded history. However it is that humanity survives, it won't be because of technology, but despite it.

Posted by: Peppino Vallesi | November 16, 2010 08:52 PM

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