24 May 2013

FWS Topics: The Background Information of AFTER EARTH (2013)

As a sci-fi writers, I've always been interested in the backstory and/or history of the fictional worlds that are created. Recently, I've become interested in the backstory to the Will Smith's big 2013 summer sci-fi epic After Earth, and I thought FWS would devoted a small blogpost to this interesting world that has already been expanded upon prior to the film's June 7 release data...and Will Smith didn't give me any cash for this. My only worry about the film is the director, M. Night Shayamalan. His track record is not good lately, and there better not be any mind-fuck ending that this is all some dream, or Will Smith playing Legos with his kid! I have to say, this world looks interesting, and the movie could work...could. Here some interesting elements of the world of After Earth

Toxic Earth and the 750,000
In 2025, Earth is on a crash-course to environmental collapse, and  it appears that off-world colonization is the only answer. The original plan was for ten 'Ark' FTL colony vessels would take 125,000 each to the new homeworld of humanity. However, conditions on Terra collapsed at a much faster rate than predicted and only six could be completed, cutting down the 1.25 million that would make the trip, to 750,000, which works out to 0.0000625% of the entire human population. I would have originally believed that the Ark FTL Colony ships were designed to freeze the 125,000 guests, but it seems from the art, that these were 'live-in' modules, complete with spinning sections, and Earth-like green zones. What information we have does not detail how Nova Prime was discovered, or if the ships were launched prior to discover. 

The Light-Stream Drive
It seems that the fate of humanity was helped by the Viktor Radoslav and the 1908 Tunguska Event and that led to the Light-Stream FTL drive system. Yep, After Earth and the exodus of humanity were helped by an crash alien spacecraft in 1908, and Will Smith's Polish ancestors(!) helped further the technology from 1908 through the mid-21st century. It seems that this alien craft, called 'Ventraya'. In 1938, the Radoslav family leaves Poland to the USA, and changes their name to Raige. This alien technology would help fuel the United States military-industrial complex, and even the Moon Landings. By the time, the Light-Stream interplanetary FTL drive was being fully developed, Earth was on a downward slide, and while the environment and society collapses, the massive Light-Stream-equipped Ark starships were under construction in secret.News breaks about the limited number of people that can join the colonial effort, and only six Arks are able to leave orbit.

Nova Prime and the battle to keep our new home

In 2066, six Ark colonial vessels leave Terra bound for Nova Prime, that lays 100 years away at FTL speed. Around 2166, the ships find and begin colonizing Nova Prime. 143 years after the founding of the colony, the Nova Prime settlers met the Skrel. According to this alien race, Nova Prime was holy ground to them, and the humans were defacing it. War soon came, and the Skrel believed they could easily win against the remains of mankind, but they thought wrong. Attacks came and went, and the human colony on holy ground remained. In 576 AE, the Skrel released an genetic engineered species, called the Ursa.
They were hunters of humans, using the fear pheromones of their prey to stalk them and kill them. All seemed lost until Ranger Cypher Raige (Will Smith) develops the mental discipline tactic of 'Ghosting', where Rangers control their fear and appear invisible to the Ursa. This tactic possessed by only seven 'Ghost 'Rangers allowed for humans to tip the balance back in their favor, but these Rangers are nearly alien themselves. It seems that for the time being, the Skrel are unable to use their bio-weapon. It was not only the aliens we had to worry about, but also division within the new human society, where various groups, including the Rangers battled for control. The answer was a three-branch government composed of the Rangers, the Savant, and the Primus.

The United Ranger Corps
Original developed by the UN during the days prior to the Ark ships leaving, these 1,000 handpicked best-of-the-best from each nation were used to control the violent natural outbreaks from the dying world. These were elite team of first responsers that helped save thousands and left with the Ark ships in 2066. Once the new colony was established on Nova Prime, the Rangers became the military of the new society, and over a thousand years of traditions and alien wars, the Rangers are the solution fro preserving humanity. 
The C-40 'Cutlass' Combat Model
Unlike the incoming Oblivion, Will Smith and son do not seem use any type of KE or DE weapon system, but favor an oddball bladed weapon, called a 'cutlass'. This C-40 Cutless combat model appears to be the favored weapon of the Ranger Corps, and appears to have been used against the Ursa, the bio-weapon of the Skrel aliens.This weapon is composed of hundreds of metal fibers that transform based on the need of the user, and blends with the Life-Suit user. It seems that the Skrel must use bladed or close-quarters weaponry, or that the combat Cutlass is highly effectiveness against the Ursa...I'd still want a gun, though, or a Phase Plasma Rifle in a 40 Mega-Watt range. and this weapon reminds me of the Force-Lance from Andromeda

The Life-Suit
According to the After Earth entry on Facebook, the Life-Suit worn by the Ranger Corps is able to adapt to weather and environmental conditions, offers protections, and can change color and texture based on the local conditions. There is a few seconds of footage of the Life-Suit having 'Flying Squirrel' suit abilities. At the moment, I'm unsure if the Life-Suit is standard combat issue, or if it drawn out for hazard, off-world duty, or even if  it is part of the life-pod equipment. No word if it recycles sweat and urine for drinking water. 

Would You Like To Know More?
Ahead of the movie release in June, the studio has released a series of short stories detailing the history of the war with the aliens, the development of the Nova Prime society, and the Ghosts. These are available for download on Amazon for  a good price. Plus, there is a one-shot comic called After Earth: Innocence by Del Rey Books/Dynamite Comics. This tells the story of the divided human colony and the first assaults by the aliens. I might read the short stories


  1. I really enjoyed this. I'm definitely more excited for the movie now; didn't realize there was so much back story.

  2. I originally and falsely believed that this movie was going to be as deep as a kiddie pool, but when I explored more about the plot and history, I thought I should check it out. This was one of those blogpost I was unsure of writing.

  3. Christopher PhoenixMay 30, 2013 at 5:11 AM

    Wow, interesting backstory, After Earth looks very interesting!! We sure are getting a lot of SF movies this year, lol. I hear M. Night Shyamalan did not write the script, so we'll probably be spared a screwball twist ending.

    I remember that picture of a space ark, it was in an issue of Popular Mechanics a while back!! So, these space arks in After Earth have FTL engines but take 100 years to reach Nova Prime- guess that planet must be very far away. Even at only twice C it would take only about four years to reach the Centauri system, no known to possess a (rather scorched) rocky planet in close orbit around Beta Centauri. I guess we can't figure out the exact details until and if they tell us how fast the arks can travel.

    Regarding cryopreservation of the crew, remember that cryopreservation and restoration of whole astronauts is a very speculative technology. We can cryogenically freeze and store small tissue samples, but an entire body is much, much larger and has many different layers of tissue. Saturated every cell with the required amount of cryoprotectants (which is different for each type of tissue!!) and lowering the body temperature to far below freezing without causing damage (every different type of cell has a different freeze/thaw rate profile) is beyond our technology. And then we would have to thaw out the frozen chosen without causing damage- you can't just stick 'em in the microwave!!

    For this reason, the "cryonicists"who offer cryopreservation services to the rich are misrepresenting the science of cryobiology- and selling snake oil. We can cryopreserve sperm and ova, and later the material will still be viable for producing children, but whole astronauts are a far more intractable challenge.

    What is more, even if we find a way to do it, naturally occurring radioactive atoms in the frozen chosen will cause damage, which is normally repaired by our cells, but not during our time as a popsicle. Over vast spans of time, this damage will accumulate and leave a corpse, so popsiclenauts have a shelf life- not unlike frozen desserts. We might have to periodically thaw out the astronauts so their cells can repair the damage.

    All in all, this is a fascinating speculative technology with many interesting issues, as is the seperate idea of putting the astronauts in a state of induced hibernation. But live-in modules with centrifugal psuedogravity are the most immediately possible means of staying alive on long space journey. The generation ship is itself a fascinating concept, not enough study seems to go into the varied biological and technological issues of this idea.

    Would you be willing to sign on the crew of a space ark if you know that you would live out your whole life on board and only your remote descendants would arrive?

    Ha ha, the Cutlass sounds like the kind of thing a person from the 16th century might have imagined we would have in the future- a sword than can change its shape or length as the user demands!! I think the filmmakers chose this weapon because swords are associated with individual heroism and great skill.

    Speaking of space arks, have you seen the DA member korfali's fantastic architectural illustration and plans for the "Ark of Extinction", and imaginary spaceship made as a masters project in architectural design? Crazy awesome stuff!!

    On the real starflight angle, have you heard of the Enzmann starship?

    And I think you might enjoy Mark Millis's discussion of Star Trek tech- mostly focused on hypothetical propulsion physics breakthroughs, of course. Without the aid of crashed alien spaceships, unfortunately.

  4. I should have added cryo to my sci-fi space travel myths! Given the current state of human beings, I doubt that most people today would consent to living in a metal tube for nearly three generations to reach new planet. However, we have done something similar before, when we walked out of Africa. I think that humans packed onto ships like that would result in an interesting, but stressed society. Given that every job on the ship would have to be filled by the internal population, it could led to a caste system...BSG discussed something like this.
    I'm going to have to see the Cutlass in action, but I think you are correct on the theory. It would match up with the whole Jedi/Sith thing.
    It amazes me the steer talent on Deivantart!That is great design!
    I've run across the Enzmann Starship when I was in college...thanks for the reminder!
    Here is a few weeks, FWS will be publishing an article on FTL starship propulsion and some of these links will be extremely helpful!
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Christopher PhoenixMay 30, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Yeah, cryonics does kind of have myths swirling about it as to its viability. Cryopreservation is quite real and routinely preformed, like with sperm and ova that have been frozen and later thawed out for use... but this is not the case for the freezing of whole bodies (labeled "cryonics"). The proponents of cryonics claim that modern freezing techniques can successfully preserve the cellular structures that contain the personality and memories, so such frozen can be preserved in the "information theoretic" sense and eventually restored by some unimaginably advanced future technology. This takes a rather large leap of faith, and isn't useful for astronauts.


    Modern cryopreservation techniques can't preserve whole bodies in a reversible manner, but I certainly don't think that it is impossible that future technology will find a way to do it. Also, most sleeper ships in SF seem to use various forms of induced hibernation, where the bodies metabolic processes are artificially slowed by drugs and extreme cold so the astronauts go into a state of "cold sleep". Involuntary functions continue, but so slowly that they cannot be detected except by instruments. Cryopreservation, on the other hand, brings all chemical and biological activity to a halt.


    Well, there are a bunch of factors in that- most people would not agree to lose the comforts of civilization to live in a ship hurtling out beyond the Solar System for who knows how many generations. Probably, we cannot easily imagine a society capable of launching such Ark missions- such programs require long-term planning horizons well beyond a single term in Congress, and a set of long term goals impervious to weekly popularity polls. People will have to be willing to work on a project that cannot see completion in their lifetime. A strong reproductive theme runs through this, in building the Arks we hope to give our remote descendants a chance to reach the stars- not ourselves.

    Most SF weapons tend to be just amped-up versions of modern and historical weapons- laser pistol, plasma rifle, monomolecular sword, etc. I'd like to see a weapon that wasn't based on a gun or sword- maybe the Force Lance from Andromeda (which I haven't seen, only heard of) would count?

    Yeah, the raw amount of talent shown on DA is really inspiring- did you see the O'neil cylinder living sections? You'd probably like Jepray's DA gallery, too, he does a lot of cool space battleships and space fighters, and I saw at least one space ark among his drawings. He's really old-school, uses pens and markers for everything rather than Photoshop. :D